Category: Powerful Groups

Honest reflection is powerful

January is a natural time to reflect on what we have accomplished, what we intend to accomplish, and how we might work to improve ourselves.
One of my favorite articles on personal development is “My Life as a Knowledge Worker” by the late management educator and author Peter F. Drucker. The article appeared in Inc. Magazine in February of 1997, and in it Drucker describes seven personal experiences that taught him how to grow, to change, and to age without becoming a prisoner of the past.
In “The Fourth Experience,” Drucker describes his experience as a young journalist. He was 22 years old and had just become one of three assistant managing editors at a newspaper headed by one of Europe’s leading newspapermen.
The editor-in-chief, then around 50, took infinite pains to train and discipline his young crew. He discussed with each of us every week the work we had done. Twice a year, right after New Year’s and then again before summer vacations began in June, we would spend a Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday discussing our work over the preceding six months. The editor would always start out with the things we had done well. Then he would proceed to the things we had tried to do well. Next he reviewed the things where we had not tried hard enough. And finally, he would subject us to a scathing critique of the things we had done badly or had failed to do. The last two hours of that session would then serve as a projection of our work for the next six months: What were the things on which we should concentrate? What were the things we should improve? What were the things each of us needed to learn? And a week later each of us was expected to submit to the editor-in-chief our new program of work and learning for the next six months. 
What this story illustrates is that reflecting on and telling the truth about the last year’s performance is powerful. Drucker claimed to enjoy these sessions, but he didn’t begin to incorporate them into his own life until about a decade later, when he’d become a professor in the United States and begun writing books. Since then, he set aside two weeks each year to review his work the previous year.
I invite you to take some time—for yourself individually or with your team members—to reflect on the past year and honestly answer the following questions:

What have we done well?
What have we tried to do well?
Where did we not try hard enough?
What did we do badly or fail to do?
On what things do we need to concentrate going forward?
What are the things we need to improve?
What are the things that each of us needs to learn?

While Drucker acknowledged that perfection continued to elude him, the exercise provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate and re-establish priorities, reshape expectations, and set new goals for improving performance in the new year.
To reflect and be empowered by the answers is part of being on a path to be remarkable.
Have a wonderful year!


In the first two parts in this series, we built upon the work done by a Google research team that identified two key elements present in high performing teams.
1.    Psychological safety—people felt safe to talk.
2.    Broad participation—all team members have equal opportunity to contribute to the group conversation.
The third element of being a high-performing team involves creating a culture of accomplishment. Having effective conversations during a meeting isn’t enough if you are not productive between meetings.
How reliably do your team members do what they said they will do? How many of the agreed-upon action items are completed?
Four steps will help:

Close each and every topic or agenda discussion with specific actions with completion dates for each item. (See the HBR article on how to effectively close a conversation.)
Get a one-page summary of the meeting out within and hour if possible so the discussion and next steps stay in everyone’s field of awareness.

The palest ink is better than the best memory.
— Chinese proverb

Assign someone to track and follow up on action items between the meetings. One of the keys to making things happen in life is tracking and measuring. This is not about micromanaging or not trusting—this is simply good project management.
Ask people to do what they say they will do. If your team completes 85 percent of the action items after each meeting, you’ll set yourself apart from most teams that in my experience complete about 60 percent.

Clearly, there are valid reasons why some items assigned in a project team meeting are not completed. Things come up. Circumstances change. Priorities shift. Most people are on more than one team. Most are also working more hours than they want to work and still taking work home. Acknowledging everyone’s reality and then having an open and honest conversation about keeping the agreed upon commitments is often useful.
Here are the questions to ask of yourself and your team:

Is each action item essential to completion of the project?
At the time we commit, do we fully intend to do whatever it takes to deliver?
Are we clear about what needs to be done, who will do it, and when it will be done?
Do we have the ability to say no or negotiate when we can’t fully commit?
Do we have a system to keep track of action items and their completion?
Do we have an agreement to be in communication if something comes up that might interfere with our completion of the task?
Is it okay if someone follows up and checks on our progress?

