Directing the Multi-Functional Team Part II: Synergy

Leading multi-functional teams can be exciting! As a leader, visionary dynamics begin to arise within as you recognize the potential for increased efficiencies, identify force multipliers and engage team leaders in collaborative discussions to increase overall effectiveness, accessibility, presence and reach.  As a leader, this is one of the best feelings you can experience. You’ve got the direction – now, to communicate it. Knowing your team, they will be eager to participate – right?

Synergy is defined as the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements or their contributions; cooperative action.

As a director, you can make these visionary opportunities just as exciting for your team leaders as they are for you. Here’s how…

Create and Protect Synergy. Meet with your team leaders together, if possible, to start the process. Share the goal and prepare a presentation showing and telling them who is responsible for what and why.  Let this first meeting be a time of information sharing and answering of initial questions. Also, use this time to introduce your team leaders to one another. Stress the need for synergy among all in the room. They are all leaders and have a responsibility to protect the very thing that will keep them moving in a positive direction. Partner team leaders who will likely be collaborating (or have overlapping priorities) so they can engage in conversation about their roles and share contact information. Provide your team leaders with the presentation materials used during the meeting so they can meet with their team members to introduce and discuss the new direction.

Expand the Synergy Circle. Schedule time with each team leader individually, focusing on their specific areas of implementation and their team needs. They should bring any barriers (perceived or real) to light in this meeting so that you can provide insight and direction as needed. Their team meeting should be schedule so that you can attend (not to conduct – but to observe). You are a visible symbol of support for their team’s success and your presence demonstrates your accessibility to their leader.

Arrive a few minutes early for each team meeting so that you are able to greet all who attend beforehand. Again, your early/on-time presence sets an expectation for others and further cement your support for the team leader. Listen intently to the presentation (with a friendly demeanor) – not for content (which you have provided) – but for tone, inflection and inference. Make sure that the team leader is conveying the “spirit” of the message as well as the information. If you have communicated to well, the message will delivered with clarity and ooze synergy. Interjection from you should only occur if the team leader is veering off track; at which time you gently bring them back (a display of empathy as well as synergy). Otherwise, your positive presence and silent engagement will carry the weight needed to support the team leader as they engage with team members.

When team members recognize that they are part of something larger than themselves, that they are not alone in the endeavor and that what they contribute to the goal is vital across teams, cooperative action is fueled and synergy is embraced. It isn’t hype or emotion… Perspectives change. Team members begin to see their role as a piece of the larger puzzle and not a mere task to be performed. The connections between teams become meaningful rather than just names on an org chart. Their value to the organization grows and productivity increases as they embrace the greater responsibility of maintaining for synergy.

Keep Synergy in the Forefront.  Nothing destroys the effects of synergy faster than isolationism. Some organizations call this the silo effect – when a team or any of it’s members are separated (either by proximity or perception) from the common goal. This separation creates space (real and imagined); and since nature abhors a vacuum, the space is filled with things like misconception, miscommunication, mistrust and rumors; all of which, if left unchecked, gradually dismantle synergy. Genuine relationship is the strength of synergy and is key to keeping isolationism from unraveling your good work.

Organizational goals will change, succeed and even fail – but your teams can be among the healthiest and most productive if synergy is kept in the forefront. Engage in meaningful communication with your team leaders regularly; not just to check boxes for goals that are in process but, to join your strengths and experience with theirs in monitoring the pulse of the teams they lead. Lead them… and they will learn to lead. Ensure that team members and leaders are communicating regularly with other team members and leaders. These acts of engagement not only create accountability, but serve to continually nurture synergy – through mutual respect for and acknowledgement of each team’s contribution to the organization.

Communicate Unity at the Table of Ideas

Communication requires two major actions: the act of listening and the act of speaking. But there is another aspect of effective communication which is well worth mentioning. Good communicators exercise their ability to identify the meanings beyond the conversation. It is from this vantage point that they develop strategy for managing the situation effectively.

