Category Archives: Enhancing Team Effectiveness

Addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming” in project management


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th September 2017

The nature of “multi-teaming” in project management

Many of the organisations that I work with manage projects as the essence of their way of working.  The complexity of this approach is compounded in two ways:

  1. Operating a matrix model of management – where individuals have a line manager who is not necessarily their project manager
  2. Assigning team members and leaders to multiple teams – so that they dip in and out of projects according to when their time and expertise is most needed.

Benefits

There are tremendous benefits to this way of working – such as:

  • ensuring that team members’ expertise is used to the full across the organisation
  • sharing knowledge and good practices between teams
  • fostering learning and development
  • providing opportunities for continuous improvement
  • minimising downtime and associated costs.

Risks and costs

There are also risks and costs – such as:

  • increased employee stress
  • reduced quality of team interactions (or group identity / cohesion)
  • knock-on effects from issues in one project impacting on resource availability for others.

Facts and data

The overcommitted organization_HBR Sept Oct 2017

Mark Mortensen and Heidi K. Gardner.  The overcommitted organization.  HBR Sept-Oct 2017, pp. 58-65

Mark Mortensen and Heidi Gardner’s article “The overcommitted organization” in the September – October issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 58-65) has some facts and data about the extent of “multi-teaming” in organisations.

 

They have studied hundreds of teams in a range of sectors (including professional services, oil and gas, high tech, consumer goods) over a period of 15 years.

Apparently at least 81% of more than 500 managers in global companies reported “multi-teaming” as a way of life, with people involved in as many as 6 to 15 projects in a week.

My own empirical observation in working with teams in the Life Sciences, and in Library and Information Management, is that “multi-teaming” is also a way of life, although the number of projects that people are juggling is generally not quite as high!

Tips for addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming”

Mortensen and Gardner provide some very useful tips on how to address the associated challenges of “multi-tasking”, which also reinforce the points we share in RiverRhee’s training on team and project management.

Building the team

We know that the most effective teams are those that not only have a clear idea of their purpose and individual members’ roles, but have spent time developing the relationships with the team.

Our experience that the most effective way to set the team on the right path is to have a kick-off meeting or launch, and ideally face-to-face.  This enables people to start to get to know each other, and from there, as emphasize Mortensen and Gardner, comes trust and accountability.

In fact, they maintain that having a team launch can improve performance by up to 30%.

An emphasis on building the team also helps people to feel that they “belong” to each team that they are working on – something that we know can be a very strong motivator for many people.   For team leaders, understanding what motivates each person will help them to boost and maintain motivation.

Making the most of everyone’s skills

Mortensen and Gardner also say that it is worth doing a team launch even with team members who are already familiar with each other as every new project is likely to bring new requirements and skills into play.

They advocate mapping everyone’s skills – both technical and soft, along with wider areas of knowledge.  This ensures that everyone is aware of who can bring what skills to bear, that they consult each other accordingly, and also hold each other accountable for quality.

This also builds on what we know from using personality tools such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and Belbin Team Roles to understand and optimise the interactions between team members.

Managing time and priorities

This is probably the most important issue for many team members and leaders.  We often hear of people’s frustration as the time they thought they had for one project gets squeezed by demands from another.

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 10.33.50

In a RiverRhee newsletter on Project Management, we shared our advice for using explicit project charters for agreeing the time that each person would spend on each project.  This is very much a starting point but it opens up the conversation, and many organisations then use portfolio review meetings to further address changes in priorities and requirements on people’s time.

Mortensen and Gardner have some other great suggestions:

  • schedule mandatory full team meetings at key milestones – making these dates clear with other teams
  • use sub-team meetings at other times to reduce the number of commitments on the rest of the team members – and supplement these with brief check-ins with other individuals
  • use electronic tools to share updates on project status, and consider using short videos as alternative to long memos
  • visual tools such as the video on Skype or Facetime for individual one-to-one check-ins can help to pick up body language cues for instance around stress, motivation, understanding etc.

Fostering learning

We put a big emphasis on the importance and benefits of sharing learning and how to do it for creating excellence in project management, so it was good to see the HBR authors highlight this too.

