How to Avoid the Dangers of Groupthink

Pitfalls of groupthink at work

Collaboration and creative brainstorming sessions occur frequently in most companies. There’s a prevailing idea that, when the most creative minds come together, the meeting will result in the ideal solution for a problem or most innovative product design. While this may be true in some cases, there’s also a risk that the team, department, or committee will fall victim to groupthink, in which the group values unity above critical evaluation. While peace among team members is valuable, it should not interfere with your team creativity, ethics, or business profits.

Here are some problems you could encounter because of groupthink:

  • Lower quality of a solution, idea, or design

    Sometimes, harmony and maintaining the status quo come at the price of the optimal outcome. Even when good ideas are discussed, employees do not articulate potential flaws out of concern for upsetting the group. They may not feel comfortable opposing or criticizing one of their superiors or a more outspoken coworker. This becomes a missed opportunity to address and prevent errors, which could lead to loss of profits and customers down the line.

  • Fewer innovative products

    If and when a company creates a culture that requires employees to toe the line and always be a team player, they may not feel safe suggesting innovative or unique ideas. Over time, products and services suffer because they fall in line with mainstream expectations, rather than offering cutting-edge solutions. Companies such as Apple or Google actively encourage their employees to come forward with unique ideas which is part of the reason that they are constantly reinventing themselves and making innovative leaps in both products and internal operations.

  • Suppressed, resentful employees

    When employees feel that their ideas are silenced, that can lead to complacency, frustration, or even resentment. It’s crucial to let your team know that their new ideas and insights are valued. Otherwise, they will begin to feel undervalued and unappreciated—sentiments that can lead to a toxic work environment or problems with employee retention. Not to mention, your frustrated employees may take their creative ideas to a new company where they feel they are heard.

  • Extinction

    Groupthink may seem like a minor issue at first, but if it becomes the norm, it can cause a company to stagnate and fall behind its competitors. Profits suffer, customers become dissatisfied, and the company’s reputation for prioritizing creativity and innovation deteriorates. Entire product lines may fail or the company, as a whole, could go under. When creative solutions are not presented, companies cannot adapt to the changing market or their customers’ needs.

You’ve discovered you have a groupthink situation on your hands. What do you do?

 

  • Note and vote:

    At the beginning of your meeting, have participants brainstorm individually, writing down their ideas without sharing them. Then have them pick their best two or three ideas, write them on a slip of paper, and pass them forward to share with the larger group. After you collect everyone’s top ideas, mix to maximize anonymity, read each idea aloud and record them on a board. Ask participants to vote on the ideas, using either circle dots posted next to ideas or private votes. When top ideas or solutions are selected, discuss drawbacks or roadblocks and how to overcome them. When nobody “owns” or “champions” the idea initially, it’s easier for the group to engage in open, honest discussion.

  • Select a designated naysayer:

    For each meeting, pick one person to pinpoint shortcomings of proposed ideas, making this an accepted part of meeting culture. Everyone gets a turn and comments are made in a respectful tone and focus on a successful final outcome.

  • Bring in outside help:

    Ask people from other departments or hire a consultant to help you out. Others might see strengths or flaws, or ask important questions, that your existing team members may miss. Fresh eyes offer new insights.

 

 

Many subtle roadblocks occur when groupthink happens to a team, but the problem that connects them all is this: when employees are beholden to groupthink, the best ideas are never made known and mediocre ideas are not improved upon or dismissed for the best organizational success.

What Can Servant Leadership Do for YOUR Company?

Is your company struggling with employee engagement, customer satisfaction, or turning a profit? Have you tried several different methods to overcome your difficulties—implementing new programs, rebranding, expanding your staff—with limited or no success? Are your competitors steadily inching ahead of you?

It’s possible that your company would benefit from a shift in its focus. Instead of concentrating on profits, sales numbers, or “motivating” your employees with bonuses, consider using the servant leadership approach.

Servant leadership is a philosophy created by Robert Greenleaf which has been successfully applied to companies such as The Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, FedEx, and Herman Miller. This leadership style is people-centric and focuses on the happiness and wellbeing of both customers and employees. Instead of leading for one’s own personal gain, servant leaders place the good of the whole above their own personal glory.

