Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

As a corporate trainer and team development consultant, I’ve learned a few managing up tips along the way.  Certainly, a key element for success when managing up is the employee learning their manager inside and out so that they can customize their behavior and actions to match their individual preferences.  That may sound great, but the next logical question is what specifically should an employee learn about their manager in order to be poised to manage up successfully?

Are they a morning person or night owl?

This might sound simplistic but understanding their preferred time of day can make a huge difference in the success of day to day interactions.  Have you ever had someone bite your head off only to realize the hard way that they’re just not a morning person and if you want to successfully coexist with them you have to catch them after they’ve had their morning coffee.  While you can certainly figure out this morning/afternoon preference over time by trial and error, it’s so much more practical to just ask them up front.  You may be surprised by their answer, and they’ll probably be somewhat impressed that you’re taking the time to ask proactively.

What’s their preferred communication style?

This one is HUGE!!!!  We’ve all experienced miscommunications in the workplace and seen first hand the potential devastating consequences that can ensue when we’re talking past one another, misinterpreting tone, or falling victim to other common types of miscommunication.  Figuring out how your boss prefers to be communicated with is a huge step forward in your ability to work with them more effectively (and making you the type person they prefer to work with).  To better understand their communication style, you should ideally figure out the following about them:

  • What is their preferred communication mode?  Face to face, phone, email, text/IM?
  • Do they prefer to see/hear the bottom line up front, then details or the details first then build methodically towards a conclusion?
  • Are they more visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?
  • What is their attention span?  Do they prefer shorter meetings (even if you might need to have more frequent meetings) or a single longer meeting to get it all done at once?  Do they glaze over if they get a report more than a single page?
  • Do they prefer brief emails with white space and bulleted points?
  • Do they prefer direct or more nuanced language?

How do you get this valuable information?  More realistically, it’s learned through a combination of direct questioning (when there’s a relevant scenario ideally instead of just asking out of the blue), asking others who know them well, and simple observation.

What are their pet peeves/hot buttons?

Every boss has pet peeves, and they can vary significantly.  Some feel that showing up 5 minutes late to a meeting is a sign of complete disrespect while others feel there’s a natural 3-5 minute leeway for start times.  Some might value responsiveness over everything else and expect to get a response to every email the same day; others may be more laid back and prefer to receive a response when you have something significant to share.  Some bosses have more of a micro management tendency and want to be “in the weeds” so to speak while others are turned off by too much detail or too much involvement.  Definitely take time to figure out what types of behaviors set them off and do everything in your power to avoid them.

Which issues are their priorities?

Managers also vary quite a bit in terms of their personal priorities.  Are they focused on getting promoted, growing the product line, getting the project finished on time on budget, producing zero defects, developing a high performance team, ensuring team morale is high, managing work life balance, etc.? Figuring out what issues they care about most and helping them achieve their goals in that regard can be valuable.

These managing up tips can certainly poise an employee to adjust their behavior to better suit their manager.

For additional managing up tips, this video provides great tips and techniques for managing different types of difficult bosses.

Dana Brownlee is author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches (to be published by Berrett-Koehler publishers January 2019).  President of Atlanta based Professionalism Matters, Inc., Dana is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee. 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee/

Managing Up Mistakes to Avoid | Managing Up Training

Managing Up Mistakes to Avoid

While managing up is a critical skill for success, managing up mistakes can be career debilitating. First, let’s define what we mean by “managing up”.  As a corporate trainer and team development consultant, I define managing up as follows:

“A subordinate customizing their work style/behaviors to better suit their manager, taking steps to make their manager’s job easier, and/or proactively striving to optimize success for all.”

