BLOG: Extraordinary Leadership and High Functioning Teams

The Need for Effective Collaboration

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Thu, Nov 05, 2015

As companies become more complex and try to do more with fewer people, there is an increased need to collaborate with other teams, departments and cross-functionally. How well do your leaders and teams collaborate? Here are 3 steps to help your leaders develop effective collaboration skills.

  1. Hold a Feedback Session

Generate an open discussion among the people and teams that need to collaborate. Identify the areas the team needs to improve and talk about ways each person can collaborate better.

  1. Determine a Common Vision or Goal

If all people involved understand the vision or goal of the collaboration and buy in to the vision, then they are more likely to set aside their own goals focus on the groups’ goals instead.

  1. Change the Language

It’s not what is said, it’s HOW it’s said that can help build collaboration. Define the acceptable language and communication of the team and hold people to the same standard.

effective collaboration in the workplace

Tags: building trust, improve workplace relationships, employee engagement

What Makes a Great Leader?

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Wed, Oct 28, 2015

While there are many skills and traits that great leaders possess, here are three important ones to consider.


Ask yourself the following: Are the leaders in your organization open to input, even from their team members or subordinates? Do your managers encourage their direct reports to try new assignments? And, how well do your leaders rally employees to achieve their personal and professional goals?

Depending on how you answered those questions, it might be time to acknowledge that your managers and leaders also need leadership coaching, training and development, not just the team members.

Develop extraordinary leaders

Tags: leadership development, leadership secrets, benefits of leadership coaching

4 Reasons Employee Engagement and Retention Should Have Your Attention

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Wed, Oct 21, 2015

cc_question_01You could have heard a pin drop. The SVP of HR was sitting with his CEO and reviewing the recent dismal turnover numbers. For the sixth month in a row, things were not getting any better. “I have an idea, let’s do that engagement survey you’ve been wanting to do the last few years and we will find out where our problem areas really are….” Is it any wonder the HR leader just shook his head in despair.

It was getting harder and harder to retain key talent yet alone hire for the 100+ open jobs the company was creating. Three years ago, it was easier to get talent, mainly because the economy was so bad. Sure, he was happy the CEO was now recognizing the problem, but there was something more going on here. Their Glass Door reviews were atrocious and the younger employees were leaving in droves.

The 25-year old company had been built on the backs of a hard driving “get it done yesterday" set of marching orders with a group of baby-boomers who were soon set to retire. The new talent didn’t view things the same way—sure they were committed to growing the business and their careers, but they also wanted work-life-balance and a boss who cared about them. Things were going to have to change and fast if the company was going to survive and keep growing at the rate it had in the past.

A Company’s Biggest Issue: Lack of Engagement Makes People Vulnerable to Leaving Your Company

Reason #1: The Numbers Don’t Lie

In Deloitte’s recent 2015 research “Leading in the New World of Work” 87% of companies across the globe cite “culture and engagement” as the most important issue business leaders face with more than half the companies citing the matter as urgent. Couple this data with Gallup’s long-standing research that less than 15% of workers are truly engaged at work and you begin to see why so many companys are scrambling to figure the best way to capture the hearts and minds of their talent.

Sprinkle in Great Place to Work’s findings that companies with the highest engagement scores produce earnings 300% higher than those companies where talent is disengaged and you find a compelling case for understanding what it takes to create a culture of engagement in your company.

Reason # 2: Leadership is Still the Issuecc_leadership_avenue_003-resized-600

Retention remains elusive and engagement low because there is a lack of leadership quality. Why? For one thing, there just aren’t that many of them. The average organization has 15-20% of their organization listed as high-potential. For engagement surveys to really return their investment, an organization needs to stress the importance of all leaders seeking improvement.

Those that lead people must be made to understand that the engagement scores don’t just diagnose the “culture” of the organization, they diagnose the missing leadership needed to have people want to stay and engage at a higher level.

Until leaders and companies attack the data from a place of dual responsibility, change cannot happen. Note: Ratings and remarks posted on Glass Door can also tell an organization a lot about what employees think about their leaders! While the overall company culture still matters to employees, working for a bad boss will accelerate your departure and your disenchantment with work more quickly than anything else.

