51: Stocky teams

If your team was a stock, would you buy it?

Everyone can invest. And when we do, we evaluate whether or not an asset is likely to give us an ROI. To continue the metaphor, what makes a good investment?

  • Direction: A ‘good buy’ team has a purpose, a plan, and is executing that plan. No unclear, volatile behaviors or activities.
  • Earnings history: A ‘good buy’ team doesn’t sit on its hands, doesn’t burn resources, and delivers an increasingly valuable quality of service.
  • Sustainability: A ‘good buy’ team doesn’t play for run-and-gun short-term gains, but organizes itself into a strong, long-term play.

The areas that make this stock unreliable, volatile, or undesirable are things a team can fix, just as any publically traded company might.

So, would you buy? If not, why not? What can you do about it?

50: A conductor’s role

When an orchestra begins to play, is the conductor nervous?

It’s not his/her job to be nervous: it’s every musician’s job to be nervous about their own performance.

So what’s the conductor’s job?

  • Lead: Negotiating a piece into a focused performance.
  • Listen: Keeping pace for everyone so the performance stays tight.
  • Conduit: Serving as a bridge between the audience’s eyes and ears.

That leaves the musicians with one job: to get the notes right.

After all, the conductor can’t un-play wrong notes or become a violinist mid-performance.

Are you a conductor on your team? Are you nervous? What will you do about it?

49: All yours

If this piece of music doesn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.

We’ve talked about why the peg counts, and about strategies to get results, and faster. Today let’s talk about how it’s all yours.

Every musician in the video above has clearly played that piece before.

A lot. And not just on the clock. But…

  • In their time: because practicing getting the notes right happens between the rehearsals, not during rehearsals.
  • In their minds: because it’s important, they may still be practicing while washing the dishes or walking the dog.

If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be there, in that room, playing like that. Indeed, no musician could. Every one of them has their own part to play. Each part belongs to someone.

We don’t get paid for–or make a difference for–getting the notes wrong, at the concert or during rehearsal. We get paid while–and make a difference while–getting our notes right, while our teammates do the same.

48: A year in a month

What if we could condense a year of growth into a single month?

What would that empower you to do? I call this technique “YIAM Growth Challenge” – here’s how it works:

  1. Future: If your future self, one year from now, could send a message back to you today, what would the message be? What important lessons or techniques had you learned that had come to benefit you?
  2. Lesson: What’s the biggest lesson or teaching we can extract from that message so that we can focus in on it?
  3. Focus: How can we compress that lesson or teaching into a four-week growth challenge, condensing a year of unguided development into a month of focused growth?
  4. Steps: What steps would you need to take in that four-week period to ensure the growth took place?
  5. Partner: Who will keep you accountable to those steps?

How much advancement could you and your teammates create towards your important work, if you all committed to incorporating this discipline?

‘Team size’ x 12 = Total number of months condensed into one.

How about if you all did this every month for a full year?

47: Doing so much

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

This quote gets misinterpreted a lot.

And passionate, talented teams are a big offender.

There’s a temptation to interpret “we can do so much” as “let’s try to do everything at once.” Trading the chisel for another hammer dilutes the precision and commitment to good work.

  • Say ‘yes’ to the work. This also means saying ‘no’ to alternatives.
  • Own the work. One person responsible for each work on the team.
  • Refine or redefine. If it’s working, refine it. If it’s not, redefine it. This avoids the trap of “but we’ve tried everything.”

Let’s use Helen’s quote as a call to the clinical, radical focusing of meaningful team work.

46: Baton hand-offs

“The successful person is open-minded and tolerant on all subjects. If you close your mind, you will be shut off from the recognition of favorable opportunities and the friendly cooperation of others.” – Napoleon Hill

During a relay race, the trickiest part is always the baton hand-off. The better the hand-off, the easier the race.

