The Strengths Blog

 


April 18th, 2015

D is for Deciding What Your Team Wants To Keep Doing, Start Doing and Stop Doing

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Super teams encourage their people to focus on the key strategies for achieving success. They encourage people to keep doing the right things in the right way to get the right results.

As time goes by, however, people’s energies may become spread across too many different activities. At this point it is important to take stock.

Some activities may still contribute towards achieving the team’s goals, but others may not be needed. The team may also need to start doing new things that lay the ground for future success.

How to make this happen? One approach is to invite people to refocus on the picture of success. It is then to clarify how they can be even more effective. They can do this by focusing on the things they want to keep doing, start doing and stop doing.

Imagine you lead a team. Let’s explore how you can follow these steps in your own way.

People can refocus on
the picture of success

Super teams continually remind people of the story, strategy and the road to success. So gather people together and remind them of the following things.

The What – The specific goals we want to achieve are …

The Why – The specific benefits of achieving the goals are …

The How – The specific strategies we can follow to achieve the goals are …

Different teams use different templates for clarifying their aims. Here is one that focuses on the profits, products and people. You will, however, use your own template.

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If you wish, highlight the specific progress the team has made towards achieving the goals. It can be good to highlight when people have performed brilliantly and the principles they followed to do good work.

You can then move onto the habits you want people to pursue in the future. Make three flip charts with the following headings.

Keep doing: The specific things we want to keep doing are …

Start doing: The specific things we want to start doing are …

Stop doing: The specific things we want to stop doing are …

Give each person a pack of Post-it Notes and invite them to explore the themes mentioned above. If appropriate, they can cover all three topics at the same time.

You can begin by explaining each topic in turn. They can then write their suggestions for each area.

People can focus on what
they want to keep doing

You will explain the various themes in your own way. If appropriate, however, you may want to say something along the following lines.

Great teams maintain good habits. So I would like you to start by listing all the things you believe we should keep doing to achieve success.

These can be the key principles or the specific actions. If you write a principle, however, try to bring it to life by giving a concrete example

If you say ‘Keep giving great customer service,’ for instance, give a specific example of how this can be translated into action.

You can also describe the benefits of continuing to do the things you mention. Write one idea per Post-it, but you can write as many ideas as you wish.

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People can focus on what
they want to start doing

If appropriate, you may want to say something along the following lines when introducing this theme.

Great teams maintain good habits, but they sometimes do things to step up their game. So I would like you to write your ideas regarding what we can start doing.

Describe the things you believe we can start doing to improve our work, provide better customer service, manage our stakeholders, broaden our thinking, develop as a team or whatever.

Dare to be creative in your ideas. If possible, describe the potential benefits of doing these things.

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People can focus on what
they want to stop doing

If appropriate, you may want to say something along the following lines when introducing this theme.

Teams can sometimes get into the habit of doing things that are no longer effective. These may be hangovers from following old processes that no longer bring good returns.

Describe the things you believe we may want to stop doing. There may be meetings we can cut, reporting lines we can shorten, paper work we can ditch or other activities that distract from achieving our prime purpose.

Again, be creative with your ideas. Describe the benefits of stopping doing these things. There may, of course, also be some minuses. If so, describe how we can manage these consequences.

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Imagine that you have explained each of the themes you want people to explore. Give people 15 minutes to write as many Post-it Notes as they wish on each of the topics.

You can then invite each person to go up in turn and put their suggestions on the relevant flip charts. They are also to explain their reasons for each of the ideas.

People can co-ordinate what the team wants
to keep doing, start doing and stop doing

Spend some time discussing the key themes that have emerged. It can then be useful to move on to creating a co-ordination plan for delivering the goods.

Super teams go beyond producing action plans. They have a superb co-ordinator – or an agreed co-ordination process – that ensures the actions actually happen.

The co-ordinator’s role is to ensure that people channel their talents towards achieving the team’s goal. This can be important with knowledge workers who may fall into following their own agendas.