What is your say/do ratio? Part of being a remarkable team member is taking on work and then delivering. Keeping your word is a hallmark of effective organizational members—they don’t keep their word because it’s an important action item or because they promised someone important. They keep their word for only one reason—because they said they would. Being dependable—time after time, day after day—is what’s required.
Do. Or not do. There is no try.
—Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
Getting to a higher level of completion on action items leads not only to exponential progress toward goals, but also to a tremendous sense of accomplishment—both personally and for the group.
Thank you for reading and good luck with your team.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn November 4, 2016


This is the second post in a three-part series based on a study about teams by Google. Researchers completed an intensive two-year study of more than 180 teams looking for the key characteristics of their high-performing teams. The New York Times article on the Google study is worth your time.
Two elements stood out:
1. Psychological safety—people felt safe to talk.
2. Broad participation—all team members have equal opportunity to contribute to the group conversation.
Click here to see our earlier discussion on psychological safety. Today let’s look at the second element uncovered in Google’s study of its high-performing teams: broad participation. When you think about what determines whether someone feels good about their experience of being on a team, here are the main factors:
•  People are treated with respect.
•  They feel included—a part of the group.
•  They feel fully expressed. They don’t leave a meeting with something to say or ask that they feel is important to the discussion.
•  They don’t feel anyone dominates the conversation or the group.
•  They know they add value to the conversation—that their views are part of the team’s discussions.
If you consider these factors, the link to broad participation is pretty clear and yet it tends to be widely missing. Why?
Broad participation is not a given. For a number of reasons, broad participation is not the norm for many groups. If you want your team to be high performing, that has to change. Each of the following elements is part of the dynamic that determines participation:
1.    How many people are in the group—more people means less time to speak and perhaps less comfort. A Fortune 500 CEO explained it simply: “I find that it’s easier to be myself in small groups.” I think that represents many of us.
2.    How many items are on the agenda—too many items leads to less discussion.
3.    Overuse of PowerPoint. PowerPoint is good for transfer of information—not so good for creating discussion. The presence of technology tends to put people into a passive mode.
4.    How much time is scheduled—many meetings run late, and if people have to choose between getting to their next meeting and asking an important question, they usually don’t ask their question.
5.    Whether everyone speaks the same language—people speaking a second language may decide not to express their ideas and questions because it take a bit longer to formulate their thoughts or they are concerned about their language skills.
6.    Whether the meeting is face-to-face or remote—more deliberate facilitation is required to get broad participation. It also takes more time, maybe as much as 20%, so agendas need to be planned accordingly.
7.    If some participants dominate by speaking more often or longer than they should. Divide the time of the meeting by the number of participants and you get a quick rule of thumb. Ten people in an hour long meeting means you get six minutes—more than that and you are risk of wearing out your welcome.
8.    Whether the desire to get broad participation has been made clear. Stating the intention up front to get everyone into the discussion is a powerful.
9.    Whether the conversation is actively managed—some people will not get into the conversation by fighting their way in, so it requires the leader and the group to notice who isn’t yet in the conversation and invite them.
10. Whether individual preferences keep people from contributing. We all have preferences when it comes to speaking based on both our individual personalities and our experience of each group in which we participate. If we had to identify the most prevalent mindset for people entering a meeting, it would be this: I don’t have to speak if I don’t feel like it.
Five key steps to a different dynamic

 Design your meeting to ensure adequate time for people to participate.
Let people know that broad participation is important not only to the quality of the discussion, but also to everyone’s experience of being on the team and to the team’s long-term viability. Set the expectation that the conversation will be managed to achieve broad participation.
The person leading the meeting also needs to call on people strategically and gently (see this article from Fast Company). Relying on people to get into conversation on their own will not get you the results you want.
Get participants involved. Everyone can be responsible for assuring full group participation in two ways. First, speak up when you have something to add or ask the question that will help focus the discussion. Second, encourage others to join the conversation. Neither one of these is a given.
Make sure people feel heard. What happens when someone speaks? A common complaint is that people do not feel heard when they do speak in a group. Even worse, many people report that someone else makes the same point later and the group embraces it as if it were a new idea. This leads a person to doubt their speaking or their value in the group. Then they’ll make up some story to explain why no one seems to listen when they speak.
Primarily it’s the responsibility of the person leading the meeting to make sure people feel heard. Three things will make a difference:
•  ensuring that the group is paying attention when each person speaks
•  allowing the person to complete their thoughts without interruption
•  working with what they say—stating the value of their comments or making a connection to the group’s conversation