As they say, learning is something that can suffer when people are pushed for time.  It is also an important motivator for many people.

We stress the importance of scheduling a close-out meeting as part of the project plan to ensure that learnings are reflected upon and actions agreed for sharing and addressing them.

Mortensen and Gardner also suggest that team leaders:

  • give and encourage feedback
  • designate co-leaders for different aspects of the project to enhance the amount of contact between team members
  • pair people up (perhaps with different levels of expertise) so that they can learn from each other
  • pose “what if” questions and re-direct questions to team members to also foster cross-tutoring

What can be done to reduce risk and boost innovation at an organisational level

The HBR authors have some additional, perhaps less commonly identified, organisational strategies for addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming”, and so decrease risk, and increase innovation.

These strategies focus on ensuring a good understanding of and actively managing the spread of people across teams.

Many organisations use some form of FTE or resource management system to understand who is working on what project, and how much time they are devoting to each.  They mainly use this for accounting purposes – for example so that costs to clients can be more accurately calculated.

Mortensen and Gardner suggest that this mapping of resources should also be used to understand and manage the associated risks and opportunities from “multi-teaming”.

Anticipating shock-waves between projects

So for instance if the overlap of members between teams is large, there is a greater risk of knock-on shocks from one project to another.  With an accurate mapping of team membership, project or senior managers could anticipate these risks and develop mitigation plans.

Optimising knowledge sharing and learning

If the overlap between members of projects is small, and the organisation values knowledge sharing between projects, then the expectation (or culture) and approaches for the transfer of learnings and good practices could be made more explicit.

Enhancing team building

The authors also suggest that, if the nature of the tasks or the culture between different project teams is very different, it will be harder for members to transition from one to the other.  Understanding the overall map of resources to teams would therefore alert project, line and senior managers in these situations to put a greater emphasis on the on-boarding and team building activities.

Using dedicated resources

Organisations who have designated portfolio managers, or project management offices (PMOs) could take on many of the recommendations listed above.  However, many of the smaller Life Science organisations, and Library and Information Management services that we deal with do not have this luxury.

The HBR authors’ recommendations could be an alternative to these.  So for example there could be:

  • designated “fire-fighters” to watch-out for any of the risks identified above
  • spare resources that could be moved between teams
  • “protected” or designated resources whose role and time on specific teams could not be jeopardised

Individuals in HR or IT could also have designated roles to monitor the various aspects of “multi-teaming”.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Advertisements

Operational excellence can give you the competitive edge!


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th September 2017

According to Sadun, Bloom and Van Reenen, writing in the Sept-Oct 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, a disproportionate amount of emphasis is put on the competitive advantage of strategic planning, to the detriment of operational excellence.

Competitive advantage of operational excellence_HBR Sept-Oct 2017

From: Why do we undervalue competent management? Neither great leadership nor brilliant strategy matters without operational excellence. Raffael Sadun, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen. HBR Sept-Oct 2017, pp. 120 – 127

What is operational excellence?

Their definition of operational excellence, or good management practice, goes beyond a more traditional focus on Lean and Six Sigma process improvement techniques.  It covers four broad dimensions, and 18 specific aspects.  The four dimensions are:

  1. Operational management – which includes Lean process management
  2. Performance monitoring – which includes the use of key performance indicators (KPIs)
  3. Target setting – which includes a clear link between organisational strategy, and individual goals (aka. a clear top-to-bottom cascade of objectives)
  4. Talent management – which includes setting stretch goals, employee development and retention

What is the evidence for the competitive advantage of operational excellence?

As Sadun et al say, MBAs and management experts such as Michael Porter distinguish between strategy and operational effectiveness, and put greater emphasis on CEOs’ priority being on strategy for competitive advantage.

The authors of this HBR article have been carrying out in-depth research since 2002 on more than 12,000 organisations in 34 countries, in conjunction with the London School of Economics.

They have found that operational excellence is a massive challenge for organisations and that the large persistent gaps in these practices are associated with large persistent differences in organisational performance.

The better managed organisations are more profitable, grow faster, are less likely to die, focus on innovation as well as efficiency, attract talent and foster employee well-being.  All in all they demonstrate sustained competitive advantage.