Greenleaf’s “best test” for effectiveness of servant leadership is, “Do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?”

You might be thinking, “The idea is nice, but what does the practical application look like? What can servant leadership really do for my business?”

In day-to-day practice, servant leadership involves communicating openly and honestly with customers and employees, listening to feedback, taking actions that positively affect others, and genuinely caring about the wellbeing and satisfaction of both staff and customers. A servant leader sticks up for their team and defends their ideas. They also appreciate the diversity of thought that their team brings and carefully consider all perspectives before making a decision.

That’s not to say that a servant leader is a softie who can be easily manipulated by others. A servant leader is still a leader. There is still a balance of power. Kevin Monroe, a director at Greenleaf Consulting, describes a servant leader as someone who serves others’ legitimate needs, not a genie who grants wishes.

Although it may be tough at first to shift your leadership mentality to revolve around serving others, the benefits of such a shift can be tremendous. Three areas that can benefit from servant leadership are:

1. Employees

When employees feel like they matter, amazing transformations can take place. People become less afraid to voice their concerns or present new ideas; creativity flourishes; innovative problem-solving begins to emerge.

When employees feel like valuable pieces of the company puzzle, they begin to feel a greater sense of loyalty for their company, co-workers, and bosses. Employee retention improves and productivity increases.

Servant leadership also fosters an inclusive environment where diversity is acknowledged and appreciated.

2. Customers

In a company driven by servant leadership, customers are directly benefitted. Leadership stops focusing on the question, “How can we profit?” Instead, they begin to ask, “How can we best serve our customers?”

This important shift means that customer needs become the heart of the company’s motives. Customer concerns are addressed and systems are implemented to make the customer experience positive and enjoyable.

When customers feel genuinely appreciated, they are more likely to become repeat customers. They develop loyalty toward the company and recommend its services to friends and family. Companies such as Southwest Airlines has incorporated servant leadership at all levels of their organization so that their passengers feel not only respected, but “celebrated.” This kind of treatment has led to an average of 43,000 commendations every year.

3. Company Image

When a company is respected by both employees and customers, its brand becomes associated with high-quality and value. It grows a following of loyal customers and builds a sterling reputation. Even though profits are not the central focus of a servant leadership-driven company, studies have found that such companies are often profitable anyway.

Jason’s Deli, for example, shifted its focus to servant leadership and found that not only were customer satisfaction and employee retention positively impacted (8% and 50% increase, respectively), but profitability went up as well. Sandy Wayne studied the impact on servant leadership for the deli and noted that “servant leadership isn’t just a nice thing to do; it can actually impact the profitability of an organization.”

 

When leaders take the focus away from themselves and place it on employees, customers, and the good of the company, they can make a tremendously positive impact. How might servant leadership transform YOUR organization?

If you’d like to discuss servant leadership strategies, please feel free to contact me.

Is Accountability a Centerpiece of Your Leadership?

“It is not only what we do, but what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” –Moliere

 

If your workplace is free of accountability, it is likely filled with blame and distrust. When a project fails or a client leaves, it is natural for people to want answers, which may lead to suspicion and finger-pointing. An accountability-free workplace can easily turn ugly.

As David Gebler, author of The 3 Power Values, says, “Accountability is the number one success factor in any change effort.” If leadership does not hold their team accountable, it is difficult for integrity to be taken seriously. In a workplace where “anything goes” and inaction or missteps are ignored, there is little motivation to do good work. In such a haphazard culture, employees can miss deadlines, show up late, refuse to hold up their end of a project, or mishandle clients…all without consequence.

Unfortunately, many workplaces lack a clear system of accountability. Margery Weinstein of Training Mag cites a Workplace Accountability Study which reveals that “82 percent of respondents admit they have limited-to-no ability to hold others accountable successfully.” This number is especially startling because 91 percent of respondents said that accountability is one of the “top leadership development needs in their organization.”

This lack of accountability may cause interpersonal conflicts, distrust, or the constant need to make excuses. It also allows the dominant personalities in your workplace to direct the company’s ethics. The behavior of influential individuals can easily sway the entire tone of the workplace (which may or may not be a good thing!).