This is also a place where the rest of us as participants can add value—by doubling back to someone if we see that someone was interrupted, or their point wasn’t recognized, or the group moved on without dealing with their question or comment.
Bottom-line: In other words, in addition to working through the agenda, staying on track, and closing each conversation powerfully, the person leading the discussion is also responsible for each person’s experience of contributing to the conversation. Big job!
Not everyone has to speak in every conversation. Participation levels do not need to be perfectly balanced. The fundamental questions are:

Does everyone feel that they have every opportunity to express their views and ask their questions? You do not want anyone to leave with something left unsaid.
Does your group feel that participation levels are fair, inclusive, and take advantage of the wisdom of the group?

I think that you will find that paying attention and managing participation in your meetings will be warmly received, add value to your conversations, and increase people’s experience of being part of the group.
Thanks for reading.
You can learn more about personal effectiveness, conversation, relationships and meetings here.
This post first appeared on LinkedIn October 11, 2016.


A group of researchers at Google completed an intensive two-year study of more than 180 teams looking for the key characteristics of their high-performing teams. The New York Times article on the study is worth your time.
Two elements stood out:
1. Psychological safety—people felt safe to talk.
2. Broad participation—all team members have equal opportunity to contribute to the group conversation.
There was nothing Google did in advance to help create the high-performing teams. The researchers were simply curious to see if they could discover the distinguishing factors that might be able to guide other teams to better performance.
Let’s explore the notion of psychological safety. What allows people to be self-expressed in groups?
This is a broad question, and there are many possible factors. Therefore, it’s always good to put the question to your own group and find out what they need in order to feel it’s safe to say or ask anything.
Asking the question is the beginning of your group’s exploration, which is the most direct approach, but I’ll offer my top candidates for increasing the psychological safety in your group:
• Take the time to get to know each other.
• Make listening and attentiveness the norm.
• Don’t make negative comments—be less judgmental.
• Work to understand defensive tendencies—taking things personally.
Take the time to get to know each other—don’t wait for team building.
To get the real power out of your team meetings, it’s imperative to get to know each other in a way that gives you permission to say or ask anything—in a way that makes challenging, back-and-forth conversation accessible. It may seem as if you know each other, but you probably don’t—at least not in terms of what is possible.
You can deepen your relationships without waiting for special team-building events. Working on relationships requires deciding to make time for it. It’s simple, but not easy. It means making a commitment, then shifting priorities to allow the time for making connections. You are busy—perhaps busier than you would like to be. Still, part of working in an organization demands that you find time to create and maintain the relationships you need to be successful.
As Tom Scheuermann at Oregon State University puts it, “It’s either pay now or pay later. If we ‘pay’ with spending a little time building relationships, we will avoid ‘paying’ later with having to re-explain things, deal with bruised egos, or handle confusion or colleagues who don’t seem to care enough to deliver on time.”
In the face of this reality, make spending time with your colleagues a priority. Making this small adjustment in your priorities can involve only a couple of hours a month, yet still make a real difference. The benefits of deeper relationships, while perhaps not immediately apparent, will allow for more effective communication and reciprocal support.
In meetings, you can put this perspective into action when you:
• acknowledge people when they enter the room.
• check in with people a few minutes before and after the meeting.
• give people your complete attention when they speak during the meeting.
• acknowledge when someone’s comments add to your thinking.
• speak respectfully when you disagree.
• notice who hasn’t spoken yet and invite them into the conversation.
Make attention and listening the norm in your meetings.
Consider that there is a way of listening that allows people to speak authentically.  A wonderful book by Michael Nichols, TheLost Art of Listening, makes the point that people typically listen to comprehend or to follow along in a conversation rather than to participate nonverbally in a way that lets the person speaking know you “got” what they said.
Nichols says that just listening without adding to or changing the conversation is what is important. Reassuring someone isn’t listening. Trying to solve the problem isn’t listening. Just listening is listening. And when people feel we are interested and paying attention, they will speak about the things that matter to them.
