Archives For Unity of Purpose

People in companies around the world think, act, work, learn and lead differently, based for the most part on their culture. Culture both consciously and unconsciously shapes values, perceptions and behaviors, as well as setting systematic guidelines for how we should conduct business.

Last week we took a look at how we can combine different components of culture to move virtual teams forward. This week we will explore how you can effectively manage cultural differences from a practical viewpoint that will allow everyone to benefit from cultural diversity.

By its very nature, the make-up of virtual teams is diverse. This is good – it allows you to maximize different perspectives and, hopefully, leverage the differences to gain new insights and fresh perspectives. However, there are factors that need to be managed if a virtual team is to not only survive, but thrive, within the complexities of a virtual team environment. Here are some common challenges you may have as a leader in creating synergy within your virtual team:

  • Leveraging the differences in cultural norms of team members
  • Understanding how different people manifest their cultural norms
  • Influencing the different functional, professional and alternative subcultures
  • Being empathetic to the functional and geographic dispersion of team members
  • Managing the the perception of status differences within the team
  • Leveraging culturally different leadership styles
  • Controlling differing expectations regarding key processes and procedures

These challenges need to be managed throughout the lifecycle of the team. The sooner they are acknowledged and worked on, the more efficiently the team will be able to deliver results.

Despite these challenges, there are also unifying factors that can connect a virtual team with their diverse team members. Virtual integration can occur based on common agreement as to accepted principles and processes and mechanisms such as shared vision and values.

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It is inevitable – change creates drama in most organizations. However, you have a choice as to whether you deal with change effectively or let it spiral out of control  – controlling you and creating unnecessary drama! Leaders need to be able to present a unified vision and convey support if they expect their people to embrace change. Indifference can lead to a rapid demise of the change effort. As a leader invoking change, make sure you provide:

  • A vision for how the change will impact the individual, team, division and organization
  • A firm commitment to change goals, while accepting input on the details
  • Specific, achievable objectives along with plans for achieving them
  • A roadmap for success with realistic timelines, budgets, and owners
  • A communication framework to support change adoption
  • Opportunities for people to give feedback during and after the change

Admittedly, organizational change is complex, but we often make it harder on ourselves than it has to be. Just as in the board game Clue, it is easy to engage in false assumptions that can lead our people down the path of suspicion and drama – away from the truth and the ultimate win. The result? A whole lot of ambiguous thinking regarding the application of structured, human-focused, change within the organization.

Here are just a few examples of how we can easily fall victim to false assumptions over our own realities:

People Resist Change: Actually, not always. People frequently seek out drastic changes in their lives and voluntarily embrace them. People do, however, resist being forced to change.
 How change is presented and managed will impact its success or failure far more than the change itself.  Most of us respond far better to change when we comprehend a valid reason for it – without solid justification, most people are likely to resist anyone who tries to force change upon them… and cause drama along the way.

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You can bet that if you do not set and manage expectations, drama will invite itself in for an extended visit. When people do not know what is expected, they will create their own expectations – and they most likely will not align across the organization. Disagreements and controversy ensue, causing chaos and distraction from driving positive results.  While setting and managing expectations may seem time consuming, the cost – in time, effort, and drama – of not doing so far exceeds that of being responsible and clearly letting people know what you expect of them.

Before you, as a leader, can hold people accountable for outcomes, you have to let them know what success looks like and what you expect to see as a result of their efforts.  If everyone knows what is expected, the focus is on driving for results and monitoring against set standards. The benefit of setting and managing expectations is twofold:

  1. Clear, concise expectations drive actions and decisions.
  2. Explicit expectations are a primary driver of success.

If you fail to create an environment where expectations are well understood and respected by your people, you are highly unlikely to develop a high-performing organization… or deliver strong business results.

Expectations are like the rules in the board game Sorry! When everyone knows the “rules” or “expectations”, some may try and cheat (like my husband, who can’t stand to lose), but the other players will hold the cheater accountable. When no one knows the rules, it is impossible to be accountable, much less hold anyone else accountable to anything.  Organizations are no different – if you want your players to know how to play to win and hold others accountable, you are responsible for setting and managing expectations.

When setting expectations, consider these four principles:

1. Clarity

Expectations should focus on outcomes, not activities. Leaders often make the mistake of attempting to direct the process that will be used, rather than focusing on the desired outcome. As a leader, you should be responsible for identifying the goal, while the employee (or the team) is then responsible for developing how to meet or exceed expectations.

2. Relevance

Relevance helps define the “why” of what is expected. If employees have complete understanding of the importance of what they are asked to deliver, they will be more committed to the result because they see how it fits into the big picture, as well as how their efforts impact the company.

3. Simplicity.

Simplicity creates a sense of grounding for both individuals and teams. If you identify what is expected in simple, straightforward terms, there is a clear understanding of exactly what is expected.

4.  Consistency

After setting expectations, you must maintain a consistent approach to managing expectations that can be applied in most situations. This facilitates a sense of unity and equality, and will bolster morale across the organization.

Now, let’s consider three important components to managing expectations:

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Gossip is as old as mankind, and if you have drama in the workplace – you more than likely have gossip. They can be found in nearly every workplace, these conspiratorial conversations that are more often than not unverified, unsubstantiated, and occasionally unseemly. It can be the type of chatter that can appear, at face value, as harmless speculation or good-natured teasing,  but if left unchecked, has the potential to severely impact your ability to generate positive business results. Leaders need to recognize that gossip can have a profound effect on their bottom line, and that not having a strategy to handle it could be a recipe for disaster.

It may sound like a harmless, unavoidable by-product of corporate life, but left unchecked, gossip can wreak havoc on company morale and efficiency. A negative work environment is a less productive work environment. Gossip can create an uncomfortable atmosphere –  not only for the person the gossip is about, but for everyone in the workplace.

