Six Rookie Mistakes When Leading Remote Teams

When there’s a sea storm, captains are called upon to reassure their crew, so that together they keep the ship safe enough to move in the right direction. 

The Coronavirus storm has forced teams — without warning and without delay — to work from home in improvised office spaces, fighting to focus on work while juggling several other responsibilities and concerns at the same time.

If remote working poses a challenge in and of itself, all the more so in crisis conditions, where uncertainty and confusion make the load all the heavier.  

Since 2011, I’ve been helping organizations — in good and bad times — build teams, many of which with some or all their members working remotely, often in different time zones. 

Here are six mistakes you want to avoid (and six recommendations) when leading teams remotely, especially in crisis conditions.

Mistake #1: Believe it is (almost) business as usual

A new paradigm is emerging, as tends to happen in crisis. And with it, new challenges are thrown at your team. It would be a mistake not to stop and fully appreciate the nature of the challenges you and your team are now facing.

It’s a mistake to think this is only about keeping things going a bit longer before it’s over. It’s a new problem. Face it with your team.

RECOMMENDATION: Do a diagnosis

Imagine you are Dr. House. If the challenge you now face is an illness, what would you call it?

Mistake #2: To execute without a roadmap

In a crisis it is easy for teams to get disoriented, especially if they are forced in a rush to work remotely. You might have a sense of what comes next, but the team most likely has no f**king idea.

It is a mistake to ask teams to continue moving forward without a new road map that shows this is where we are, this is where we are going, and most importantly, this is why we’re going. I wonder what Nietzsche was thinking when he said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 😉

RECOMMENDATION: Give them context and relevance 

Explain to the team how their work fits in the larger picture, and why their contribution really matters.

Mistake #3: Fail to clarify new expectations

New problems require new behaviours. It it especially important that we define deliverables and ownership so that everyone knows who does what and who is responsible for making sure it gets done. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them what they CAN’T screw up

New problems require exploration, which can lead to failure. It is crucial you specify what bits you expect the team to do absolutely right, the bits where failure is not an option. 

Mistake #4: Make it a one-way road

If feedback is important, now it is more than ever. It’s a rookie’s mistake to fail to create NEW channels for feedback. Unless you ask, you will not know the struggles and suggestions your team has. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them it’s NOT ok to stay stuck and silent

Send out questions before meetings, and ask everyone to come prepared to share.

Mistake #5:  Neglect positive feedback

Humans need feedback to grow, which makes giving feedback the gift of growth: constructive feedback gives us the path for growth, and positive feedback gives us the energy to grow.

In times of crisis, teams need tons of positive feedback — the energy — to get through challenges. Forgetting to give positive feedback is a silly mistake.  

RECOMMENDATION: Double down on positive feedback 

Give twice as much positive feedback and show twice as much appreciation. Start with positive feedback. End with positive feedback. Transition with positive feedback. And ask the whole team to give… POSITIVE FEEDBACK.  

Mistake #6: Undervalue repetition

The Romans believed that “repetitio est mater studiorum”, that repetition is the mother of learning. When working remotely, technical issues can make getting information across difficult.

Moreover, when remote work is being improvised moment by moment and under great uncertainty, tension is generated, which makes getting information across even more difficult. 

Hence the need to repeat, repeat, repeat.  

RECOMMENDATION: Sound like a broken record 

Say it at the beginning. Repeat in the middle. Ask them to say it. And say again at the end.

Feedback Part III: How to Suggest Improvements

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

In the final part of the series, I share three techniques to suggest improvements when we give constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to suggest improvements?

Feedback Part II: How to Encourage the Listener

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

In part II, I share three ways to encourage the listener when we give constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to encourage your listener?

Feedback Part I: How to Make Stronger Statements

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

Here in part I, I share three ways to make our statements stick when giving constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to make your statements clearer?

How to Leave A First Good Impression

Darrell is a polite, handsome man, who had little luck meeting people and making friends. He didn’t get why and it was frustrating. I first met Darrell during his final months in prison — a few of robberies and a bad temper had got him into trouble.

But Darrell is one of the few who manage to overcome the nasty effects of jail time. He decided to change. And he did. What didn’t change was the way people reacted to him. It seemed as though everyone knew his past. Then he figured out why.

