High Performing Teams

3 Phases of Change – Transitions

There are many models of change, including Kotter’s 8 steps and ADKAR. But the one I like best comes from Bill Bridges, Ph.D. Bridges differentiates between the external change (for example, a promotion, or replacing an old low-tech product line with a new high-tech one, or getting married) and what he calls a “transition” – the internal alignment to that external change. That alignment process, which works for groups and individuals, has three overlapping, and sometimes repeated, phases:

1. Ending

2. Neutral Zone

3. New Beginning.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. Ending. An ending is the letting go of the old. Reactions to endings can range from “We thought it would never end!” to “We’ll never let go!” and all points in between. No matter the reaction, the ending has to occur before much else can happen. If it doesn’t, people remain stuck in the past. I’ll cover Endings in more depth next week.

2. Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is uncertainty on steroids. A person or group in a neutral zone can’t seem to focus on much of anything. They have trouble doing routine tasks and have no energy. This is because their old organizing principle has ended but the new one has not yet formed. Being in the neutral zone requires courage and compassion, because people are typically uncomfortable with uncertainty. I’ll cover Neutral Zone in more depth in 2 weeks.

3. New Beginning. This is when the new foundation/organizing principles become clear. This can occur in a flash of inspiration, or so slowly that the person or group doesn’t even know it’s happening until they look back a while later. Energy and focus and abilities return. I’ll cover New Beginnings in 3 weeks.

When a person or group is moving through a transition, a wise leader lowers expectations of productivity and creativity, and increases the allowance for mistakes. Otherwise, transitions can cause extreme stress to groups and individuals, with concomitant cost to the organizations.

I’d enjoy hearing about transitions that you’ve been through.

Gary Langenwalter

I’ve Got Your Back!

A person is most vulnerable at their back – they can’t see what’s happening. That’s where the expression “I’ve got your back” comes from. So when someone has your back, they’re protecting you where you are most vulnerable. 3 recent experiences have reinforced this fundamental truth:

1. My wife and I watched the movie “42” over the weekend – it’s about Jackie Robinson and what he endured as the first black player in major league baseball. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had instructed Jackie to NOT fight back – to endure the harassment. During one game, the manager of the opposing team was viciously taunting Jackie each time he came up to bat, causing him to fail twice. The third time, one of Jackie’s teammates walked over and got in the opposing manager’s face. Until then, Jackie had been all alone. This made all the difference – having a teammate protecting his back.

2. The memorial service today for Bob White, a highly respected civic leader in Yamhill County, emphasized how much he gave to his community, and how much the community gave back. By definition, a leader needs to support his/her team, and to have their support. Bob lived that principle.

3. I was reading scripture at a worship service last Sunday. I printed out the passages for easier reading. Unfortunately, I had misplaced the last page, and fumbled and halted, extremely embarrassed. The congregation could see the passage projected onto screens which faced them; I could not. After I faltered, the congregation read the final verses aloud. They applauded when the reading was finished! After I recovered from being extremely embarrassed, I truly appreciated what the congregation did – they had my back. That’s a team at its finest – they applaud and hold each other up during a person’s difficult times.

What similar experiences have you had in your teams? What did that feel like when your team came to your rescue? What did it feel like when your team rescued a team-mate?

Do the teams and groups in your current work environment have your (and each other’s) back? Let’s have coffee and chat.

Gary Langenwalter

Well-Behaved Women

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” That’s equally true for well-behaved men. Our civilization has progressed only because some people are willing to step outside of socially acceptable behavior and/or generally accepted wisdom.

What gives a person the courage and the stamina to face down social norms, to be willing to pay the price of creating a new and better world? Because there will assuredly be a price – somebody is benefiting from the way things are right now, and they will do whatever they can to retain those benefits.

In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says that he started his life, like most of us, following the goals and values that other people had set for him. And he reaped wisdom from that process – the wisdom that those goals and values, no matter how noble, were not him. They were not his life. He finally had the courage to let go of the expectations that others had put on him, and to follow his inner leading – that still, small voice that is so easy to ignore in our noisy, frenetic lives. He learned to listen to his inner compass, to let his life speak. Then he started being himself – his unique gift of contribution that the world needed.

When a person lets their life speak, they are no longer primarily focused on being well-behaved. They are willing, and able, to be a voice for the truths that they know, and to invite others to also be true to their own individual callings.

What is the most important task of a leader? Perhaps, instead of worrying about making quotas and measurable goals, the most important task might be to help each person who is entrusted to that leader to have the courage to listen to their inner voice, to let their life speak.

Have you tried to listen to and follow your inner voice? What happened? I’d really appreciate hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter

Handling Setbacks

Setbacks are the direct result of trying to make a difference. The bumper sticker “Well-behaved women seldom make history” is equally true for well-behaved men. The bigger your goals, the bigger the game that you’re playing, the bigger the setbacks you’ll experience.

So what do you do when your idea gets shot down?

How do you get the inner strength to pick up the pieces and keep on keeping on?

