Team Development – Four Questions to Frame Your Plan

Team Development

When I begin a development engagement, I spend time to understand their situation and help them align their growth outcomes.  I’m helping them balance what is personally satisfying to them, with what is high impact for their organization and its mission.

Usually, that begins with an overarching question (How do you want to develop?) to articulate the development goal.  That can be on stakeholder feedback, a recent performance discussion, 360 degree assessments and the like. What I’ve learned about this discussion is to approach the discovery with three additional questions which build the business case for the effort time and resources to achieve the goal.

Here are the the four questions:

What’s your goal for development?

This is the starting point.  They’re getting feedback from somewhere that there’s a benefit from developing some aspect of their world.  Where’s that input coming from?  How much energy are they feeling about the importance of the goal.

How will you change through your investment?

The major premise behind this question:  We achieve success based on who we are as well as what we do.  Performance discussions tend to focus most of their energy on the action part:  hat will we do?  The best coaches focus first on who we are.  Who we are makes what we do possible (or impossible!)

What new skills will you build? What new insights or subject matter expertise will you gain? Will there be any new attitudes or beliefs that occur because of your development investment? With these questions and others like them, we are trying to establish how the client will change and evolve as a person. Development isn’t so much about attaining specific tactical goals as it is about growing as a person in becoming more capable and more motivated to achieve those goals.

What new behaviors will others observe in you?

This question goes to measurement and accountability. Discussion of this question helps the learner clarify the goals in terms of what others will see.  How will current behaviors change as the learner and coach work on the development objective.

What mission outcome will you enable when you accomplish your objective?

This is the “So, what?” question, often stated in terms of the deliverable performance metrics for the organization or business.  Business metrics like revenue, profit, expanding the customer base, new and different service lines, time to market….  Personal metrics like leadership confidence, promotability, employee engagement, and so on.

If you like the Covey habits, it’s “Begin with the end in mind.

Some outcomes are more easily quantified than others. But whether it’s a tangible outcome or intangible outcome, it should be realistic and compelling to all concerned. It nails down the business case for the development project.  As well, it helps the learner and stakeholders choose between several potential learning objectives.  Which one will have the biggest “bang for the buck.”

Epilogue:

When goals and outcomes are well aligned, everyone associated with the development project will be more motivated to do what it takes to make the learner succeed in their development project.

We can help!  Ascendent Leadership offers executive coaching for for individuals and teams from high potentials to the C-Suite.

The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact you?  … or their other leadership and sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.

Time management triage – Three tips to find the win-win

It was 1999, and I had just been promoted to the role of a global sales manager for a
software and services business of a Fortune 50 company.   It was a new job for me with global scope and it was kicking my butt.  I was feeling very overwhelmed.

My response was to power through and just work harder and work longer hours in order to get everything done.

The problem with that was that I was spending every bit of energy on climbing my learning curve, and doing all the new tasks.  I was leaving nothing left for routine dialogue and check-ins with my team. I was starting to get feedback from my assistant that people were expressing frustration with my lack of availability to them.   Even understanding that frustration, I still didn’t have time to get ahead of the curve and fill that gap in the development of my team.

While I was coming up the learning curve I was cheating my team of the ability to grow as they helped me come up that curve. It’s not that they weren’t willing.  I just wasn’t letting them.  I was missing the opportunity to reframe my dilemma into a development opportunity for my team.

In retrospect, when you’re scrambling, remember what it was that made this new exciting and fun, that ignited passion in you.  Said another way, what it was that made this work important and meaningful to you and which you were uniquely qualified to do.  Everything else could be delegated, hopefully to someone who would experience it as a development opportunity.

Most of us have heard the Stephen Covey metaphor about rocks, pebbles and sand. (Covey 1989) Big rocks are the most important things in our lives:  core values, relationships, the activities which define us.  Pebbles:  the less important tasks.  Sand: the trivial many, things that fill up our time and don’t add much value.  Never heard it?  There is a cute YouTube video below – just remember that “golf balls” are big rocks, and don’t miss the plot twist at the end…   (Kay 2016)

Three tips to turn a situation where you are overwhelmed into a win-win:

Pay attention to what you felt were your unique qualifications for the new job.   Those qualify as some of your “big rocks”.   They are what got you here, and which will make you and your organization successful going forward.

