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Renewal Leadership: Building a Great Team

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 27, 2016 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Building a Great Team


Central to any good leader is the ability to develop and maintain a highly successful team that produces excellent results. However, for most leaders we often struggle to clarify the reasons that one group produces excellent results while another team may struggle. When looking at metrics of a team we may find ourselves even more baffled to discover the “it factor,” that created these high performing teams. A group of researchers recently set out to discover the behaviors of teams that “click,” and they discovered that patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. These patterns are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.


Energy, Engagement and Exploration


It turns out that the best predictor for a team’s success in the team’s energy, engagement and exploration outside formal meetings. Energy is the number and the nature of exchanges among team members. The most valuable conversation is face-to-face followed by phone or videoconference. The least valuable forms are e-mail and texting. Engagement is the distribution of energy among team members or the average amount of exchanges among team members. For example if all members of a team have relatively equal and reasonably high energy (exchanges) with all other members, engagement is extremely strong. Exploration is the communication that members engage in outside of their team. Higher-performing teams seek more outside connections than those that underperform.


We now know that 35% of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for simply by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members. The “right” number of exchanges in a team is as many as dozens per working hour, but that going beyond that ideal number decreases performance. In a typical high-performance team, members are listening or speaking to the whole group only about half the time. When addressing the whole group, each team member speaks for only their fair share of time. The other half of the time members are engaging in one-on-one conversations. To many leaders it may seem wrong that all those side exchanges contribute to better performance, rather than distract a team, but the data prove otherwise. Social time turns out to be deeply critical to team performance, often accounting for more than 50% of positive changes in communication patterns. It should be noted that hosting social events did not increase this factor but, allowing for more informal social time like larger tables in the breakroom so that strangers can sit together, had a huge impact.


Successful Team Defining Traits:

1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.

2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.

3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.

4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.

5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

The next time you are trying to build that dynamic and successful team explore the communication patterns between team members and work to ensure that energy, engagement and exploration are built into the fabric of the team.


Am I Making Bad Decisions? (Part II)

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 27, 2016 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)


Last week we reviewed three of the seven hidden decision traps that can sink a leader while making decisions; the anchoring trap, the status-quo trap, and the sunk cost trap. This week we will continue with the remaining four.


The Confirming-Evidence Trap

This bias leads us to seek out information that supports our existing instinct or point of view while avoiding information that contradicts it. The confirming-evidence bias not only affects where we go to collect evidence but also how we interpret the evidence we do receive, leading us to give too much weight to supporting information and too little to conflicting information. There are two psychological forces at work here. The first is our tendency to subconsciously decide what we want to do before we figure out why we want to do it. The second is our inclination to be more engaged by things we like than by things we dislike—we are drawn to information that supports our subconscious leanings.

What can you do about it?

• Avoid the tendency to accept confirming evidence without question.

• Get someone you respect to play devil’s advocate, to argue against the decision you’re contemplating.

• Be honest with yourself about your motives. Are you really gathering information to help you make a smart choice, or are you just looking for evidence confirming what you think you’d like to do?


The Framing Trap

The first step in making a decision is to frame the question. It’s also one of the most dangerous steps. The way a problem is framed can profoundly influence the choices you make. There are two types of frames that distort decision making: gains vs. losses frame and frame with different reference points. The gains vs. losses frame reveals that individuals are risk averse when a problem is posed in terms of gains but risk seeking when a problem is posed in terms of avoiding losses. Also, they tend to adopt whatever frame, either gain or loss, that was presented to them rather than restate the problem. The frame with difference reference points suggests that when presented with information that poses losing over gaining triggers a negative response in many people and they do not opt for that choice.

What can you do about it?

• Don’t automatically accept the initial frame, whether it was formulated by you or by someone else. Always try to reframe the problem in various ways. Look for distortions caused by the frames.

• Think hard throughout your decision-making process about the framing of the problem.

• When others recommend decisions, examine the way they framed the problem.


