Team Maintenance

Photo by rkramer62


We have all been there before. We decide to go on a diet. Or start working out. Or spend more time with the family. It starts out great. We go to the gym 4 times a week. We eat only an apple for five days. We manage to get home three times in the first week before 7PM. We see results. But then, something happens. We stop. Life takes its toll on us. We can’t seem to prioritize our decision anymore. The way our life is built is not supporting our decisions. These decisions will not work in a vacuüm. They must be incorporated into our life, slowly, but surly. Otherwise, it is just to hard to deliver results.

Teamwork is just the same. We think that if we only concentrate on the results, on the task or the issues at hand, everything will be fine. And then we go into a spiral, where the task demands more and more time. And what gets left behind? The team. It’s culture, it’s structure, the interactions between the people.

We have so much work on our hands that “working on the team culture and processes” seem like an indulgence. Who has time for that? We have real work to do. So what do we do, we go to some team building exercise in the woods, where we pull ropes for a day and feel like we worked on our teamwork.

But that is just like going to the gym for a week. Very painful in the short run and not very helpful in the long run.

Every research ever done on the subject of teams suggests that real high performing teams require maintenance. It is enough to focus on the task at hand and on the deliverables. Teams are made of people, and people form relationships. And these relationships, just like our personal relationships, need to be maintained all the time. And they need a setting and environment that supports them. Otherwise, they became a relationship on paper.

Jon Gordon writes in his blog today:

Whether we’re talking sports, business, education, healthcare, etc. the key to success is to build a winning team first. Of course this seems obvious but with increasing pressure to reach certain targets and goals and a challenging economy it’s easy for leaders and their teams to become outward focused on numbers and outcomes rather than inward focused on building the right environment, culture, attitude and synergy.

We must remember that it’s not the numbers that drive the people but the people and team that drive the numbers.

Yes, it is about choosing the right people. About creating the right process. About creating a supporting environment and culture.  Like so many things in life, sometimes the best way to reach our goal, in this case the results, is to not focus on them. The indirect approach.

Just like every person needs to incorporate weekly thinking-time into his schedule, so does a team need to set maintenance time to work on its effectiveness (and not on the results). Time to talk about how the team is doing. Time to get to know each other. Time to reflect about the team’s purpose and every individual’s role in it.

Like starting a diet or going to the gym, there is no one who will do it for you. If you are a team member demand it, make it a part of the culture, of the norm. Ignore those who make fun of you and insist. If you are a team manager, there is really no one else who has more influence on the team’s design and processes but you – and your team – if you let them…

It’s time for some team maintenance.


Shorts: Cristóbal Conde on everything this blog is about


I was reading an interview with Cristóbal Conde, president and C.E.O. of SunGard, in the New-York times (conducted by Adam Bryant) and for most of it, I felt like I was reading this blog. Here are some of my favorite quotes with links to my writing on the subject.

Managers no longer know more than their employees:

I think top-down organizations got started because the bosses either knew more or they had access to more information. None of that applies now. Everybody has access to identical amounts of information.

If you start micromanaging people, then the very best ones leave.

The importance of recognition:

… [R]ecognition from their peers is, I think, an extremely strong motivating factor, and something that is broadly unused in modern management.

There is a difference between management and leadership – too many managers are trying to “lead”:

I think too many bosses think that their job is to be the lead, and I don’t. By creating an atmosphere of collaboration, the people who are consistently right get a huge following, and their work product is talked about by people they’ve never met. It’s fascinating

Skill and experience is not as important as inherent talents and traits in hiring:

I care a lot less about the individual skills. I look for drive and a sense of somebody’s intellectual curiosity.

The importance of Thinking-time:

I tell my secretary, I need an hour and a half once a day where I can go somewhere that doesn’t have a PC or a phone, unless I choose to spend that hour and a half writing. But it’s not just managing e-mails and stuff like that. I need an hour and a half to think. And it could be anything.

Sometimes it gets cut short. But many topics or issues can only be dealt with in an uninterrupted format. I worry about our entry-level people — they’re bombarded with information, and they never get to think.


White space time

Photo by Cillian Storm

On the HBR Editors’ Blog Bronwyn Fryer writes a post called: Manage Your Time Like Jim Collins:

When he says he uses a stopwatch, he means that he tracks his time to make sure he gets the most from his waking hours. He divides his life into blocks — 50% creative time, 30% teaching time, and 20% other stuff (“random things that just need to get done”).

