Role clarity is one of the most common complaints of employees, especially when working across department lines. RACI expert Cassie Solomon details why this matters, and what to start doing […]
Why I created this podcast
Implemeneting RACI helps you fix many of the potential weaknesses inherent in cross functional teams, i.e. the ones doing anything that customers care about. And it matters even more when remote.
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CASSIE A. SOLOMON is a highly experienced organizational development consultant and executive coach. She is the founder and president of The New Group Consulting, a firm dedicated to helping leaders design and implement successful change. Her book, Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work, co-authored with Greg Shea, is now updated for 2020 and beyond to help leaders successfully navigate the ever-increasing pace of change (February 11, 2020/Wharton School Press). Cassie is also an internationally recognized expert on the RACI project management tool and has used RACI to improve the performance of teams worldwide. She is the creator of RACI Solutions, a program and set of tools designed to enhance executive’s horizontal leadership skills and create high-performing cross-functional teams.
Cross-functional teams typically are undercounted or start rattling off symptoms of under bounded systems, people that are frustrated with their cross-functional teams light up like a Christmas tree. And the first one is my favorite one because it sounds so silly. Confusion about who is in the group. So if I’m a group, aren’t I supposed to know who else is with me? I said, look who is in your family? You can answer that question right? If you said Cassie, who is in your political ward, honestly, even in America, November 20, 20, I can tell you that is my political order group.
Do I have a relationship with everyone else in my political ward? No.
So think about this in a corporate context, right? I put a cross-functional team together and sometimes Elizabeth shows up and sometimes she doesn’t.
And I’m not really sure if she’s on this group. That’s really common in cross-functional teamwork. You are listening to the online remotely podcast, the show dedicated to helping lead distributor teams under difficult circumstances. I’m the host, Luke Scherba, and I’ve participated in a run distributed teams for almost a decade. As a practitioner, I’m speaking with experts on leadership, strategic alignment and work to help you navigate the issues start facing after you get. You’re welcome back. So today we are continuing on with a discussion with Kathy Solomon and today’s episode covers why Cassie’s golden rule of meetings can help stop the endless meeting hell, which some of us are going through now that everyone’s working remotely.
And we cover how single point accountability can help overcome micromanagement and distrust.
And it’s an essential leadership skill. And also we cover what the most common challenges for cross-functional teams and how to overcome it. So let’s get on with the show. So let’s shift gears a little bit, I’m curious about. How you would use race you to think about meetings, especially organizing them?
There’s a ton of very good literature out there about effective meetings, and much of it tells you what to do once you start the meeting a little bit like have an agenda going into the meeting and then facilitation and things that happen inside the meeting. I have a slightly different approach, which I think is complimentary. It’s not contradicting all of that literature. It’s what I call the golden rule of effective meetings, which is that the pre work and prep for a meeting should be at least as long as the meeting itself and then the follow up after the meeting should be at least as long as the meeting itself.
So if you have a one hour meeting, that’s at least one hour of prep and at least one hour followed and that time gets squeezed out on many of our calendars, if we’re rolling from one meeting to the next, you feel like you show up and you say, here I am at the place that my calendar told me to be and I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I’m just going to let this meeting kind of wash over me like a wave, and then I’m going to show up at the next appointed meeting.
And those meetings are not productive. So we actually can help you plan for a meeting by assigning different pieces of the work weeks coming to report on this aspect of the project. And Cassie is coming to report on a different aspect of the project. If I tell you that far enough in advance, you know that when you show up at 10 o’clock, you have a role on that agenda. We’re going to be looking to you to tell us what you’ve done, even if you stay up until 11 o’clock the night before.
If you’re on point the next morning, you will often show up with with something to report and then afterwards keeping track of key action steps and attaching people’s names to them and then following up with people who didn’t attend the meeting, for example. What do you do if someone doesn’t show up for a meeting 90 percent of the time? The answer is, well, nothing. But if they’re really important to that team, nothing isn’t the right answer. So just looping back, so you had your rule of thumb of about a third of the work being done before or third after in the meeting in itself being in the middle, is that for the organizer?