Gossip can often become likened to the old childhood game of “Telephone”, where one person starts the spread of information, and by the time it reaches the last person, it has evolved and changed into something entirely different. Some gossip may have truth to it, while other information carried on the gossip relay may be false. Either way, gossip is a harmful means of communication and should be avoided.

Here are just a few destructive results of gossip in the workplace:

  • Wasted time and lost productivity
  • Severe erosion of trust and morale
  • Hurt feelings and the possibility of reprisals
  • Miscommunication leading to conflict, missed opportunities or misinformation
  • Heightened fear or falsely raised expectations
  • A “toxic” work environment

Now that you understand the serious impact that gossip can have, what can you do about it? First, you need to understand that you are not likely to completely eliminate it. However, you also need to understand that how an organization deals with habitual gossip can be mean the difference between growing and thriving… or disintegrating from within. Understanding the effect it has on achieving your organization’s goals and objectives, your goal should be to limit gossip to the greatest extent possible.  Below are some tips for controlling gossip in the workplace:

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We have all experienced workplace drama in one form or another. It can be unpleasant, irritating, and disruptive  – often preventing organizations from effectively meeting their goals.  As a leader, you are responsible for maintaining a productive, drama-free workplace. You rely on people to do their jobs in such a way that results are successfully achieved. Because you work with people to get things done, you are likely to experience drama in the workplace. It can sometimes feel like an experience similar to the television show “The Nanny” – the kids (your organization) are spoiled and/or unruly, and you are the Nanny – responsible for teaching the foundational skills that lead to organizational success. However, in the workplace (just as with dysfunctional families) the gossip, complaining, and backstabbing leads to full blown negativity that will result in increased turnover and absenteeism. How you manage drama within your organization may determine your ultimate outcomes.

It may feel personal at times, but as the “Nanny”, it is your job to get the children back in line, ensuring they learn and engage in appropriate behaviors that will create positive results for the organization. For the next few weeks, we will explore several ideas – hopefully providing you, the leader, with a toolbox to ensure that you are in a position to eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) drama in the workplace. If you successfully manage the drama, you are much more likely to see the positive results you desire.

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Have you thought about the impact that you, as a leader, have in these toxic waters of economic downturn? Wise leaders are making the changes they need to make now so that they emerge better, stronger, and faster than ever – ready for the growth that will ultimately come. It is absolutely critical for those at the helm to be prepared to inspire and motivate those who remain onboard in order to emerge victorious. So what are some of the most important traits that a great Captain in this epic storm should embrace? Here are some reminders of what is important:

  • Lead By Example: Your people watch everything you do and listen to every word you say – then wait to ensure both are in alignment. The best way to lead and motivate is to be a real example of the way you expect others to behave. Be completely honest and as transparent as possible. Level with people – tell them how you see the current environment, acknowledge the limits of your own understanding, and engage the discussion by asking them for their views. Why? 1) your honesty and humility will breed respect and  2) your openness demonstrates that you walk the talk and 3) it clearly illustrates how together you are more than the sum of the individual parts.
  • Inspire Loyalty: The seas are rough, the water is toxic, and people fear being thrown overboard more than ever. It’s critical that they truly believe that you are on their side and supporting them. Create a vision that will make your teams see possibility and generate creative ideas. Inspire them to focus on the new priorities by doing so yourself – fearlessly. Engage decisions and projects that will produce incremental success so that people can visibly and viably see progress. Why? Because people need hope and they need to see progress – you can give them both and they will reward you with their loyalty. The more clear and vivid you can communicate a vision, the more your teams are bought into you and what may seem an impossible future  – show them the finish line and they will put up the sails and catch the wind.
  • Demonstrate A Real-Time Connection To Reality: Although today reality is a moving target, continuously monitoring the changing environment through ground-level intelligence can provide a realistic map to plot your way forward. Partnering to pool information across functions, or geographical boundaries, can provide useful insights and build camaraderie. As an added bonus, as you continue to gather information, the picture will change to reveal new opportunities or threats that can be proactively addressed. While the first order of a realistic assessment is to understand and accept the magnitude of the challenge, the fact is that there are few problems that can not be solved by engaged, active minds working together. Focus people on what is realistically possible, rather than what is not, and facilitate them searching for solutions that will move the organization forward.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to drive positive performance by transforming fear into action.
  • Manage With Intensity – Embrace Empowerment: Always remember to balance intensity with empowerment. Provide the training, resources and support your people need to do their jobs, but don’t micro-manage. It shows you don’t have faith in your people and demonstrates explicitly that you do not trust them. Tipping the scales back the other way, in difficult times your hands-on participation is essential. As you support people in doing their jobs, openly share and discuss information and ideas, and consistently act with the speed and intensity required in a volatile environment. You need to be intensely interactive  – listening, explaining, answering questions, pushing conversations to higher levels – and then doing it all again. People will be inspired by your intensity and involvement – not to mention seeing firsthand how you put reality on deck and engage them in a plan to address it decisively, as a team.

Facing the reality of surviving the current storm, while preparing for the long term effects of the toxicity,  requires a leader to constantly adjust – “X” no longer marks the spot.  Those leaders who look ahead, anticipate what’s coming,  and act decisively to adjust to an ever-changing reality will survive. Those leaders who lead by example, inspire loyalty, engage their teams, demonstrate a real-time connection to reality, and manage with intensity while embracing empowerment will not only survive the toxic waters – they will thrive in the new reality.

Please engage the discussion and let us know what traits you rely on to motivate and incite every person to think through and act on sustaining the organization. Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the next post on Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.