Tag Archives: commitment


The Keys to Forming Effective Teams

America loves teams and team players, even outside of sports. What’s not to love? Team players are selfless—they set aside their personal goals and focus their talents on coordinating efforts with their fellow team members to achieve a common goal. Teams personify cooperation and collaboration and synergistic effort. And, of course, we’ve all been taught that teams inevitably generate better outcomes than individuals do.

So it’s good to be on a team, and teams do good work, which means teams and teamwork are iconic realities of life in America—socially, educationally and professionally. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a toddler, a college student, a retail clerk or a corporate executive, today you regularly find yourself slotted onto teams (or onto committees or into small groups) where you are expected to behave like a good team player.

And how does a good team player behave? According to leadership coach Joel Garfinkle, “You just need to be an active participant and do more than your job title states. Put the team’s objectives above yours and take the initiative to get things done without waiting to be asked.” He identifies five characteristics that make a team player great:

  1. Always reliable
  2. Communicates with confidence
  3. Does more than asked
  4. Adapts quickly and easily
  5. Displays genuine commitment

Seems obvious, but think of your most recent team experiences. Were your team members behaving that way? Were you? Not likely, and J. Richard Hackman, a former professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teams, knows why. When interviewed by Diane Coutou for a 2009 Harvard Business Review article (Why Teams Don’t Work), he said:

Research consistently shows that teams underperform, despite all the extra resources they have. That’s because problems with coordination and motivation typically chip away at the benefits of collaboration.

Problems with coordination and motivation interfering with team collaboration and performance—doesn’t that sound like a rather modest challenge that could be resolved with more effective team management? Sure, to a certain extent. Teams are often too large; they are thoughtlessly staffed (proximity and position rather than proven talents and ability to produce results); and they are routinely launched with murky objectives, vague group member accountabilities and no formal support network for team process management. In other words, most teams don’t meet the five basic conditions Hackman, in his book Leading Teams, said teams require to perform effectively:

  1. Teams must be real. People have to know who is on the team and who is not. It’s the leader’s job to make that clear.
  2. Teams need a compelling direction. Members need to know, and agree on, what they’re supposed to be doing together. Unless a leader articulates a clear direction, there is a real risk that different members will pursue different agendas.
  3. Teams need enabling structures. Teams that have poorly designed tasks, the wrong number or mix of members or fuzzy and unenforced norms of conduct invariably get into trouble.
  4. Teams need a supportive organization. The organizational context—including the reward system, the human resource system and the information system—must facilitate teamwork.
  5. Teams need expert coaching. Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes, especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.

But there’s another challenge, and it is presented by the people who don’t want to be team players. People who, when added to a team, immediately focus their attention and effort not on being a good team player but instead on dodging work, avoiding exposure and manipulating the conscientious team players into doing more than their share of the work. This is known as social loafing (or slacking), and it describes the tendency of some members of a work group to exert less effort than they would when working alone. Kent Faught, associate professor of management at the Frank D. Hickingbotham School of Business, argues in his paper about student work groups in the Journal of Business Administration Online that social loafers can’t be successful, however, unless the other team members permit the loafing and complete the project successfully: 

…the social loafer must find at least one group member that CAN and WILL achieve the group’s goals and ALLOW themselves to be social loafed on. “Social Loafer Bait” is the term used here to describe the profile of the ideal target for social loafers.

This problem isn’t new. Max Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer, conducted one of the earliest social loafing experiments in 1913, asking participants to pull on a “tug of war” rope both individually and in groups. When people were part of a group, they exerted much less effort pulling the rope than they did when pulling alone. According to Joshua Kennon, Ringelmann’s social loafing results were replicated over the years in many other experiments (involving typing, shouting, clapping, pumping water, etc.), leading psychologists to believe that humans tend toward social loafing in virtually all group activities. Kennon shared two other conclusions:

  • The more people you put into a group, the less individual effort each person will contribute;
  • When confronted with proof they are contributing less, the individuals in the group deny it because they believe they are contributing just as much as they would have if they were working alone.

I recently asked a group of friends and colleagues who have been involved in group work at school or in their jobs to respond to a brief, unscientific survey on how they deal with social loafing. Their response pattern is shown in parentheses, and, although respondents varied in age from 20 to 50-plus, answer patterns didn’t seem to vary by age group:

You are working on an important, time-sensitive project with a group of people. One of the group members is slacking off, not contributing to project work. What do you do about it? (choose one)

  • Ask/Tell the slacker to commit to the project and start contributing (40%)
  • Report the slacker to the project sponsor (3%)
  • Complain about the slacker to other team members (10%)
  • Work harder to pick up the slack and ensure the project is successful (30%)
  • Follow the slacker’s lead and reduce your commitment and effort (0%)
  • Other (17%—Most respondents who chose this reported they would employ more than one of the listed strategies)

How effective is the response you identified above?