What to do? As a leader, it is tempting to react to a lack of accountability by hovering over your team and micro-managing their every move. There are many reasons why this is a flawed approach (some of which I address in a past blog post), but suffice it to say that your work team will not react well to micro-managing. However, a culture of accountability can be created without setting your team member’s schedules or closely monitoring their work projects. It’s all about striking a balance.

Here are five tips for creating a system of accountability in your workplace:

Clearly Communicate Expectations

Set your team up for success by clearly communicating goals, deadlines, and expected outcomes. Your team members should also understand the consequences of failing to meet a particular aspect of a project or action.

Articulate Your Team’s Value

“When employees aren’t valued, they’re less likely to be engaged with their work,” (Sean Pomeroy, Talent Culture.com). Make sure each member of your team is aware of their worth and the value they bring to the team. Communicate often and openly to your employees to let them know you appreciate their contributions.

Follow Through

Don’t deliver empty warnings. If you’ve made it clear that those who do not meet a specific project deadline will be removed from the project, then follow through with that disciplinary action. You may choose to use a three-strike system to soften the blow for those who have erred for the first or second time. However, be sure to talk to the offender, even if it’s her first time making a mistake, so she knows what your expectations are for the future.

Hold Yourself to the Same Standards

Lead by example. If you make a mistake, own up to it and articulate how you will correct the error and take preventative action so that the same mistake will not occur in the future. If you are exempt from being held accountable, how can you effectively enforce accountability?

Treat Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Instead of sweeping mistakes under the rug, making excuses, or becoming overly distraught, try to look at workplace errors as an opportunity. Talk openly about the mistake with your team and strategize ways to overcome it and create a better system for the future.

 

Company leadership has the power to create a culture of accountability. When all members of a workplace community assume personal responsibility for their actions and inactions, the company can focus on solutions and strategy, rather than blame and distrust.

 

Contact Juli for insight and guidance for YOUR company.

We formed; we stormed! Building a productive team with the Tuckman model

Forming, storming, norming, performing; the Tuckman teamwork model

In a perfect world, our work teams would collaborate effortlessly and achieve their objectives without office politics, personality clashes, or disagreements about processes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world and often have to muddle through team conflicts that may be debilitating to the entire project. But even a team with fundamental disagreements can achieve great things. In fact, those very disagreements can lead to innovation and creativity.

How can team leaders build a cohesive and productive team? By recognizing the typical stages a team encounters and having a plan in place to deal with various obstacles that inhibit productivity.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman articulated the typical phases of team development in his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Tuckman found that high-performing teams usually pass through four stages which he named forming, storming, norming, and performing. Let’s take a look at the four stages and how you can help guide your team to success in each one:

 

Forming:

In this stage, the team comes together and begins learning about one another and the team’s objectives. This is generally an amicable stage, although some team members may be anxious about the expectations of the project or working with their fellow teammates. Some teams warm up to each other quicker than others, so this stage can vary greatly in length.

Your role:

Leadership is crucial at this stage. A strong leader can help identify team members’ strengths and assign them to roles that are best-suited to their abilities. As a leader, you can also help others see the value each team member contributes and begin to build an atmosphere of mutual respect.

 

Storming:

Trouble starts brewing! This stage is characterized by interpersonal conflict, dissent, or disagreement about processes or objectives. Certain personality types may clash, causing team members to feel uncomfortable or even threatened. Leadership may also be challenged or questioned. Some teams skip this stage completely, while others may keep returning to this stage as new conflicts arise.

Your role:

Look at the storming phase as an area of opportunity. This is a time when creative solutions are born and team members can explore the merit of different approaches or concepts. Conflict opens up opportunities to  explore potential innovations and tap into others’ perspectives, which can unearth a treasure trove of new ideas.

If your team is truly struggling to move past the storming stage, consider employing the help of a credible assessment test, such as Insights Discovery, to bridge communication gaps and develop an understanding of basic personality differences.