How can we become better at hand-offs in our teams? We start, as Dr. Hill suggests, by being open-minded and tolerant on all subjects. Examples:

  • A copywriter learning terminal commands from a developer. Perhaps they could commit basic website text changes to a source code repository themselves, saving a developer from having to step in after every tweak.
  • A developer learning presentation skills from a relations manager. Perhaps they could better articulate the team’s engineering genius to stakeholders.
  • An administrator learning some basic image editing skills from a designer. Perhaps they could communicate more viscerally with everyone they meet.

Doing so may, in fact, help us recognize “favorable opportunities” from the “friendly cooperation” we initiate.

How could your team benefit from better baton hand-off?

45: For better for better

We’ve talked about how rare great teams seem to be. We’ve built fortifying walls together in defense of these teams.

How should we respond to that?

  • It’s never OK: Someone or some people are making or have made sacrifices to make your team possible. Challenge: Sacrifice ‘OK’ and bring your ‘Very Best.’
  • Have safe success: Someone or some people are investing or have invested in creating a safe corner of the marketplace for you to bring your best. Challenge: be invested in the team’s success.
  • (I’m)possible: Someone or some people are unwilling to give up on making your team’s mission a possibility. Challenge: be equally as unwilling to give up on that mission.

A team that only brings the very best, invests in their success, and won’t give up on their cause, is a team that wins.

The alternative to a team committed to success like this isn’t a team I’d want to belong to. You?

44: Internal opinion

A good friend shared an interesting dilemma today.

His team needs to hear something from an outside source for it to gain any traction. Translation: his insights and opinions are often undermined because he’s on the same team.

If it sounds backward, it is, but it’s also common. Let’s address that today:

  • Scenario 1: Someone has important skills or insights your team doesn’t. Solution: Bring them in, you might need them. They may become valuable partners and an extension of your team.
  • Scenario 2: Someone shares important skills with your team, but has a different approach. Solution: Invite them to share their way, and share yours–you should always be learning. But it’s a different approach, not gospel: your team’s opinions come first.
  • Scenario 3: Someone shares important skills with your team, and has the same approach. Solution: Invite them to share their experiences, and share yours–you may be able to learn together. But it’s just another way, not gospel:  your team’s opinions come first.

None of the above gives external opinions more weight than the opinions of team members. Consider these three scenarios whenever an external opinion or internal recommendation is made.

Not doing so is harmful enough to be worth my friend’s time sharing.

43: Teams that last

We’re told that the “career” is dying.

I’d like to argue that it’s not so much “career” as it is “building teams to last” that is dying. If companies or teams aren’t investing in themselves to maintain or nurture greatness, is it any wonder people look for greener pastures?

We’ve talked about what makes a great team before. What should such teams be investing in?

  • People: When people get better, everything gets better. Do you invest in each other?
  • Clarity: The clearer you are, the better peoples decisions become. Do you invest in your communication skills as a team?
  • Privilege: The more of a gift you are, the more impact opportunity we create. How are you being a gift?
  • Consistency: Be it speed, duration, quality, price, experience or quantity, better consistency means better promises. How good are your promises?

If you belong to a great team, invest in it–it’s your responsibility as a member to make sure your team is built to last.

42: Pause, paper, practice

What goes through your mind while you work? The mindset we bring to our work has a profound effect on what we create.

I like to use these 3 Ps as I enter new tasks:

  • Pause: Before starting, no matter the rush, take a moment to reflect on the task, being thankful for it and pondering the many different ways you could approach it.
  • Paper: Away from technology and team members, write down how you might do the work, and toward what goal it will ultimately move you all.
  • Practice: Do the work and call it ‘practice.’ Practice acknowledges growth: how can you–or the process you use–grow and develop from doing this?

Consider maintaining a Result List instead of a to-do list, while implementing items on that list using the 3 Ps above.

41: Over-available

Great teams are either in high demand or are about to be in high demand. Could over-availability stunt such a teams’ momentum?

