Team building activity – Defining roles and responsibilities


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A new project is best started by getting the entire project leadership team on the same page. This relates to commercial terms, project scope, key milestones and other important contractual terms and conditions. It is also vital for the project leaders to understand how they will execute this project – who is going to do what exactly to make sure we execute this project scope to the best of our abilities?

The resource I am sharing here describes a process you can follow as part of an early team-building activity to clarify and agree team roles and responsibilities down to individual levels.

In this activity the project leaders are gathered together and a facilitator takes them through this process. (See downloadable process description below).

Additional thoughts:

  • You can use this activity after first running a sub-group responsibility definition activity which defines project interfaces or relative responsibilities for decisions and processes by functional or other sub-groups on the team. (see Defining team interfaces) Using this sequence means you drive home how the overall project outcomes are managed by sub-groups on the team and then right down to individual roles in those same processes.
  • This exercise can also be used when there is a change in phase or focus on the project or the composition of the team changes greatly. At those times it is important to keep the team’s momentum going by ensuring that roles and responsibilities remain clear throughout the changes.
  • Clarifying individual role and responsibilities also supports the performance management process. When individuals receive feedback regarding their performance it is important that they already understand what performance and role expectations are.
  • Having individual roles documented can also support bringing new team members up to speed fast. It helps explaining expected team functioning and who they should talk to while making their contributions to successful team outcomes.

Project teams simply function better when everyone understands how he or she is expected to contribute to the team’s goals. This activity does help greatly in clarifying expected individual contributions. I do suggest you distribute the final agreed pages with the team for reference purposes.

Preparing Managers for a Staff Reduction process


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Staff reduction, mass employee lay-offs or a reduction in force, is a critical process. Consequences for not complying with labor laws or not acting and communicating correctly can be far-reaching.

Declining workloads or under-performing groups are some of the reasons that lead to the decision to reduce staff. Not executing staff reductions correctly can expose the company to many liabilities and potentially law suits.

There are several steps to take in this process and in most countries there are specific requirements which may include employee and/or union consultation and involvement and some steps could also be subject to approvals by governmental organizations. In many countries there are very specific justifications that a company has to be able to provide to show that the process of selecting who to lay off was fair and equitable and that no discrimination took place.

It is important that managers understand the correct process to follow for staff reductions and that they are able to for example conduct employee notification meetings in the right manner.

The resource you can download above contains a few slides which may be useful at a manager orientation meeting to ensure the principles and approach to follow with this staff reduction is well understood by the managers. There are also slides highlighting the human impact of staff reductions and the need to ensure that those who remain with the company are supported through the emotions when they see other trusted and well-liked colleagues leave.

Without proper preparation of the managers/supervisors before the notification meetings take place you risk them making incorrect statements or forgetting to make important statements. Sometimes unprepared managers act in ways that could be interpreted as discriminatory. The slides will help you minimize that risk as you first orient managers/supervisors in a group and then have each manager/supervisor work with his/her HR Representative to practice how to conduct the notification meeting correctly during the staff reduction process.

Remember:

  • It is not only the impacted employees who are going to have an emotional reaction to the staff reduction, employees intended to remain at the company may be losing valued friendly connections with peers – even friendships. Be sure to reassure those whom you intend to stay with the company to stop them from looking around for other jobs during the uncertainty that is created in the workforce when a reduction in staff is planned or in progress.
  • It is very important to plan the notification meetings to take place very fast. The shorter the time of uncertainty and people waiting to be called in for a meeting, the better your chances of restoring the morale of the remaining employees and avoid retention risks.
  • During times like these is when your company’s values should drive decision-making and how you talk to employees. Your branding messages can claim honorable conduct and make promises of fair treatment, but it is during staff reductions that you get to prove that you meant it. Employees will remember how you conducted the staff reduction more than they will remember what is written on your posters about company values.
  • (HR/Office Manager) Remember also to check in with the managers and supervisors who conducted the notification meetings. It is tough to tell a number of people that their jobs will go away and watch their emotional reactions to that.

The staff reduction process is tough on everyone and it is vital that you plan it and conduct it exactly according to the rules and laws of the country where the people are employed. Internally you also need to make sure your planning includes an orientation process for those managers and supervisors who have a role in the notification meetings. And most importantly, check in with those who will remain after the notification meetings are complete to ensure that your business activities can resume soon after.

Linking Performance Reviews and Merit Increases


Employee performance outcomes is one important aspect to be reviewed when it comes to considering merit increases. It is not the only consideration though. Overall merit increase budgets, inflation, changes in external benchmarks for specific roles, current compensation ratios etc. are all additional elements which would impact actual merit increases per department and employee.

