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In this video, I explore the characteristics that make a team successful and high-performing and discuss how your team can be one, too.

In a 2-year study by Google, the company discovered that there are 5 key attributes present in high-performing teams:

  1. Psychological safety: As a member of this team, can I take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can my team members count on each other to deliver high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & quality: Do all of my team members know and understand goals, roles, and execution plans?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

Why do these attributes matter?

Let’s imagine what happens when these attributes are absent in the team we work with. Imagine that in your team, there’s no psychological safety. You can’t depend on anyone to take up the slack, whether you control it or not. You are unclear about the team’s goals and everyone’s roles, and you’re uncertain if there is even a definite execution plan. And because you’re unsure if what you are doing is important or even makes an impact, you don’t find meaning in your work.

How do you think you’ll perform? You’ll be likely to only do as you’re told and most likely won’t initiate or offer suggestions out of what you believe is normal. You’ll likely think and act within the box. You certainly won’t take unnecessary risks—or any risk for that matter.

It becomes stifling, but we would rather be stifled rather than have others perceive our competence or attitudes negatively. This is a natural survival strategy—but this also is extremely harmful to a team and its performance. Team members take less initiative, and they become less creative. That’s because when things are uncertain, we would rather wait to be told about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Rather than blaze the trail and then risk failing and possibly be blamed by the entire team, we are likely to just ‘play it safe’.

So how do we build a high-performing team?

The way I see it is that we need three things:

  1. we need the right people,
  2. they need the right tools and systems to work with, and
  3. they need to work in the right environment.

The right people, the right tools and systems, and the right environment will be different for each business—so there isn’t going to be the fixed formula for each team.

But we need to start somewhere, so here are a few things we, as business owners, might consider if we are going to build and nurture a high-performing team.

Let’s start with the people: hire the right ones. And the common hiring guideline is to hire for attitude and train for aptitude. You want to work with people who have the capacity and disposition to deal with the kind of personalities and situations that your business deals with daily.

Don’t try to get the best people at the lowest possible hourly rate. People who are good will command a higher rate—and even if they agree to come in at a low rate, they are not likely to stay for a long time. Find a good and fair rate to attract the kind of person you want to work in your business.

Once you find the right people, set them up for success by providing them with the right tools and systems to work with. This means making roles and objectives clear, and execution plans concrete. Provide further training if their roles or objectives call for it. The absence of any one of these makes people guess and leads them to improvise, which may not always result in what is ideal.

Encourage communication. A clear indication of psychological safety is found in the quality of team communication. That everyone feels that they are heard, or everyone feels confident that they can freely but reasonably express themselves means that there is a high level of psychological safety in the team.

While communication cannot guarantee that teams will not run into conflict, a culture that encourages open communication can help team members work through problems. Open communication nurtures an environment where team members will feel psychologically safe.

Google’s Head of Industry, Paul Santagata, who was involved in the 2-year study, has this advice: To build and nurture high-performing teams—and nurture the environment of trust, everyone must learn to approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. The goal in resolving conflict is not to win an argument, but to find a mutually beneficial solution—and one that works to everyone’s best interest.

Santagata also advices to learn how to replace blame with curiosity. When exploring the problem as a team, focus on finding solutions, not blame. But when you do find that one member might be the source of the problem, try to ask this person for the solution. The people who are responsible for creating a problem often (but not all the time) hold the keys to solving them.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

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In this video, I offer a simple 3-step guideline on what small business owners should keep in mind when planning to train and develop their team—and to get them to work for you so that you can grow your business.

For a business to grow, we need to work with the resources that we have access to in order to achieve growth. One of the key resources in any business is the people working in the business—your team. You are dependent on them for the success of your business, as much as they are dependent on you for leadership and guidance. For growth to happen, everyone should have the right skills and the right attitude towards growth—training is one of the factors that will help ensure this.

