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Team Derailed? Here’s How to Get Them Back on Track

October 24th, 2018

By: Karen Colligan

Whether you are leading a small work team or a large organization, there are bound to be some team-related challenges. Having some ground rules in place, as I suggested in my last blog, will certainly help, and…you can’t just post those on the board and walk away. As the leader, you need to proactively identify and resolve issues before they impact team members, their work or the business.

Here are 5 common team challenges and what you can do as a leader to fix them.

Lack of trust. This refers to trust in you and in each other. A lack of trust impairs productivity and may lead to missed deadlines, milestones and even project failure.

Solution: Build trust by being very clear about team purpose, individual roles, and expectations. Be open, honest and consistent. Be willing to tackle tough issues and to stand up for the team. Demonstrate empathy. And demonstrate that you trust the members of your team.

Poor communication. Infrequent, incomplete or disrespectful communication impacts employee engagement and may lead to errors or intra-team conflict, ultimately affecting productivity and goals.

Solution: Communicate clearly and regularly. Share as much as you can, especially about business information that may impact the team or their work. Listen. Ask for feedback, ideas, solutions. Model open, honest and respectful communication so the team will mirror that among themselves.

Lack of accountability. When people aren’t held accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work others may have to pick up the slack resulting in conflict or missed deadlines or – at worst – project failure.

Solution: Be sure everyone clearly understands expectations and the impact of not meeting those expectations. Challenge your team to higher performance goals and establish an environment where they hold themselves – and each other – accountable for results.  Include regular progress reports, open sharing of mistakes and lessons learned, and team discussions on how to move through roadblocks.

Conflict and tension. Some conflict is good for airing different ideas. However, when left unchecked or unmanaged, it can lead to distrust in the leader and impair team progress.

Solution: Harness the power of diverse thinking. Create an environment that encourages fresh ideas and approaches. Reach out to those who are less vocal to ensure that their ideas get added to the mix. When everyone feels heard and appreciated, “conflicts” become productive discussions. When tension arises between team members, facilitate a discussion to get to the root of the problem. Overlap of responsibilities, perceived lack of effort or contribution by a team member, and personality differences are common causes.

Working in silos. When team members each march to their own drum, chaos ensues, wasting precious time and resources.

Solution: Be sure everyone has a clear understanding of their role, other team members’ roles and the importance and interdependence of each role and task in achieving team goals. Establishing this knowledge up front will prevent duplication of effort, project delays and team conflict.

And remember, the best teams bring diverse personalities, skills and experience to the table. Recognizing the value that each individual’s skills and traits contribute to the team and how they complement each other will help you lay the groundwork for a well-functioning, high-performing team.

Till next time,


Leadership, learning and development, Relationships, Teams

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Just Saying “Sorry” Doesn’t Cut It

September 24th, 2018

By: Karen Colligan

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we’ve heard multiple “I’m sorry” statements from public figures who have been accused of bad behavior. Most of them sound pretty much the same. “I’m sorry for how I’ve hurt my family, my friends, my (fill in the blanks)…

Let’s get real.  Just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it.  Apology not accepted.

While you can’t go back and undo whatever the offense or error was, a few robo-words in response to it do not in any way compensate, nor do they make the offended party feel any better. You need to take ownership, acknowledge the impact of your error or offense, and assure the other person that it won’t happen again.  In other words, you need to be sincere about it. Saying “sorry” and being sorry are not the same things.

This applies to all errors or infractions, not just the big and public ones.

Imagine this scenario.  You’re on a project team with four other people.  The target project completion date is looming, and your deliverable is key to hitting that target. You’ve had a hellish couple of weeks. Family issues, and “fires” in your day-to-day responsibilities have put you behind. You didn’t alert anyone, because you were so sure you’d be able to catch up.  The day of reckoning – the status meeting – has arrived. How do you convey “mea culpa” to your team?