Both interpersonally and professionally, good communicators rely not only on the words expressed during a conversation or meeting, but they read body language, take note of situational cues and ask questions about related details to form a more complete picture of, what would otherwise be, a more complex issue. This technique, though only somewhat sophisticated, should never be relied upon at face value as the sole interpretation or explanation for a situation or circumstance.

J.K. Rowling, Author

“We are only as strong

as we are united,

as weak as we are divided.”

Good communicators surround themselves with people whose goal it is to collaborate to find solutions in the most effective ways possible; while maintaining a common sense of purpose and mission. This position of unity is an important one in protecting the integrity of the organizational structure, the interconnected relationships involved and safeguarding the communication and resolution process itself.

Good communicators listen to and learn from these individuals – who have been invited to the table of ideas – on purpose. Individually they bring knowledge, experience, wisdom, perspective and insight that would otherwise be lacking. Ideally, these are not individuals who relish the status quo or who are content to wallow in or pacify symptoms while ignoring the root of an issue. These are business partners, agents of change; people who shape policy, create culture and willingly accept responsibility.

When a situation is complex, good communicators will listen to these business partners: an exercise critical to helping them embrace a higher-level view or perspective; identify the symptoms from the disease. These conversations, where everyone provides notable and valuable input, are what drive the subsequent courses of action and facilitate solutions to symptomology or answer ancillary questions.

Leading Edge: If you want to be a good communicator but the skill doesn’t necessarily come naturally to you, start by invite others from differing but relevant perspectives, to share in the conversation. Make known your agenda at least a week in advance so that invitees can give the matter some thought prior to coming together. Clearly answer these questions for them…

  • What is the goal of the meeting?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What is expected of each participant? (i.e. How will a decision to _______ affect your area?)

You may even decide that the solutions you seek cannot be reasonably accomplished in just one meeting. If that’s the case, ask that invitees come prepared with their availability to schedule a follow up meeting.

Then, listen to the problem from the varying perspectives and begin to prioritize solutions as the conversation ensues. Read the room… Who is staying quiet and why? Who is outspoken and what might they be missing? Is the discussion valid and on point or do you need to steer the conversation back to the topic? Are there items, conditions, situations or people being overlooked or undervalued? Are there issues that should remain separate from the task at hand?

Though you are the leader – remain in control of the flow of conversation or facilitate the discussion rather than lead. Ensure that the focus remains consistent and that each person has an opportunity to share from her/his perspective.

Remember – you invited each of them to the table of ideas for a reason and together, you are stronger. Don’t let them leave without offering insight. If they aren’t sure why they were invited –tell them why you chose them. This simple and honest interface may be all they need to begin to share exactly what you, as the leader, need to hear.

Always “ON”

I once worked with an organization where most of the employees were expected to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We were always “ON”. I didn’t realize at the time, that salaries were set slightly above the hourly wage rate (exempt) in order make the positions more attractive and to protect the organization from labor law violations; while company phones were issued to make accessibility more “convenient”.  

The first couple of years at that pace were new and exciting. My family was supportive, and I was thrilled that others were dependent upon me, entrusting me with such responsibility. Then, I noticed co-workers who had been there longer than I had, becoming disgruntled, angry and even sick from exhaustion. When they would complain or look for new opportunities, I just assumed they weren’t cut out for the job.  But I was determined to be.

Side Note: Since the salaries were set at exempt rates, there were no open positions in town which would come close to offering the income and benefits we had come to rely on.

My personal life also began to be put on hold in order to meet the needs of the organization – much more often than I had become comfortable with. The expectation had been set and because I needed the job, I consistently exceed it.  Just to be clear… I was not a surgeon, a psychiatrist, a priest, an astronaut or a member of the military… or any other position where one might expect to have “scheduled on-call” responsibilities.

