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Individual Styles and High Performing Teams

March 27th, 2013

By: Karen Colligan

High Performing TeamsWe all tend to gravitate toward people who are like us.  This is true in our friendships, our relationships and, yes, our work teams. We hope that by focusing on those similarities there will be more harmony and, by extension, a better, more productive work environment. But think about what “harmony” is, in the true sense of the word. It’s NOT everyone singing the same note.  It’s people singing different notes that creates harmony.

As a team leader, it’s easy to fall into like = harmony thinking.  Avoid conflict. Get to the performing stage quicker. Shorten the decision cycle. And yet, without giving air to those different notes – different ideas, strengths, approaches, views – you miss the opportunity to create something innovative and new. Same ol’, same ol’ produces the same ol’, same ol’. Every time.

Consider this scenario.

Mike is about to meet for the first time with a temporary project team he’ll be heading up for the next several months. The members were assigned to him, so he had no input into their selection.  He’s disappointed that he wasn’t asked to pull together a team from “his” people, who think just like him. Life would be so much easier. He hasn’t met any of the team yet, but he’s spoken with four of their managers and has made some notes.

Robert. Quick-thinking. Direct. Not afraid of conflict or challenging the status quo. Confident and decisive. Track record of meeting deadlines and staying within budget. Competitive. Task-focused.

Yolanda. Lots of ideas. Good at creating a vision and inspiring others to follow. Outgoing and friendly.  Likes variety and flexibility. Tends to change topics quickly during discussions. Relationship-focused.

Gary. Quiet and reserved. Great listener. Works to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Good at coordinating efforts and maintaining strong relationships. Strong focus on values.

Barb. Analytical and detail-oriented. Excellent at ensuring all bases are covered. Processes information by asking questions. Lots of questions. Takes a systematic approach to decision-making.

Mike wonders how he will ever be able to meld these diverse styles together to complete the project.  He worries that Robert will compete with his leadership, and that Barbara will get too caught up in the details to get anything done.  And how will Yolanda and Gary work with the other two?

Mike decides that the only way forward is to embrace the differences instead of fearing them. And a magical thing happens. Yes, there are some conflicts at the start – as there are on all teams – but those conflicts, and the different approaches, perspectives, talents, ideas, and strengths harmonize into a final product that is far superior to anything Mike in his monotone world had ever seen.  Because…

Yolanda created a vision.

Robert kept them on track.

Gary ensured they were heard.

Barb let nothing fall through the cracks.

Want to learn more about individual styles and the value each can add to your team? Contact PeopleThink: 415.440.7944 or kcolligan@peoplethink.biz.

Till next time,


Diversity, People, Performance, Professional and team leadership, Teams, Uncategorized

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Virtual Team Communication - Pick Up the Phone!

March 15th, 2013

By: Karen Colligan

team-communicationMost of us have worked on a virtual team at some point in our careers. And we know that the success factors for virtual teams are the same as for regular teams: clear purpose and goals, complementary skills, mutual accountability, open communication, and valuing diversity. Because of the nature of virtual teams, which often cross functions, cultures, geographies, and a variety of enabling technologies, communication takes on a much bigger role in team success.

Barriers to communication
Communication is effective when the sender and receiver of information interpret that information in the same way. This is harder to achieve without the visual signals and immediate feedback you get when communicating in person. Add in different first languages, varied business cultures, and diverse frames of reference and, well, it can be a train wreck. Anticipate and resolve barriers to communication.

Tools that don’t work. If your web or teleconference technology fails during a team meeting it not only impacts communication, it impedes work progress. Thoroughly research and test communication technology before investing in it. Then test it again before each use. If you don’t, it will fail. Guaranteed.

Perceiving is believing. We each have our own “Ladder of Inference” (Chris Argyris, organizational psychologist) which shapes the way we interpret data. This ladder is based on our upbringing, our culture, our values, our life experiences, our education, etc. It often causes us to reach conclusions based on our beliefs rather than reality. Don’t assume! Ask questions to clarify. Recognize that everyone has their own “ladder” and strive to understand intent.

A shortage of characters. Let’s face it. There are ideas, information, concepts, clarifying statements, apologies, directions, kudos that cannot be expressed in 140 characters. Be concise, certainly. But use an adequate number of well-chosen words to say what you mean to say. Think about how what you say is going to impact the other person. Your attempt to be brief may be interpreted as being rude.

Tips for effective communication
Pick up the phone! In a virtual team situation it becomes very easy to rely on email or instant messaging to communicate. Especially when you’re dealing with different time zones or work schedules. Email is one-way communication! If the recipient misinterprets your words, they don’t have the benefit of your body language or tone to shape the meaning. And by the time they reply with a clarifying question the damage may already have been done. Pick up the phone! If there’s a chance of information being misinterpreted, if it needs to be discussed, if it’s bad news, if there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, pick up the phone. Engage in a two-way conversation.

Build and nurture relationships
. On any team, conflicts are bound to arise. However, if you make the effort to build and nurture relationships on the team (did I say pick up the phone?) you’ll have a much easier time dealing with those conflicts.

Acknowledge diversity. Recognize and appreciate that individuals on the team bring diverse skill sets, experiences and ideas to the team. Acknowledge their varied communication styles and adapt yours to promote understanding.

Confirm understanding. End meetings and key conversations by confirming that everyone is on the same page and understands actions and next steps. Unlike wine, misinformation does not improve with age.

Till next time,


Communication, Diversity, People, Professional and team leadership, Teams, Uncategorized

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