Obviously, managing up can have a very positive impact on business results when done effectively, but it could also have a very negative effect when executed poorly.  The key to managing up the right way is avoiding a few classic managing up mistakes.
When Managing Up, an Employee Should NOT…
  • Try to “take over”.  Employees must recognize that managing up isn’t taking over.  Instead, they must always respect their manager’s legitimate authority.  Managing up doesn’t mean swapping roles or telling your manager what to do.  Instead, it’s seeing your manager’s weaknesses and making helpful suggestions and recommendations to improve likelihood for success
  • Offer unsolicited advice.  Offering unsolicited advice could be construed as lecturing your boss (which never goes over well).  Instead, ask them if they’d like feedback on a particular issue or wait until asked. An alternate to offering unsolicited advice could be asking pointed questions.  For example, if you think the project should not use a particular vendor, your thought bubble might be “Dude, are you crazy? We’ll never make our due date if we use Vendor X.  They’re notorious for delays!”   Instead, you might say “Jim, I can definitely give them a call and get the ball rolling, but before I call I just wanted to check to see how much buffer time we have with our due date.  I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Vendor X has been late shipping product at least three times that I’m aware of so I want to be sure you’re comfortable with the fact that there could be delays.  What do you think?”
  • Focus on the boss’ weaknesses or personality quirks. Understanding your manager’s vulnerability areas or quirks is really important, but obsessing on them can be not only futile but counterproductive as well.  The reality is that you’re not their therapist or their parent so stay in your lane!  Focus instead on the task or goal at hand. For example, if your boss is unorganized, role model the desired behavior by offering to develop a structured plan instead of calling them out on their deficiencies.
  • Use the same approach with everyone.  A key element of managing up is learning to customize your behavior to best fit your manager’s preferences.  This might mean opting for early morning meetings with your boss if you know that’s their preference or avoiding your natural temptation to chit chat about the weekend for the first few minutes of a meeting if you know that they have more of a BLUF (bottom line up front) personality.

A huge element of managing up is learning to customize your behavior/techniques to best fit your boss’ personality.  Techniques or habits that might work well with one type boss might not with another.  This video provides valuable tips and techniques for managing four specific varieties of the “difficult boss”.

Dana Brownlee is author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches (to be published by Berrett-Koehler publishers January 2019).  President of Atlanta based Professionalism Matters, Inc., Dana is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee. 

Team Building Activity | Team Building Facilitator Dana Brownlee

Team Building Activity

As a team retreat facilitator, I’m constantly working to identify new, innovative team building activities that are fun and engaging but also make a point.  Full disclosure admission….Even though I’m a corporate team retreat facilitator, I HATE those touchy feely team building activities that don’t seem to have a clear point or purpose. Sometimes, the point is to break up cliques on the team and/or enhance relationships (e.g. get to know each other better), and that’s fine, but it’s just important to me as a team retreat facilitator to understand the purpose for the retreat and identify (or customize) specific team building activities that support that purpose.

Potential Team Retreat Topics

Oftentimes teams identify other goals for their team retreat:

  • Conduct strategic planning
  • Clarify team mission/objectives
  • Identify metrics to support team objectives
  • Review key projects
  • Clarify team roles and responsibilities
  • Conduct training in a relevant area (e.g. project management, time management, working smarter, communication skills, improving meetings, etc.)
  • Analyze a pressing problem (conduct root cause analysis)
  • Analyze workflow processes
  • Enhance relationships and have fun!

Oftentimes, facilitators make the mistake of thinking they have to choose between conducting an activity that is work related and one that is fun.  The truth is that the best team building activities can be both?

Defining Team Mission

I often work with teams who want to either define their mission or review/refine it.  I typically caution against setting an expectation of defining a complete mission statement (from beginning to end) during a team retreat.  The truth is that the “word smithing” of mission statements can be both very important and time consuming and it can be counter productive (and overly ambitious) to assume it can (or should) be done in a single session.  More typically, the team retreat can be used to get a great “head start” by soliciting consensus on the key elements of the mission (including clarification of what might be considered out of scope).  The goal might be to conclude the retreat with one or more draft mission statements that will be assigned to one or more team members as an action item.  Their action item would be to develop a refined mission statement for review by the full team (at a later date).

