WFH Week 11; What We’ve Learned – Back to ‘Storming’

We ran two team events last week (virtually of course) and although very different in style Tuckman featured in both. For those of you unfamiliar with the name you might know it better as the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ model. Dr Bruce Tuckman published his theory way back in 1965, which for us definitely proves its worth – any model still holding its own after 55 years has to be a bit special. The premise is that every team goes through four stages of development;

  • Forming; when a team first comes together
  • Storming; the stage where teams begin defining and challenging roles, responsibilities, dynamics etc.
  • Norming; the period where a comfortable and effective status quo is found
  • Performing; the point where a team is really flying, they have a strong identity, they can work and think as a collective and are united in their purpose and their shared success

 

The ‘storming’ stage often gets a bad rap – people can mis-read it as being solely about conflict and competition. It’s where boundaries are tested, and individual personalities emerge. But, it can also be a time of great energy and advancement and it’s absolutely necessary if teams are to realise their potential. There’s no skipping over any of the steps, no matter how tempting.

 

The two teams we were working with are both well acquainted with Tuckman, naturally the focus pre-COVID had been about getting to the ‘performing’ phase; what processes needed to be in place, what behaviours were important etc. What came out of our virtual events was the very real sense for these senior leaders of having ‘taken a step backwards’ – in Tuckman terms at least. It’s an iterative model so moving backwards and forwards is part of the process, it’s not linear. But nevertheless these were genuine feelings shared by the two groups. The leaders we were working with were of course able to see ‘storming’ as an opportunity to regroup and rebuild and critical for planning ahead in these challenging times. But it was important to take the time to explore what was happening and to help reconcile a seemingly backward trajectory with sustainable progress.

 

The factors that are evident in high performing teams such as; collective problem solving, confidence of shared purpose and direction, high levels of motivation, team spirit etc. have been stretched to the limit by more recent siloed ways of working. It’s harder to participate and contribute at times, teams are having to learn new ways of working together and it doesn’t suit everyone, team needs are often secondary to individual needs. As one team member put it, ‘It’s so intense on a personal level, it’s harder to look out for each other.’ Especially when you’re ‘cycling through different emotions throughout the day.’

 

As leaders and teams begin to move away from WFH and back into a shared space, the end result most likely a blend of the two – the way we work and interact will need to continue to evolve. We will almost certainly need to be more agile in our thinking, pace may continue to trump precision in our decision making, priorities/OKRs/KPIs will change. And most of this will require us as teams to revisit the ‘storming’ zone (if we’re not there already). But within that we’re encouraging teams to;

  • continue to show empathy and care for each other
  • work to stay HOT (honesty, openness and trust)
  • focus on the ‘we’ not the ‘I’
  • see ‘storming’ as positive, as a way to come back stronger

 

As one of our clients once described it, ‘I don’t particularly like the feeling before a storm, that sense of pressure building. But once a storm has passed there is a freshness to everything, a cleanliness and clarity that wasn’t there before.’ And who wouldn’t want more of that right now?

WFH Week 9; Energy and Emotion

WFH Week 8; What We’ve Heard

In spite of some restrictions being lifted following the much anticipated Sunday announcements, it’s clear that the move from home back into the workplace won’t be happening en masse any time soon. In light of continuing lockdown measures, what we’re hearing from clients this week is how remote working is affecting our ability to create […]

WFH Week 6; What We’ve Heard

As we come to the end of our sixth week of lockdown at Maier, we’re definitely feeling the hit of ‘COVID-19 fatigue’. WFH is great for reflection and perhaps a bit of contemplation and learning but we’ve also, thankfully, been super busy coaching Exec teams and senior leaders – virtually of course. It’s pretty intense though, there’s a lot more focus needed working in the digital medium don’t you think? One of our clients summed it up perfectly, ‘the digital world makes it much easier…but it’s not easy.’

So this week we thought we’d just be a bit random and share some interesting snippets from our many conversations.

Things that made us laugh (very welcome);

  • A CEO working from the spare bedroom, arrived late for our MS Teams call and was very apologetic. He’d broken a glass but was keen to assure us it wasn’t his fault! He fessed up to being a bit of ‘a dishwasher fascist’ at the best of times but in lockdown he’s becomes obsessed with how it’s loaded and someone in the house (no names were shared) had got it wrong.
  • Having just kicking off a group Zoom call with the usual pleasantries someone’s teenage son came bounding into her room, saw she was in conference and turned on his heel to leave, flashing his bare bottom for all to see in the process!!! What followed was silence and then absolute hysteria.
  • A friend was relaying her tale of going to her local London park for her daily exercise slot. Being a warm day there were a few folk sunbathing although socially distanced. Without warning the police arrive and to her astonishment (and amusement) as one all the bodies came to life – hands and legs in the air ‘exercising’ like mad.