The resource I have here ties a specific overall individual performance review score to a specific range of possible merit increases. Some managers require a highly structured and fixed process for determining % changes and this is one way to create one. One should however also be sure to consider the other aspects mentioned above: budget for increases that year, company performance in the last year (overall), the market value of specific roles (roles that are in high demand). Compensation has a powerful influence on employee engagement and retention, but it is not the only one. Employees also care about career growth, flexible benefits and being helped to develop further.

I would caution anyone to consider unintended outcomes when attempting to standardize and establish rigid structures for considering individual performance and linking that in a fixed way to merit increase percentages. While intentions may be good: to reward your best performers for their contributions and to ensure those with lesser performance improve or leave the company, a process that is overly structured could fail to accomplish that intention.

The approach shared above – see download link – indicates one way in which a group has established a direct link tying the performance review process directly to the merit increase process. This example does not take into account some of the considerations highlighted above when it comes to selecting the actual increase percentage and I chose to share this resource anyway, because it does happen that HR is asked for a process like the attached on a regular basis and I want to make an example available to you if you find yourself in that situation.

I do suggest you consider ways to incorporate the other aspects as outlined above when you finalize your proposal to implement a more structured approach to tie performance management to compensation review.

My main advice is to think it through carefully to ensure your good intentions have the best chance of being reinforced by your performance management process and pay-for-performance approach . And I would also add that you should remain flexible in working with your documented process. Be ready and willing to adjust and update it as you gather input about how successful your process is in driving desired outcomes – results and behavior that you and the executives would like to see in your pool of employees.

Team Activity – Defining Project Interfaces


Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. On a construction project you can imagine there is a group of people tasked with looking after the physical safety of people working on the site. You can also imagine another group that looks after checking that materials and installed units meet quality requirements. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start, complete and execute a process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with internal and external sub-groups or functions.

The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people have . Test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.

Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve multiple functions in the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high-level processes and goals, which create the environment that the project team needs to operate in. Examples may include HR, Finance, the group that tracks compliance with corporate policies and procedures etc.

This team building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.

This activity can be used in many different ways:

  • Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
  • Clarifying how different functions should interface with one another on a project;
  • Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks interfacing with one another; and
  • Getting clarity on how multiple projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with.

The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.

Activity for project teams – Diversity


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Your project team is very diverse and you are concerned that this may impact how your project will be executed – will you be able to achieve your overall project goals or will there be a lot of internal strife, misunderstandings and disagreements? Will they work against each other and have the wrong assumptions about each other and the project goals and metrics? If so, this team-building activity may help.

The downloadable resource I am sharing is a team activity you can use to help project team members understand that different groups of people can have different views on the various aspects of running a project and also the relative importance of key project processes. This activity makes those possible disconnects transparent which helps you lead clarification discussions with the team/group. While the activity itself is quite simple, the discussion that comes after the initial assignment is where the value lies and that will take up most of your time.

Further tips and ideas:

  • You can segregate meeting participants in various ways related to the most important diversity aspects you wish to highlight within the team. As a variation you may choose to run the first part of the exercise more than once and each time segregating the group of participants in a different way. Options include: cultures, locations where they are from or live, level of life experience, function etc.
  • There are several topics listed for discussion towards the end and it would be wise to prioritize them for your own convenience, as a facilitator. If you are running out of time towards the end you can then ensure you are covering the most important topics during the time you have available after the initial portion of the exercise.
  • Be sure to stress that diversity is a plus for team creativity and finding new solutions. The objective of this activity is to help work out some of the downsides of diversity without marginalizing any one or group or impose judgement.

Non-homogeneous teams may be tougher to manage than homogeneous teams, but the pay-off in creating new and innovative team solutions coupled with individuals learning new skills and perspectives from other team members can be very rewarding. As a team leader or facilitator you just need to make sure you have the right tools, such as this activity, available to help non-homogeneous teams succeed.

Ice Breaker for international teams


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In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.

Cultures and sub-cultures

You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?

The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.

Performance Management – setting the annual process


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The HR function manages a few processes which take place at various points over a 12-month period. Think of the annual salary reviews, annual training needs analysis, bonus calculations and performance management processes.

It is important to managers to have a clear understanding of each of these processes and when they take place throughout the year. If you set all of these processes on a regular annual schedule it helps managers to correctly anticipate next steps in processes and provide input required in a timely manner.