Sample Team Building Activity | Defining Team Mission

As a team retreat facilitator, I often use an interactive team building activity as part of this Mission Definition agenda item.  The activity is conducted as follows:

  1. Give each group few rolls of pennies
  2. Ask them to design a team logo using the pennies
  3. Have each group present their logo and explain why they chose that design
  4. Ask the entire team to come up with a listing of key phrases they noticed several groups use.  These key phrases become elements for a potential mission statement.

For additional tips on designing an effective team retreat, watch this video.

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Team Building Activities | Corporate Team Retreat Facilitator Dana Brownlee

Team Building Activities 

As a team retreat facilitator and corporate trainer, I’ve definitely learned that selecting effective team building activities can make or break a corporate team retreats, training workshops, or even corporate meetings.

The question becomes….what makes an effective team building activity?  When I select an activity I’m looking for something that meets these criteria:

  • Is it fun?
  • Does it make a broader point?
  • Does it allow team members to get to know each other in a different way or learn more about one another?

Over they years I’ve identified a nice toolbox of tried and true team building activities that work every time.  It’s important though to match your team building activity to the goals for your retreat.  My list of team building activities is categorized by focus area (e.g. adapting to change, enhancing leadership skills, increasing collaboration, communicating effectively, etc.)  One of my pet peeves is facilitators who use random team building activities that aren’t tied to the retreat’s goals so don’t make that mistake.

Here are just a few of my favorites….

Ice Breaker Challenge – This is a great, really light and easy team building activity that gets groups energized and having fun.  Simply, split the group into smaller sub groups (of 4-6 participants) and provide each subgroup 3 different ice breakers.  Teams compete to see which one can complete all ice breakers first.  (It’s helpful and interesting to mix up the groups so that participants get to know others that they may not know as well so think about assigning teams.)  Always announce a prize.  The prize does not have to be great.  I’ve literally wrapped a can of SPAM and offered it as a prize, but just announcing a prize revs up the competitive energy!

You can find lots of ice breakers online, but here is one of my favorites:

Change Management Team Activity

In this activity, teams compete to build a wireless tower using materials provided.  Each material has a cost and each team must decide how much to “purchase” before the activity begins.  Each team will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Tower height (taller is better)
  • Tower aesthetics (how attractive is it?)
  • Tower cost (lower cost is better)

During the competition, the facilitator introduces two twists (to simulate change that often happens in the workplace), and teams must make real time adjustments without losing focus on the goal. After the competition, the larger group discusses how their teams performed and they draw parallels to the workplace.

For tips on designing and planning  your upcoming corporate team retreat, consider these best practices:

 

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Organizational Change Training | Change Management Best Practices

Organizational Change Training – Change Management Tips and Best Practices 

Most organizations are constantly undergoing some sort of change and too many struggle with it.  Managing teams in the midst of change can be a challenge so here are a few tips and best practices that I share during my organizational change training events.

Increase communication during times of change.  Most leaders make the mistake of canceling meeting and letting the rumor mill run rampant during times of pending change and transition.  Do just the opposite! Provide more opportunities for staff to ask questions, share opinions, make recommendations, or even vent about potential changes.

Don’t change what doesn’t need to be changed.  Too much change is stressful for anyone so don’t change what doesn’t need to be changed! Sometimes small things (like keeping the same payment process or the same building location or the same meeting time) can make a big difference so only change those elements that really require change.

Explain the why behind the change.  In my experience working with teams I’ve found that even if people don’t agree with the rationale for the change, it helps them process and accept the change if they understand why the change is happening.  Don’t just tell staff what is changing but also explain why.

Take time to listen. It’s critically important to listen to staff to hear their concerns, fears, and anxiety about the change.  Talking about these issues can be a critical part of helping staff move through that anxious period and move towards fully embracing the changes.  Listening to staff feedback can also provide a great opportunity to incorporate their suggestions and recommendations.  It’s dangerous for leaders to make decisions in a vacuum.  Incorporating staff suggestions not only often improves the end product but it also makes staff feel valued and involved in the process.

