Successful Supervisor Part 7 – Using Peer Pressure

January 2, 2017

Everyone knows there is such a thing as “peer pressure.” It is kind of intangible at times and often hard to control, but the group mentality has a lot to do with how people behave. It is also pivotal for morale and engagement in the workplace.

For a supervisor, trying to harness and use peer pressure is often a minefield. From the outside, it may look and feel manipulative, yet to ignore its existence would be a significant missed opportunity.

In this article, we will examine the phenomenon of peer pressure from several different angles and examine some of the ways to use it with integrity and also some ways it can be abused, leading to the opposite impact than the supervisor intended.

The first principle is that not every situation and group is the same in terms of how peer pressure is manifest in the organization. The wise supervisor realizes that there is such a force but holds back from trying to use it until she has a firm grasp of the social structure and what is actually going on.

Why is peer pressure so powerful?

In any group, from inmates in a prison yard to cabinet members of an administration (can you tell the difference?), a set of interpersonal behaviors emerges that tells the members who they are and how they act in certain situations.

These preferred behaviors are rarely written down, and they are most heavily influenced by the informal leader of the group. Note: the informal leader is the person to whom people listen the most, and it is often not the actual leader of the group, unless that person is an especially talented leader.

For ease of communication in this article, I will call the expected set of behaviors the group’s Code of Conduct, or COC.

In any set of circumstances, the COC determines how the group members are supposed to act and react to the daily challenges that come up. The attitude of the members, in most circumstances, will be consistent with what the COC prescribes.

The COC can shift a bit based on local conditions or periods of uncertainty, but in general it is a stable set of group norms that everyone in the group understands, albeit sometimes unconsciously.

A supervisor who understands the COC is able to predict with reasonable accuracy how the group will respond to a stimulus or challenge. This knowledge can be a blessing or a curse for the supervisor.

If the supervisor uses the knowledge to manipulate people, they often resent it and push back hard, because they have a feeling of being maneuvered into doing something. The Supervisor’s logic would feel like this, “I’m going to lay this out so that you have no option but to do what I want because of your own rules of behavior.”

If instead, she uses the knowledge to demonstrate her affection and understanding of the group, it can endear her to people in a helpful way. In this case, the logic would feel like this, “I know your group prefers to hear things that affect you quickly, whether the news is good or bad. I always provide timely communication, so you know where things are headed. I inform you as soon as I know something out of a sense of respect.”

Follow the Leader

Humans, just like animals, establish a kind of informal pecking order in terms of leadership. In any group there will be an inner council of the most influential people, and typically, one leader of that pack. This person sets the tone of the group with regard to its attitude toward the supervisor and management in general.

Often the supervisor was a former leader of the informal pack who was elevated because of her obvious influence. In this case, another individual will backfill for the, now-promoted, former leader to become the new leader of the pack.

For the supervisor, the good news is that it is not hard at all to figure out who the informal leader is. The territory is staked out and defended by all forms of body language and tonal qualities when the person is speaking. The informal leader does not need to be the most vociferous person in the group, although sometimes that happens. The overarching characteristic is one of greater influence than anybody else in the group.

Once the person has been identified, it provides an opportunity for the supervisor to tap into that person as a resource. I like to think of the process as just becoming a lot closer to the person. When I employed this method, I actually felt like I was “adopting” the person in order to understand him or her at a deeper level.

Whether the informal leader is generally negative toward management or positive, it helps the supervisor to have a wide open channel of communication with that individual. Of course, the supervisor is smart to create a bond of trust with every person in her group, but that mandate is amplified when it comes to the informal leader.

The enhanced communication channel is always a two-way street. The individual benefits from understanding the point of view of the supervisor better, and the supervisor gains the understanding of what makes the person tick.

The supervisor can test possible ideas with the person, in confidence, and get some feedback on whether they might be embraced by the group. If the channel is wide open, then the informal leader will tell the supervisor immediately when she is pushing the group too hard or is about to blunder into an unwise policy for the group.

I like to think of this relationship with the informal leader as having a bottle of “Anti-Stupid Pills” that can be doled out to the supervisor whenever a remedy is needed most. If the supervisor reacts in ways that makes the informal leader glad to have shared the information, it will deepen the relationship of trust, and the leader will be more inclined to share sensitive thoughts in the future.

