Team Engagement Tip: How to Create Key Operating Principles

There are a few critical questions every person on a team must be able to answer, in order to ensure a well-functioning, highly productive and engaged team:

    • Questions for team effectivenessWhat are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors?
    • How will the team handle lack of participation by one or more members, disagreements, inability to reach consensus, and other interpersonal issues?
    • How will team members be held accountable?
    • How will leadership be managed? To whom are we responsible as a team?

 The answer to all those questions can be found in the Key Operating Principles.

How to Create Your Key Operating Principles

    1. team meetingBrainstorm a list of behaviors team members have experienced in past team settings that facilitated a positive team experience.
    2. Brainstorm a list of behaviors team members have experienced in past team settings that got in the way of a positive team experience.
    3. Develop a list of 5-12 specific behaviors that will generate a positive experience for the team. Don’t get hung up on the wording. The key here is to get total team buy-in on principles you all agree to work by in this team setting.
    4. Keep Key Operating Principles posted, and review them before each meeting. Use them to keep team members “honest.” At the conclusion of each meeting, take time to critique team processes based on these principles.

Here’s a sample of one team’s Key Operating Principles:

We agree to:

        • ŸArrive on time, fully prepared;
        • Honor the agenda;
        • Treat each other with respect;
        • Participate fully;
        • Communicate clearly and honestly ~ listen with the intent to understand;
        • Bury “dead horses;”
        • Have fun;
        • Honor agreements and commitments


As a team leader, you might be asking: “Couldn’t I just go ahead and create the Key Operating Principles myself, then share them with the team?”

Teamwork-exclamationPointWell yes, you could — of course! But why would you? You would be missing out on the most incredible benefit of the whole process! My experience is that the process of the team working together to share team experiences, discuss the high points and disasters of past teams, and communicate to create their own Key Operating Principles is almost more important and valuable that the Principles themselves! It is a mini team building activity with huge paybacks in the real work setting. It doesn’t get much better than that!

And, as my speaking and training colleague Bob Pike always says, “People rarely argue with their own data!”

Now, power up your engagement by creating Key Operating Principles with your team(s) — and be extraordinary!


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Employee Engagement Tip: Using HR as Your Advantage

As a past HR (Human Resources) professional who worked in both the government and private sectors — and then moving into a consulting business focused on helping leaders be extraordinary — I never cease to be amazed at how rarely an organization takes advantage of the incredible resources their HR folks can provide. So here’s my rant and rave advice to bring HR to the table as valued colleagues who can team up with the rest of the leadership team to create an environment that is thriving, inspired, and engaged!

Change Perceptions and Roles of HR on Your Leadership Team: Moving from OK Role to Better to Best!

EmployeeEngagement-ReactiveStyleThe OK role: Reactive.
Too often HR is put into a Reactive role, where they are brought in after the fact. There’s a mess, and HR needs to clean it up! Their main job is putting out fires. There are times you need this, because things don’t always go as planned. But when HR spends all their time reacting to things, they are unavailable to serve in more appropriate and beneficial roles.

EmployeeEngagement-ResponsiveStyleThe Better role: Responsive
In this role, HR professionals can be involved in the planning phase. As issues and needs are identified, HR can provide insights, recommendations, and resources to make the changes smoother and more effective. From this role, HR can be preventative, averting potential crises before they occur.

The Best role: Proactive

EmployeeEngagement-ProactiveStyleIn this role, HR professionals are equally respected members of the leadership team. They help the team to be future-focused, looking at trends, educating and coaching, and helping the team recognize the deeper impacts of decisions.

Including HR professionals  can be invaluable in creating the culture that breeds engagement and creativity, powerful customer relationships, and incredible bottom-line results.

3 Things to Do to Build a Proactive Relationship between HR and the Rest of the Leadership Team

1. Invite your HR professional(s) to leadership staff meetings.

2. Ask the right questions of your HR professional(s), such as:

    • What trends are you hearing about that could affect our employees?
    • How can we provide the best training for our employees … what resources are out there to help us assess needs and fill them?
    • How can we improve our interviewing processes?
    • What do you need from us so we can effectively create a culture of employee engagement? (And what do we need from you that we don’t even know we need?)
    • As we move forward, how can we improve on our performance management system, so it becomes a catalytic tool for increased engagement and positive change?

3. Use your HR professional(s) to expand your perspective of the impact and consequences of decisions being made. For example, during the early planning stages of a change, HR can often open your eyes  to the legalities of certain actions, as well as guide you to recognizing the variety of people/departments who will be impacted by the change.

decorative divider

I love Muir’s Law, which says: When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe!