Is that for all of the participants? Is that distributed somehow amongst the meeting participants?
I think it’s definitely for the organizer, Luke, but it would be even better if it was for all of the participants to think about a meeting where the team leader comes in and does all the talking and the team leader feels the weight of responsibility for getting the work of the team done. And everyone else in the meeting is sitting there consuming and passively or maybe they’re in a C role. Maybe they’re giving their opinion when the meeting is over. They they don’t have anything to do.
They just walk out. The team leader is now holding all of this sense of urgency and the weight of the team’s work because he or she hasn’t actually distributed it. So we tell this story that comes from one of my working colleagues, Richard Shell, in his book Bargaining for Advantage. It’s a very hokey story, but it’s in the book. And when I read it the first time, I thought this is just a brilliant illustration of something we call single point accountability in the anecdote in the book is one of his students, her name was Theresa, was running a charity that took kids out to a park on the weekends and people would sign up to bring picnic things and games and everyone had great intentions.
And so at the beginning of the week, her colleagues would all sign up and then Saturday would roll along and they would get busy and they wouldn’t show up because the experience of the team leader who is feeling like no one is doing anything except for me. And if Theresa was typical, she would say, oh, I can’t count on these people. I better bring all the food and all the games myself. And then if they show up or they don’t show up, I’m OK.
But she didn’t do that. What she did instead is she posted a sign up sheet that had one person signing up for one item. So if I’m Kathy and I sign up for the hamburger, no one else signs up for hamburger. If I’m Brad, I sign up for the hotdog buns. No one else signs up for the hotdog buns. In effect, she gave them more work instead of less work. And it worked like a charm was as soon as I know that I’m the hamburger.
And I know that when Saturday comes along, if I don’t show up, there won’t be any burgers, people started showing up. So this idea of taking the work of the team and dividing it among the team members. So that one person has one task is really quite a good trick. People will weigh up their accountability to the team’s work. When you do that, they’ll call you and say, I’m so sorry, I was planning to bring the hamburger, but I went to the hospital and and so could you please find someone else for the hamburger?
I’ve had people take these assignments really that kind of seriously.
That makes it much clearer, I think, in terms of, first of all, what needs to be done with and also how it’s divided. And then it also gives people the responsibility for the individual parts, which means they actually participate.
So the implications are that what do you do as a leader of a team is not you do all the teams work? What you do is you organize the teams work, you orchestrate it, then you divide it up into pieces and give it to everybody on the team. So a lot of things are going on in the background of that statement. People on that team have to know that your expectation is that they are there to work. They are there to take hours for the team, and then you have to be sufficiently authorized to do that by your sponsor.
So would would receive help in defining who should even be at a particular meeting. Yes, I think so. I prefer to think about it as a set of codes that you can apply to a group as much as to an individual. So if a group is producing a piece of work, a deliverable, a recommendation, that group has an answer. They may not be making the final decision.
They may be making a recommendation that goes somewhere else for the AI or maybe they are. In that case, the group has the AR and the AI for making the decision. If you look at if you start using race and coding your agenda, that some items on the agenda just have the group in a zero. We’re just going to share our our opinions. If you think about software development. If you go to a user group and ask them to try out a piece of software they are giving you, their opinion is an extremely important part of the process.
When they’re finished giving you their opinion, they don’t go fix the software. They’re done, they walk out. That was a group. And obviously we talked earlier about AI groups. They’re really not doing anything except listening. So groups that have real work to do that are ours, especially groups that have authority to make decisions, tend to be extremely engaged, extremely committed groups that are just sitting there offering opinions. Those are the kinds of meetings where people say, I got really busy, I wasn’t able to come this week.
I better things to do than attend that meeting. And I groups are the worst. So if your group agenda has mostly season eyes next to it and you notice a lack of engagement, I think that’s why people come to these teams. With more enthusiasm when they feel like they’re genuinely making a contribution. If the group’s making a decision, people will come in from vacation. So is the best structure to keep as high of a proportion of our zanies as possible and minimize the other ones or.
