After celebrating Independence Day this past weekend, I took some time to reflect on the team that came together to write the Declaration of Independence. Assembled with varied backgrounds and views on the path forward. They disagreed, argued, compromised, and came up with a document that serves as the basis for the country we live in today.

By all accounts, at times the team was wholly dysfunctional and at others working fairly well. Two elements that were common amongst the team

  • All the players knew what brought them together
  • Every member understood the path that got them to that place in time

How about you? Ever been thrust onto a team with little knowledge of how the team came together and its history? I have, and it took significant time to build cohesion and synergy. If we ever did.

In your experience with teams what would have been the impact if the above two criteria were fulfilled at the very start.

In every team coaching engagement, I have several activities I use to focus on team members understanding the team. Here is the basic framework for one activity I call, “The Epic Story of ———”. I modify the activity based on the specific needs of each team.

The purpose is to ensure the team and each member understands how this team came to be. Learning how it started and who were the players that came and went. Understanding what the team accomplished and learned over time. And most importantly what brought the members of this team together and why they are here now.


Using a LARGE whiteboard or multiple sheets of easel paper the team creates their “Epic Story”. They construct a timeline starting with the longest-tenured team member. For large teams, this could mean covering the walls of the room with the timeline.

Picture a timeline drawn horizontally across the middle of the paper. Each individual beginning with the longest-tenured member has 5 minutes to talk. Above the timeline they add data about people, below the timeline, they add info about events.


The team decides on the information they would like to see. Typically, above the line topics are; team member’s arrival and departure, particularly team leaders, and what is it like to be on the team. The most interesting topic I have seen was each member chose a metaphor for the team at the time they joined.

Below the line captures events, milestones, defining moments, and lessons learned. Each member covers the time period from when they started to when the next member joined.

As you can imagine, the longer-tenured members cannot help themselves and make more contributions on the way. The only rule I impart is each member gets to make their contribution prior to additions from other team members. A time limit has also been a valuable tool.

My Experience

Picture a team of eight going through this exercise with a spread of tenure of 21 years to 6 months. What do you think this can do for the team?

I have seen this be an enlightening experience. It allows for genuine interest in the history and impact of particular events and people. Differing perspectives and interpretations of events produce rich exchanges between members. The sharing of the history and path traveled provides significant energy and understanding of the path forward.

What would be the impact on your team? Want to see a brief overview of this activity in action? Check it out HERE.

Put yourself in this story.

You are part of a team on a 5-day backpacking trip in a wilderness area. Everyone on the team is carrying a pack of about 40 pounds. You wish you have taken more time to train and prepare for this trip. Now on your second day, your feet have blisters from your new boots and you are having trouble with the load in your backpack. On the hike, you are falling behind. You didn’t train with climbing gear for the technical part of the hike and are daily needing to be taught. You feel you are holding the team back.

In reality, you are.

A team member asks how you are doing and how they can help. They even offered to take some of your load. No, no I am good. Just not in the physical shape I thought I was, is your answer.

What is your prediction for how this is going to play out over time?

Turn this anecdote into one in your professional setting. One where you were not fully “in shape” to complete what was required to be a major contributor. Maybe you did not fully prepare for your current project or opted out of the additional training. Maybe you convinced your supervisor you were capable of a leadership role when you knew you had some significant deficits in the required skills.

Regardless of the reason, you are a negative drag on the team. Normal growth and development through career challenges are expected. Not preparing or taking care of yourself and showing up as a liability to the team is not expected.

The best way to take care of your team is to fully take care of yourself. If not, you have become a detriment and drag to the team. Regardless of skill or capability, your greatest contribution is being at your full capacity and fully engaged.

Recall a time when you experienced a team member not fully ready for the task. What was the impact? Ever experience a team leader not fully ready or capable of leading the team? What was the impact?

