Tag Archives: team development

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.


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.


The Kano model for team building – an alternative application for this Lean Sigma tool

By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th November 2015

The Kano model  is traditionally used as a ‘Voice of the Customer’ Lean Sigma tool

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a seminar with Carl Halford  recently, for the APM (Association for Project Management) Thames Valley Branch, on behalf of the Enabling Change SIG.

The full set of slides and the notes from our event: Process Improvement and Change Management are available on the APM website.

The Kano model is traditionally used in Lean and Six Sigma as a ‘Voice of the Customer’ tool, to understand customer requirements, and to distinguish between the ‘critical’ versus ‘nice to haves’.

Carl used the model for a lively interactive exercise with the delegates, using a dry cleaning business as the basis for the discussion.

The Kano model - illustration by Carl Halford for a Drycleaning model

The Kano model – illustration by Carl Halford for an APM event

Carl’s demonstration was a helpful reminder of how effective the Kano model can be as a tool for stakeholder analysis.

As he said, there can be no debate about the ‘must-haves’, or critical requirements.  If these are not satisfied, then those customers will never come back, and word-of-mouth could be your ruin.

The ‘more is better’ line (which I had learnt about as the ‘it depends’ requirements), are those that may make a difference to customers depending on their circumstances or what else is going on in the store on any particular day.

The ‘delighters’ are the ones that will win your customers’ loyalty, and cause them to recommend you to others.  Of course these ‘delighters’ are also a risk to managing your long-term resources as they may in time become expected ‘must-haves’.

Using the Kano model for team building

What especially peaked my interest was Carl’s suggestion that the Kano model could also be used for team building.

A team might have traditionally used the Kano model as part of a team meeting: to help extract what everyone already knows about their stakeholders, and to agree what other research or conversations might be needed to enhance that understanding.

Using the Kano model for team building works on the premise that each team member is a stakeholder in the team’s success.  Carl mentioned that he tends to use the model for project teams, but it could also be used for an operational team.

Each person is likely to have uniques ‘must haves’, ‘more is better’, and ‘delighter’ expectations.  There will also be some overlaps between what different people want.

I can imagine preparing a wall poster of the Kano model, and issuing each team member with post-it notes to provide the basis for a rich discussion and enhanced understanding of the various perspectives within the team.  If managed well, this might help the team through its ‘storming’ phase of development and pave the way for greater trust and support.

I’m looking forward to giving this alternative application of the Kano model a try, and of course will be curious to hear about anyone else’s experience of this approach.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, 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. 

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 (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

Team Development in Project Management

By Elisabeth Goodman

Team Development chapterIt’s been an honour, whilst also slightly intimidating, to have a chapter included in this latest project management publication edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott: the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management1.

Project teams may want to get to “high performance” more rapidly than operational teams

As I say in the preamble, project teams will go through various stages of development, but they may want to get to high performance at a more accelerated rate than that usually achieved by longer-term operational teams.

In this chapter I take readers through an adapted version of Tuckman’s stages of team development2: I use forming, storming, norming, high performing and renewing in my work with teams.

I also explore how these difference stages, and the different personality types from Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and Belbin’s team roles, can be overlaid on the project lifecycle to give team leaders real insights on how they could help their teams reach high performance more rapidly and painlessly than might otherwise be the case.

Learning techniques taken from Knowledge Management also have a key role in team development

The final part of the chapter takes readers through various Knowledge Management techniques: peer assists, after action reviews, learning retrospects and communities of practice that project teams could usefully use at various stages of their lifecycle to foster high performing teams.

My colleague John Riddell and I are currently putting the finishing touches to our own Gower publicationthat will take readers in greater depth through these and other Knowledge Management techniques.

There is a whole raft of other tools available to help teams in their development

Lock and Scott’s impressive publication runs to 865 pages.  As the title of the book implies, it contains a vast range of reflections, insights and guidance on how to address the people aspect of project management.  A focus on people will inevitably enhance the quality of the team overall, and so advance it in its development.

It’s going to take me quite a while to read through this treasure of a book, but examples of the topics that caught my attention in the first 11 of 63 chapters were:

  • Successes and failures of people in projects
  • Project sponsors and stakeholders
  • Use of contractors
  • Managing in matrix, international and virtual project organisations

Somewhere in the later chapters I spotted further themes on NeuroLinguisticProgramming (NLP) and also spirituality.  So lots to explore!