The Estimating and Forecasting Traps

Many of us are adept at making estimates about time, distance and volume. This is due to the face that we are constantly making judgments bout these variable and getting quick feedback about the accuracy of those judgement. However, when we make estimates about uncertain events we rarely get clear feedback about our accuracy. As a result, our minds never become calibrated for making estimates in the face of uncertainty. There is a set of traps that can significantly impact our ability to make decisions in uncertain situations because they cloud our ability to assess probabilities and the three most common are:

The overconfidence trap

Even though most of us are not very good at making estimates or forecasts, we actually tend to be overconfident about our accuracy. That can lead to errors in judgment and, in turn, bad decisions. As a leader if we underestimate the high end or overestimate the low end of a crucial variable, we may miss attractive opportunities or expose ourselves to far greater risk than we realize.

The prudence trap

Another trap takes the form of overcautiousness, or prudence. When faced with high-stakes decisions, we tend to adjust our estimates or forecasts “just to be on the safe side.” This can also be seen in the s the methodology of “worst-case scenario,” which has been shown to add enormous costs to projects or ideas with no practical benefit.

The recallability trap

Because we frequently base our predictions about future events on our memory of past events, we can be overly influenced by dramatic events—those that leave a strong impression on our memory. In fact, anything that distorts your ability to recall events in a balanced way will distort your probability assessments.

What can you do about it?

• To reduce the effects of overconfidence in making estimates, always start by considering the extremes, the low and high ends of the possible range of values. This will help you avoid being anchored by an initial estimate. Then challenge your estimates of the extremes.

• To avoid the prudence trap, always state your estimates honestly and explain to anyone who will be using them that they have not been adjusted. Emphasize the need for honest input to anyone who will be supplying you with estimates.

• To minimize the distortion caused by variations in recallability, carefully examine all your assumptions to ensure they’re not unduly influenced by your memory. Get actual statistics whenever possible.


When it comes to decisions as a leader, there is rarely such a thing as a no-brainer. Our brains are always at work and sometimes in ways that actual hinder rather than help us. The best protection against these traps is awareness. Even if we cannot eradicate the distortions that have been ingrained in our brains, we can build tests and new routines that can uncover errors in our thinking before they become errors in our judgement.


Renewal Leadership: Am I Making Bad Decisions?

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 13, 2016 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Making decisions is the most important responsibility of any leader. It can also be one of the hardest and riskiest responsibilities that a leader assumes. Making a bad decision can damage a team, an individual and at times be irreparable. Many times we are unclear where our bad decisions come from, however if we look close enough we can trace it back to the way the decision was made – we had unclear alternatives, we did not collect the right information, and we did not appropriately weigh the cost and benefit of the decision. These are easier paths to uncover however sometimes the bad decision does not come from the process but from the mind of the leader making the decision and at times our own brains can sabotage our decisions.


Reflect upon a recent decision you made that may not have been your best decision. Below are three of the seven hidden traps that can lead a leader to make the wrong decision, the other four will be in next week’s edition. See if any of the hidden traps align with your decision making process and uncover the ways to avoid the trap.


The Anchoring Trap

When considering a decision, the mind gives disproportionate weight to the first information it receives. Initial impressions, estimates, or data anchor subsequent thoughts and judgments. Anchors take many guises. They can be as simple and seemingly innocuous as a comment offered by a colleague or a statistic appearing in the morning newspaper or when attempting to project this year’s sales we begin by looking at the sales volumes for the past year. The old numbers or comments or stats become the anchor. This approach tends to give too much weight to past events and not enough weight to other factors. In situations characterized by rapid changes in the marketplace, historical anchors can lead to poor forecasts and, in turn, misguided choices.

What can you do about it?

• The effect of anchors in decision making has been documented in thousands of research projects and anchors influence the decisions of almost everyone. No one can avoid their influence; you can reduce their impact by using the following techniques:

• Always view a problem from different perspectives

• Think about the problem on your own before consulting others to avoid becoming anchored by their ideas.

• Be open-minded. Seek information and opinions from a variety of people to widen your frame of reference and to push your mind in fresh directions.

• Be particularly wary of anchors in negotiations. Think through your position before any negotiation begins in order to avoid being anchored by the other party’s initial proposal.


