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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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Ignite Team Performance with Rules of Engagement

October 16th, 2018

By: Karen Colligan

What is it that differentiates a high performing team from a team that never gets beyond the “storming” stage in the forming/storming/norming/performing (The Tuckman Model) journey? How does a high performing team continue to achieve milestones and meet deadlines even as dynamics change due to a new or departing member? How do they manage to overcome the inevitable differences of opinion or even conflict to stay on track?

They establish and adhere to Rules of Engagement.

Think back, for a minute, to when you were in school. No, not college. Think waaay back to kindergarten or elementary school. Most likely on the first day of class your teacher shared with you “the rules.” No talking in class. Raise you hand to go to the bathroom. No fighting. Turn your homework in on time. You knew what the expectations were upfront, and you knew (and, yes, perhaps even experienced) what the consequences were if you didn’t meet those expectations. The goal of the rules was to create a harmonious and productive environment for learning. Without establishing and enforcing those rules, the classroom could have been chaos.

And so it goes with teams. In fact, we’ve seen (or at least read about) that chaos on a nearly daily basis with one very, very visible team. Don’t let that happen to your team.

Allocate some time – as a team – to establish your team Rules of Engagement. These should align with your company values and culture. As you think about what to include, consider things that have been an issue for the team in the past – what guideline can you put in place that will prevent that issue in the future? Here are some topics your rules can address:

Communication. What is the preferred method – email, phone, in person – for sharing information vs. decision making vs. resolving conflict?

Meetings. Is there a limit on length? How will you handle chronic late-comers? How will you ensure that everyone is heard (at the meeting rather than post-meeting in a hallway discussion)?

Decisions. How will you make them? A vote? Who’s the tie breaker?

Conflict. What’s your process for managing it? What will you do when it escalates?

Other potential topics are prioritization, accountability, coordinating task hand off, reviewing each other’s work. And certainly don’t forget to include a general rule about good behavior – kindness, respect, integrity.

Diversity of ideas, opinions, skill sets, experience and background enhances a team’s ability to innovate, and to provide the full complement of capabilities to achieve desired results. The best way to leverage those capabilities and to increase your team’s performance is by defining and maintaining your Rules of Engagement.

Till next time,


Accountability, Communication, Professional and team leadership, Teams


Team Conflict: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

November 20th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan


Conflict on teams is inevitable. Yet when managed effectively, it can actually be a good thing. New ideas are born; relationships are deepened through the airing and resolution of differences; teams grow stronger. When you are a leader in the midst of conflict, however, and attempting to deal with it while juggling everything else, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Here are 5 tips for managing team conflict effectively.

Be self-aware. Understanding your leadership strengths and how you react under stress is essential to handling conflict in a constructive manner. Often our positive traits can be perceived as negative when we are overextended. For example, if you tend to set the bar high for yourself and others, this may be perceived as an unreasonable demand for perfection by a team that is struggling with workload or other internal issues. If your strength is leading through people, when stressed you may spend too much time trying to make sure everyone is happy rather than focusing on the collective team goals.
Know your team. The best teams bring diverse personalities, skills and experience to the table. Recognizing the value each individual’s skills and traits contribute to the team and how they complement (and potentially conflict with) each other will help you lay the groundwork for effective conflict resolution. Build team awareness and appreciation of different styles, and provide opportunities for productive interactions and mutual understanding.
Make the time to just listen. When a deadline is looming, and the team can’t seem to get past a conflict barrier, you may be tempted, as the leader, to force an end to the issue and just push your position through. Don’t. Make time to listen to all sides so you can get to the core of the issue and help the team develop a solution.
Harness the power of diverse thinking. Create an environment that encourages open communication and 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.
Chart the way forward. Embrace the “lessons learned” from the bumps on the journey, refocus on the goals and move forward.

Want to learn more about your leadership style and the styles of your team for more effective conflict resolution? Contact me at kcolligan@PeopleThink.biz.

Till next time,


Communication, conflict resolution, Leadership, Teams

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Leading in the Age of Peanut Butter

July 16th, 2013

By: Karen Colligan

Leading or ManagingTalk to just about anyone in Corporate America today and they’ll tell you that their team is spread pretty thin, many people still doing the work of two following downsizing, and most struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand of “do more in less time.” People are stressed and stretched.

It is the Age of Peanut Butter. And like with peanut butter, the more pressure you put on individuals to spread their time and efforts across a bigger slice of the workload, the thinner and thinner the coverage (and their patience, and their engagement, and their loyalty) will be.

Leading in this environment is challenging because we get caught up in “checking the boxes” and focusing on the management side of our role versus applying those key leadership skills that help keep employees engaged – coaching, inspiring, developing. There’s just no time. We’re just too busy. There are too many boxes still to check. And yet, at what cost do we keep spreading ourselves and others thinner and thinner?

Stop for a minute and think about this. Are you spending most of your time telling your team what needs to be done rather than asking them how things could be done better? Is your door closed more often than open these days? Have you stopped scheduling one-on-one meetings because you kept having to cancel them? If you want to keep your employees on board and engaged it’s time to get back into leadership mode.

Here’s an exercise for you. Put a picture in your head of the best leader you ever had. What were the characteristics of that leader that made them so great? Now visualize the worst leader you ever had. What were the characteristics that made you dislike them?

Now think about how you are leading today. Which of your two past leaders are you most like?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams

Till next time,



Engagement, Leadership, Management, People, Teams

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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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