Reason #3: Your Talent is Already Looking for a New Job!cc_help_wanted_01

A 2015 Talent Trends Survey of 20,000 employed professionals across the globe says 1 in 3 people is now looking for a new job, up from 1 in 4 last year. Why are so many people open to a headhunter calling? Probably because the economy has recovered and because they're just not that in to you! Loyalty is reserved for only the most engaged at work. So what can you do to counterattack this openness to entertaining other jobs? Make work more meaningful for those you employ and make sure they know you value them by training and developing them.

Reason #4: Taking the Engagement Survey is Only Half the Battle!

cc_employees_01Every company we work with is doing some kind of workplace engagement survey, yet very few companies have a consistent action-oriented process for doing something with the data! If you consistently do surveys of your organization and do nothing with the data points, you are wasting your money. And, sharing the data with only the Executive Team is not doing something with the data. The action-planning process following an employee engagement surveyshould be a transparent practice to allow:

  • People to understand the results in a safe manner
  • People a way to discuss the meaning behind the scores
  • People a place to partner on creating change for the better

So what happened to our client from the example above? After the initial frustration, the SVP of HR rekindled his interest in putting an engagement survey plan in action. He created the following steps to getting his arms around employee engagement and retention at his growing company:

  • He gathered the Executive Team (with the CEO’s full support) together and laid out the vision for what needed to happen
  • He researched the best survey companies and landed on one
  • He rallied his HR team behind the strategy and the goals for the program by focusing the project around creating a culture of engagement and leadership
  • He rolled out the planning process with the company VP’s and Directors
  • The survey launched and 87% of the company participated
  • Results were shared transparently via town hall meetings
  • Action-planning was conducted for all VP and Director Teams
  • Company wide roll-up of committed changes was communicated to all employees.
  • Employee turnover improved the first year after the survey

While the work to create culture where people feel they can do their best work can be very hard to do, the rewards outweigh themselves. More engagement creates a place people want to stay and that creates an environment that is good for everyone!

Improve employee engagement and retention with action planning

Tags: action planning, improve workplace relationships, employee engagement

3 Tips to Problem Solving When Cross-Functional Teams Tackle Tough Issues

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Wed, Oct 14, 2015

cc_corporate_culture_004We recently worked with a group of 20+ senior executives at a rapidly growing company in the midst of repositioning its services. The laundry list of challenges was endless … and the enthusiasm for tackling them was waning. There appeared to be no forward progress on decisions that required cross-functional discussion and coordination. Assumptions were made about who was leading which initiative. And, even more foundational than that, no agreement as to which initiatives should actually be top priority.

Let us share with you three tips and one tool for prioritizing and problem solving we have found simple to use and immediately impactful. These situations are typically messy and topics are complex. How do you move forward? 

1. Set the Stage for Disagreement and Resolution

Margaret Heffernan has a wonderful TED talk if you haven’t seen it. She highlights cultures which encourage “the super chicken”, those super competitive individuals who stop at nothing. But this is to the detriment of the rest of the organization, because ultimately the only thing the super chicken cares about is him or herself.

She emphasizes that now is the time for everyone’s voice to be heard, for everyone to practice critical thinking and to be involved in solving messy problems. And that's as important as it is to not allowing a handful of super chickens to dominate, there can also be no “passengers”. 

One of my favorite lines in her talk is:  "In successful companies, conflict is frequent because candor is safe."

Set the stage in your organization for frequent conflictand let’s define that not as vicious personal attacks of blame and sarcasm, but, as Patrick Lencioni does in Five Behaviors of a Dysfunctional Team, as energetic debate and disagreement on concepts. When we encourage and allow all voices to be heard, then we find greater commitment to the next step for resolution.