Turn your attention to the developmental needs of your team. Are there connections between the work you are not getting to, and the development objectives you and your team have identified for themselves? Developing your team should always be one of your big rocks.  There might very well be a win-win if you can connect some of the work you’re not getting to with the development needs of one of your team.   Paying attention to developing your team is clearly a big rock, but the actual tasks you’re considering delegating are most likely gravel for you. That said, they could be a big rock or at least developmental for someone on your team. Win-win!

Finally, what are you doing that just doesn’t need doing?    Stop doing it, now, and don’t give it to anyone else!  That is a win-win for everyone!   (Even if it is one of the things that you really like to do, it helps to realize that it’s just not that important!)

Epilogue:

Reframe your time management dilemma into an opportunity to engage and develop your team by sharing the load and delegating important work that’s no longer strategic for you, and by ditching work that no one should do.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Great Reads and Views: 

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, Simon and Schuster.

Kay, M. (2016). “A Valuable Lesson for a Happier Life.” from https://youtu.be/SqGRnlXplx0.

 

Five steps to winning client trust by speaking your truth with power

Executive-640Recent research of buyers of high value solutions is telling us that those buyers first interact with providers quite late in their buying process, and come to the discussion already very well informed about the value proposition and basic functions and features of the solution.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)  When they do engage, they are more likely to make their buying decisions based on the credibility of the consultant or business development team, than the traditional focus on features and functions.

The implication of this trend is that the selling team’s ability to create a credible and trusting relationship with the prospect is their most powerful weapon in winning the business.  One major factor in winning that trust is the consultant’s ability to manage conflict in a way that is simultaneously authentic to the consultant’s beliefs and fully aligned to the client’s best interests.  

The two-minute video clip which follows considers how improving basic relationship and communication skills can make a critical difference creating that differentiating combination of trust and credibility.

Epilogue:

Consultants and sales teams can build this level of trust and credibility by:

  1.  Ensuring that they have complete mastery of the technology and business foundation of their solution. This has always been critical, but it is no longer sufficient by itself. (Block 2011 )
  2. Leveraging their business acumen to analyze the client’s current beliefs and current situation to craft a challenge which adds value in a unique and differentiating way.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)
  3. Assessing and developing their emotional intelligence and specifically the traits of empathy (seeing the world through their eyes and walking in their experience), emotional self-awareness (driving the personal confidence to challenge) and assertiveness (challenging in a way that is authentic, but does not alienate the client).  Take an EQ assessment and get help in developing these key attributes. (Steven J. Stein 2011)
  4. Employing strong communication (open and powerful questions and active listening skills) to establish credibility and demonstrate full alignment with the client’s needs and best interests. (Adams 2009)
  5. Creating a credible path to implementing the solution which is possible and coherent with the client’s fundamental business objectives and environmental realities. (Chip Heath 2010)

End Notes and Good Reads:

  • Adams, M. (2009). Change your questions, change your life: 10 powerful tools for life and work.
  • Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.
  • Chip Heath, D. H. (2010). Switch: how to change things when change is hard. New York, Crown Publishing Group.
  • Matthew Dixon, B. A. (2012). The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. New York, NY, Penguin Group.
  • Steven J. Stein, H. E., Bock (2011). The EQ Edge: emotional intelligence and your success, 3rd Edition, Josey Bass.

 

Leaders, Flex to Your Teams

Isoflex_400Shelly was a senior sales executive, with over 30 years of selling experience in the energy segment. She valued her style as an activist leader, and her ability to leverage years of experience to help her teams beat their objectives.

She had recently taken a position as a global vice president of channel sales, responsible for expanding her company’s partner network.  Because her role was new and important, she had been able to recruit a “dream team” of sales and marketing pro’s with strong track records for building new business quickly.

But…  she was beginning to get disturbing feedback.  Her team had begun to quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, go around her, and complain about her overbearing style, and her limiting of their independence.  Six months after being hailed as the sales leader who would take her company to new levels, she was facing almost a complete rebellion from her team.

What was going on?

It’s no secret.  North Americans and Europeans prefer extroverts as their leaders.  While about half the general population have a natural preference for introversion, over 90% of leaders display extroverted behaviors in their leadership style. That implies that a very large proportion of introverted leaders are flexing outside of their natural behavior to meet the cultural bias for an extroverted style.

While the bias for extroverted leadership is clear, research is telling us that extroverted leaders often run into trouble leading teams of proactive and innovative people.

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David Hoffman discovered that in organizations where the employees tend to be more passive, extroverted managers excelled, generating about 15% higher than average profit.  (Adam M. Grant 2010)  In contrast, in organizations where the employees were more proactive and independent, extroverted managers didn’t fare as well, generating about 15% lower than average profit. 

