Team Leaders' Resource Library

***For Karl McCracken's personal (mainly triathlon) blog, please visit This blog is an alternative way for you to get access to our TeamTips series of articles. TeamTips is a short, fortnightly article that's aimed at TeamLeaders. Each edition covers a subject that's important for Team Leaders' performance - both in technical issues and man-management.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Shadow Boards

Mike Wroblewski has an interseting posting here about creating shadow boards. It reminded me about how much people underestimate the power of visual management and cues to change behaviour, and then how people often forget that many of the best Lean Tools are distinctly 'Blue Peter' in their application:
A couple of sheets of MDF and some paint will give you more or less instant results that the whole team can contribute to. This is much better than one person huddling in front of a PC to pretty everything up!
This is also why your Value Stream maps and process maps (brown papers) should be hand-made.

Anyway, back to shadow boards. Here are a couple of photos of shadow boards that I think have been really well done - they were in my daughter's nursery class, as a means to get 20 3-4 year-olds to clear up the mess they'd make in their class. You can bet that this saved the nursery teacher literally hours of time, not to mention the monetry value of items which could otherwise easily be lost.

Murder by GroupThink?

BBC NEWS | UK | Racist prison murder 'avoidable'

Today saw the publication of the enquiry into the murder of Asian prisoner Zahid Mubarek. He was a first time offender, serving a three month sentence for theft in 2000. On the last night of his sentence, he was sharing a cell with a racist psychopath, Robert Stewart. At some point in the night, Stewart beat Mubarek to death with a table leg.

In his 700-page report into the murder and circumstances leading up to it, Mr Justice Keith said,
"It is easy to be wise after the event, but in the summer of 1998 [two years before the murder], Stewart should have stood out from the crowd"
19 individual members of the prison service are named in the report as having failed Mr Mubarek. It is therefore not surprising that Mr Mubarak's family have today described his death as "institutional murder". I like to think that there was no deliberate conspiracy to put a young Asian prisoner in a position where his life was in danger. So on the basis of what I've heard and read today, conclude that this is an example of GroupThink overpowering the common sense of those who had a duty of care to Mr Mubarek.

Will today's report be acted upon, and steps taken to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Groupthink: Is Too Much Team Spirit A Bad Thing?

Strong, cohesive teams deliver better results than any of their individual members could alone. This is true in situations where you have specialists who are good at certain parts of the task, and where you have a group of generalists, each of whom is just doing their best to help the team.

However, teams have to interact with the ‘outside world’. That can mean other parts of the organisation, or elements outside of it - customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

If they don’t have this outside ‘reality check’, there’s a serious risk that the team’ll develop an false image of the ‘world’, their role in it, and their task at hand. Examples from history include:
  • US failure to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour
  • Labour’s radical socialist agenda in the 1980’s
  • The Challenger space shuttle disaster
  • The capsize and sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise
In each of these examples, the teams involved were convinced that they were doing the right thing. Yet with hindsight, it’s obvious that they were making severe errors of judgement. Even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, the urge to conform to the group’s accepted view prevented individuals from voicing concerns. And even if they had, there was a strong chance that the concerns would have been ignored.

This phenomenon is called GROUPTHINK, and it’s the dark side of effective, cohesive team structures. It is especially prevalent when a team has to perform a complex, unstructured task - like making decisions with information from several sources.

If you can avoid GROUPTHINK in your team, the chances are that you’ll make better decisions, even if those decisions involve taking a painful step into the unknown.

Seven Tips To Avoid Groupthink

1. Avoid Feeling Invulnerable

Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Yet teams often take extreme risks, acting as if their previous successes will continue to shield them. As Team Leader, avoid this by encouraging members to openly express any doubts.
2. Don’t Assume The Moral High Ground
Teams members can believe that as ‘good’ people, they can’t make ‘bad’ decisions. This is usually part of a desire to be seen to share the leader’s opinions, so as Team Leader, try to voice your opinions last.
3. Avoid Stereotypes
Members can dismiss contrary evidence based on its source (’he’s saying that because he’s weak / stupid / out to get us’), so try to bounce information off another team, and see if they reach the same conclusion as yours.

4. Control Direct Pressure to Confirm
Look out for the use of verbal, non-verbal, or other sanctions against members who voice opinions against the group norm. For important decisions, divide into sub-groups, and see if both reach the same conclusion.
5. Look Out For Silence

Team members can often censor their own opinions if these differ from the way the group seems to be going. Encourage people to discuss the task with trusted outsiders.

6. Has EVERYONE Really Agreed?

In larger groups, the more vocal individuals tend to come to the fore - often in agreement, and effectively drowning out any nay-sayers. Invite trusted outsiders to join the group periodically to restore the balance.

7. Beware of The ‘Thought Police’
Certain team members can take it upon themselves the be the ‘guardians of truth’, screening uncomfortable information from the outside. Appoint a team member as ‘devil’s advocate’ to counter this.

What Next
This edition of TeamTips is concerned with the people-management side of Team Leadership. There are three things you can do if you’re interested in finding out more about this:

Read a Book
We recommend “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a real page-turner (for a management book), and is available from the site.

Read Our In-Depth Management Briefing Paper on team management.
We publish a series of more detailed papers - just visit and click on the ‘free stuff’ button.

Call Sevenrings
We’ve helped dozens of individuals and organisations make better use of information, and we’d be happy to talk to you about your particular situation at no initial charge.

We specialise in helping people to get better results by changing the way they work. We can provide training from 1/2 day taster sessions focusing on just one aspect of the Team leader’s role, up to comprehensive programmes over several months.

Our phone number is 0044 191 2522 335, or you can always email: karlATsevenringsDOTcoDOTuk

Finally . . .
You can also download this article on groupthink as a one-page pdf, formatted for easy printing. And the podcast version should be available from 28th June:
Click to download the audio version of this edition of TeamTips

Monday, June 05, 2006

How Can A Drawing Be Worth $100,000 a Week?

Understanding Cause and Effect Can Save You a Fortune

When you want to improve the results you get, you need to understand how the various inputs influence your outputs. That way, you can see where to concentrate your effort, and what kind of return you should expect.

This week's TeamTips is all about understanding cause and effect using a technique called Scatter Diagrams. This simplest of graphs is one of the best methods available for improving process results.

It was the main method I used a few years ago to eliminate a quality problem that was costing $100,000 a week.

With that kind of result, its got to be worth the three minutes it takes to read TeamTips. As usual, its packed with practical how-to tips that you can put to work today.

Click here for this short article on Scatter Diagrams - my favourite $100,000 improvement method.

We also have two companion pieces for this article:

A worked example of Scatter Diagrams in Excel format.

The article's also available as a podcast from 13th June:
Click to download the audio version of this edition of TeamTips