Things to reflect on;

  • A global CEO we work with saw his company shift from 20% of staff working from home to 80% within the first week of lockdown. That is a HUGE change and in sharing his thoughts he emphasised how aware leaders need to be of the different rates at which people are adapting to the shift; people can become very sensitive, much more so than they normally are and small things can be blown out of all proportion. In his words, ‘you need very good judgement in how, when and what you’re communicating.’
  • A great message received after an evening Zoom session, ‘Thank you all for that – I feel nourished by your company.’
  • Having referenced a particular model of Old Power/New Power in our Exec team work, it was very gratifying to be told by another CEO how it has become even more relevant in this crisis and how they are utilising it on a daily basis. She’s looking forward to working with us in using it as the foundation for the ‘new normal’ they will be seeking, which links brilliant with a favourite quite of ours at the moment, ‘It may not feel like it at the moment but the foundation for your recovery from this emergency is already being laid.’

Things to think about in the coming week;

  • At a conference late last year, before COVID had really hit, Michelle Obama was already talking about the importance of ‘planning in joy’. ‘You might think you should not feel joy when other people are suffering, but you need to find joy or else risk burning out.’ Her advice is to ‘think about what you are going to do this week that is going to make you selfishly smile’. Now even more relevant than ever.
  • As we begin to think and plan for a return from lockdown – however tentative and far away that seems, remember that for some this will surface very real anxieties while for others it will represent some much needed hope and energy. Remember to check in with team members individually to gauge where their heads (and hearts) are at.
  • Coming together as a team for no reason, is a reason. As we fall into our lockdown routines, working through an ever growing and shifting list of actions and tasks don’t overlook the importance of sometimes just hanging out together.

WFH Week 5; J’s and P’s in a VUCA world

VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) – yes, we know it can get a bit over used – but this definition of the post-Cold War era has definitely found new resonance in the current climate. For those of you less familiar with it, VUCA focuses on the unpredictability of events and conditions outside of the normal controls of the organisation But, the impact of VUCA doesn’t just affect leaders – it can be felt keenly throughout the business potentially impeding decision making something which is certainly affecting everyone throughout organisations at present.

In coaching sessions this week it’s become clear that as teams move out of ‘scramble mode’ and begin some first tentative steps into thinking ahead, the usual constructs for planning are having to be reworked and ‘VUCA rules’ applied. The conditions that seem most unmanageable though are also the very same that often generate the most creative and inspired solutions. As a client of our quote only today, ‘Well, it is a challenging time, but adversity also breeds innovation and some great things have been happening too.’ So, in this time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity how are MBTI Judgers and Perceivers (the planners and the experiencers) doing?

For J’s this, in many ways, can feel like familiar territory. Devising plans and schedules is an obvious preference of theirs and so to work through what the stages of release from lockdown and recovery might look like is a task they’re more than capable of and one most will relish. Where it becomes less appealing is the constant revision necessary or the multiple solutions needed in our present VUCA state. To the outside world J’s appear decisive, they like to have things settled and not in limbo but, as with all MBTI dichotomies there’s more at play than what we might first assume. Internally J’s may feel very able (and willing) to flex and adapt to new information amidst the flow and flux of data and opinion swamping our daily lives at the moment. Part of their challenge will be their innate desire to make sure processes align to plans and are adhered to in the bubble of WFH.

For P’s in search of alternative options and other ideas, there’s a wealth of material to go at and they may actually feel energised by the need to ‘avoid taking a hard line’ too quickly, keeping several routes open. This after all is their domain. Rather than being corralled into position, P’s may well be enjoying this period of exploration and speculation, utilising their preference to best effect. It’s important not to misread this as being indecisive or sitting on the fence though – P’s are every bit as capable as J’s in coming to a conclusion and considering the scale of upheaval at present, may even be craving closure on some levels.

Tips for P’s:

  • Influence the business to see the value of collecting additional data in order to make decisions – but keep testing and questioning the validity and rigour of the information. And know when to stop!
  • Recognise that acting with pace in the current climate can be an advantage and as such some deadlines, however short, are necessary
  • Inform the team, don’t surprise them! Think about how you keep information flowing and communication channels open. Make sure people know where your thinking is at and where your focus is. Teams we’re working with are finding the short, regular ‘virtual’ sessions much more effective and efficient than the old lengthy weekly meetings

Tips for J’s:

  • Pay attention to and enjoy investigating the ideas coming in and being shared rather than focusing on the decision or deadline
  • Inject into the tasks and projects definitive milestones and closure and use these to keep your J fed and engaged
  • IJ’s in particular who tend to favour gradual change based on accurate and adequate information may find inspiration in partnering with an EJ who will be more likely to want to move quickly, but will still enjoy seeking out the practical value of any ideas suggested

Bring me problems, not solutions; the art of real empowerment

Problem_final

Recently, one of our very lovely clients was bemoaning his misfortune having called a meeting with his leadership team to discuss an important issue that would have wide-ranging impact across the business. Having taken the time to set the agenda and shape his ideas for working through the problem, he was frustrated by their seemingly incessant questioning and need to unpick the options he’d so carefully presented. Especially as his intention was indeed to be inclusive by allowing them choice as to which of his solutions they chose to work on and drive.

Our typically Maier response (supportive, but with a healthy dose of challenge) was, ‘Well, of course that’s what happened. You called a meeting to get their input, but actually presented them with an almost completed resolution. They wanted to understand the problem and give their own take on how to solve the issue, to help develop some choices on ways forward. They wanted to be part of finding the answer.’