  • Apply vs Buy: “Buy” suggests instant access for all. “Apply” suggests an opportunity to qualify each other. Over-available teams are at less risk of ever needing a waiting list because they’re happy to dilute their work by instead being all things to all people.
  • Qualify vs Preapproved: Upon application, some potential buyers may want to proceed, but may not be a good fit for your team. Over-available teams may say “Yes” in order to make payroll. “Close enough.” Great teams know how that’ll dilute their attention from doing their best work.

As with being over-flexible, there’s a fine line between being available and over-available, and every team must determine together where that line is.

Where’s yours?

40: Over-flexible

Teams that create impact understand how being over-flexible compromises their work and their results.

Flexibility enables work to grow and for every implementation to be done right. This respects your work and your audience.

Over-flexibility cripples your work and for every implementation to be an act of desperation. This disrespects your work and your audience.

Here are some examples:

  • Doing the right thing, or doing it differently to cut costs, compromising the results of the work you deliver.
  • Doing work at the right time, or doing it too soon to appease a buyer, rushing the results of the work you deliver.
  • Doing work for the right duration, or ending prematurely to cut costs and negate the progress of your work. Worse, ending too late to drag out costs because you need the money, ultimately delivering bad value.

There’s a fine line between flexibility and over-flexibility, and every team must determine together where that line is.

Where’s yours?

39: Today’s peg

What are you working on today?

Regardless of the answer, how we answer that question will affect the outcome. Consider these example answers:

  • I’m putting this peg in that hole.
  • I’m putting this peg in that hole so that there’s no more hole.
  • I’m putting this peg in that hole so that there’s no more hole, and the water will stop rushing into that boat.
  • I’m putting this peg in that hole so that there’s no more hole, and the water will stop rushing into that boat, and its passengers won’t all drown.

Are you putting pegs in holes, or are you saving lives?

Every peg should count.

So, what are you working on today?

38: Choose your rhythm

You’re really good at keeping rhythm. No, really.

Even if you’re not gifted musically, you know how to “find your groove.”

The problem starts when we don’t choose the ‘groove’, and settle for a ‘funk’. Both have Rhythm.

  • Your Rhythm is when you consistently bail on your gym workouts.
  • Your Rhythm is when you consistently make time for your children.
  • Your Rhythm is why you always come through for your team.
  • Your Rhythm is why you can’t kick that bad habit.

The nice thing about Rhythm is that we get to “set the tone.” To “march to the sound of our own drum.”

What are your ‘grooves’? What are your ‘funks’? In what ways are you going to “change your tune”?

37: Drug-dealers vs missionaries

Drug-dealers and missionaries have a lot in common.

They’re both out there trying to create conversions, albeit for very different reasons.

Their messages are different, but they use the same pattern:

  • Drug-dealers: Buy this. It’s easy. They don’t understand, you need this.
  • Missionaries: Join us. It’s hard. You’re not alone, I know how you feel.

When approaching the marketplace, every team follows the handbook of one of these two things. One coerces and traps. The other serves and supports.

Which best describes your team? Is that the answer you want?

36: Cavalry

“It is the business of cavalry to follow up the victory, and to prevent the beaten army from rallying.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

A brand is only as strong as the promises it keeps. Great teams keep their promises. If you do important work, you need to be able to call the cavalry if you get stuck, in case of emergency.

Consider having–and being–cavalry for someone on your team:

  • Get cavalry: someone who can ride in and save the day when you need it, who stays ready.
  • Be cavalry: Being able to ride in and save the day when they need it, staying ready.

With backup around every corner, how much would an initiative like this strengthen your team’s promise to the marketplace?

35: Team first

Does your next project excite you or stress you out?

Great teams optimize their work to create leading products and services that create a lasting impact. The answer to the question above determines whether or not this is a possibility for them.

Consider the trade-offs of a team that falls into the latter bucket:

  • Fastest turn-around time at the expense of everyone feeling worn down. Would a team that feels ‘ready to roll’, rather than aching for a vacation, not create a better result?
  • Cheapest option around at the expense of not supporting the team and their families. Would a team that focuses on doing great work, rather than worrying about the bills, not create a better result?