Jim took out a piece of paper and drew a picture of four blocks stacked atop each other. Pointing at the top block, he said, “I block out the morning from 8 am to noon to think, read and write. ” He unplugs everything electronic, including his Internet connection. Although he has a reputation for reclusiveness, when asked about this, he replies: “I’m not reclusive. But I need to be in the cave to work.”

Collins calls this white space time:

For Collins, high-quality work requires long stretches of high-quality thinking. “White space,” as he calls it, is the prerequisite for fresh, creative thought. It’s the time that he spends with nothing scheduled, so that he can empty his mind, like the proverbial teacup, and refill it with new thought.

Well, it certainly is a compliment to have similar ideas to someone like Jim Collins. Here are two short paragraphs from one of the posts I wrote about what I call thinking time:

When I give workshops about personal vision building I talk about setting aside “thinking time” as one of the fundamental skills good leaders acquire for themselves and as a way to updated personal vision constantly. I always point out that I am not talking about thinking during the shower, but as an integral part of your day, preferably, in your office. At this point, people usually nod and agree. But if you ask them a few months later, how many times since the workshop did they take a break during their work day to just stop and think, they usually answer – zero.

There are some truths that people will always agree to, but are reluctant to implement. This is something I know for myself. This piece of advice is easier to preach about than practice. So what is the solution? I think the best one is to outsource the responsibility for setting “thinking time” to somebody else.

I think this kind of thinking is again another manifestation of the idea that sometimes what is missing is more important than what is there. Sometimes, what is not there, improves on what is there.

How do you treat the empty slots in your schedule?  Do you actively create them?



Check this out for another perspective of the same idea.

Who is to blame?


Photo by Martino!

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem. Theodore Rubin

Yesterday I was reading an excerpt from the book “What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen”, published at Knowledge@Wharton. In it, the writer Michael A. Roberto advocates that a big part of leadership is about preventing problems before they occur.  The book starts with an example from the engineering world. This is how it is recapped:

These two stories provide a stark contrast in the handling of information suggesting that a potential problem exists. The managers in the Kansas City hotel case dismissed the concerns of others and reaffirmed their belief in prior judgments by experts. Who were these construction workers to suggest that engineering experts might have made an error? William LeMessurier approached his situation with far more intellectual curiosity. Intrigued by the questions posed by a young engineering student far less knowledgeable than he, LeMessurier chose to perform additional analysis. In time, he began to question his earlier assumptions and judgments. He chose to pursue his concerns and obtain the perspective of unbiased experts. LeMessurier represents the quintessential problem-finder. He did not simply assume that his expert judgments were correct. When he detected trouble, he dug deeper. He wanted to understand the nature of the potential problem. He did not seek to assign blame to others, nor did he let the possibility of a disturbing answer suppress his investigation. LeMessurier clearly approached his situation with a very different mindset than the people involved in the Kansas City hotel tragedy.

This passage immediately reminded me of what I wrote about in this blog yesterday – the “Toxic Tandem“. People in positions of power tend to be oblivious to the needs and actions of the people who have less power than them. Look at the bolded sentence in the quoted paragraph. “These construction workers” are the people who actually do the job. They are the people who walk the walk every day. They might be wrong, but ignoring them is not only dangerous, it is just bad management. But more importantly, you need to go out and seek them out. To hear them. To listen to what they are saying. Because they don’t always come to you. In yesterday’s post I emphasized this from managers’ perspective. Because people are the managers’ job. This excerpt actually gives a different reasoning: “You do not discover problems by sitting in your office waiting for the bad news to arrive at your door”.

The second paragraph that appealed to me was dealt with assigning blame:

Successful problem-finders not only exhibit a curious mindset, but they also embrace systemic thinking. They recognize that small problems often do not occur due to the negligence or misconduct of an individual. Instead, small errors frequently serve as indicators of broader systemic issues in the organization. Effective problem-­finders do not rush to find fault and assign blame when they spot a mistake being made. They step back and question why that error occurred. They ask whether more fundamental organizational problems have created the conditions that make that small error more likely to occur.

