Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Do you have a high-performing team?

Just imagine … a team of talented and results-oriented people who are tight-knit yet self-sufficient; resourceful and imaginative yet keenly focused on your departmental and organizational goals; collaborative yet openly welcoming of healthy conflict.

Only in your dreams you say? Not at all … it IS possible! But … it takes skill and planning by a strong leader to make it happen. To get there, you first need to know where you are today. This self-scoring evaluation will give you a yardstick by which to assess your current status, as well as a means to measure your progress towards the ultimate goal – the highly productive and top-performing team!

So … what is your secret to cultivating a high-performing team?  Or … what’s getting in the way?

Focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want

It’s a workplace reality that you have to count on others to get things done; you simply can’t do everything yourself!  Which is why I always inwardly cringe when I hear people say or do things that reduce the likelihood of others following through on their requests.  In the past, I have blogged about the ineffectiveness of ordering instead of asking, and the importance of telling others why.  Today, I want to highlight the importance of emphasizing what you want, rather than what you don’t want.  Compare these two examples.

A manager says to his assistant — “Laurie, I’ve left you a copy of my notes from the afternoon’s meeting.  Please transcribe them right away and make sure that there are no typos in the final document.”

Or he says — “Laurie, I’ve left you a copy of my notes from the afternoon’s meeting.  Please have them transcribed and proofread right away”

Do you see the difference? The first version tells Laurie what he doesn’t want – typos.  But the second version tells Laurie what he really wants – a document that’s been proofread.  It may seem like a very small difference – and it is – but the impact is powerful.  Because the second version focuses on the positive, it is much more likely to get the outcome that the manager desires.

Choice of words is SO important.  Yet so many people don’t get it!  Why is that?  Any insights appreciated!

Minimizing conflict is not always a good thing

In 1974, Dr. Jerry Harvey and three other family members embarked on a 53-mile road trip to Abilene, Texas in a 1958 Buick without any air-conditioning.  Not only was the temperature a scorching 40 degree Celsius, but the entire drive was through a dust storm!  It was only when they returned home at the end of the day that they discovered that nobody actually wanted to go to Abilene, Texas.  It turned out that each person only agreed to go because they thought the other people really wanted to go.  Dr. Harvey said later: “Here we were, four reasonable sensible people who, on our own volitions, had just taken a 106 mile trip across the godforsaken desert in furnace-like temperatures through a cloud-like dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, Texas, when none of us really wanted to go!  In fact, to be more accurate, we had done just the opposite of what we really wanted to do.”  Today, the “Abilene Paradox” is used to describe any communication breakdown situation in which members of group don’t want to “rock the boat”.  In their desire to minimize conflict, each mistakenly believes that his or her own preferences are counter to the group and therefore does not raise any objections.

The Abilene Paradox serves to underline the importance of creating a work climate where healthy conflict is welcomed and encouraged.  One suggestion – as the manager or supervisor, play the role of devil’s advocate – take a position you don’t necessarily agree with just for the sake of argument.

So what are you doing to foster such an environment on your team?  Please … share your specific ideas.


The decision-making continuum – five possible degrees of interaction

Recently I received an email from a new supervisor who is trying to establish the boundaries of his relationship with his manager.  “Often my boss invites me into his office to discuss different issues,” he said.  “I take that to mean that she wants my perspectives and input.  But sometimes I feel like my comments only seem to frustrate her.  Is she looking for a dialogue with me, or does she just want me to nod in agreement?”  The answer to this question lies in what problem-solving mode his manager is in.  Does she want to brainstorm ideas and solutions or is she seeking recommendations and action?

It might be easier to make this determination if you were to consider the decision-making continuum.  On this continuum, there are five distinct degrees that range from “I make the decision” at one end to “you make the decision” at the other.  Here they are:

  1. Informational – I’ve made the decision; just want to let you know.
  2. Reality-check – I’ve almost decided but I want to make sure that I haven’t missed any critical information.
  3. Data-gathering – I need to gather information before I can make a decision; please give me your input and expertise and then I will make the final decision.
  4. Collaborative – we need to make the decision together; consensus would be ideal.
  5. It’s your decision – I’ll give you the framework; you ask clarifying questions.  Then you make the decision.

When working with your boss or your staff, it’s worthwhile to identify what outcome is being sought in terms of the decision-making discussion.  In the case of his boss, this young supervisor needs to ask some probing questions up front to establish what degree of involvement she wants from him.  Then he can offer the appropriate level of input.  When working with employees, it’s useful to be clear at the outset as to what degree of discussion you’d like them to engage in.  That way they can proceed with an understanding of what you expect.  Clarity at the start will avoid frustration on everyone’s part.

Have you experienced this type of aggravation as well?  How have you handled it?

Our poll results are in!

Over the summer, we ran an online poll asking the question:

Is your workplace fun?

The poll closed last week, and here are the results … (drum roll please) …

  • 45% said Yes or On Most Days
  • 33% said Every so often
  • 22% responded in the negative! :(

Yikes!  22% said that they didn’t have fun at work!  Given that we spend so many of our waking hours at work, methinks that if  you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing!  So why is it?  Why do you think over one-fifth of our respondents go to a job, day after day, where they aren’t having a good time?  Is it the money?  Fear of not getting another job?  What?

