The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Team Approach

Imagine that you lead a team. You will obviously do this in your own way. Here are some ideas, however, that you can use to build a positive team in which people work well together and produce positive results.

Good leaders set the tone in such teams. They act as good models and create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance.

Such leaders make sure that everybody understands the team’s approach. Bearing this in mind, they communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

They believe that people work best when they understand the big picture and context. People can then see how they can contribute towards achieving the goals.

Good leaders give people the chance to reflect and decide if they want to contribute. If so, they encourage people to build on their strengths and clarify their best contributions.

Such teams are often made up of people who aim to be positive, professional and deliver peak performances. These people take responsibility, encourage others and do their best to help the team to succeed.

Good leaders make clear contracts with such people. They agree on the results they will deliver and give them the support they need to deliver the goods. They also ask people to proactively keep their stakeholders informed about their progress towards achieving the goals.

They then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They encourage people to co-ordinate their strengths and perform superb work. They also encourage them to be self-managing and, when appropriate, find solutions to challenges.

Good leaders keep people informed about the team’s progress and future plans. They also highlight success stories that show how people are doing great work. At the same time, they encourage people to develop the ethic of constant improvement.

Such leaders sometimes need to take tough decisions, of course, especially if things go off-track. When doing so, they return to the team’s compass. They make decisions by focusing on the team’s purpose and principles.

They make sure the team continues to implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. Good leaders then encourage and enable their people to work well together and deliver the picture of success.

Building A Positive Team

Imagine that you are leading a team that is about take the next step in its development. You will have your own framework for making plans.

If you wish, however, you can use the following approach for enabling people to achieve peak performance. The following sections describe the specific things you can do:

To clarify and communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

To make clear contracts with people about their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

To enable people to perform superb work and do their best to achieve the picture of success.

It may be, however, that you simply want to move on to gaining commitment to the team’s goals. If this is the case, then you can skip the first parts of the article that focus on the purpose and principles.

Clarifying the
team’s purpose

There are many ways for a person or team to begin clarifying their purpose. Here are some of the common approaches.

They focus on something they want to serve that is greater than themselves – such as a set of values, spiritual faith, vocation or mission.

They focus on the things they feel passionately about in which they can also achieve peak performance. 

They focus on how they can use their strengths to do satisfying work that helps other people to succeed.

They focus on the things they want to pass on to people and aim to leave a positive legacy.

Some people combine all of these approaches. They then translate their findings into a compelling purpose.

Looking at my work with teams, many of them take the strengths and satisfying work approach. This involves them taking the following steps.

They clarify their strengths – the deeply satisfying activities in which they deliver As rather than Bs or Cs.

They clarify the specific kinds of people – customers, clients and other stakeholders – with whom they work best and the challenges these people face. 

They clarify how they can use their strengths to do satisfying work and help these people to achieve success.

Building on what they have discovered, they then do an exercise that involves them beginning to clarify their purpose. Let’s explore how this works in practice.

Imagine that you and your colleagues have done some work on clarifying the team’s strengths. You can then invite them to define the specific thing that the team really wants to do.

Here is one approach you can take to begin the process. Invite each person to complete the following sentence. They can write their ideas on Post-its.

The purpose of our team – the specific
thing we really want to do – is: 

“We want to …”

Here are some examples of what people have written when defining their team’s purpose.

Tell people not to worry too much about the specific wording at the moment. The key thing is for them to simply describe what they believe the team can do and what they want it to do.

You can also invite people to give examples of what this might look like in practice. These may cover, for example:

The actual things that are happening that show that the team is achieving its purpose.

The actual words that customers and other stakeholders are saying about the work the team is doing. 

People can put their ideas on flip charts that are headed in the following ways. They can also explain what they have written on the Post-its.

Imagine that you have done this exercise with your colleagues in the leadership team. It can then be useful:

To build on the points people have in common.

