Tag Archives: teamwork

Why independence doesn’t mean being a lone wolf.


Main Squeeze sent me this a few days ago; said it reminded her of me.  You see I don’t enjoy organizational politics at all (who does?) and I’ve never been much good at kow-towing.

I shared it with my friend and business partner, who wondered if “wolves”, being great at “lone”, might then not be good at playing on a team.  At the time I thought that’s maybe where the analogy breaks down, but in hindsight the comparison of a wolf to an independent man or woman is apt. (Doesn’t that always happen – you think of what to say, but way, way too late.)

Being of independent mind does not mean going it alone.  It means thinking for yourself and deciding when its good to work with others.

Working in a team, even one with a leader, doesn’t mean you need to bow, buckle under, or “perform”.  It means you acknowledge that your interests are aligned with the groups’; that cooperating will get you all further; that you’re hunting in a pack, as it were.

The thing is, if you’re the leader of the pack, remember that your goals, (your own, and the organizations’), will be better served if those on your team are “thinking followers“, not performing animals.  Interact with them accordingly and they’ll stay engaged and motivated.  Treat them like monkeys and the better ones will be gone, and those left will not move unless you say so, or promise them a treat.

Whether you lead only your self, or a team of one hundred, your foundational attribute has to be independence.  That is, you need to choose to stay switched on and focused; you must be willing to think, analyze, judge, and make decisions; and you need the courage, confidence and drive to initiate action.

Sometimes you’ll choose to follow the direction set by someone else, or to take advice, or to work collaboratively.  Never should you jump because your fear a whip or want shiny baubles.







Boss versus Leader – not so clear cut.

Boss vs Leader

No attribution. No copyright infringement intended. Let me know if it’s your work.


Intuitively, the picture resonates.  We’ve all had the petty-tyrant boss; the person who loves the sound of their own voice and is oblivious to the resentment and de-motivation they’re engendering.

And most of us can relate to the manager who loves to roll up his sleeves and jump in on the line.

But don’t be fooled.  There’s a problem with the scenario that this image paints, especially when it comes to larger teams with significant division of labour:

You can’t fly at 40,000 feet and be on the tarmac at the same time.

If you as the organizational leader are always “hands-on”, who’s doing your job?  To belabor the cheap analogies; if the captain is always in the engine room, the ship’s going to run aground.


Don’t “lord it” over your team.  Challenge them, but don’t be a slave-driver.  Be nice, respectful, sincere, and above all, just.  But recognize that their job is not yours.  They need to be accountable for their role, just as you need to be accountable for yours.

In a pinch, get in the trenches and dig.  But if you need to do that regularly, you’re not doing your job properly; you’re just a very overpaid member of the team.

When it comes to that bromide about being “Hands On”, here’s the rule to follow:

Be hands-on as much as necessary, but as little as possible.

And over time, given that a part of your job as “boss” is to develop your reports, you should be hands-on less and less.  That will be easier if you master the art of delegation.

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Apologies for all the links, hope they weren’t distracting and that you find some of the material useful.

Questions or comments – feel free.







Brief Book Review: The Southwest Airlines Way – Jody Hoffer Gittell

The-Southwest-Airlines-Way-Gittell-Jody-Hoffer-9780071458276THIS IS ARGUABLY the most important text on how teams can and should be managed so as to deliver great customer service.

Author Jody Hoffer Gittell does a good job of explaining the specific practices Southwest has developed and maintains in order to consistently deliver an airline experience that’s way better than its competitors, and creates profit in an industry renown for delivering losses.  The work is detailed, almost scholarly (yet very readable), and provides a blueprint for other organizations wishing to emulate Southwest’s success.  I also found it a fascinating insight into the complexities of running an airline.