All of these dynamics usually happen in private, but the information, and the supervisor’s reaction, are quickly communicated to the group through informal channels. In this way, the group becomes well informed and the supervisor is protected from making bonehead decisions inadvertently.

The danger of this method is that the supervisor is singling out a person for more attention. People can easily pick up on this dynamic and become negative about the relationship. The smart supervisor works to maintain constant communication with everyone on a daily basis and fosters a cordial relationship with each person.

Try Better Teamwork

Another common method of appealing to peer pressure without being manipulative is to foster a true sense of teamwork within the group. Supervisors who invest time and energy into helping their teams work very well together gain in numerous ways.

In my division, I encouraged each manager and supervisor to take his or her team off site for at least a half day every month. I found over the years that these team building and strategy sessions paid for themselves ten times over in terms of productivity for the remainder of the time. Reason: when people know and respect each other as mates, then the backbiting and dysfunctional behaviors usually melt away.

The precaution here is to test every time if the off-site work is still helping the team to grow. Sometimes, and with some groups, the teambuilding efforts can become a burden or an unwanted disruption. It is important to test the vitality of the interfaces periodically.

One important ingredient was to have a good facilitator who was not on the team guide the discussions and activities. Paying for these facilitators was an investment I was happy to make because the benefits outweighed the costs by orders of magnitude. When people feel great about being on a winning team, they gladly put forth extra effort daily, and any would-be slackers are brought around through peer pressure.

What to avoid

Basically anything that might be interpreted as manipulation has a bigger chance of backfiring than succeeding. A common mistake supervisors make is to pit some people on the team against others in a form of intimidation. It is a ploy that is easily detected through body language, and it lowers trust instantly. If there is a discipline problem with one or two people, the supervisor needs to own the issue and work with the problem people directly rather than attempt to have the group do it through peer pressure.

Another thing for the supervisor to avoid is participating in any form of gossip or rumors. These hurtful practices lower trust and cause a lot of damage. I once had a supervisor who had “loose lips.” She would go around telling people information “on the QT” and people learned quickly not to trust her.

Basically the logic is simple; while the supervisor was whispering some juicy information about someone else, the recipient is thinking, “I wonder what she tells other people about me.”

A part of integrity is keeping confidential information from leaking out. Further, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to coach any individuals who spread rumors that leaking confidential or questionable information about other people, regardless of their position, will not be tolerated.

These are a few of the tips on how and how not to utilize peer pressure if you are a supervisor. They come from my own experiences along the way. There are countless other techniques that may prove helpful to you. My advice is to monitor what tools you find most effective and practice them consciously and with care. Peer pressure is powerful and can be a significant positive force in any group, if it is properly managed.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


A Dozen Leadership Tips

February 20, 2016

When was the last time you really enjoyed going to work? The unfortunate truth is that only about a third of people are engaged in their work, according to Gallup measurements, and the statistic is remarkably stubborn.

The other two thirds go to work each day in a zombie-like state where they go through the motions all day and try to stay out of trouble with the boss, their peers, or their subordinates.

Work life is often a meaningless array of busywork foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place. They hate the environment and intensely dislike their co-workers. Their suffering is tolerated only because there is no viable option for them to survive. What a pity that anyone would spend even a single day on this earth in such a hopeless atmosphere.

We can fault the individuals who allow themselves to be trapped in this way, but I believe the environment created by leaders has a great deal to do with this malaise. Reason: if you put these same individuals in an environment of trust and challenge, nearly all of them would quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers.

It is essential that each individual in the workforce find real meaning in the work being done, and the responsibility is on leaders to make that happen.

Some good research into this conundrum was presented by Viktor Frankl more than a half century ago in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl posits that it “is a peculiarity of man that he must have something significant yet to do in his life, for that is what gives meaning to life.” He discovered this universally human trait while surviving the most horrible of life conditions in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

One cannot imagine a more oppressive environment, but believe it or not, many people at work feel like they are in a kind of concentration camp. The antidote is for leaders to create something significant yet to do.

Dave and Wendy Ulrich, co-authors of The Why of Work put it this way. “In organizations, meaning and abundance are more about what we do with what we have than about what we have to begin with.” They point out that workers are in some ways like volunteers who can choose where they allocate their time and energy. For their own peace and health, it is imperative that workers feel connected to the meaning of their work.