For more information, watch 3 Key Leadership Mistakes Leaders Make During Organizational Change

Learn about the stages of change acceptance:

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Discouraging Cliques | Team Building Tips

Tips for discouraging cliques within the team

Dear Dana,
I’m taking my team offsite for a team retreat, and I’m concerned about people grouping off into their same cliques. One of the frustrating things about our meetings is that we’ve got a few pairs of team members that are joined at the hip and don’t really interact with the rest of the group. Believe it or not, it’s caused real problems because the entire group just doesn’t work well together. Our group is really just a bunch of cliques! I hate to take the group offsite and have the same polarized clique dynamic manifest itself there. I can’t force them to get to know others on the team and break out of their comfortable cliques can I? Lawrence in New Orleans

Dear Lawrence,
You’re right to be concerned. Cliques are natural in the sense that some people naturally gravitate towards each other due to similar interests, previous experiences, complimentary personalities, etc. The problem though is that for teams to function optimally, there must be a certain level of respect, trust, and relationship among all the team members. True – you can’t force people to “bond”, but you can certainly be strategic about encouraging a lot of interaction at your upcoming event. Here’s how…
? Assign seats! I know it sounds very high school, but you can certainly provide preprinted name tents and organize seats strategically to encourage interaction among team members who may not normally socialize (and thereby discourage cliques)
? Have participants “count off” (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3) when developing teams for activities. This way if two buddies sit next to each other, they definitely won’t be members of the same activity group.
? Have participants each submit a “little known fact” (something no one else in the group knows about them…e.g. they’ve seen every episode of “24”, they ran marathons in college, they repeated kindergarten) prior to the event. Then create a “networking card” resembling a bingo card with an interesting fact in each square. Ask participants to compete against one another to see who can complete their card by getting the owner’s initials in each square first (without asking participants to identify their box outright). Provide a prize for the winner – competition really heats up when there’s a prize ?
? Spice up the normal “introductions” section of the agenda by asking each attendee to share something interesting (e.g. first paid job, favorite vacation, proudest accomplishment, etc.).
? Assign pairs. Then have participants interview each other and introduce their partner during the “introductions” section of the agenda.
? Ask attendees to sit next to someone they don’t know well

Use these tips to avoid team miscommunications

Conducting team retreats are a great way to build the team and discourage cliques

 

Team Building Tips | Motivating the Team During Meetings

Team Building Tips…

Dear Genie,

I’m leading a team of six and our motivation seems to be dwindling quickly.  Even my best team members seem to be running out of steam these days.  We’ve got about three more months to go and a lot of meetings during that time.  What should I do?

Shaun in Atlanta

Dear Shaun,

Your team sounds like their motivation tanks are running on “E”, and they need a fill up!  If you can’t identify a significant structural problem with the team (e.g. unclear charter, difficult client, faulty product, etc.), they may just need a bit more acknowledgement and motivation.  Step back and think about how you can best motivate the team to finish the work with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose!

Tips for increasing motivation in your team meetings…

  • Let the team know that you’re sensing a drop in morale and ask for feedback. One of the best ways to gather this feedback is to conduct a meeting debrief.  Simply conduct a round robin asking each person to share one thing that’s working well on the team and one thing that could be changed to enhance the team environment or performance levels.  Simply record all responses on a whiteboard or flip chart and discuss how the team can make changes to incorporate the team’s feedback.  If you’re concerned about team members not being candid, ask team members to record their comments on cards anonymously and drop them into a basket on their way out the meeting room.
  • Embed acknowledgment into your meeting agendas by creating an agenda item for peer recognition. Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting to allow (and encourage) team members to recognize anyone on the team (or outside the team) who has gone above and beyond and deserves recognition.
  • Ask each team member how they would prefer to be rewarded and attempt to customize rewards as much as possible. Some team members want additional visibility, leadership, and responsibility while others would prefer to have more time off, ability to work from home, or training opportunities.  Make sure you understand what type of reward would be most meaningful to an individual team member and don’t assume everyone is similarly motivated.
  • Jazz up your meetings! If you’ve been meeting onsite, try meeting offsite.  Bring some exotic coffees and pastries and have a “Name that Country” contest at the end of the meeting (with a gag prize awarded to the winner).  Close each meeting by asking each team member to share the best idea they heard that wasn’t theirs.
  • Recognize that the tendency on most teams is to punish the team stars by giving them more and more work. Remember that your team stars need (and deserve) timely acknowledgment and rewards.

