Tag Archives: leadership

Five Common Team Performance Problems

Gerald A. Hutchinson Jr, PhD & Jeff Penley, MS

In our work with management-, functional-, cross-functional-, and project-teams, we have noticed five common functional problems that sabotage a team’s performance:

  1. Inadequate critical-thinking about cause and consequence. Many teams get into a groupthink pattern and do not sufficiently challenge one another to think rigorously or with an eye on innovative solutions. This pattern robs the organization of the potential to make positive change.  Marginal improvements, band-aid solutions, or re-work will waste time and money and create future problems.  Remember the old saying– “There is never enough time to do it right, but there is always time to do it again…until there isn’t?”  You can avoid that blunder!
  1. Slowness in Decision-Making. It is not just that decisions are slow…timing itself is not always the issue if the OUTCOME of the decision is worth the wait.  The problem is that decisions take an unnecessarily slow amount of time, and must pass through gatekeepers that do not share urgency or adequate engagement to pass approval.  Speeding decisions along gives opportunity to tackle other challenges.
  1. Mission Creep. Mission creep can mean the goal of the project expands. It can also mean that clarity of what the team is attempting to do is lost or confused, and consequently a project shifts to objectives that are not essential.  The team wastes time (and credibility) because the objective was never clearly stated, and execution to the goal was undisciplined.
  1. Clunky Collaboration. Poor collaboration (aka poor teamwork) often occurs within the team due to ineffective leadership. Another cause of team misalignment is due to insufficient buy-in.  Or, collaboration problems can occur when external team partner’s agendas are not fully understood or aligned with the team goals.  Getting talent to click is a responsibility of the team leader, and must be intentional. It cannot be left to chance or assumed.  NOTE:  There are clear behavioral science methods about how to overcome “clunky collaboration” (aka “dysfunctions”), and we know how to structure behavior to overcome these challenges.
  1. Insufficient Accountability. Getting to “Done!” and moving on to the next problem can often occur due to a lack of keeping people accountable. When accountability for deliverables is not maintained, productivity slips and project completion is delayed, incurring opportunity costs.

These problems (and many others) can be overcome with an agile team-management guidance-system.  We call ours Excellerate™ to mash together Better+Faster.  If you’d like to find out more about how we integrate solutions to these challenges into our system, contact us:  Gerald Hutchinson or Jeff Penley.

Gerald Hutchinson PhD has over 25 years of experience working with hundreds of teams and leaders.  Excellerate™ has been developed on this knowledge-base of what makes good teams work and what conditions make for poor teamwork.


Stealing Credit: Blunder #9

The leader that steals credit from others for their hard work is only investing in their own failure.

You’ve seen it happen:  a manager takes credit for the work of one of their subordinates.  They hog the limelight, as if they were the only ones who worked on a team project.  They represent work effort, creative ideas, critical analyses, — or worse, actual results —  as their own.  They are either too arrogant, too self-serving, or too lazy to think through the end result of their taking unearned credit.

What do people in the organization do when they see someone taking credit for others’ work? They no longer trust the liar.  Not being trusted is a sure path to failure, for once trust is lost, it cannot be recovered.

NEVER take credit for another’s work.  Make sure that you give others credit for their contributions.  If you  are the leader and your people see you giving public credit this, they will be more faithful to you, and will help you advance.  If you are a peer, your peers will trust you more.   It will make you look good, and you will maintain your credibility.  And in the end, you will have the opportunity to advance more quickly and get things done more effectively, because you will not have to fight the losing battle to reclaim your integrity.

Few People Are Leaders

Leadership requires a desire for responsibility.

It requires high standards.

It requires a dissatisfaction with the here-and-now, and a constant striving for a better-future.

It requires a high-tolerance for stress.

It requires passion.

It requires foresight and a willingness-if not an innate analytical ability-to look for the invisible meanings and root causes behind the concrete and visible.

It requires a tolerance-for-ambiguity, but a paradoxical antipathy to it.

It requires the courage to take chances, to make “bets” that a certain course of action will work, and to stand tall in the face of adversity.

It requires a sense of urgency, yet the patience to wait for the tide to shift.

It requires (if it is to sustain itself) a high-degree of humility that “I don’t know it all” and a desire to learn more, always.

It requires the ability to understand and manage complexity, and the higher you go in organizations, the more complex the factors.

It requires a “feel” for people, a deep compassion for their humanness, but the ability to exert “tough love” to serve the greatest good of the group.

Few people are willing to step into the role of Leader. They do not have these attributes. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable. The world needs more followers than it does leaders.

