Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Building Better Teams

In this time of economic hardship and corporate downsizing, it can be difficult to get the best out of a team when everyone is feeling a little stretched to their capacity. 
It can be quite challenging to ask a group of people to take some time out of a busy schedules to attend a 'team building workshop'.  So instead, take a look below at some quick and easy ideas that you can implement to help improve your team's motivation and performance.

GET TALKING: A common feature of under-motivated teams is that they seldom have a chance to talk about reoccurring issues.  Make sure that you host a regular team meeting at least every two weeks.  This way your team can feel that they have an opportunity to discuss issues that are important to them.

LITTLE FUN GOES A LONG WAY: Injecting a little bit of 'play' into the workplace can have a huge impact.  A quick quiz, lateral thinking puzzles, games or an icebreaker can give your team a chance to relieve stress and improve relationships with their colleagues.  It can be really effective to partner people with co-workers that they don't normally work with, as this can help build relationships and allow people to see each other a fellow human being...not just as a job title.

GIVE PRAISE: Remember that catching people doing things right from time to time and acknowledging people for their contributions is a powerful way to make people feel appreciated.

ALLOW AUTONOMY: Give people and teams the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.  This will help a team to become more responsible for their tasks and give your team a greater stake in delivering strong results.

HOLD A WORKSHOP: Have team members plan and deliver a workshop around a relevant workplace subjects.  This can ensure that important skills and knowledge are shared throughout the team, allowing people to improve their understanding of key aspects of the business.

SURPRISE SOMEONE: Similar to giving praise, this can be a very powerful way to formally recognise a member of the team with a special thank you or an award.  This can send a very powerful message to the entire team that demonstrates how their contributions are noticed and appreciated by the organisation.

DO SOMETHING OLD, SOMEWHERE NEW: It is amazing how powerful a new space can be.  If you have a regular meeting in the same office, it can easily be transformed by having the meeting somewhere else.  In a local coffee shop, in a local park or even in the another meeting room can enliven the participants and make the meeting more enjoyable for all.

USE COMMUNICATION GUIDELINES: Think about how you can improve team communication by using communally agreed 'rules' that can help people know what ways the team can improve their relationships.  Examples can be: only replying to an email on a certain subject a limit of three times before you have to call the other person, having a time limit to team meetings (no longer than 90 minutes), no emailing anyone with 9 feet of your desk (except when sending a report), banning email for an hour each day, etc.  These types of agreed guidelines can encourage team spirit and help improve communication skills.

FOOD: Never underestimate the power of biscuits, sweets and chocolate.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dealing with Interruptions at Work

An interesting statistic: The average American worker has fifty interruptions per day and seventy-five percent of the them have nothing to do with work.
Every day people are struggling to cope with greater demands at work with ever dwindling resources.  The greatest resource we have in the workplace is time.  That is why it is important to protect the amount of time we waste.  Protecting our time is a great strategy to help you discover more time to invest in the projects and tasks that are important to you (and your career).  Below are some tips to dealing with Time Demons...people who rob you of your time. 

MANNERS: A great saying when dealing with interruptions is: Be Gracious with People & Ruthless with Time.  It is always important to make it clear to the other person that you would love to help them, but you haven't the time.  Making it clear to people that time is the enemy, not them, will make them understand that this isn't the appropriate time for you to deal with their request.

SAY NO or NOT NOW: The main reason why people interrupt us at work, is because we let them.  Do remember that you can say no to their requests or that you are not available at the moment.  Using 'no' can also be useful to open up a negotiation about a request, so that you still might end up doing the task but in your own timescale.

ISOLATE YOURSELF: When working on a big project or on a tight deadline, using a meeting room can help minimise the amount of interruptions you have.  If you work in a team, diverting your calls to a colleague (or to voice mail) can also help reduce the amount of people disturbing you.

EMAILS: Set limits to the amount of times you check emails in a day.  Emails can be very distracting and if a request is important or urgent, the person will usually call you to chase the emailed request.  when extremely busy, a usual tips is to turn on your Out-of-Office notification, stating that you are away from your desk and that you will be able to reply to messages by a certain time.  

BE PROACTIVE: If there is a regular customer or a colleague that is constantly pestering you for extra assistance, it can sometimes be useful to call them in advance and ask if there are any issues that they can foresee where they will need your help.  Also, you can ask people how long the interruption will take.  So when people ask, "Have you got a minute?" you can respond with' "If it will just take a minute, if not, I will have to speak to you later."  This way you can have greater control of your schedule.

SEND THEM CLUES: Using body language can help let people know that you are under pressure due to a lack of time.  Some ideas are: look at your watch, stand up when people are speaking to you or pick up the telephone receiver.  This can send the message to the other person that you are busy and are unable to continue the discussion.  Even asking the question, "Anything else?" can make others realise that you are now trying to finish up the discussion.

