Tag Archives: respect

Teamwork is best – or IS IT?

An earlier version of this was first posted on 2nd April 2013

Group working is one of those topics that is awkwardly both straightforward and complex depending upon how you look at it. Conventional wisdom sets us to assume that ‘more heads are better than one’ and this maxim is often a justification for working in teams. But is it always a helpful perspective?

Teams may be created to simply fulfill a structural need; to fill an office space or to organise a number of individuals under the supervision of a particular manager. These are not necessarily good reasons for organising group working.

Tug of war
Clones with the same job is not a recipe for a successful team

What do we really know about team performance? And, if we are honest with ourselves, do groups always work better than individuals?

The answer, surely, is no. Have you ever sat on a committee and wondered ‘why are we all here?’?

Let’s take a sporting analogy. Put five excellent runners into a relay team. How well do they perform? In many cases, really well. In some cases they are good sometimes and poor another (the British men’s sprint relay team, in four of the last five Olympics and with largely the same personnel have been disqualified – 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012 – but won gold in 2004. Why is there such a wide difference between good and poor performances? It is easy to blame a mistake; incompetence or lack of attention, but the truth lies deeper.

The Ringelmann effect suggests that something different can happen in teams. If people’s personal roles are similar they can be disinclined to put everything into their work (this is a subconscious effect causing ‘free-riding’ rather than deliberate loafing). This effect has been shown in cases where a single worker has been put in a team with ‘non workers’ (i.e. people deliberately faking effort, but not actually doing real work). Even in these instances, the ‘real’ worker is often measured as putting in LESS effort than if they were doing the task on their own. In the classic experiment, assuming that men pulling a rope individually perform at 100% of their ability, apparently two-man groups perform at 93% of the average member’s pull, three-man groups at 85%, with eight-man groups pulling with only 49% of the average individual member’s ability.

So what is the solution? Never work in teams? No this would be a bit foolish, there are better questions…

1. Does the team have a clear sense of purpose?

2. Have we designed team work carefully – goals, roles, work ?

3. Have reasonable and relevant measures of performance been set?

4. Do we agree how to work together?

5. Are people ready to seek improvements as part of their role?

6.  Do we encourage trust and mutual respect in the team?

7. Are our relationships based on an understanding of 1-5  above?

So, reverting to my previous blog on teamwork, we must focus on our purpose, our goals, understand our differing roles, agree how we work together at a practical level and look to build positive working relationships based on mutuality and trust.

Like anything in life, if we have a team of people, we need to regularly re-consider the purpose of the team. Do we have a team because it adds to achieving the purpose, or is it just because we have always had a team?

Next time you are in a turgid committee meeting, or your project team has ground to a halt, have a think about how the group could work better…

Further reading:

Beckhard, R. (1972) Optimizing Team Building Effort, J. Contemporary Business.  1:3,  pp.23-32

Ingham, A.G., Levinger, G., Graves, J., & Peckham, V. (1974). The Ringelmann effect: Studies of group size and group performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 371–384.

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

The Integrity Radar: warning to all leaders

bullshit detectorHuman beings have an innate sense of when people are not quite right. This is played with by fraudsters and con-men, but most of us can sniff a ‘bad-un’. This is an evolved capability, reading verbal and non-verbal signals. It is also based upon our previous expereinces of people (either a specific individual or groups of simialr types fo people). This can be conscious or unconscuious. We can make decisions obliquely and irrationally (Jacobs 2009; Peters, 2012).

Whatever it is, if we are given a chink of something to be suspicious about, we will be. In contemporary speech, a ‘bull****’ detector.

So this is the challenge for leaders: if you don’t believe it, don’t say it. Act with integrity. If you don’t, people will see straight through you anyway, most likely as not. So you will not win out in the long term.

Further Reading:

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Peters S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Vermillion, London.

If integrity is the thing that people really want – how can I give a good impression of it?

sincerityhancockI recently, but fleetingly heard a joke made by the late, great British comedian Tony Hancock who, to broadly paraphrase his line, stated: “The most important thing that an audience wants from an artist is sincerity, so if you can fake that, your made!”