What can leaders do to ensure the maximum number of people have a sense of purpose and meaning in their work? Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

1. Create a positive vision of the future. Vision is critical because without it people see no sense of direction for their work. If we have a common goal, then it is possible to actually get excited about the future.

2. Generate trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together in a framework of positive purpose. Without trust, we are just playing games with each other hoping to get through the day unscathed. The most significant way leaders help create trust is by rewarding candor, which is accomplished by not punishing people for speaking their truth.

3. Build morale the right way. This means not trying to motivate people by adding hygiene factors like picnics, bonuses, or hat days. Create motivation by treating people with respect and giving them autonomy. Leaders do not motivate people, rather they create the environment where people decide whether to become motivated. This sounds like doubletalk, but it is a powerful message most leaders do not understand.

4. Recognize and celebrate excellence. Reinforcement is the most powerful tool leaders have for changing behavior. Leaders need to learn how to reinforce well and avoid the mine-field of reinforcement mistakes that are easy to make.

5. Treat people right. In most cases focusing on the Golden Rule works well. In some extreme cases the Golden Rule will not be wise because not all individuals want to be treated the same way. Use of the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they would like to be treated) can be helpful as long as it is not taken to a literal extreme.

6. Communicate more and better. People have an unquenchable thirst for information. Lack of communication is the most often mentioned grievance in any organization. Get some good training on how to communicate in all modes and practice all the time.

7. Unleash maximum discretionary effort in people. People give effort to the organization out of choice, not out of duty. Understand what drives individuals to make a contribution and be sure to provide that element daily. Do not try to apply the same techniques to all individuals or all situations.

8. Have high ethical and moral standards. Operate from a set of values and make sure people know why those values are important. Leaders need to always live their values.

9. Lead change well. Change processes are in play in every organization daily, yet most leaders are poor at managing change. Study the techniques of successful change so people do not become confused and disoriented.

10. Challenge people and set high expectations. People will rise to a challenge if it is properly presented and managed. Challenged individuals are people who have found meaning in their work.

11. Operate with high Emotional Intelligence. The ability to work well with people, upward, sideways, and downward allows things to work smoothly. Without Emotional Intelligence, leaders do not have the ability to transform intentions into meaning within people.

12. Build High Performing Teams. A sense of purpose is enhanced if there is a kind of peer pressure brought on by good teamwork. Foster great togetherness of teams so people will relate to their tasks instinctively.

This is a substantial list of items, but most of them are common sense. Unfortunately they are not common practice in many organizations. If you want to have people rise to their level of potential, they must all have a sense of meaning. To accomplish that, focus on the above items, and see a remarkable transformation in your organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Prerequisites for Better Teams

February 6, 2016

The culture of a team governs its effectiveness. Most teams have a culture that allows adequate performance despite many unfortunate outbreaks of tension and sometimes childish behavior.

It is unfortunate that more teams don’t experience the exhilaration of working in a supportive culture that produces excellent results. The methods of building teams into high performing units are well documented, but most teams do not go through the rigor required to get to that level.

This article blends well known processes with horse sense born of experience that will allow any team to perform better.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman described four stages that every team goes through. They are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

A critical time for any team is when it is forming. This is when the team is trying to figure out its role and goals. Members are not sure of their status or contribution at this point, and personal bonding is a key element to the eventual success of the team.

It is advisable for the group to go offsite for some initial teambuilding activities. Many leaders avoid this step because often team building activities involve a kind of game atmosphere that does not feel like “work.”

In fact, team building is real work that may be fun at the moment, but it is deadly serious business that can result in millions of dollars of profit if done well or millions of dollars in damage control if not done at all.

During the storming phase, there is some kind of power struggle where members vie for position and influence. It is up to the team leader to help the team move quickly through this awkward time.

Usually the storming stage is short simply because it is painful. People want to get out of the rut of consternation and move on to getting the work done.

It is in the norming phase that the team decides the degree of effectiveness it will ultimately enjoy. If individual and team behaviors are agreed upon with conviction, the team will immediately begin to perform with excellence.

Included in this phase is identifying the individual skills brought to the team by the diversity of talent in the group, the goals of the team, the ground rules of expected behavior, and the consequences of failing to comply with team expectations.

The three most basic things required for any team to become a high performing unit are

1) A common goal,

2) Trust, and

3) Outstanding Leadership.

