Preparing Your Team for the New Year:  What to do now

Preparing Your Team for the New Year: What to do now

It’s that time of year to celebrate what you’ve accomplished with your team. Generate positive energy for the year ahead.

If you’re like many executives, there’s a lot at stake. You want your team to be excited about what’s to come. You want them to be ready to conquer, together. But you’re not sure the best way to do that.

Leaders are trying different approaches.

Some are revisiting the company vision. But that’s not enough.
Some are explaining their new goals or strategies. But that’s not enough.
Some are talking about new company benefits. But that’s not enough.

One of the most important things to do is to assess the strength and cohesiveness of your team. It doesn’t matter how lofty your goals are if the team isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Being busy is easy. Consistent teamwork that produces excellent results is tough.

Just one weak link can jeopardize your results.

You don’t necessarily need a formal assessment. In many cases you can simply take an informal pulse.

Here are three areas to assess with your team:

1. Clarity: How clear are team members about top priorities as a team? How clear are they about expectations in their respective roles?

2. Capabilities: What are the most important capabilities needed as a team now? What are the strengths and capabilities that each team member brings?

3. Commitment: What is the level of commitment to true teamwork? What commitment do team members have to each other? What level of commitment do they have to their own learning, growth and development?

Test these areas by having the conversations you need to have with your team as a group or one-on-one as appropriate.

With the current war for talent, you must do more to engage your team and make sure team members are getting what they want in their work. It all starts with conversations that show you care.

At the end of the day (not just the year), employees want to know their voices are heard, they are valued and their work matters.

Talk with your team now. You’ll start the New Year with an energized team that’s ready to win.

PS: As you finalize your business goals for next year, keep WorkMatters in mind as a resource. If we have not met, I’d be happy to introduce you to WorkMatters services. Contact me directly.

Time to Detox Your Team?

Time to Detox Your Team?

How’s the weather where you are?

OfficeNot the kind of weather that you experience when you walk outdoors, but the weather when you walk in your office.

Earlier this year I had a conversation with an employee in a business that was really struggling. He said, “When I enter the office in the morning, I can feel the tension. People barely acknowledge each other.”

There’s an undercurrent that’s creating a toxic environment. He said people are out for themselves. They’re sabotaging each other. There’s no trust.

Over the years I’ve had similar conversations with a number of people in different industries and businesses of all sizes. Even virtual teams sense when negativity is in the air. As the volume of work increases, stress escalates too.

When teams become dysfunctional, it’s easy to point fingers at the people who aren’t working well together. “If she would communicate better, things would improve. ” “If he stopped hoarding information, we could get more done.”

Some teams do their best work under extreme pressure when there’s much at stake.

Others crumble under the pressure.

What’s the difference?


You can’t control the weather outdoors, but as a leader, you can influence the climate in your office. In fact, you already are.

Think about how you’d describe your current work environment.

As an exercise, ask your team members how they’d describe the work environment. If you’re concerned they’re telling you what they think you want to hear (a common concern for many executives), find an outside resource to help.

Then set your intention about the environment you want to create. Talk about it openly with your team. Give specific examples of the kinds of behaviors, attitudes and interactions you’d like to see.

Some questions to prompt your thinking:

What kind of physical environment would best support your team’s work?

Maybe you need to reduce clutter, change space or lighting, etc. An office that’s too quiet becomes problematic when people are distracted by colleagues’ conversations. If too noisy, some people get frustrated. More companies recognize how the physical environment affects employee morale.

What kind of mental environment would best support your team’s work?

Maybe you need to create more opportunity for open communication in group meetings or one-on-one conversations. Maybe you want to create an environment that encourages creativity or collaboration. An environment to help you think better.

What kind of social/human environment will best support your team’s work?

Consider how you want to engage with each other, respond to conflict, deal with challenges, etc. Also note how the team can express appreciation, gratitude or share accomplishments. You might need to establish or re-establish rules of engagement that work well for everyone.

If you believe there’s a negative vibe brewing on your team, address it quickly.

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to do nothing–to hope the situation will resolve itself.

People become disillusioned when they’re all paddling and the captain is nowhere to be found. They’re exasperated when “no one at the top seems to care.”

skyDon’t underestimate your influence.

If you’re intentional about creating the best environment for your team, you’ll get better results, and you’ll make work more enjoyable for everyone.

Wishing you blue skies ahead…

PS – When you feel like something’s off in your own work, check your own personal environment.

Make sure you have the space, support, resources and people around you to help you thrive.

Eager to get to work?

Eager to get to work?