2.  Take an Enterprise View:  What Matters Most

With the crew of senior leaders at the company mentioned above, we had them create a laundry list of what mattered most, not to them in their functional areas, but to the future of the company. This exercise requires an enterprise view, something rarely tackled cross-functionally, where everyone is heads down on being productive in their own lanes. Ask yourselves:  What is the most important problem, topic, or area we collectively need to resolve in order for the company to move forward and succeed?cc_team_014

We mapped the laundry list on a wall of flip chart paper and after spirited debate about how each area related to another, the group of 20+ executives identified 4 areas of the 15 listed that, if these could have attention and resources put to them, would make a huge impact quickly. It was also obvious that no one functional area could resolve any one of these topicsit had to be tackled cross-functionally.

3.  GROW into the Next Steps: Avoid Jumping Ahead 

The executives then broke into 4 subgroups, choosing the one for which they had the most energy, the most interest, the most passion. This is key. You have to care.

We applied the GROW model for problem solving—typically used as a model for moving individuals through a coaching conversation with the coach asking a series of questions to help the individual clarify the problem, explore ideas and commit to next steps, the process is very effectively used by peers on teams to guide developing priorities and solving problems.

Our natural inclination is to say here’s the problem, now (jumping ahead) what do we do about it? But when we jump ahead to action without looking at it through a shared lens of current reality, understanding past experiences, and exploring different views, we make assumptions…and mistakes. 

We are happy to share with you the template we use with teams so they can move through this often messy and potentially complicated process quickly and effectively. Download the tool here (link).  And discover just how clarifying it can be to use these simple steps:


G:  What’s the GOAL of the discussion?

There are BIG GOALS (like create a culture that embraces conflict) and there are immediate goals to help you get there. So for a particular discussion, the goal could be: describe the type of culture we as senior leaders want to create. And the conversation then focuses on identifying what is and what could be…resulting in action steps to move forward on the “what could be” elements. Or the goal of the team discussion could be a deeper dive on challenges that impede creating a more open culture and ideas for specifically resolving those. Once you complete the GROW process on one topic, typically it lends itself to another goal to explore more fully, so the conversation builds upon itself.

R:  What’s the current REALITY of the situation?

These are the shared perspectives of the team members as to what defines the current state, what has been tried, who are the stakeholders, what has been measured, etc.

O:  What are some OPTIONS?

This is the time for brainstorming ideas, for sharing what’s possible. There are tons of tools to help do this. We’ll post a few in a later blog. 


Now the team focuses on choosing one, two or three action items they commit to undertaking by a certain period of time. And, as mentioned, this usually results in another goal for a future GROW conversation.

So this seemingly simple process has now gotten the team focused and committed, not just to next steps, but to each other as well.

Download our free GROW for Teams template. Try it and let us know what you think!

Solve team conflict with the GROW Model for Teams

Tags: improve workplace relationships, difficult conversations, high performing teams

3 Key Questions to Assess Company Commitment to Coaching

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Wed, Sep 30, 2015

cc_coaching_skills_07Two thirds of responders to our recent survey complain that people need to step up. That they need and want them to take more responsibility. One way to instill that in the culture is through  a commitment to coaching. But very few companies are actually committing resources—time, money, strategic thought and execution—to providing managers with coaching skills that ensure the development of talent and the encouragement of individuals taking more responsibility. 

There is massive confusion in organizations, according to our responders (and our professional observations echo this), which blurs the distinction between giving direction and coaching. At its core, coaching shifts the responsibility for ideas, solutions and actions to the individual. Read more about coaching skills here.

The 3 key questions to ask yourself are:

1. How many hours of coaching skills training (per year) do your managers receive?

  • 10 or more hours (good for you - great start)
  • 1-9 hours (better than nothing)
  • 0 hours (unfortunately this is the norm - isn't it time to do something about this?)
  • Do not know

2. Do your executive leaders understand the difference between coaching and directing?

  • Yes - they understand that the coachee is responsible for the ideas and actions; the coach is responsible for asking great questions and helping the coachee find answers
  • No - they blur everything together into "advice"

3. Do your senior leaders complain that people need to step up?

  • Yes
  • No

And a bonus 4th question:  Now, what are youan insightful, engaged, motivated leadergoing to do about it?