"I’m really sorry, folks. Between family issues and fighting fires there was just no way I could get it finished. I know it puts us behind, but it just couldn’t be helped."


"I realize that my slipping this deadline has put our hitting the target date in peril. I should have given you a heads up early last week when I first recognized I might not make it. I didn’t, and I know that was irresponsible. Here’s what I’m going to do to get us back on track, and how I’ll prevent things like this in the future…"

As a member of the project team, which would convey more sincerity to you?

I’m on a mission to encourage more kindness and courtesy in people’s day-to-day lives. Promoting sincere apologies is part of that.  We’ve seen multiple examples of insincere apologies from politicians and other public figures. Enough already.

Let’s move the tide in a different direction by: 1) taking ownership; 2) acknowledging the impact; and 3) assuring the injured party that it won’t happen again.

Till next time,



conflict resolution, Kindness, Learning, Life, Relationships


Start the Conversation and Unleash the Possibilities

February 22nd, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

Most of us are familiar with the techniques that help with effective communication – active listening, not interrupting, clarifying questions, paraphrasing, withholding judgment, etc. These all contribute (when you remember to use them) to effective communication, defined as when the sender and receiver of information interpret that information in the same way.

I think, however, that in today’s environment we’re really struggling with that last part. Too often conversations turn into interpreting information “my way” instead of listening to the other person and trying to find common ground. And some conversations, especially if they’re about current events, can’t even get started. I have a friend who cannot even broach the subject of current events with one of her family members because they are on opposite poles of the political spectrum. He just shuts her down. I’ve heard other similar examples. Some have completely ended relationships.

Is this really the way we want to live? In this Year of Possibilities, how about the possibility that we might learn something from listening and trying to understand someone else’s point of view. Why do they think that? What are their hopes and fears? What are the outcomes they’d like to see? I think we might find that what we want is similar, but the approach may be different. If we can’t listen or if we aren’t allowed to speak, how do we find out what we have in common so we can move forward in a more civilized way?

There was an article in the Huffington Post recently that I think expressed this really well. The author, a professor at Oregon State University, grew up in a conservative, working class family, but became more progressive over the years. She writes directly to people in communities like the one she grew up in and asks, “are you willing to have the conversation? Is it more important to you to win than to do good? Or can we build coalitions? Put the needs and rights of all others above ideologies?”

Just think how much more we will learn from listening and being curious rather than from telling and needing to be right. Just think of the possibilities…

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

Till next time,


Communication, conflict resolution, Relationships

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Igniting a Campaign for Civility

October 27th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

Is it just me, or have you also noticed that people seem to be increasingly cranky, rude and self-absorbed these days? Certainly the polarizing rhetoric of this election campaign doesn’t help. And it’s reflected in our everyday communications and behaviors.

“Please” and “thank you” have all but disappeared. And the immediacy and fervor of social media seem to have unleashed a flood of negative and nasty comments that years ago would have kept Proctor & Gamble soap distributors in business.

Enough already.

It’s time for us to pause and consider, “The Young George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and in Conversation.”

Apparently this is not the first time our society has suffered from a lack of kindness, civility and manners. Originally from a list made by French Jesuits in 1595, Washington wrote out the rules as a handwriting exercise when he was a teenager. There are 110 of them. I won’t share them all, but here are 5 that seem especially relevant today.

25th - Superfluous Compliments and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

65th - Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest. Scoff at none although they give Occasion. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Be kind!

82nd - Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise. Do what you say you are going to do.

89th - Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust. Don’t gossip or speak behind someone’s back.

110th - Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. THINK before you speak, before you write, before you act.

In the spirit of George Washington, I’d like to add some modern-day rules to the list. So here are Karen’s Rules of Civility.