Businesswoman celebrating her successStudies show that approximately two-thirds of U.S. employees are not fully engaged at work. And 26% are actively disengaged.

But you don’t need studies to prove that. Think about the people you know in your own network.

How many express frustration, apathy or burnout compared to those who seem to thrive in their work?

Maybe you’re not jumping out of bed every morning to get to work, but it’s worth thinking about what it would take to feel more eager to go to work. Are you fully engaged?

As a leader, it’s even more important to consider what it would take to fully engage your team.

Engaged employees are 22% more productive, according to a new Gallup meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees. They also enjoy double the rate of success, lower absenteeism and turnover, and fewer safety incidents and quality defects.

In an engaged workforce, people want to come to work. They understand their jobs and appreciate how their specific responsibilities contribute to the organization’s overall success.

Executives attempt different approaches to build engagement, from high energy motivational programs to fun off-site events.

But increasing engagement doesn’t require bells and whistles. It requires simple actions that are fundamental to good leadership.

If you manage people, your relationship with your direct reports is a key driver of engagement.

If you want to build better employee engagement, here are some simple things you can do to start:

Show interest in other people.

Showing interest in others (a basic Dale Carnegie principle) makes a lot of sense, but you may be too focused on the numbers, metrics and milestones. Remember that building a business is based on human connection.

Showing interest in your team members and what they care about goes a long way. You don’t have to nose into their personal business.

Ask questions that show you care:

How are you?

What are you most excited to accomplish this week?

What do you need?

Paint the big picture.

Employees want to understand where the business is heading. Sometimes it’s a challenge for senior leadership to get clear about the vision for the business.

Some executives admit they’re holding too many closed-door meetings to discuss the future. They forget that everyone else in the business isn’t clued in.

When talking with team members, be descriptive about your expectations for the future.

Try statements like:

Here’s where we expect to be this time next year…

These are some of the issues we’re considering in the visioning process…

Our vision of success looks like this…

Invite participation.

Building a business is a collaborative effort, not directive. Employees want to know their opinions and perspectives are valued.

When they understand where your business is trying to go, they have a better sense of why their work matters — where they fit. They can contribute more effectively.

Let them know their participation is not only encouraged, but expected. Speak with them, not down to them.

Open the dialogue with questions like these:

What are you seeing that we might be missing?

What solution do you think we should consider?

What are your thoughts on the issue?

There’s no magic approach to engaging employees. It often starts with simple conversations.

People appreciate the effort — and are more likely to stay with you while increasing productivity.

Final thought: Employees read your own level of engagement. As you take it up a notch, your team will too!

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The Leadership Skill That Makes Work Easier

The Leadership Skill That Makes Work Easier

It’s a leadership skill that few people talk about: group facilitation.

Facilitation means “to make easy” or “to lessen the difficulty.

“It’s not a quick fix, but developing your facilitation skills over time will help you accomplish your collective goals more easily.

When executives say they want to work on leadership skills, you’ll often hear them talk about the need to communicate more clearly, develop strong presentation skills, run productive meetings, improve strategic thinking, decision making and problem solving.But the ability to facilitate group discussion well is a leadership skill that underpins many of the other skills executives need to master to be most effective in their role.

Why focus on facilitation now?

  • Management approaches have shifted away from top-down approaches to inclusive approaches. One executive can’t have all the answers. They need input from those who are involved in all aspects of the business. Good facilitation is a means to accomplish buy-in.
  • Employee engagement is now center stage. Companies realize the power of employee engagement. Employee engagement, or lack thereof, affects their bottom line. Facilitating high quality discussions is one of the best ways to engage employees.
  • Innovation is necessary to be competitive. Leaders must facilitate new kinds of discussions that are less directive and more provocative — conversations that challenge people’s thinking and invite new ideas.

With the current challenges executives face, there are many opportunities to make things easier!

Some executives achieve desired results by facilitating their own meetings.

Others need a little help from time to time.

I often serve the role of outside group facilitator when an outside resource is needed to bring objectivity or a process based approach.

Whether your team is ready for a big leap or trying to get unstuck, facilitation is an effective way to move them forward.

I like what my friend and colleague, Tom Breur, has to say about facilitation when a group is “stuck.”

When a group wrestles with a difficult problem, in the early stages of facilitation they can sometimes spin around in circles and get “stuck.” What is usually going on then, is that they’re rehashing old alternatives from within a too small set of options to deal with the issue at hand. They run over familiar approaches over and over again, which are then discarded because they have proven not to work in the past. Groups may not be inclined to look for fresh ideas. You can add value to the process by motivating people to consider innovative, inclusive solutions.