 

Norming:

After the storm, is the norm. Team members acknowledge differences, but start to move beyond them. In this stage, the team begins to act as a tenuously cohesive group. They grow accustomed to each other’s quirks, motives, and ways of thinking. They also begin to refocus on the larger goal and rally around a common objective.

Your role:

This is a great opportunity to step back and observe. If you notice any leftover tensions from the storming phase, now is the time to address them. In this stage, it’s also a good idea to encourage team-building exercises or outings to continue to strengthen team bonds.

 

Performing:

In the fourth stage, the team is focused and intent on achieving common objectives. They have evolved into a cohesive unit—one in which interpersonal differences are acknowledged and worked through. This stage is marked by a high level of competency among team members and they should be able to work autonomously, as well as collaborate effortlessly.

Your role:

The leader nearly melts into the background at this stage. Trust that your team has what it takes to produce excellent results and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Focus on helping your team grow and develop their talents, and leave the work to them! Don’t forget to provide positive recognition for tasks well done.

 

 

By appreciating and planning for the four typical team-building stages, you set your team up for success. Use team conflict as creative fuel, rather than a stumbling block and capitalize on the diverse set of talents and ideas your team members offer. From forming to performing, each stage is a valuable part of the team-building process.

 

Need help with the storming phase? As a certified conflict mediator, I can offer you guidance. Please, get in touch.

 

Additional Reading:

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm

http://infed.org/mobi/bruce-w-tuckman-forming-storming-norming-and-performing-in-groups/

http://www.project-management-skills.com/teamwork-theory.html

 

The Subtle Art of Managing Up

the subtle art of managing up

If you’re looking to grow as a leader, expand your responsibilities, or create a better framework for your job, you may want to try managing up. Especially if you’re working for a boss who doesn’t invest much time in leadership, it’s a good idea to take the initiative to build leadership responsibilities into your current role.

What, exactly is managing up?

The Harvard Business Review defines it as, “being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.” But it goes beyond that. Rosanne Badowski, co-author of Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You, says that when someone tells you to manage up, they are encouraging you to stretch yourself and go “above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work.”

When done in the right spirit, managing up aims to benefit you, your boss, and your company. It’s not about manipulation; it’s about filling a gap in your company’s framework and providing valuable services.

How do you start managing up?

First of all, start thinking in big-picture terms. Reflect on the company’s needs and how you can help fill them. This kind of thinking is akin to “CEO thinking.” As author John Baldini says, “You’re looking at the holistic point of view for what your department does and how it relates to the rest of your firm.” Pay attention and start to understand the processes and people that make your company successful and what obstacles are blocking potential success.

But careful not to step on any toes! Managing up does not mean taking over your boss’ responsibilities. Nor does it mean telling your supervisor what to do. It means educating, rather than intimidating. Strive to create an open dialogue with your boss and share your ideas.

Get to know who your manager is and what’s important to him. What successes led to his current role? What is his vision moving forward? What does he struggle with, that you may be able to help fulfill?

Part of managing up involves building trust between yourself and your superiors. This goes beyond simply turning in assignments on time or reaching sales goals. It means anticipating your manager’s needs and acting accordingly. It also means tracking your time, projects, and progress.

When you measure your efforts, it’s easier to report them to your boss or your work team during a meeting. It also demonstrates your willingness to carve out your own work experience by setting and achieving goals.

Remember: managing up isn’t always about leadership. Part of your responsibility as a valuable employee is to be an excellent follower when the situation arises. Carefully follow directions and ask clarifying questions, if need-be. Make sure you fully understand a project’s goal and the timeline. If you happen to disagree, for whatever reason, with your manager’s decision, make sure to voice your concerns tactfully. Ask questions to understand her reasoning before expressing disagreement.

Take initiative and aim to add value to your current position. Demonstrate your leadership and self-starting tendencies by effectively managing up. Remember to keep your heart in the right place and strive to enhance the workplace and support your boss, rather than manipulate.

 

Need help with your managing up strategy? Feel free to contact me and let’s figure out how to take your leadership to the next level.

How to Practice Self-Care to Enhance Leadership

Happy, healthy leader

Being a leader means you have to wear many hats, often catering to other people’s needs or juggling multiple projects at the same time. Leaders regularly feel pressured to put their team’s needs in front of their own, which can result in sacrificing their own wellbeing for the good of others.