In the current employment market, organizations provide a variety of examples highlighting appropriate and inappropriate work-life balance. Some of them – along with providing cell phones and tablets for ease of access – invest in additional conveniences (employee benefits and perks) which make working longer hours a more attractive proposition. These include onsite amenities such as cafeterias and restaurants which are open 24/7 and provide a variety of healthy and traditional fare, healthcare clinics, gym and pool facilities, showers, barbershops, nail and wax salons, massage parlors, fold-out cots or nap rooms and even psychotherapy services. As benefits, these sound amazing and add value to your professional life experience. The issue I have is that they are located “ON”site. Essentially, these organizations have become self-contained communities or compounds (depending on your point of view), providing every reason for you to stay and logically minimizing your reasons to leave. Some research suggests that these environments also help to create isolation, loneliness, depression and burnout in employees and may not be as financially sustainable as the architects had perceived.

On the flip side, there are companies who have communicated policies outlining what the expectations are for employees in communicating during scheduled time off as well as throughout the working day. Some companies are now mandating email and phone free time during each day or at least a couple of times per week – making creativity and productivity much easier to accomplish. We can’t expect employees to protect and utilize their time at work wisely if we don’t honor their scheduled time off.

Research shows that working longer hours doesn’t consistently satisfy the need for increased productivity. There is room to step away and prioritize activities and relationships outside of our chosen professions. If we fail to see the value in our presence and existence outside of work, we will fail to create traction in those areas and we may miss out on significant treasure.

Leading Edge: It’s one thing to miss out on the rest of life intentionally… but another entirely to miss out on life inadvertently. Even if you own the company – always being “ON” isn’t the best use of your time, your talent or your treasure. It could actually be seen as an abuse. Take a break and allow yourself to gain perspective. A change of pace and an alternate environment allows potential for creativity to blossom and a fresh outlook to enter the organization upon your return.

Leading the Charge in Cultural Transformation

The demand for higher organizational standards is on the rise. Not only is company leadership responsible to define success in terms that will keep shareholders and external customers content (with consistent revenue, quality products, stellar customer service and visibly measurable corporate responsibility initiatives), they are now expected to undergo significant cultural changes which will improve the “employee” experience.

Some would question why these changes are necessary if the organizations in question are financially successful and comfortably positioned in the market. The treatment of employees has come under scrutiny – even for the most successful companies in highly visible industries. This is a reminder that without them, (the human resources to which success is directly attributed) profit, customers, market share and every other tangible measure of success, cease to exist.

Facilitating an organizational culture transformation is not the path of least resistance for leaders; especially if the organization is guilty of neglecting its employees. This doesn’t mean that you haven’t provided them with annual increases or earned benefits, but you may have increased outcome expectations without adequate training or support, you may have left them in the dark when major decisions which affected them were made, you may have changed the rules of the game without their knowledge or input, you may have treated them as though you were doing them a favor by allowing them to show up everyday in support of your mission and vision… Leadership isn’t providing a paycheck. Leadership is relationship… and healthy relationships require communication and effort.

Some organizations may choose the “wait and see” approach to the issue of cultural transformation… in hopes that the revolution will end in a minor skirmish and quickly fade; leaving them to continue with business as usual. Others have been rolling the dice, betting that their employees will remain loyal through continued dysfunction. Then there are those who have taken the “do-over” approach; finding reasons to release employees without cause and start over with a fresh batch; with no intention of changing their leadership style or taking responsibility for the existing culture.

Despite the warning signs and red flags which crop up along the way, leadership is often late in identifying and/or acknowledging the need for cultural transformation. What leaders in each of these situations fails to realize is that their employees are fully aware of the value in what they are missing… and they are actively in search of higher quality professional relationships with which to align themselves.