If these building blocks are in place, all of the rest of the team dynamics (like excellent communication) will sort themselves out.

If any of these elements are missing, the team will sputter and struggle to meet expectations. A key rule fostered by most teams that is most often compromised is to treat each member with respect. There is a kind of disease that sets in most teams where members subtly undermine each other.

People often make jokes in team meetings. Keep your antenna up and you will discover that, for most groups, the majority of jokes are sarcastic digs about other people in the room. Everyone knows they are only jokes, and they laugh, but deep down some damage is done.

Smart groups have a conscious norm that they will enjoy humor in meetings but never make a joke at someone else’s expense. It may seem like a small thing, but over time this practice can really help improve the function of any team.

Team respect is easy to accomplish. The leader just needs to set the expectation and remind people when they slip up. In coaching some groups with a particularly bad habit on this, I have suggested that any time a person makes a joke that is a dig, he or she has to put $5 in a kitty. The money is used later by the group for a party. This small change can actually change the entire culture of a team.

Now that you are sensitized to this issue, just keep track in a few meetings with some hash marks on a piece of paper. You will be astonished how pervasive this problem is and also how certain people are addicted to the practice. Then, solve the problem and begin enjoying the benefits of better teamwork.

I have coached hundreds of teams, and I find that there are patterns that lead to success and other patterns that lead to extreme frustration and failure. There is one condition that rises above all the others when it comes to dysfunctional teams.

When some members of the team believe other members are not pulling their fair share of the load, the team is going to have major problems. Unfortunately, this situation is so common, it is almost universal, yet there is a simple cure that is about 95% successful at preventing this condition or stopping it if it happens.

The cure is to have an agreed upon Charter for the team upfront before behavior problems surface.

During the forming stage of a team, there is an opportunity to document several critical parameters of how the team will operate. These include:

1. A list of the talents and skills each member of the team can contribute
2. A set of solid, measurable performance goals for the team
3. A set of agreed-upon behaviors that the members pledge to follow
4. A statement of the consequences that will occur if a member fails to live up to the behaviors.

When teams take the time at the start to document these four items, the chances of success are much higher than if this step is omitted. The most powerful item is #4, and it is the one that is most often omitted from a charter.

The reason it has power is that when the team is forming, usually all members have good intentions to pull their weight for the good of the team. If they agree that letting the team down by slacking off and having others pick up the slack will result in some unhappy consequence (like being voted off the team, or having no points on an assignment, or having to do extra clean up work, or some other penalty) they are far less likely to practice what is called “social loafing.”

If they are tempted to goof off, then the penalty they have already agreed to is quickly applied, and the bad behavior is immediately extinguished.

Most teams without a good charter end up with the frustration of having one or more people believing they are unfairly doing more than their fair share of the work. When a good charter spells out the expected behaviors and the penalty for non-compliance before the team experiences a problem, it greatly reduces this most common of all team maladies.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Trust and Solving Problems

July 18, 2015

When low trust teams have to tackle real problems, it can be a disaster. The interpersonal issues keep getting in the way.

If you can build high trust into the team dynamic, then the efficiency of solving problems goes up dramatically.

It is important to assess the level of trust on every team. I have developed a quick survey that can be very helpful at understanding the level of trust on your team. If you would like access, just drop me a line.

There are numerous other surveys available online if you just do a quick search.

I sit on several Boards of Directors, and one of them is a pretty low trust group. When a problem comes up, it seems the team is always tiptoeing around the interpersonal issues.

We can discuss things for an hour and not get close to the real problem at hand. We quite often end up putting “BandAids”® on the symptoms hoping the problem will resolve itself.

We all know the world does not work that way.

Another BOD I sit on is a particularly high trust group. They solve problems quickly and efficiently because they get to the heart of the issue fast without playing games with each other.

One hallmark of high trust groups is that they solve problems quickly and with high quality solutions while having fun. Low trust groups often fail to solve the real problem and frequently have to deal with a lot of acrimony.

Exercise for you: Take the time today to do an assessment of the trust level on your team. This is especially important if your team seems to struggle at times. Make sure all members of the team take the instrument and share the data.

If trust is lacking, then get a commitment to do something about it.