To take time to reflect and then have a first go at wordsmithing the team’s purpose.

To use this as the basis for focusing on the principles and picture of success – but also being prepared to return to the one liner and recraft it if you wish.

There is one key point worth bearing in mind when doing this exercise. Some people may want to get into a discussion about the difference between a purpose, mission and vision.

Different people interpret these words in different ways. So try to avoid getting into a long discussion about semantics.

One view is that a team’s purpose describes the specific thing people feel really driven to do. They then translate this into specific goals that they want to achieve by a certain date. This then becomes the team’s vision or picture of success.

Some organisations prefer to use the word mission. A military mission, for example, must have achievable objectives. It must also be time based and, if appropriate, have a clear exit strategy. Military people then know what they must achieve by a certain date.

Susan Ward produced an excellent definition regarding a mission statement which is reproduced below. You can discover more about her views, together with some examples of missions, via the following link.

https://www.thebalance.com/mission-statement-2947996

A mission statement is a brief description of a company’s fundamental purpose. It answers the question, “Why does our business exist?” 

The mission statement articulates the company’s purpose both for those in the organization and for the public. For example:

“Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Imagine, however, that you have chosen to focus on the team’s purpose. The theme you have come up with may still need some wordsmithing, which you can do later. It can be useful, however, to move on to the next step.

Clarifying the
team’s principles

Imagine that you have gone some way towards defining the team’s purpose. The next step is to define the principles – the guidelines – you would like people to follow to achieve the purpose.

One key point to remember is that the principles are driven by the team’s purpose rather than by the whim of the leader. They describe the behaviours people can demonstrate to enable the team to achieve success.

Different types of teams may therefore have different principles. These may differ if, for example, people are aiming to climb a mountain, build a pioneering business or act as trusted advisors.

There are many ways to define your team’s principles. One approach is to invite people to describe the overall Dos and Don’ts that everybody can follow to work towards achieving the goals.

Here is a list of the Dos, for example, that one organisation communicates to people when they join. They describe these as their Professional Guidelines and use real examples to bring these to life.

Principles

The principles we would like people to follow
to work toward achieving our goals are: 

Do be positive and encourage other people. 

Do be clear on the organisation’s goals and your part in contributing towards achieving these goals. 

Do make clear contracts with people and fulfil these contracts.

Do focus on outcomes – the real results to achieve in a situation – and do your best to achieve these outcomes. 

Do behave professionally, present solutions to challenges and help both colleagues and clients to succeed.

Your team will have its own set of principles. You can invite people to clarify these by writing what they believe are the Dos and Don’ts on Post-it Notes. They can then put these on Flip Charts.

Later on it will also be important to be able to give the reasons for each of the principles. When communicating these to your team members, you will then be able to say: 

The first principle we would like people to follow to
increase the team’s chances of achieving success is:

*

The reasons why it is important
to follow this principle are:

* 

This helps people to understand the team’s purpose and also why it is important to follow certain principles in order to reach the goals. So, if you wish, you can invite people in the leadership team to complete the following exercise.

Clarifying the team’s
picture of success 

Imagine that you and the leadership team are reasonably happy about the team’s purpose and principles. You can then translate these into specific goals to achieve by a certain date. These goals will then become the team’s picture of success.

There are many frameworks you can use to take this step. One approach is to clarify the What, Why, How, Who and When. (See below.)

You can keep communicating these to your people. They can then clarify their contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

Several points are worth bearing in mind when writing the team’s picture of success.

You can choose
your own time frame

Different teams choose different time frames. You may want to pick a date one year, two years or three years in the future.

Start by settling on your chosen date. You can then create a one line goal that describes – in headline terms – what the team wants to achieve by this date.

You can then go into more detail. Describe the specific things you want to achieve by that date under, for example, the headings of profits, products and people. This becomes your picture of success.

(You may, of course, choose a different template with different headings. More on this later.)