MEETINGS: Meetings can be a real waste of time.  Here are a few things to remember to help your meetings be more productive: have a clock in the room so that everyone is aware of the time, agree an informal agenda at the start of the meeting (and stick to it), consider only attending a part of the meeting (rather than sticking around for bits that are irrelevant to you), agree your actions before departing the meeting, avoid discussing information that can be accessed online or electronically, stay only for a restricted amount of time (90 minutes MAX) and make sure that the meetings are action orientated (that key actions are assigned to the attendees).  Another effective solution is to have the meeting standing up.  This way people tend to stick to the topic and the meeting will tend to be shorter.  If a meeting is called to discuss another meeting, don't bother attending.  

DELEGATE or DEFER: If you really can't say no but still are struggling with time pressure, you may need to defer that task to someone else.  If it is a task that keeps occurring, then it may be an idea to delegate it someone else.  Delegation can be a great way of developing members of your team to take on new responsibility. But remember: Delegation is not abdication.  You will still be held accountable for the task so make sure you delegate the task thoroughly. 

DECIDE: We all need a break from the occasional drudgery of work.  So if you are going to let someone interrupt you, then make sure it is a decision you have made and not an element of your day that you can't control.  If you are allowing someone to interrupt you, then make sure it is an interruption that you can afford. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

Preparing for a Business Presentation

Most people under-prepare for their business presentations.  A common mistake is that a lot of business people think that they can just 'wing it'.  Good luck to you.  Luck is commonly described as preparation meets opportunity.  You have been given a business opportunity but if you haven't prepared enough, then you will need all the luck you can get.


  • 'WALK THROUGH' your key points, but have someone in the room with you (even your partner, kids or a friend).
  • While driving to the meeting, say your key points aloud to help you memorise your points.
  • Set very clear objectives to your presentation, and stick to your key points.
  • Think of the hardest question that you could be asked, and aim to come up with a great answer to that question.  If you don't know the answer, ask a colleague/boss.  If you really don't know what the answer could be, you can always say to the audience, "I don't know, but I'll get back to you".  If you want to win their business, get back to the questioner with the right information sooner than you promised.
  • Memorise and structure your introduction.
  • A great format is ABCD: ATTENTION: Good morning, etc. BENEFITS: This is the reason why the audience will want to pay attention to you CREDENTIALS: Why you are an expert in this subject? DIRECTION: signpost your audience about the structure of your presentation (the main 2-3 points) and how long you will take.
  • Structure your ideas into a logical narrative.
  • Use metaphors, current events, clear examples, analogies or commonly known stories to make your ideas more memorable to the audience.
  • Practice your will you bridge this idea to the next one?
  • Think about warming up your body and voice to make you look more relaxed and help prepare yourself.
  • A rule in the theatre is: 'bad dress rehearsal, great opening night' use all your mistakes as learning points to help in your preparation.
  • Ask your boss for an extra hour to help you prepare.  Stand up and perform your pitch, do not spend another hour (or two) trying to make your PowerPoint slides more interesting.  Try to make yourself more interesting, not your slides!
  • Prepare 'prompts' not scripts, this will keep you more 'present' in front to your audience and can help prevent you from reading too much.
  • Think of your PowerPoint slides as a guide to your ideas, not a rigid structure that you must adhere to.
  • Don't be afraid to skip ahead a few slides if you have already covered a point or you think it is now an irrelevant point to the audience.
  • Draw a map of your ideas and use the space to 'anchor' your thoughts.  So, for example, move to the right side of the room when you talk about your sales targets.
  • Focus on your key 2-3 messages and keep them simple.
  • Consider asking the audience a few direct questions.  Don't be afraid to pick out a person in the audience and ask them for their thoughts about your information.  They may not wish to say anything but it can help move your formal presentation into a less formal meeting.
  • Over-prepare but under-deliver: prepare 20 minutes but deliver 15 minutes of material.  Nobody likes a bore, so keep it brief and clear.
  • Prepare a closing statement.  Think of your 'Final Thought' and a remember to repeat your name and how people can contact at the end of presentation (after the Question and Answer session).
  • Consider how much monetary value your pitch is worth, have you prepared enough to equal the value of your business proposal.
  • Get into your 'performance' space early (if possible).  Can help to do a quick voice check to make sure people can hear you and get your room laid out professionally.
  • Keep the room cool.  If you want the audience to fall asleep, turn off the lights and turn the heaters on full blast.
  • Prepare your outfit in advance and wear something that makes you feel confident.
  • Eat a light breakfast or snack before you begin.
  • Avoid colas, carbonated water and too much coffee beforehand.
  • DO NOT DO YOUR PREPARATION IN THE RECEPTION AREA OF YOUR CLIENT (if you need to ask why, then you don't deserve the work you are winning).
Taking a little extra time to prepare can pay vast dividends and even help to ease your nerves.  Even if you prepare an extra 5 minutes, that extra effort can be helpful in making sure that your ideas a clear and memorable. 


If you are delivering a group presentation make certain that one person is made 'the chairperson' and takes a formal role in the presentation such as introducing the group and each member of the presentaing team (including identifying what topics each presenters will be speaking about).   Practice your segues, 'Now Dave will talk to you about Quality Assurance' and decide what will be your 'final thought' (and who will be saying it).  When exiting, don't dawdle or gossip.  Get out of the office quick and then find a coffee shop far away to have a group de-brief.