So to bring out the best in your team and achieve the results you really want, strengthen your facilitation skills.

To start, how would you rate your facilitation skills?

Think about your ability to:

  • Listen
  • Observe
  • Summarize key points
  • Synthesize issues
  • Prompt/Ask relevant questions
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Stay focused on the desired outcome
  • Resist imposing your own ideas

Pick just one of these areas to work on, and you’ll begin to improve your facilitation skills.

Continue your efforts to build your directive leadership skills, but don’t ignore the supportive leadership skills. You need both!

The key is knowing when to be bold, assertive and directive and when to listen, observe and invite dialogue.

Facilitate. Don’t force results.

It’s just easier.

PS – Tom Breur makes nine other excellent points about group facilitation. You can find Tom’s full article on group facilitation in his newsletter archive:

Tom’s Ten Data Tips

Leadership Problems Revealed

My husband's nerves were being tested — stuck in a check-out line at a local Office Depot.  Onlywaiting two people were working at the front counter. When one clerk finally became available, she turned away from her post and walked away.

Stunned, my husband motioned to her and said, "Ma'am, you have customers waiting." She looked at him and said, "Sorry. My stomach's calling. It's break time!" 

Compounding his disbelief, and not standing for "talk-to-the-hand" treatment, he took action. The three other people in line looked on expectantly as my husband called for a store manager. The manager eventually made his way to the front of the store. With underwhelming concern he arranged for another employee to handle the check-out. 

On the surface, it looked like the store had a customer service issue. But what was the real issue? Often leadership problems are disguised as customer service problems. 

The larger the organization, the more difficult it is for senior leaders to connect with the front line. Office Depot is not unique in that regard. Many organizations are unaware of isolated issues customers experience. Customer satisfaction surveys can only go so far. 

As a leader, what can you do to make sure you are not just aware of potential problems, but avoiding them in the first place?

  • Hire the best talent for the job. Some people are simply not cut out for the job. No amount of training can get them to the level they need to be if they don't have the right attitude. When it becomes evident that the employee will not succeed in the role, don't hope for change or ignore the problem. Quickly move him to another position that's a better fit or help him move on. 
  • Look for employees with leadership potential. People with leadership potential are naturally motivated and more engaged in their work. They care about their performance and want to make a positive impact in the organization. They will grow with your organization. Incidentally creativity is now one of the most sought after attributes in leaders.
  • Help employees get to know their customers better. They don't necessarily need to know them personally, but they should understand the demographics and psychographics (personality traits) that reflect your market. For example, business customers value their time and appreciate handling transactions quickly. They are typically results oriented.
  • Work on yourself.  Strengthening your own leadership skills will make you a better leader. Pick one area to improve such as communication with your team, public speaking, coaching, strategic thinking, etc. As you develop your leadership, you'll increase the chances of helping others avoid costly mistakes.
  • Look for symptoms. Poor customer service is only one possible symptom that points to problematic leadership. Other likely clues include high employee turnover, low employee engagement, poor employee communication and lack of teamwork.

Serious leadership problems may go undetected for some time. Who's got the guts to tell the boss they could be the problem? 

Some employees are good at compensating for poor leadership. They plod along working in counterproductive environments. They work for leaders who have no self-awareness about their negative impact. Some employees even make these bosses look good. But they can only sustain that kind of performance for so long.

Ironically leadership problems that become visible can be a positive force in your business.  

When leadership problems are revealed, you're forced to take a hard look at your business. Then you can take appropriate actions that create more dramatic improvements in the business. 

Leadership issues can be tricky and sensitive to address. But by doing so, you can move your business in new directions. 

Once the real issues surface, real change can happen. 

What leadership challenges are bubbling under the surface in your business?

How can you see them on your radar before customers do?

PS – When my husband returned home, he contacted Office Depot's corporate senior management to express his concerns. They were very responsive. 

On subsequent visits to the same store, we have seen noticeable improvement in their customer service which likely reflects positive shifts in their leadership as well.

On the Lighter Side


"Accept that on some days you're the pigeon, on other days, you're the statue."

Scott Adams

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 About Gayle Lantz  

Gayle Lantz is a leadership and career expert, and president of  WorkMatters, Inc., a  consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter.


A sought-after consultant, coach, facilitator, and speaker, Gayle works closely with executives and leadership teams to expand their vision, think and act strategically, and inspire change. Together, they increase business results and help make work matter at every level of the organization.