Putting up with interpersonal issues that result from low trust is a sign of mediocrity. You can move to excellence simply by investing some time and energy into raising the trust level. It is not impossible, and your team will become much more efficient.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Improving Teamwork

May 30, 2015

Colorful fun

We have all heard the phrase, “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” It came from an article written by Robert Fulgham in 1993 that later became a series of books and tapes. His five key points bear repeating when we think about teamwork. They are:

• Share everything,
• Play Fair,
• Don’t hit people,
• Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone, and
• Take a break in the afternoon for cookies.

Doing what is simple and right is a prerequisite for getting along in this world. Let’s examine this primitive, but profound wisdom as it relates to teams.

Share Everything

Teams exist to accomplish some kind of a goal. Whether it is winning a football game, writing a budget, or gaining a new client, there is always an objective. If you are on a team that has no reason to exist, resign. You are wasting your precious time.

Once everyone on the team understands the vision, the path is clear to figure out how to do it. For that, you need the participation of everyone, not just the leader or a few aggressive members.

The magic of a team is the diverse ideas in the heads of all members. People who keep their ideas to themselves out of embarrassment or other issues, rob the team of the creative juices necessary for outstanding results.

Share your ideas and thoughts on how the team can work well. Be an active member of the team. Don’t assume that, because you are in the same room (or virtual environment) with the rest of the team you are doing your share. As an wise old English teacher of mine used to day, “Put on a suit, and get in the game.”

Play Fair

Duh ?- – – this seems so obvious as to be trivial, but it actually is often a huge roadblock in effective team dynamics. How can this be? It is because what seems fair to me, may not seem fair to you. I had a student tell me once, “I am the kind of person who does what he thinks is right.” Well….duh..again.

Can you imagine someone going around doing what he/she thinks is wrong? I can’t. It is practically impossible to do what you think is wrong unless you are trying to break a bad habit and can’t. Even then, you rationalize, with, “I just needed that piece of chocolate cake today for my sanity. I’ll make up for it tomorrow.” You would need to be a psychopath to do something you honestly believe is the wrong thing to do.

So, all of us, most of the time “play fair” according to our own set of beliefs, values, and circumstances. We may not turn in a team assignment when we agreed to, but that is because we had a terrible day at work. When we got home, the basement was flooded and we had to call the fire department to pump it out. Or, the power was out for two hours which was the time we set aside for this. Or, something happened to our computer, etc. etc.

Don’t get me wrong, these kind of emergencies do come up and cause people to miss responsibilities. That’s life. Other team members will excuse an occasional lapse due to problems beyond control. However, I have witnessed employees who have some kind of “natural disaster” happen to them every week.

After a while, you get the feeling they either are under a “black cloud,” or they are finding reasons to not perform. The interesting point is that they truly believe it is physically impossible to meet commitments. In other words, they are completely justified in their own mind and “playing fair.” Others may not share that opinion, so this leads to conflict.

This exact dynamic is going on to varying degrees all the time between team members. In most cases people put up with the vagaries of the other team members because they don’t want to cause trouble.

However, many times the “disconnects” between people become large enough that the small issues become huge issues in the mind of one person. Then you have open conflict that must be resolved.

Don’t Hit People

When we get frustrated enough, we tend to lose perspective. I don’t know why this happens, but it is part of the human condition. When a team member is far enough out of line, other members begin to take it personally and “attack” the problem person.

Naturally, since this person was “playing fair” according to his/her perspective, he/she becomes angry and defensive. I battle emerges because each party honestly believes the other person is acting irrationally.

This is easy to recognize. One person will throw an “e-grenade” at the other person who says, ” Ouch ! not only did that hurt, but it was unfair. He needs to realize he can’t treat people that way, and I am just the one to do it.” Back comes a bigger “e-grenade” into the computer of the first person, who says, “Well that proves it, he is a real jerk who needs to be put in his place once and for all. Not only is he impolite, he isn’t even quoting me right.”

Back comes a huge “e-bomb” that really blasts the other party. The whole thing has degenerated into the kind of food fight you see in kindergarten. After a while the issue at hand becomes irrelevant and it is more of a personal vendetta between individuals.

There is a 100% cure for this problem. Remember the old adage, “It takes two to tango.” If the recipient of the first “e-grenade” doesn’t take the bait, the issue does not escalate. That is tough to do when you are the recipient of a hurtful comment.

Good teamwork requires the ability to take a shot and not hit back. One easy way to accomplish this is to change the venue. If an attack comes in an e-mail, don’t respond in kind. Pick up the phone or go visit the other person to resolve the issue.