It is akin to being on the above hike, with someone that does not have the capacity to accomplish the task at hand. It drains the team, uses up its capacity, reduces resilience, and puts a drag on the operation.

Three questions for you:

  1. As a team member do you come fully prepared and engaged?
  2. As a team leader are you consistently fully prepared and engaged?
  3. As a team leader have you set your team up for success, staffing it with fully capable members?

The above questions say a lot about the culture you foster in your team. Taking care of yourself can be the greatest gift you give your team.

Feedback from two clients, which one fits your situation?

“I am not the best delegator and really need to improve to be more effective.”

“It is very frustrating to get a project from her. Her direction is unclear and I have to keep going back for more guidance. Then once I have it figured out, she gets more involved and gives me all kinds of direction.”

Delegation, the act of passing down the responsibility of a task to another individual. A very common and expected practice in the business world. Leaders cannot do it all so they delegate their responsibility to have others complete particular tasks. Leaders who do it well free up their time and simultaneously develop subordinates.

When to delegate? Leaders delegate for three general reasons, 1) they do not have time to complete a task, 2) they do not have the required skill to complete the task well, or 3) to develop subordinates’ skills. Sometimes the reason is for one or all of the above. If you are weak at this skill, you and your workers are regularly frustrated.

I believe there are only two main elements to delegation, the reason you delegate and how you delegate. The typical reasons for delegating were listed above; time, skill, or development. What do I mean by “how” a person delegates? I separate “how” into two broad categories. You are generally a “means” or “ends” delegator.

If you are a “means” delegator you delegate by directing others how the task should be performed. This is the task and do it this way.

If you are an “ends” delegator you delegate by directing what you want the end state to look like. This is the task and this is what it should look like when you are done.

Why is this important? Think of the last task delegated to you? Did the direction have more “means” than “ends”? How did that impact on you?

Every task we delegate has some mix of “ends” and “means”, but tips in one direction.  An example: You delegate the creation of a presentation to show the annual growth of your department. Your directions: to present the data so our growth is clear, you are limited to 6 slides, and make sure you use the department template for the background. This one leans heavily toward “ends”. Clearly there are some “means” in the directions however, there is a lot of latitude in the execution of the task.

Leaders who paint a clear picture of the completed project give subordinates a lot of leeway in how they get there. That leeway creates growth and learning opportunities. The “means” delegator limits the creativity and growth when directing exactly how a project is to be completed. The positive is getting exactly what they wanted.

Below is simple matrix to self-assess how you delegate. Put a mental dot on how you delegate. Which quadrant did you land? Where did you want it to be and more importantly where do
your subordinates want it?

Ends Specified, No Means Specified: Maximum growth. The end state is described and the subordinate has leeway on how to get there.

Ends Specified, Means Specified: This is a possible missed opportunity, limiting creativity, growth, and an underutilization of an individual’s skills.

End Not Specified, Means Specified: This is hardly delegation and puts a burden on the leader to provide continual direction. Micro manager comes to mind.

Ends Not Specified, Means Not Specified: Put your own label in here. I call it anarchy. No defined end-state or direction to get there. Yikes!


The delegation statements we started with demonstrate the angst felt by leaders and subordinates when delegation is done poorly. As leaders and subordinates we all want:

Leaders                                                            Subordinates

To have more time                                  Control or autonomy
To work on tasks we are good at          Demonstrate our capability
To grow our subordinates                     Opportunities to grow

To become a good delegator takes time and practice. This is a simple model to assist you in becoming an effective delegator.

That statement was shared with me by a client who is a senior officer in the Army Special Forces. Since hearing it, I have pondered what it means. This is coming from the truly 1% crowd. Special Forces in all military branches make up less than 1% of our force. They are called upon to do extremely difficult and demanding missions requiring a high level of training and proficiency. It is important that they do the little things well.

What does that mean for us regular folks? I think there are two big lessons. First, when you do something over and over it becomes a habit and therefore automatic without thinking.  Second, lots of little things make big things happen. Let’s briefly explore each and see how the rest of us 99 percenters can apply the principles.