How much does it cost an organization to ignore much needed improvements in culture?  Let’s remember… cultural dysfunction starts with leadership.  Miscommunication, confusion and instability flows from the top, down to management levels. The managers then communicate the same (intentionally or not) to the frontline employees. Costs incurred include loss of trust, inconsistent messaging, inefficiencies, morale degradation, an increase in customer complaints about products and/or services, loss of revenue, nicks in the armor of brand reputation and, as a result, penal responses from leadership which flow through management, down to the frontline (those whose work directly effects the bottom-line).

Leading Edge: When an organization comes face to face with the reality that cultural transformation is no longer an option, leadership is presented with two options.  

1) Ignore the elephant in the room… You know, the one lifting its trunk in every meeting, wasting valuable time, halting meaningful conversation with divisiveness and consuming clarity and open communication like oxygen; spewing attitudes which reek of superiority and entitlement rather than rendering solutions and building bridges, digging holes and leaving scars for resentment to grow and mistrust to fester; creating an atmosphere where demeaning comments are tolerated and where disrespect insights fear among staff members who genuinely value their positions; putting them on edge… or worse, encouraging them to actively seek healthier professional relationships and opportunities elsewhere. Or…

2) Step up to the plate, dig in, set yourself and lead the charge for cultural transformation.

For some, this second course of action will challenge you to your core. It will require personal and professional self-examination; accompanied by changes of heart and mind. The internet is full of suggestions to get you started and you may have peers who are engaged in similar activities. But if you need a boost… Keep Reading.

Some leaders and their companies apply what’s commonly known as The Golden Rule. It comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in the Bible (Matthew 7:12). One translation says “…in everything, treat others the same way you want them to treat you”. Arguably, we are not all the same and therefore don’t all prefer the “same” treatment. For instance, you may want a phone call or an email whereas I might prefer a text message…

So, there are other leaders and companies who simply Employ Empathy (capturing the essence of the earlier admonition). They do this by engaging in an active search for ways to reach into the worlds of their employees. Simple displays of common courtesy and human interaction are masterful at communicating appreciation, acknowledging efforts and celebrating mutual commitment, meaningfully and positively.

For some leaders, facilitating cultural transformation may be quite natural… and for others it may require a fresh perspective or hands on assistance from others. In either case, it is not a task designed to be accomplished in a vacuum. My advice would be to choose your allies wisely. These agents of cultural change (some of whom exist within your organization) are patiently waiting for you to make the call. They can’t do it for you, nor do they want to. Their desire is not to usurp your authority, but to support you as you lead the charge. Be consistent. Let them know you value their contributions enough to change and grow with them. Give your employees something worth following.

Leading the charge for cultural transformation is a bold and courageous step; and the organizational and personal savings will be well worth the effort. You will see increases in management confidence, efficiencies, personnel energy levels and creativity; uplifting your employees, securing your customer base, rescuing your reputation and protecting your brand for the future. As a bonus… clarity, stability, fresh ideas, and revenue can now freely flow from the healthy organizational environment created as a result of your willingness to lead the charge for your organization’s cultural transformation.

Cheers to your Successes!

The People Manager

Oftentimes managers have colliding and/or competing priorities – but if you are a manager of people, as well as projects and/or programs, you must recognize that not everything required of you for this position is within your control. It will take more than time management, strategic planning and organization to fulfill the role you have been entrusted with. As a manager of people, you will undoubtedly have a diverse team of individuals who have come together (or been brought together) under a variety of circumstances. Their reasons for being on the team and/or your reasons for choosing them will influence how you communicate with them as individuals.

THIS IS GOLD! Finding what makes each of them unique will be important in helping them to reach their full potential and can make your relationship building efforts that much more purposeful. This discovery will go beyond what makes them valuable to the organization… but will extend to what speaks to them; what fulfills them and causes them to want to continue to excel. Even if their current role is not where they want to spend the rest of their career, your knowledge of their intended next steps can help you to prepare them – while meeting and exceeding the needs of the organization. As they each make strides which bring positive and sustainable results to the organization, this insider knowledge will make it easier to identify meaningful ways to acknowledge them; and provide valuable insight for your communication with them when direction, encouragement, guidance, correction and/or redirection are needed.