Sometimes leaders can be tempted to think that sincerity and its bigger sibling, integrity are something that you can manufacture.  Nothing could be further from the truth – the unassailable truism of Hancock’s joke is that if you manufacture sincerity (or integrity) you have by definition destroyed it – and everything that goes with it – credibility, trust, partnership, commitment…the list goes on.

There are no quick fixes to building integrity – it starts from within oneself and is expressed in what you say and what you do. It affects your interactions with others. It can be difficult and requires commitment. It is repeated every day and is self-reinforcing. You cannot paste it onto the outside like wallpaper!

Read more:

Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY.

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Herzberg’s Dog – ‘Movement’ v ‘Motivation’

herzberg's dogHerzberg’s famous article ‘One more time: how do you motivate employees?’ has been reprinted by the Harvard Business Review at least five times since the 1968 original. Presumably this is, as suggested by John Seddon, because people continue not to get the message.

Seddon’s point is fair because Herzberg’s core message contravenes virtually every manager’s intuition about motivation and messes with the head of even the most sincere and enthusiastic leader.

Herzberg’s message?            You cannot motivate people.

What Herzberg advocates is for leaders to find ways to enable people to draw on their own (intrinsic) motivation to do work well. This means creating the environment where people can explore their creativity and abilities and thereby contribute more.

This is different to providing a ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.  External incentives effectively shape the rules of work – they do not draw from the resources within the person. This means that as people interpret the rules, there may be unintended consequences – manipulation, cheating, internal competition (or hiding good ideas). If punishment is visible it creates fear, reticence to suggest anything new, and of course has a negative impact on morale.

Further Reading

Herzberg, F. (1968) “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

What’s in a name (or job title)?

whats in a name

Invariably, when you walk into a social gathering and realise you will have to introduce yourself to others, your mind races, thinking ‘What should I say?’, since job titles form an important source of social standing and personal identify.  What most people want to know, indeed, they will often press you to find out, is what you do for a living?  What is your job title?

In today’s society, we have become significantly defined by our job titles, and we often define ourselves by our titles.  Job titles serve a number of roles; communicating your authority on a subject to people, letting people know what you do in your job, in a short-hand way.

This is what a job title does; it gives people you meet, and your customers and clients, a clear idea of where you work, what you do and at what level you do it at.  It should give you credibility in your field.  It’s something you use as a springboard on your career ladder.  A good job title can acknowledge the value the company sees in your efforts and earn you respect from your peers and customers.  It can indicate importance or “reward” employees in lieu of a salary increase.

You want a job title that not only accurately describes the work you’re employed to do, but also a title that reflects your pay ranking and seniority within the organisation.  Job titles can be used as a measure by those who hire and recruit – they are a sort of yardstick.   Recruiters gauge career progression by job titles (job titles are indicators of that progression as long as they are accompanied by job description and achievements that back up the title). In many cases, having a strong job title is your catapult to your next job.

Job titles also have emotions and expectations attached, as individuals have a need to feel intelligent, influential and important.  Finally, job titles can empower employees, and they may even prompt positive behaviours, such as taking more initiative or displaying greater leadership.  For all of these reasons, enhancing job titles can be extremely motivating to employees.  For example, using the term “Manager” in a title implies that you manage resources, manage clients/customers, their accounts or manage projects.

Having titles that are clear, common, well respected, and well understood is very important.  Having titles that are regularly reviewed is also important.  Sometimes, the title is even more important that the salary.

Focusing arguments upon sound knowledge: common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

debate 2Dealing with change usually involves debate: what to change, why, where, when, how and who?