While this kind of self-sacrifice may be fine on occasion, it has the potential to cause a lot of long-term damage.

As a leader, it is crucial to put time into your own care so you will be better equipped to help others and handle the pressures of your job. Actress Lucille Ball put it this way: “Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” I wholeheartedly agree. If you don’t take the time each and every day to care for yourself, how can you care for others?

Leaders who take the time to check in with themselves tend to be stronger, more resilient leaders. They manage stress better, are more productive, and more creative. A recent study co-directed by a management scientist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio demonstrates that leadership governed by self-care is both effective and sustainable.

Here are several ideas to get you started down a path to better leadership:

1. Find a healthy routine:

Many successful leaders have regular routines, especially in the morning. Kick off the day with a refreshing walk, a meditation session, or even checking some minor to-dos off that never-ending list.

2. Get out into nature:

Even if you don’t have time for a hike each day, try moving your work outdoors when possible, or take your lunch outside. Many of us find ourselves stuck in a concrete jungle, but there are ways to bring a little nature into your day-to-day work. If the weather is nice, consider scheduling lunch meetings on an outdoor patio or move a one-on-one meeting outside.

And if you can’t often escape the office? Try putting some plants at your desk. Many plants are natural air purifiers; here’s a list of the top seven.

3. Nourish the body:

Not only should we eat the rainbow and avoid junk food, we should also keep moving our bodies as much as possible. Just like our bodies are not meant to eat processed foods, they aren’t meant to sit at a desk all day either. Set a timer to make sure you adjust positions or go for a quick jaunt every fifteen minutes. This can help you clear your head and think through a problem you may be stuck on. Our bodies and our minds are constantly screaming for our attention with each ache. Give them some love with movement and foods that nourish.

4. Create a culture of wellness:

Demonstrate the importance of self-care by being a wellness proponent. Hold lunch meetings with healthy food options, invest in standing desks for your staff, or host fitness challenges. When wellness is encouraged and embraced by your co-workers, it is easier to practice your own self-care.

5. Breathe:

When we are stressed, we tend to take very shallow breaths from our upper diaphragm instead of deep belly breaths. In our busy culture, we often deny ourselves full breaths. Try this breathing exercise from Dr. Andrew Weil. It is a great tool to use right away in the morning, before going to bed, or during any high-stress situations, like before a big presentation.

6. Create space:

Oftentimes, leaders feel like they must take on every project or task that comes across their desk. Overloading yourself with work isn’t good for the company (you likely won’t produce your best work when you’re juggling a million things at once) and it isn’t good for you. Have faith in your team and delegate tasks. Not only will this create more space for you, it will demonstrate that you trust your team to perform without your constant guidance.

7. Sleep:

Make your bedroom a sanctuary and use it to get a good night’s sleep every night. It is easy to prop up your laptop and answer emails until your eyelids are heavy, but that may disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle. Try avoiding screen time and bright artificial lighting at least an hour before bed and keep devices out of the bedroom. Wind down with a relaxing bath and a good read (in the form of an actual book, not a device).

 

Become a better leader and a better YOU through self-care. What methods work for you? How will you improve your everyday wellness? If you would like help on starting a self-care routine and other tips on being a better leader, please contact me today.

 

The Day-to-Day: 5 Ways to Remind Your Employees of Their Worth Every Day

employee-worth

As the culture of the workforce evolves, employees search for and stay at companies that both compensate them adequately and recognize their worth as a member of the team.

To let your employees know that you value their work, it may sound easy to dole out bonuses; however, your budget may not allow for that and waiting for a potential payout in the distant future does not speak to the work your employees perform every day. There are easier and more cost-effective ways to acknowledge your staff’s worth:

Make it personal.

Just as each employee brings different skills and experiences to your business, individuals will have varying preferences in regards to acknowledgement. Some employees may appreciate a brief check-in from the boss during the day, while others may prefer to be a part of an email group that receives a daily motivational quote or industry-relevant book or article recommendations. Take time to learn what your employees need from you; this consideration lets them know that you are interested and invested in your communication with them. Giving time and attention is one of the best and easiest gifts you can give to help others feel important.