Imagine that you have a superb co-ordinator or have created a good co-ordination process. It will then be time to move onto the action plan. Encourage people:

To clarify the specific things they want to keep doing, start doing and stop doing.

To clarify how these plans can be translated into action.

To clarify when people will present the progress they have made towards making things happen.

Clarity is the starting point for any venture, but co-ordination provides the bridge to producing concrete results. Below is an exercise you can use to ensure people follow up the agreements.

Super teams focus on their agreed key strategies. One approach is to clarify what they can keep, start and stop doing. People can then channel their energies towards achieving success.

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April 12th, 2015

C is for Being Calm And Clear When Almost Caring Too Much

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Great workers care deeply about their chosen pursuit. They may feel passionately about encouraging people, playing a sport, healing the planet or whatever.

People often do their best work, however, when they are calm and controlled. They are then more able to clarify the key strategies for going forwards. Doing the right things in the right way increases the chances of achieving the goals.

People can sometimes get thrown off course when they almost care too much. Their emotions take over and they fail to deliver the goods. They may become paralysed by empathy, overcome by sorrow, obsessed by winning a prize or whatever.

Looking at your own life, when have you been calm, clear and able to chart an way effective forward? You demonstrated these qualities, rather than be thrown off-course because you cared too much.

You may have done this when helping somebody to take responsibility for shaping their life, dealing with a crisis or whatever. What were the benefits of taking this route?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you were calm and clear rather than almost cared too much.

Describe the specific things you did then to be calm and clear.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of being calm and clear.

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Leaders of Accident & Emergency Units, for example, must remain calm. Faced by an onrush of patients after a disaster, they must make decisions based on clear thinking.

Such decisions makers often focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results. They explore the following themes.

Clarity – What is actually happening? What are the real results to achieve? What are the short, medium and long-term goals?

Creativity – What are the possible options for achieving the goals? What are the consequences of each option? What is the route we therefore wish to follow?

Concrete Results – How can we deliver the required results? What is the specific action plan? What must be delivered by when – and who will do what – on the way towards achieving the desired results?

Great workers focus on a specific part of the caring curve when making decisions. They care about doing the proper things in the proper way.

Some people care too little. They are sloppy and fail to do the basics. Some people almost care too much and become distracted by things that stop them performing well.

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Environmentalists, for example, care deeply about the health of planet. This has both pluses and minuses. Being sensitive means they can get depressed about what is happening. They need to be calm and clear, however, to chart a positive way forwards.

Matthew Syed, author of Bounce, describes how athletes aim to stay calm at the height of competition. He explained how Sarah Lindsay, the speed skater, achieved this state by maintaining a sense of perspective.

She spent years focusing fully on reaching the final of her speed skating event in the Winter Olympics. Sarah knew she must perform beyond her previous best to reach this goal. In order to do so, however, she knew it was important to flow and finish.

Sarah was seen preparing in the locker room before the final qualifying race saying to herself:

It’s only speed skating. It’s only speed skating. It’s only bloody speed skating.

She kept repeating the mantra. Sarah went out and performed beyond her previous best to reach the final.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to be calm and clear? You want to take this route rather than be thrown off-course because you almost care too much.

You may want to do this when making a transition, dealing with a potential crisis or whatever. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to be calm and clear rather than almost care too much.

Describe the specific things you can do then to be calm and clear in the situation.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of being calm and clear in the situation.

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April 11th, 2015

E is for Creating An Encouraging Environment

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Good encouragers are like good gardeners. They create an environment in which people can grow.

They may aim to create an encouraging relationship, family, school, work place, culture or whatever. People often look back on these positive models and follow similar principles to help others in the future.

Looking back, when did you experience being in an encouraging environment? Some people talk about their parents being nurturing. Some talk about friends, teachers, managers, leaders and others who embodied the spirit of generosity.

Some people talk about critical points in their lives when they chose to encourage other people. They found that this brought benefits to both themselves and others.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you experienced being in an encouraging environment.

Describe the specific things that people did to create the encouraging environment.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of people creating the encouraging environment.