Why train? When we stop learning, we stop growing. This is why it is important to continue training everyone in the business. Here are three important steps that I think small business owners should consider seriously when discussing employee training and development for company growth.

Step one: Identify learning gaps

What does your team need to learn? Categorize these gaps into short-term, medium-term, and long-term gaps. Look into them and fill accordingly.

What skills or knowledge do your employees need to learn immediately—perhaps in the next 6 to 12 months? What skills or knowledge would they need in the next 12 to 18 months or the medium-term to long-term?

What kind of skills do they need to learn? Are these hard or soft skills? Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as the ability to use software programs that you may be using in your business. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify skill sets, such as customer service or leadership skills.

Step two: Identify an approach

The next step is to identify how you will address these gaps. How will you train your employees for the skills and knowledge that they need to learn immediately? Will they learn on the job? Will someone be mentoring them? Will you be their mentor or will you be bringing someone from the outside to mentor them? Will they be shadowing someone already performing a similar task or process? Or will you be expanding their knowledge and skills through cross-training?

Does your organisation have someone in-house who can teach such skills? Or do you need to find a third-party provider for their training? Or maybe enrol them in an online course?

It is interesting to note at this point that while formal courses offered by many educational institutions seem ideal, some studies have shown that employees tend to learn more from their peers, particularly on skills and knowledge that already exist within your team. Furthermore, by teaching each other on the job, employees learn important leadership and management skills required for their position.

How will you tackle employee training and development in the medium- to long-term? Will you have an organisation-wide professional development plan? Some organisations assign a training and development champion—one who is held accountable for helping the organisation identify learning gaps and find an appropriate approach to achieve the organisatino’s professional development goals.

Step three: Identify accountability

How do you sustain your medium- to long-term learning goals? While the first two steps refers to actions or activities that the organisation should perform, this last step aims to ensure that any plans formulated and carried out in the short term will be implemented sustainably for years to come. This makes sure that the skills and knowledge of your staff grow with your goals.

A more important question to ask at this point is: who ensures that the development goals are carried out? I mentioned earlier about assigning a training champion. But keep in mind that the training champion only helps identify new or persistent learning gaps, and helps business owners find ways to address these. Having only one person accountable for everyone’s training and development is not enough.

In Deutsche Knowledge Services, Inc., the financial management back office of Deutsche Bank offices worldwide, every employee is held accountable for their professional development. They are all required to fulfill at least 60 hours of training every year. The company offers an exhaustive list of hard skills and soft skills in-house training, but employees are also encouraged to take out formal courses online or in formal institutions should the in-house training be insufficient. While the human resources department is considered as the training champion, every single employee is also called on to champion their own learning and development.

Obviously, Deutsche Bank is a massive organisation—and small businesses do not have the resources to roll out a professional development plan such as theirs. But we can take a page from their practice by focusing on what they wanted to achieve: hold employees accountable for learning by requiring them to be very active in their own development within the organisation.

What can small businesses do?

One regular practice in some organisations is weekly catch ups with the immediate superior. Managers spend 15 minutes, usually at the end of the week, to chat with their team members. This can be a form of mentoring. You can also introduce cross-training, where members of your team are assigned a different task or to a different team at regular rotational intervals. The key, however, is to keep your team accountable for their learning is to ask them what they need and what they intend to learn, and get their insight on how they themselves addressing the learning gaps.

Remember, as your team grows, they will be better prepared to handle the changes that come with the growth of your company.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to five investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

I would not normally take lessons from a reality TV show, but I know that we do watch reality TV and so I decided to look at what we can learn and apply to a small business.  While there is a counterpart here in Australia, I will focus on the Sharks or judges from the original US series.

In this first part of a two-part video, I will discuss the advice and lessons from the male Sharks of the show.

Robert Herjavec: Manage your time

Robert Herjavec is the founder and CEO of the Herjavec Group, a tech company that integrates, distributes, and manages security solutions. The company has done over US$500 million in sales. He founded his first company in 1990.

