Dealing with a crisis

Fashion gurus say to wear clothes that are in proportion to your figure. That’s good advice for dealing with a crisis, too — keep it in proportion. Don’t panic, because that’s when you’re likely to make matters worse. And don’t stick your finger in the proverbial dyke and pretend you’ve dealt with it, because that makes it likely that it will blow up in your face sooner or later.

Take a deep breath and assess the situation. You need to get out of your ‘reptilian brain’ and into your ‘thinking brain’. Once you’re there, you can decide what you need to do – right now – to minimise the fallout and get on the road to recovery. For example, if a project is in danger of missing a deadline, maybe you can offer some incentives to speed things up, bring someone in to help with the workload, or eliminate some of the non-essential tasks in order to get back on track.

Now analyse. What actually has happened? How many people, and who, are affected and how are they affected? What assumptions are you making? What are the key variables? What is the most important issue, the one that by solving it, will significantly remove or diminish the others?

Next, plan.What are your objectives for resolving the major issue? What actions do you need to take to achieve those objectives? How can you assess your success? What other action can you take to remedy the situation or at least, make it ‘less bad’? When the crisis is a hum dinger, you might want to develop some best-case, worst-case and most-likely-case scenarios and develop plans for those.

A good plan helps you act confidently and effectively, especially when you’ve protected it with a force field analysis to capitalise on the forces working to help your plan succeed and mitigate or remove the forces working against your plan’s success.

Let your stakeholders know what’s going on and what your recovery plan is. They may have some good ideas to add and some other perspectives to consider. When the crisis is your fault, a sincere apology is a smart move.

When you have time to catch your breath, figure out what caused the crisis in the first place – not to lay blame but so that you can make sure a similar crisis never happens again.

It’s all about the people, folks

In many ways, leading virtual teams, project teams and roaming teams (for example, teams of ‘road warriors’ such as ambulance and police officers, sales representatives and repair service technicians) aren’t all that different from leading teams whose members work with you in the same space every day. All these teams have goals to achieve and members who want to feel they’re making a useful, and appreciated, contribution. They want to feel they’re making progress, not just towards achieving their work goals but also personally, in terms of learning and development, for example. And they want to feel a sense of camaraderie with those they work with.

Communication and cordial relationships are the first two foundations for success in all of these types of team. This should come as no surprise — people don’t respond well to being taken for granted. We all want to know we’re valued as individuals, not just for the results we produce, but also as people with families and homes and hobbies.

Without prying, get to know a little bit about each team member’s life outside of work so you can ‘pass the time of day’ in a relaxed and friendly way. Make time every day to check in with each team member and see how they’re going, both generally and work-wise. With roaming, virtual and project teams, you probably need to make a special effort to do that.

Most team members don’t want to connect just with their boss but also with each other; this happens naturally when people see each other every day, but it can be much harder to get to know your project, roaming and virtual teammates. That’s where you come in: finding ways to help the team members get to know a bit about each other’s lives and interests.  

As with any team, take care that subgroups, or cliques, don’t develop, particularly when your team is made up of people from different cultures, functions or locations. Friendships may develop but your goal is to help all team members bond and build up a team spirit.

The third foundation of leading virtual, roaming and project teams is clear expectations. It goes without saying that you need to make clear people’s roles and goals and matters such the formats and frequency of up-dates and how quickly to respond to queries and other communications. Make your expectations clear about non-task matters, too, such as the behaviours you expect during meetings and when it is and isn’t okay to contact each other outside of normal hours.

The ability to lead teams well is a core skill in modern workplaces. It doesn’t matter what sector or industry you’re in — consumer goods, education, finance, manufacturing, service or high tech, or even where your team members are located and how often you see them face-to-face, you still need to make your expectations clear, communicate openly and often, treat team members as individual people who make a worthwhile contribution and find ways to cement their relationships with each other as well as with you.

Can you be too pushy in your quest for getting results?

Is it your job to be liked or to get results? Can you do both? This is an important questions for leader-managers and for project managers.

A study asked lots of MBA students, in three separate studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods, how they saw each other and how they saw their past bosses in terms of like-ability and the ability to get things done. They found that too little and too much assertiveness marks people as ineffective–the inverted U-shape. When you’re too assertive, you have poor working relationships; when you’re not assertive enough, you have poor results. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to be perceived as either too assertive or not assertive enough by your followers.

Whether you’re dealing with conflict, influencing people to do something, or motivating your team, you want to be like Goldilocks and find the ‘sweet spot’ of ‘just right’–moderately assertive–because in the studies, assertiveness levels were complained about more than any other leadership trait–charisma, conscientiousness, intelligence, and so on.

Now you can have your cake and eat it, too.


How to build a great team

Imagine leading a team of people enthused about and energised by their work. Some of the team members may come and go and work at odd hours but however they work, they turn in quality results. They can work on their own or in sub groups and when the time comes, they all pull together to get the work out on time. How can you build a team like that?