And it had nothing to do with his past.

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People won’t figure out your past by looking at you.

But they’ll read your present in just a glance.

 

People won’t figure out your past by looking at you.But they’ll read your present in just a glance.It was actually quite obvious and he felt stupid for not figuring it out earlier. Back in the day, Darrell had the side of his neck tattooed with the universal “F*** YOU”. It was small but nonetheless LOUD!

He had it for so long, he no longer noticed it — Gosh, I no longer noticed it and I hadn’t known him for that long. But for people who didn’t know him it was a big thing. Obviously! It automatically kept everyone away, giving him no chance to interact.

So Darrell covered it with a new tattoo. And the next time we met… he was smiling.

 

Don’t be surprised at the way people react to you

when your face is telling them just how you feel.

 

We might not have tattoos on our neck, but our facial expression and body language are tattoos we carry around always. They provide universal information before we speak. The way you look, move and talk are the first signals other people pick up.

In the art of human relations, this is nothing new. However, we’re not always aware of how we read these signs automatically (and sometimes unconsciously) and how others do too.

 

There’s never a second chance to leave a first good impression.

 

Do you sometimes feel a bit concerned about leaving the right impression or little uneasy when meeting people for the first time? I do. But think about it: other people do too. Chances are they’re busy thinking about themselves, not about you!

So before I step in, I make a conscious decision to step away from this trap, and think: These are people, not monsters. And they’re in the same situation as me.

If you’d like people to walk away thinking: “Well, that was pleasant. Seems like a nice person. What conviction!” here’s a tip:

Your best business card is YOU. Make sure you look the way you want others to see you. Stand tall. Radiate determination and serenity with every step. Smile. Make eye contact. Smile. Speak with a clear, confident voice. Smile.

Love to hear what you do to leave a lasting first good impression?

The Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy

Today I read a post on LinkedIn written by John Ford about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I decided to comment on it, but the amount of text seems to be limited. So I wrote this post instead.

 

Words matter. Agreeing on what words mean matters more.

 

The Ancient Greek words for sympathy and empathy (which then found their way into Latin) can provide insight into to their meaning today.

They have a common root, the “pathy” part. It derives from the Greek word “pathos” (πάθος), which means “pain, suffering, passion”.
Prefixed to the root are conjunctions: “sym” meaning “with” (from “sun”, σύν) and “em” meaning “in” (from “en”, ἐν). This adds up to:

 

Sympathy is “pain with”: to feel the pain with someone.

Empathy is “pain in”: to feel the pain in someone.

 

Sympathy, in its positive understanding, means we identify with the person’s pain because we’ve experienced the same or a similar situation.

Empathy takes it up a notch: we feel the person’s pain, even though we do not personally relate to their situation. In other words:

 

Sympathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I know what it’s like, mine feel the same.”

 

Empathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I don’t know what it’s like, mine feel nothing like that. But I relate to how they make you feel.

 

Empathy is priceless when we’re incapable of identifying with the person, for instance, when people do things we could never picture ourselves doing.

Empathy allows us to connect with them by identifying with their feelings and emotions, even though we consider their actions and behavior unacceptable.

To give an extreme example, we might identify with someone’s overwhelming feelings of fear, intimidation and threat to their safety, but still feel incapable of committing the homicide they committed.
Sympathy is easy. For life’s challenges, like John, I prefer empathy.

 

12 Tips For Constructive Feedback

Whether a direct report, a manager, a colleague, a friend or a partner, giving constructive feedback is a crucial element of our relationships.

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How you give feedback
determines how it is received.

 

I moderate constructive feedback sessions for teams and their leaders, and some patterns prove to be more effective than others. Here’s a set of keys that unlock the doors for constructive feedback to be well received.

Download and discuss them with those you give feedback to.

 

What matters most
isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.

 

So by all means, I’d love to hear your constructive feedback.

12 Tips for Feedback_Tobias Rodrigues

Is Your Small Talk SMART?

Last week I attended the 3rd Hola Barcelona Cocktail, an event organized by Barcelona Global to welcome new international professionals arriving in Barcelona.