Nothing describes the role of HR better! Let your HR folks help you be extraordinary, as you Power Up Your Engagement!


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5 Reasons Team Members Don’t Play Well — and How to Fix It!

bagOnHeadAs leaders, we rely so much on teams to accomplish the myriad of things that must be done. For some of our folks, team work comes naturally and they thrill at the challenge of using their skills and creativity in conjunction with others to create a synergistic result. But my hunch is, we’ve all experienced those individuals who just don’t play well on the team. It can create havoc, result in missed deadlines and disastrous interpersonal relationships, and eat huge holes out of your limited time as you struggle to patch the holes these disruptive team members cause.

What if you were able to quickly identify why certain team members weren’t playing well with others, and through that discovery, know immediately how to fix it? Here’s a model that might help!

There are basically only five reasons team members don’t play well on a team. Any of these five reasons can be masked by poor or inappropriate team behavior … but the good news is, you can actually provide what is needed to improve four out of the five! Take the time to evaluate why a team member is acting out:


If they don’t know WHAT they are supposed to do, you can sit down and clarify roles and expectations.

If they don’t know HOW to do it, you can identify the appropriate training, coaching, or mentoring.

If they don’t know WHY they are doing it, you can clarify how their role impacts the overall success of the team, and how the team’s work supports the overall mission of the organization.

If they are NOT CAPABLE of performing the role they have been assigned, you can look for ways to resign roles, set up some pairings to give the person someone to help them, or have the person moved off the team to a place where their skills are better utilized.

Now comes the tough one! If they just plain WON’T do it, you are dealing with a team member who is actively disengaged. Their negative attitude, cynicism, and disruptive behaviors are dragging the whole team down. You can talk with them about their attitude issues, but I strongly recommend you begin documenting performance issues so you can get this person off your team and out of your organization as quickly as possible! Do not be tempted to simply move them to another department, where their distractive attitude can continue to create problems. By releasing them to find a work environment better suited to their needs, you are not only helping them … you are giving a huge gift to all the other, actively engaged members of your team. You will be glad you made the effort!

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Employee Engagement: How to Help Employees Be Accountable

Training-peopleOne of the biggest complaints I hear from managers and leaders is that employees will not take initiative or be accountable for the things that are theirs to do. One of the biggest complaints I hear during employee focus groups is the concern that managers and leaders will not allow the employees to take more initiative or be accountable.

Can you see the incredible opportunity here? Everyone wants the same thing, but no one knows how to achieve it! One reason is this: most managers and leaders believe it is all or nothing — I either give total empowerment to my employees or I give them zero empowerment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a nutshell, when Employee Empowerment is done properly and consistently, it will improve employee engagement dramatically! This model recognizes that empowerment is a process, and something a person needs to learn how to use. Consider the amount of authority and responsibility an employee is given, versus the amount of authority and responsibility you as a leader take on. As you gradually decrease your involvement, and coach your employees on how to wisely take on more, you create an environment conducive to employee engagement, initiative, and creativity — and as a bonus, you free yourself to take on true leadership roles.

Here’s the Employee Empowerment Model:

Empowerment Model

Here’s how you, as a leader/manager, would use each level of the model as you coach your employee(s):

Level 1: Investigate the problem and give me the facts. I’ll make the decision.

Level 2: Let me know the alternatives, with pros and cons for each. I’ll make the

Level 3: Recommend a course of action for my approval, including your justification.

Level 4: Let me know what you intent to do. Implement if you don’t hear from me
within 24 hours. (or other agreed upon time).

Level 5: Take action. Let me know what you did and how it turned out.

Level 6: Take action. Communicate with me only if there are concerns.

Level 7: It’s your responsibility now, and you are accountable. No need to
communicate with me, other than periodic reviews as scheduled.

What are the benefits of empowering to build employee engagement?

Using this type of progressive empowerment model allows employees to learn how to take responsibility in a safe environment. It will also:

  • mountaintop-victory-ca37900401Build confidence of the employee (and your confidence in their ability to make wise decisions);
  • Enhance the competence level of the employee; and
  • Dramatically increase the comfort level of the employee as he/she takes on more responsibility.

Some additional tips to empower employees and increase employee engagement:

  • Increase signature authority
  • Remove or reduce the levels of approval needed for actions/decisions
  • Eliminate handcuffing rules and regulations
  • Allow more freedom of movement
  • Include in decision-making meetings and discussions

One final tip: Match the resources available with the level of authority. A great quote from The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner) says, “There is nothing more disempowering than having lots of authority to do something — and nothing to do it with!”

And remember, as you empower, people will make mistakes. Let’s agree to make failure our teacher, not our undertaker, by turning mistakes into great learning opportunities for next time.