What he does: Herjavec plans a year in advance, “I live and die by my calendar.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: While he understands that not everything will go as planned—he acknowledges the existence of Murphy’s Law—planning a year in advance gives him the ability to see far ahead. This allows him to set his priorities and make time for the things that matter, such as being able to show up during important family events and activities.

What happened when he lived by this advice: Just as he planned, he has always shown up for every important family activity or event, “I never missed a swim meet. I never missed a school play. I never missed anything.”

The key to Herjavec’s advice is to acknowledge that time is a scarce but important resource. By planning, we make sure that we make the most out of our time, which is what will make us better business owners and better individuals.

In my video, “Managing your business’s most important asset – your time,” I discuss how one can manage time using a 5-step process: knowing what you want, identifying what needs to be done, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, managing your time, and finally keeping yourself focused by holding yourself accountable for your goals.

Mark Cuban: Focus on your strengths

Mark Cuban is the owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Dallas Mavericks, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment and chairman of AXS TV. He is also an investor in various tech companies. He founded his first company in 1982. His net worth is currently at US$4.1 billion.

What he does: He focused on what he was good at, which was selling and put it to use in the industry he was very much interested in—the tech industry. He also loves to read and learn—and he makes sure that he is up-to-date with the trends in his industry.

Why he thinks his advice is important:

  • He controversially warned against following your passion. He said, “I used to be passionate about being a professional basketball player. Then I realised I had a seven-inch vertical.” A vertical or a vertical leap is a measure of how high an individual or athlete can jump from a standstill. Incidentally, Michael Jordan’s vertical leap is 48 inches. What that meant was that Cuban loved basketball but didn’t have the right skill to excel in it. He could have trained to jump higher, but without natural talent, he probably would never be able to play at Jordan’s level.
    • When he first entered the tech industry, he was very green and knew very little. But he knew how to sell and he was inately curious, “I was always the guy reading about business all the time.”

What happened: He worked hard. He took pains learning about technology and kept abreast of emerging trends in the industry. He was an excellent sales person, which he used to grow his first company—before eventually selling it off for a huge profit. His skill set, his drive and his hard work eventually paid off.

The key to Cuban’s advice is in finding balance: understanding what we want to do and acknowledging what we can do. It is not bad to be ambitious, but we must temper it with pragmatism. Success entails acknowledging both our strengths and weaknesses. We nurture and work with our strengths.

Cuban could not play basketball professionally as he realised that he didn’t have the talent for it. Instead, he used his talent to purchase a basketball team—the Dallas Mavericks.

In one of my videos, “Your business can not grow bigger than what you can manage,” I discuss what business owners can do to focus. This means focusing on what they are good at while delegating the rest. One can delegate tasks to staff, or outsource to freelancers, or even work with consultants or business coaches.

In another video, “How lifelong learning makes your business better,” I share examples of successful entrepreneurs who committed to lifelong learning and how they adhere to this commitment—just as Cuban commits to learning.

Take a look at the videos I mentioned and I think you can see how developing yourself will make you a better business person.

Kevin O'Leary: Entrepreneurship is freedom to do what you want

Kevin O’Leary is a businessman and investor, with holdings in tech and investment companies. He founded his first company in the early 1980s. His net worth is currently at US$400 million.

What he believes: What O’Leary offers is a unique perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur. “The pursuit towards success is to be personally free to provide for your family and to be able to do the things you want to do with your life. That’s a great gift of entrepreneurship.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: As a young man, O’Leary wanted to become a photographer. The field was very competitive and so his father recommended that he study business instead. He went to business school, pursued an MBA and became a successful entrepreneur. His success in business gave him the freedom to pursue photography—he now gets to do what he wants to do as a hobby.

What he does: O’Leary prides in his ability to be productive. He keeps daily to-do lists, eschews procrastination by constantly asking himself, “Am I making money by doing this?”, and diligently keeps track of his progress.