Achieving operational excellence boils down to three things

Erroneous self-assessment, a blame culture, overestimating the costs involved and underestimating the potential benefits can all get in the way of adopting good management practices.

Managers, especially in family businesses, can worry about potential loss of control if they bring in others with greater expertise in operational management.

The workforce may not have the numeric, analytical and other skills to implement operational excellence.

And it requires a shift from working in silos, to collaborating across teams; reassurance that greater process efficiency won’t lead to redundancies; and “walking-the-talk” by management (CEOs included).

So achieving operational excellence boils down to three things:

  1. Commitment from the top: with a clear vision, visibility and role modelling by senior leaders (i.e. all key approaches for managing change)
  2. Understanding and ensuring availability of the required skills i.e. those associated with all four broad dimensions of operational excellence, as described above
  3. A shift in mentality at all levels to adopt these management practices as a way of working

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Motivation – a refresher..eight years on..


By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th July 2017

Motivation – a refresher

Eight years ago, in July 2009, Dan Pink gave an impassioned TED talk on “The puzzle of motivation”.  It was a rallying call to business to stop using a scientifically proven outmoded method for incentivising high performance – the “carrot and stick”, “if…then”, “extrinsic reward” model.  The concept is that: if you pay people more, they will perform better!  He argued that it does not work, and yet we are still using it!

Dan Pink – The puzzle of motivation. 2009 TED talk 

More recently, the June issue of The Training Journal, carried an article by Pierre Casse and Artem Konstandian on “The art of motivating”.  They state that “The ability to motivate is the beating heart of powerful, effective leadership.”

As motivation is one of the most popular topics in my management training courses with RiverRhee, this seemed like a perfect moment for a refresher on the topic.

Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivators

Dan Pink used two different scenarios for the candle problem to illustrate how paying people more (an extrinsic motivator) does not necessarily lead to better performance.

In the first scenario, candidates are given a candle, matches, and a box filled with drawing pins.  As the solution to the problem is to use the box, solving it requires, quite literally, “out of the box” thinking: cognitive skills.

 

In the second scenario, the drawing pins have been taken out of the box, so using it is a lot more obvious.  The task is more mechanistic: a simple question of using the materials as they have been laid out to solve the problem.

Offering money as an extrinsic motivator for solving the problem more quickly proves more effective in the second, more mechanistic scenario, than in the first, more cognitive one.

Dan Pink reminds us that most of the work that we do, in science, in business, in service organisations, requires more cognitive skills.  Once people have been paid enough to take this issue ‘off the table’, then paying people more has been shown to lead to poorer performance!  It dulls thinking and blocks creativity. And yet we keep on using this ‘carrot and stick’ extrinsic reward model to incentivise people.

The intrinsic motivators that Dan Pink describes so graphically, here and elsewhere, are those of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  People are motivated to do things “because they matter”.  They can direct their own work, can get better at what they do, and are doing something for a reason that is greater than themselves.

To what extent can, and do organisations provide the environment for people to tap into these intrinsic motivators?

Which brings me to the second key message for this refresher on motivation…

“One does not motivate people, people motivate themselves”

Pierre Casse and Artem Konstandian’s article in The Training Journal emphasises the role of leaders in creating the environment in which people can motivate themselves.

They suggest that leaders can create this environment in a number of ways, for instance by:

  • Making the reason why they require people to perform at a certain level: “what’s in it for me (or them)”
  • Highlighting what level of performance is expected
  • Providing the right amount and medium for recognition
  • Showing that they genuinely care about and are sensitive to their team members’ personal lives.  (Empathy is a theme I’ve explored before..)

They also put a big emphasis on trust as a motivator.  Leaders build trust through their behaviour: humility rather than egocentricity, acknowledging their mistakes and turning them into opportunities, standing up for their team, creating a pride in belonging.

Although Casse and Konstandian do not mention Pink’s intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, purpose) by name, they are certainly implied by their call to leaders to give employees the space and conditions to develop and be at their best.

What are you and your leaders doing to promote trust, and to create the space and conditions for people to motivate themselves?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Neurodiversity – an organisational advantage to be valued and supported


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th July 2017

2017-06-22 09.37.32

Delegates at RiverRhee’s June 2017 Introduction to Management course demonstrating a diverse approach to one of the challenges that we set them.

