When your team at work isn’t working as a team

I saw something like this at the BBC a couple of times:

If your team deals with important issues and team members have strong views on those issues, you can end up in a deadlock. When that happens, people dig into their own preferred solutions, operating from a unilateral control mindset where everyone believes that he or she understands the situation and is right, and that those who disagree just don’t understand the situation and are wrong. When all team members are thinking and acting this way, it creates a vicious reinforcing cycle. The more people try to prevail, the more people stand their ground, and the less likely it is that the team will ultimately resolve anything.

How to Break Through Deadlock on Your Team – Roger Schwarz, Harvard Business Review (7 July 2015)

I admit I read that and thought oh, bless. It assumes everyone on the team wants the best for the group, that the only difference is in how they think it should be done. In this positive kind of world there are no people out for themselves, nobody who sees this job as a temporary stepping stone to a better one if they come out looking good.

So I’m not recommending you follow every piece of advice in this boy scout kind of article but this is Harvard Business Review, they ought to know what they’re doing, so I am saying you should read the full piece.

The short answer is that talking to everyone and learning what brings them to their conclusions can help. It can, it’s true. Firing a few people focuses the mind too.

Talk to your team when you can’t talk to your team

I’ve been working with a firm who has the problem that its very many staff all work different patterns so it’s difficult just knowing who is in today and who you don’t have to worry about why they’re late. Many can and some do work from home, too, so keeping track of everyone is tough and scheduling company-wide meetings is murder.

Don’t tell them, but when I go back in next week, I’m going to recommend they use a certain type of technology to help. In fact, I was going to recommend Slack for certain until I read the Huffington Post’s research into all apps that can help large teams function together. I still almost certainly will recommend it as the HuffPost is certainly praising of it too:

Slack claims to be changing the way teams communicate, and looking at testimonials, it appears to do just that. The desktop and mobile allows teams to chat in channels with conversations divided by subjects, and you can chat and share photos, videos and music. So it’s a bit like having an ongoing meeting which you can dip in and out of. Slack is free to download, with Standard, Plus and Enterprise ($49-99/month) options with enhanced features, like Google apps integration and usage stats.

7 Workplace Chat Apps to Keep Your Team in Sync – Jack Flanagan, Huffington Post (28 March 2015)

Read the full piece to see what all of these apps do and just what they are. And then take a look at Slack. Also, take a look at this video from the Slack company:

Trello – visual To Dos for teams

 There’s little getting away from the fact that a To Do list is a list. It’s a lot of words, ranged in a column, and if there is anything visual about it, it’s that together they look daunting. But there are things you can do and Trello is a free service that has a good stab at one of them.

Specifically this. You do end up with lists in Trello but each list is like a stack of little cards and you can drag them around. In an ideal, recommended, go-on-try-it Trello way, you might have one stack for all your tasks, then one very short stack for the thing you are doing now. You might also have a stack for the one thing you will do next. Also a stack for everything you’ve done.

When the time comes to railroad, you can look at your Next Thing To Do stack and slide the card over to the Look I’m Doing It Now stack. And then have a quick look through Everything On My Plate and drag out one card to be the Next Thing To Do.

The visual part is the dragging. It looks and feels like you’re doing this on paper on your desk and that may suit you amazingly well. I learnt of Trello from a friend for whom it works amazingly well: she can see what she’s got to do at all times.

Plus she works in a team and while they haven’t all adopted it yet – she’s the first one to try it out – they now have the option for the entire team to use the same free system and work together. 

It sounds ideal and it could be for them, it might be for you, right now it seems it definitely is for the friend who told me about it. 

It isn’t for me, though.

That’s for a lot of reasons and I think the first is down to how you spend that time picking the next thing to do. Time spent working on your list is time you could be spending on doing the tasks.

Next, the space you put these stacks of cards is called a board and not only can you have many boards, you are encouraged and expected to. Have one board for all the things that your colleagues are working on together but keep a separate, private board for all the secret trysts you get up. (I’m not judging.) 

That’s fine and my friend has many boards already, but for me it’s back down to the business of having one system for everything: how do you know you’re done when there are always other boards to check?

There is also the fact that Trello doesn’t have the oomph of something like OmniFocus. Plus it’s an online service. You use it via iOS apps on your iPhone or iPad, but it’s really an online service and you can’t use the apps when you don’t have an internet connection.

That’s bad. That’s the only thing I’d say is definitely bad: everything else I don’t like is personal preference, but the inability to use this when you’re away from a wifi hotspot is bad.

My friend tethers her wifi-only iPad to her iPhone to get it to work or sometimes she just uses it on her iPhone. So it’s not a dealbreaker for everyone and it does have this unusual visual aspect that is going to be worth a lot to many people.

So especially as it’s free, do go give Trello a spin, would you?

Women are the reason some teams are more productive than others

Part of me doesn’t like this. I believe that the differences between us as individuals is more important than the differences between our genders. That I am me and you are you regardless of our sex. But then as a writer and hopefully decent human being, I am also conscious that women are preposterously badly treated in the workplace. Don’t believe me? You’re probably a man. Not going to complain about it to me? You’ve noticed I’m not a woman.

Seriously: a woman writing what I just did would on average get more criticism than I’ll see. And if you genuinely doubt the maltreatment of women in business, go compare some salaries.

So there is a great part of me that rather likes research saying women make teams smarter. This research is saying that, while there are some other factors that come in to play, those are not the ones you’d predict about charismatic leaders or high bonus pays:

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others – Anita Woolley, Thomas W Malone and Christopher Chabris, NYTimes.com (19 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

A good team is precious

I learnt a lesson, or perhaps was just forcefully reminded of one, when I went into a school. It was to do with how you need good people around you and that it’s harder than you imagine to get them:

I need to be a little circumspect here because this was a school and I don’t want to identify anyone. But what had gone wrong was this particular group. There was a small set of kids who didn’t want to do anything at all, there was a small set who wanted to work but refused to pitch. It was nerves and shyness and you see this, you understand it, you try to help these kids along. Sometimes – fortunately rarely – you recognise that there is nothing you can do in the time, so you just have to leave them to get on with it or not. There are groups you can help, who will take the help. Naturally, then, you help them.

But this time was different because the young woman producing was doing so well. That’s an odd thing to say when she’d lost control of her team but the unfairness of that rankled with me. The school picked the groups and there was a specific plan to break up friends and thereby get everyone working with new people. That’s more than fine, that’s a good idea but in this case, it just seemed strongly clear to me that she was saddled with a tough group. I could see the frustration in her and it was just wrong.

You need good people – William Gallagher, Self Distract (27 June 2014)

So I interfered. Read more of why and what happened on my latest Self Distract post.