If you answered (a) to all 3 questions: your company is primed to embrace coaching as a talent development and growth solution, and you are fearlessly leading them! If you answered a combination of (a) and (b), you have a great opportunity ahead of you. Call us at (404) 634-4332. We can help design the steps and implement the solutions. If you answered (b) or (c): we applaud that you are an eternal optimist and we can share programs to support the transformation you are eager to see. 

Take our survey or contact us at (404) 634-4332 to learn more.about developing a coaching culture at your company

Tags: corporate culture, Coaching Skills, leadership coaching

3 Reasons Leaders Avoid Being Candid with Peers

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Wed, Sep 23, 2015

cc_2014_team_004-resized-600In most organizations, there exists an Executive Team, the C-suite executives who set the strategy and the direction of the company at a high level. These leaders are leading out in front and they have most of their debate and candor with their highly experienced board members. While these conversations take stock of the current business and execution of the plan, they are designed to be futuristic in nature and are highly influenced by the end game—to secure a new round of funding, to execute the IPO, to maintain or increase stock price with shareholders/the street.

The executive team has a leadership team as well, a group of SVP’s and VP’s whose sole function is to deliver the strategy, maximize the opportunities, solve problems together, push back when the top-down direction lacks clarity or marketplace relevance. In today’s time strapped cultures of do more with less—this is where we see the real squeeze play. Because the Leadership Team is simply being asked to do more with less, while solving very complex problems with more people than ever contributing to the decision making process. They not only lack the skills, they avoid the conversations.

Where do peers struggle the most with conflict? Where are they having the conversations that need candor? And, where are they not? The single biggest issues we see among Leadership Teams (VP’s) are:

Scarcity of resources and the dilemma around functional protection versus business need (hiring freeze, that doesn’t affect me I’m sales, marketing, etc)

Poor follow-through by a peer, letting someone down and not apologizing or owning

Difference of opinion on how something should be done, agree passively in the meeting, go execute something different afterwards (lack of alignment)

Lack of consideration for impact around consistency with policy (a leader who lets their team have half day Fridays during the summer without checking with others)

Taking credit for good ideas

Throwing someone under the bus (blame)

Passing judgment on people who do not think and act like you

The Conference Board’s research with over 22,000 people illustrates the business imperative for why organizations need to develop leaders who can collaborate, engage in candid conversations that resolve conflict and solve problems and the growing need to truly comprehend the amount of people involved and impacted by collective decision making.


Recently, we worked with a client grappling with the potential explosive growth of the company and a leader told me last week, “Look I’d rather just solve the problem myself, it saves time and it avoids the messiness of trying to work together. Half the time, the way I look at something is completely different and the conflict is something I would just rather avoid. When I don’t, it’s like world war 3 around here.”

Candor, disagreement, conflict. Many people would rather go out of their way to avoid it, than be forced to deal with a difficult peer or be forced to spend the time finding the best solution. But avoidance of conflict prevents peers from truly collaborating and moving an issue forward to shared resolution. Based on the research above from Conference Board with over 22,000 leaders across the globe, more people than ever are affected by the decisions a leader makes, yet the desire to bring passion and candor to a discussion is still as elusive as its ever been.

So why do we struggle to collaborate with peers and make important decisions that involve conflict?

We believe conflict is bad. We have learned to avoid it. We have seen it done wrong—where it has been personal and mean spirited or we have been on the receiving end of a poor exchange.

We believe it takes too much time or we only see resolution if its win-win. If we lose we may work hard to sabotage the solution and prove we were right

We believe we are right and intend to do it our way no matter what

So how does an organization start to push to develop skills around how to develop real candor that solves real organizational problems?

Build trust that is real and authentic. Allow a way for leaders to truly get to know each other in a meaningful way, so that candor is safe.

Re-position conflict as nothing more than the pursuit of the best idea for the problem to be solved

Build time for the leadership team to focus on the biggest issues that all areas in the company need to resolve so that there is a collective desire to put aside turf and silo.

For many companies with Executive Teams that hand down strategy to be implemented by the Leadership Team, the lack of candor among the leaders may just be the real obstacle to your next audacious goal of an IPO, or increased stock value.