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Developing Wisdom as a Leader: A Self-Directed Activity to be Extraordinary!

Catch Yourself …

Team-High5There’s an old management leadership book called the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard. The key principle in the book encourages leaders to catch a person doing something right every day, and say something positive to reinforce it. While the concept may seem a bit simplistic, the book has been a best seller since it came out in 1982! By the way, there is another book published in 2000, written by Rae Andre and Peter D. Ward, that may reinforce the importance of adding sincerity to that “one minute of praise.” That book is entitled The 59-Second Employee: How to Stay One Second Ahead of Your One Minute Manager!

This Extraordinary You Connection is called: Catch Yourself … It is a strategy to help you be more mindful and aware of what it feels like when you are connected to the Innate Wisdom springing from The Extraordinary You. Here’s how it works:

Part 1: Catch Yourself Unconnected.

frustrated man-head in handsCatch yourself the next time you say “I knew I should have …” It may be a phone call you wish you’d made, or a regret that you did not give a word of praise to one of your employees, or perhaps a wish that you’d taken the extra time to review your report before you hit send, or maybe a realization you should have taken a different route to work as you sit in a traffic jam. As soon as you hear yourself say, “I knew I should have…”—take a moment and pay attention to how you are feeling. Ask yourself these two questions:

    • What was I feeling when I originally had the other thought? (i.e., what was I feeling when I thought about making the call; offering the praise; giving a second review; taking a different route?)
    • What was I feeling when I chose to ignore that thought?

Now take a moment to realize the original feeling was your Innate Wisdom, giving you guidance about the situation. Remember again how you felt, and thank your Innate Wisdom for the guidance. Reinforce the idea that the next time, you will be more open to following your intuitive guidance, even if you do not understand it at the time.

Part 2: Catch Yourself Connected!

business man winning raceEver had one of those moments when you listened to your intuition? Or how about a time when you went through a difficult or emotional experience, and handled it with grace? We assert that this is not just a coincidence or fluke. It happened because, in that moment, you were connected with The Extraordinary You, and you paid attention to the guidance from your Core Ability of Innate Wisdom. Part 2 of this activity invites you to stop the minute you catch yourself connected! In that moment, do two things:

    • Notice how it felt. Awareness is the first step toward transforming a one-shot occurrence into a habit you can replicate over and over again! So pay attention to how the inner guidance felt, and how you responded to it.
    • Honor yourself for being connected. People tend to repeat behavior they are rewarded for, so give yourself emotional kudos for following your intuition and getting great results!

Why not make your phenomenalness your permanent address? Extraordinary leaders know how to listen to their Innate Wisdom and take action based on it. Be Extraordinary! Your people will thank you.

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7 Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

fear-3-mimeWe all experience different kinds of fears: fear of failure; fear of rejection; fear of looking dumb; fear of change; fear of the unknown. I googled fear, and found a legitimate list of actual researched phobias: there were 530 listed, including:

  • Automatonophobia—fear of a ventriloquest’s dummy;
  • Triskadekaphobia—fear of the number 13;
  • Porphyrophobia—fear of purple (imagine!); and the one that really amazed me:
  • arachibutyrophobia—fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth!

On a recent ABC Newscast, Diane Sawyer reported that the number one thing Americans fear the most, even more than dying, is public speaking. (That would officially be called Glossophobia). She goes on to share how even well-known celebrities fear the live performance with no script in hand. (I remember a Jerry Seinfeld episode where Jerry joked: “At a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give the eulogy!”)

ThinkOnFeetIf you are one of the folks who trembles at the thought of standing in front of a group and speaking, you are not alone! But here’s the deal: If you are a leader, or want to be in any kind of leadership role, you must learn to manage any fears you have of public speaking. Until you do, you will be sacrificing many wonderful opportunities in your future.

Here are Seven Quick Tips to help you move through your fear, conquering the paralyzing effect it can have on you.