Yes, and think about this, where you may have many stakeholders that you need to consult. You’re doing a Racey chart. Sometimes we joke that the page has to have 17 rows for the stakeholders. That’s a complex organization, but they don’t have to be in your meeting. You can invite them. You can have stakeholder day and they can all come and listen to each other and say thank you and the team will now get back to work.
One of the things that I definitely wanted to talk with you about is this idea of boundlessness and groups. I don’t really like the insight on your webinar saying that leadership is managing a group’s boundaries. What exactly do you mean by that? Thank you for asking.
I love this theory. It’s the true story of this theory is that I took a class at Yale University from a professor named Clay Alder, who was just a giant in the field. And I guarantee you that everything he taught me went in one ear and out the other because I was 18. But after I became an organizational change consultant, I rediscovered Clay all differ. And this particular theory of his, which I have to say is not the theory he’s best known for.
And I had already been working for about a decade with groups, and it just jumped off the page at me. I thought, this is absolutely brilliant. And so since then, I consider myself really his acolyte. And I teach this theory whenever I get a chance. Basically, he said, go back to ninth grade biology with me. It’s not going to be that painful. And remember that cells have membranes around them. Right. And the membrane has to have a certain amount of permeability so the cell can live.
It has to let in nutrients from the outside and it has to expel waste. And if this membrane gets too loose, it has lots of holes in it. I actually wish I knew what the covid effect on cells was because I could make it topical. But if the little cell membrane is too perforated, if there’s lots of holes, the cell just leaks out into the environment and it dies. And if it’s too rigid, it doesn’t let anything in or anything out.
It also dies. So a healthy membrane for a cell is just enough that gets it into relationship with its environment. And all the said groups are like cells and you can’t see a membrane around a group. It’s not a physical thing we can see, which makes it mysterious. And you’ve got to know the theory because it’s more like a psychological thing. But he said, without talking about boundaries, talking about groups is absolutely meaningless. Some of them can be visible.
If I put your department all together in one part of the building back in the day, we knew we were financed because we were all sitting together. That’s not happening right now. What makes us the finance department is that we have finance department meetings and zoom, but there are very clear symptoms that you can see of underground groups and overcounted groups. And so I think of it as like a superpower, like developing the super power of seeing a group’s boundaries.
Cross-functional teams typically are underground, and I start rattling off symptoms of underground bounded systems. People that are frustrated with their cross-functional teams light up like a Christmas tree. And the first one is my favorite one because it sounds so silly confusion about who is in the group. So if I’m a group, don’t I am I supposed to know who else is with me? I said, look who is in your family? You can answer that question, right?
If you said Cassie, who is in your political ward, honestly, even in America, November 20, 20, I can tell you that is my political Wardah group.
Do I have a relationship with everyone else in my political ward now? So think about this in a corporate context, right? I put a cross-functional team together and sometimes Elizabeth shows up and sometimes she doesn’t. And I’m not really sure if she’s on this group. That’s really common in cross-functional teamwork, unclear goals, multiple competing authority. That gets us right back into our conversation about where is the decision made in a cross-functional world, unclear roles and role confusion.
We’re here with our trusty friend Racey, trying to do battle with that one and communications snapper’s. So if you’re in a group where they say, oh, no, we canceled that meeting for Tuesday, didn’t you didn’t you get the message? No. When did the message go up? I thought the message went out last week. It was on slackens. You see it all that stuff, that kind of communication. Fog is a symptom of underground groups.
They also typically have low morale. They feel insecure about their work, short term time horizons, fighting fires, and then sometimes as bad as fighting among the group members or fighting with the leader. Those are all underground groups symptoms.
If you are putting together a cross-functional team, how would you try to prevent them becoming underfunded?
So. A simple answer to that is higher levels of structure, we can go one symptom at a time and say, Kathy, what do you mean higher levels of structure? Just be super clear about who is in the group. Do you have a contact list? Is everyone’s cell phone on it? Do you show a slide at the beginning of every meeting with everyone’s group name? We alluded to this earlier, but if someone doesn’t show up to a meeting, who is going to call them afterwards to say, are you OK?