Another great tip is applying best practices to avoid team miscommunications

Conducting team retreats are another way to discourage cliques and build the team

See our video clip for more information on motivating team stars.

Stimulating Creative Thinking on the Team | Team Building Tips

How Do I Stimulate Creative Thinking on the Team?

The Problem:

More and more teams are being asked to do more with less and find creative solutions to problems.  Facilitators and team leaders are often encouraging teams to “think outside the box”, but how do you actually do that?

Consider these suggestions….

  • Consider a change of scenery. It’s amazing how much people open up and see issues differently outside the confines of their normal environment.  One project manager felt that her team “hit a wall” on a difficult issue so she decided to take the small group across the street to continue the conversation outside over banana splits (at an ice cream shop with outdoor seating).  The change of scenery had an amazing impact on the group.  Almost immediately, conflict (which was stifling creative thinking and progress) subsided – after all, who can’t open up over a really gooey banana split!
  • Ask each person to document their ideas silently first before allowing group discussion. Different team members will often approach the issue from a different perspective and provide a wide array of interesting ideas IF given the chance to form their own ideas before being influenced by others.  Once the individual ideas have been documented, use the round robin technique to elicit one idea from each attendee then discuss them all.
  • Conduct an initial brainstorming session about a completely crazy topic prior to the session on the real topic. In order to get their creative juices flowing, facilitators will often conduct a 10 minute idea generation activity.  Activities might include challenging individuals to list as many uses as they can think of for a lemon or challenging small groups to use a bag of pennies to come up with a team logo that represents the team’s mission.  The point is to get individuals focusing on being creative and not worrying about judgment.
  • Reward crazy ideas. Consider establishing a “prize” for the craziest idea of the day.  After a while, the team will get the message that during the idea generation phase, “crazy” is good!
  • Use the excursion technique where the facilitator shows the team an image (e.g. marching band, pineapple, surfer in the ocean) and asks the group to write down observations then link those to potential ideas related to the problem/issue at hand. This technique almost forces participants to think about completely different ideas.
  • Ask the group to consider how a 5 year old would likely address the issue. Children bring a completely fresh, unique perspective without the constraints of bias or fear of judgment.  Considering a child’s perspective can often lead to an entirely new line of thinking.
  • Provide a “romper room” to stimulate creative thinking. Ever notice how the best ideas seem to come to you as soon as you step in the shower, take a jog, or otherwise stop focusing on the problem at hand?  Many organizations take advantage of this by providing teams a physical “play space” to afford them the opportunity to step away from the cube and take a mental break.  Developers at one leading technology company would often whisk away to the “romper room” in the building (filled with white board walls, bean bags, rubiks cubes, etch a sketches, slinkys, and other nostalgic toys) to hash out creative solutions to their most challenging problems.
  • Strictly enforce a “no judgment” ground rule during idea generation.

Team Motivation for Project Managers | Retreat Facilitator Dana Brownlee

How Project Managers Can Provide Team Motivation During Meetings

Dear Dana,

I’m leading a team of six and our motivation seems to be dwindling quickly.  Even my best team members seem to be running out of steam these days.  We’ve got about three more months to go and a lot of meetings during that time.  What should I do?

Shaun in Atlanta

Dear Shaun,

Your team sounds like their motivation tanks are running on “E”, and they need a fill up!  If you can’t identify a significant structural problem with the team (e.g. unclear charter, difficult client, faulty product, etc.), they may just need a bit more acknowledgement and motivation.  Step back and think about how you can best motivate the team to finish the work with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose!