Net-net, naturally introverted leaders who can flex to a more integrated style are more likely to succeed with highly proactive teams.

Why would that be?

First of all, natural introverts have more practice in being flexible with how they interact with others.  For most of their life, they have had to integrate extroverted behavior into their consulting and leadership style.  (Cain 2012)

Introverts tend to better listeners, and have less personal need to be perceived as the one with the answer.  As a result, they are more likely to accept and act on the ideas and recommendations from their teams.

Introverts tend to be more willing to take a little more time with their decisions, and wait for more information (including input from their team on the best way forward).

“Wait a minute!”, you might be protesting, “You’re saying that it’s always better to be an introverted leader, rather than an extroverted leader?”

No, that’s really not I’m saying.

I’m saying that research on personality type suggests that the most effective leaders are those who are aware of their natural preferences, and who can make an intentional decision to flex to a different behavior set, better suited to the situation in front of them.

A short aside:  There is no such thing as a 100% extrovert or a 100% introvert.  All of us have a mix of preferred behaviors which fall into both camps.  If the mix is more heavily weighted to introverted behaviors, we are called an introvert.  If the opposite is true, we are called an extrovert.  But we are always a mix of our preferences.

In Shelly’s case, her team wanted less direction and teaching (her natural extroverted behaviors), and more thoughtful discussion about their ideas and their recommendations for how they could achieve their goals.

Here are some tips for flexing to what your team wants and needs from you as a leader:

For leaders who are natural introverts:

Take advantage of your natural tendency toward individual dialogue to hear your people fully.

Give yourself enough time to reach a joint assessment of a situation and the optimum path forward.

When appropriate, flex to more assertive behavior when dealing with your senior leadership, sources of resources, and customers who you know expect that from you.

For leaders who are natural extroverts:

Be aware that your preference for independent thinking and directive communication will probably not be well received by independent thinkers.

Develop your effectiveness in having one-to-one conversations.  Ask open ended questions, actively listen to the answers, and provide enough feedback so that your teams have confidence that you understand and agree.

Be willing to make an intentional decision in the moment to flex to a less directive approach with proactive teams.  Give your proactive team members room to assert their ideas and opinions, and engage in a more collegial discussion with them, as compared to a more traditional manager-subordinate discussion.

Epilogue:

Leadership success is less about being an extrovert or introvert than it is about being able to adapt to the behavior that is most effective in the situation, time frame, and team that you find yourself acting and leading in.

Success is about being able to flex smoothly to where you need to be.

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to get your help to continue the discussion with your comments.

End Notes:

Adam M. Grant, F. G., David A. Hofmann (2010) The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses. Harvard Business Review

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet:  the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, Crown Publishers.

 

 

Five Months From Disaster to Distinction: Ten Markers of High Performing Teams

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895It was January of 1997 and I was the new commander of an Air Force deployable communications unit.  We were about five months away from a major evaluation of our operational capability.  I was still getting to know my team, our capabilities and our issues.

We were clearly not ready.  Had the evaluation occurred at that time, we would surely have failed. The implications of a failure were huge.  These evaluations were serious business, and our existence as a unit would have been seriously threatened if we failed.

Over the next several months we went from being woefully unprepared, to being conscious of our issues, to being very committed to a positive outcome, and to resolving our major deficits.  At the end of the evaluation, we had demonstrated that we were fully mission capable, and just shy of an exemplary rating.   We had passed by a substantial margin.

Thinking back to those 5 months, I watched things happen within our team that took us from being sure losers to very capable winners.

In this month’s post, we’ll I’ll review what research tells us about ten markers of highly effective teamsten things you can assess and improve as you work with your own teams.

I’ll use our near-catastrophe experience to list the ten markers and describe how they factored into our ultimate success.

1. The team understands and commits to its purpose

 Understanding our mission was easy.  These evaluations were crystal clear around the mission and performance standards.

Building the commitment to attack and overcome our myriad organizational issues was much more difficult and it didn’t happen over night.  Over a span of several months, focus, reinforcement, and some early successes helped us develop this and then take advantage of it.

2. Team members respect and trust each other

Most of my fondest memories come from this one.  As our confidence grew, people saw each other stepping up to challenges, and they took pride in each others’ stretch achievements.  90 pound females were throwing 200 pound males on their back and hauling them to medical care in emergency drills.  The more we stretched, the more confident all of us got.