Interestingly, great teams often wind up offering projects their time and their speed for the love of what they do and who they get to do it with.

For customers, “made by a happy team” is the ‘feature’ worth buying.

34: Features, benefits, privileges

Most of us have heard that, in marketing, it’s more effective to describe benefits than features. You may have also heard that the best marketing changes the product (e.g. learning and executing user feedback), not the ads alone.

We have an opportunity to go further: to let marketing change not only the buyer’s product experience but our trusting audience’s world, by privileging them. This comes with promises from you to them:

Example 1:

  • Feature: Self-setting clock functionality
  • Benefit: Convenience of not manually updating the time.
  • Privilege: Never again wonder what time it is.
  • Your promise: You will ensure that the clock never breaks or stops, and you’ll replace it immediately if it does.

Example 2:

  • Feature: Batteries included.
  • Benefit: Product is ready to use, right out of the box.
  • Privilege: Never see a sad face on your child when they open a gift from you.
  • Your promise: You will learn their child’s preferences every gift season, to be sure the gift they buy is always a perfect fit.

Privileging your audience means giving them the gift of an unpayable debt. It’s an opportunity to serve at a much deeper level.

33: Doubt together

“Self-approval is a dangerous state of mind” – Napoleon Hill

Doubt is a double-edged sword: an essential ingredient for doing creative work, and a barrier to even trying. Really, it’s a call to action:

  • For your team: Assuring them to stay the course will release them to use doubt as a tool to improve their work.
  • For your clients: Enabling them to focus on moving in the right direction will release you to do your best work for them.
  • For your prospects: Equipping them with the information they need to make good decisions will release you to start serving them.
  • For your mentors: Sharing your doubts with them will release them to guide you toward your next phase of growth.

Doubt is a double-edged sword that can help you stay on track and serve others more deeply. Or it can hold us all back. Be sure to wield it wisely.

32: Mind salsa

Without rhythm, our brains wouldn’t defer breathing to the unconscious. Rhythm means we’ve figured out how to make something work, every time.

And when it comes to breathing, that’s great. But when it comes to creativity, which only appears when we try things that might not work, we have what Einstein would call ‘insanity’ – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Creativity needs an extra step to shake things up. How can we be consistently creative? I call it ‘mind salsa’:

  1. Find the beat.  This salsa beat has five steps instead of four: a consistently odd number of steps. Breaking out of your normal rhythm makes space for creativity.
  2. Move. Watching the same moves over and over gets boring. Changing your approach, changing your environment, driving straight instead of turning right, forces your mind to figure out what happens next.

Rhythm carries you, for better or worse. If you choose to ‘mind salsa’, you might unlock more of your creative genius. How would your work benefit if you were consistently more creative?

31: Raising your will

Whether it’s a workout or a project, there comes a point where you say, “That’s enough.” The project is all done. Your legs are burning from the hill climb. Nothing.

Nobody celebrates or talks about what we’ve completed.

But we suddenly get very evangelic whenever something is 101% complete. When we went one more hill, created for 10 more minutes, wrote one more email.

  • 100%: Those who work-out only as far as they set out to, eventually get fat. Those who merely complete their work, run out of work.
  • 101%: Those who push themselves little further, eventually look amazing. Teams who go beyond for their clients, get more clients. After all, you’re already in the gear, why not commit to one more 1%? Your only barrier is your will.

Like working out, raising your will creates your new standard. Done together, this is how teams put themselves in a class all of their own.

Raise your will, one more hill, build goodwill, or it’s all downhill.

30: Stable work

Work. Career. Mission. Which do you have?

  • Work: ‘Doing as we’re told, for a while, for money.’
  • Career: ‘Doing as we’re told, for a while longer, for money.’
  • Mission: ‘Breaking the rules, indefinitely, because it’s right.’

Unless you’re a doctor, doing as we’re told works only up to a point, now that the world rewards rule-breakers. Ironically, from that volatility comes the greatest stability.

We assume the world will stay the same. That, in five years time, we’ll type on laptops, search on Google, and your company will survive using today’s tactics.