This generic performance management process schedule I am sharing with you (see download option below) shows the various basic steps that would need to be followed over a 12 month period. There are references to the link with a salary/compensation review process and also the link with identifying and reviewing individual development needs and progress along achieving improvement goals.

Implementing a process like this would need a change management plan if your organization has never done anything like this before. Even if you have had some form of a performance management process in place, but would now like to expand on it to include some of the elements shown in the attachment, a change management plan would be recommended. Before you start you would of course ensure that the manager/director, who is accountable for the performance management process at your organization, is aligned with your ideas and suggestions and strongly supports the direction you would like to take.

The benefits of having a documented process for Performance Management are:

  • It is easy for HR to ensure new employees, current employees, new supervisors and existing managers understand the process and their role in the process.
  • It is a way to help stakeholders understand and then prepare for the input and actions they need to complete in order to support the process.
  • Linked to a balanced score card, the process can make it clear to individuals/departments how they collectively and as individuals support the attainment of larger organizational performance goals.
  • Knowing that there are check-in moments for feedback and discussion moments around performance expectations, progress and development needs and activities can be a strong way to reinforce employee engagement. Many employees tend to consider other employment options when they feel that their development and career progression goals are not being met by their current employer.

This list is not exhaustive. For more information about benefits see links like Benefits of performance management or Importance of Performance Management

Negotiation Preparation Worksheet


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(The Devil’s Advocate, 1997)

The quote from the movie, The Devil’s Advocate, sums it up perfectly. Whether we like it or not, in life we are negotiating more often than we think we are.

Negotiation skills is something that most people can improve upon. There are several training options available if you want to make this a developmental priority. And there are also a few training games which offer you the opportunity to test your negotiating skills in role-plays.

The resource that I am sharing is more generic and it helps you jot down some important notes before enter a negotiating process.

The worksheet, which you can download above, can help both experienced and new negotiators to organize their thoughts and prepare for a negotiation. Having your notes available during the negotiation discussions can help you maintain your focus and avoid distractions or knee-jerk reactions during crucial moments and stages of the discussion.

Uses:

  • Preparing for actual negotiations.
  • In training sessions to train participants on how to prepare and demonstrate the importance of this planning during a role-play later.
  • Prepare for discussion with supervisor/manager on salary increase.
  • Document your thinking going into a negotiation to support a post-negotiation lessons-learned reflection later which can help you and your team to continuously improve upon your past performances.

How good are your meetings? – Exercise


Most teams have challenges when it comes to ensuring optimal collaboration and effectiveness during meetings. It is true that many people are not fond of meetings and the list of pet peeves include that meetings are too long, do not reach any outcomes or agreements, are one-way conversations etc.  The tool I am sharing today can help teams become more aware of their particular downfalls and habits which contribute to having less effective meetings.

The exercise requires the assignment of an observer to help make behaviors, team dynamics, habits and meeting inefficiencies visible to the team by simply observing them during a meeting.

The assigned observer can be a team member (rotate the assignment to other team members for multiple team meeting observations) or it can be a trusted outsider (typically from Human Resources or Training & Development). The resource includes a template for the assigned observer to use when capturing impressions of the team during a meeting. The process of capturing observations, presenting observations and dealing with observations as a team is also described in the shared resource.

Reflections:

  • It does not really matter which specific questions are considered for observations or how exactly the team receives the feedback, the important part is to give the team a way to see themselves through the eyes of someone who is not participating in the meeting and thereby learning about themselves. The feedback information can be used for team improvements and also for individual learning. Individuals can learn how their own behaviors are contributing to team successes or inefficiencies and have the opportunity to consciously choose helpful behaviors going forward.
  • Typical team improvement actions that comes from using this kind or review are: having a concise set of team meeting rules which is either permanently displayed in the team meeting room or displayed on a screen at the start of each meeting to remind them of the behaviors they have decided to emphasize or eliminate in team meetings; implementing specific roles such as for example a time-keeper for each meeting to ensure that meetings, discussions and agenda topics are not dragged out too long and that an additional meeting be set instead to complete some topics which were too complicated to solve during a regular team meeting.
  • If you have used team measurement tools on a team you may also have a session where the team becomes aware of the likely blind-spots it may have due to the presence of specific personalities and styles in that team (based on the specific team effectiveness tool you have used with the team). The sum of the individuals present in meetings can lead to the greater team having specific blind-spots, which can be mitigated once the team becomes aware of them and are able to take actions (i.e. assign someone to take on a specific role which may be “missing ” in the team due to its specific contingent of members).