In Hebrew we have a term called “תחקיר” (Thachkir). The official translation into English is the word “debrief”, but this word means other things as well. In Hebrew it only stands for a discussion of an event after it occurred. The Israeli Air-force is known around the world for its implementation of after the event debriefing. I actually used to teach about it while I was serving in the Air-force. The main idea is that the recipient of this debriefing is the system and that blame is not part of the process. The blame is part of a different process. This is done in order to eliminate the fear of the consequences. You try to understand what happened, why, and how to prevent it, without asking who is responsible for what happened on a personal or organizational level (“the marketing department”). In the Israeli Air-force this is done regularly after every event, accident, exercise, etc. This is something I think should be, in some senses, better implemented in the business world. Stopping and thinking about why things happened without questioning the specifics of this case and who is to blame but by thinking about the process and the future. About the bigger fundamental organizational problems. This is hard to do in the day to day mess we are handling. But doing so, helps prevent problems instead of solving problems.


Time for thoughts

Photo by springsun

The last couple of weeks have been very busy for me. I found myself studying; working on an event I helped initiate and well… travelling. All of these activities (and more) kept me moving and especially concentrating on the now.

Then, a few days ago, I was on my way to catch a bus for school. As I was crossing the street my bus just want by which forced me to wait for about 20 minutes to the next bus. As I was standing there I realized I forgot to take my IPod with me, which meant – no music or podcasts. So I just waited there.

And then it started… thoughts. Lots of them.

Ideas for my new E-book, ideas for blog posts and thoughts about some of my assignments at school and various things I want to do in the long and short run. It was overwhelming. I had to take my bag off and take out the little notepad I carry with me and write everything down.

As I was writing all these things down it occurred to me. I just experience first handed one of things I write about all the time. The importance of thinking-time. We consecrate so much on the present that we forget to set out planned and intentional time to just think.

As you can easily discern from this post, my thoughts have limited effect, as these days I am only responsible for myself. If you are a manager, you don’t have that luxury. Does your schedule for the coming week contain time to think?




photo by hypertypos

Today, Seth Godin talks in his post about the differences between reacting, responding and initiating. He claims that most people react and respond most of time and don’t initiate enough. To quote the master himself:

“We tend to reserve the third bucket, initiate, for quiet times, good times, down times or desperate times. We wait until the inbox is empty or the new product lines are due (at which point the initiative is more of a response). It’s possible to spend an entire day blogging and twittering and facebooking and never initiate a thing, just respond to what’s coming in. It’s possible to spend an entire day at P&G (actually it’s possible to spend an entire career) doing nothing but responding… “

I have written in the past about setting aside “thinking times“. I explained how important it was to incorporate such times in a permanent manner into schedules.  What Godin talks about is the same phenomena. People save the thinking part, especially the one dealing with the future, to better times. To less busy times. To when we will not be under such a pressure. You know what, these times never come. This is why one of the last paragraphs of Godin’s post, got me thinking. This is the paragraph:

 “Think about the changes you’d have to make (uh oh, initiate) in your work day in order to dramatically change the quantity and scale of the initiatives you create”.

Godin is right (well off course he is…). If we focus all day long on our own rut, without taking our heads up form our desk (or screen), we would not be able to accomplish anything. So how can we initiate? I believe the answer lies in a blend of a number of ideas. Passion and “thinking time”. I already suggested a few ways (1, 2) to achieve the elusive goal of creating “thinking times”. I want to go for the wider point this time. In my E-book, “Playing It to Excellence and Happiness in Real Life – Five Concepts I Learned by Playing Basketball, Working and just Living”, I talk about how passionate people want to learn as much as they can about what they are passionate about and about how passionate people change their surroundings by casting doubt and creating new methods. I think you would be able to initiate the most, in areas you are most passionate about. I think you would not have to set aside thinking time to such areas, because – if you are passionate about something, you think about it all the time, and create thinking times naturally.

Some people would say their job is not that exciting and that there is nothing to initiate and change. They would argue that they job has nothing to be passionate about. “I work as a cashier in a supermarket. I am a cog.What can I change? What is there to be passionate about?” A lot! Think about it – have supermarkets been the same throughout history? What changed? Are there difference between supermarkets – what are they? If you are passionate about what you do and set a time to really think about how to make the most out of what you do, you can reach excellence and make a difference in any position. How will your manager react (and as Godin explains, he will react) when you come up with a new idea?