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Encouragers sometimes do more than support people on a one-to-one basis. As mentioned earlier, they create an environment that enables people to grow. The culture they create can reach many people and produce a lasting legacy.

How do they create this environment? Sometimes they simply get on with helping people to grow. This is often the case when building a relationship or a family.

Encouragers also sometimes do work that involves other people. They may aim to lead a project, school, team or organisation. This often calls for a more structured approach to creating a positive environment.

Let’s explore some of the steps people take to make this happen.

Explaining The Environment

Good leaders, for example, are moral and explain the culture before people join a project, team or organisation. Different leaders use different ways to explain the environment. It is vital, however, that they outline:

The goals of the project, team or organisation and the benefits of achieving these goals.

The guidelines that people will be encouraged to follow – the overall Dos and Don’ts and the reasons for these – to reach the goals.

People can take time to reflect and decide if they want to opt into contributing to the culture.

Encouragers then follow certain guidelines for creating a stimulating environment. They often combine elements that, at first sight, may seem contradictory. They balance encouragement, education, enablement and enforcement.

Encouragement

They provide encouragement. They provide a stimulating and supportive environment in which people can grow.

Education

They provide – in its widest sense – education. This includes providing knowledge, wisdom and models that people can use to achieve positive results.

Enablement

They provide practical tools that enable people to shape their futures and achieve ongoing success.

Enforcement

They provide protection. They are prepared to act as enforcers and protect the environment from those who want to spoil it for others.

When doing this, they go back to the original explanation they gave about the culture. They say something like:

Let’s go back to the original contract regarding the culture that is required to ensure the project succeeds.

The goals of the project are …

The guidelines we encourage people to follow to achieve the goals are …

The reasons for encouraging people to follow these guidelines are …

Let me know if you would like to follow these guidelines and make a positive contribution to the culture.

Encouragers love to create a supportive environment. They often embody the qualities of good educators and enable people to shape their future lives. When necessary, they are also prepared to protect the environment for those who want to develop.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to create an encouraging environment? You may aim to do this as a friend, parent, educator, managers, leader or whatever. How can you make this happen in your own way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to create an encouraging environment.

Describe the specific things that you can do then to create the encouraging environment.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of you creating the encouraging environment.

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April 10th, 2015

P is for The Power Of Pottering Around

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Some people divide their day into purposeful time and pottering around time. Both activities provide their own kinds of insights.

Purposeful activity can be inspiring, but you can only ride the wave for a certain length of time. Sometimes you need to rest, reflect and regain your energy.

Different people do this in different ways. They may walk, run, sleep, play, listen to music or whatever. Some people relax by simply pottering around. One definition of pottering around is:

‘To move about without hurrying and in a relaxed and pleasant way.’

Some people do physical activities such as gardening, fixing cars or doing chores. Some do intellectual pottering around. They let their minds wander, explore books or pursue interesting ideas without an end goal in mind.

There is a power in pottering around. People may find that it enables them to pause and let things fall into place. Sometimes their unconscious works on finding solutions to problems.

Looking at your own life, when have you engaged in pottering around? What did you do to pursue this approach?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you have done in the past to potter around.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of you pottering around.

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People can benefit by switching from purposeful activities to pottering around. Let’s explore some of these benefits.

People can pause

Sometimes it is important to simply pause. This can help to refresh the mind, body and soul.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that sometimes we learn by developing the art of losing time rather than saving time. We can become absorbed in pursuits we find interesting. Sometimes the adventure is simply pleasurable, sometimes it provides revelations.

Carl Honoré has described the value of pausing in a fast paced world. He popularised this approach with his book In Praise of Slow. In the United States this was called In Praise of Slowness.

Fast thinking can help to generate the pieces of the jigsaw. But slow thinking may be needed to make sense of the whole picture. Many of our epiphanies come from slow thinking.

Here are seven tips that Carl provides for people who want to create time to pause in their work. You can discover more about his approach via the following link.

http://www.carlhonore.com/

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People can see
things in perspective

Pottering around can help us to reconnect with the important things in life. Sometimes we need to take time out to see the big picture.

