Do you have a sound foundation in your function? If you don’t know then maybe I will start with some other questions.
Are your processes becoming more inefficient?
Is your function full of “tribal knowledge”?
Do you find yourself making decisions based on your gut versus data?
Do your metrics really reflect the customer experience?
As a civil engineer, I love to speak in analogies that refer to building. This question about “Do you have a sound foundation in your function?” fits well for me. Analyzing the foundation before building a structure is one of the first steps prior to making the structure a reality. Likewise in building a team, process, or successful function, you should analyze the foundation. I hadn’t thought much about the foundations in a business until about 6 years ago. During most of my career, I had built the foundations. But recently, I inherited a foundation, and it required looking closely at the foundation’s detail. I found that looking at the foundation in two parts, people and business, is most helpful.
When inheriting a new team, seek to understand the people through the culture, capability, and connections.
- Culture – Understanding the culture can initially be done by understanding the relationships that the team has amongst one another. Listen to the conversations before, during and after meetings to understand how they respond to one another.
- Do they listen to one another?
- Do they respect each other?
- Does the team support one another?
- Do they value all perspectives?
If you choose a more direct approach then maybe asking some direct questions of your team is the ticket. I will offer two thoughts on this approach. A New Manager Assimilation could be helpful. Steve Cadigan writes in Inc., “Building rapport and trust quickly is essential for the team to realize its potential…” The assimilation in his article gives you an opportunity to get to know your team quickly. Another option may be to evaluate the team’s collaboration with a creative collaboration assessment. In the book Creative Conspiracy – The new rules of Breakthrough Collaboration by Leigh Thompson, Mrs. Thompson recommends a 20 question assessment which assess the collaborative psychology of your team. This assessment can give you some insights into areas to improve collaboration among your team.
- Capabilities – Review the team’s capabilities through one on ones and employee profiles. Another option is the use the StrengthFinders survey.
- Connections – The last understanding needed is about the member’s networks or connections. This will take more time and will probably require you to have developed a relationship with them before your team will fully divulge their network.
Next take a look at the business. Seek to understand the customers, data, and processes. Gather information in pairs.
- Customers and data – Is there alignment between the data and the customer experience? Example: In one of my roles where the team provided a service to the organization, the data looked good, and the department was meeting their goals. The catch was that the customer was unhappy. The crack was a misalignment of the metrics with the customer experience.
- Data and Process – Does the data follow the process? Is the process for gathering data simple and accurate? Has the process been created to gather data? Have you done a process inventory and combined or expanded where possible? Example: In another case where my team began to try to build on a current process, we found that the build objectives (reporting hours and managing manpower) couldn’t be completed efficiently on the foundational work documentation in place. The work documentation would need to be restructured. We were required to brace the structure while continuing business and re-create a foundation piece by piece.
- Process and Customers – Does the process meet the customer expectations? Example: In another case where the team produced reports and consolidated data, I found that the process was so cumbersome that the customer wasn’t getting feedback at a rate fast enough to make the reports and data useful. In addition, there had been no process documentation on how to create the reports. In this case, the foundation required a complete removal and recreation.
These pairings should give you a basic understanding of the business foundation.
Summarize your findings on people and business, define the cracks, and decide how and if to address the cracks. Remember that if you build on a less than sound foundation, you will have problems with your structure over time.
As usual, please give feedback and comments. An interactive audience enables learning for us all.
The photo for this article is a good examples of understanding your foundation and the risks to the design. Some houses along the canals in Amsterdam have unevenly settled. Wood piles and uneven water levels more than likely contributed to these foundational problems.
Leigh Thompson, “Creative Conspiracy – The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013): 24-31
This writing is part of a series that I encourage you to read. I’ve written about a framework that a new leader can use to approach a new team. Last month I concentrated on the Adapt phase. This month I will concentrate on the Build phase
ADAPT to & Assess your environment
BUILD on the Base of relationships & habits
CARE for the Culture
DISRUPT with the intentional Advancement