Pass on the praise.

When you hear praise about an employee from a leader or peer, let them know right away with an email, a note, or a visit to their desk. Include your own praise as well; your employee will know that you not only hear the compliment, but that you also agree. The instant recognition can feel very rewarding to your employees, and knowing that their work is appreciated by you and others can maintain high morale around the office.

Leave the door open.

Though you may not be able to do this every day, set aside time at least a few days each week for employees to communicate with you in person. Block off this time on your calendar and let them know this is their opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, communicate ideas, or praise their co-worker. When staff bring you ideas, make sure your open-door policy is truly open. Your employees will know that you value their voice and welcome their opinions.

 Set goals and incentives.

Meet with your employees, in groups if necessary, to create goals for the upcoming quarter or year. Agree on an incentive, whether it be a catered meal from a favorite restaurant or a group outing for a fun activity. Check status periodically (shows you are paying attention). Congratulate them on their progress, or give words of encouragement if they fall behind. Employees will know you value their work when you cheer them on, rather than just demand results.

 See the human side.

The people on your team are multidimensional individuals who have complex lives that extend beyond the office walls. Get to know them by engaging them in conversation and taking the time to truly listen to what they have to say. Ask about their weekend or their family; get them talking about their interests. To foster a little more engagement in the office, set up a corkboard for employees to post fliers about their book clubs, quilting circles, or bowling leagues. Hopefully, when people see that they are valued as multifaceted human beings, they will feel more comfortable being their authentic selves and will open up to you when a problem arises or when they have an out-of-the-box idea.

 

In all of these examples, good communication is key.  When you make time and space for employees to communicate with you, and truly listen and engage, they know that you respect their ideas and acknowledge their worth.

Three Steps for Mediating a Clashing Team

mediating teams in conflict

As a conflict mediator, I’ve helped others work through a wide variety of interpersonal struggles, both personal and professional. But what if your entire team is having issues? How do you deal with building understanding between many people, as opposed to just two? Help your team resolve (or embrace!) their differences with these 3 steps:

1. Get to the root of the problem

Teams clash for a variety of reasons. Conflict can be caused by personality differences, ethical disagreements, unclear expectations, or even simple miscommunications. According to research discussed in Psych Press,[1] conflicts arise in teams in three different key areas:

  • Relationship conflict (personality differences or differences in values)
  • Task conflict (content and outcomes of the task being performed)
  • Process conflict (logistics of completing the task)

To unearth the cause of conflict, it’s important to talk to each team member to get a full picture of what is going on, according to each person’s unique perspective. Allow yourself sufficient time to meet with individuals one-on-one and ask open-ended questions. This process alone may reveal simple misunderstandings or more problematic fundamental issues. However, if the root of the problem is unclear, you may want to bring in a professional conflict mediator or turn to a team-building assessment test, such as Insights® Discovery (which I’ve discussed in past blog posts).

2. Start a dialogue

Once you’ve identified the key factors that are contributing to your team’s issues, open a safe space for dialogue. An assessment tool, like Insights®, can help get a conversation going, especially if you’re dealing with personality clashes.

It can be useful to have a sit-down meeting involving the entire team, in which the framework of the team is discussed, rather than the project at hand. Use this meeting (and any subsequent meetings) to talk about dividing up group responsibilities, sharing the workload, and working out an approach that is collaborative and respectful of all opinions.

If you uncovered work misalignments during your meetings (for instance, a creative-minded person has been saddled with data-crunching), address those misalignments and brainstorm how to fix them.

If you discovered a miscommunication between two parties, bring that up and talk about where you think the communication went wrong.

Don’t forget to listen. Aim for collaboration when solving your team’s conflict and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

And if disagreements still exist? Do your best to negotiate with both sides and find some middle ground. Let your team know that healthy conflict is just fine and conflict is just a sign that something needs to change. If everyone agreed all the time or, if everyone had the same personality, there would be little room for innovation or creative problem-solving.