Looking at my own life, during the late 1960s I spent a lot of time meandering around the streets of London. During that period I was working intensively in therapeutic communities.

On my days off I would catch the tube, get off at a station and simply wander around the streets. Sometimes I went to a football match or explored bookshops.

Most of the day was spent walking, however, and reflecting. This produced a sense of gratitude. I was in a job I loved where I got paid for encouraging people.

Nowadays in my seventies I still potter around, but this normally comes after spending time writing. This was a lesson learned from Rollo May, the psychologist and author of The Courage To Create.

Rollo encouraged people to make good use of their prime times. These are the times of the day when they feel most creative and have most energy.

Creative people protect these prime times. They aim to catch the wave and do good work, because otherwise the wave is gone forever.

Rollo describes how it is also important to accept that the day has certain cycles. Contributing to the first edition of The Ageless Spirit, he explained:

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I stay in my studio each day for four hours, but the last hour and a half isn’t worth very much. It was hard for me to accept, but what can I do? All I can do is make the most of the creative time I’ve got.

So for two and a half hours I’m moving marvellously; the rest of the time I’m simply fiddling around. But I find joy in fiddling too. I have to accept the fact that I’m not a God. I have to accept my destiny.

I have to accept the fact that I can only do creative work for a few hours a day, but that does not diminish one iota the joy I get from those two hours.

People can sometimes
find solutions to problems

Pottering around involves moving in an overall direction, but it does not always have a specific aim. On some occasions, however, it can result in a person solving other problems that are on their mind.

Kevin Cashman has described how people often get their best ideas in his book The Pause Principle. He does not talk about pottering around, but the principle remains the same.

People sometimes make breakthroughs when taking time out. They may be exercising, taking a shower, driving or doing activities unrelated to the problem they are exploring.

Below is a video in which Kevin describes the pause principle. You can discover more via the following link.

http://cashmanleadership.com/

Looking to the future, would you ever consider taking time to potter around? If so, how can you make this happen? What might be the benefits for you and other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do in the future to potter around.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of you taking time to potter around.

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April 9th, 2015

T is for Taking Charge Of Transitions

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People like to feel in control, especially when faced by the possibility of change. They want to have some influence on shaping their future lives.

This article describes how people can be helped to make transitions when part of a team. They can follow similar principles, however, to make transitions in other areas of their lives.

People sometimes want to cling to the past. Whilst it is good for them to respect the heritage they have built, they may also need to embrace the future.

Imagine that you lead a team that has to make changes in order to stay ahead of the game. Let’s explore how to make this happen.

Setting the scene

Gather people together and explain that you want to focus on how the team can continue to develop. One leader explained this in the following way.

The purpose of this session is to look at how we can continue to shape a successful future.

Looking back, we have done outstanding work when acting as trusted advisors to clients. We have also worked well together when tackling certain crises.

Looking ahead, we must continue to do what we do best. We also need to keep our internal stakeholders happy. The profit targets are mandatory, so we need to find ways to hit these targets.

We also need to be proactive in keeping our stakeholders informed about our progress towards achieving the goals. This will stop them worrying.

Many of our competitors are producing new applications that could put us out of business. We need to build on our strengths and develop ways to help our customers to achieve success.

As you know, several team members are in the process of moving on to other jobs, so we have some openings in the team. One option is to hire more technical specialists.

The other option is to hire more people who can act as co-ordinators. They will run the projects and free you up to do what you do best.

We are moving to a new office. This gives us an opportunity to reconfigure the way we work. At the same time, however, it will be important to keep the good things we like about working together.

My role as a leader is to create a culture in which motivated people can do fine work. Your role is to choose to opt in, encourage other people and help the team to achieve its goals.

Bearing these things in mind, I am going to invite you to share how we can continue to do superb work in the future.

There are many ways to set the scene when inviting people to take charge of a transition. People often work best, however, when they are able to see the big picture.

Building on the
best from the past

Imagine that you have set the context in your own way. You can then invite people to do the following exercise. Give each person a pile of Post-it Notes. They are to each write ideas on the following themes.

