Category Archives: teamwork

A Caring Mindset

Straightforwardness, thoughtfulness, accountability, and resolve.

…the elements of a caring mindset. Do you think this would help you professionally and why?


Thanks Jeff for the recommendation


How to Spot a Great Team

Some leaders of teams that don’t regularly succeed will still insist that they have a great team because team members care about one other and no one ever leaves the team. A more accurate description of their situation would be to say that they have a mediocre team that enjoys being together and isn’t terribly bothered by failure. See, no matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a good team.

The Advantage – Patrick Lencioni

The Customer Experience

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing a CEO Summit sponsored by Results Canada and led by John Spence. A couple of the gems I captured in my workbook:

“The customer experience with never exceed the employee experience”, and

“Picture your lowest performing employee. Now realize they set the standard of excellence for your entire company.” (This one scared me a little.)

5 Signs That You Should Quit Your Job Today

Making the decision is hard, especially if it feels like we’re giving up or failing. Sometimes things won’t change no matter what you do.

5 Signs That You Should Quit Your Job Today

What Not To Do At Your Company Christmas Party

Timely and funny. “Don’t dance like nobody’s watching. Because they are.” is my favourite:

Company Christmas Party

Mean Girls in the Workplace

I tripped across another little gem in my blog reading this week, published in the Harvard Business Review. While they publish much which is good, I choked on this paragraph:

“2. Co-Create New Rules of Engagement. When managers share the process of defining new expectations, they create foster both individual and collective ownership of the problem. “Organizations function best when committed people work in cooperative relationships based on respect,” as Henry Mintzberg has written. “Commitment becomes contagious when people realize its immense benefits not only to the organization but to themselves.””

I really have no idea what this means, or what I’m supposed to do with it. If I step back and think about it, I’m not even sure what the author means by “mean girls”. “Mean” is a judgment, not a behaviour. We can give feedback on behaviours, but the judgement is ours to own.

When we tell one of our staff that they’re mean, or a jerk, or gossiping, what’s their reaction going to be?

“No I’m not.”

. . . and they’re right. Them being a jerk is your conclusion after observing their behaviour. You can go back and forth all day playing the “Yes you did – no I didn’t game” if you want. Not the best use of your time though.

My recommendation is to focus on the behaviour when giving feedback. The things that people do is behaviour. Behaviour is the stuff you can see, hear, and feel. It’s the words we use, the tone of voice, our facial expression, our body language, and our work product. What you saw is fact, not a conclusion that you drew from observed behaviour. It can’t be argued with. What does being a bully, a jerk, or a gossip look like? Describe that behaviour in concrete terms.

We can then describe the consequences, and then get a commitment  to behave differently in the future. Consequences is where the judgment comes in if needed. For example: “Jeff, when we’re in a customer meeting and you roll your eyes, put your hands behind your head, lean back in your chair, and exclaim in a loud voice “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”, it makes you look like a jerk. Can you stop doing that? “

**many thanks to the Manager Tools Podcast for setting my feet on the path of righteousness on this issue.

Focus on Behaviour, Not Conflict Management

This article gives counsel about conflict on teams to the theme of “why can’t we just all get along?”

I think it’s the wrong approach. It puts the manager in the unpleasant and untenable position of being the counsellor, facilitator, and negotiator. From my experience I have found that role frustrating, futile, and not the best use of my time.

Try this instead:

  • Don’t play the “he said, she said” game. You can spend your entire professional life tracking down who said what to whom, and it won’t get you any closer to being effective, efficient, or delivering what you’re responsible for, and your professional career will be much shorter. Focus on behaviour, give feedback appropriate to the behaviour you observed.
  • Healthy conflict is healthy, but once a decision is made kill all other ideas. Yes, maybe it was the wrong decision, and maybe you’ll have to go back and re-evaluate your options. Until then anything else but full commitment to executing the agreed plan is whining at best and sabotage at worst.
  • Own the inputs. If you’re responsible for the deliverables, you’re responsible for the inputs you need to make the deliverables. If Paul in finance didn’t give you the numbers you need for Friday’s report, it’s not Paul’s fault. It’s yours. You wouldn’t go to your boss with that lame excuse. Why would you accept it from your staff?

When Feedback Doesn’t Work

Eventually you’ll run into somebody who really doesn’t want feedback of any kind, ever. This is a serious problem. Somebody who is unwilling or unable to change and improve, or even meet standards, after consistent and repeated feedback about an issue is somebody who will soon have very few choices. Before we get drastic, however, we need to give them feedback.

Yes, more feedback.

They’re going to get feedback about their inability to accept feedback or change their behaviour. This is a much more serious talk. Mark Hortzman of Manager Tools calls this “systemic feedback”.

It looks pretty much like the feedback we’ve given until now. It’s specific (this is what I saw or heard), it matters (these are the consequences when you do that), future oriented & on them (what can you do differently next time?) Except this time it’s about their inability to accept feedback. It looks something like this:

“Sebastian, can I give you some feedback? [pause and wait for acceptance] We’ve talked a couple of times about you coming in late. You made a commitment to me that you’d be in and ready to work when your shift starts, but you’re still coming in late. So this is what’s happening: I’m wondering why you’re blowing me off, and I’m getting a little ticked. I’m also wondering if I can trust you to keep your word about this, or also about anything else. This needs to change before it becomes a serious problem. What are you going to do?”