If your team is on a mission to change the status quo, that gives you an opportunity to be remarkable, indispensable, and supported in your efforts.

It’s either that or doing as you’re told for just a little while longer.

29: Paint your engine red

I don’t know much about cars. When Ferrari releases under-the-hood photos of a new vehicle, I’ve little idea of what I’m looking at. But it looks good.

Under the hood, most of us wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Ferarri’s latest and that of an economy-class vehicle… were it not for the presentation. Shiny, symmetrical, considered, cared for, and painted red.

Open the hood of your work. What do we see?

  • Care: Can I tell how much you do? Is it blackened with dirt, assuming it doesn’t really matter? If you don’t care, why should anybody else?
  • Red: Is yours, under the hood? There’s no need for it to be; engineers did it for the love of their craft. People who love their work do good work. Can I tell how much you love your work?

Most daren’t show under the hood of their work. Don’t just show it. Paint it red.

28: Result lists

To-dos can be deceiving because an activity is not an achievement.

“Leave 10 voicemails” is easy to check off, with an assumption they may lead somewhere. But what if the goal wasn’t to merely leave voicemails, but to “receive enthusiastic interest from Mr. X”?

The problem is, if the voicemails yielded no reply, the to-do is still checked off. You ‘succeeded’, even when your goal remains unachieved. Mr. X isn’t enthusiastic yet–you’ve yet to even speak.

Consider replacing your To-do List with a Result List. It has 3 components:

  1. What Result do we want? This is the ‘What’, not the ‘How’, behind this item on your list. For example, “receive enthusiastic interest from Mr. X.”
  2. Why do we want that result? This is the ‘Why’, not the ‘How’, behind this item. For example, “Mr. X. has enormous value our tribe could benefit from.”
  3. What are all the ways we could achieve it? This is the list of all the possible ‘Hows’ you could utilize in order to achieve the ‘What’ in #1. For example, “Voicemail, email, send our book, hand-written letter, intercept at a conference”, the list is endless.

After a method in #3 creates the result in #1, you toss out the rest of the items in #3. Why do the rest? Your result was achieved!

Ticking off a to-do does not mean achievement, but working through divergent approaches toward a single goal–while being mindful of why you’re doing it–ensures achievement.

Consider your to-do list: how could you turn it into a Result List?

27: ‘Dread locks’

Take a look at this week’s calendar. How does it make you feel? Do you feel motivated by the momentum you’ll create, or do you feel locked down by dread?

Dread locks you out of your genius–your ability to do your best work. It moves you from “How can I make today amazing?” to “How can I get through today?” I call the latter state ‘dread locks’. When you have it, for each task in the week, ask yourself:

  1. What’s the goal? Every action needs a goal or you’ve no way of knowing if it was successful or not. That can create dread. Assign one or delete the task.
  2. Does the goal need to be achieved? If not, delete the task. Why do things that don’t matter? The feeling of wasted time can create dread.
  3. Does it need to be achieved by you? If not, find who it belongs to and give it to them. Doing the wrong work can create dread.
  4. Does it afford you enough time and resources? If not, get them, and commit to ensuring they exist for this type of task in future. Trying to do things with a hand tied behind your back can create dread.
  5. Do you know how to succeed with this goal? If not, get the training and clarity you need, or revisit #3. Not knowing what success looks like can create dread.
  6. Now how does the week look? If there’s still dread, return to #1 and repeat.

Life’s too short to do work that doesn’t matter, and your team deserves better than you showing up with ‘dread locks’. How would your week feel without them? How would your work benefit?

26: Goals, out of reach

When you set ‘bad goals’, everything feels entirely within arm’s reach. You need not stretch yourself to attain them.

Microsoft did this during Ballmer’s leadership when they optimized for the 20th century when the rest of the world had moved into the 21st.

When you set ‘good goals’, everything is slightly out of reach. You need to grow from where you are now to possibly reach them. And that creates fear: you might not make it.

