Tag Archive for 'Team Building'

Vacuums and voids

You may be aware of the scientific theory that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.  In quantum mechanics, it’s referred to as the vacuum state, which basically means there’s no such thing as a vacuum.

Let’s say, for example, that you created some kind of glass container closed off to all physical particles.  From the outside looking in, it would appear as though it was empty.  But really it’s not.  That space, at the very least, contains electromagnetic waves and particles.  If the slightest piercing were to penetrate the container, it would then be filled with air.  And, depending on where the container was located, a slightly larger opening may see it consumed with water or sand or any other substance.

That’s why philosophers like Aristotle have professed that vacuums don’t exist.  As soon as we think that one is there, something instantly fills it up.

Such is the case at work – an environment notorious for the vacuums that arise.  When there’s a vacuum of information, it’s filled with gossip.  When there’s a vacuum of training, it’s filled with mistakes.  When there’s a vacuum of opportunity, it’s filled with disengagement.

If we were to look specifically at new teams (or established teams that have been leaderless for a while), there are four vacuums that are especially present:  structure, knowledge, relationships, and authority.

Structure:  This represents the systems that are in place, the ways in which the team is organised, and the rules that determine how and when the work gets done.  A vacuum of structure is often filled with misguided people.

Knowledge:  This reflects the collective expertise of the employees, an awareness of their developmental gaps, and the principles that influence their decision-making.  A vacuum of knowledge is often filled with costly errors.

Relationships:  This includes the level of trust among the team members, the degree to which they understand each other, and the extent to which they like and respect one another.  A vacuum of relationships is often filled with conflict.

Authority:  This is in relation to the informal power that some employees hold, the credibility of the leader to lead the team, and the ability of the leader to inspire change.  A vacuum of authority is often filled with power struggles.

If you’re a leader taking over a new or leaderless team, it’s important to fill those four vacuums before other (unfavourable) elements infiltrate them.  As the American writer Tennessee Williams wrote figuratively: “A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff that nature replaces it with.”

The trouble, though, is that a vacuum doesn’t last very long.  Or at all.

I’d like to thank Mark Mackenzie of The Graffiti Eaters for this week’s submission. If you come across something valuable like this, please forward it in to me and I will share it with our readers and subscribers and reward you with a few valuable backlinks!

The power of why

Today’s blog post is priceless and timeless. Priceless because it can be life-changing and timeless because it dates back several hundred ago and it remains timely and relevant to this day… This was submitted to me by Mark Mackenzie of The Graffiti Eaters.

When Beethoven was 26, he started to lose his hearing.  It began as a ringing in his ears that got worse and worse until he was almost completely deaf.  It became so bad that the only way he could communicate with his friends was by getting them to write down what they were saying in a book, into which he would write his reply.

Beethoven’s devastation over what was happening led him to live alone in an Austrian town where he spent time contemplating suicide.  And yet he persevered.  In letters penned to his brothers, he wrote that he remained committed to his work because he saw his art as something that had to survive even if it meant enduring the heartache of not hearing his audiences applaud.  “It seemed unthinkable for me to leave the world forever before I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce,” he wrote.

And so, in the face of pain and struggle, he miraculously continued to compose music.  In fact, some of his most brilliant and famous work emerged during the period that his deafness was at its most severe – truly magnificent pieces like his Symphony No. 9.

The reason Beethoven was able to continue so resolutely in the application of his craft can be attributed to the word why.  As is often said, when the why is big enough, the ‘how’ takes care of itself.  In Beethoven’s case, the why was the influence his music had on the world.

The power of why has been proven empirically by psychologists at Ohio State University.  In a number of experiments, researchers discovered that people who considered ‘why’ they performed a challenging task were more likely to persevere with it.  In comparison, those who focused only on ‘how’ to do it were more likely to give up.

So, if you’re trying to get your employees to be committed to a project or to an activity that’s difficult or unenjoyable, or if you’re eager to get their buy-in for an idea or a change that you know they’ll resist, there is rarely anything more urgent than to articulate why.  In particular

  • Why this?
  • Why now?
  • Why them?
  • Why from you?
  • Why in this way?

The why gives people the purpose to follow your vision and it adds meaning to a job that may otherwise be uninteresting. It may be invisible, but the why is what generates the visible.  To those who are feeling uninspired, it is music to their ears.

The Top 5 Traits of Toxic Teams

Toxic Teams, Toxic People, Low Performance Teams, TeamworkAt one time or another chances are you’ve worked in a Toxic Team

You know what I’m talking about don’t you?

One of those teams where the week feels like this:

MOANday
TEARSday
WASTEday
THIRSTday
FIGHTday

Seriously though, there are some common traits that are alive and well to some degree in all Toxic Teams and the reason I’m giving them to you is because sometimes you’re in a Toxic Team and you don’t even know it!

As human beings we are very good at adapting to our environment so what this means is, we can sometimes not only endure highly stressful or demoralising situations BUT actually trick ourselves into thinking what’s happening is ‘okay’ or ‘normal’.

So here are The Top 5 traits of Toxic Teams you need to know about:

  1. Favouritism – It is very clear to you that there are some people who have somehow been anointed and are part of the ‘in’ group.  These ‘special’ people get preferential treatment, the best performance reviews, the biggest bonuses, taken to lunch with the boss and when they underperform the manager looks the other way.
  2. Snakes in Suits – The manager hardly ever acknowledges you or anyone else in the team for that matter for the great work they do because they’re too busy taking credit for everyone else’s hard work.  You sometimes wonder if the boss even knows your name… The bottom line is, these managers have no time for anyone that cannot further their OWN career and when things go well they’re right there to accept the kudos and when they go badly they’re Missing in Action.
  3. Mind Numbing Meetings – You dread the meetings and will do anything to get out of them because they’re disorganised, start late, always run over time, are dominated by grandstanders, no one ever follows through on agreed action items and last but not least… They’re BOOOOOOOOOOORING!!!!!!!!
  4. The Mirror Treatment – “We’ll look into it.”  You know this one don’t you?  Every time you need something fixed, need some action taken or waiting to hear the outcome of an important decision you get that famous throwaway line, “We’ll look into it.”  Funnily enough these are the same managers that invite your suggestions or feedback for improvement only to ignore them!  Sometimes there’s even a nice little box where you can put your comments… Just to give you a bit of false hope that things may change.
  5. The YES Man (or woman) – If you’re working for a YES Man it’s excruciatingly frustrating!  They won’t make a decision, they’re always REACTIVE because of poor planning, you don’t know if you’re coming or going due to constantly changing priorities and you end up with work from other departments because your boss CAN’T SAY NO.

Now the good news…

If you’re stuck in a Toxic Team, there is a way out – outperform and outproduce your way out of it!

Seriously.

I mean that – if you can totally outperform your toxic team members, someone who come and snatch you away – either another department of better yet – a headhunter (recruiter)!

The key is to document what you’re doing so you have PROOF of your PERFORMANCE and results and making sure it’s as public and noticeable as possible – so the interested parties who are searching for talent can find you.

Some bad news…

Chances are if your team’s toxic, there’s not much you can do to change it – you want to LEAVE it as quickly as possible, either within the same organisation or another company.

Toxic Teams are like cancer – once they infiltrate their way in, there’s almost no chemotherapy available to eradicate it.

Sorry, but that’s the truth.