3. No individual is more important than the team

As we gained confidence, there was less need for traditional military rank structure to drive decisions.  The command team had largely “checked their rank at the door”.  Communications within the team were direct and unfiltered. When external communication was necessary, we considered who we were communicating with, and we put the best person forward to handle that.

4. Leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate to drive results

Because we were making decisions at speed, we began asking the question, “Who on our team is closest to this issue?”  Their input became the first one we sought, and often the only one.  Some decisions did require more consideration and debate, but in most cases, the person most suited made the call and the rest of us moved on it.

5. Communications are frank and open, within as as well outside the team

One of our problems starting out was that there had some serious silos in place.  People were addressing their own organization’s goals first.  We broke down most of the misalignments between our sections’ goals and our unit goals.  People stopped protecting their turf and began figuring out ways to work together and get the job done.

6. The team focuses on and holds itself accountable to the targeted business results

Our leaders helped every one see the implications of failure and the reward of success down to the individual airman.  The downside was pretty scary and that provided plenty of motivation.

On balance, though, I think more people responded to their personal pride and their innate desire to succeed.  Once we began to move in a positive direction, that motivation fed on itself and the drive to ace this evaluation went through the roof.

 7. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they carry their weight

The leadership function of a combat unit is executed by a small and dynamic team.  Roles must be clear, as there is no time for duplicated effort or unclear roles.  We defined our individual roles and expectation and practiced them at speed.

An interesting thing happened.  The one person best positioned organizationally to be our single point of communication with our remote elements had a devastating stutter.  We considered filling his role with another team member, but no one had the integrated view of our dispersed teams that he had.   He was the person we needed in that role and we all agreed he should play it.  He stepped up to the task, knowing that we as a team had affirmed that this role was his.  Much to our delight, under the pressure of the combat simulation, he completely lost the stutter and played the role flawlessly.  That was critical to our success!

 8. Disagreement is seen as positive, energizing

During our final field rehearsal, we had several days of continuous severe thunderstorms moving through our location.  We were constantly pulling our people out of the field for safety reasons, and moving them back to our quarters.  As disruptive as that was, it had the unintended consequence that we were able to use the down time to go over the last field situation, debug it, and rehearse it.  We had the urgency of our situation motivating us, but we also were feeling the team coming together.  We enjoyed the back and forth, even when it was contentious.  It gave us the chance to think and practice.  The team was gelling.

Our time sequestered waiting for the current storm cell to pass was the perfect stage for rehearsal.  We were getting fast and smooth.

9. Teams make decisions quickly and appropriately

The pressure of the combat situation would not permit us to over-analyze.  We got better at making the best possible decision quickly and then executing.  If it was wrong, we made a quick course correction.  Yet, most of our gut decisions were right, and we steadily gained confidence in our ability to make them.

 10.  Once a decision is made, the team falls in line behind it, and commits

 In the early going, we realized that after every meeting, there was a second (or, third, or fourth… ) meeting to discuss and reinterpret the decision.  We were wasting huge amounts of effort and creating serious confusion.  Because there was a lack of trust in some senior leaders, we couldn’t hold a course of action. After two or three of us noticed it and validated that this was consistent behavior by one leader, we made the difficult decision to pull him off the team.  Things settled down.

Epilogue:

This experience was a great case study of the key elements of high performing teams.  More importantly to me personally, it was at the heart of the most satisfying professional year of my life.

 

Manage Conflict! (or it will manage you)

Met-the-enemyConflict is a fact of life for most people. In a 2008 study, CPP found that 85% of workers in the US experience conflict to some degree and 29% report that they experience it “always” or “frequently”. (CPP 2008)

Constructive conflict is well accepted as a key indicator of high performing teams. In a comparative study of five globally accepted team effectiveness models, Korn Ferry, a leading authority on leadership and talent, found that four of the five frameworks featured conflict management as a key issue for effective teamwork. (Michael Lombardo 2001)

CPP found that when employees are trained how to manage conflict, over 95% of those people say that it helped them in some way. A quarter (27%) say it made them more comfortable and confident in managing disputes and 58% of those who had received training said they now look for win–win outcomes from conflict.

41% of employees think older people handle conflict most effectively. Seven out of ten employees (70%) see managing conflict as a “very” or “critically” important leadership skill, while 54% of employees think managers could handle disputes better by addressing underlying tensions before things go wrong.