The purpose is to strengthen the relationship between Barcelonians by birth and Barcelonians by choice. It was lovely. I met wonderful people and conversations were great, which got me thinking: What makes small talk interesting? 

The topic is important, but not everything — you can have a pointless conversation about a great topic! The key is HOW we talk.

 

Make small talk SMART:

Supportive, Meaningful, Authentic, Refreshing, and Tasteful

 

But, is small talk really that important? After all, it’s just chit-chat, right? Or not? Is there a connection between small talk and other areas of our life? 

As a team effectiveness trainer, I often join teams for social events after the training. And for 4 years now I’ve been looking for a connection between the quality of small talk and people’s professional and personal fulfillment. I’ve found one:

 

Effective leaders and teams engage in smart small talk.

 

There’s a chance I’m seeing what I want to see, which begs the question: Is there scientific evidence to support my findings? I did some digging and there is.

For instance, Judith E. Glaser has coined the term “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ”, a person’s ability to connect with others through conversations and to jointly think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically.

Judith and the people at Benchmark Communications Inc. have studied the neurochemistry of conversations and shown that managers who “talk smart” are more successful than those who don’t.

So small talk is not just a chit-chat. Smart small talk does make a difference!

Here’s an experiment to spice up conversations at your next event:

  • Step One: Identify interesting angles to the conversation, relevant aspects or perspectives that are being overlooked.
  • Step Two: Ask a politely provocative question. This will accomplish two things: you’ll get people’s attention and you’ll spark openings for more meaningful dialogue.
  • Step Three: Pick a positive message. This is important because you want to contribute to the conversation in meaningful way.

Easy to remember: Angle + Question + Message. 

What do you do to keep the small talk smart?

 

How Odie Helps You Design Awesome Workshops!

The other day my friend and colleague Evgueni Talal, a specialist in customer satisfaction, asked for feedback on a workshop he’s preparing for the Toastmasters Fall District Conference in Lyon.

This got me thinking about what makes workshops awesome. I noticed four recurring elements that make workshops memorable experiences. Remember Odie from Garfield? These are the ODIE elements of awesome workshops.

  1. Original: How will the content be MINE?

When I began creating my conflict resolution seminars, I asked my friend and colleague, Florian Mueck, a public speaking and charismatic communication expert, for advice. Halfway through my first sentence, he said: “Stop! Don’t talk about someone else’s stuff. Present your own material.”

“Original” answers the question: What does the workshop offer that is uniquely mine that participants can get nowhere else? Evgueni has decided on something unique, to say the least. I won’t ruin the surprise, but be prepared to dance!!

This element avoids making the workshop merely a loudspeaker for other people’s material. Think about it:  Why would someone want go to a workshop to listen to you talk about someone else’s ideas?

But how can we be original when some of the material is not ours? Only you own the experience of the content. Share your personal experience and add value by making connections we haven’t heard of. What does networking have to do with dancing? I have no idea. Ask Evgueni!!

  1. Doable: How will lives change?

The high applicability of the workshop to real life situations is crucial. “Doable” answers the questions: What will participants be capable of DOING when the workshop is over? What are the specific outcomes they can count on?

The answer to these questions begins with: By the end of the workshop participants will be able to do 1… 2… and 3… Once you’ve got the answers to this, design your workshop to make it happen.

What we avoid here are merely reflexive workshops that make us think about cool stuff but don’t equip us with the tools to change specific situations in our lives.

  1. Interactive: How will they share the stage?

Workshops where the participants are the stars are always successful workshops. The interactive element answers the question: What exercises and activities will I include to involve the participants?

What we avoid here are passive workshops, where participants receive but do not give. Awesome workshops invite participants to share their knowledge and skills. This is what makes it a workshop instead of a lecture or a speech.

  1. Entertaining: How will they be fully engaged?

No one wants to deliver boring workshops. But some people do. Inspiring others with our enthusiasm is the name of the game. It’s the greatest challenge we face.

Here are a few tips to make workshops more entertaining: tell stories, provide a form-like-handout with questions and blank slots to be filled throughout the workshop, and use examples that relate directly to your participants’ struggles.