Though we may know what has brought our team together, we only know what they tell us about what makes them who they are. Every individual has a story; a set of situations and circumstances that has led us to where we are in life, shaped who we are, continuing to inform who we perceive ourselves to be and what we believe about our potential for success. The details of these incidents or accidents or purposeful engagements create a tapestry of working inferences, thoughts and ideologies which frame our worlds. This working knowledge actively influences our emotions, thoughts, intentions and actions in ways that are not always understood by others. Maya Angelou is one of my favorite authors. In the first book of her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, she writes:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit to the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

~Maya Angelou

We may find that our team members’ stories don’t seem to add up to the actions or attitudes displayed in the workplace. Evidence appears that would suggest that there is more to the story. Although we want to address situations as specifically as possible, it doesn’t mean that we need to get “personal”. Seeking out additional personal information is probably not appropriate – and could potentially backfire as we risk crossing “HR” lines.

The best thing we can do as managers is to continue creating an environment where our team members feel comfortable and safe enough to share the realities of their worlds with us. When that happens, we can make suggestions that will ease the burden so that they are able to manage their personal lives without fear of retaliation in their professional lives. Of course, there are instances in which extreme action is required – but in my experience, that has been the exception and not the rule.

Leading Edge:  Managers are extremely important. Keep your team members in the center of your priorities. They are, in large part, why your role exists… and their health is directly tied to overall organizational well-being.  

Mirror – Mirror

“Mirrors are opportunities… random checkpoints throughout the day”
-Adam Gallari

In my very first post “Meaningful Communication” (, I noted that the main ingredient found in meaningful communication is You. Your willingness to listen… to be confronted with fresh perspectives and to embrace expertise which may differ from your own has the potential to create an environment ripe for productive and meaningful communication to flourish.

There are two distinct perspectives that must be acknowledged to accomplish this goal – each focusing on the value you bring to the mutually productive environment.

Self-awareness (my definition) – intimate knowledge of the personal beliefs which guide your character and your actions– is a quality which can serve us all well. A competency common to many good leaders, self-awareness enhances our reasoning, assisting us in recognizing our strengths and weaknesses; and enabling us to embrace positive change in behavior, improving our interpersonal skills for better relational outcomes.

Look into the first mirror and you’ll see yourself… as you want to be seen.  As a matter of human nature, we see ourselves in the best light possible; taking into consideration our best intentions – even though they are invisible in the reflection. How we see ourselves determines how we see others and the world around us. If we see ourselves as the center of most (if not all) things, we will treat others as though they exist only for our benefit. We will not recognize the value in others unless it directly relates to us and our well-being. Each of us has self-serving tendencies to a degree, but there are some who regard themselves and their needs, wants and desires as being more important more often, than not.       

It will take courage to gaze into the mirror again; this time from another vantage point, to see yourself… as others see you. This isn’t something you can or should do on your own. The results of this should provide you with evidence which can be used to validate and support real change in yourself and in your organization. There are a variety of organizational culture surveys available to measure how employees view you, your leadership and your organization with anonymity. If you are in search of open dialogue among team members, open discussion meetings can be held; assuming there enough trust present to reasonably expect honest and productive feedback. If you have surrounded yourself with people who are more concerned about staying in your good graces than they are about the future of the organization or if you have fostered a culture of uncontested compliance, this approach will likely not provide the most relevant outcomes. Exit interviews are also a valuable tool to employ – specifically when employees in good standing make a choice to leave the company. These individuals can be a wealth of information – as they have nothing to lose by telling you the truth on their way to a new and presumably better opportunity.

Leading Edge: Are the people you’ve surrounded yourself with more likely to tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to know?  As a leader, the culture you create will determine the quality of input you receive and the levels of collaboration and engagement from your team members, as well as the levels of success you will experience.