What is neurodiversity, and why value it?

I’ve been reading and thinking about neurodiversity for a while, as it is something that we value and support in young people at the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Cambridge, for which I am a Trustee.

It is something that is sometimes attributed to ‘gifted’ young people, or to our ‘cleverest thinkers’ .  And it is something that is described by John Elder Robinson, the co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William and Mary as “the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome”.

The quote above is cited by Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano in “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.  Why you should embrace it in your workforce.”  HBR, May-June 20217, pp. 96-103.  In fact, neurodiversity also includes Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other natural variations.  The authors assert that this neurodiversity is not something to be cured, but rather to be embraced as bringing valuable new perspectives to an organisation.

Similar points are made by Carol Fowler, in her blog on Neurodiversity for One Nucleus, and by Sally Moore, of Top Stream, an organisation that “works to get the best from brilliant minds in the workplace.”

All these practitioners argue that recruiting and supporting such neurodiversity in our organisations will enhance creativity, innovation, problem solving.

Sally Moore and the HBR authors cite typical applications of neurodiversity to IT related roles in SAP, HPE, Microsoft, EY such as software testing, cybersecurity, business analytics; and also scientific and engineering research and development.

However, neurodiverse people can also bring enhanced people interaction and social skills.  The HBR authors cite companies that have experienced advantages for product management and development, HR support and interfacing with customers for software consulting and support.

Hiring neurodiverse people can have other unexpected benefits, as the HBR authors also discovered, in enhancing the people skills of the managers and of other members of the teams that work with them as they seek to support them more effectively.

What managers and teams need to do to recruit for and support neurodiversity

Personality tools such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and Belbin Team Roles go some way to help us recognise and appreciate the diversity of soft skills and strengths that people can bring to an organisation.

However our recruitment and performance management and development processes tend to be set up for more “neurotypical” people.  According to the HBR article, they put an emphasis on “solid communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodation” etc.

Many neurodiverse people do not interview well – for example they may have difficulty with eye contact, be prone to going off on a tangent, and can be over-honest about their weaknesses.  Making presentations can also be particularly challenging.

In addition, the general emphasis on open plan working makes no allowance for people who may be oversensitive to noise and to light.

Pioneering companies are using a range of approaches to overcome such obstacles for example:

  1. Teaming up with ‘social partners’ who have expertise and can help companies find and work with people from neurodiverse backgrounds.  The HBR article’s examples are mainly in the US and also in Australia and Germany.  I don’t know if we have anything similar happening in the UK.
  2. Using non-traditional, non-interview-based assessment and training programmes. Examples cited include the use of “hangouts”, comfortable half-day gatherings that enable candidates to demonstrate their skills in casual interactions.  Lego Mindstorms are robotic construction and programming kits used for project work, both individually and in groups.  “Soft skills” modules help candidates get first-hand experience of a professional environment.
  3. Training managers and existing co-workers in how to better support neurodiverse colleagues.
  4. Setting up a support ‘ecosystem’ – simple support systems for new employees which could include a team buddy, a job and life skills coach, a work mentor and more..

Concluding thoughts

It seems we have some way to go to value and support neurodiversity in our organisations in the UK.  It would be interesting to hear of examples that already exist and/or of endeavours being made to do so.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

Exploring personality tools to enhance the diversity within our teams


By Elisabeth Goodman, 17th May 2017

My RiverRhee Associate, Liz Mercer and I have been doing a fair amount of reading and reflection to support our new course on Transition to Leadership.

The March-April 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) gave us plenty to think about, as it explored some of the personality tools available to us to understand the diversity of the people within our teams.

HBR Mar-Apr 2017

Exploring biological systems to help us understand personality traits

“If you understand how the brain works, you can reach anyone” (pp.60-62) is the record of a conversation between Alison Beard, one of HBR’s senior editors, and Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist.  The latter has developed a personality questionnaire (on match.com and chemistry.com) based on her understanding of brain chemistry and others’ neurological research.  She also used brain functional MRI to validate the questionnaire.