Question for companies, how many leadership team members do you have involved in the decision making process? And, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the highest) how skilled are you in having the candid conversations that solve problems?

prepare for a difficult conversation

Tags: leadership development, building trust, team building and accountability, leadership secrets

Conflict at Work: The Role of the Manager

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Thu, Sep 10, 2015

Conflict. Infighting. Disagreements. Arguments. Rivalry. Lack of accountability. These are all issues that people, and especially managers, at work encounter on a regular basis. A struggle with a performance issue, a difficult personality, rude behavior, or peers fighting. We all dread conflict or tough conversations at work even though they are inevitable.



So how do we learn to deal with conflict at work? 

Often times, we look to the leader of our team in the hopes that he/she can model the best way to handle these crucial conversations. After 10 years of training thousands of leaders, we know first hand that dealing with conflict is very difficult for most managers and research bears out this notion. So why do managers struggle with conflict? They either lack the skill, or have developed bad habits. Some of the things we see managers do:

They avoid the conflict, making it clear they are afraid to deal with it
They minimize the conflict, stepping over the elephant the room
They take sides without getting both parties involved
They ignore it hoping it will go away

If you or your manager struggles with conflict, click on this link to see the 3 key questions you need answers to in order to create a coaching culture and eliminate conflict at work.

Tags: corporate culture, improve workplace relationships, team building and accountability

Building Effective Teams by Confronting Conflict

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Thu, Aug 20, 2015

Here's an interesting statistic to learn:


Source: DeChurch, Mesmer-Magnus, and Doty, Mega-analysis of 45 different studies with over 3000 teams.

All organizations have to deal with teams in conflict sooner or later. Successfully moving from a dysfunctional team to a highly functional one, begins with facing HOW you deal with conflict within the team. Is it a free-for-all where everybody talks over everyone else and nobody is listening? Or is it a constructive debate about various ideas and points of views where everyone is respectful of each other even when they disagree?

At your next team meeting, implement “critique & cooperate”. Ask each team member to offer one critique of what the team can do better (i.e. meetings should start on time and everyone should be respectful of the start time and not show up late – no finger pointing or naming names). Then have each person offer how he or she will cooperate with each suggested improvement. Oftentimes it’s too easy for team members to think someone else is the problem or solution. But when everyone has to contribute ideas and everyone has to offer solutions, then people move from blaming to sharing responsibility.

prepare for a difficult conversation in the workplace


Tags: difficult conversations, high functioning teams, high performing teams

Highly Effective Teams are Vital to Organizations

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Tue, Aug 18, 2015

Research last year from the Human Capital Institute on “Designing Effective Teams” showed the following:


How many employees in your organization would rate their workplace teams as “very effective”? Unfortunately it’s probably much fewer than you want to believe. Here’s an idea: take the time today to go around to your team members/department/staff and ask each person privately to rate how effective the team is at performing and accomplishing team goals. Encourage each person to be completely honest and then ask for their feedback on ways the team can improve to become more effective. This isn’t about pointing fingers at people to blame them; it’s about gathering different people’s perspectives on the team’s weaknesses and different strategies for changing them for the better.

Increasing a team’s effectiveness could be as simple as holding more team building activities, taking them out to lunch to reward them for their hard work, or holding a team meeting with a coach to have an impartial third party review ways to improve team effectiveness. But you’ll never know how your team members really feel about how well (or poorly) they’re performing if you don’t ask for their input.

team leaders develop trust on your team in the workplace

Tags: improve workplace relationships, high functioning teams, high performing teams

3 Ways to Move From Stuck-where-we-are to Exploring-what’s-next

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Tue, Aug 11, 2015

CC_leadership_005-resized-600In our leadership development work, whether providing executive coaching to support an individual moving into a more senior position or training leaders across functions within an organization, there is one speed bump we run into nearly every time which needs to be addressed before significant progress can be made. It is the belief that the leader must be The Expert and he/she must have all the answers. The Expert should be directing others, telling them what to do, and solving the problems. Often, this tends to be a cultural issue, organizationally embedded, where hierarchy and silos are more the norm than is risk taking, vulnerability or unbridled creativity.  