The Status-Quo Trap

We all carry biases, and those biases influence the choices we make. Decision makers display a strong bias toward alternatives that perpetuate the status quo. The source of the status-quo trap lies deep within our psyches, in our desire to protect our egos from damage. Breaking from the status quo means taking action, and when we take action, we take responsibility, thus opening ourselves to criticism and to regret. Not surprisingly, we naturally look for reasons to do nothing. Sticking with the status quo represents the safer course because it puts us at less psychological or emotional risk. Often the status quo may find itself wrapped in the “wait and see” philosophy of many leaders who want to ride out the storm and wait till things stabilize.

What can you do about it?

• Maintaining the status quo may be the best choice, but as a leader you do not want to choose it just because it is comfortable. If you utilize the status quo trap, here are some techniques that might work for you:

• Always remind yourself of your objectives and examine how they would be served by the status quo.

• Never think of the status quo as your only alternative. Identify other options.

• Avoid exaggerating the effort or cost involved in switching from the status quo

• When comparing alternatives, always evaluate them in terms of the future as well as the present.

• If you have several alternatives that are superior to the status quo, don’t default to the status quo just because you’re having a hard time picking the best alternative. Force yourself to choose.


The Sunk-Cost Trap

Another bias we have is to make decisions that justify our past choices, even when those past choice are no longer valid. For example, we may have poured enormous effort into improving the effectiveness of an employee whom we knew we should not have hired in the first place. Our past decisions become our sunk costs – old investments of our energy, time and resources that are now irrecoverable. We know that these sunk costs are irrelevant to the present decisions, but they trap us and lead us to make inappropriate decisions.

Why can’t people free themselves from past decisions? Often it is because we are unwilling to admit to a mistake. In our personal life, acknowledging to a poor decision is a private matter and may only impact one’s self-esteem. In leadership a bad decision is often a very public matter and may invite critical comments from colleagues, supervisors and others. If you fire the poor performer whom you hired, it is like making a public admission of your poor judgment. It seems safer to let them stay on, even though that choice only compounds the error.

What can you do about it?

• For decisions that have a history to them, you will need to make a conscious effort to put aside any sunk costs that will muddy your thinking about the current choice. These might help:

• Seek out and listen carefully to the views of people who were uninvolved with the earlier decisions and who are hence unlikely to be committed to them.

• Examine why admitting to an earlier mistake distresses you. If the problem originates in your self-esteem, deal with it directly.

• Remind yourself that even smart choices can have bad consequences and that even the best and most experienced leaders are not immune to errors in judgment.

• Don’t cultivate a failure-fearing culture that leads employees to perpetuate their mistakes. In rewarding people, look at the quality of their decision making, not just the quality of the outcomes.


Renewal Leadership: Am I an Effective Communicator?

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 5, 2016 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

May 5, 2016

Am I am Effective Communicator?


Leaders are always striving to develop themselves personally and one of the skills most can work on is communication. It is essential that leaders work on communicating as effectively as they can. In order to understand your areas of strength and areas for growth please reflect on the following questions.


(1) Do I pause before responding?

(2) Am I truthful in my communication, even when it is difficult?

(3) Am I often rushing through a conversation because other priorities are weighing on me?

(4) When others are speaking am I present in the conversation or do I find that I often stop paying attention?

(5) Can I read and understand the non-verbal cues of those I am communicating?

(6) Do I find myself only responding to those points that I agree or disagree with instead of what is actually being said?

(7) When was the last time I asked for feedback from others?


Pause before responding. Leaders are often in a rush for something and whenever they try to communicate, they are usually trying to do so quickly. Pausing works wonders when it comes to communicating more effectively with others. Sometimes just that tiny break, giving you time to think, is just what you need to really understand what someone else has said or to formulate the thoughts you really want to convey.

Be trustworthy and honest. When leaders are trustworthy and honest, communication becomes a lot less complicated. In being honest they have to think about what they are going to say and don't have to worry about uncovering a secret or a dishonest statement.

Don't rush communication. When leaders are rushing and trying to get through their communication quickly that's when things can go wrong. Often when in a rush, things are forgotten or misplaced and the same goes for when rushing through any type of communication. So next time you find yourself communicating with someone else, slow down and really pay attention. Taking just a little extra time could end up making a huge difference.