In our democratic republic we have a freedoms that force responsibility : Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Dissent. That means that everyone is a critic (as they should be). Of leaders. And their own Leader in particular.

President Teddy Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

In every civilized democracy, being a critic, a side-line-quarterback is not only entertainment, but it is practically a birthright. And when things aren’t going so well, there tends to be a “pile on” mentality, a ganging-up to criticize the Leader.  Seeing this, even among those who might desire some of the “fruits” that come from leadership, many refuse to “step up” to the role of a Leader.  The hassles of being publicly pilloried have kept many good men and women from stepping into a leadership role.

Of those who do step into the role of Leader, a few are mature enough, or intelligent enough to know what it is like to be striving at the top.  So they work to help their own Leaders be successful.

Exhibiting good followership is the sign of a good leader.

Not Taking Charge* : Blunder #6

You can take too long to take charge.  It undermines your leadership, as people will see you as passive, disengaged, or uncaring.

I’ve seen managers new to a company take their time “listening” to the company or the department, making sure that people know that the leader is “connecting” with them, and is thoughtful and informed.

Being connected before making decisions is positive, but this must be balanced with decisiveness, especially on key issues.

One Senior Client Manager wanted to make sure that the Project Team was being responsive to the client, and not hassling the design team.  He held meeting after meeting with the Project Team to get their view on things, and they all told him that the design team was a bottleneck to get their job done, and that it was damaging their ability to meet the near-term project milestone.  They all conveyed to him how important it was for him to go to the Design Team manager and speed up the re-designed plans.  But he just dragged his feet.  He later explained to me that he just didn’t want to come across too aggressively to the Design Team.  Naturally, the Project Team lost trust in this manager as a capable servant for their needs as they missed the milestone, and the manager damaged his own credibility.

*Taking Charge and Not Taking Charge must be balanced based on needs of the team and the situation for timing, intensity, and duration.  In other words, you can take charge too quickly, too much, and for too long.  And you can wait too long, and not be in charge enough.

If you only have one option, then you’ll probably blunder at least some of the time.

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Pulling Rank: Blunder #5

The leader that pulls rank needs to know that they are pulling the rug out from under their managers.

Anytime that an associate can go around a mid-level manager to a higher-up and get a higher-up to make a decision that is counter to their middle-manager, that leader is cutting the legs out from under that middle-manager.  You might as well go ahead and re-assign them, or fire them, for they just became a lame-duck leader.

I’ve seen higher-up leaders do this very thing, simply because they wanted to build good-will and “cred” with the lower-level associates.  These leaders were making the decision because they were insecure about their own position and power.  They wanted to establish that they could throw their weight around.  Or they simply wanted to show the mid-manager a lesson that they had made a bad decision.

Their reasons were irrelevant to the implication:  the mid-level manager did not matter.  And if they don’t matter, then there is no reason for them to be there.

Unless you want to demonstrate that fact, then always maintain the integrity of the chain-of-command.

Lonely at the Top / Being at the Bottom

Q.  Why is it lonely at the top?

A.  Several reasons:

  1. No one truly understands the responsibility of the role except the person holding the role.
  2. Everyone wants something from you.  It is hard to please everyone all of the time.  Just to make yourself visible to others exposes you to requests both implicit and explicit.
  3. No one else but you is responsible for whether decisions are ultimately right or wrong.
  4. Most everyone around you is more than willing to give you advice on what you should do…and then step back and let you make the decision and take the blame if something goes wrong.
  5. The requirements of keeping things confidential means that you must choose your confidantes extremely carefully.
  6. Keeping things confidential can be especially difficult and burdensome for some who like to think out loud and to bat ideas around before a decision is made.
  7. You have other people’s lives in your hands.  While some are not bothered by firing others or giving them a “window seat,” many consider that doing so without compassion and concern for their welfare is both heartless and unethical.  Those who put themselves through the wringer when making personnel moves definitely feel the loneliness of decisions that only they can make.

Q.  Is there only one person on the top?

A.  Not really.  Organizational hierarchies are nested one within another.  Some are at the summit of the entire hierarchy, but project managers, program managers, department managers and business unit leaders are also at the top of their area of responsibilities.  So they share similar burdens.  It is a matter of degree how weighty their burden is, however, when compared to the CEO.

Q.  What do you mean that it is Lonely at the Bottom?

A.  One Executive that I was coaching suddenly burst out with that expression.  He felt the weight of the entire organization on his shoulders.  He inverted the pyramid in part out of the burden that he felt, but also in the way that he viewed his role:  He supported Managers who supported Associates, who worked with Vendors and provided Value for Customers.  In his mind, he put the customers on the top of the pyramid.