So, what’s so challenging about this belief in expertise? Because if we don’t question this mindset, we may get stuck in one mode, the way we’ve always done it, the way I was taught, the way my boss did it. We don’t develop our own capabilities, and, worse, we may not be developing the talent around us in a positive, productive way.   

There are certain predictable behaviors that we find underpinning this limiting belief: the tendency to tell versus ask for input or help, the need to be right, and the inability to delegate effectively. 

1. Telling Versus Asking 

Take stock: in your organization, what’s the reward for having all the answers? Or does your organization encourage seekers and those who are curious, who ask - hey, what do you think?  

Somewhere along the way, as we grew up, went to school, and started our first jobs, we adopted the notion that we must present to the world the image of a person who is expert in some area or function. That we have the answers. We know what to do. And certainly that has to be true in many situations—you were hired because you know how to run a distribution center, or you have expertise building new business, or you are really great at designing new products. That’s why your company and your teammates count on you, right?  

But balanced against that role and responsibility is the dynamic of humility which reasonably suggests you don’t actually have all the answers, and, more, that you may not be seeing everything as clearly as you thought. The excuse we hear most of the time is exactly that—time. “I don’t have time to ask questions; the pace here is brutal and we just have to keep moving.” So we go back to barking orders and heads down productivity…but, guess what? That new process that went live last month is not streamlining work production; it’s actually slowing down communication, causing confusion and costing twice as much. If we don’t stop to ask, "what’s working here?” we miss the signs until poor engagement scores and excessive turnover slap us in the face. 

How well do your leaders coach their team members? On the graph below, where do you and your organization fall in terms of encouraging an environment of asking questions, the kind of questions that not only get at information and truth, but questions that open us all up to other possibilities, that encourage participation at all levels within the organization?


2. The Need to be Right - Closed Versus Open

When we think or feel we must always have the answers, there is little room for behaviors that invite others into a potentially creative discussion that could lead to even better answers. We get stuck in a sense of our own right-ness and having to prove it every day. Where did that come from?

I was walking behind two parents and a child of about 5 last week in a park and started to notice a pattern in their discussion. The child would make a comment, "Mommy, look at the loud bicycle", and the parent would correct her: "That’s actually a motorcycle, not a bike."  Child, spying an ice cream vendor, "Oh, ice cream!!" Parent, "It’s too early in the day for that."

So what’s wrong with being right? (And who says not having ice cream at 10AM is wrong?) When being right becomes the mantle we hold onto in all situations, we are constantly in the position of proving our points or persuading others (think, politics). We shut down others’ natural curiosity and suggestions. We limit the view we can take on a situation and therefore the possibility for a new resolution.

So, again, on the above graph, where do you and your organization fall in terms of allowing everyone to share in expertise, to offer ideas and suggestions, even when not formally trained in a particular lane? Is your company more likely to support the hierarchy of title, the power of "the boss", or more inclined to invite a variety of input from many sources?

3. Inability to Delegate Effectively

Consider the difference between providing direction—the vision of where we collectively want to steer the team, department, organization—and literally telling someone what to do to get there. One of the complaints we often hear voiced by senior executives about their direct reports is, “I wish they would just step up more.” Why don’t they? For starters, lack of clarity about the overarching direction. And against that backdrop, poor delegation skills. What limits effective delegation? In part, we see it as a control issue, particularly for new managers and leaders raised in The Expert tradition. Fear of letting go of control, allowing others to participate in a decision, allowing someone else to be right. There is certainly an art to providing enough direction so that the desired outcome is clear and enough empowerment so that the individual takes the reigns.

Face it, if you are stuck in the lower right hand quadrant of the above graph, you must be absolutely exhausted - always needing to be right, telling everyone what to do, solving all problems. What would it take to shift above the line, to start asking questions that expand the thinking and exploration toward new processes, products or business growth?

Here’s your fieldwork - try these three next time you’re in a conversation. Ask:

1) What do you think?

2) Who else can we talk to about this for ideas and input?

3) What needs to happen next in order for that (desired outcome) to occur and who can handle it?

Examine Your Coaching Ability

Tags: corporate culture, leadership secrets, Coaching Skills