The Habit

Remember when you started learning to drive? You had to think about everything, from turning the key, to closing the garage door, and using your mirrors. I will bet on your last drive you did not think about any of those things. Why, because they are a habit. Hopefully the standard of your driving is high. Because every day we experience scary drivers with low standards.

How does a habit like driving benefit you? It takes a task and completes it to a standard without thinking. It frees up your mental capacity to do other things. You probably do some of your best thinking when you are executing a habit; driving, taking a shower, or making your morning coffee. A key is the level of performance of the task.

You may think, well I have routines, is that what you are talking about? No. Routines are a series of steps you repeat regularly, they are not automatic and you still have to think. Some routines have habits. Are your morning rituals a habit, a routine, or a routine that has some habits? The discriminator; if you have to think about the task it is probably not a habit.

Let’s relate this concept to your professional/leadership life. Do you have tasks that have developed into habits? Those tasks you complete to the same standard without any thought. Some possibilities may be, setting your calendar for the week on Sunday night, how you open/close your business or start your day. How you begin a meeting or end a meeting recapping actions. What are habits that serve you well? What gets performed to a high standard without you having to think about it?

Possible Action

What is one new habit you want to create? What do you want to turn into “a little thing that gets done well without thinking”? Pick the task and begin your journey of performing that important task consistently well until you no long have to think about it.

Lots of Little Things Make Big Things Happen

Maybe a better statement is: Lots of little things done well make big things happen. This is what my client was talking about. Whether they are habits or not, the standard of performance of the smallest task is high. There are little things that need a lot of attention and use mental and physical capacity. This is different than a habit – tasks being done automatically to a high standard. Capacity is used in establishing and maintaining the high standard of performance. When done consistently it differentiates you and your organization.

Think about your favorite restaurant, hotel, or event you attend. What makes that favorite thing – your favorite. Commonly it is because the details are done well every time.

Relate this principle to your professional/leadership life. Daily what little things if done to an excellent level would differentiate you? Is it ensuring you genuinely connect with your direct reports every day? How you and your team present data? Starting and finishing meetings on time?

Possible Action

What should be on the list of little things that will create one big mountain of excellence for you and your organization?


Doing little things well has two components:

  1. Creating habits that complete small routine tasks to a high standard without using a lot of physical and mental capacity
  2. Expending physical and mental capacity on the right small tasks to consistently produce excellent results.

Your guiding question should be. What will make friends, allies, and competitors say: “They are good because they do the little things well.”

Looking for more leadership trainings to grow as a leader, find weekly videos on Great Transitions YouTube channel.

“The boss said we are doing a great job, keep going in the same direction. However, I am fielding calls from the contracting officer about some concerns from the customer. The quality assurance team is happy with the new procedures we implemented, but the team feels they are redundant and slow down the process.”

Is this an effective team? How would you know?

As the leader of a team how are you measuring their effectiveness? In working with teams, particularly senior teams, it is not uncommon to have multiple standards of success.

Where to start?

  1. Richard Hackman in his research on senior leadership teams determined there are three criteria of team effectiveness that define high performing teams. They are: Task Performance, Quality of Group Processes, and Member Satisfaction. Let’s define the criteria, then look at how a team you are associated with measures up.

Task Performance: references the customers or clients who are the recipient of the team’s work and how satisfied they are with the quality, quantity, and timeliness of the work.

Quality of Group Processes: means a team is growing and becoming more effective over time. A one-time production of excellent results is not a high performing team.

Member Satisfaction: refers to the experience of the individual team members and their growth over time because they are part of the team.

Sounds easy enough until we start exploring further.

Possible Actions for Leaders

In our opening vignette, who are the recipients of the team’s work? The contracting officer, the ultimate customer, the boss, or the quality assurance folks?

They all are. That is the problem. For senior teams the list of stakeholders can be extremely long; the board, shareholders, partners, the internal workforce, suppliers, customers, regulators, etc., …

Task one: Identify your stakeholders and how they are measuring you. This can be an enlightening exercise.

Quality of Group Processes, refers to the growth of the team. Just like a championship sports teams, high performing teams in the corporate world get better as the season progresses. Are the participants on the team you are thinking about; motivated to participate, fully engaged or regularly missing meetings? How you answered that question is a clear indicator.

Task two: Investigate, measure, and assess the trajectory of your team. Whichever way it is moving sends you a message.

Member Satisfaction is the growth and development of the individual members. We all want to continually grow from our professional experiences. If team members are growing professionally in knowledge, skills, and abilities your team is on a good track.

Task 3: Determine the level of individual satisfaction of team members.

If you completed the above three tasks you now have the metrics for team effectiveness defined by the stakeholders and a sense of the trajectory of your team. How would you rate your team effectiveness on a scale of 1-10?

Possible Next Steps to Investigate

Completing the above tasks gives you valuable data to work with. The next question is, where do I intervene to improve my team? If Dr. Hackman was talking to you, he would tell you to go back and look at the conditions you formed this team under. The effectiveness results are a direct reflection of the conditions. If you adhered to his six conditions (three elements named “The Essentials” and three named “The Enablers” for a high performing team) you would have the potential to remove up to 80% of the variability of the team’s performance. Take a look at two previous posts for more details on the Essential and Enabling conditions to consider.

The cause and effect relationships are: set the conditions correctly and it is highly likely your ultimate measures of effectiveness will be high.

How might the results of your team’s performance change if you started measuring the implementation of the six conditions, rather than waiting for the results from stakeholders?

I propose it would shorten your feedback loop and put you further ahead of the competition.

Which is more familiar to you?

Every time we get together as a team of six, we are productive, have serious work to accomplish, leave with a number of actions complete and a goal for what we need to work next.


When our team meets it is usually based on a standing agenda where we go around the table with staff updates, there are 11 of us. That is followed by discussing the topic or operational issue of the week. Typically, that is relevant to only several players.

Two questions 1) Which group is a real team? 2) If you asked members of each team: “What is the purpose of your team?” which team members would give consistent answers?

Now assess yourself. Of the teams you are part of or as the leader have you put in place, answer how members would respond to the two questions, 1) is this a real team and 2) what is the purpose. If the replies are “no” to number one and inconsistent to number two, how can you make some progress.

Teams are a reality of the workplace and often produce results superior to individuals working solo.  However, they are not always needed nor should every group of individuals that come together be called a team. Research done at Harvard by Drs. Richard Hackman and Ruth Wageman has resulted in a model for what makes effective teams. They have designated six conditions, three elements named “The Essentials” and three named  “The Enablers” for a high performing team. We will only focus on “The Essentials”: Real Team, Right People, and Compelling Purpose. Their research shows, without these three essentials, the team is destined for mediocrity.

Let’s get practical and make a team you created, are considering, or are a member of more effective. What do “The Essentials” mean?

A Real Team means the team is bounded, consistent membership with everyone knowing who is and is not a member. The members are interdependent, they need each other to accomplish the common work. Lastly the team is stable, meaning they work together long enough to accomplish a task or tasks together. Grade yourself, how does your team score?

The Right People means that the team has the right diversity and skills. Diversity of viewpoints, skill, and knowledge to accomplish the tasks is the type of diversity required. One of the skills required of each member is teamwork. An individual who is knowledgeable but not working for the good of the whole does not fit the criteria.

The Compelling Purpose consists of three elements; it must be clear, challenging, and consequential. I will start with challenging and consequential. When bringing a group of people of significant seniority and skill together it needs to be worth their time. Must be challenging enough to stretch the team’s capability and the impact of success should significant. Clear, every member of the team knows what success is. This is much more than just reiterating the organization’s mission statement. Specific, the purpose of this team is….

A colleague I recently was talking with was relating the work of a leadership teams she is on. Its purpose: put the policy and procedures in place to bring the workforce back into the building. The team consists of the top leadership (c-suite) with the addition of the top facilities person, a medical representative, and a workforce representative. As needed, they bring in specialists to provide expertise the team lacks on particular issues. They meet three times a week, have an ongoing decision journal, and are creating a new employee handbook to address employees returning.

Do your own assessment of this team. On a scale of 1-10 how well are they meeting the criteria for The Essentials: Real Team, Right People, and Compelling Purpose?

In working with leaders concerned with existing team performance, the most common question is: “Where should I start?”. My recommendation, start with Compelling Purpose. For every team you have formed or are part of ask the members to individually write the answer to: “What is the compelling purpose of this team.”

The results will reveal your next steps. Looking for help with the assessment of your team, contact us today for a complimentary coaching session.

How a leader “shows up” is how they are perceived to treat those around them. I have some thoughts on the topic and two client stories illustrating perceptions.

First, the thoughts. As leaders we have the luxury of ensuring subordinates know how we need and want them to show up. In our position, we regularly communicate our expectations. Subordinates do not have that luxury. They try to communicate what they need or hope that their leader cares enough to find out.

For leaders I believe there are two essential questions they should be able to answer:

  1. How do I need my subordinates to show up for me?
  2. How do my subordinates need me to show up for them?

Put yourself in these scenarios and consider, could this leader-subordinate interaction relayed to me by a client possibly describe you?

My client told me that her software team has a daily huddle and the project manager is late about half the time. She has been trying to engage with him on a topic about additional training for a week and cannot get his attention. He rescheduled two meetings she put on his calendar because of “higher priorities”. She also attempted a short hallway conversation and got no verbal response, just a head nod and off he went. When she shared her frustrations with her counterparts, they said they had similar experiences of feeling ignored. They also related that all he worries about are the metrics, confirming we follow his directions, and are on time. Don’t be late to anything he schedules or you will be subject to a public shaming.

How is the leader showing up?

From his perspective, he believes he is doing all he can to keep up with the demands of his position. He sets clear expectations for his team, is managing priorities, pushes them to be on time, and make their numbers.

From the perspective of this subordinate?

He is late to meetings, he expects others to be on time, gives the impression her concerns are low priority, does not listen, and demands that his directions and expectations are adhered to.

Let’s look at another scenario, this one related to me by a leader.

This midlevel manager recently had an event with an employee that irritated him when she was late on a deliverable. Not only was she late but she failed to make him aware of a potential issue with the customer. When he brought her in to hold her accountable, the interaction did not go well. She blamed the problems on him and his communication. He reiterated how he has specific expectations she needs to meet, just like the rest of the team. He said he treated her exactly the way he treated everyone else.

My question; did he show up for this subordinate as she needed him too?

Treating her just like everyone else may be the root of the problem. Her perspective may be that he never considered what she might need individually to maximize her effectiveness. Maybe this person needs him to show up differently to be effective. Maybe the communication was the problem. Were his expectations clear to her? Does this person feel invisible to him in the crowd of the team? Was there something else going on he should have taken time to explore and address?

As leaders we can be myopic, many times, focused on our own perspective and expectations. It becomes about how we need subordinates to execute their responsibilities not what they need. We may address the group, thinking we are reaching each individual, when we may need to reach out to individuals.

What? That’s hard. You are correct, it takes time to connect individually with subordinates and to show up in a way that elevates their performance. Yet, when understood and valued individuals are likely to excel.

Subordinates have expectations for how they need their leaders to show up for them. Being listened to and treated as an individual, ranks high. Are you hearing the messages they are telling or sending you?

Do you know how they need you to show up for them?

Have you ever heard this quote? “Plans are worthless but planning is essential”

That was stated by Dwight D. Eisenhower, interesting that it came from someone who spent months planning the Normandy invasion. There is also a military corollary: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

So why is planning so essential if the plan is ditched during execution? Because planning builds the execution muscle. It is the foundation of your organizational fitness. Think of a personal physical fitness plan. It builds a vision of your fitness at a particular time and a path to get there. You use that plan to evaluate your progress. If you regularly go to the gym, you hate January and love February. January fills the gym with individuals starting on their New Year’s resolution of getting in shape. In February most of the new additions are gone. Those that remain spent some time planning their new fitness routine.

Organizational plans provide vision, direction, and exercise every organization requires. Without a plan direction is unclear, success is purely subjective, and confusion reigns. What are some common components at every level?

– First, is the requirement for a clearly defined vision, measure of success, or end state. Everyone needs to know where you are going and what it looks like when you get there.

– Second, a solid plan requires the right people in the room to create the plan. Regardless of the level; strategic, operational, or tactical, if you do not have the correct people creating the plan, your plan is flawed.

– Lastly, the plan must set boundaries, metrics and standards.

Simply put, the planning process is regular exercise for the team. That exercise consists of, exploring capabilities, evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the organization. The planners gather data, explore options and alternates throughout the process. There is tension, give, take, and frustration. They get their heart rate up and sweat throughout the process. Good planning is hard work from the very start to communicating the final product.

So, what makes it essential? It is essential because planning is practice. When the first contact challenges the plan, the team knows how to react. They have spent hours examining the capabilities of the organization and its people. They understand the organizations strengths and have probably worked through a version of the current challenge in the planning process. They know how to work together. The team is fit.

Every play called in a football game started from a plan. Once the ball is hiked the plan evolves. The athletes act as planned and react to changes. That’s what athletes do. They prepare, train, and expect the plan to be challenged. They evaluate progress continuously, use feedback from multiple sources, adjust to setbacks, and exploit successes all focused on the defined end state.

Make your organization fit. Do not just have a plan, have an ongoing planning process. It will set the fitness foundation for your organization. It will make versatile organizational athletes out of your team. Your team will be known as a winner.

Let’s start with three questions:

  1. Where do you want to be in your professional career one year from today?
  2. What is the greatest obstacle holding you back?
  3. What would the impact be on your life if you overcame that obstacle and attained your vision?

A coach assists you in answering those three questions. This equates to helping you play better, just as an athletic coach does for his or her players.

Let’s use the athletic coach analogy: Where do the coaches for an athlete such as Serena Williams in tennis or Michael Phelps in swimming start? Together with the athlete they build the vision of where they want to be in the future.

“I want to win gold at the World Championships.” “I want to win at Wimbledon.”

“Okay, let’s back up. That is a year away. How are you performing today? Let’s build a plan to get there.”

Your executive/leadership coach will help you create your vision, assess your current state, and build the path to attain that vision. They help you perform better every day through experimentation with new behaviors, skills, routines, education, and most importantly objective feedback. Two differences from an athletic coach, the relationship is co-equal not hierarchical and fully confidential.

Objective feedback may be the greatest gift of a coach. In the athletic arena the feedback is continuously received, while playing, practicing, and after events. In the business arena objective assessments, video, self-assessments, and assessments by others are all part of the equation and vital to your success, but can be hard to come by without a coach.

Why the focus on feedback? If you are going to make the desired progress, you need to know how you are performing from multiple perspectives.

Consider this: Who in your professional life are you completely open and honest with? Who is wholly focused on just you achieving your goals, overcoming the obstacles holding you back, so you can make the impact you want to make?

Your coach will be that person because that is what a professional coach does. Your coach helps you play better and reach your destination.

Curious to know more, sign-up for your complimentary coaching session here.

“What is my return on investment?” As a business owner you constantly ask yourself this question. Here is a case study of a startup that made the investment in a professional coach.