Don’t think for a moment, though, that by reading this book and implementing a few changes you’ll have your organization swinging.  As you would expect, creating the exceptional requires more than a quick fix.  If you have the will though, and the authority to implement change, I highly recommend developing a plan based on the ten principles outlined in the book, and listed below:

Ten Practices for Building High Performance Relationships:

Lead with credibility and caring

Invest in frontline leadership

Hire and train for relational competence

Use conflicts to build relationships

Bridge the work/family divide

Create boundary spanners

Measure performance broadly

Keep jobs flexible at the boundries

Make unions your partners, not adversaries

Build relationships with your suppliers

If you’ve never flown Southwest, or heard about their brand of what I call “real” service, here’s a couple videos to whet your appetite:

A great TV commercial (1 min) :

A Southwest flight attendant singing a custom version of Jingle Bells (45 sec):

An interview (10 min) with Rita Bailey, erstwhile director of Southwest’s “University for People”:

Get the book here:        Paperback         Kindle

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More good reading on the Resources Page.

Australian PM Kevin Rudd. Good Leader?

FOR NON-AUSTRALIANS who may not be aware of the saga, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently maneuvered himself back into the top job – some would say ruthlessly – after a lengthy and very strategic campaign of back-room deal-making, and a character assassination of Julia Gillard (who, to be fair, came to power in the same way, ousting Rudd in 2010).

I am non-partisan in politics because I see no good leaders on any side of the political divide, and because the ideological difference between Liberal/Labour, Republican/Democrat, Tory/Labour, is one of degree.  Fundamentally, they are all equally bad.

So, with apologies to those of you who might like or support Rudd, here’s a short video (6 minutes) vilifying his modus operandi.  I post it here as an example of what poor leadership looks like, and Rudd sure ticks a lot of “bad leader” boxes.

Didactic?  Check.

KR Selfie.  Probably not a good idea.

Nobody to blame but himself.

Bombastic and Rude?  Check.

Inaccessible and aloof?  Check.

Difficult to work with?  Check?

Micro-manager with inability to delegate?  Check?

Non-consultative?  Check.

False charm?  Check?

Poor negotiation skills?  Check.

No commitment or loyalty to team?  Check.

Power hungry?  Check.

Lack of integrity and trustworthiness?  Check.

On to the video; but: viewer caution advised.  You kids watching at home:  this is not a leadership example you want to follow.

Interpersonal conflict in your team? You need good advice, and a “list post” won’t cut it!

THERE IS A lot of leadership advice out there.  Hundreds of books, thousands of websites; some helpful, most not.  Much of it ignores fundamentals; instead offering adhoc, graft-on, band-aid, random, and arbitrary “solutions” with no foundation, little context and no integration. 

How are you supposed to remember, internalize, and successfully use “The 21 Immutable Laws of Leadership”, for example.   If you haven’t first mastered yourself – your independent thinking capabilities and your people skills especially – learning “rules” will not be much help.

And then there’s the “5 Steps to X”, “8 Ways to Y”, and “47 Rules of Z”; as though good leadership (and life, for that matter), could be reduced to a set of “Tab A into Slot A” instruction sheets.  These are popular because the human mind craves order, and lists are nothing if not ordered.  We love “step-by-step” instructions, but life is not a lego set.

What good leadership and successful living require is not so much in the way of instructions, nor even a map.  What is needed are fundamental skills; skills that give you the ability to make your own instructions, your own maps, depending on where you want to go and what you want to achieve.

Leadership advice that ignores these fundamentals is like trying to build a house without foundations.

Here’s a point in case.

[As a proviso, I mean no disrespect.  This is from Dan Rockwell‘s “Leadership Freak” blog, which is worth a look, and by Steven M.R. Covey, whose book “The Crisis of Trust” I’ve not yet read, but whose father Steven R. Covey authored the wildly popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.]

It’s a post entitled:  10 Steps to Solve Tension Between Team Mates

After the intro, (which admonishes you never to ask “Why is this happening?”!!), you are instructed to invite the conflicting team mates to:

A bridge building conversation:

  1. Invite them to a “work on your work relationship” meeting.
  2. Explain your high hopes.
  3. Clarify: you aren’t fixing their relationship. (Essential)
  4. Question one: How satisfying is your work relationship, 1 to 10?
  5. Question two: How important is improving your work relationship, 1-10?
  6. Question three: What satisfaction number would make your work relationship fulfilling, 1-10?
  7. Question four: How would you describe great work relationships? (Ask each person for three expressions.)
  8. Question five: What’s essential to building great work relationships? (Ask for three things from each.)
  9. Explore one response from each person. Bob, you said, “Great work relationships are supportive.” What does support look like to you? Search for observable behaviors.
  10. Use responses to questions four and five to determine one or two things each person will do to build a great work relationship.
  11. And if they don’t shake hands at the end of the meeting, make them sit in opposite corners wearing dunce caps.