There is often the danger that skeptical inquiry can creep towards defensiveness and cynicism. Here are some things to challenge when these attributes appear in negative arguments presented by others (adapted from Paine 2013):

POOR responses in discussions include:

  • Attacking the person not the argument, or stereotyping a position to make attacks easier.
  • Relying on ‘authority’. Hierarchy should make no difference, one person’s opinion should be no weightier than another’s (both are, after all, just opinions) – what are the facts?
  • Observational selection (counting positives and forgetting the negatives, or vice versa).
    ● Statistics of small numbers
    (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes)
    ● the ‘sample of one’: using a single case which could be an extreme outlier rather than the norm
  •  ‘conveniently’ considering only two extremes to make the opposing view look worse:
    ● Excluding the middle options in a range of possibilities
    ● Short-term v long-term: “why pursue research when we have so huge a budget deficit?”.
    ● Slippery slope – unwarranted extrapolation “give an inch and they will take a mile”  – would they…always?
  • Misunderstanding the nature of statistics
  • Confuse correlation & causation (cause & effect):
    ‘it happened after so it was caused by’ – is this really justified?
  • Appeal to ignorance
    (but – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

To address these arguments ask: what is the purpose of the discussion? what do we know? what are the facts? what are we assuming? what knowledge can we reasonably base our decision making upon? how can we examine, predict and monitor outcomes?

As Deming says, most of what is important is unknown or unknowable, but we don’t assume that it doesn’t exist.

Bring the skeptics into the argument, involve their questions in the testing and development of ideas. Make resistance useful.

Further reading:

Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Paine M. (2013) Baloney Detection Kit prepared excerpt from The Planetary Society Australian Volunteer Coordinators http://www.carlsagan.com/index_ideascontent.htm#baloney

Why diversity is important – it’s the system

Does this image (above) depict the ‘brute force’ associated with British football?…                                                …and do the scenes (below) at a Brazilian match really represent Brazil’s ‘beautiful game’?

Responding to variety is one thing; but a variety of perspectives is quite another challenge, for both practical reasons and ethical reasons (Rogers & Williams, 2010).

Let’s think practically first – our understanding of many things will be flawed if we only consider one point of view: a football match ending in a riot cannot be explained if you only view it as a game of skill between two teams.


Perspectives are closely associated with what you value. The value of a football match will be judged differently if it the sport is seen as a game of skill or a means of entertainment. A game played by incompetents could be judged hugely entertaining, whereas a skilfully played game (e.g. Spanish-style tiki-taka football) could be judged very dull. My wife’s perspective on the value of our son’s local village match in contrast to a premier league game on TV would be quite different from that of a football expert (although my wife played the game at university and has coached a few junior teams in her time). Perceptions of value have implications for service users and service quality – do we judge our service or work outputs by our own perspectives of quality, convenience, purpose or timeliness – or do we work to the expectations, needs and priorities of the people using those services?
There are also serious ethical implications in considering a diversity of perspectives. A person or a certain group of people could get harmed if you don’t see things through an alternative perspective. That topic is worth a separate blog in its own right.
Aside from that, our effectiveness as people is influenced by our understanding of alternative perspectives. A wider perspective allows us to consider interrelationships better: how does my work affect yours, who else might be impacted, what are their priorities? Any changes we make in a system of work are not simply a matter of cause and effect – not as straightforward as ‘I do this, then they will do that‘.  It is not just about A+B =C. There may be unforeseen consequences: more of C may impact on D, E, or F. Using up B might cause problems for X and Y and so on.
Of course there are practical limits to what we can consider – we need to put boundaries around our thinking. Where we set those boundaries will depend on our perspective, or ideally the various perspectives that we are prepared to consider. Every world-view is restricted and limited in some way, so remain conscious that:

  • a good first step to seeing the wider ‘system’ is to see the world through the eyes of another,
  • any judgement of activity sets up a boundary of ‘worthwhile’ and ‘not important’,
  • we should carefully consider the implications of any boundary which we set

Churchman, C.W. (1968) The Systems Approach. Delta, NY

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Rogers, P. and Williams, R. (2010) Using Systems Concepts in Evaluation, in Beyond Logframe: Using Systems Concepts in Evaluation,  N. Fujita (Editor). Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development, Tokyo.