  • Bring on board team members with good interpersonal skills because team success is correlated with the average social sensitivity of team members, not their average intelligence. Members of high-performing teams listen and talk to each other, about social matters as well as work-related matters. They’re so in tune with each other and with what each team member is trying to achieve that they know what information or help people need before they ask for it. Communication based on trust and mutual regard is everything.
  • Build a culture of trust, because unless people trust each other do do their jobs well, to lend them a helping hand when it’s needed and so on, they can’t work together well. How trustworthy is a team? Only as trustworthy as the least trustworthy team member.
  • Mix it up. The same study cited above also found that high-performing teams are made up of both sexes. Effective teams are also made up of people with different personality types.
  • Make sure everyone on the team understands the team’s overarching purpose in the same way. This acts like a team mission statement to show the light at the end of the tunnel (where we’re going together) and guide decision making and day-to-day behaviour.
  • Provide clear individual and team goals and make sure people know how they contribute to the rest of the team’s efforts. When people don’t know what’s expected of them and why their contributions count, it’s hard to fan the internal fire of motivation. When team members need training or coaching to reach their goals–provide it.
  • Have some fun. It’s really hard to do a good job when you’re physically or emotionally miserable; a bit of jollity builds bonds, enhances creativity, improves communication and makes everyone feel better.
  • Blow your team’s horn. Visibility is important, so make sure you let others know how great your team is and what they’re achieving.
  • Be a good leader. Look after both the task side of teamwork and the process side.

Have you noticed how each of these relates to the other? Like any living system, all the components are interrelated.

Beginning a long-haul project

This week, I start work on the next edition, number 6, of Management Theory and Practice. Its new publishers have already started work on it, doing the mysterious preliminary work that publishers do. My bit starts today, in about an hour’s time, in fact, although I’ve already done my pre-planning (more on that below).

The entire project will be completed in 21 months, which is when you’ll see the final result. If that sounds like a long time, it isn’t; that’s how long big text books take to write, so nothing has changed in that regard from earlier editions! A project of this length can seem pretty daunting, to say the least. I thought I’d share how I’ve planned my contribution to it.

In a way, I started work on this next edition the day the current edition was finished, when I began researching, collecting and filing information, facts and figures for the upcoming edition that I’m about to start working on today. That is an endless task, a bit like Sisyphus pushing his boulder, but thankfully, far from a thankless task, although rather tedious at times.

A few of weeks ago, with the arrival of my 2014 calendar, I wrote in when I am to begin revising each chapter and when each chapter is to be completed. While I was in planning mode, I went through my file of ideas for the next edition, tossed some, fleshed out others, and filed them in the appropriate places.

Top of today’s To Do list is to go through the pile of Competencies for the Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Management with a fine-tooth comb. There are some very big changes and lots of little ones and armed with these details, I can map out the book so that it captures all the Units and Elements.

Then the writing starts. Once the chapters are written, a copy editor goes through them—yes, folks, chapter by chapter, word by word—and fixes up grammar, spelling, punctuation, incorrect facts, silly statements and absolute balderdash. Then I get it all back again, read through it, make any more changes. It’s all very time-consuming, as you can see.

During this time, our illustrious illustrator does his thing, with faxes and scans flying backwards and forwards between us to get everything exactly right.

Meanwhile, just like in the Gantt and PERT charts in Chapter 17, the publishers will be designing the book, literally from cover to cover. Colours, fonts, layout, everything you can imagine. Technical wizards work on the website to support the text and other technical wizards work on the e-text, all very tricky technically, never mind the actual content.

Early-ish in 2015, I’ll receive the ‘page proofs’ to check over and a copy editor at the publisher will check over the publisher’s page proofs; these are exactly what the pages of the text itself will look like. The object is to spot typos and other errors and have one last chance to update statistics; the errors we spot are then fixed and updates added, while an indexer reads the page proofs to prepare the index. Then the text can actually go to the printer.

That’s when I get back to work on the next big chunk of the project, this time on the portions I provide for the website, for the general section and the teachers’ and readers’ sections.

By the time the text is out, many brains and many pairs of eyes and hands have worked on it, all pulled together by the acquisitions editor. Teachers should start seeing the 6th edition towards the end of September 2015 and everyone else will see it in early October, when it hits the shops. At that point, I think I’ll have a Becks and a lie down. And start researching for the 7th edition.

Discussion questions

How do you go about tackling long-term projects?

How to generate interest in your meetings with spiffy agendas

Whether they’re actual or virtual, how would you like people to look forward to attending your meetings,come prepared and actively participate?

You’ve seen in Chapter 27 (pages 875 – 876) that using verbs to write results-oriented agendas helps people focus on what each item is intended to achieve. Another idea I’ve recently come across is to pose each agenda item as a question, for example: What progress have we made on designing the customer survey? What improvements could we make to increase our efficiency in processing orders? This engages peoples’ thought processes.

Another idea is to state who is leading each agenda item. For instance, you could write: Keith to bring us update on the progress have we made on designing the customer survey; Amy to lead us in brainstorming ideas for increasing our efficiency in processing orders.  This opens up meetings and makes them a bit more interesting.

Discussion questions

What interesting ways of writing agendas have you come across?

Managing is good for your brain

The next time you think your brain hurts from studying, don’t worry about it. It turns out that the longer you are a manager, the larger your hippocampus becomes and the better it works. (The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, so that’s a good thing.)

Researchers led by Michael Valenzuela of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry’s Regenerative Neuroscience Group found that managing other people protects your memory and ability to learn well into old age. They found that the hippocampus shrunk much less in the brains of people who had challenging management careers. They speculated that the unique mental demands of managing people require continuous problem solving, short-term memory and a lot of emotional intelligence.

The brain-enhancing effect of managing others was particularly strong in people who supervised more than 10 people.

So if you want a healthy brain and to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, keep studying to become a great manager.

See the UNSW article here