(Okay, I added point #11, but I think it fits…)

If you work with 8-year-olds, this approach might help.  For a day or two.  For anyone else, it’s worse than useless.  It’s condescending, puerile, demotivating, and will likely make Bob, and Bob’s colleague, think you’re a prat.   Seriously, a “work on your work relationship meeting“?

Perhaps this explains why, despite decades of research on management and leadership, 1000’s of books, and untold millions spent on leadership development, there’s still such a dearth of good leaders in all areas of our culture.  If this is what the “leaders” in the field of leadership offer, it’s no wonder good leaders are so few and far between.

Good leadership is not about holding people’s hands; it’s about showing them how to walk on their own, how to lead themselves.

Treat people like children and you’ll get one of two responses:

…the meeker and more compliant types will act like children, or, more correctly, will act immaturely; and the more independent types will rebel.  Either way, you’ll not be getting engaged, thinking, followers.  For that, you need to treat people as mature individuals; rationally.

If you have two or more people not getting along to such a degree that you need to intervene, that’s a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental problem; namely, you recruited poorly, your work processes are inefficient, and/or your team-building efforts are not working.

Good teams don’t bicker.

Creative conflict, yes; antagonism, rudeness, spite, defensiveness, finger-pointing, and all those schoolyard behaviors, no.

Let’s revisit Bob and his colleague (we’ll call him Joe).  If the two of them can’t get along, it’s because one or both of them are behaving irrationally, which translates to, behaving immaturely.  It’s not about whether they like each other or not;  that’s irrelevant.

Before you intervene, there’s a few questions you need to answer:

1.  What’s the negative impact on the team, on productivity, on progress towards organizational objectives?  If there really is none, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.  Everybody does not have to love everybody else.

2. Do both Bob and Joe add value – that is, are they earning their keep?  If one of them is not, then that’s the problem that needs addressing.

3.  Is either Bob or Joe at fault for the lack of civility or cooperation, for the “tension“?  Maybe Bob’s a bully.  Perhaps Joe is homophobic and Bob is gay.  Who knows?  If you don’t know the cause, you’re not the umpire, you’re the “third man in”, and deserve a trip to the penalty box.  If you do know, then treating the problem as “tension” between two equals is unfair. If the root of the problem is one of them, fix that.

If they both contribute equally to the team effort, are both at fault for the “tension” between them (which is unlikely, but let’s assume it for the sake of the exercise), and their poor relationship IS having a negative impact on aspects of the organization’s functions, then you’ll need to intervene (assuming they’re your direct reports.  If they’re not, then their direct supervisor should be handling the matter, with your assistance if needed).

There is no cookie-cutter approach, because situations and people are different.  Principles, however, can and should be applied.  The first principle of managing people is: reason.  The second is justice.  Everyone deserves to be treated rationally and fairly.

Talk to them.  Calmly and as adults.  Separately, if you suspect one of them is the cause of the issue or if you judge that one or both of them will “tune out” if they’re in a discussion with you together (and if it’s that bad, you really do have much bigger issues to deal with).

Ask them what the problem is.  Make them aware of the negative impact.  Remind them of their commitments to the team and especially to team norms:  no finger pointing, no excuses, no blame, one for all and all for one, together we stand, divided we fall – though you may want to avoid those cliched formulations  :-).

What you say and how you say it will depend on the individuals involved, your relationship with them, and the issues at hand.  Again, there is no “list of steps”.  These are people, not robots.  If you are not capable of having an adhoc conversation of this nature, you should question whether you are ready to be in an organizational leadership role.  These are fundamental people skills – communication, negotiation, delegation – and are prerequisite for a titled leadership role.