Helen Fisher reminds us that personality is based on culture (nurture or upbringing) and temperament (nature or the influences of our genes, hormones and neurotransmitters).

She suggests that four biological systems are linked to personality traits:

  1. Dopamine and norepinephrine – which correlate with curiosity, creativity and risk-taking amongst other behaviours
  2. Serotonin – which correlates with greater adherence to social norms, and to tradition
  3. Testosterone – which correlates with tough-mindedness, directness and assertiveness
  4. Oestrogen and oxytocin – which correlate with intuition, imagination, empathy and trust (see previous blog on oxytocin and trust)

Helen Fisher suggests that some of the biological systems have analogies with and support some of the MBTI preferences.  So for instance the Thinking / Feeling preferences might equate to numbers 3 and 4 above.  And Judging / Perceiving might equate to 2 and 1.

She challenges some of the MBTI tenets in ways that MBTI practitioners would not agree with – for instance she suggests that Introverts cannot be “chatty”.  Whereas the MBTI definition actually includes the notion that Introverts can become quite talkative on topics that are important to them.  (See more about MBTI in one of my earlier blogs.)

Otherwise, Helen Fisher’s conclusions echo those for other personality tools:

  • You can benefit from collaborating with others whose strengths are complementary to your own
  • You can interact more effectively by adapting your style to match others’
  • If you have to act, on a long term basis, in a way that is different to your authentic style, it will be a strain
  • You can use your understanding of others’ strengths to build diversity into your team

The range of personality tools available to us

In “A brief history of personality tests” (p.63) Eben Harrell, another HBR senior editor, takes us quickly through MBTI, the five-factor model (or “big five”) and Strengthsfinder 2.0 (from Gallup).

[The article does not mention the wide range of other tools available to us such as Belbin Team Roles, Colours / Insights, NLP Representational Styles, Emergenetics and more…]

The five-factor model is apparently one that is “widely accepted by academics as the gold standard”.  It is based on a statistical study of words used to describe psychological characteristics across cultures and languages, with the following resultant list:

  • openness to experience
  • conscientiousness
  • extroversion
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism

It may well be that I am mis-interpreting these words, but they seem to suggest that it would be a good thing if you demonstrated the first four behaviours.  Whilst it would ‘not be a good thing’ if you demonstrated the opposite of any of the first four, and also demonstrated the fifth!

However, if we choose to value the opposites that these terms suggest, as strengths, as other personality tools do, then they can also provide us with the basis for creating a richly diverse team.

Reading this issue of HBR was also very timely as it coincided with my reading of Claudio Feser’s new book on Inspirational Leadership, which also includes a section on the five-factor model.   The book explores, amongst other things, how an inspirational leader can adapt their influencing style to reflect the different personality types in this model or tool.

[There are a couple more articles in this issue of HBR that explore other personality tools, and how leaders are using them to enhance their understanding and how they can work more effectively with others.]

Closing thoughts

How we inspire others as leaders depends to a large extent on our ability to balance our emotional intelligence (EQ) with our intellectual intelligence (IQ).

Personality tools contribute to our EQ by helping us to better understand our own style of leadership and how we interact with others – our preferences and defaults.

That understanding will enable managers and leaders to clarify what strengths in others will most complement their own so that they can actively nurture diversity within their teams.

How will you enhance your understanding of personality types, or how have you done this already?  How will you / or have you applied this to enrich the diversity of your team?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she is a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Oxytocin, trust, motivation and employee engagement


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th March 2017

Introduction and a caveat

There seems to be a real wave of articles and seminars on the relationship between various hormones, mental health, and our performance at work.

I am definitely not an expert in this field, although I did complete a Biochemistry degree some years ago, and have kept generally in touch through my work in and with Life Science organisations.  I would certainly invite those who are more knowledge than me to clarify any aspects of the following article that might benefit from their greater expertise.

The Neuroscience of Trust. Jan-Feb 2017 HBR article by Paul Zak

That said, there is an impressive amount of research (see notes) behind Paul Zak’s article on “The Neuroscience of Trust” in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, pp. 84-90.  And the conclusions echo many points that we have come across and make in our training for managers and teams.

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

His conclusions echo many points that we have come across and make in our training for managers and teams.

oxytocin and trust or motivation?