O’Leary’s wisdom focuses on the “gift of entrepreneurship”—in doing so, it provides an ideal and a purpose for an entrepreneur’s pursuits. It also reminds us that we need to take care of ourselves, because when we do, we become better entrepreneurs. And by the same logic, we become more available in pursuing our life’s goals and passions.

In one of my videos, “Overcoming entrepreneurial exhaustion,” I encourage business owners to learn how to recover, to take good care of their health, and to learn to prioritise tasks.

If we marry Cuban and O’Leary’s advice, we will find a happy medium between passion and effort. If we see entrepreneurship as an enabler of our dreams and passions, then we will find a richer purpose for why we work hard for our business. O’Leary suggests that we see our business pursuit as a means to be free to pursue our passion. We can’t all be Michael Jordan or Ansel Adams, but Cuban and O’Leary has found ways to pursue their passions. Cuban currently owns NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, while O’Leary has a massive collection of cameras and photography equipment.  

Herjavec’s advice also affirms O’Leary’s beliefs about entrepreneurship—while time is a limited resource, as entrepreneurs, we have the freedom to choose how to use that time. And when we plan our time, we get to enjoy what matters most in our lives.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

How do these team-building activities improve collaboration in the workplace? Are they really as effective as they purport to be?

In this video, I explore why team-building activities may not necessarily improve collaboration in teams or within the workplace—and what you can do instead.

Team-building activities can be fun: scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, cooking or art classes, and even activities that mimic reality TV game shows. These can bring out unique skills from employees and allow one to see a different side of their co-workers.

In order to cater to demand, there is an entire team-building industry across the globe—and even here in Australia. And I have to admit that some of the activities they offer are fun and one-of-a-kind, as kendo and samurai classes, mountain climbing and sailing experiences, or themed scavenger hunts. These are just some of the activities they offer for team building or team bonding.

But given their costs, how effective are these team-building activities in improving collaboration within employees?

Do team-building activities work?

There is currently no hard research to support that these activities improve collaboration in the workplace. The problem is that while these activities may bond people through shared experiences and emotions—they do not last long enough to hold up under the day-to-day pressures at work.

One reason is because they do not really mimic what happens at work—they do not represent the routines that employees face on a daily basis.

Furthermore, one activity alone does not change the office dynamic. It takes sustained and recurring efforts to do that.

There are also other factors that may be preventing employees at work to collaborate effectively: unaddressed conflict, role confusion, bureaucracy, inexperienced leaders, learning gaps, just to name a few.

Why don’t they work?

Perhaps the long-term study conducted in Mars, Incorporated, the American global manufacturer of confectionery and pet food can help us understand why team-building activities don’t work.

The company wanted to improve collaboration across their organisation but was stumped when they realised that employees were not collaborating as closely as they wanted them despite providing support and following best practices. And so they sought to understand why this was happening.

What they found out changed the way they view collaboration. Most collaboration studies and best practices claimed that collaboration begins with trust and relationships—when you build trust amongst employees, collaboration will naturally follow. While trust is an important factor in collaboration—it is NOT, however, its defining factor.

The problem was that most employees viewed collaboration as a vague concept—and merely a tool to get something done. It is viewed as something important but not essential for their work.

The idea of collaboration is this: If Ted, Dan and Bill—all outstanding sales employees—put their heads together or collaborate, perhaps they could potentially sell more product.

But what the Mars, Inc. study found out was that what made Ted, Dan and Bill outstanding employees was their individual motivation to do better each time and relying on their own selves to get the job done. So, instead of depending on each other and working together—they went about their work individually to sell more product and get the job done.

They found out that Mars, Inc. had a bunch of very competent and highly motivated employees—and it was this internal motivation that was preventing people from collaborating!

What to do instead?

The key was to change mindsets. To do this, Mars, Inc. had to focus on what motivated each employee.

1. Define what collaboration is

The first step was to define what collaboration is—that collaboration is not merely a tool to get something done but a goal to be achieved. People would collaborate more if they were held accountable for it.