Say You’re Sorry when you Hurt Someone

Sincere humility is the balm that heals up team wounds. Recognize that, in the heat of battle, things may become overheated. You will know this when it happens to you. An echo will bounce back from a note you sent that has a bad taste. You immediately know that you have angered a team member or, at least confused him/her. This is the time to send a humble apology. You can restate the goal and reiterate your commitment to the team as well. This must be followed by a change in action, or it will not work.

Imagine a Greg on the playground who shoves a Mike over something unimportant. Mike says, “Hey whata’ya want to go and do that for?” Greg replies, “Yeah, you’re right, I’m sorry,” but the minute Mike turns his back Greg spits at him. Well, the teacher better get out his whistle, because there is going to be a fight.

Take a break in the afternoon for cookies

Working in teams is actually hard work. Not only must you do the assigned task, you need to keep people from getting on each other’s nerves. That means the stress level is sometimes high for two reasons. It is important to take a break and have some “cookies” from time to time.

Realize most of the “problems” that are driving you crazy today will be unimportant to you in a week or so. When you take the time to celebrate the small wins along the way, it rejuvenates the team for the next round.

Be lavish (but sincere) with your praise and thanks to other team members and they will appreciate it. Every “thank you” is a chocolate chip in the cookie of life.


Merging Cultures

March 14, 2015

Hand Mixer with Eggs in a Glass Bowl on a Reflective White Background.When there is a merger, acquisition or other major organizational change, the different cultures must be blended into a coherent new culture. Managers often assume this will happen naturally over time, so they do not focus on this aspect when planning the merger.

WRONG! Achieving a stable culture where people are at least supportive if not enthusiastically driving a singular mindset is the most significant challenge for most change efforts. Do not assume things will work out; instead, take a highly proactive approach to defining a new culture.

In every case, even when the action is described as a merger of equals, one group will feel they have been “taken over” by the other. Curiously, in many instances, both groups feel they have been taken over because employees in each former group will need to modify procedures to accomplish the union.

Usually, one of the parties is assumed to be in the driver’s seat, so it is the other party that needs to endure the bulk of changing systems. Lack of trust and genuine animosity lead to resistance when it comes to blending the two groups into one.

It is common to have the conflict occur as passive resistive behavior. People will have the appearance of agreeing, but subversively undermine the other group however possible. This kind of “we – they” thinking can go on for years if allowed. So what actions can management take to mitigate the schism and promote unity? Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

1. Start early – Do not let the inevitable seeds of doubt and suspicion grow in the dark. Work quickly after the merger is announced to have teambuilding activities.

Openly promote good team spirit and put some money into developing a mutually supportive culture. Good teamwork is not rocket science, but it does not occur naturally. There must be investments to accomplish unity.

2. Have zero tolerance for silo thinking – This is hard to accomplish because human beings will polarize if given the opportunity. Set the expectation that people will at least try at all times to get along.

Monitor the wording in notes and conversations carefully and call people out when they put down the other group. This monitoring needs to include body language. Often rolling eyes or other expressions give away underlying mistrust.

3. Blend the populations as much as possible – Transplant key individuals from Group A with counterparts from Group B. If this is done with care, it will not take long for the individual cultures to be hard to tell apart. Sometimes the transplanting process is unpopular, but it is an important part of the integration process.

4. Use the Strategic Process – It is important to have a common set of goals and a common vision. If the former groups have goals that are not perfectly aligned, then behaviors are going to support parochial thinking. When conflicts arise, check to see if the goals are really common or if there is just lip service on this point.

5. Reward good teamwork – Seek out examples of selfless behavior from one group toward the other and promote these as bellwether activities. Verbal and written reinforcement from the top will help a lot. You might consider some kind of  award for outstanding integration behavior.

6. Model integrated behavior at the top – Often we see animosity and lack of trust at the highest levels, so it is only natural for the lower echelon to be bickering. People have the ability to pick up on the tiny clues in wording and body language. The leaders need to walk the talk on mutual respect.

7. Co-locate groups where possible – Remote geography always tends to build polarization in any organization. If merged groups can be at least partially located under one roof, it will help to reduce suspicion by lack of contact. If cohabitation is cost prohibitive, it is helpful to have frequent joint meetings, especially at the start of the integration process.