1. Smile – even at a stranger – you never know what amazing things may come of it.
2. Say “Please.” Always.
3. Say “Thank you” and acknowledge the gift or deed or service received.
4. Remember, we are all human; we have good days and bad days. Don’t glory in someone else’s bad day.
5. Listen. Put down your cell phone and engage in conversation.
6. Be kind to one another. (Borrowed from Ellen DeGeneres).
7. Say: “Yes, and…” not “Yes, but…” Be positive! See the possibilities…
8. Tell the truth. Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
9. Be curious. Never stop learning.
10. Forgive. Life is too short to hold a grudge.

Thank you for listening.

Till next time,

Communication, Gratitude, Kindness, Life, Relationships

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Don’t Avoid that Difficult Conversation

October 17th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

If you’ve got a difficult conversation brewing and you keep putting it off, you are not alone.  According to a survey conducted by VitalSmarts, who studies this sort of thing, 70% of employees are currently facing (and avoiding) a difficult conversation with their boss, coworker or direct report.  Topics of these conversations range from performance issues to bad behavior to conflicting ideas to communication issues to “I’m leaving” notices. What I find really stunning is that 25% of survey respondents said they have put off having a difficult conversation for more than a year.  Really? Well, my friends, unlike wine, bad news and difficult conversations do NOT improve with age. So stop stalling and just Plan, Prepare and Proceed.

Plan. The longer you wait the harder the conversation will be. You may think that the issue will eventually go away – and it may – but a similar issue is likely to arise at some point and you will regret not dealing effectively with the first one.  Decide whom you need to talk to and get some time on the calendar with them. Schedule a meeting place that is private and without distractions, and schedule it at a “lower-stress” time of day.

Prepare. Think about the following:  What is your goal with the conversation? What are the facts of the situation you want to discuss? What has been the impact? What questions can you ask to gain their perspective? Spend some time thinking about how the other person communicates and what they might need from you to be receptive. Do they need a lot of facts and details, or are they more of a “bottom line” communicator? Consider this in your approach. Focus on structuring your conversation so you start by creating a safe environment and then work toward a mutual solution.

Proceed. As Stephen Covey would say, “begin with the end in mind.” Clarify why you are having the conversation and establish a mutual purpose. You may find that they’ve anticipated this conversation and are relieved it’s finally happening. Maintain respect throughout. Ask for their perspective and find points where you can agree. If things get heated, take a break and then go back to your intent and desire for a mutually acceptable outcome.  There may not be one, and you need to be prepared for that. You may just need to agree to disagree. But by initiating the conversation, being clear about your intent, the facts, and your desire for a positive outcome, you will at least be opening the door for a more positive outcome in the future.

Certainly beats letting all that stuff fester. And the next difficult conversation may not be quite so difficult.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Till next time,


Communication, conflict resolution, Life, Relationships


What Are You Doing This Summer?

June 15th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and, for many of us, the signal to start thinking about our annual vacation. Well, many of us have been thinking about it since January. Let’s be honest.

If you don’t already have something on the calendar, I encourage you to take a few minutes right now (well, after you finish reading this) and pencil in a week or two weeks or whatever your schedule allows. You need a break. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your employer.

Taking vacation has been shown to:
• Reduce stress
• Contribute to better physical and mental health
• Improve relationships

When companies encourage their employees to take vacation, they benefit through:
• Higher employee productivity
• Stronger workplace morale
• Greater retention
• Healthier employees

Whether you take an exotic vacation or a low-key “staycation,” get something on the calendar before the summer gets away from you!

Once you’ve scheduled your vacation, don’t stop there. I highly recommend that you pick a day this summer, and in fact, maybe once a month or once a quarter, that is just…for…you. One day that is your day to do whatever you want, except work! Go to a spa, take a hike, play a round of golf, or just sit by the ocean…whatever feeds your soul.

Just like you need to give your body a break from your workouts, you need to give your brain a break from your work. Thinking, managing your emotions, making decisions, creating new ideas, interacting with others, all require mental effort that can wear your brain out. You need to give it a rest.

In the words of Maya Angelou: “Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Till next time,

Health, Relationships, Stress, Work-life balance

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