2. Reinforce the collaboration goal

The next step was to reinforce the collaboration goal with making teams understand why it was important. Each collaborative team member was tasked to come up with an answer to the question: Why is your working together, as a team, more valuable than just the sum of your individual efforts?  Why should we collaborate as a team? What good will it do for us?

This step was crucial to getting everyone to buy into the idea that collaborating was not only useful to the team but also crucial for their performance and growth. To get people to work together, the team had to figure out why and how that would actually improve results.

3. Identify roles and tasks

The last step was to identify roles and tasks. Specifically, what work, which specific tasks, would require collaboration to achieve those results? This step took the most time to do. Many assume that when teams collaborate, they give up control over results. But this step provided a way to define and measure collaborative efforts. For highly motivated individuals, this was very important because it made clear who was accountable for which tasks and determined how much they were accountable for.

The end result? The team that the study focused on grew 33% overall—with the primary brand in their portfolio growing by 60%.

In sum, team-building activities may be fun, but they may not produce lasting results. It may do your team of employees better by making them define what collaboration means to them as a team and how this will help achieve your business goals as a whole.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

[youtube][/youtube] The common belief is that employees are motivated when they are rewarded for their good behavior. However, this may do more harm than good. In this video, I explore how reward systems and policies can be discouraging the behavior you want from your team. Can rewards motivate behavior? In a recent study on organisational behavior, they found that employee reward systems and policies can be counter productive and may even cause poor performance. This study looked into the effects of an attendance reward program rolled out to motivate employees to come to work on time. Those employees who came to work on time every single day for the entire month were given recognition. If, however, any of the employees came in tardy at any time during the month, they will not be eligible for this reward. At the end of the program, the company found that the policy became counterproductive. In fact, the company discovered that they lost 1.4% of daily productivity! What they found out was that some employees ‘gamed’ the system. Those who knew that they will be coming in late would instead not come to work at all and use their sick days, just to maintain their reward eligibility for the month. Other employees, on the other hand, reverted back to poor behavior when they lost eligibility for that particular month. In some cases, they even became increasingly tardy. What was interesting,  is that the program was found to have a negative effect on employees who were already exhibiting good behavior prior to the policy. The “good” employees were found to have developed poor behavior—the company observed that “good” employees had increased tardiness when they found themselves ineligible for the month’s reward. How does motivation work? Motivation, as it turns out, can come from two sources: internal and external. Employee reward systems and policies are examples of external motivations—these aim to influence people to behave in a certain way. Internal motivation comes from within—this means that a person decides for himself or herself to behave in a certain way. Internally motivated people are those who take the initiative to perform well and develop their skills on their own. They are motivated by goals and objectives that they set themselves—they are motivated by the internal desire to be better. Entrepreneurs like yourself are good examples of people who are motivated internally. You do it because you want to and you believe in what you are doing. From the employees’ perspective, the study found internally motivated people are not motivated by external factors at all. In fact, they find it unfair to be rewarded for behavior that everyone should be doing to begin with—such as coming to work on time. And those who are externally motivated to behave a certain way? It turns out they’re only motivated to “earn” the reward—but not necessarily motivated to perform better. When you take these rewards away or when they find out that they are not eligible for these rewards—they go back to their old ways, and even perform worse. What does this all mean for my business? What the case seems to suggest is that external motivation does not effectively influence people to behave positively. At best, the positive results are short-lived—but in the long term, the company will find themselves worse off. “External motivation does not effectively influence people to behave positively. At best, the positive results are short-lived..” Apparently, bribing people to perform turns them into mercenaries. It degrades, and demeans the work that they do. Besides, there is already an established “reward” for performance—and it’s called a  “salary.” What seems to work is when we reward exemplary performance. If you need to motivate people to do what is expected of them, perhaps it’s time to rethink whether these are the employees you want to keep working with. If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.  

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