8. Benchmark other organizations – Select one or two companies who have done a great job of blending cultures and send a fact finding team made up of representatives from each group to identify best practices. This team can be the nucleus of cooperation attitudes that can allow unity to spread through the entire population.

9. Make celebrations include both groups – Avoid letting one group celebrate milestones along the way while the other group is struggling. Make sure the celebrations are for progress toward the ultimate culture instead of sub-unit performance.

10. Align measures with joint behavior – Make sure the measures are not contributing to silo thinking. If the goals are aligned for joint performance, have the measures reinforce behaviors toward those goals. Often, well intentioned measures actually drive activity that is directly opposite to the intended result.

One way to test for this potential is to ask, “what if someone pushes this measure to the extreme – will that still produce the result we want”?

11. Weed out people who cannot adjust – A certain percentage of the population in either group are going to find it difficult to get over the grieving process. Identify these individuals and help them find roles in some other organization. It will help both the merger process and the individual.

On the flip side, identify the champions of integration early and reward them with more exposure and more span of control.

12. Create incentives for the desired behavior – People should be encouraged in every way to act and think in an integrated way. This can be encouraged by having the incentive plans pay out only if the joined entity performs seamlessly.

The road to a fully functioning integrated culture can be long and frustrating. By following the ideas given above, an organization can hasten the day when there are few vestiges of the old cultures, and people feel a sense of belonging to a single new order.


Common Denominators of High Performing Teams

June 7, 2014

Group of doctors celebrating successMany teams in the working world have various symptoms of dysfunction. You can observe all kinds of back biting, laziness, sabotage, lack of support, passive aggressive behavior, grandstanding, and numerous other maladies if you study the inner workings of teams.

Yet some teams are able to rise above the petty problems and reach a level of performance that is consistently admirable.

I have studied working teams for decades and have concluded that there are four common denominators successful teams share.

If your team has these four elements, you are likely enjoying the benefits of a high performance team.

If you do not see these things, then chances are you are frustrated with your team experience.

A common goal

This is the glue that keeps people on the team pulling in the same direction. If people have disparate goals, their efforts will not be aligned, and organizational stress will result.

If people on your team are fighting or showing other signs of stress, the first thing to check is if the goal is really totally shared by everyone.

Often people give the official goal lip service but have a hidden different agenda. Eventually this discontinuity will come out in bad behaviors.

Trust

When there is high trust between team members, the environment is real.

Where trust is low, people end up playing games to further their own agendas. Achieving high trust is not simple, nor is it the main topic of this blog article.

I have written extensively on the creation of trust elsewhere. One caveat is that trust is a dynamic commodity within a team.

You need to keep checking the trust level and bolster it when it slips. Constant vigilance is required.

Good Leadership

A team without a leader is like a ship without a rudder.

But the leader does not have to be the anointed formal leader. Often a kind of distributed leadership or informal leadership structure can make teams highly effective.

But beware if there is a poor leader who is formally in charge of a team. This is like the kiss of death. No team can perform consistently at a high level if the official leader is blocking progress at every turn. The best that can be achieved is an effective work-around strategy.

A Solid Charter

I have coached hundreds of teams and discovered that the ones with an agreed-upon team charter always out perform ones that have wishy-washy ground rules.

A good charter will consider what each member brings to the team, so the diversity of talents can be used.

Second, it will contain the specific goals that are tangible and measurable.

Third, it will have a set of agreed upon behaviors so people know what to expect of each other and can hold each other accountable.

Fourth, the team needs a set of ground rules for how to operate. Ground rules can be detailed or general, it really does not matter, but some ground rules are required.

Finally, and this is the real key, there need to be specific agreed-upon consequences for members of the team who do not abide by the charter.

The most common problem encountered within any team is a phenomenon called “social loafing.”

This is where one or more members step back from the work and let the others do it. This inequity always leads to trouble, but it is nearly always avoidable if the consequences for social loafing are stated clearly and agreed upon by all team members at the outset.

People will not knowing slack off if they have already agreed to the negative impact on themselves, or if they do it once and feel the pain they will not do it again.

This last element of successful teams is the most important ingredient. When it is missing, you are headed for trouble eventually.

There are numerous other elements that can help teams succeed, but if you have the above four elements, chances are your team is doing very well.

All high performance teams have these four elements in play everyday. Make sure your team has these as well.