  • Solves the problem (27%)
  • Partially solves the problem (53%)
  • Fails to solve the problem (17%)
  • Causes other problems (3%)

Respondents who took some action (talking to the slacker, or reporting the slacker to the project sponsor) were much more likely to report that their actions solved all or part of the problem. Complaining to other team members failed to solve the problem—no surprise there. And even though 30% of respondents elected to address the slacking problem by working harder to pick up the slack (earning themselves a “social loafer bait” ID badge), the effect of doing so was mixed, spread fairly evenly among solving, partially solving, failing to solve and causing other problems.

What’s not clear is why we are so willing to tolerate social loafing in group projects and why we are so reluctant to call slackers out and hold them accountable. According to Kerry Patterson, co-author of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High:

93% of employees report they have co-workers who don’t pull their weight, but only one in 10 confronts lackluster colleagues.

I suppose the reality is that unless work groups are tightly managed, they offer excellent cover for slackers—relative anonymity, little or no pressure from team members, great individual performance camouflage—with only a slight threat of exposure or penalty for not being a good team player. So the solution to the social loafer problem probably involves not only changes in how groups are formed, resourced and supported but also changes in the group work dynamic to eliminate the cover and camouflage and to illuminate how each individual contributes to the group work effort. (This is sometimes accomplished in university student work groups by using a formal peer review process to help group members hold each other accountable.)

As you might expect, Google is serious about teamwork (all Google employees work on at least one team), and Google wants teams to be successful. A recent study of team effectiveness at Google determined that five team dynamics (psychological safety; dependability; structure and clarity; meaning of work; and impact of work) are more important to successful teams than the talents of the individuals on the teams. To help teams manage these dynamics, Google developed a tool called the gTeams exercise, described by Julia Rozovsky of Google People Operations as:

…a 10-minute pulse-check on the five dynamics, a report that summarizes how the team is doing, a live in-person conversation to discuss the results and tailored developmental resources to help teams improve.

According to Rozovsky, Google teams reported that having a framework around team effectiveness and a forcing function (the gTeams exercise) to talk about these dynamics was the part of the experience that had the most impact. That’s not surprising, because any “forcing function” that puts a public spotlight on ineffective or unacceptable behavior makes it easier to identify and eliminate that behavior.

Given the concentration of talent at Google, I imagine the social loafers there probably boast a more refined slacker “craftiness” pedigree than most of us normally encounter. Still, I am betting the Google slackers aren’t very pleased with the light and heat generated by the gTeams exercise spotlight.

Friday Tip For Agents & Brokers: The Most Important Part of the Sale

The most important part of the sale is the salesperson. Do you believe this statement? I am telling you from years and years of experience that this statement is 100% true. As a salesperson, you are not only in charge of selling the product, but selling yourself to the consumer. Knowing who you are and what you represent is very, very important.

What It Takes To Be A Salesperson
I hear this question all the time. What does it truly take to be an all-star, professional salesperson?

For one, it takes commitment. A professional salesperson is committed to improving. A professional salesperson is committed to being the best salesperson in the world. If a salesperson is not getting better each and every day, he or she is doing a disservice to his or her consumers and clients.

A salesperson’s job is to convince a potential client to purchase a product or work with a service that the company provides. If that potential client decides to pass on the product or service, they are making a huge mistake — and a professional salesperson will tell them that! As a salesperson, if you do not sell yourself or the product, you are not doing as an effective or efficient job as you need to be! The funny thing is, I will end up apologizing to a client if I do not make that sale.

For example, a client will state that he or she is not going to do business with our company. I respond with the following:

“I have to apologize to you. I let you down. I was not as good of a salesperson as I should have been because you said no to me. I feel sorry that you will not be utilizing my product and services to grow your business. Therefore, I am sorry for not being as effective or as efficient as I should have been.”

It takes a real salesperson to admit defeat. It also takes a real salesperson to improve after a defeat! A professional salesperson is someone who is working on themselves by constantly undergoing training, reading new books, and striving to grow. That is when a client will honor your service and you will make that sale. The sale begins with you — and your attitude.

A Rock Star And Positive Attitude Is Everything
Negative thoughts will yield negative results. Can you guess what positive thoughts will yield? You guessed it! As a salesperson, having a positive attitude is so important. Think to yourself for a second. How much do you like spending time with people who have a negative attitude? Chances are, not very much! What makes consumers any different? If a salesperson with a negative attitude is face-to-face with a potential client, you can bet that the chances of closing that deal are slim to none.