Who Are We Kidding?

A small window into diversity and inclusion recruitment efforts…

When we set out to fill a position, we create the detailed description and include everything that we feel would set this role apart, adding value to the organization. In the process, we make sure to list skill requirements, experience preferences and education minimums; which mostly serve to fulfill competitive salary range requirements. Then, we set about reviewing applications and scheduling interviews with interested parties who meet these qualifications.

If we’re fortunate, there are more than enough applicants to choose from. They are well able to perform the responsibilities laid out in the carefully crafted position description, so we should be golden – right? Oftentimes, this is where objectivity is set aside and implicit bias kicks in. All of a sudden, we feel the need to narrow the candidate pool by skimming through the crème de la crème and looking for “the best organizational culture fit”.  We look for clues in writing style or background, in educational institution choices or hobbies. The “best organizational culture fit” could mean different things to different employers… but in general, it ends up being someone who thinks like us and our team members; someone who will most likely act consistently in ways that we deem appropriate. After-all, there’s nothing wrong with seeking out like-minded individuals or surrounding yourself with kindred spirits – right? In the end we are so proud!  We’ve hit all the diverse candidate boxes in our recruitment efforts, and our new hire may even represent a minority group. On-boarding takes place and the first month or two passes before we realize that somehow, we’ve ended up with an employee who fits neatly into the organizational culture box created and maintained by leadership.

So… here’s the question: Where’s the rub? You know, the challenge – the change agency potential? Without differences of thought, we are kidding ourselves to think that these laundered methods for obtaining diverse and inclusive organizations will ever succeed in promoting or developing the positive and sustainable freshness we desire. Maybe we really don’t want change as much as we would like to think. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t wonder why we are stuck in a cycle of insanity – doing the same things repeatedly, while wholeheartedly expecting different results.

In her book, “Educated”, Author Tara Westover shares insights and perceptions on the purpose of education…

Tara Westover

“We think about education as a stepping-stone into a higher socio-economic class, into a better job. And it does do those things. But I don’t think that’s what it really is. I experienced it (education) as getting access to different ideas and perspectives and using them to construct my own mind.”

This is an amazing read – so by all means… take a deep dive. For the purpose of this topic, however, I want to draw your attention to the last part of the quote and focus on the experience of education (being one of many requirements in our position description). Taking on this view, you an see how education plays a role in creating diversity. Paraphrasing, the author states that education is seen as a means of accessing ideas and perspectives not currently held, so that we can make up our own minds. Education in its many forms (to include life’s experiences) provides us the tools needed to think more broadly, to explore possibilities and to make up our own minds. That doesn’t mean we aren’t team players, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be pressured to conform without meaningful conversation.

Leading Edge:  The next time you read an exemplary cover letter outlining what an employee would like to help you accomplish or hear an enlightened plan for project growth and development from a candidate during an interview, don’t be quick to dismiss it because it may challenge existing norms or upset current team members. Candidates are increasingly setting themselves apart; boldly outlining the differences they would bring to the organization if presented with an opportunity to do so. Value lies in having a diverse pool of perspectives; not just a diverse group of people.

When we deprive our organizations of those who may not always agree with the status quo or the latest idea, we are choosing to ignore the potential for adopting value adds – like fresh consumer insight or brand expansion possibilities. In effect we run the risk of forfeiting new levels of success.  

I know all too well… Hiring within an established comfort level is easy and safe; and can accommodate a certain level of diversity and inclusion. And if you want to hire people who will always agree with you; have at it. Besides, there’s always risk involved in stepping beyond the organizational norm.

We can stop kidding ourselves if we’re ready take the risk and to lead. If you’re still reading, I challenge you to retrain yourself and your recruitment team (since the application screening process may well be out of your hands) – to look for the what you haven’t seen and listen for what you haven’t heard. There’s always something to learn – and learning can be just as invigorating to an organization as it is to the individual. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing… our competitors are winning.