But, when it goes bad, it goes bad in a hurry.

In the same research, 27% of employees reported that unmanaged conflict led to personal attacks, and 25% of them saw it result in sickness or absence.  Almost ten percent saw it lead to a project failure.

Hmmm…..

What can consulting leaders do to model and teach this critical skill within their teams?

Here are five steps you can take now to help your teams benefit from constructive conflict and avoid the negative results of poorly managed conflict

1.  First, assess where you and your teams stand. Consider these questions and discuss them with your teams:

  • How passionate and unguarded are team members able to be in discussing issues?
  • On a scale from “exciting” to “boring”, how do team members experience their meetings?
  • Do team members prioritize the toughest issues for attention, or avoid them?
  • How comfortable are team members in challenging one another about conclusions, plans, and approaches?

2.  Communicate! Make it clear in what you say and how you act, that conflict is normal and necessary, but unmanaged conflict is costly in many ways.

3.  Teach your team to communicate. Establish rules of engagement that help teams manage conflicts in a productive way. Focus on asking great questions, and getting everyone involved in formulating the answers. Encourage the shy ones to speak up and tell the aggressive ones to pipe down. Help your team develop emotional intelligence and relationship skills. Pay particular attention to empathy and assertiveness.

4.  Focus on issues and not people. When conflicts turn personal, turn them around to return to the issues that count. Teach your teams the analysis skills that enable the root cause analysis skills to identify the most important issues.

5.  Ferret out the “elephants in the room”. Chris Argyris calls an elephant an “undiscussable”.  Undiscussable topics become that way in order to “avoid surprise, embarrassment, or threat.”  In other words, a taboo. When elephants are running free in the room, the credibility of the organization and that of any leaders within sight are at significant risk.

Help your people stop avoiding conflict and become world-class at it.  In doing so, you and your clients will get their best, and they will develop a skill that will differentiate them (and you) for the rest of their careers.

End Notes:

Argyris, C. (1988). Managing with People in Mind, Harvard Business Review Press.

CPP, I. (2008). CPP Global Human Capital Report: Workplace Conflict And How Businesses Can Harness It To Thrive.

Michael Lombardo, R. E., Cara Capretta, Victoria Swisher (2001). FYI for Teams. Minneapolis, MN, Lominger International.

 

Take a Walk on the Dark Side

dark-side_500It was 1998. The prospect was a three-letter giant (TLG) in the telecom segment. The opportunity was a very large desktop upgrade project, where the prospect was proposing to replace their existing desktop services infrastructure. The value of the project was multiple millions of dollars in servers, PC’s, software and professional services.

Hewlett-Packard was the incumbent provider of servers for TLG. Unfortunately, their relationship with TLG’s desktop infrastructure team had been slipping for years. The current VP of desktop operations had been developing an increasingly close relationship with Compaq. The HP team saw this opportunity as a chance to turn the tables on Compaq and win a major piece of business.

The HP global account manager called a Hail-Mary play, and lobbied hard with the HP consulting organization to fund an extensive pilot of the proposed server implementation. He hoped to win back favor with the prospect and level the field on the relationship front.

Six months and several hundred thousand dollars of HP-funded consulting later, the prospect had awarded the total hardware, software, and implementation project to Compaq. Compaq, of course, was quite happy to accept the zero-cost validation of their architecture, funded by HP.

The HP team were scratching their heads:

“Where had our strategy gone wrong?”

“How could we have avoided investing all that time and effort into this flawed plan?

The answers were painful, but simple.

1) We assumed that a technology investment would result in a relationship improvement.

2) We hadn’t properly understood the risks in our approach.

As consultants trying to advance a decision, we often let our objectivity slip when we are enchanted by the upside, the best case, the wonderful outcome, without doing proper due diligence about what could go wrong.

When we are considering a major decision, it often helps to let our imaginations run wild, in a negative way. Said another way, we need to let the teams brainstorm every possible way this initiative could fail, prioritize the risks, and then put plans in place to neutralize or mitigate the biggest of them.

Every team has some mix of optimists, pessimists, and realists.   Often times, the optimists have the most assertive personalities, and tend to dominate the decision meetings. The realists and pessimists in the group are reluctant to voice their concerns for fear of seeming negative, and allow themselves to be shouted down by the optimists.

Teams can benefit from a process, which enables the more conservative teammates to safely share their doubts and concerns, and encourages the overall team to deal with those concerns in a comprehensive way. Enter, the Black Hat Decision Review process.