Zak’s research has established that certain behaviours can increase the level of oxytocin, and that there is a clear link between this increase and trust.

He describes the following behaviours – some of which could arguably be ways to increase motivation rather than trust.  Although the end-result of increased productivity, collaboration, higher energy, happiness, loyalty and engagement could be the same (more on this below).

  1. Recognition (of excellence).  We know that recognition for having done good work can be a strong motivator for people.  Zak claims that this will be most effective if it’s immediate, from peers, is unexpected, personal and public.  My experience is that some people would be very uncomfortable with this form of recognition and would prefer something more low-key.
  2. Introducing a “challenge” stress. This is a stretch but achievable goal for a team.  Again, different people may respond to the perceived level of challenge in different ways.
  3. Give people discretion in how they do things. This echoes the point made by Dan Pink in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” about how motivating autonomy can be, resulting in important increases in innovation.  Micro-management is the flip side of this.
  4. Enable “job crafting” – giving people a choice of what projects they work on.  This also sounds a bit like “holocracy”: organisations that self-organise, rather that using traditional hierarchical structures.  I read about how the Morning Star tomato company was successfully adopting this approach in a December 2011 HBR article.
  5. Sharing information broadly. We  know that people can perform more effectively if they understand the purpose of what they are doing.  Open and frequent communication also help people when dealing with change. So the same goes for information about company goals, strategy, tactics.  Lack of information will certainly be counter-productive to creating trust.
  6. Intentionally build relationships.  High performing teams are typically those where there is a good balance of attention to relationships as well as tasks.  And for some people, it is the social interaction at work that is a great motivator for them to be there.
  7. Facilitate whole person growth.  Good managers will pay attention to the personal as well as the professional goals of their direct reports.  They will do that through coaching, mentoring and constructive feedback.
  8. Show vulnerability as a leader.  This seems to me one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate and promote trust, albeit within certain boundaries.  Good leaders will have direct reports whose strengths complement theirs – be it in areas of expertise, or in softer management skills.  They can give people the space and the opportunity to demonstrate these strengths, by asking rather than telling them about aspects of their work.

The positive effect of trust on self-reported work performance

Zak concludes his article by citing that greater trust has been found to increase:

  • energy
  • engagement
  • productivity
  • loyalty
  • recommendations of the company to family and friends
  • alignment with company purpose
  • closeness to colleagues
  • empathy
  • a sense of accomplishment

and to decrease burnout.

He also found that people working in companies with greater trust earn more – possibly because these companies are more productive and innovative…

So, however the neuroscience works, this certainly seems like a topic worth paying attention to!

Notes

  1. Paul Zak is the founding director of the Centre for Neuroeconomic , Studies, Professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University.  He and his team measured the oxytocin levels of blood in volunteers before and after they completed a strategic decision task designed to demonstrate trust.  They also administered synthetic oxytocin or a placebo in a nasal spray to prove that oxytocin causes trust.  They carried out further studies over 10 years to identify promoters and inhibitors of oxytocin, and created and used a survey instrument in several thousands of companies to measure the constituent factors of trust.  In addition, they gathered evidence from a dozen companies that had taken action to increase trust, measured brain activity in two companies where trust varied by department, and referenced an independent firm’s survey of about one thousand working adults in the US.
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

    RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

    Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

    She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Decision making. Noise, intuition and the value of feedback.


By Elisabeth Goodman, 1st February 2017

There is a lot more ‘noise’ in decision making than we might suppose.

The Harvard Business Review has been running some very useful articles on decision making.  The most recent article by Kahneman D. et al, “The cost of inconsistent decision making”, October 2016, p.38, suggests that the incidence of professionals or experts making different decisions on the basis of the same facts and data is higher than we might suppose.  They call this “noise”.

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

This is different from bias, where people might make a consistently wrong decision based on their prejudices. (I wrote a blog based about this some time ago after reading Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”.)

Kahneman et al suggest that this noise, or variability, in decision making could be quite important in professional settings that require judgement, such as medicine, finance, project management.  Presumably this would also apply to scientific research and development, and in such areas of management as evaluating job performance!

The authors maintain that people assume that they, and their peers, will be able to make good and consistent judgements, and yet this is not the case.

