Establishing Expectations


“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”
–Jack & Gary Kinder

Recently I had a conversation with some colleagues about recent experiences on teams.  Through the course of the conversation we talked about what worked well, and not so well, from our perspectives regarding individual contributors and leaders.  As we were talking, a picture formed in my head about a common theme underlying many of the comments: “this worked well because we established an expectation concerning…” or “that situation could have been better if the leader would have stated an expectation about…”.  As I look forward to my next assignment in leading a team, I wonder: how should establishing expectations fit into the picture?

I see three ways to establish expectations early, and that by doing so can start a team on the right foot.

  1. The Boss’s Expectations. I’ve written about this before, yet it bears repeating.  As leader of a team, one of my roles is to “lead up” by soliciting the expectations of the management above me.  This takes the form of asking my boss for directions, ask how he wants to be kept in the loop, and put myself in his shoes.  Understanding the boss’s expectations can help provide needed context for the team to address the remaining items.
  2. My Expectations as Leader. As a step in building a high performance team, I can set my expectations at the outset.  In addition to defining the skills, aptitude, and instincts needed on the team, I can set the tone for the team up front by establishing my standards of performance. Doing so can be a useful step in ensuring I get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off, early.
  3. Mutual Expectations in the Team Charter. A team charter defines the purpose of the team, expected outcomes (see #1, above), and how the team will work together.  It’s created by the team at the outset and builds a shared understanding of why the team exists and what it is trying to accomplish.  One of the key elements of the team charter is mutual expectations, which defines the ground rules on how the team members will interact, collaborate, support each other, and give feedback.  Especially with a new team, establishing mutual expectations up front can build the culture of the team in a purposeful way.

By establishing the boss’s expectations, my expectations as leader, and mutual expectations of the team members, we can become a functional team much more quickly and deliver outstanding results faster.

What have I missed?  What would you add to the list?

The Right People


“It is better to first get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where to drive.”
Jim Collins

In building a high-performance team, I often wondered about influencing the likelihood of success at the outset.  One of the supposedly controllable factors at the start is the selection of team members.  Being in the public sector as I am, often I don’t have a large say over the selection of team members – I’m highly dependent upon the appointments made by management above me.  Yet as my intuition tells me, and as mentioned as a key point in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off, and the right people in the right seats is critical to the success of a team and is one of the hallmarks of a high-performance team.  Therefore, in view of the constraints inherent in the public sector, what can I do to get the right people on the team?

Here is an outline of the methodology, with some further refinements to come, that I plan on using.  I recognize that my positional authority as team leader has little to no bearing on the selection process (i.e., I won’t be “drafting” members directly from the line organizations).  Therefore, at the heart of the plan is using an influence approach on the managers who will appoint members to the team.

The first step of influence is to be proactive with the managers on the importance of the work and caliber of people necessary to increase the likelihood of success of the team, and in turn each of their organizations due to the success of the team.  From there, I’ll outline the types of people needed, as follows:

1)  The Right Skills. I’m blessed to be in an organization of exceptionally talented individuals, ranging from college new-hires to seasoned veterans.  From that larger population of talented individuals, I will need those who have demonstrated excellence over time in certain technical skill areas relevant to the team’s purpose, which I’ll provide to the managers prior to the selection.  Call this the “hard skills.”  For determining fits, I’ll be relying upon descriptions of normal job duties and past experience.

2)  The Right Aptitude. I’ll screen the above for those who demonstrate behaviors conducive to a team setting and today’s environment.  For instance, people who have an open mind, ask questions, challenge the status quo, work well with others, believe in the future of our organization, are willing to work hard, etc.  Call this the “soft skills.”  For determining aptitude or preferences, I envision using one or more preference surveys, whether Myers-Briggs, FIRO-B, DiSC, or whatever human resources recommends.

3)  The Right Instincts. I’m a firm believer that we all have natural talents that, when utilized, allow us to be our most effective as individuals.  When combined, an ideally diverse distribution of natural talents within the team will widen the overall problem-solving capabilities of the team itself.  Therefore, selecting a further subset of the above based upon a particular combination of natural talents will increase the diversity of natural problem-solving approaches.  For determining natural talents and instincts, I see using the Kolbe A index.

However, I recognize that no approach is perfect, so I also envision reserving the right to make slight, “onsie-or-twosie” adjustments to the team membership once the team is running, based upon demonstrated contributions.  The nature of the work to come does have a natural break between phase 1 and phase 2, so that would be the ideal time to make any adjustments needed in team membership.

As I envision it today, using the above three measures – the right skills, the right aptitude, and the right instincts – will increase the likelihood that I’ll get the right people on the bus and in the right seats at the outset.

What have I missed?  What factors would you use to influence the selection of members for a high-performance team?

Wine Tasting


“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”
John Buchan

Recently I heard the following phrase.

“My role is to help you succeed.”

I’ve been playing it over and over in my head.

In its simplicity is incredible profoundness.  My role.  You.  Success. Much as a wine connoisseur will hold a sip of wine to allow the flavors to manifest on the palate, I’m doing the mental equivalent with this statement.  What is success?  What does it mean to help one succeed?  How can I make a difference?

To explore the profoundness of this simple statement and understand why it keeps reverberating in my head, I’d like to share my mental gymnastics around a particular leadership model that I favor, consisting of three parts: alignment, results, and action.

Alignment is the confluence of personal values and goals with those of the organization.  Success here could be defined as the self-discovery of one’s values; as finding a balance between one’s personal values and those of the organization; as finding a different organization in which the values are aligned with the individual.

Results are the tangible outcomes sought that add value.  Success here could be defined in terms of producing outcomes with meaningful impact, the performance of which can be measured.

Actions are the activities undertaken with a purpose.  Success here could be defined in terms of clear decision-making and undertaking meaningful and timely action, where everyone on the team contributes from his/her source of strength.

So, where have I ended up after all this “wine tasting”?  It’s this: as a leader, I draw the greatest amount of satisfaction by helping others succeed in finding alignment, achieving compelling results, and taking meaningful action.  This brings me to the Buchan quote at the top: “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” It’s about the leader being a catalyst, a guide, a motivator.  And that is what I gained from this foray in “wine tasting.”

What is your view of the role of a leader?

Debate versus Conversation


“Debate is angular, conversation circular and radiant of the underlying unity.”
–Amos Bronson Alcott

Like many of you in the space community, I’ve been following the twists and turns over the last few months in defining a human spaceflight policy for NASA.  At the NewSpace 2010 Space Conference in Silicon Valley in late July, participants were speaking enthusiastically about the proposed space policy changes relative to commercial involvement contained in the Obama administration’s 2011 budget for NASA, then bemoaning the rollbacks of varying degrees proposed in NASA authorization bills winding their way through Congress.  What I found interesting were the choices in words by select participants for describing the involvement of commercial enterprises in ferrying crews to and from low Earth orbit.  Specifically, some chose the word “debate” and others chose “conversation” when talking about how to define roles for the proposed commercial carriers and where a Government-provided system fits into the future of human spaceflight.  I’m very curious about the choice of words between debate and conversation.  Are they deliberate choices?  What does the choice of words convey relative to the intent of the speaker, and what’s the difference?

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