Look, we were expecting you. You didn’t get to the meeting. I’d like to tell you what happened that you missed. Do that a couple of times. They start calling you to say something came up. I’m really sorry, I can’t attend. It’s so crystal clarity about who’s in the group. Crystal clear goals, a chart to help people make sure they know what their role is on that team and what the team’s role is developing. A charter, which often we do for our cross-functional teams, is an excellent step in the right direction.
But most charters focus on what the team is doing and are absolutely silent about role. I believe in charters and I believe in races at the beginning of a group.
But if you put it in a charter, won’t it be harder to change later if it needs to change? I think charters should be just like races, they should not be like job descriptions, they should be renegotiated as needed, including with the sponsor if the team learns something or discovers something that makes their original charter obsolete. They definitely should go back to the sponsor and say, guess what, we need to change direction. And we’d like to revise our charter accordingly.
You certainly wouldn’t want them to keep working on their original charter in the face of new information. Yeah, yeah, no.
So what would an overblown group be like and what would it mean initially overcounted groups look like the ones you want to be a member of.
Some departments inside companies are like this. So think about these symptoms as you think about groups that look really clear. So they’re super clear about who is a member. They have that crystal clarity. They have very high trust in leadership. They have very high compliance to their own group norms. Generally speaking, they have high confidence and often morale.
So far, this list sounds great. You’re saying I really want to be a member of a group like that? You know, I wish my department felt more like that, but the over bounded part of it is it’s very hard for them to take in new information. They distrust outsiders. If you say, can I come sit in on your staff meeting, sometimes they’ll say no, that’s our staff meeting. We don’t let outsiders in. They’re very hard to collaborate with.
It’s hard for them to see different perspectives.
So people who come from over bounded departments and sit in a cross-functional project team can be quite hard to handle. Their allegiance is so strong to their home department that it’s hard for them to develop some allegiance to the work of the team.
If you have smaller groups within larger groups and you have different levels of blending of those smaller groups is the ideal state that they’re all not too tight enough to see that.
But I think the survival skill for cross-functional teamwork is really simple.
Learn to recognize the symptoms of an under bounded group, and when you see them apply the appropriate structural remedies, it’s always going to be a good idea to tighten up the boundaries for a cross-functional team because they’re almost always going to be underground. So don’t worry about all the other kinds of groups that are out there.
Look for that one set of symptoms and then work on tightening it up. When you were talking about the groups within groups, it made me think about this idea that there are different leadership skills that you need in the horizontal. And that’s something I want to touch on just for a moment, because I think if you’re a member of a team, what can you do to help the horizontal work be more successful? It’s all at the individual level. At that point.
You can be a good listener. You can appreciate differences of opinion on the team. You can work on your persuasion skills. That’s the critical skill for horizontal work. And you can communicate effectively, overcommunicate. If you’re in an underground system, you’ve got to overcommunicate. What if you’re the team leader? If you’re the team leader, you are the person that orchestrates that work of the team. You clarify tasks, you clarify decision. As a team leader, you might need to negotiate.
So if we have different departments that aren’t cooperating, you might have to go one at a time to different department heads and negotiate. You’re the person who’s preparing all that single point accountability for the team and managing the project. What if you’re a sponsor? That’s where you’re starting to think about meeting systems. How are these groups relating to each other? How are these groups relating to our leadership team? And when you’re team leaders come and escalate differences, they usually have to be resolved at that sponsorship level, that higher leadership level.
And you’re also the one who has to think about leading system level change. And if you’re leading system level change, what are all these groups doing? How are they in the service of our change initiative or strategy?
Have you worked with companies where they were able to give a lot more authority to the cross-functional teams relative to the, let’s say, traditional hierarchy, for example, to deliver some results to customers better?
Because usually anything that’s valuable will be cross-functional?