Simplistic answer: by taking the long view, and realizing that you’re not going to win every contest of wills.

Deeper answer: by re-grounding yourself in your “why”. Why, at the deepest level, are you trying to reach your goal? Your answer to that question is your call – the fundamental reason you get up in the morning and keep on trying. Frederick Buechner said, “Your call is where your deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” And since the world has so many great needs, I suggest that your call comes from your deepest gladness. What is it that you can’t stop doing? What do you keep on doing, no matter what? Have you ever asked yourself why you do it? That’s your call, your “why”.

I create puns (a few of which are actually pretty decent!) and interject humor frequently. Why? Because I want the world to be a joyful place, where people laugh and get creative. My call is for everybody to have a rich, full, rewarding life, and to treat each other with respect.

So, what’s your call? And how are you living that out day to day? (Because that’s the only place you’ll get to make it real – in your day-to-day life.) I’d truly enjoy hearing from you. Please e-mail me your call, and how you live it, at gary. I promise to respect your privacy, and if you’d like to engage in a dialogue, I’ll be glad to respond.

May your holiday season be joyous.

Gary Langenwalter

Gary Langenwalter

Portland Consulting Group

Coaching . Wisdom . Results



Embracing Opposites

I’m an ENFP. One of the senior leaders at a client is an ISTJ. That makes working together very “interesting” – the way in which I naturally interact, the way in which I typically make decisions seems to be the “right way” but Katie thinks and decides and works in a very different manner. Thus, working with each other takes a lot more conscious effort than working with a person with a style similar to my own.

It would be so easy to make her “wrong” for the way in which she operates. But that would not be fair to her, or to the organization.

Instead, we choose to understand that we are both completely committed to the organization’s mission, and to appreciate the gifts and talents that we each bring. And, based on that, we recognize that the two of us together make a powerful team. When we’re working well together, we have each other’s back. Me – I’m a visionary and possibility person. Katie’s a “do it now”, results-oriented person. I need her viewpoint and her task orientation so that the teams will move forward. She needs my vision and questions and possibilities to keep heading in the right direction. So I truly value her, BECAUSE she is so different.

Yes – it’s a lot of work. But it is definitely worth it – my life is richer because of working with her, and the organization is much better served by our collaboration.

By contrast, the 4 principals of a fledgling consulting organization had the same personality profile. In fact, that’s what attracted them to work together – they were very comfortable with each other. For months, they dreamed and talked and created and dreamed and talked and created, basking in the freedom to do what was truly important without a taskmaster forcing them to meet deadlines. But after a year, they realized that they not only had no clients, they had no prospects! Since there was not a results-oriented person in that team, they eventually dissolved.

What has been your experience in working with a person with a completely opposite type? Is a mix of divergent personality types required for an organization to be vibrant to succeed?

Gary Langenwalter

Ask Dumb Questions

Why ask dumb questions? For the same reason that Dillinger robbed banks – “That’s where the money (results) is!”

We’re accustomed to “telling” our employees what to do. But does that give us the results we want? What would happen if you started thinking of dumb questions that you could ask your employees?

A customer-facing team was not acting like a team – various team members were complaining to the manager that other team members were not doing their job, etc. So the manager led the team in defining their values, which were the typical values: trust, communication, etc. The next week was more same-old, same-old. While the team believed in, and wanted, the values, they didn’t see how their current way of operating prevented them from achieving their desired state.

So we decided to have the team focus on strengths. Each team member wrote the name of every other team member on individual note cards, then wrote a strength for that person. Example, Maria would write “Pat is joyful”, or “Kim is the go-to person for technical issues”. Then the manager collected the cards and gave them to the named person. The manager asked people how they felt about the praise.

The following week, the manager asked the “dumb question” – “Does anyone on the team have all the strengths of each person?” (Obviously not) Then the manager asked the follow-up question, “Since nobody here has all these strengths, is it realistic to try to expect each person excel in all areas?” (No) “So what do should we do about it?”

Have you tried something like this before? What do you think happened next? (And yes, that qualifies as a “dumb question”) J

Gary Langenwalter

What Makes a Team High-Performing?

What makes a team high-performing?

Some would say they should follow the rules for effective team meetings:

· Send out an agenda in advance, showing the amount of time for each topic and the person responsible for that topic,

· Start on time, end on time,

· Someone recording decisions and action items,

· All participants fully present and prepared – no sidebar texting, e-mailing, etc.,

· All persons participating, with the leader insuring that introverts are encouraged to contribute,

· Discussions concluding with action items, with person responsible and due date,

· Parking lot for ideas for future consideration, and

· Interruption-free – no sidebar conversations, phone calls, etc.

The high-performing that I recently observed ignored several of these rules, and yet management said they were the best teams in the organization.

The common thread that makes these teams high-performing is culture: team members were comfortable with each other and trusted each other. (They work together closely, in contrast to an ad-hoc task team.) The teams:

· Joked and laughed – they treated the meeting with respect, yes, but also in a relaxed manner. They knew that they would not be creating world peace in those meetings, so they were able to avoid terminal seriousness.