  1. Elisabeth Goodman.  Team Development, in Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Ed Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott.  Gower Publishing Ltd, 2013 Chapter 32, pp. 403-415
  2. Tuckman, B. and Jensen, M. Stages of small group development revisited.  Group and Organisational Studies, 1977 pp 419-427
  3. Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell.  Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry: enhancing Research, Development and Manufacturing performance.  In preparation.

Preparing new managers to be effective coaches

Guest blog by Sean Conrad, Halogen Software

Note from the Editor, Elisabeth Goodman

Every now and then, people approach me (or I approach them) with a suggestion for a guest blog.  Anything that can bring insights for helping teams, or team leaders to work more effectively is potentially of interest.  What I like about this blog is the recognition that managers have a role in coaching, as well as in directing the work of their teams.  It resonates with some of my earlier blogs on the different roles managers need to play as their teams go through the various stages of team development.  Team members particularly need the support of their managers when they are going through the ‘storming’ and ‘mourning’ or ‘renewing’ stages.  The role of the project manager as coach is also something that came up in one of my recent blogs.  Read the rest of this blog to find out what Sean Conrad, of Halogen Software, has to say.


Preparing new managers to be effective coaches

Like anything in life, doing something for the first time can be a little daunting. Becoming a line manager for the first time is no exception. While many organisations have some excellent programs in place to develop, groom, shape and mold individuals to become great people managers, sometimes a key aspect of training is overlooked. I’m referring to the need for organisations to provide their managers-to-be with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to become not only good managers but also great coaches to the members of their teams.

Why is coaching so important in the workplace?

When managers do receive the training they need to be great coaches, the benefits to the organisation can be many. In particular, developing effective coaches can lead to:

  • Improved employee engagement and higher performance
  • More meaningful annual performance reviews
  • Better conflict resolution or resolving issues before they happen

If there are some new wet-behind-the-ears managers in your organisation looking for ways to improve their coaching skills, here are a few ideas.

Teach them to coach rather than clone

One of the most common mistakes managers can make is using themselves as the yardstick to measure their employees’ progress and performance. They look at their employees, their work, how they handle situations, and they think about how they (i.e., the manager) would have done it differently. Then the manager gives their employees feedback and coaching based on these reflections (e.g., “That’s not how I would’ve approached it.”)

What’s wrong with this scenario?

For starters, these well-intended managers end up trying to create clones of themselves rather than coaching employees to be their best and put their best skills and talents to use for the good of the organisation.

How can you help ensure your new managers are coaching rather than cloning? First, and foremost, it’s critical to recognise that everyone is different. That’s right, no two people think or process information in exactly the same way. Equally important to remember that the perspectives, motivations and responses of others aren’t any better or worse than ours, they’re simply different.  We need to value our different ways of thinking, perceiving, solving and acting. Often we can achieve the best results when we consider all perspectives, and use a combination of approaches to the situation.  Not surprisingly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. This means that managers need to get to know their employees as individuals.

Building good manager-employee relationships

At the risk of stating the obvious — but sometimes forgotten — here are some ways your new managers can get to know their team members while also positioning themselves as trusted and effective coaches.

  • Show interest in what motivates employees by asking them questions about a particular work situation and why they handled it a certain way (this can reveal a lot about an individual). Determine their aspirations, interests, preferences, strengths and passion (and encourage them to bring this passion to work each and every day).
  • Give employees meaningful feedback on an ongoing basis by increasing the frequency of employee reviews and one-on-one meetings.  Ensure that you provide regular recognition/praise for achievements. Consider gathering input from others. Feedback from multiple sources is broader and more objective, and helps you and your employees get a more accurate view of their performance.
  • Maintain an ongoing, two-way dialogue about employee performance where you share expectations, provide coaching, answer questions, support employee performance, and solicit feedback on your own performance. During these conversations, you should remember to be an active listener not an active talker (avoid the autobiographical overlay).
  • Provide employees with ongoing development opportunities, both formal and informal. Everyone needs to know where they are and where they’re going (i.e., that they have a future with the company). Work with them to determine and plan training and development activities.

Regardless of approach, techniques or individual differences, a good manager will work with employees to listen, question and “coach” them to be the best they can be, leading to greater engagement, higher productivity and improved organisational performance.


  1. A senior product analyst and Certified Human Capital Strategist at Halogen Software, Sean Conrad regularly writes about talent management trends and issues in industry publication and the Exploring Talent Management Blog.
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale (and using coaching as well as training, mentoring and consulting).