Stay in the moment. When leaders devote their full attention to the person or people they are communicating with, they are more likely to have much better results. When individuals get distracted and stopped paying attention to the person they are communicating with, the communication quickly goes south. If you want to communicate your thoughts effectively, you have to stay in the present moment and really be there when you're speaking and listening.

Pay attention to non-verbal cues. This is essential when it comes to effective communication. So much of what we say is actually not said, and if you want to understand what others are really thinking or saying you have to do more than just listen. You have to look and experience too.

Intend to understand. This idea comes from Stephen Covey and focuses on the concept of listening to actually understand what is being said, rather than listening just to respond with what you want to say. This can be a tricky thing to do, especially for leaders as we always ready to respond with our own opinion. Too often we're not really trying to understand what others are saying but instead are trying to find a way to jump from their points to our own. Next time you're communicating, do what you can to really work on understanding what others are saying.

Ask for feedback from others. When it's all said and done, one of the best ways leaders can learn to communicate more effectively (particularly with specific individuals) is to ask for feedback. Take some time to speak to those who you communicate with frequently to find out how you can improve on your communication with them. Sometimes all it takes is a few suggestions and you'll be on the road to creating a better understanding with someone else. It's not always easy to ask for feedback, but it's worth it!

Renewal Leadership: We Can Learn from Our Mistakes

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 5, 2016 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

April 28, 2016

We Can Learn from Our Mistakes


As humans we make mistakes every day, big and tiny ones. But for many of us we still do not see failure and mistakes as an awesome learning opportunity. I still struggle to embrace the stumbles and tumbles. This is a challenge for many of us and it requires us to live and act in ways to prevent mistakes which then results in us not taking risks, expanding our comfort zones or jumping outside the boxes we find ourselves living within. However if we look at mistakes and failures as guideposts in our learning and growth we can live more boldly and allow ourselves to take those bigger risks that create more effective leaders.


Embrace screw ups, failures and mistakes as they can teach us powerful lessons as noted below.


1. Mistakes teach us to accept ourselves and that we can be flawed and be loved. We can fully appreciate ourselves, even while acknowledging our screw ups. It is possible to laugh at our mistakes and then work hard to correct them. People who love and care about us will stick with us through all our flaws and floundering. Our not so perfectness is what makes us unique and we are loved for it.


2. Mistakes teach us to clarify what we really want and how we want to live. Noticing and admitting our mistakes helps us get in touch with our commitments—what we really want to be, do, and have. Mistakes wake us up and focus our attention. Working on possible solutions, redefining what we want or expect, or reexamining our values or goals can lead us to more clarity about our path.


3. Mistakes teach us about ourselves and how to tell our truth. It is natural to want to cover up our mistakes or be embarrassed by them. But being honest about our failures and limitations offer us opportunities to practice telling the truth. Admitting the truth allows us to expand our knowledge of self-to know who we are and increases our capacity to change.


4. Mistakes teach us to accept our fallibility and face our fear. Sometimes even our best efforts just don’t work out. We might do everything possible to achieve a certain result and still fail, again and again. When we are stuck and admit that we can’t do it alone it sends a signal and opens the door for help to show up. People, resources, and solutions will appear, especially when we ask for help.


5. Mistakes teach us, through analysis and feedback, about what works, and what doesn’t. It’s a reality check. When we experience the consequences of mistakes, we get a clear message about which of our efforts are working—and which are not. The feedback we get from our mistakes can be the most specific, pointed, and powerful feedback we’ll ever get. Many times we can trace mistakes to recurring patterns of belief or behavior—things we do, say, and think over and over again.


6. Mistakes teach us to take responsibility. Sometimes our instinctive reaction to a mistake is to shift blame elsewhere. It is more empowering to look for our role in the mistake. Taking responsibility for a failure may not be fun. But the act of doing so points out what we can do differently next time. Investigating our role reminds us that our choices and our actions have a huge influence on the quality of our lives.


7. Mistakes teach us about integrity. Mistakes often happen when we break promises, over-commit, agree to avoid conflict or fail to listen fully. Big mistakes often start as small errors. Over time, tiny choices that run counter to our values or goals can accumulate into breakdowns. Mistakes can be a signal that our words and our actions are out of alignment. In that case, we can re-examine our intentions, reconsider our commitments, and adjust our actions.


