Search This Blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

Guest Post: A Recipe for Teams

By Peter de Jager

Groups of people are most effective at completing large complicated tasks, when they’re co-operating smoothly with very little interpersonal conflict.  This is nothing more than an observation. When this happens we recognize it is a somewhat unique occurrence. So… we give it a name – we call it a ‘Team’.

When we move onto our next large complicated task, and there’s no shortage of these – we remember our last success and try to replicate the it. We remember the Teamwork and set out to re- create that same sense of co-operative team spirit. The problem is that we really don’t have an accurate understanding of why/how a group of people gel into this thing we call a ‘team’. We know it’s desirable, we know it seems to generate positive results, but we don’t really know why it happens.

Consider for a moment the inherent complexity of how people interact. If there are only six people in a group, there are 15 possible one-to-one interactions. Add one more person to the group, and the number of interactions jumps to 21 interactions. (Think of clinking wine glasses when you make a toast around the dinner table) For the sake of simplicity? I’m ignoring the many ways in which people can form cliques and how that adds to the number and types of interactions.
The simple truth is that a manager does not have the time to oversee each and every interaction within a group, anymore than a farmer can attend to each individual ear of corn in a cornfield. What a farmer does, and what we as managers must learn to do, is create an environment that is ‘friendly’ to teams and which supports their growth.

The other thing a farmer knows, and managers must embrace - Is that the ears of corn, the team members in this analogy, are going to do what comes naturally. We cannot ‘force’ people to work well together… The moment we start to use force, we almost guarantee the group will never blossom into a team.

So? Before we put on our boots and head to the fields, can we define what it is we’re going to try and re-create? What exactly is a team? A working definition is comprised of three parts. The first component is a well defined goal/objective. The second is group of people who believe that the goal is worthy of their efforts.  And the third part is a shared understanding of the roles of each individual as they work towards that goal.

That sounds simple enough – hopefully not so simple as to be useless – just simple enough to keep in mind as a starting point as we work towards our goal of creating a team.

The first part is easy enough. Defining the goal, and then communicating that definition doesn’t require any special powers. Just some good analytical skills, and the ability to communicate. Surely these are abilities well within the reach of most managers. One down, two to go.

The next piece is a little bit more difficult. Getting people to see that the goal is worthy of their efforts isn't achieved by snapping our fingers and expecting people to immediately accept our exhortations that the goal is worthy. It requires a touch of leadership ability, and an understanding of how people respond to Change. There’s nothing too difficult here, but this does require some effort on the part of the Team Leader, it doesn't just happen. Two down, one left.

Lastly we have to have everyone on the team understand two distinct things. First? How their role will contribute to the success of the team. And just as important? How the roles of everyone else will contribute to that success. How do we do this? Simple. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. All done. Well… not quite – something’s missing.
All of this is all very fine. These three components provide a good structure on which to build a team, but to be perfectly honest? There’s something missing here, and it has to do with the complexity mentioned earlier. People interact with each other, and the ‘spirit’ of a ‘team’ is encapsulated in those interactions. Given that these interactions outnumber the Manager’s ability to monitor and/or affect on an individual basis… how can a Manager affect this aspect of Team formation?

Part of the answer lies in the simple reality that people are social animals. Left to our own devices, we naturally choose to get to know each other. The more we know each other, the more we’re likely to trust each other – assuming of course that we’re trustworthy – and for the most part we are. Working together isn’t an unnatural act. We might not help a complete stranger – but most of us seem to choose to do so, but we will almost certainly help anyone with whom we have more than a passing relationship.

So? How can we capitalize on the almost hardwired aspects of human nature to create the teams required by our organizations? Just as the Farmer lets ears of corn do what ears of corn do… we should create environments/opportunities where people can do what people tend to naturally do.

If you want to see this happen… and reap some organizational benefit from human nature? Here’s a simple recipe for team building  Invite people together for an informal evening. Don’t provide food. Sooner or later – someone’s going to get hungry – that’s what humans do. Don’t order in… instead suggest that they cook a meal. Don’t have supplies on hand. A team will form that will head out for supplies (this used to be called ‘hunting’)… when they return, a team will form to cook the meal, another will form to set the table. Before your eyes a team is forming. It’s what people do.

© 2013, Peter de Jager. Peter is convinced we make things more difficult than they need to be. The answers are in front of us. He’s a Keynote Speaker, Writer and Consultant. Visit to listen some live presentations.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guest Post: Five Essential Presentation Tips

By Peter Taylor, The Lazy Project Manager

You are already an expert on Presentation Skills – I mean, how many presentations have you suffered in your time at work? Clearly you can recognise a ‘good’ presentation and a ‘bad’ presentation. You have so much experience!

Here are my top 5 tips to improve your own Presenting Skills.

1. To Begin: Open on a high and finish on an equal high– start and finish your presentation with a story or example or key point, something that will both relax you and get the audience engaged, and leave them wanting to find out more at the end.

Getting the audience's attention right from the beginning is essential - remember the first 10 minutes window is the first point of opportunity to lose your audience, and having lost them they are very hard to get back.

2. The Content: If you talk about something you know well then rehearse to control your time and avoid getting ‘carried away’. If you don’t know the subject well then still rehearse and possibly invite people who know more than you do on the subject to be there to support you if needed.

Don’t try and deliver 100% in the presentation – takeaways/hand-outs/follow-ups etc are all acceptable (after the event)

3. Time: It’s not the volume but the message that counts. Don’t waste people’s time.

The average presentation is 60 mins – say an average audience is 100 people so this may be just 1 hour of your time but it is 100 hours of your audiences’ time. Wasted if I you are not ‘good’ – and this is equal to 4.2 days!

Last year I presented to around 7,000 people which is a potential of 292 days of wasted time if I got it wrong.

Better to prepare and deliver a great 30 minutes rather than a mediocre 60 minutes.
Hands up anyone who has ever complained about a presentation finishing early?
And be prepared to adapt to time constraints – time of day – organisers demands etc – be flexible

4. The Practicalities: Or the three Ps: 

  • Prepare, a well-rehearsed presentation will keep your audiences’ attention
  • Present, the smallest part time wise
  • Profit, Your audience should gain something from the experience

5. Break the Rules: There are a number of ‘rules’ that you may have been taught over the years.

  • 6:6:1 rule (6 bullets /6 words/1 idea on one slide) – not a bad rule but try and avoid it – use pictures instead of words, the slides (if you have slides) are for your audience and not for you!
  • Agenda - tell what are you going to tell, then tell and then tell what you have told them … absolutely not, entertain them, educate them and leave them wanting more and open to talking after the presentation
  • Thank the audience – well yes but to close this way is a very flat ending to a presentation, better to close out with a call to action or simple ‘next step’.

Break the rules and have fun with your next presentation!

You can learn a whole lot more about Presentation Skills on my Webinar that runs on 28th November 2013 - CHECK IT OUT HERE


Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

In the last 3 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 20 countries and with new books out including ‘The Lazy Project Manager and the Project from Hell’, ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’, ‘Leading Successful PMOs’, and ‘The Thirty-Six Stratagems: A Modern Interpretation of a Strategy Classic’ - with a number of other book projects currently underway.

He has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’ and he also acts as an independent consultant working with some of the major organizations in the world coaching executive sponsors, PMO leaders and project managers.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at and  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

•    Keynote Presentations and Lectures
•    Master of Ceremonies
•    Inspirational Workshops
•    Coaching
•    Authoring