The black hat decision review process is an important way to make sure that all facts, opinions, insights, and projected impacts are thoroughly considered and vetted.

Giving the pessimists and realists a forum to share their views in an overt and safe way helps teams avoid costly mistakes for the small price of some additional time and process in their deliberation of the decision. (See the previous article, “How to run a black hat decision review”)

Beyond the obvious advantage of making a well-considered decision, using this approach signals to the entire team that everyone’s opinion is valuable and will be taken into account.

Beyond the advantage of clear thinking, this technique improves the level of trust and commitment that each member holds toward the team as a whole, and their individual teammates.

Bottom line: The more investment, effort, and potential return there is in a particular decision, the more important it is to invest fully in the understanding and mitigation of risk.

When you are considering your next major decision, take the time, involve your entire team, and get all the perspectives on the table.

Take a walk on the dark side. Try out the black hat review, and see if it doesn’t yield clearer decisions, better-managed risk, and enhanced buy-in from your team. (And oh, by the way, improved probability of winning more often!)

How to Conduct a Black Hat Decision Review

black-hat-500A Black Hat Decision Review is a great way to get all the perspectives, pro and con, on the table and to enable your team to make the best possible decision, with your most important risks considered and mitigated.  (By the way, “your team” can include you and your customer.  That’s the best way to become an “advisor”.)

This process is based on the notion of parallel thinking, popularized by Edward DeBono, in his book, Six Thinking Hats. A brief description of DeBono’s ideas follows below.

Here are the steps in a Black Hat Decision Review:

  1. The proponent for a decision presents the case for moving forward. Chances are they will present a logical and optimistic case, include the new thinking involved, and highlight the emotional side of a positive outcome.
  2. All but one member of the reviewing team then meet separately and brainstorm every possible risk they see that would inhibit success. They meet for about 10-15 minutes, and focus on defining the risks, represented by DeBono’s black hat.
  3. The proponent and one additional team member meet separately and also consider all the possible risks.
  4. The whole team comes back together. The proponent and partner present all of the risks they saw. The remaining team members present their decision killers, one at a time, taking turns, one issue at a time.
  5. The team rank orders the risks from greatest risk to lowest risk.
  6. The teams split up again, this time considering the actions they recommend to mitigate the most significant risks they discovered in the first phase of the exercise.
  7. After 10-15 minutes, the teams reconvene. The proponent and partner present their action plans first. The remaining team members present their actions next.
  8. With all risks visible, and lots of input on ways to mitigate the risks, the entire team decides whether or not to move forward with the proposal, and what detailed actions they must take to optimize the probability of success.

Here’s why it works:

DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats model discusses six “thinking hats”: White (facts and figures), Yellow (optimism), Red (emotion), Black (risks of failure), Green (innovation) and Blue (planning) hats.

Instead of ping-ponging around between facts, optimism, pessimism, emotion, logic, and planning aspects of a decision, the team synchronizes their thinking to consider one perspective, or “hat” at a time, until all perspectives have been examined and all team members’ inputs have been considered. The approach makes it much safer for all concerned to name the risks and deal with them, instead of sweeping them under the rug under the onslaught of optimism.  The Black Hat Decision Review shortens the due diligence process by focusing primarily on the Black Hat, or risk.

Why just focus on Black?

Advocates for a particular decision, will instinctively focus on the positive aspects and the path forward. Because they are advocating, they may often short change or ignore entirely the topic of risks and probability of failure.   The black hat focus makes it easier for team members to feel safe in expressing critical or contrarian ideas, and thus allows for more complete “due diligence” and a better, more-informed decision.

Credit where credit is due!

Thanks to Brad Milner, Managing Partner at TechCXO LLC, for allowing to me adapt his Black Hat Deal Review for a broader audience.  Brad wows consultative sales teams with this approach, and invariably they are excited about its power and relevance to their success.

Cease Fire! Part 2: Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives

In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

1. Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives
2. Create an integrated set of metrics to measure your degree of alignment
3. Show a united front to the organization on your business planning and budgeting
4. Use a consistent data set that tracks to both organization’s individual key performance indicators, as well as the integrated metrics for your partnership
5. Assign key team members from both teams to work together to win the battle in the market for new revenue

Click on the video below to listen to Susan and Jim discussing the first of those initiatives, establishing a highly visible partnership between sales and marketing executives to alert the entire sales and marketing team that both sides will either succeed together or fail together.

Thanks for watching!