You may be asked if they’re in trouble, or about to get fired. The answer, at least to begin with, is  “No, you’re not in trouble, but this needs to get fixed.” You’re trying to help them not get fired. Resorting to positional authority is not the best way to influence people anyway. The motivation needs to come from them, not from you or a fear of getting fired or because you’re yelling at them.

Your feedback is still short and sweet, delivered in a low-key, calm way. There’s no need for drama. It will only come across as a farce, and there’s enough drama in the words. You’re also probably feeling a little tense already, especially if this is something you’re doing for the first time. They’ll pick it up, don’t worry.

Changing behaviours and habits is hard, and we’re there to support our people as they go through those changes. This means being patient and consistent, reminding them as needed about where they need to be and what they said they were going to do.

When You Get Bad Feedback

Sometime it takes family to really push our buttons. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is a wonderful human being, yet she is a fourteen-year-old daughter. Don’t worry, I’ll live, but I’m not sure she will.

I joke, of course, but still when I asked her why she hasn’t taken the recycling out for the last week (sorry, when I ask her what’s holding her back from taking the recycling out the last week), and she starts making excuses, I feel my buttons getting a workout.Especially the big red “Daddy” button on my forehead. I really don’t want to hear why the recycling hasn’t been done. I just want to know when she is going to do it, or if I need to take her to bottle depot to get the bins in the garage emptied.

If you’re getting hints, feedback, or hostility from your boss about a missed deadline, project, or deliverable, the thing near the bottom of the list of what your boss wants to hear is why it didn’t get done. Please go back and read that sentence again, because it’s important. Even if your boss actually says: “Why didn’t you get me those numbers by noon like you said you would?”, they don’t want to know why you didn’t get them the numbers. They want to know

a) when you’re actually going to get them, and

b) if you can’t get the numbers what you need from them, if anything. And maybe next time maybe give them more warning, ok?,

Yet sometimes even our bosses have a bad day, and the feedback they’re giving us isn’t especially helpful or clear. Or they aren’t very good communicators. Or they’re just a shouty, stabby kind of boss who’s constructive criticism isn’t all that constructive. There are a couple of things we can do. And yes, getting yelled at is a form of (bad but still useful) feedback.

First, watch your own emotions. It’s easy to get carried away by somebody else’s excitement, disappointment, or anger. Take a deep breath if you have to, then:

1) Ask yourself if there’s anything you did or might have done that contributed to their current state. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re not.

2) Ask yourself what would make a reasonable person behave that way. Try to put yourself in their shoes, see things from their perspective. E-mail is notorious for flipping our intended meaning, since 90% of the emotional communication is missing from it. Be especially careful and non-confrontational in e-mail communications.

3) Ask yourself what is the right thing to do now. Maybe you can fix this, maybe you need to apologize, maybe you need to come up with a way that this situation won’t happen again. Maybe some of the above, or all the above.

What you’re trying to come away with is two things: you want to keep the relationship intact if possible, and you want to come away with whatever it is you might need to improve.

We hate hearing that we’re not doing things as well as we should, or that we need to do things differently in the future. Giving feedback is just as uncomfortable. The person giving feedback, whether it’s a subordinate, peer, or manager wants the same things we do: to preserve the relationship, and to improve performance.

The person giving feedback may not alway be sure how the recipient is going to react. They may have had bad experiences in the past either getting or giving feedback, just like you. They might not especially like confrontation and are better at trying to avoid it. Yes, this is a manager’s job, but that’s another blog posting.

So when we are getting feedback, it’s up to us to listen to decide for ourselves if there’s any value in what’s being said. Remember the person giving you feedback is extending themselves. They are trying to do you a favour even if it doesn’t feel like it. Only a true friend will tell you when you have spinach stuck in your teeth, but in the end you’ll be happy that they did.

How to Give Corrective Feedback the First Time

Don’t overwhelm your staff with constructive criticism once they’re ready for it. Now that you’ve learned to give positive feedback and got comfortable with giving feedback continuously, you’ve focused on catching people doing things right, how and when should you introduce constructive criticism without freaking anybody out?

First, start giving constructive feedback to the people who want it most. Not that ones that need it the most. The people who are most open to getting better at what they do are usually those who are already pretty good. That’s how they got that way. You’re trying to develop your skills too, which means practising first on those that are most receptive will make the learning experience better for you.

If you’re the kind of manager who believes in building relationships with your staff by using regular one-on-one meetings*, then the opportunity will probably come up sooner than later. That means somebody will ask for feedback. If you meet regularly with your staff and watch them in action, you have a pretty good idea of some things you want to share with them.

It’s tempting, or sometimes it happens accidentally, that we over-share at this point. Yes, you want to develop your people. Yes, your staff wants feedback, they’re asking for it, even begging for feedback. This is not the time to pull out “the list” and start reviewing everything they’ve done wrong for the last six weeks.

Start small, keep it casual, and keep it to one thing. You want to see how they handle it. You might want to adjust how you give them feedback in the future. You might have to revisit the same issue a couple of times before it becomes habit. Changing is hard, even for smart people who want to change.

You also want to keep the relationship safe. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy on getting things to this point. Overwhelming somebody with all the things they’ve done wrong in the last six weeks is a good way to sabotage your effort. You’re building a long-term relationship, so patience is a virtue. When it comes to people going slow is the only way to go fast. Discover their style and pace, build up slowly, and you’ll have time to get it all in.

All the effort you’ve put in so far gives you credibility. Spend it wisely. Go too fast, and you’ll spook the horses.

*and if not, why not? Don’t have time to direct, oversee, and develop your staff? Then what are you doing?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with