3. Teamwork maintenance

After you’ve opened up a dialogue and worked through differences, be sure to maintain that open line of communication. Check in with teammates from time to time and ask how the project is going. As a CBS News article[2] aptly put it: “It is important to maintain the momentum by agreeing to continue to talk about the issue as much as appropriate, and use the language of your discussion and other agreed [upon] signals to keep things on track.” Be sure to welcome conversation and let your team know that they can approach you with any issues, no matter how small.

Another way to maintain team harmony is to focus on the project goals and create opportunities for your team to get together to strategize how to work toward those goals. When everyone has a common purpose, minor differences tend to diminish in importance.

Don’t forget to honor team differences in approach and capabilities. When your team is feeling pulled between two (or more) different directions, point out how each way is valid before striving to reach a compromise.

 

Is your team clashing? Contact me today to develop a strategy for pulling yourselves out of conflict.

[1] Psych Press (2014). 5 steps to handling clashing team members. http://www.psychpress.com.au/newsletter/files/NWS-JUN2014/Jun2014_5-Steps-to-Handling-Clashing-Team-Members.pdf.* Accessed 9/12/16. *Updated Link: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:lWKoIynBeDAJ:www.psychpress.com.au/newsletter/files/NWS-JUN2014/Jun2014_5-Steps-to-Handling-Clashing-Team-Members.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

[2] CBS Money Watch (2007). Working around personality clashes. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/working-around-personality-clashes/. Accessed 9/12/16.

How to Communicate Bad News

how to deliver bad news

Whether in your personal or professional life, you’ve likely had to deliver bad news to another person. How did the task make you feel? Did you try to avoid the conversation at all costs? Did the thought of the person’s reaction (or even retaliation) fill you with dread?

Communicating negative news to someone else is never fun, but it doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing! It is possible to approach a delicate topic with sensitivity, poise, and an action plan.

As a business consult, I often go into companies and help them organize and improve their operations. Although that sounds impersonal, sometimes it involves pinpointing inefficiencies in certain departments or even certain people. And that’s very personal! A negative report can lead to the restructuring of a department or shuffling of personnel. In the process, some people might be let go or put on ultimatum.

As someone who has had many first-hand experiences with tough conversations, here are my five crucial steps to effectively communicating bad news:

1. Employ an appropriate delivery method

You’ll want to properly set the stage for communicating your bad news. Oftentimes, that means meeting face-to-face in a quiet location, preferably in a private office or conference room. It’s rarely appropriate to send bad news via email or even over the phone—the only exception is if you’re working with a long-distance client or staff member who cannot easily come into the office. Even in those circumstances you can still create a positive atmosphere by purposely setting aside time for the phone call and placing the call in a quiet space which won’t be disturbed.

2. Review the approach

Don’t go into your meeting without thinking over your approach. Consider how best to frame the news. I have found that candidly laying out a roadmap for the meeting can be effective for setting the tone. It’s also a good idea to encourage the other person to enter into a dialogue, so that they don’t close themselves off or disengage from what you’re trying to tell them. For instance:

“Thank you for meeting me today, Jane. I would like to go over some of the struggles your team is having with XYZ project and some of the ways we might be able to solve these issues. But first, I’d like to hear your take on this. Have you noticed any areas of difficulty with your team lately?”

Of course, not every conversation will warrant feedback from the other person. In those cases, your approach will be adjusted to be more of a delivery than a dialogue.

3. Cite external sources, when possible

If you have statistics or studies to back up your bad news, use them! Evidence will help the other person understand the reasoning behind the negative news. Citing external sources also helps to take the focus off of you and redirect it to the bigger picture. It makes a decision seem less personal and more evidence-driven (which it should be!).

4. Craft your message with sensitivity

Before you have your meeting, take a few minutes to step inside the other person’s shoes and think about how they might receive the news. What can you say to soften the blow? What positive messages can you work into an unfortunate situation? Consider how you can show the recipient that you truly care about them and their success, no matter how difficult the situation may be. Make sure that whatever you say is heartfelt and sincere.

Be sure to explain the reasons behind an action. If you do not, you’ll be doing the other person a disservice and they will likely leave the meeting confused and angry.

