Does your team have clearly agreed ways of working?

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In my blog post on the 7th of May 2014 titled ‘How great is your team?’, I promised to go into details of the 11 different aspects that makes a great team. The first aspects regarding ‘Burning Platforms’ and ‘Team alignment around critical goals’ have already been posted in this blog. Here is the third installment; ‘Does your team have clearly agreed way of working?’

In recent senior team strategic and leadership facilitations for a leading insurance company, I asked the question: what kind of work should you be mostly doing? The answer was: ‘Strategic Work’. Then I asked: what kind of work do you mostly do? The answer was: ‘Operational Work’. Then I asked what do you think the reason for that is?. After a short discussion it was clear to everyone that it was due to the absence of leadership that requires developing, delegating, engaging, energizing and create an environment for healthy interactions to get freed up from operational responsibilities to find the time to do the required strategic work.

There are 4 possible ways of working based on the responsibilities and roles of the team. These levels include strategic, tactical, operational and interactive. It is important for the team to have clarity and alignment regarding this and to know which other related teams operates in which way with clarity of the interface relationships.

  1. Strategic work: Strategic work involves being able to predict the future business environment in the areas of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal, referred by the acronym PESTAL. They need to do this by having intellectual connections to various channels of information, being able to extrapolate current happenings to the future, being able to see strategic intentions of actions, behaviours and information provided by business movers and shakes. It involves planning for the long-term taking the strategic realities in to consideration. Being able to make investments in people, technology and business relationships in the present to prepare for the future.  A large potion of senior leadership time should be allocated to strategic work. A moderate amount of next level leadership time should be allocated to strategic work. Junior team members should understand the strategic relevance of current decisions and plans and should provide information that has strategic implications to enable higher-level leaders to improve their effectiveness of their strategic work.

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Leading a Team is like Conducting an Orchestra!

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Leading a team is like conducting an orchestra!

The quest for better leadership is still on and will continue to go on forever. One of the reasons for this is the ever-changing mindsets, expectations, challenges and demands presented by the ever-changing world around us.

There are many tools being used to create better Team Leadership and the next few blogs from me will analyse different tools and methodologies available to create better team leadership.

Let’s first see what is ‘Team Leadership’. Is it the same as or different to ‘Leadership’? Leadership can be used in many situations and ‘Team Leadership’ is an art of leading a team as against leading an individual or a set of individuals.

Team leadership has the following challenges that require the responses indicated.

1. Objectives of the team – The larger, more complex and the more challenging the objectives of the team, the type of ‘Team leadership’ differs. It will require skills such as making the team see the big possibilities, making the team believe in their collective ability to achieve the objectives, and it requires aligning the team under a common plan to achieve the objectives.

2. Size of the team – The larger the team is, the less time the team leader has to provide for each team member, the larger the team is, the more complex will be the relationship issues, the larger the team is, the more effort it will take to keep the team motivated. Appointing a few deputy leaders who take over responsibilities for smaller teams within the team and having more team interactions than individual interactions can overcome this.

3. Diversity of the team: The more diverse the team is, more the differences of opinions will be, more the potential conflicts will be and this will require more involvement of the team leader. Proactively helping team members understand each other through team building exercises and radical conversations, selecting the right mix of team members for various projects and investing more time on participative planning and briefing will help overcome this challenge.

4. Resources available (or not available): The resources available or not available for the team in relation to the tasks at hand can pose a challenge to the leader. The leader should use Continuous Improvement techniques such as Kaizen to get the team working together to make the most of existing resources.

5. Conflicts in the team – A team leader will lead different levels of conflicts in the team. Therefore it is important for the leader to be a good listener, mediator and counsellor using techniques from mainstream psychology, transactional analysis and Neuro Linguistic Programming to prevent, defuse or resolve such conflicts.

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What is your teams burning platform?

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The concept of ‘The Burning Platform’ was first introduced by Daryl Conner who used the metaphor of an Oil Rig worker who had to leap into the water to save himself when the platform of the rig was burning. In this situation if the worker did not jump there was certain death as he would have got burned on the platform and jumping into the heated water with debris was possible death if he was not rescued within 20 mts. So he took the call based on the odds of saving his life although both options he had had a high risk of death. What he essentially tries to say is that sometimes we need to take a call in a hopeless situation such as a burning platform and such a call can ignite and motivate us to unite as a team and do the impossible.


Therefore counties unify when there is a burning platform. A historic example is Japan after world war 2. Similarly there are many examples of people uniting when there had been a suicide bomb attack, sports teams uniting after a heavy defeat, companies uniting when competitors launch a game changing product etc.


However the concept of burning platforms, if taken literally can be misunderstood to mean that a team needs a disaster to unite. There are 4 Types of burning platforms as shown in the following matrix.

burning platforms_001








Lets examine each of these burning platforms;

  1. The Platform is burning: This is a problem faced by the team in the present. This means we are in trouble and need to take immediate action. Examples of this situation are; competitor has launched a game changing product, one of our factories have been destroyed by fire, A quality issue that has put us in the danger of loosing our biggest customer, trailing 0 – 2 in a soccer game, civil commotion affecting the supply of vital raw materiel etc.


The leadership response: In this situation the leader needs to gather the entire team and collect information regarding the situation from all team members, asses the crisis quickly, show the team how it can affect each member and the team, collect ideas on how to deal with the situation, formulate a plan and assign team members to take action. Given the situation and its personal impact, the team will [at least temporarily] put aside their differences and work together to deal with the situation. This process can bring diverse team members together, generate creativity, ignite the passion and create synergy. Teams coming out of such situations are generally stronger and are geared to achieve greater results. In this situation the leaders challenge is to convert fear and confusion into confidence and hope.

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