Learn coaching tips and how to strengthen teams.

One of the many terms highlighted by the pandemic has been “asynchronous” – referring to learning and/or working at different times and places.  We haven’t had much choice while working from home but my clients are realizing that there can be real challenges to this approach.

Paint the Big Picture

Think about a jigsaw puzzle of an elephant.  If you haven’t seen the picture on the box you wouldn’t know that your piece is the knee.   It is too easy for each person to focus on his or her part of a project and overlook how the pieces fit together.  When the leader paints the big picture of success and everyone’s role in achieving it, the team can work in synch with clear priorities and refresh the picture as the project evolves.

Make the Connection

To nurture connection between team members in an asynchronous environment, I recommend inviting each person to talk about how others are contributing.  Regular live interaction and gratitude are essential to reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Staying connected to the big picture and to each other are two ways to make the best of our asynchronous world.  If you are feeling disconnected, I encourage you to reach out to someone.  They are likely feeling the same way.

On a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy are driving around in a Porsche Carrera talking about anything and everything.  Seinfeld says, “You know when you see two people talking, one of them is giving the other one advice…saying something like, ‘What I’ve learned…’ or ‘In my experience…’”

It’s funny because we know it’s true — we’ve all been on the sending and receiving end of unsolicited advice.  As this Psychology Today article confirms, however, being told what we should do actually makes us feel defensive.  When a coaching client asks for advice, I remind them that my job is to help them find their own answers.  If they insist, I might say, “What I’ve seen others do in a similar situation is…” and then ask, “How do you feel about that?”  Research tells us that giving advice appeals mostly to the rational parts of the brain.  I also want to engage the feeling part of the brain so my client can make the best possible decision – and own it.

As I’m writing, I realize that I need to practice this approach more in my personal life.  Is there anything you might need to change in how you respond when someone asks for advice? Here is a Harvard Business Review article that might be helpful.  Notice I didn’t say that you should read it!

What is most important to you as you are heading into an operating room?  Is it the skill of the surgeon or how well the entire surgical team works together?  Surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Atul Gawande’s research says teamwork is most important. In his book The Checklist Manifesto: Getting Things Right, Gawande describes the most common obstacle to effective teamwork in an operating room:  “silent disengagement, the consequence of specialized technicians sticking narrowly to their domains.”

In my work with leaders and teams in complex organizations, I often hear complaints about siloes and finger-pointing.  It can be hard work creating a culture that relies on everyone believing their job is to help the team get the best possible result.

How can you overcome “that’s not my problem” syndrome?  Research shows that something as basic as asking people for input can increase their willingness to offer solutions.  If you know the story behind the movie “Sully”, input from every member of Captain Sullenberger’s team made it possible for all 155 passengers on board the plane that landed on the Hudson River on a freezing January day to make it home.

What difference could active engagement and teamwork make in your world?

I love it when a client wants to share her insight from a coaching session.  One of my clients recently identified the pitfalls of trying to be a Super Mom and decided to be a Real Mom instead.

She defined a Real Mom this way:

  • Acknowledges she needs help
  • Asks for what she needs
  • Is resourceful
  • Focuses on what is important to her kids
  • Makes them part of the solution
  • Lets go of being needed

It was great to see my client redefine her priorities by getting out of her own way and getting clear about her ultimate goal:  teaching her children how to be whole and healthy.

This works for dads too!

Last month I described the results of a session on creating a “Secret Sauce for Successful Leaders”:  vision, communication, confidence, positive role modeling, reliability, trustworthiness and transparency with generous dashes of encouragement, motivation, appreciation, fun, coaching, caring and steadiness.

In our “How to Avoid Burning Your Fingers” exercise, the group identified the following potential distractions to implementing that Secret Sauce recipe:

  • External market factors
  • Loss of business
  • Morale / Negativity
  • Resistance
  • Communication
  • Safety or other incidents
  • Talent
  • Resource management
  • Personal distractions

Could you choose the perfect dessert for each member of your team without asking them what they want?  Our last item on the menu for this session, “Why We Shouldn’t Skip Dessert,” explored the importance of celebrating successes in ways that motivate each individual.  Here are some of the techniques that were mentioned:

  • Listening
  • Trust
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Support
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Meaningful work
  • Autonomy
  • Training & development
  • Career advancement
  • Money

I invite you to create your own secret sauce recipe, develop a plan to put the lid on potentially painful distractions, and serve each of your team members a dessert that will motivate them to succeed even in a challenging market.

I’m working with a senior executive who recently joined a new company. He wants to build strong relationships as a foundation for major changes he will be implementing, so I suggested a new leader assimilation process – he would invite his team members to submit anonymous questions on topics such as his strengths, weaknesses, decision-making style, communication preferences, etc. and then answer them in an open forum.

This is a powerful way to demonstrate vulnerability and begin to build trust and engagement. It is also an opportunity to set an example and inspire others to see that vulnerability can be a strength. To my client’s credit, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers and to ask his colleagues for support – a big challenge for someone who has always been the go-to guy.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work whose TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” is the fourth most viewed of all time, says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” Once you make that connection, you have a strength you can leverage.