I think the the classic example is NASA in the US, which has a completely project based structure and all of the authorities inside the projects. The interesting thing to notice is the budget is also inside the project. So you get this sometimes in the defense industry, too. That’s an element of the vertical is often say to my clients, if you’re confused about where the authority is in a system, follow the money. Yeah. So when the project team owns the budget, that’s a very powerful statement about how much authority the project team has.
But you don’t have to go that far because there also are companies where your participation on the project team really helps your career. The other classic example is Elgort, which is organized according to teams and very much cross-functional organized. So think about the. Tools of the vertical organization in the command and control world evaluate your performance. I reward you with a raise or I fire you and motivate you, and I control the resources. So how many of those can we move into the horizontal lateral organization, for example?
What if the team leader was allowed to evaluate your performance as part of your performance review? I bet that’s just done in a fraction of the companies that we’re talking to.
There’s also the whole threat of pay and to a lesser extent performance not actually being that much of a motivator over and above a certain salary level anyway. There’s clearly a difference between what’s been showing up in the in the academic world and in some books drive versus what’s actually going on in the real world. And yes, people certainly pay attention to their own career and how much they make, but at the same time, over and above a level where their basic needs are met.
In practice, it doesn’t seem like it actually ties that much to how happy people feel at a job or the company.
I just so agree with that. Look, forget pay. I think people are frustrated with cross-functional project work, but most of us have had the experience of what it’s like to be on a high performing cross-functional team. And the purpose is clear. The way you’re contributing is clear and morale is very high. It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself when it’s working and you can feel the quality of the teamwork. So I think tightening up the boundaries when a group is miserable and frustrated and stuck clarifying purpose and role and getting everyone equally involved.
These are just tremendous motivators, I think of it as unleashing the energy in the system or unleashing the talent in the team. It’s more fun.
There’s two ways of looking at productivity. It’s getting more out of the people or enabling the people to do more in the first place. The second option is the one that I prefer.
Doodle did some research about a year ago, so it was pretty cool. But it’s something like 50 percent of people’s meetings felt like they were a waste of time. If we just reclaim that waste and put it to good use, that’s actually part of the golden rule of effective meetings is don’t have more meetings when your project is in trouble, have fewer meetings when your project is in trouble. Double down on the prep work and the post work. But often our instinct is to say, oh, things are going well, let’s get together more often and talk about it instead of doing work, great work and people find out more about what you do.
Thank you. There are two websites. One is Racey Solutions dot com, which has, I think, the world’s greatest library of resources, all of which are free downloads. There’s also an e-learning course if people are interested. And then the strategic and organizational consulting is through my firm, the Newgroup Consulting, and that’s at the new group consulting dotcom. I do have a webinar coming up on Thursday, November 12th, which is about the book leading successful change.
We talked about that a little bit earlier, the eight levers of systematic change, and that if you’re interested in that, go to Racey Solutions dot com and put your name into the contact form. Just write us a little note and we’ll send out the registration link.
And and that also means that people will be able to hear about other webinars you have coming up. And what’s the best way for people to reach out to you if they want to follow up and find out more on both of those websites, have contact or does it come straight to my inbox? OK, great. I’m trying to teach myself how to look at my LinkedIn messages, but I’m not very good. OK, thank you. Thanks. It was great to be here today.
So this episode was a major eye opener for me, particularly around this idea of cross-functional teams, things which are really simple, which aren’t done, which don’t help those teams be bounded. So something as simple as just stressing who was on a team helps people cope with the fact that they’re on it if it’s not clear who’s on it. That just adds to the uncertainty. Everyone craves the structure and because it just makes it easier to do the work.
And on top of that, it’s clearly tied with a good sense of accountability for each person, but also clear lines of accountability elsewhere in the company.
If you enjoyed this podcast, go to rate this podcast dot com, slash Allina remotely and leave your thoughts there. Tune in next week for more of a practitioner’s view on what’s going on with remote work in companies and to see them. Thanks for listening to this episode of the online Ramogi podcast, if you enjoyed the show, please leave a review on iTunes, Google podcasts or wherever you get your podcast.
Role clarity is one of the most common complaints of employees, especially when working across department lines. RACI expert Cassie Solomon details why this matters, and what to start doing […]