But what Godin says can be even more important. If you can’t take the initiative in your own work (lousy boss, no one listens to you etc.) do it someplace else. Develop a hobby. Volunteer. Taking the inititave by it self is important. In my E-book i call this – focusing on the process.  The minute you start setting aside thinking time, being passionate and initiating, only good things will happen to you. In the end, your attitude will move into you job or you will be presented with other better opportunities. People who are passionate and who initiate always have more choices.

BTW – is the post an initiative, a response or a reaction?


Blogging as a time-management tool

Yesterday a friend of mine gave me a torn piece of paper out of a magazine. She gave it to me because it mentioned the Peter Principle, which I told her about a few weeks ago, without remembering its name. Anyway, I found the entire article on-line (it is in Hebrew) and read it. It actually deals with blogging as a managerial tool.

Now the mentioning of the Peter Principle is not accidental. One of the claims in the article is that this principle applies to blogging. In my very own very rough translation:

If what you write is worth reading you don’t have the time [to write a blog]. Whoever has time to sit down and invest in his blog, probably has nothing that interesting to say.

If I put aside my own pride (why? Why am I not worth reading????), I am not sure this is true.

First, there are some very interesting blogs written by very busy people. You can check out the blogroll of this blog and see that for yourself and off course there are many more.

Second, and I think more interesting, is that this approach actually portrays to concepts. One relates to time management. The other relates to blogs and blogging as an activity which is not in the heart of a manager’s role.

In his book, “Management Challenges for the 21st Century“, Peter Drucker says that you never know how a product or service that was invented in one industry will affect other industries. Maybe blogging can be used to solve time management problems.

Take for example what I wrote about “thinking time” a few days ago, after reading a post by Franice Wade of The 2Time Management System blog. What if we use the writing of a blog to create “thinking time” for top-managers? If we agree (and it does seem to be a wide agreed on concept) that the higher you are in the hierarchy the more important it is for you to set aside “thinking time” and that the higher you are in the hierarchy it is harder to do so, than perhaps writing a blog could be used as a thinking tool for the manager. If you commit to writing a blog daily or weekly it means you have to set aside time to think about it – which should be great for business.

Many great writers I know don’t write for anyone else but themselves. Some of them use the writing as a sound box, to test their thoughts. It is the passion in their writing that attracts readers. So if you can use a blog in order to think and do it passionately, you get the “regular” results of a business blog but add a value to your business in other ways.


Thinking Time

In his post today, Franice Wade of The 2Time Management System blog, talks about setting aside “thinking time” every day. His post was inspired by an article about the presidential candidates’ time management, and espically that of Barak Oboma:

 Obama’s solution was to set aside time to let his brain work during his mid-August vacation. “The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking,” he said, repeating advice he’d gotten from a Clinton administration veteran.

Setting aside scheduled “thinking time” is a tip you can see in almost any management or time-management book. Most of the biographies I read about great managers and leaders contain this tip as one of the wisdoms that helped those men reach their success. It has almost become a cliché of sorts. But the trouble is most people don’t implement it in their daily lives. Off course setting aside “thinking time” every day might prove a bit difficult but doing once a week or every other week should be easy even for the busiest of managers.

When I give workshops about personal vision building I talk about setting aside “thinking time” as one of the fundamental skills good leaders acquire for themselves and as a way to updated personal vision constantly. I always point out that I am not talking about thinking during the shower, but as an integral part of your day, preferably, in your office. At this point, people usually nod and agree. But if you ask them a few months later, how many times since the workshop did they take a break during their work day to just stop and think, they usually answer – zero.

There are some truths that people will always agree to, but are reluctant to implement. This is something I know for myself. This piece of advice is easier to preach about than practice. So what is the solution? I think the best one is to outsource the responsibility for setting “thinking time” to somebody else.

I think the Obama example is great one. I am not sure, but I guess Obama does not set his own schedule. He has assistants building it for him. This actually simplifies the task of setting aside “thinking time”. It just has to be written into the instructions the assistant gets. Can you outsource the creation of “thinking time” to somebody else? If so, do it right now. My former boss had a secretary who controlled most of his times and meetings – it would not have been a problem for him to instruct her to create “thinking time” once a day or week.

But for managers, the lesson is even more important. You should ask yourselves – if setting “thinking time” for knowledge workers is so important, what am I doing in order to give my subordinates their “thinking time”? You have the power to help you workers by actually making it mandatory to have “thinking time” in their schedule and report to you about the results. Try it. I think you will find the results you workers produce surprising.