What type of salesperson does the consumer want to be around and buy from? A positive, enthusiastic, and genuine salesperson, of course! These are the people who give off energy. These are the people who enjoy life, like themselves, and like other people. In return, others will feed off their energy and like them. Attitude is everything as a salesperson. When you pick up a call from a client, you should be smiling. You should be enthusiastic. You should be helpful, upbeat, and positive.
Even during those moments when a potential consumer is a little grumpy, you have to remember that everybody has a story. Some days are better than others, but that should not stop you from impacting his or her life in a positive way. Positivity is infectious, and that is what you must bring to the table when you are ready to make a sale. Why? Because the most important part of the sales process is the salesperson.

Are You Cut Out For A Career In Sales?
You may be starting to wonder: Wow, am I even cut out for a career in sales? Let’s take a look at a few questions together and discover whether or not you are cut out for sales.

Question #1: Do you turn to the lowest possible price in order to make a sale?

The answer here is simple: If you need to turn to the lowest price and are an order taker, you are not a real salesperson. A real salesperson builds value in the products and does not devalue. The people who are the real deal will find a way around the situation!

Question #2: Has a potential client ever changed their cell phone number on you?

If someone has not done so, you probably have not followed up enough to close the deal. The greatest salespeople out there have had this happen to them!

Question #3: Has anyone every moved out of state or put a restraining order on you?

Kidding! This is obviously a little extreme, but the principle is simple. Consistently following up may seem aggressive but that is the way it works. If you have not tried a number of sales strategies on a client, you are not doing all that you can to service them. Your job is to find a way around a customer’s insecurities and concerns. Once you figure out how to do this, you will make the sale.

The Life Of A Salesperson
The Death of a Salesperson — I know it is a cliché, but here is a new cliché for you: The Life of a Salesperson. Why should we add a negative word to such a fulfilling, wonderful career path? The salesperson is the most important part!

If you are a salesperson and you are reading this, I want you to remember this: The most important part of the sale is you. Sometimes, it is not necessarily about the product that you are selling, but it’s about who you are as an individual. Consumers are looking to trust someone to help their business or brand. As a professional salesperson, it is time for you to realize that if you are not a good person, honest person, or a person who is consistently improving, you do not have the right to earn someone’s business.

Today, the most important part of the sale is you.

Personal Effectiveness – The Continuing Challenge

I was recently going through my notes, preparing to give one of my workshops on the subject of Personal Effectiveness. In preparation for the workshop each participant is requested to read some background material so all who attend have a passing understanding of (1) what the Best Practice looks like in action, (2) what it contributes to the business, and (3) if it’s truly beneficial, how a business team would put it to work.

The material I pondered that caused me to start writing about it in this article is a Harvard Business Review article: Beware the Busy Manager by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal.

The authors ask an intriguing question — Are the least effective executives the ones who look like they are doing the most? Hmmmmm.

Of course, being seasoned scholars, the authors backed up their observations in their article with some impressive research. For about a ten year period they studied the behavior of busy managers in companies in the US, UK, Germany and Switzerland, interviewing hundreds of managers. Their findings were not particularly encouraging. They report fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner. Okay, what does that look like?

It seems the highly effective 10% had these common traits: (1) concentrated attention — focus, (2) vigor fueled by intense personal commitment, and (3) selecting a manageable number of projects for early contribution. From both my CEO days as well as consulting experiences, these patterns are absolutely what I have observed in highly productive executives. Of the three, I want to elaborate a bit more on the last one, the number of projects currently under management.

In our consulting practice I have facilitated a significant number of strategic planning sessions. As part of preparing an annual Strategic Plan, one of the very significant by-products is the Action Plan, which schedules accomplishment for all the projects that enable the achievement of the Strategic Plan. Most companies struggle with the above three traits — focus, commitment and scope in the Strategic Plan implementation process (the Action Plan). In fact, I would say just about 10% really do it well. Of the traits, the scope (number of initiatives) seems most troubling.

We urge clients approaching the Action Plan for the first time to limit the number of goals / projects / activities to a critical few, get them accomplished as soon as possible, then select some others and do the same.

The tendency is to select way too many initiatives and then get bogged down, get discouraged and abandon a potentially powerful process.

In support of simplifying the focus and reinforcing vigor and commitment, I developed the Law of Three. Applying this principle, you are encouraged to pick three high-impact projects and work like heck to get them accomplished in the next three months.

Variations on this theme are encouraged as long as it supports the accomplishment of the critical few projects that will have the greatest impact. This is where strategy and personal effectiveness team up for high performance. It is effective!