You can be clear on the mandatory things
the team must deliver to achieve success

The team will be expected to deliver its Scorecard – the specific targets it must deliver – over the Financial Year. You can add other things on top of this – such as stimulating projects and successes – that will enrich the team’s story.

You can clarify for whom you
are writing the presentation

You may initially write it for your employees. This will ensure everybody knows the team’s goal. Later you can adapt the presentation – whilst staying true to its spirit – so that it resonates with other key stakeholders.

You can create it by yourself or involve
other key people at various stages

If you are a leader, you will ultimately be responsible for delivering the picture of success. Bearing this in mind, it is vital that you believe in it.

At the same time, however, it can be useful to involve the rest of the leadership team and other key people. This will give people a sense of ownership and make it more likely they will work to achieve the goals.

You may also involve other employees and stakeholders to get their responses and additions. Later we will look at how to take this step in the section called Getting Responses To The Picture Of Success.

You can choose your own template

Different teams use different templates for framing their goals. Many leaders in companies focus on the 3 Ps when clarifying their aims. They focus on the Profits, Products – including Customer Satisfaction – and People. For example:

Profits – The profitability they want to deliver.

Products – The product quality, customer satisfaction and processes they want to deliver.

People – The culture they want to deliver.

Here is one approach you can use to craft the picture of success. You may, of course, have your own framework.

Clarifying the road map

The road map goes into greater detail about the When part of working towards achieving the picture of success.

The following sections provide a framework you can use for creating a road map. You may, however, have your own approach to planning.

The road map will become your ongoing working document. It may also evolve over time, however, as circumstances change. This means that it is important to keep updating the road map.

Here are several points that are worth remembering when making the road map.

Start from the destination
and work backwards
 

Start by picking a date in the future. Describe the specific things you want the team to have delivered by that date.

You can then work backwards. Describe what the team aims to deliver by, for example, the end of each quarter on the road towards achieving the end goals.

This starting from the destination approach is used on many successful projects. It encourages people to keep focusing on the end goal.

Dating the road map

Start at the top of the Dates column and put the end date. Then work backwards towards the present day. You may want to break up the road map into quarters or other suitable periods.

There is one key point to remember, however, if you are creating a road map that spans more than one year.

It is still important to start from the destination and work backwards. What you may find, however, is that people run out of ideas about what should be delivered around the middle period of the road map.

If that happens, then get people to begin working from the present date and work towards the middle. They may then find it easier to do the road map.

There may still be some parts that remain hazy when creating a road map that, for example, aims to cover 3 or more years. But these parts will become clearer as time goes by.

The key principle that remains, however, is for people to keep their eyes on the long-term goals. They can then make sure they are still working towards the picture of success.

Describe cumulative targets

The totals under each heading for each quarter should be cumulative. This is illustrated below with Profits, but do it with each heading. For example:

Q4. Profits £1 million
Q3. Profits £750k
Q2. Profits £500k
Q1. Profits £250k

This describes the headline under Profits, but this could be broken down into more detail. You might want to consider having three bullet points of deliverables under each of Profits, Products and People. This helps to flesh out the road map

Bring the road map
to life with quotations

Describe the actual words you would like to hear people saying at various stages of the journey. These can be quotes from leaders, customers, colleagues or whoever.

Here is the framework for the road map. This describes the specific things the team needs to have delivered by the end of each quarter over one year. You can use a longer or shorter time frame for the road map.

Communicating
the picture of success

Imagine you have completed the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. You can then share this with the whole team.

If this is the first time you have described the purpose and principles to your people, then it will be important to spend some time on these. What you may find, however, is that people may simply see these as confirmation about the overall direction. They may be more concerned with their specific goals for the next year.

If you feel it is appropriate, however, you can give people further background about the purpose and principles. Again, it will be important to explain the reasoning and bring the ideas to life by giving concrete examples.

You can then share the picture of success. Talk people through each of the sections regarding the What, Why, How and Who. Again, it is important to give examples that resonate with people. 

