Q&A – How to keep a very large and remote team engaged over a very long project?

Q) We have a research team of 40 people who will begin working on a project next month. The team is a scattered group of people who may maintain low involvement for extended periods of time. I have to give them the opportunity to keep track of progress and contribute to general discussions. Do you have any suggestions or insights? A) It is important to keep in mind that low involvement = low engagement. When people only have a minor role to play on a project, keeping up with what is going on can become more of a distraction from the urgent regular work, so here are a couple of things … Read More

What did you learn today

School will be starting for my kids in just a couple of days. On the ride home or at the dinner table, I will repeat my standard conversation starter…“tell me what you learned today”. I don’t ask if they learned. The expectation is a commitment to learn every day, and that goes for me too. A while ago I was at lunch with a friend who was nearly in a panic. He had been laid off and did not know what he was going to do because he was a niche specialist. He wrote machine level code for a microprocessor, and he was sure he would not be able to … Read More

8 steps to take when team building doesn’t work

Team building events can be a fun way to get the group out of the office and working more closely. People can share their humanity in ways that erases past transgressions and smooth out future interactions. Sometimes there is no budget for team building, and sometimes the team dislikes each other so much there is no possible way they are spending out of office time together…Hopefully this is unimaginable to you, but on on the off chance that you can relate, I want to offer you my sympathy and an alternative I have used several times. If your team gets along okay but there is no budget, keep reading, you … Read More

Are you causing lousy coworkers?

I know it’s a strange question. Maybe you’re thinking, “some of my coworkers are so lousy on their own, I have to save them!” Sorry to say it but you’re wrong. You are not saving them, you are enabling them to be lousy. Before anyone jumps to the comment section, I need to clarify. I am not suggesting you should not help a coworker when they need a hand, or chip in while someone is dealing with a particularly difficult patch. We all need a little help from time to time, and helping is just the right thing to do. What I am talking about is when a person or … Read More

Your breakout moment

When an elephant is a baby, the trainer will put a shackle around it’s leg and drive a stake in the ground so the little elephant can’t walk away. Tug as they might, they are stuck. When the elephant is huge and could easily pull up the stake, they don’t try. This is known as learned helplessness and it is an epidemic that prevents people from fulfilling their career potential because the rules that got you where you are will not get you to where you want to be. Here is a real life example: I had just started a turnaround project, it is the middle of summer, I am … Read More

No more watermelons

Lately I have been seeing more frequent reporting of watermelons, watermelon metrics that is…you know, green on the outside and red on the inside. Reporting that all is well, but in reality things are not really so great. There are plenty of reasons this can happen: Lack of awareness about what is really going on Fear of getting micro-managed Bonuses being tied to the metric in question Concern about how you/your team will be seen Unwillingness of management to accept bad news Unfortunately this feeds the bad management cycle. No bad news > management thinks things are fine > higher objectives are established > Management seems clueless > team morale … Read More

It is summer, who is going to your funeral?

I love summer! In Seattle, we suffer through 9 months of dreary weather to be rewarded with 3 months of sun, temperatures in the low 80’s, and very little humidity; but the really important part of summer is it causes me to think about who I spend these rare, beautiful days with. Focus at the office is paramount, giving all you have, all day long is just the standard. While at work I don’t check social media, my personal email, or browse Amazon, and my family does not call when I am working…I focus on work. There are times when long days at the office are required and that is … Read More

Life lesson from a park bench

We all have pivotal moments in our career that stick with us, and form the story line of who we are. I’m a mash-up of many such stories. Early in my career while working for a software start-up in Seattle, we had an opportunity to make a sale to a client that would put our tiny business on the map. The risk was…we didn’t yet have the product features they wanted to buy, and they were far larger than any prior customer so my area, software implementation, would be a real challenge. Our CEO convened a meeting of all of his direct reports to get input and weigh the pros … Read More

Smile, You’re being watched

You may be an executive, a mid-level manager, a lead or project manager of a matrixed team, but if you lead a team, you are always being watched. The people you serve, and the organization at large are reading your verbal and non-verbal signals like a weatherman at a barometer. The reference to weather is pretty accurate too. If the company is growing (spring time), employees will see lots of energy and enthusiasm from leadership. There may be occasional bad days and growing pains showing up on your face, but as long as they are as short lived as a spring storm, the team will let it pass. It is … Read More

Why I told my team to find a new job

I have seen quite a few news stories and posts recently about the importance of employee engagement, how poor it is, and the risk presented by dissatisfied workers moving to new employers now that the economy is better. This feels familiar. It happens after each economic slump, employees who hunkered down enduring draconian management, pay cuts, and reduced benefits will go find greener pastures. I get it, people want to advance in their career, earn a great living to provide for themselves, the family, and retirement. This makes perfectly good sense, except most people don’t actually go find a new job. They just disengage a bit and stay right where … Read More