Thank you Evgueni, for inspiring the topic for this post! Thank you Odie, for making the elements unforgettable: Original, Doable, Interactive and Entertaining!

The Connection Matrix – Part One

The other day I was sitting on a plane from Warsaw to Barcelona. With me, my friend, speaker and trainer Florian Mueck. We were coming back from a spectacular Spectacular Speaking event.

In her opening speech, the incomparable Olivia Schofield, founder of the Spectacular Speaking series, said: The one thing that takes you from great to spectacular is… connection. Connection. Connection between the speaker and the audience. Connection between oneself and the other.

Florian and I started to philosophize about this subject. We played around with different dimensions and combinations and patterns. We scribbled and painted and drew and scribbled…

In the end, we knew that we wanted to show two dimensions – the self-focus (or speaker focus) and the other-focus (or audience focus). Self/other-focus refers to the degree with which one chooses to be concerned with oneself and with others.

We also knew that we wanted to use the high-low categories. Our big challenge – the four field titles. After three hours we finally felt confident about the names. “The Connection Matrix” was born.

The Connection Matrix shows four different kinds of speakers/communicators. In this first part we’ll look at the status quo of their communication mode.

Number – Low Other/Low Self

Low empathy combined with low self-interest. Numbers drive through life with their handbrake on. They’re the typical business presenters. Not passionate about the data they present, numbers deliver only to deliver. Their voice? Monotonous. Their body language? Closed. Their enthusiasm? Not existent.

They say: But how can I put passion into my monthly business unit report? Numbers never consider a speech or presentation an opportunity. For them, communication is an obligation. Creativity is for artists, they think.

They also think: I do my job. Isn’t that enough? If others don’t like what I say, it’s not my fault. Numbers are brilliant at avoiding responsibility – for themselves and the audience. Like Florian’s mom says: Where there’s no hook, you cannot hang a jacket.

The paradox with numbers is that they don’t count: no one listens, no one remembers, no one cares. Connecting as number, you fail to connect. Number-mode is beneficial only when you wish not to connect. Numbers are the poorest connectors of the four types.

Nurse – High Other/Low Self

High empathy combined with low self-interest. Nurses strive to please their audience. They communicate with the language of “you” and their goal is to promote the audience. A nurse’s communication style consists of satisfying the interests of others.

The paradox with nurses is that by failing to affirm their self-interests, the connection entails no expense and so is undervalued. Because nurses don’t speak up for themselves, audiences don’t really listen, care less and very easily forget.

Connecting as a nurse, you don’t make an impact. Nurse-mode is beneficial when you wish to go unnoticed. If you don’t shift to buddy, your audience will soon take you for granted!

Bully – Low Other/High Self

Low empathy combined with high self-interest. Bullies strive to satisfy their own interests. Bullies communicate with the language of “I” and their style consists of pushing an agenda.

In bully-mode, you believe only you hold the power to make a change. So you feel you have little to learn from your audience. A bully’s preferred strategy is Follow me, now!

The paradox with bullies is that in failing to give the recognition they seek, they struggle all the more to get it from their audience. People listen, they remember, oh! but they don’t care.

Connecting as a bully, you fail to inspire trust. Bully-mode is beneficial when all you want is to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t shift to buddy, your audience will begin to feel betrayed and soon you’ll end up talking to yourself!

Buddy – High Other/High Self

High empathy combined with high self-interest. Buddies strive to develop a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Buddies communicate with the language of “we” and their style consists of promoting ways to satisfy self-interests and the interests of others.

In buddy-mode, you believe in a joint potential and so the purpose of communicating is mutual growth. The preferred strategy is How shall we do this? You know you’re listening to a buddy when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and it feels good!

The paradox with buddy-mode is that when you place the connection at the center, the result is the speaker meets her goals and the audience gets what they came for. Everyone is happy. Audiences remember buddies, they listen to them, and they definitely care.

Connecting as a buddy, you act like a magnet, attracting others to move out their communication mode and to connect as buddies. Buddy is the ultimate mode of connection because everyone grows beyond expectation.

Whether you consider yourself a Number, a Nurse or a Bully, in The Connection Matrix – Part Two we’ll share with you insights on how to become a Buddy, the ultimate connector.