If you choose the latter (check out “YIAM Growth Challenges“) you get to decide where to focus: on growing to meet your goal, or on the fear associated with having made it:

  • Fear: “I can’t reach it. It is unreachable to me. Is it even possible?”
  • Growth: “What can I do next that could move me closer to my goal?”

How would you feel, what would you think about, and how would you act, if you supposed for a moment that your goal was entirely possible?

25: Great teams

Creating, leading, or belonging to a great team is a privilege.

Like a great childhood, a great team has lasting effects on us that we wouldn’t change for the world. What makes a great team? And how do you know when you’re on one?

  1. Initiative. Members step up for challenges outside their comfort zone.
  2. Committed. Members show up for reasons beyond the dollar alone.
  3. Good stewards. Of time, attention, energy, resources. Self-sustaining.
  4. Time. Members want to spend it together.
  5. Trust. No babysitting. Members are treated like–and behave like–adults.
  6. Growth. Members are becoming–or helping others become-A Players.
  7. Respect. Opinions, values, and apologies are all accepted and honored.
  8. Tough-love. Members are relationally strong enough to challenge each other.
  9. Protective. Members actively reject ‘bad fits’ for the benefit of the team.
  10. Pride. Members are all proud of the work they do together.

Great teams are rare. How many of these does your team have? Which could you bring to your team?

24: Words control emotions

When you belong to a great team, it’s great because of you, as well as the others. Otherwise, it would be a ‘mostly great’ team. But we don’t always ‘feel’ great.

Turns out, we can do something about that. We control more of our emotions with our self-talk than we realize. Consider these contrasts:

  • Terrible or Inconvenient?
  • Cold-caller or Treasure-hunter?
  • Losing or Learning?
  • Nice or Absolutely-Marvelous?
  • Nutritious or Delicious?
  • Organizing or Recreating?
  • Scary or Growth-opportunity?
  • Expensive or Valuable?
  • Weak or Delicate?
  • Confusing or Intricate?
  • Hurtful or History?
  • Paycheck or Calling?

Which words sound more like yours, the left ones or the right?

Which would you prefer? What’s stopping you?

23: The myth of “big problems”

It’s fascinating how perspective and mental state can totally rewrite our circumstances. A favorite saying of mine is,

“Big problems are just small problems in small worlds.”

Here are three examples of how this might apply:

1. ‘Big’ problem: “I may lose a customer.”

  • Small world: You only have 2 of them. You selfishly cling on past when is best for them.
  • Bigger world: Would it still be a problem if you had 100 clients instead of 2, and a pipeline full of prospects?

2. ‘Big’ problem: “I don’t know how to solve this problem.”

  • Small world: You have no advisors or network to guide you forward. So you’re stuck, spinning your wheels.
  • Bigger world: Would it still be a problem if you had people around you that you can trust, who can point out the way?

3. ‘Big’ problem: “I don’t want to <insert here>”

  • Small world: You’ve only your feelings to drive you forward. So you procrastinate.
  • Bigger world: Would it still be a problem if you had a reason bigger than yourself for doing <insert here>?

Perspective changes everything and shines a new light on what you should do next.

Consider your biggest problems today. How do they change when you click “zoom out” a few times to see the bigger picture?

22: 3 things robots can’t do

With development accelerating in AI and machine learning, the world is going to transform in a big way. Some wonder where humans might fit into it all, as blue-and-white-collar professions are altered by robots.

Here are 3 things robots can’t do:

  1. Intuition. Learning to trust your gut can at times go against the data. Knowing your gut is human-only; it’s when you know someone’s a good fit for your team after just 3 minutes of talking to them.
  2. Awareness. Beyond knowledge, this is where we see how the pieces fit together after being exposed to wide varieties of knowledge. Like the Magic Eye picturebooks of the 90s.
  3. Why. This transcends the activity or direction or timing. It’s what gives purpose. This is when you take a longer harder path not because it’s easy, but because it’s right.

Is your work celebrating your humanity? Do you do the 3 things that robots can’t do?