You can also give people a brief overview of the team’s road map – the When. This can be explored in greater depth, however, after people know the team’s direction and picture of success.

Bearing these things in mind, you may want to gather people together and say something along the following lines. You can, of course, supplement this with attractive slides that bring the ideas to life.

The Team’s Purpose, Principles
And Picture Of Success

Welcome to the session. Today we would like to look at how the team can continue to achieve ongoing success.

The Purpose

As you may know, the team’s purpose is: 

*

The Principles

As you may also know, the principles we encourage people to follow to work towards achieving the team’s purpose are: 

*

*

* 

The Picture of Success

Looking ahead, there are certain goals we want to achieve in the next year. We have translated these into a provisional picture of success.

Before describing this, however, we would like to give you some context. We want to explain the possible strategies we have considered for going forwards. We will then describe the strategy we have chosen to follow and the reasons for pursuing this route. 

Bearing in mind the various challenges we face, there are many different routes the team can take towards achieving its goals. Here is an overview of some of the possible routes we could take in the future.

Option A would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option B would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option C would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option D would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be … 

Option E would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Bearing these options in mind, we have chosen to take the following route … 

The reasons we have chosen this route are because …

There are, of course, pluses and minuses involved in pursuing this route. The specific things we can do to build on the pluses and minimise the minuses are …

We have therefore put together the following picture of success.

Later we will describe the potential road map. We will then want your input regarding the action plan.  

You can then go through the slides that describe The Picture Of Success. 

You can also bring it to life by giving examples that resonate with people.

Getting responses to
the picture of success

Imagine you have communicated the purpose, principles and picture of success. Again, if this is the first time you have communicated the team’s purpose and principles, it will be good to get people’s responses to these themes.

Imagine, however, that people are already generally aware of these. It can then be useful to explain that, whilst you are happy to answer questions about the purpose and the principles, you mainly want their views on the picture of success.

How to get good quality responses from people? Instead of simply asking for questions, you can take the following steps to stimulate and involve the team.

Invite people to form groups. There is to be a scribe in each group. Ask people to give their responses under the following headings.

Give people at least 30 minutes to do the exercise. People’s ideas are to be written on a flip chart as they go along.

If you are the leader – or if there is a leadership team that has introduced the strategy – you can give people twenty minutes to get started. You can then go around and look at the themes that are emerging.

This helps you to prepare to address the themes and answer any questions. (You will have told people beforehand that you will be going around to see the themes that emerging.)

The next step is to invite people to report back. It can be useful to cluster the themes and questions that emerge. You can then respond and answer more effectively.

When answering questions, it can be useful to explain the following guidelines to people.

You will aim be honest and answer as fully as possible. You will do this because you want people to understand the strategy, the rationale behind it and the steps going forwards.

You will focus on the overall strategic issues when answering the questions. You will not be able to say exactly what each person in each job will be doing in a few months time.

You will set aside time over the next week to meet individuals and answer, as far as possible, their questions. They can book a time to see you.

You may not be able to answer all the questions in the session. You will be able to get back with some answers. There may also be questions that, because of certain issues, you will choose not to answer.

You will also take away the ideas and see which of these can be added to the strategy.

Bearing these things in mind, you can embark on addressing the themes and questions that have emerged.

Good leaders often see these sessions as an opportunity to educate people about the strategy. People go away with a wider grasp of the issues. They are then more able to explain the strategy to new people who join the team.

Here are the exercises you can give to the team members to get their responses to the presentation.

Clarifying everybody’s contribution
towards achieving the picture of success

Good leaders build teams that are made up of people who aim to be positive, professional and peak performers. They then invite these people to make their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success. They take the following steps to make this happen.

They communicate the purpose, principles and picture of success.

They give people a chance to reflect and decide if they want to opt into achieving the goals.

They invite people – the smaller teams within the larger team and the individuals within those teams – to make clear contracts about their best contributions towards achieving the goals.