Tips for increasing motivation in your team meetings…

  • Let the team know that you’re sensing a drop in morale and ask for feedback. One of the best ways to gather this feedback is to conduct a meeting debrief.  Simply conduct a round robin asking each person to share one thing that’s working well on the team and one thing that could be changed to enhance the team environment or performance levels.  Simply record all responses on a whiteboard or flip chart and discuss how the team can make changes to incorporate the team’s feedback.  If you’re concerned about team members not being candid, ask team members to record their comments on cards anonymously and drop them into a basket on their way out the meeting room.
  • Embed acknowledgment into your meeting agendas by creating an agenda item for peer recognition. Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting to allow (and encourage) team members to recognize anyone on the team (or outside the team) who has gone above and beyond and deserves recognition.
  • Ask each team member how they would prefer to be rewarded and attempt to customize rewards as much as possible. Some team members want additional visibility, leadership, and responsibility while others would prefer to have more time off, ability to work from home, or training opportunities.  Make sure you understand what type of reward would be most meaningful to an individual team member and don’t assume everyone is similarly motivated.
  • Jazz up your meetings! If you’ve been meeting onsite, try meeting offsite.  Bring some exotic coffees and pastries and have a “Name that Country” contest at the end of the meeting (with a gag prize awarded to the winner).  Close each meeting by asking each team member to share the best idea they heard that wasn’t theirs.
  • Recognize that the tendency on most teams is to punish the team stars by giving them more and more work. Remember that your team stars need (and deserve) timely acknowledgment and rewards.

See our video clip for more information on motivating team stars.

Conducting team retreats can be a very effective method for starting a new project or providing a motivating boost to a team that may be flailing a bit.  Retreats can be used to build relationships, develop ground rules and other project charter elements, provide a shared vision/clear goals, engage key stakeholders, define strategies, and/or celebrate successes.  Dana has designed and facilitated many team retreats for project teams.  This video provides insight into her team retreat design philosophy.

 

Motivating Teams During Difficult Times | Retreat Facilitator Dana Brownlee

Motivating Teams During Difficult Times

Dale Carnegie said “There is only one way to get anyone to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it!” That simple statement represents a profound shift in thinking for many of us.  I’ll admit that when I’m thinking about motivating my husband to wash the dishes, I’m really thinking OK…how can I get him to do what I want him to do?  That sort of thinking may elicit short term results (or not), but it definitely won’t yield the longer term results I’m seeking.  In many ways that is the exact challenge that team leaders, managers, and executives have with their teams – how to motivate in a way that is truly lasting?

Even more daunting is the thought of trying to motivate during difficult times.  These difficult times often come in the form of a down economy, layoffs, organizational changes, etc.  The good news is that many of the best motivation techniques still hold true even during these difficult times.  In fact, in many ways motivation becomes even more important during these times.  Let’s explore a few secrets…

Secret #1 – Get to Know Your Team Members Beyond the Resume – Relationship Building is Key!

It sounds simple and basic, but this principle is truly the basis for most motivation strategies.  Motivation is very personal.  What is motivating to one person might be viewed as a punishment to another.  You simply cannot effectively motivate individuals without knowing them as a person – their likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, lifestyle, etc.

A friend of mine was trying desperately to launch a line of soaps and lotions out of her apartment.  Although her heart was in her own business, she kept her corporate job to pay the bills while her business was getting off the ground.  When she gave out some of her products as gifts during the holiday season, her manager asked her more about her business.  Although she initially was a little hesitant to discuss it, she eventually beamed as she talked about her new product line.  Seeing her level of excitement and natural motivation, he asked her if they might explore some new responsibilities that she might take on that would build her skills in a few areas beneficial not just in the workplace but equally valuable to her as she grew her business.  This approach was amazingly effective.  She attended a few courses in internet marketing and was able to not only use these skills in her primary job but also to help grow her business.  She was highly motivated and also appreciated his taking an interest in something so important to her.