And while we’re on you…

…have you considered that you might be the cause of the issue?

If you behave irrationally, are unpredictable, play favorites, or in any way set a poor example, chances are you’re the root cause of any tensions or interpersonal conflicts in the team.  It is your team, after all.  Managing a team successfully starts with managing yourself.  Managing yourself starts with honest introspection and an ability to modify your own habitual behavior – in essence, to create yourself.  If you haven’t or don’t lay this foundation, no amount of “how to” lists will help.

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Related reading:  If you really need a slightly more structured approach, here is some additional good advice:  Kate Nasser: Teamwork #Peopleskills: Leaders, When Do You Intervene?


Why “Team Player” is a redundant term, and what you really need from team members.


If you lead a team, why would you have any non-Team Players on it?

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THE term “team player” gets used a lot.  But what does it actually mean?

Common usage suggests that a “team player” is one who puts team above self.  That’s a false alternative with which I don’t agree.  [For more on that, see: There Are Only “I”s in Team.]

Within effective teams, individual goals are aligned with team goals, so there’s no conflict or compromise between what you want for yourself and what you want for the team.  What’s best for one is best for all, and vice-versa.  [See Ego Is Not A Dirty Word for more.]

The idea that there could be both “team players” and “non-team players” on a team is a bit silly.  It’s the team leader’s responsibility to ensure that every person on the team is a “team player”, so the term is redundant.

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The Five Commitments  (no, that’s not an Irish soul band…)

What it really means to be a “team player”, which, in fact, is what it means to be properly on a team at all, is commitment to five things:

  1. Commitment to the team’s objective;
  2. Commitment to fulfilling your role;
  3. Commitment to your team mates;
  4. Commitment to the team leader; and,
  5. Commitment to team norms.


A team has a purpose.  You join a team because its purpose inspires you.  Even a company making widgets, if it’s committed to making the best darn widgets on earth, can inspire its employees to greatness.

Commitment to the team’s objective also means commitment to the agreed strategy and tactics.  That’s why good leaders get everyone involved in strategic planning; to generate “buy-in”.

If a team’s purpose leaves you cold, reconsider joining.  Life’s too short to spend time on pursuits that have no meaning to you.


Every team member serves a purpose, which in turn supports the team’s purpose.  As a team member, you need to engage fully; give everything you’ve got; do your absolute best to fulfill your responsibilities.  No coasting, no shirking, no excuses.

It’s part of the team leader’s role to make sure everyone fulfills their role – it’s called a culture of accountability.

TEAM MATEScommitment b

One for all and all for one.

The only teams that function exceptionally well are ones in which every team member “has the back” of every other team member. Period.


The Chinese have a saying:

“There can only be one tiger on the mountain.”

And then there’s the truism:

“You can’t hunt ducks by committee – by the time you’ve aimed the gun the quarry has flown.”

Teams need one final arbiter, a pace setter, a visionary.  One individual who ultimately defines the goals, decides the path, and inspires the troops.

Join the team and you join the leader.

Remember though, that few are perfect.  Leaders, like everyone else, make mistakes.  As a team member, you need to “manage upwards” at times, supporting and assisting the leader.  Everyone is on a learning curve because life does not come with a set of instructions.  That includes the boss.  Justice demands that team members cut each other some slack now and then, and a good leader is a team-mate like any other.

And if the “leader” really isn’t one, jump ship as soon as you can, because without a good leader, the team is going nowhere.

[For more on what the leader should be doing, see: “The 6 Essential Responsibilities of Organizational Leaders“.]


A team is not a democracy.  A team is formed by someone for some objective, and, unless you are a slave (in the literal sense), you join a team voluntarily.  By doing so you signal that you agree with the team culture and agree to be bound by the team code (both of which have hopefully been clearly elucidated and consistently demonstrated).

If you don’t agree with the team code, you don’t have to join – look for another team, form your own, or go it alone.

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If you’re on a team, take a little self-test using the five commitment points above.  Are you committed to them all?  If not, are you on the right team?  Should you be on a team at all?  Maybe it’s time to go out on your own; maybe build your own team?