Good leaders manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. So you may wish to take the following steps.

To, if appropriate, ask each smaller team within the team to produce its road map towards delivering its contribution towards achieving the overall picture of success.

To pick a date – perhaps three weeks in the future – when the whole team will gather and each smaller team will present its road map.

To then set a date by which each individual will have made clear contracts about the contribution to achieving the picture of success.

To make sure that these contracts are written in outcome terms – the specific things people are going to deliver under the headings of profits, products and people.

To tell people that, after the contracts are agreed, everybody will gather each month to report their progress on the road towards achieving the picture of success.

Imagine that you have clarified each small team’s contributions. People can then clarify the outcomes they will personally deliver towards achieving these goals.

There are many frameworks you can use to help people to clarify their individual contributions. This approach encourages people to take the following steps.

To clarify their strengths.

To clarify how they can use their strengths to make their best contributions towards achieving the team’s picture of success.

To meet with their manager and make clear contracts about their agreed goals.

The following pages provide a set of exercises that can be sent to the team member before they meet with their manager to agree on their contribution. 

As mentioned earlier, this framework follows the strengths approach. The person can follow the instructions and then make clear working contracts. 

Good organisations ensure that everybody knows the overall goals. Each team and each person then makes clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the aims. So the overall picture may look something like the following.

Continuing to focus on
the picture of success

Good leaders encourage people to keep doing the right things in the right way every day. The road map may evolve, of course, but it is vital to keep people focusing on the goals.

Imagine that you have gone through the stages mentioned earlier. You can then encourage people by doing the following things.

You can encourage people to give regular updates on their progress towards achieving their goals.

You can share success stories.

You can encourage people to embody the ethic of constant improvement.

You can keep reminding people of the principles and report the progress that is being made towards achieving the picture of success.

Let’s explore these themes.

You can encourage people to give
regular updates on their progress

It can be useful for people to proactively keep you and other stakeholders informed about the progress they are making towards achieving their goals.

Bearing this in mind, it can be useful for then to schedule regular meetings with you – or their manager – to give updates.

Here is one framework that they can follow for reporting the progress they have made and their plans for the future.

They can then share this with you or their manager every month or another time frame.

You can share
success stories

Good leaders keep reminding people of the team’s principles. They also show how following these can contribute towards achieving the picture of success.

How to make this happen? One approach is to produce success stories that show what good looks like. These can highlight:

The specific times when people have performed brilliantly.

The specific things people did right then – the principles they followed – to perform brilliantly.

The specific things people can do to follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to perform brilliantly in the future. 

Imagine you want to produce stories that provide positive models for others in the team. Here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

Clarify who will be the mission holder

Appoint a mission holder who is accountable for ensuring the stories are collected, written and published. Do not leave it to a committee. They do not have to do the writing. They can hire an internal or external writer to collect and produce the stories.

Clarify how many stories you want
and the timetable for publication

One company I worked with translated this approach into action by quickly producing six success stories. The material was already there. It was just a question of collecting it and producing the stories.

Clarify the framework for producing the stories

Different people use different frameworks for sharing success stories. Here is one framework.

People start by choosing a title for the story. They then describe the specific situation they encountered – such as helping a client, solving a problem, making internal processes work better or whatever. They then describe:

The challenges they faced and the desired picture of success.

The principles they followed to tackle the challenge and achieve success.

The lessons they learned and how they can apply these to achieve success. 

Communicate the success stories

Different teams have different approaches to sharing the success stories. They may choose, for example:

To publish the stories on the internal and external websites.

To publish the stories in the Induction Pack for new joiners and use these to show what good looks like.

To continually produce new stories that encourage people and show how they can follow the team’s principles to deliver success.

Here is a framework that can be used for publishing success stories. You can, of course, adapt this in your own way.