· Supported each other – they could count on their team-mates.

· Communicated well – they could ask questions and get things resolved.

· Focused on the vision and mission of the organization, instead of their own egos.

· Were learning teams. They were empowered to make changes.

· Made mistakes and owned up to them. They were comfortable that they could make mistakes (that’s how people and teams learn!) without being criticized, and knew the boundaries within which they could experiment.

· Focused on their customers.

· Allowed team members to use their judgment.

We’ll explore some of these topics in more detail in future posts.

What do you think? Does this fit your experience?

Gary Langenwalter

Scariest Part of Leadership

The scariest part of leadership is letting go of control and trusting others to do the right things and make the right decisions. The concept of control underpins hierarchical organizations – the person above controls the actions and decisions of the persons below. This structure has been used for millennia by military, religious, and commercial organizations. These people are managers; they “manage” persons and other resources.

But what if a leader, instead of insisting on detailed control, does something entirely different? What if a leader co-creates the vision and mission, and goals and objectives and strategies, with his or her people? What if a leader then turns them loose to be as great as they can be, and supports them as they try new ideas? What if a leader gives a prize annually for the best new idea that failed? What would that type of organization be like? Unstoppable. Because in that organization, each individual will feel supported and challenged to be all they can be. They will bring everything they’ve got to work every day. And they will collaborate with colleagues to create programs, products, and services that delight customers and increase profits.

So what’s so scary about this? The leader has to give up the illusion of control. It’s an illusion, because we can only truly control those things over which we have one more degree of freedom, which we obviously do not have with fellow humans. However, our society expects and even demands that leaders “be in control” of their company or department. So the leader needs to change from creating controls to insure proper behavior, to instead being effective at inspiring people and nurturing guiding principles.

This transition is a little like learning how to float and swim. When I was younger I was deathly afraid of the water; I would stand in a corner of the swimming pool and shiver. My parents insisted that I take swimming classes. I finally decided to quit fighting the water and trust it to hold me up. It was scary, but it worked! I got hooked on swimming and even earned my lifeguard certificate. Once a leader quits controlling the employees and trusts them to help the organization thrive, they get hooked on the results AND the process – the only question they ask is why they didn’t do this sooner.

I welcome your feedback

Gary Langenwalter

#1 Job of a Leader

The #1 job of a leader was clearly illustrated at a high school choir concert last night. Actually, there are two intertwined #1 jobs that every effective leader must do consistently.

1. Inspire – inspire the rest of the organization to bring everything they’ve got, every day, to do their absolute best. The young men and young women on stage were inspired – they were doing their best, in spite of their nerves. They watched their director (and I’ve been in too many choirs that DIDN’T watch the director!), because they trusted their director to lead them successfully.

2. Encourage – the root of the word encourage is Old French “couer”, meaning heart. So an effective leader “heartens” the people. For one song, the choir did not come in properly. The director stopped the beat (and the singers stopped, because they were watching her). The director smiled at them, gave the downbeat again, and this time it worked. What could have been a VERY embarrassing situation for high school students was treated as inconsequential by the director. No wonder the students follow the director – she gives them courage to keep on keeping on, even when things go wrong publicly.

So, kudos to the various choirs of McMinnville High School, and the two directors. They demonstrated leadership – and they got wonderful results.

I welcome comments and feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

Nobody’s Perfect!

Nobody’s perfect. While that should not be a big surprise, the real question is this: how does your organization deal with mistakes?

The typical reaction, prevalent in most organizations, is to expect perfection, and then to blame a person when they make a mistake. “Next time you do something that stupid will be your last day at our company.” The underlying assumption is that the person made the mistake on purpose, or through intentional negligence.

However, our experience in the workplace is that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can under the circumstances – incomplete information, lots of pressure, changing and confusing priorities, insufficient resources, frustrating systems, etc. That environment guarantees that mistakes will be made. So why, then, do we blame the person?

A second possible reaction to a mistake is to apply Dr. Deming’s approach (W. Edwards Deming is the father of the quality movement). Study the system to determine the root cause of the mistake, fix the cause, and the mistake will not happen again. That works fine for non-human systems. But human systems are much more complex, because humans carry emotions about past events with us such that they affect our future decisions and interactions. Thus, we might not be willing to trust a person after a major mess-up, even though we have “fixed” the communication gap that caused the problem.

A healthy organization will have a culture of forgiveness, of letting go of the past and encouraging people to move forward. The person who made the mistake will apologize, and the people who were hurt will accept the person’s apology. They will use this experience to strengthen their bonds, to become a tighter team.

Taking this idea one more step: the most successful organizations ENCOURAGE mistakes, because that is how people and teams learn. They understand that being a learning organization is a major competitive advantage. But to get there, they have to create a culture which handles mistakes in a healthy way. In so doing, they are showing us a path forward which other organizations can adopt.

What has been your experience in how organizations handle mistakes?

Gary Langenwalter