Decision making relies on intuition, as well as facts and data

I was reminded of a series of three blogs that I wrote a few years ago based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”.  To quote an extract from the third blog: intuition “is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in

Click here for information on RiverRhee's training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

Quality decision making is one of the good practices that RiverRhee explores for high performance teams.  Click here for more information. 

which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.”

The September 2016 article on decision making “How to tackle your toughest decisions”, by Badaracco J.L, p.104. suggests five key questions to consider, in order to use judgement effectively.  Badaracco defines judgement as a combination of thought, feelings, experience, imagination and character – so some echoes of Klein’s definition of intuition.

Decision making is enhanced by good feedback

Kahneman et al. remind us that in high skill areas such as playing chess, or driving, we get very rapid and significant feedback on our decisions.  If we make a false move, there are very tangible consequences!

By contrast, decisions made in projects, or in research and development can take quite a long time to play out before we know the outcomes and their implications.

Management decisions such as evaluation of performance, can also result in quite rapid feedback from the individuals concerned, but it may not always be considered in a very constructive way..

Practitioners of Knowledge Management already use a range of techniques to help them and their teams reflect on what they can learn from experience.  This is a form of feedback.  The techniques include short and sharp “After Action Reviews” after significant milestones, and more in-depth “Learning Retrospects” at the end of projects.

Systematic approaches for reducing noise in decision making

Kahneman et al, Klein and Badaracco between them suggest a number of approaches for enhancing decision making.. Their approaches, and some others that I have come across include:

Tapping into different mindsets

The MBTI zigzag model ensures that we use the different information and decision making preferences available to us: ‘sensing’ to review all the facts and data; ‘intuition’ to extrapolate to what might be; ‘thinking’ to consider cause and effect; ‘feeling’ to reference how we feel about alternatives and outcomes.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is another variation of this, and helps a group of people work collaboratively in both generating and then evaluating ideas.

Badaracco’s five suggested questions is yet another variation (with thanks to my colleague Liz Mercer for talking me through these..):

  • Think, as widely as possible and with input from others, about the net, net consequences of all your options.
  • Consider your core obligations to the key people (stakeholders) affected by your decision: what they would think and feel about the consequences.
  • Think about the world as it is – be pragmatic about your chances for success.
  • Consider your values – what do you / your organisation stand for, and how would this decision align with those values.
  • Ask yourself “can we live with this”? Imagine explaining your decision to a friend or partner and what their reaction would be.

Using 4-box and more complex decision matrices

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee's Lean Sigma courses for evaluating decisions.

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee’s Lean Sigma courses for evaluating potential improvement solutions.

These are visual tools for evaluating alternative options against agreed criteria.  The 4-box matrix is the simplest version.  More complex decision matrices will have more criteria.

Check-lists and carefully formatted questions

This would seem a fairly simple way to document the factors to be considered when making perhaps more routine decisions, ensuring that all the necessary information has been collected and evaluated.

Constructing algorithms

This is Kahneman et al’s main recommendation for reducing ‘noise’ in decision making, after conducting a ‘noise audit’ to find out quite how bad the variability is.  They suggest that it would be possible to construct algorithms fairly simply, by identifying a few (6-8) key variables that are closely linked to the outcome. These could then be combined into a formula, with alternative decisions assigned to the different outcomes.  Sadly the article was missing a simple example to illustrate this approach.

Using Decision making exercises or ‘DMX’ from Klein

These are “an accelerated learning process” for developing individual intuition.  They rely on defining and working through scenarios as a group, so participants can gain quicker and deeper insights from each others expertise.

Kahneman el at suggest something similar: but with people working on a given scenario independently – and then coming together to explore the decisions made and what they can learn from that.

Conclusion

So, there are lots of factors to consider for improved decision making.

You could conduct a “noise audit”: have people make decisions independently to find out how different their conclusions are, and use this as a learning opportunity in its own right or…

….explore alternative approaches for your decision making.

You could use techniques such as “decision making exercises” to enhance people’s intuitive skills.

And you could ensure that you collect feedback and take time to learn about the consequences of your decisions on a more systematic basis.

What will you do?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.