5. Prepare recommended courses of action

If you have to fire someone or downsize their department or cut the yearly budget, be sure to have an action plan that can help that individual (or team) move forward in a positive, productive way. Recommend specific resources and next-steps that will help ease the blow.

This step is the true focus of the meeting. Deliver the news as sensitively as possibly, then discuss how to move forward. If you don’t, the recipient of the news will likely be left reeling and wondering where to go next. Show that you genuinely care about their wellbeing by providing thoughtful, detailed courses of action.

 

Delivering bad news is an unfortunate part of leadership, but it doesn’t have to debilitate or overwhelm you. Tough decisions have to be made for the good of the company and occasionally that means certain individuals or departments will take a blow. Put your empathetic skills to work and ease the sting of a difficult conversation.

Need further guidance? Contact me today.

5 Tips for Effective Communication Across Generations

Two generations working together

If we’re to believe the common generational stereotypes in the workplace, we’d assume Baby Boomers are team-oriented workaholics, Gen-Xers are stubbornly independent, and Millennials focus more on their smart phones than their jobs.

But a number of studies have shown that a majority of these stereotypes are unfounded.[1] While there are certainly significant differences among generations, there’s a lot more that we have in common, particularly when it comes to communication.

Communicating across generations is therefore much more effective when we direct our focus not on how we’re different from our coworkers, but on how we’re the same. Below are five methods your organization can use to facilitate effective communication in the workplace, regardless of age difference.

1. Meet Face-to-Face

Though we may assume Millennials prefer communicating through social media and text message, 80% of Millennials in a recent survey expressed a preference for face-to-face communication in the workplace.[2] In fact, this was the overwhelmingly preferred mode of communication by Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials.

2. Instill a Sense of Purpose

Nobody wants to feel like an interchangeable cog in a machine; everyone wants to know that they’re serving a meaningful role within their organization. When employees recognize each other’s shared commitment toward a common goal, generational barriers to communication come crashing down. Clearly defining a team’s purpose and each employee’s role in achieving that purpose is critical to fostering productive workplace relationships.

 3. Avoid Business Jargon

 Using organization-specific terminology may seem efficient, but it can easily become a major detriment to effective communication. This is particularly an issue for Millennials, who will likely make up a significant portion of your organization’s newer employees. If you explain your company’s processes using business jargon that they’ve never heard before, they naturally won’t understand what you’re talking about. To ensure that your entire workforce is on the same page, use language that everyone can understand, and take an extra second to clarify potentially confusing terms or concepts.

 4. Encourage Assertive Communication

Everyone has different communication styles. Generally speaking, Baby Boomers prefer group-oriented communication, Gen-Xers tend to be more self-reliant, and Millennials thrive on frequent interaction with supervisors.[3] The best way to ensure these styles don’t clash is to encourage assertive communication. Your organization should facilitate an environment where people feel comfortable openly sharing their ideas and concerns with each other. Otherwise, resentment can easily build between coworkers who feel their needs and wants aren’t respected.

5. Give Positive Feedback

Older generations often have a more negative perspective on constructive criticism. While Baby Boomers may feel disrespected by feedback, Gen-Xers and Millennials expect consistent performance appraisals. But when it comes to positive feedback, generational attitudes are largely the same. Giving your fellow coworkers recognition for a job well-done is a great way to communicate their value to your organization, and a critical step towards forging stronger workplace relationships.

 

 As our workplaces diversify, it is crucial to connect all generations of workers through effective communication. Mindful, well-structured messaging and interactions can bridge gaps and ensure that people of all ages feel welcomed and nurtured in the workplace. Despite differences, a good deal of common ground exists between generations and smart communication can help people at all stages of life work together harmoniously and effectively.


 

[1] Tolbize, Anick. “Generational differences in the workplace.” Research and training center of community living. University of Minnesota, 2008: 10-13.

 

[2] Schawbel, David. “Even Millennials Want Face Time at Work.” Time. Time, 2 Sept. 2014. Web.

 

[3] Schawbel, David. “Even Millennials Want Face Time at Work.” Time. Time, 2 Sept. 2014. Web.