Integrity – wholeness and cohesiveness

Culture change is not something that you 'do' to people
Culture change: not something that you ‘do’ to people – unless you want to risk negative consequences

Dennis Bakke highlights in his book ‘Joy at Work’, the difference between saying to workers, ‘we really care about your welfare because we do,’ and the suggestion, ‘we care about your welfare because that will make you work harder for us’. The former offers a sense of value, the latter is more cynical.

The sentiment of valuing people has natural  appeal – caring about the people who work with us simply makes sense. But at work – what does caring about people really mean?

Many organisations have ‘people programmes’ or ‘culture change’ initiatives. Do these help?

As John Seddon has often said, respect for people is not a point of intervention – it is not something you ‘do’ to people. Deming repeatedly talked about two things concerning people – the need to maintain dignity and self-esteem. Anything that robs people of these two factors is counterproductive (and as Deming also emphasised,  disrespectful).

The culture that appears in any organisation – the behaviours, ways of being, talking and doing – is a symptom of the way things are set up in the organisation (the ‘system’ as Deming would call it). The fall-out from an organisation’s culture (too numerous to discuss here), can be positive or negative.

As an example, a familiar type of negative fall-out might be the lack of career development for women; this could well be a symptom of the way things are set up in an organisation, such as:

  • access to flexible working
  • provision of parental leave
  • plans for recruitment
  •  how people’s ideas for improvement are implemented
  • Whether managers consider career development for staff
  •  how unacceptable behaviours is challenged
  •  how often peer groups have a voice in organisational decision
  •  how career breaks are understood and managed
  • time invested in succession planning
  •  How many women are in senior, influential roles
  • how performance is measured now
  •  how achievement is measured over time

Even this short list clearly extends to things beyond people’s general value for female workers. Furthermore if you just work on people’s value for female workers and yet do nothing about the influences in the system, then nothing will change – it might even make things worse.

So, to be able to manage a team or a wider organisation with integrity, there is a need to deal with the whole system – being purposeful in dealing with change. Otherwise we just end up doing things that have no impact.

The start point is to value people anyway. The work is to improve the organisation (as a system) to deliver its purpose.

Culture change – towards one that is whole and cohesive – will follow.



Bakke, D.W. (2005) Joy at Work: a revolutionary approach to fun on the job, PVG, Seattle, WA.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Meetings Meetings Meetings – An Overview

By Cindy Vallance


Why do we have meetings? Often our reasons are noble. We want to share information and plans, encourage collegiality, and provide opportunities for consultation, decision making and mutual learning.

Sadly, however, some meetings can seem to make decision making more difficult and feel like a substitute for getting things done. People leave these meetings frustrated or puzzled and wonder why they bothered to attend.

How can we ensure that meetings we are responsible for are organised and conducted in such a way that demonstrates respect for everyone who is giving their time to attend? In turn, if we are asked to participate in a meeting, how can we show respect to the person who has called it?

If I am responsible for the meeting, firstly I need to decide the PURPOSE of the full meeting or each portion of the meeting.

Is it to pass on information? I have news to share with you about …

Is it to gather information? What do you think of …?

Is it for decision-making? What are we going to do about…?

Is it for problem solving? How should we resolve…?

In preparing the meeting agenda, we must be clear about its purpose and make this purpose known to meeting participants.

There are also a range of OBJECTIVES to consider when conducting meetings:

For instance, we may want to:

  • test the reactions of colleagues to our ideas
  • pool ideas and experiences on a subject in order to learn from each other
  • identify when further information is needed prior to decision making
  • build group morale

This might all seem like common sense.

However, meetings provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the old adage “easier said than done.” I know that I certainly have not always given due thought to purpose and objectives with every meeting I have been responsible for. However, that is why reminders  exist…to bring us back to principles that we may know but have sometimes become too busy or too lax to practice with the appropriate rigour. Meetings, like any other professional practice, require thoughtful consideration and intentionality.

Wouldn’t it be great if more meetings were clear on their purpose and objectives before we showed up, poured a coffee, and settled ourselves around the table?

Next time, hints on regular team meetings.