  1. Prepare well, but do not memorize your presentation! Memorization forces you to get married to one way of saying what you want to share. If you forget a word, you panic and freeze up. You know the general concept of your message, so just create an outline to keep you on point, but speak from your knowledge. (I recommend that you only memorize two things: the first words you will say to begin your presentation and the final words you will say to end it!)
  2. Rehearse from your outline, practicing out loud so your mouth gets used to actually saying the words. As you rehearse from the outline, you will discover you can get your message across in many ways — and you create a muscle memory that will take over if your nerves get the best of you during the real performance.
  3. Rehearse any stories you plan to use, to ensure you can deliver any punch lines with power and pizzazz. Never use a story you have not rehearsed!
  4. Visualize your speaking success. Imagine, in your mind’s eye, moving through your presentation with ease and confidence. See the audience responding to your presentation with enthusiasm, acceptance, and appreciation. (Remember, most audiences are filled with people who want you to be successful! Who wants to listen to a poor presentation?)
  5. Take your time before you begin! As you walk to the podium or out in front of the audience, take a moment to look at people. Take a breath, make eye contact with a few folks in different sections of the audience, smile, and then begin. (I have actually seen some presenters begin talking before they are even at the podium!)
  6. Be yourself. There are lots of speaking coaches out there who try to create “cookie cutter speakers.” But the most successful speakers know how to be themselves, at their best! So listen to speaking experts with a grain of salt, and use what works for you without forcing you to be something you are not.
  7. Remember: you are the expert in this moment, on this topic. If you forget something, keep in mind that the audience does not have your notes! No one knows what you planned to say, so just go with the flow and rely on what you know. Also, no one knows what you are feeling on the inside. So if you feel the butterflies hit you, remember you don’t necessarily want them to go away … you just want them to fly in formation!

fear-scrabbleHere is a FEAR acronym that works with any kind of fear you may experience. It is created so you can quickly recall it when you most need it (like when you are about to walk in front of a crowd!). Think about the word itself: FEAR.

  • Face It: In other words, acknowledge what you are feeling. Call it what it is; name it.
  • Embrace It:  Make friends with your fear by letting it know you accept it for what it is. See fear as a friend who is gently leading you into new adventures!
  • Act through it: Do it anyway! There is a great quote by Emerson: Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain!  
  • Reinforce Your Success! Allow yourself to appreciate your courage in acting through your fear, and enjoy the sense of power and energy you experience as a result.

Stars-12PowerColorsWhenever you are able to move through fear and doubt, you experience an exhilaration and zest for living that is unbelievable, and your power center is strengthened. You find yourself ready to face the world from a new level of confidence that opens incredible horizons. We may not be fearless — but we can be Fear Conquerors!

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” (Virgil Thomson)
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TeamProv™ — A Great Way to Guarantee Powerful Teamwork, Engage Employees, and Generate Great Ideas

 Are the folks on your teams experiencing any of the following characteristics?
  • Frustrated with change and ambiguity
  • Stuck in ruts of “the way we’ve always done it”
  • Strangled in poor communication and unclear roles
  • Boxed in and unable to discover new options
  • Bored with self-managed teams, empowerment, projects or processes
  • Begging for something different to “jumpstart” their collective genius
  • Bogged down with internal difficulties, hidden agendas and lack of accountability
  • Tongue-tied when challenged to defend their actions or present results to management

Now there’s a solution! Expose your team to a little bit of TeamProv™!

TeamProv™ (an exciting new concept developed by Master Team Facilitator Cher Holton) is based on the skills used successfully by improvisationalists around the globe. It helps your team members:

  • Develop creative problem solving skills and the ability to “think outside the box”
  • Explore options, expand perspectives, and reach better solutions
  • Adapt to change quickly and positively, and thrive in uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Strengthen the ability to communicate under pressure
  • “Think on their feet” and “shoot from the hip” (planned spontaneity)
  • Build trust, interdependence and camaraderie

Here is one great activity you can use with your team right away, to help them TeamProv™:


Purposes: Stimulate creativity and free-flow of ideas; generate potential solutions that go beyond conventional thinking; build teamwork skills.

Team Size: Works best with teams of 4-7 per group. It can also work with a larger team, but you will need bigger paper so everyone feels like they have space for creation.

Resources needed: Lots of chart-size paper; a variety of colored pencils, markers, crayons, and/or paints. Tables with lots of space for movement is helpful to the process.


  1. Create working teams of 4-7 per group. Each group receives a healthy supply of drawing implements (pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paints, etc.) and a few large chart-sized pieces of paper.
  2. Invite each team to create their “masterpiece” with team members alternating turns, each person adding one line or feature to the drawing at a time.
  3. (Optional but powerful) This activity is to be done without talking.
  4. When there is a long hesitation, the drawing is complete.
  5. Next step: Without talking, the team creates the title of the artwork, with team members alternating turns and adding one letter at a time until a title is written at the top of the drawing.
Options: This can be a “free idea” activity or you can assign a topic for the drawing that relates to the issue being discussed. For example: “Your team is creating a picture that demonstrates exceptional customer service.

BONUS! Download a complimentary copy of TeamProv-Article (a great article published in Pfeiffer’s Annual) which includes some actual games Cher uses, to teach your team how to TeamProv™ for success!

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