But he also had the right attitude:  those leaders who exalt themselves by thinking that they have reached Olympic heights by finally making it to the top of the mountain are certainly dooming their business to mediocrity.  Getting to “the top” is only paying the entry fee for the marathon.  It still has to be run, and there’s no handing it off to others.  And this is when the pyramid gets inverted, and he who was once on top, is now on bottom.

Being at the Bottom is not about personal aggrandizement and ego-stroking.  Being at the Bottom is about putting your heart and soul into making the enterprise the best it can be, thinking about the business night and day, 24/7/52, with little let up.

The metaphor used by convention is wrong:  you aren’t at the top; you are at the bottom.  Making sure that your organization has the direction, the goals, the playbook, and the resources to succeed with your clients is your responsibility.  Your associates are counting on you to make strategic decisions about their livelihoods, as investors are counting on you to assure a good return on their money, with an increase in value over time.

This reality is the “hidden burden” that few can understand as they see the trappings of the Executive office.  Becasue they do not see it, they do not understand the pressure (nor the joys) of this challenge.  And this is why it is Lonely at the Bottom.

What is Managerial Leadership? An Overview

Untold numbers of authors have made much of “leadership.”  And there is much wisdom in the literature, but there can be much confusion, also, especially when the specifics are taken in aggregate.  That is, what one author lists as the “21 Essential Skills of Leadership,” another author emphasizes the “15 Fundamentals of Leadership Excellence,” and another author proclaims the “Nine Indispensible Competencies of the Great Leader.”

What is further confusing is that many authors do not discriminate the skills necessary to lead a business, a non-profit, a church-group, a golf tournament, or a platoon of soldiers.

So let’s be clear:  While there are considerable differences in leading a software development firm or a sheet-steel manufacturer or a chemical commodity enterprise or a construction firm, etc. , we are solely interested in thinking about leading for-profit businesses (at all levels).  The profit-motive of a business operating in a competitive market places a unique set of conditions on an organization, and subsequently, a manager-leader.

There is a somewhat natural opposition of driving concerns in the set of skills and competencies that make up (1) Management and (2) Leadership.  For the most part, each individual job position will have certain opportunities and constraints on it that will dictate to what degree Management concerns and Leadership concerns are the primary part of the current agenda.

But let’s take a moment to consider the differences in the driving concerns:


  • Near-Term Performance
  • Assuring Standard Work processes to assure standards of quality and production
  • Measurement and Control
  • Resourcefulness
  • Solidifying & Stabilizing Processes to reduce Variation
  • Linear, Systematic, Reductionistic Thinking
  • Transactional Concerns with internal and external vendors and stakeholders
  • Maximizing Efficiencies
  • Seeks Simplicity


  • Long-Term Capability
  • Innovation
  • Broadening the Scope of Empowered Decision-Making
  • Upsets the Status Quo & Provokes Change
  • Lateral, Disruptive Thinking
  • Visionary-Expansionist-Opportunistic Thinking
  • Explores Complexity
  • Seeks Transformation

A Managerial Leader must integrate these driving concerns, for to fail to do so is to sacrifice either current performance, or long-term potential.  Neither is acceptable in a business environment.

The scope of competencies to effectively perform as a managerial leader has been identified by several sources as numbering in the dozens; some experts have established rationale for at least 72 distinct competencies — and this is beyond specific technical skill and industry knowledge.  While this may seem like a great quantity, it speaks to the complexity of high-level management.

Many experts have also recognized that there is no “one, single, utilitarian skillset for Managerial Leaders.”  Different skills are required at different levels within a management hierarchy; the skills are generally additive and developmental.  That is, you have to have one skillset to move to the next level effectively, where a new skillset must also be learned in order to be effective.

In fact, the transitions that individuals must make require the learning of new skills, and being able to handle the additional complexity when moving from:

  • Being a Sole Contributor, to
  • Managing People (their Performance & Projects), to
  • Managing Managers, to
  • Managing Systems of Functions, to
  • Managing a Business unit, to
  • Managing an Enterprise (Portfolio of Business Units).

Further factors that affect the needed skills in this progression are

  1. the speed of change in an industry,
  2. the speed of change in the business or enterprise itself,
  3. the financial health and position of the business entity, and
  4. the need for stability or transformation in the individual unit of management.

In the end, it is essential to resist the inclination to simplify the scope of definition  of a Managerial Leader, and come to accept the fact that it is a highly complex and situational.

Once this reality of complexity is understood and appreciated, mature and sophisticated discussion about Managerial Leadership is relevant and useful.