If you lead a team, evaluate your team members against the five commitments.  They’ll reveal which of your players needs development (if they have potential), help (if they have a problem) or letting go (if they just won’t commit).  The latter sounds harsh, but exceptional teams demand high standards – unfortunately some people are not up to it.

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All of us play on teams.  Work, sport, social club, family.  So, by definition, everyone is a “team player” some of the time.  If you can’t commit to the team(s) you’re on, it’s time to rethink your participation.

And here’s an interesting final thought:  people with good leadership skills make the best team mates.

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For more on teams, check back.  These posts are on the way:

“The Six Pillars of Successful Teams”   and   “The Rules of Team”  

Or subscribe, for notification of new posts (and some exclusives).


Even in Teamwork, Ego Is Not A Dirty Word

“Don’t you believe what you’ve seen or you’ve heard,

Ego… is not a… dirty word.”

IF you’re a middle-aged Australian you’ll recognize that line from the Skyhooks hit of 1975.  If you’re not, it’s still a good point.

Your Ego is you.  Why would you denigrate it?  Yet we hear it all the time.  “Put your ego aside.”  “There’s no room for ego on this team.”  “Your ego is your enemy.”

“Ego” means “I” in Latin. The American Heritage Dictionary provides a few definitions:

“The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves”

“In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.”

An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.”

Appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem.”

#1, #2, and #4 all point to Ego being a good thing.  We all need a distinct sense of self, should consciously control our thoughts and behavior, and should take pride in being the best we can possibly be, that is, we should earn self-esteem.

I suspect #3 is in there because that’s the widely-accepted meaning.  It’s misleading.  I would like to suggest to you that those who show “an exaggerated sense of self-importance” – those who are conceited or ego-centric or bombastic or braggarts – do not have a “big ego”, they have a little one.  Or, stated more accurately, they have a non-self-sufficient ego; a weak ego.

Those behaviors that have come to be associated with a “big ego”, all stem from insecurity; from a poor sense of self.  They are all (futile and self-defeating) attempts to build self-esteem by trying to make oneself look better/stronger/richer/bigger/more powerful/etc. in the eyes of others.  People who behave like this are constantly looking for affirmation of their worth outside of themselves, which cannot be done.

The person of self-sufficient ego, on the other hand, measures their self worth by their own behavior and accomplishments, not on the opinions of others.  That’s not to say that positive feedback from someone you admire and respect is not welcome; of course it is.  But it should never be the reason that you love your self.

What has all this got to do with leadership, you may ask.  Well, let me ask you:

How many times have you heard a sports commentator say something like, “Wow, Markowitz was really selfless there, he put his ego away for the sake of the team”.

Just about every game you watch.  And it’s bunk.  It rides on the premise that Markowitz’s best interests are somehow different to the interests of the team he’s playing for.  They better not be.  Helping the team by committing whatever act was deemed “selfless” was in the best interest of the team AND in the best interest of Markowitz.  In other words, his act was selfish, and rightly so.  It was born out of a self-sufficient ego.  An ego not trying to big-note itself at the expense of the team.  An ego secure in its own value.  An ego committed to the team.

If you lead a team, remember this.  This is what the fancy term, “Aligning individual and team objectives” is talking about.  When all the people in your team believe that their best interests are served by fostering the best interests of the team, that’s when you get real Teamwork.

That bromide, “There’s No “I” in T E A M”, is wrong.  There is nothing but “I”s in any team.  A team IS it’s individuals.

Don’t ask your people to be “selfless” for the good of the team.  Instead, create a culture where everyone is vested in the team’s successful outcomes.  Then you can rely on their respective, self-interested effort to move the team forward.

And here’s a bonus tip.  The key to hiring people with great attitude is to look for people with a self-sufficient ego.  They are:  Confident, but not brash.  Opinionated, but not defensive.  Show initiative, but take direction too.  Speak well, but not too much, and listen equally well.

A strong, self-sufficient ego = Quiet Confidence.

And, as a reward for making it this far, here’s Skyhooks, with “Ego Is Not A Dirty Word“.