Yet we don’t listen very often, at least not in a way that is magical. We interrupt. We finish other people’s sentences. We pretend to listen. Sometimes we don’t even pretend.
Attention and caring are tightly connected. If you pay attention to someone who is speaking in a meeting or you pay attention to your small kids when they want to talk, they will interpret that you care. On the other hand, if you engage in side conversations or multitask with other work while people speak, they will make up that you are not interested. This will erode the safety and permission that exists in the meeting.
Always remember that your attention is a gift.
Don’t make negative comments—be less judgmental.
This is a tough one because the human mind is wired to continually assess and make judgments. The mind is fast—very fast, but American psychologist Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming a Person, noted how this capacity to assess and judge can interfere with true communication:
The major barrier to interpersonal communication lies in the very natural tendency to judge—to approve or disapprove of the statements of the other person . . . Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. When someone expresses some feeling or attitude or belief, our tendency is, almost immediately, to feel “that’s right,” or “that’s stupid,” “that’s reasonable,” “that’s incorrect.” Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to him.
Given the hardwired nature of this tendency to assess and judge, it isn’t productive to try to stop doing it. Still, because it can get in the way of your ability to understand and support others, there are ways to keep this judgmental mechanism at bay:
• Be curious.
• Remind yourself that the other person’s views are as legitimate as yours.
• Give the person speaking the benefit of the doubt; assume positive intent.
• When negative thoughts do occur, notice them and then set them aside and intentionally refocus on listening for clarity, understanding, and value.
Understand defensive tendencies—taking things personally.
“If you’re a person, then it’s personal.”—Denzel Washington, The Preacher’s Wife
One of my mentors consistently reminded managers: “Everyone is a little bit scared and a whole lot proud. And if you remember this, you’ll be better with people.”
You’ve also heard the phrase, “It’s nothing personal—it’s just business.” The only problem with this phrase is that, if there is a person involved, it is personal.
People sometimes set up criticism or disagreement or feedback with comments along the lines of “This isn’t personal … ” or “Don’t take this personally, but … ” From their point of view, perhaps it isn’t personal. Still, why did they say it? Because they know that it will feel as if it is personal. And they’re trying to avoid a defensive response, which is a deeply instinctive strategy to avoid being hurt.
“There is no sport in hurting me. It’s so easy.” —Alais, The Lion in Winter
Clearly, we’ve got work to do on both sides of the equation. We should do everything we can to avoid putting people on the defensive, embarrassing them, or teasing or discounting them. And we should resist the impulse to take offense and give ourselves time to put things into perspective so we can be the kind of person we want to be when we respond.
“Try not to offend, and give up your right to be offended.” —Ron Adams, Oregon State University
The capacity to work intelligently together depends in part on our realization that we are human beings and thus hardwired to be defensive when we think we’re being attacked. This is especially true during difficult situations or when collaborating across organizations or working virtually. In circumstances like these, where there’s less opportunity to deepen relationships, putting attention on being more thoughtful is essential.
One final thought: Good relationships are possible when people are comfortable with one another. How easy are you to be around?
You can learn more about personal effectiveness, conversation, relationships and meetings here.
Thank you for reading.
Originally published on LinkedIn September 14, 2016

Ask Paul: What are the keys to meetings?

Q: Hello, I’m getting lots of value out of your book. Next week, I’m meeting with many of the new supervisors in our organization. I’d like to have a couple of slides in my presentation that get them thinking about running better meetings. What do you think is most important? – Ganesh 
Thanks for the question, Ganesh. You might try these two slides. Each of the bullets could lead to a rich discussion. For example, what does it mean to lead the meeting thoughtfully? Or what does powerful participation look like?
I choose this set because most of these elements are missing in many meetings.

After your discussion, you might ask some of the supervisors what they intend to try in their meetings. In my mind, front-line supervisors have a very difficult job. Helping them develop their skills around meetings will make it easier for them to do their jobs.
Good luck,