Indeed, managers will naturally vary in their level of focus on task and relationship in daily interactions with our team members.  During difficult times, it can seem even more important to “crack the whip” so to speak and focus on task, but to truly motivate the team, focusing on the relationship component can often yield longer lasting benefits.  This does NOT mean that you should spend inordinate amounts of time socializing with team members or becoming overly personal.  It does mean that in almost any interaction you can strive to strike a balance between task and relationship.

Secret #2 Walk the Talk!

As a management consultant, I often worked really long hours.  But no matter how late I stayed up perfecting a presentation, I knew my director Jim was up just a little later.  I also knew that he would never ask me to do something that he wasn’t willing to do himself.  That simple fact made me extremely motivated to do whatever he needed.  In contrast, years later a new director joined the organization.  Shortly thereafter the company sponsored an all employee retreat and asked employees to room two to a room to reduce costs or pay an additional amount for a private room.  Most members of our team roomed with someone, and a few paid a bit extra for a private room.  The new director decided that she didn’t want to stay in the designated hotel at all (a four star hotel on the Las Vegas Strip) and paid for a room at the Four Seasons instead.  That one decision caused irreparable damage between her and the team…indeed her actions spoke loud and clear!

A wise man gave his young daughters very sage dating advice, “Ignore everything they say, and just pay attention to what they do”.  That is exactly what team members are doing…watching what leaders do!  If you’re constantly telling your team that times are lean and everyone needs to do more with less, let them see you doing it!

Secret #3 – Provide Support for Personal Crises

Part of what makes leadership so difficult is the fact that team members aren’t robots and are constantly dealing with personal issues and problems that impact them significantly (and can spill over into the workplace).  As a team leader, the reality is that you’re wearing several hats and one of those hats is friend/mentor/confidant.  Don’t ignore the reality that sometimes crises strike, and at those times team members need support.

As a public school teacher in the Bronx in the 60s, my mom struggled with the daily challenge of how to motivate her students.   She taught the “drop out” class – those who had performed the worst academically and were just expected to likely drop out as soon as they reached the minimum age required to drop out.  She’d decided to use the DMV’s driver’s permit exam prep materials as her course materials because her students were all 15 years old and VERY motivated to get their drivers permit.  Her thought was that she could use virtually any reading material to teach reading skills; she just needed the right topic to really motivate them.  This approach was extremely effective…with one exception.  One student (Melissa) seemed impossible to motivate.  After using every motivation technique in her arsenal, she decided to have a heart to heart with her after class one day.  She asked about her home life, and Melissa immediately burst into tears.  Evidently, her mother was gravely ill and needed a kidney transplant.  Melissa’s mom had asked her to donate one of her kidneys, but Melissa’s own health problems made that option very risky.  She was torn and couldn’t concentrate on anything else.  Immediately, my mom shifted from teacher to mentor/supporter.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs clearly indicates that a person’s physiological and security needs must be addressed before higher level motivation tactics will be effective.  As team leaders, we must remember this and check in with team members who seem to be particularly unmotivated or distracted.  Whether the crisis is personal or generated by workplace difficulties, any real crises should be addressed proactively.

Secret #4 – Tell the Ugly Truth

Remember that during difficult times, it’s vitally important to be honest about the organization’s health/current state.  Most managers make the mistake of decreasing communications during difficult times when just the opposite is what is really needed.  In the absence of information people create their own information, and it’s usually not positive (think rumor mill).  If the group’s project is really an “ugly baby” or if budget/headcount cuts are likely, be honest about it!  People are motivated to work in an environment where leaders will be candid and honest…even if the news isn’t good.

Motivation is certainly one of the keys to effective leadership, but figuring out how to do it in the midst of a difficult environment can certainly be challenging.  The reality is that there isn’t a bag of tricks – just a few proven secrets that will enhance your ability to motivate your team in virtually any environment.

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Team retreats can be a great tool for teams during difficult times.   They provide an effective opportunity to recognize hard work, roll out organizational initiatives or strategies, enhance relationship building, analyze/address team specific issues, celebrate successes, etc.

Dana has designed and facilitated many team retreats (large and small) for a variety of teams.  Learn more about Dana’s team building design philosophy!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee/