If Your Innovation Effort Isn’t Working, Look at Who’s on the Team

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An all-star team is making headway with a new initiative that could alter the future of the organization. Spirits are optimistic and the team is successfully maneuvering through new, yet very promising, territory. Then, the results begin taking longer than anticipated to prove, and after too much time spent outside of their comfort zones, the team of high-achieving employees can’t seem to execute within the uncertain environment.

The team’s outlook shifts and it becomes clear that the group will not be able to weather the storm of uncertainty needed to realize this new organizational opportunity.

How could such a capable team fail?

At the heart of many organizations is a deeper problem that blocks transformation: product/function organizational structure. This structure works in well-understood environments, where maximizing delivery of a product or service is the goal, but transformative projects require the organization to return to a more malleable

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Under-Management Is the Flip Side of Micromanagement — and It’s a Problem Too

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Micromanagement gets most of the attention, but under-management may be just as big a problem.

This is the term I’ve given to a constellation of behaviors that I’ve seen occurring together often during my 24 years in management: weak performance management, a tendency to avoid conflicts with employees, and generally lackluster accountability. As the name suggests, there’s just not quite enough management being done—and results often suffer as a result. But under-management can often fly under the radar because the managers who have these tendencies aren’t necessarily incompetent; on the contrary, they often know their business well, are good collaborators, and are well-liked.

One HR executive I spoke with about the problem estimated that some 10% to 25% of her company’s managers were under-managing. And I well remember one of my own company’s Human Resource VP’s exclaiming in frustration, “The trouble with our managers is that too

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5 Concepts That Will Help Your Team Be More Data-Driven

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I’ve spent my career helping companies address their data and data quality opportunities. Overall, I rate progress as “slower than hoped.” While there are many contributing factors, one of the most important is the sheer lack of analytic talent, up and down the organization chart. In turn, this lack of talent makes it harder for companies to leverage their data, to take full advantage of their data scientists, and to get in front of data quality issues. Lack of talent breeds fear, exacerbating difficulties in adopting a data-driven culture. And so forth, in a vicious cycle.

Still, progress in the data space is inexorable and smart companies know they must address their talent gaps. It will take decades for the public education systems to churn out enough people with the needed skills — far too long for companies to wait. Fortunately managers, aided by a senior

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How One Hospital Improved Patient Safety in 10 Minutes a Day

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Most modern health care improvements seem to involve expensive technology and an uncomfortable amount of change management. But clinical and nonclinical staff at the Rotterdam Eye Hospital have improved patient care and raised staff morale at a very modest cost: 10 minutes a day and a special deck of cards.

Members of the hospital’s design thinking team were inspired by something they saw when they boarded a KLM Airline flight: During a pre-flight huddle of the cabin crew, team members introduced each other and then asked each other two questions on flight safety.

When they got back to Rotterdam Eye Hospital, the managers asked themselves why couldn’t they add a similar feature to their own “team-start” huddles? After all, in some ways, the situations were similar: A group whose members may not have worked together before must form a close-knit team quickly and execute their duties in

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4 Ways to Pressure-Test Strategic Decisions, Inspired by the U.S. Military

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Every leader wants to avoid major strategic mistakes, but, in a complex world, it’s hard to anticipate all the forces that might impact your goal. It’s vital to find weaknesses in your strategies before you implement them — and developing a rigorous process to do so.

The ability to poke holes in one’s own strategies is something the U.S. military has practiced and refined over centuries. Rick served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, retiring as a Lieutenant General, and has seen this firsthand. In the heat of battle, strategic planning that’s incomplete or simply wrong causes leaders to revert to on-the-spot decision making. While sometimes necessary, making it up as you go is more often associated with failure — and loss of life — and is often a symptom of ineffective or inaccurate anticipation of competitive moves or environmental shifts.

The same is true

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To Get Your Team to Use Data, Demystify It

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For some of your team members, the idea of using data to inform decision-making can feel intimidating. Maybe they don’t consider themselves to have strong analytical skills. Maybe they felt overwhelmed by their statistics course in college. Maybe they like to “go with their gut,” or simply dread the idea of wading through a ton of data. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can show your team that there are simple, straightforward ways to make a big impact with data, it will go a long way toward getting your employees to use data more often in their day-to-day decision-making.

Consider three examples. The first involves Billy Beane, front office executive for the Oakland Athletics and the subject of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball, who transformed baseball using data. He didn’t do it using fancy new math, or even sophisticated statistical work.

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How to Gracefully Exclude Coworkers from Meetings, Emails, and Projects

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You and about 20 of your coworkers are sitting around a crowded conference room table, discussing the details of some project. Some people are fighting for attention, trying to get a word in. Others won’t stop talking. Others have tuned the meeting out, retreating to their laptops or phones. At the end of the meeting, the only real outcome is the decision to schedule a follow-up meeting with a smaller group — a group that can actually make some decisions and execute on them.

Why does this happen? People hate to be excluded, so meeting organizers often invite anyone who might need to be involved to avoid hurt feelings. But the result is that most of the people in the meeting are just wasting time; some may literally not know why they’re there.

Whether it’s a meeting, an email thread, or a project team, people need to

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Case Study: When Two Leaders on the Senior Team Hate Each Other

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The feedback in the 360-degree reviews was supposed to be anonymous. But it was crystal clear who’d made the negative comments in the assessment of one executive.

Lance Best, the CEO of Barker Sports Apparel, was meeting with Nina Kelk, the company’s general counsel, who also oversaw human resources. It had been a long day at the company’s Birmingham, England, headquarters, and in the early evening the two were going over the evaluations of each of Lance’s direct reports. Lance was struck by what he saw in CFO Damon Ewen’s file. Most of the input was neutral, which was to be expected. Though brilliant and well respected, Damon wasn’t the warmest of colleagues. But one person had given him the lowest ratings possible, and from the written remarks, Lance could tell that it was Ahmed Lund, Barker’s head of sales. One read: “I’ve never worked with a bigger

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Help Your Team Understand What Data Is and Isn’t Good For

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Leaders today increasingly turn to big data and advanced analytics in hopes of solving their most pressing problems, whether it’s a drop-off of repeat customers, a shift in consumption patterns, or an attempt to reach new markets. The prevailing thought is that more data is better, especially given advancements in tools and technologies such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

But when it comes to uncovering the motivations and rationale behind individual behaviors within a social system, data can only do so much. It can guide the discovery of a problem, but it won’t determine the solution. In other words, data analytics can tell you what is happening, but it will rarely tell you why. To effectively bring together the what and the why — a problem and its cause, in order to find a probable solution — leaders need to combine the advanced capabilities of big

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Why Leaders Need to Cultivate Complementary Strengths

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Robert is a strong leader.

How do I know? When he left one company to join another, many in his top team followed him to the new company because they wanted to keep working for him. That’s a pretty strong testimonial.

“Yes, he pushes us hard,” one of his direct reports told me, “but I work harder and I deliver. I like that.”

But every leader — even strong ones — have their challenges. And while Robert (not his real name) inspires hard work and loyalty, he also inspires fear, especially in people who don’t know him well or are a few levels below him in the hierarchy. To be clear, Robert is not abusive. He simply has a high bar and is respectfully intolerant of mediocrity. But the impact is one of fear. More than once, a member of his team has come to me

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3 Ways to Build a Data-Driven Team

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It is no doubt a sign of progress that a significant proportion of organizations and managers today appear to feel guilty when they admit that they are making big management decisions in an intuitive rather than evidence-based way. Indeed, being data-driven has joined the ranks of “innovative”, “diverse”, and “socially responsible” as the one of most laudable features of organizational culture, at least if we go by company websites.

Although feeling the pressure to demonstrate that objective facts — instead of subjective preferences — underlie managers’ key choices is no doubt a major step towards actually becoming a data-driven organization, it’s an ambitious goal for any company, requiring a big cultural transformation, which will need to transcend the wishes of senior leaders to create real changes in how people think, feel, and act at all levels of the organization. And, as with any cultural transformation,

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Make Data a Cornerstone of Your Team

If you were entering the job market in the early 90s, most job descriptions included “Macintosh experience” or “excellent PC skills” in their preferred qualifications. This quickly became a requirement for even the most non-technical jobs, forcing people across every industry and age group to adapt with the changing times, or risk getting left behind.

Today, the bar for computer proficiency is set much higher. There’s an ever-increasing demand for people who can leverage software to analyze, understand, and make day-to-day business decisions based on data. Data Science is now a quickly growing discipline, giving people with any kind of data expertise a serious competitive edge.

Corporate leaders are becoming convinced of the impact that effective data collection and analysis can have on the bottom line, from tracking daily reports against Key Performance Indicators to make informed decisions on where to spend marketing dollars, to monitoring and evaluating customer

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Remote Workers

How does working remotely complicate your career? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Siobhan O’Mahony, a professor at Boston University Questrom School of Business. They talk through how to advance in your job when you’re not in the building, deal with a problematic colleague you never see, and manage teams in other offices.

Download this podcast

Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Email your questions about your workplace dilemmas to Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield — “Overall, remote employees may enjoy the freedom to live and work where they please, but working through

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What to Do If Your Team Is Too Busy to Take On New Work

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When a manufacturing line in a factory is running efficiently, one can see lines of robotic arms working synchronously, conveyor belts moving smoothly, and goods being produced. Unfortunately, when it comes to knowledge work, it’s much tougher to get an understanding of how much a team of people is producing.

There comes a point in every organization when if you want to keep growing, you simply have to hire more people. But it can be difficult to know when you’ve reached that point. For example, every year, during the annual business planning cycle I always notice that managers propose a larger budget. When I have asked “Why can’t we do more with our existing budget?” the answer is usually, “My team is telling me that they’re all too busy with existing initiatives and do not have capacity to take on anything new.”

Project overload is real.

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Research: When Employees Work on Multiple Teams, Good Bosses Can Have Ripple Effects

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If you’re like most people working in an organization today, you’re probably on multiple teams at the same time. Most employees have multiple assignments and projects that they must constantly juggle and prioritize. In fact, research estimates that between 81% and 95% of employees around the world actively serve on multiple teams simultaneously.

The problem with all of these teams is that there is some evidence that “multiple team memberships,” or MTMs for short, can increase employees’ stress and role overload, which makes it very difficult for employees to effectively fulfill all of their roles. MTM employees often rotate back and forth among their many projects during a typical workweek (and even in a single workday), hurting their ability to focus effectively on each project. With this in mind, we wanted to know what employers who use MTMs could do to make sure that employees are

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How to Permanently Resolve Cross-Department Rivalries

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It can be challenging to synchronize complex tasks across multiple functions. Rather than cooperating, too many functions end up competing for power, influence, and limited resources. And such rivalry is more than a nuisance: It’s costly. One study reports that 85% of workers experience some regular form of conflict, with U.S. workers averaging 2.8 hours per week. That equates to $359 billion paid hours mired in conflict. It’s easy to blame these conflicts on personalities — think toxic bosses or big egos — but in my experience as an organizational consultant, the root cause is more often systemic. For example, this study examining the rivalry between sales and marketing showed that conflicts between managers from these historically warring functions were not driven by interpersonal issues. They were tied to the frequency of how they exchanged information, and the degree to which there were effective

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Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job

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As an executive coach, I speak regularly at corporate leadership development programs. During discussions, participants often confess the real reason they’re in the room, and it’s rarely “to grow and learn.” Time and again, the reasons include: they are checking a box on their development plan, their manager told them to come, or they’ve been told that their participation will increase the chance of a promotion.

The reality is that most people are not set up to take advantage of development opportunities. Many organizations view learning as something extra, something to fit in on top of the regular work. But to create a culture that encourages employee growth, managers need to make learning an expectation — not an option.

Learning helps people keep a broad perspective. When we feel expert at something, sociologists have shown, the earned dogmatism effect sets in, causing us to be more

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Stop Wasting Money on Team Building

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Most corporate team building is a waste of time and money. I say this based on my 25+ years of research and practice in the field of team effectiveness. Seventeen of those years were with Mars Inc., a family-owned $35 billion global business with a commitment to collaboration.

Many companies, when they decide to invest in team building, decide to do offsite events like bowling nights or ropes courses. Sometimes these events get really elaborate. One sales and marketing executive I know told me how he was flown to London with 20 of his colleagues, put up in a pricey hotel, and then trained to do the haka, a traditional war dance, by a group of Maori tribe members from New Zealand. This exercise was supposed to build relationships and bolster team spirit, and, by extension, improve collaboration. Instead, it fostered embarrassment and cynicism. Months later,

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Give Your Team the Freedom to Do the Work They Think Matters Most

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Since at least the time of Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,” control has been central to corporate organization: Control of costs, of prices, of investment and—not least—of people.

Control, even a perception of it, can be comforting. Moreover, it feels like what a manager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures, directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feels essential—especially if you are the boss.

Except it turns out that far from being vital, top-down control carries serious costs, many of which have been hiding in plain sight. What is more, there is an alternative. And not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy conjured up on a whiteboard, but a real, working alternative. It has been practiced to varying degrees in companies around the world for decades. And in France in particular, it is taking on the character of a movement. Companies as

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Build Self-Awareness with Help from Your Team

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There are lots of compelling reasons to build a better team. Great teams deliver stronger results, faster. They’re more innovative. They challenge you to learn more quickly and to be at your best.  And, let’s face it — they’re simply more fun to work with.

Recently, I found a new reason to build a better team — to address the fact that most of us are surprisingly lacking in self-awareness. Researcher and author Tasha Eurich uncovered this disturbing statistic through her multi-year study on the topic of self-awareness: 95% of us think we are quite self-aware, but only about 10-15% of us actually are.