When things get tough, it’s easy to fall back to old habits

Last month, while at speaking engagements in Australia, I rented a vehicle.  Not so unusual, given that I drive rental cars in almost every city I visit in Canada, the United States and Mexico.  But there was one big difference here – I was in Australia – where they drive on the left-hand side of the road!  Given my North American inclination to drive on the right-hand side, things were a little bit awkward and uncomfortable to start.  For the first half-hour in the driver’s seat, every time I intended to signal turning left or right, invariably I would switch on the windshield wipers.  Sheer force of habit made me flick the lever on the left instead of on the right – and of course in cars “down-under”, the controls are reversed.  I consoled myself with the thought that at least all the Aussie drivers could tell that I was a foreigner and would give me a wide berth!  After about thirty minutes of driving, I finally got comfortable with the differences and began to enjoy the journey.  For much of my time, I traveled on divided highways, so the trip was pleasant and easy.  But then, towards the end of my first day, I drove into Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populous city.  Traffic volume increased substantially, and with it, so did my level of apprehension.  And as my anxiety grew, I found myself once again repeatedly turning on the windshield wipers when I really intended to signal a lane change.  When things got rough, I forgot what my logical brain knew to be true and fell back to old habits.  And in this case, my old habits could only lead me into trouble!

When I work with leaders, I normally encourage them to trust their instincts and follow their intuition.  “When in doubt, fall back to your first instinct and gut feeling,” I tell them.  “You know what to do, you have the experience and the knowledge to make decisions and take action.  Don’t second-guess yourself.”  But my recent driving experience in Australia gave me a reason to pause and re-evaluate this counsel.  It turns out that this advice only makes sense when you are in familiar surroundings where you can trust your past experiences. When you are in a new environment – such as a new organization or a new department (or in my case, a new country) – it may actually be more appropriate to fight your old habits and force yourself to evaluate each new situation based on its merit.  If you’re moving into unfamiliar territory – new job, new leadership team, or even new aspects of business – then it’s a perspective worth keeping in mind!

What do you think?  Are there times when you should not rely on your gut instinct, when you should fight the urge to fall back upon old habits? Do tell.

Delegation skills for managers and supervisors

The great folks at PDNet and CGA Canada have invited me to deliver a live webcast ” Delegation Skills for Managers and Supervisors” on Thursday September 15, 2011 at 9 AM Pacific Standard Time.   If you’ve never attended a live web event before, it’s a great way to get focused relevant learning right at your desk.  Using just your desktop or laptop computer, you’ll be able to view and hear the webcast.  Plus, a recorded version of the webcast will be available to all participants for one year.  Priced at just $169 ($129 if you’re a CGA member), it’s a steal of a deal!  REGISTRATION CLOSES 24 HOURS BEFORE THE EVENT STARTS. SO DON’T DELAY! To register, or get more information, go to

Chances are that you got to where you are today through hard work, your knowledge of your job, and your demonstrated ability to get things done.  But when you are in a role of leadership, your success is measured by different criteria … on the basis of OTHER PEOPLE’S hard work and knowledge of their jobs and through THEIR ability to get things done.  And which, let’s face it, can lead to a great deal of frustration.  This is exactly what makes delegation such a critical skill for leadership excellence.  If you know that delegation is important, BUT it makes you feel like you’re losing control AND you constantly struggle with letting go (after all, it’s faster and easier to do it yourself!), then you can’t afford not to attend this useful and amazingly practical session. I’ll show you how to get things done well through others – on time – and while still maintaining control.

Workplace fun motivates teams and maximizes performance – live audio event on September 14

Workplace fun has been shown to increase employee morale, boost creativity and innovation, enhance performance, improve organizational commitment, and decrease turnover.  When employees look forward to coming to their jobs each day, they are more engaged in their responsibilities and they also perform better on the job. All very good reasons for you to create a playful and productive environment in your workplace! But … would your employees say that they find their work environment enjoyable, entertaining, playful and encouraging? If not, then it’s time to add more humor and merriment to your workplace. And it is possible to do so without sacrificing professionalism and performance.

Join me, Merge, for one fast-paced and content-rich hour in which I’ll show you exactly how to use fun and humor to create team cohesiveness, improve communication and creativity, and reduce stress. Not only that, but I’ll give you specific examples of what other high-performing organizations are doing AND teach you what YOU can do to achieve the same level of success in your organization or department.

Click here to register now

See how the most successful companies bring fun and humor to the workplace, learn specific and practical ways to do it for yourself, and find out how to overcome the obstacles that get in your way.  And if you act before September 7, you can take advantage of early bird savings!

Here’s some of what you’ll learn:

  • Five definitive actions you can take to create a fun and creative work environment AND a highly-motivated team
  • Specific examples of what other high-performing organizations have done to create fun workplaces AND insights into what YOUR team might consider “fun”
  • What the research tells us about the connection between workplace fun/humor and employee motivation and team performance
  • A simple model that lays out how five specific styles of humor can be used to achieve six very desirable organizational outcomes
  • The six critical and necessary principles for creating a fun workplace

Join me on September 14, 2011 at 11 AM MDT. Early bird pricing in effect ONLY until this Wednesday September 7!

Click here to register, or for more information.



Help your employees manage their workplace stress

As a leader, one of your roles is to ensure that you create a work environment in which your employees are healthy and productive and able to get things done.  My guest blogger today is my professional colleague, stress and wellness specialist, Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP.  In today’s post, she tells us about stress smarts for leaders, specifically the S-O-S principle, a practical way for leaders to help manage stress both in their employees as well as themselves.

Our jobs provide more than just an income.  It is a significant portion of our identity. It can determine our self-worth, our accomplishments, and successes. It is not surprising then that many Canadians experience an enormous amount of stress from their workplace. In fact, Canadians reported that they are feeling more stressed and more overwhelmed by their jobs than they have in previous years. Pessimism, dissatisfaction, lowered concentration, accidents, absenteeism, and poor health are all symptoms of job stress. And all of these have a negative impact on the corporate bottom-line.   Managing stress just makes good business sense. Continue reading