Been there, bought the t-shirt

‘Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.’ We’ve all heard it. Most of us have probably said it. Surely, this is the very epitome of an empowered culture? Or is it? Encouraging people to solve problems is a good thing, no argument there, but perhaps what people sometimes hear is, ‘I only want to know about the problems you already have an answer to.’ So, what then happens to issues that don’t have instantly recognisable solutions or are more complex in nature? Where do they go? Who in the organisation is empowered enough to take these on?

A problem shared…

One reason for asking for ‘solutions rather than problems’ is to help filter out the chronic complainers, those team and staff members for whom the glass is perpetually half-empty. And while this ‘clever’ performance management tactic might work on some levels, the underlying damage it causes can be twofold. Firstly, you’re not stopping anyone from voicing their negativity, they’re just not talking to you about it anymore. And secondly, you can’t solve problems you don’t know about and if you’re not solving problems, our guess is you’re not improving performance either.

‘Identifying problems can be a solo sport, but finding solutions rarely is’

Wise words from the guys and gals at HBR (Harvard Business Review) and being the ‘queens of collaboration’ that we are – we’re totally sold on this idea. But, going back to our opening anecdote, you can see how the management mantra of ‘bringing solutions not problems’ to the table might limit creative problem solving and maybe even overlook opportunities to develop and progress.

Finding a solution is one thing, implementing it is quite another. And for that you need people to have bought into it, to be prepared to drive the changes necessary and, more often than not, share some of the pain this entails. It’s about empowering the many, not the few and that means getting people on board early enough to make the most of the collective expertise you have at hand.

We can all do more when it comes to celebrating the people who are brave enough to shine a light on problems – with or without a solution attached. A united focus on performance improvement is more empowering than individually packaged solutions any day.

Brain teasers

As far as British summers go it might have been a slow start, but things have definitely started to heat up and at Maier we’re putting every effort into extending the summer vibes. While we’re hanging onto the sunglasses for as long as possible we are also keenly focusing on the next few busy months as the ‘holiday season’ comes to an end and the mad dash to Christmas begins.

Having wound down, it’s definitely now time to wind back up so what can we do to keep energy levels high and our brains performing at full potential? Perhaps most importantly, how can you as leaders help your teams take on the post summer slump challenge?

 “Thanks to research on human behaviour, we know what it takes for the average person’s brain to perform at its best, cognitively and emotionally…These new insights suggest that simple tweaks in leaders’ communication and behaviour can potentially create a much more productive atmosphere for any team”

Here comes the science bit…

The more we understand how the brain functions the more we’re able to positively shift behaviours in ourselves and our teams…. for example:

Avoiding ‘information overload’ and ‘leaving by example

Ever heard of automatic and deliberate brain systems? In a nutshell, ‘the automatic system is great at executing plans but not so good at making them. The deliberate system is inefficient for carrying out plans but excels at making them’ (Social Psychology and Human Nature, Roy F. Beumeister). When we’re overtired or stretched thin the brain’s automatic system can begin to execute plans without thinking and that’s where mistakes can happen. Sound familiar?

Solution:

“If leaders can encourage people to go offline when doing their most important work, as well as taking more frequent breaks, they’ll see an uptick in productivity, innovation, and morale” (McKinsey)

Whilst it may sound too good to be true research says otherwise and, as leaders, a few small changes to your own daily routine could make all the difference. For example, try role modelling behaviours or ‘leaving by example’ – show that you’re switching off, make a point of leaving your desk, set a timer to ensure you take time out.

“It’s become a collective thing in the office now. And everyone’s decided that breaks are a legitimate use of time because we get so much more done afterward.” (McKinsey)

Even the smallest of insights into how our brains work can potentially have a huge impact on productivity, so perhaps think about how you can apply some of the science to the day-to-day and you never know, it might just pay off.

Tapping into ‘discovery mode’

We’ve all had times where a business problem can knock you off course or leave you feeling flat and demotivated. When thinking for example about delivering bad news  it’s key to reflect on not just the what but the how – it’s genuinely what can make all the difference. Yet we still get so caught up in the content of the message that we neglect the delivery don’t we?

InBusiness sums it up nicely: ‘The more we understand what is happening in the brain, the more we can make adjustments that have real productivity gains’.

Ultimately by creating a positive frame for difficult tasks or discussions you’re more likely to get to a solution quickly. In a recent interview, Caroline Webb, author of ‘How to have a good day’ discusses the impact that ‘discovery mode’ can have with regards to decision making:

‘…if you’re dealing with a really tough discussion topic, you don’t have to be soft about it, but you can get people to think more clearly and, indeed, yourself more clearly if you first ask, “What’s our ideal outcome here? And what’s our first step towards that?”

‘Competence and purpose are inherently rewarding for the brain. If you can get the brain to focus more on the rewards than the threats in the situation, then you’ll get to clearer thinking’.

Simply put, listing the positives and focussing on the ideal outcome can make all the difference between a team in defence mode vs. discovery mode. It’s about looking at the other side of the same coin.