You can encourage people to embody
the ethic of continuous improvement

Good leaders encourage people to build on their strengths and also tackle areas for improvement. There are many approaches to making this happen. One approach is to invite teams to focus on the following areas.

What We Are Doing Well 

The specific things we are doing well and how we can do more of things in the future.

What We Can Do Better

The specific things we can do better and how.

This sounds a simple exercise but doing it regularly encourages people to get into the habit of focusing on constant improvement.

 

You can encourage people to focus on the
things that are in the
green, amber and red zones

Good leaders encourage their people to be proactive and take action to deal with any challenges. There are many models for making this happen.

One approach is for people to focus on the activities that are currently in the green, amber and red zones. They also suggest what can be done to maintain or improve what is happening in these areas.

One team I worked with had a dedicated room where people constantly updated the progress towards achieving the goal. It had charts that covered the following areas.

The Picture of Success

People could keep referring to the team’s aims that were displayed on one wall. These were grouped in terms of what it wants to achieve under the 3 Ps: profits, products – including customer satisfaction – and people.

The other walls had the following charts that described the current state of play regarding various activities.

The Green Zone 

People listed the things that were going well. They also provided concrete suggestions regarding how to maintain or build on these activities.

Great workers capitalise on what is working. If things are going well with a particular customer, for example, they explore how to continue providing great service. This can lead to developing the relationship even further.

The Amber Zone

People described where there were warning signs. They also provided suggestions regarding how to improve these activities.

Great workers worry about things that are in the amber zone. They are concerned that, unless these issues are addressed, these may quickly slide into the red zone. So they focus on how to move these activities more towards the green zone.

The Red Zone

People listed the things that were going badly. They also gave suggestions regarding how to improve these activities. These could involve making radical improvements or even call for key decisions to be taken.

Great workers think ahead to ensure that, as far as possible, things do not slide into the red zone. Crises do occur, of course, so then it is vital to find positive solutions.

There may be some issues, however, that are continually falling into the red zone. If systems are breaking down, for example, these may well need replacing.

A more challenging issue could be if a particular customer continually makes life difficult. Certainly it is vital to do whatever possible to provide great service. In some instances, however, a customer may prove impossible to please.

They may also prove to be a massive drain on resources. In such cases it may mean deciding to move on from the customer. This can be a difficult but necessary decision.

The Blue Zone

The team also went further and added another area called the blue zone. This was the space for both practical and imaginative ideas.

People listed the specific ideas, suggestions and other things that it might be worth considering to help the team shape a successful future. This led to some of the ideas being implemented and delivering positive results.

The Positive Team – Keeping people
informed by giving progress reports 

Good leaders keep reminding people of the team’s purpose and principles. They also keep people informed about the progress towards achieving the picture of success. Here is one approach to making this happen.

Imagine you lead a team. You can gather people together every month and use the following framework. After reminding people of the team’s purpose and principles, it can then be useful to describe the following things.

The specific things the team has delivered in the past month to work towards achieving the picture of success.

The specific things the team aims to deliver in the next month to work towards achieving the picture of success.

The other topics it would be useful for people in the team to know about as they work towards achieving the picture of success.

You can use this framework for bringing people up to date on the team’s progress and plans. If appropriate, you can also have a question and answer session.

When doing this, it can be useful to give people chance to reflect and, either individually or in small groups, list any questions they would like to ask. They can then put these on flip charts.

This gives you the chance to see the questions and, where appropriate, group them in themes. You can then, as far as possible, answer the questions. If appropriate, you can follow up with individuals after the meeting.

You can keep sharing the big picture to help people to see the progress being made. One framework for making such presentations can be found at the end of this piece.

Good leaders sometimes need to take tough decisions, of course, especially if things go off-track. When doing so, they go back to the positive teams philosophy. They start by making sure the team is made up of people who choose to have a positive attitude.

They then make decisions by focusing on the team’s purpose and principles. Good leaders do whatever is required to encourage and enable their people to deliver the picture of success.

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