The specific things we can take forward from the past are …

The specific steps we can take to do these things in the future are …

The specific benefits of doing these things will be …

Give people 15 minutes to write their ideas. They are then to each go up in turn and put their ideas on flip charts.

People come up with interesting and sometimes unexpected ideas when doing this exercise. Those in one team wrote, for example:

The specific things we can
take forward from the past are:

The chance to have coffee with the leader … The chance to input into how we achieve the team’s goals … The ethic of giving great customer service … The charity work we do mentoring young people in schools … The chance to work remotely providing we deliver the required results … The profit share.

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If appropriate, you can have a discussion after people have put their Post-it Notes on the flip charts. Alternatively, you can leave the discussion until people have also done the next exercise.

Developing in the future

You can then invite people to look into the future. If you wish, you can set the context by asking some of the following questions.

How can we continue to build on our strengths? How can we compensate for any weaknesses? How can we continue to perform superb work?

How can we be even better trusted advisors? How can we help customers to reach their goals? How can we generate and publish success stories?

How can we anticipate future challenges in the market? How can we prepare properly to deal with these challenges? How can we ensure our offering will provide better results than that provided by other suppliers?

How can we keep building good relationships with our internal stakeholders? How can we proactively inform stakeholders about our progress towards the agreed goals? How can we do this in an appropriate way that keeps the stakeholders happy?

How can we implement effective processes in the team? How can we be clear on what we want to: a) Keep doing; b) Start doing; c) Stop doing? How can we take ownership for making sure these ideas are implemented?

How can we maintain the morale in the team? How can we ensure that people are playing to their strengths? How can we ensure that all the other practical tasks are getting done?

How can we continue to contribute to the wider community? How can we share our knowledge with young people, schools and other places? How can we speak at conferences and continue to build a good reputation?

Give people 15 minutes to write their ideas on Post-it Notes. They can then each go up in turn and put their ideas on the following flip charts.

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If appropriate, have a discussion about the ideas people have put on the flip charts. It will then be time to move on to the next stage.

Taking Charge
of The Transition

Good leaders explain the reality of a situation, especially if a team needs to step up its game. They give the big picture and explain the strategic options for going forward.

Such leaders recognise it is vital to have a team of people who want to opt in and shape the future. So they may say something like the following

The world is changing. Maybe we would prefer that things stayed the same, but we now live in a different world.

The team can succeed in this new environment, but we will need to manage the transition. This will call for believing in the agreed way forward and working together to make it happen.

Looking ahead, each of us has several options when facing the need to develop in a changing world. We can choose:

a) To carry on as before.

b) To try to fight the changes.

c) To say we will implement the changes, but only go through the motions.

d) To continue to build on our strengths, develop and manage the changes successfully.

e) To leave for other places.

Each option does, of course, have consequences. My choice is to go for Option (d).

Let me know if you want to continue to contribute towards helping the team shape a successful future.

Good leaders prepare people for making such decisions by doing the exercises mentioned earlier. People are then more likely to feel in charge of shaping their futures.

This article has focused on helping people in a team to go through these steps. As mentioned earlier, however, individuals can follow similar principles in their own lives.

Looking ahead at the transitions they may need to make, an individual can focus on the following things.

The specific things I want to take forward from the past are …

The specific things I want to add, develop or do differently in the future are …

The specific things I can do to take charge of the transition are …

Let’s return to your team. You have invited people to describe how to build on the best from the past and develop in the future.

Many ideas will have been generated. Bearing these in mind, agree on the ones to be implemented. Get owners who will make these things happen.

Conclude the session by inviting these owners to do the exercise described at the end of this article. They are to make action plans and build in some early successes.

People can meet in one month’s time to describe: a) The specific things they have delivered in the past month; b) The specific things they plan to deliver in the next month.

Continue to meet with the team each month to share successes and tackle new challenges. Encourage them to build on the best from the past and also take charge of making the transition.

Here is the final exercise you can invite the owners to do when making actions plans. You can then encourage and enable people to deliver success.

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