8. Mistakes allow us to inspire others. They may be inspired when we are courageous and make our private struggles public. They might decide to live differently. As parents we can teach our children that it is OK to fail because we are willing to let them see our failures and mistakes. This gives us opportunities to talk through what we could or would have done differently. These are powerful lessons for those around us.


Finally, one way to gain maximum benefit from mistakes is to examine them through the filter of powerful questions: “How can I use this experience?”; “What will I do differently next time?”; “How will I be different in the future?” Questions like these lead to an inquiry that invites solutions.

Renewl Leadership: Lead Better Meetings

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 5, 2016 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

April 21, 2016

Keeping Meetings On Track


Meetings are an incredibly effective tool for moving teams, projects, ideas and goals forward however there is nothing more annoying that a meeting that goes on and on or gets driven off-track fast.


The good news is that meeting management is not all that complicated however the bad news is that keeping a meeting on track takes discipline, and few leaders make the effort to get it right. “The fact is people haven’t thought about how to run a good meeting, or they’ve never been trained, or they’re simply too busy,” says Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, senior fellow at Brookings Institute, and author of Extreme Productivity. “Organizations are moving faster and faster these days and few managers have time to think through their meetings in advance,” says Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams. So whether you’re getting ready for a weekly team meeting or convening a larger group to discuss your division’s strategy, it’s important to put in the effort. Here’s how to make your next meeting your most productive one yet.


Make the Purpose Clear

A lot of problems can be avoided by stating the reason and expectation for getting together right up front. Send an agenda and any background materials ahead of time so people know what you’ll cover. Consider sending a list of things that won’t be discussed in the meeting as well. If you do not know the purpose of your meeting, you should not be having one.


Control the Size

Meetings can get out of control if there are too many people in the room, but with too few people, you may not have enough diversity of opinion. Only include those who are critical to the meeting.


Set the Right Tone

Model a learning mindset instead of using the time to convince people of your viewpoint, be open to hearing other’s perspectives. Explain that you don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else in the room. Be willing to be wrong.


Manage Ramblers

For someone who is prone to long-windedness, talk with her ahead of time or during a break, and ask that she keep her comments to a minimum to allow others to be heard.


Control Tangents

Sometime an individual raises extraneous points and can derail a meeting quickly. Try to refocus them on the stated agenda and if someone intentionally goes on a tangent they may feel territorial about a decision or is unhappy with the direction of the conversation. Rather than accuse the person of trying to derail your meeting, ask what’s going on.


Make Careful Transitions

Before you transition from one agenda item to another, ask if everyone is finished with the current topic. This will help keep the conversation focused.


End the Meeting Well

A productive meeting needs to end on the right note to set the stage for the work to continue. What are the next steps? Who should take responsibility for them? And what should the timeframe be? Send a email with all the updates so that everyone is on the same page.

Renewal Leadership

Posted by elementsconsulting on May 5, 2016 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

April 14, 2016

Spring has officially arrived and I always find that it is a great time to begin thinking about what we can do to renew ourselves and to recharge our leadership skills. What better time than spring to re-group and re-prioritize, and even re-invent ourselves and our leadership?


This spring I am embarking on a new journey myself. One that will allow me to live closer to my core value of developing others through training and personal development by expanding the services offered through Elements Consulting. For those who are looking to sharpen your skills, the skills of your team or ways to recharge your synergy, I ask that you consider hiring Elements Consulting for all your facilitation needs.


Here are some ideas to revive your leadership:

1. Start a New Practice - Spend some time each day reflecting on your leadership capacity, on the ways you have been effective and in what direction are you headed. This will allow you to see the patterns and create space for trying a new practice or skills. Remember we are so programmed to do the old routine that this will take time to adjust.

2. Simplify your Leadership - As life moves at the speed of light, sometimes we get caught up that our leadership should be in constant full throttle. Slowing down and focusing on your values will help to remind you where the focus of your energy should be. Reorganize your highest priorities and re-evaluate your commitments to assess alignment with your values.

3. Clear Out - Use this spring to get rid of things that are weighing your down and sapping your energy. Commit to make decisions you have been putting off and challenge yourself to dig deep to discover patterns of behavior that no longer serve you at this time.