Teambuilding – Designing an Effective Business Team – Part 3 of 7


Today we’re in Part 3 of our Series onTeam-Building.  In our strategic planning practice, we see a key differentiator for businesses from their competition is the success of their teams; how effectively they work together, innovate and implement their strategies. In this series we break down and discuss 7 key components of successful teams.  Today’s topic is Commitment to Action.


Commitment to Action

Plans are no good if they aren’t executed

A function of clarity and buy-in, commitment is a result of productive conflict and trust as discussed in Part 1 and 2 of this series. By soliciting team members’ opinions in a trusting environment and then testing those ideas in a challenging and comprehensive way, a team can confidently commit to resolution knowing that a decision benefitted from multiple ideas which were respected and tested in an innovative and thorough format. The difference between commitment and consensus (or majority rule) is striking:

Commitment: the team agrees to the decision knowing that they took the best course of action with everyone’s ideas considered; tapping into the collective wisdom of the entire team


 Majority rule: the majority can make a decision that does not consider the ideas of the minority

Effective teams can commit to a clear course of action even when there is little assurance that the decision is correct, willing to take risks when necessary. Non-commitment can lead to delaying important decisions causing lack of confidence and “analysis paralysis”.

Commitment to action is an important characteristic of effective teams. When you trust your members and have had comprehensive and thorough discussion, then you can agree to move forward and take action based on the collective wisdom of the group. Ideas that are not executed upon can never bring success. Teams that are successful execute on their plans.

5 Ways to promote team commitment:

1. Cascading Messaging

After team meetings, record and transmit the key decisions made to determine what should be communicated to the rest of employees or constituents. The result is team members identify areas where they are still not clear about what was agreed upon and need more clarification of outcomes before putting them into action. The outcome will be a clear and consistent message from management determining what needs to be communicated immediately and what should remain confidential.

2. Deadlines

Commit to schedules for making decisions.

3. Contingency and Worst-Case Scenario Analysis

This exercise results in reduction of fear. In understanding the risk of a wrong decision (if survivable) the team can see that the risk is far less damaging than they imagined.

4. Low Risk Exposure Therapy

Realize that extensive analysis is needed to make a correct decision if the topic has be exhaustibly discussed.

5. Role of Leader

The leader must be comfortable with a decision that may be wrong, constantly push the group for closure around issues, and commit to schedules and deliverables. The leader cannot place too much focus on certainty and consensus.

In our next series on Team-building – we will discuss the importance of Accountability.




Team-Building: Designing an Effective Business Team – Part 2 of 7

Business meetingToday we’re starting Part 2 of a 7 Part Series on Team-Building.

In our strategic planning practice, we see a key differentiator for businesses from their competition is the success of their teams; how effectively they work together, innovate and implement their strategies. In this series we break down and discuss 7 key components of successful teams. Our topic today is Conflict:




How can this be part of an effective team? Why would it be a good thing to cultivate?

Conflict at its best can take thinking and idea generation to its furthest depth. Each member of the team brings unique personality and specific experience. This dynamic can produce tension yet also contribute to the innovative strength of the team. By pushing one another in an “idea battle” – solutions can be generated and discussed that might never have been raised. This important dynamic of an effective team is called productive idealogical conflict. It is conflict that is focused on concepts and ideas; a necessary and essential characteristic of great teams.

I. In order for conflict to be productive several qualities must exist:


The players need to feel safe within their team in order to be vulnerable to presenting ideas.


The team must respect all ideas. They can argue the value, but each needs to be considered and “tested” as a potentially successful goal or solution

 Conflict is about ideas and is not personal

The team must understand that idealogical conflict can display the same qualities of inter-personal conflict – those of passion, emotion and frustration.  Team members must be reminded that this is not personal. To keep the emotion at a concept level – it’s about developing the best ideas for the team

 “Bad ideas” generate “Good ideas”

Often an idea that seems ridiculous can generate thought for one that is “the solution”. Encourage ideas to be shared, respected, and critiqued – it is a process that ultimately succeeds and it takes a team willing to be vulnerable to all ideas to produce the best answers.

II.  Ways to promote “Productive Conflict” within a team:

The Leader Must Communicate…

  • Conflict is good and desired. It allows the team to produce the best possible solution in the shortest timeframe without “group think”.
  • Conflict is productive, not to be avoided and never personal. Do not fear it as a part of teamwork.


Assign a member to extract the buried disagreements, shed light on them, and commit to staying with them until they are resolved.

 Real-Time Permission

Recognize when members in debate become uncomfortable and reinforce what they are doing is important.

 Role of Leader

Demonstrate restraint, allow natural resolution, and personally model appropriate conflict behavior.

 Set Up Rules of Engagement in Advance

  • Agree to disagree
  • Respect all ideas
  • Assign the decision-maker when team is indecisive (CEO, COO, Manager, etc.)
  • Goal of productive conflict is to stay on the cutting edge of thought

Next in our series on Team Building – we will discuss Commitment to Action.

Team-Building: Designing an Effective Business Team – Part 1 of 7

Business meeting

Today we’re starting Part 1 of a 7 Part Series on Team-Building.  Today’s topic is Trust. 

In our strategic planning practice, we see a key differentiator for businesses from their competition is the success of their teams; how effectively they work together, innovate and implement their strategies.  In this series we break down and discuss 7 key components of successful teams. Today’s topic is Trust.

 Trust - Why is it important?

In order for the team to work effectively, there needs to be establishment of trust between all the members that:

  • There is confidence among the team that the intentions of all members are good
  • There is no reason to be protective or careful around the group
  • All members can be vulnerable – not afraid to ask questions for help
  • Each member will be there for the other and the team, doing their best

Without trust:

  • Individual success is more important than group success
  • People don’t share for fear of criticism
  • Communication breaks down
  • Groups become politicized
  • Team lacks commitment

Can you think of examples in work, sports, or life where teams have operated with and without trust? What were the results?

In business a contract cannot be entered into without a statement of understanding and trust between the parties entering into it. When teams are formed, they enter into unwritten contracts to work together towards a common goal in the completion of the assigned task. In most cases the strength of the team is dependent on the diverse skill sets of each individual member and they are brought together for their specialized expertise. If the parties do not all perform at the expected level, the entire team will not function at its best.

How can the team leader develop trust within his or her team? The first step is to show that he/she is trustworthy. By modeling teamwork for his co-workers, he shows them the way and “gives them permission” to let go of personal gain and submit to the greater goals to be accomplished.

This means:

  • Communicating well on tasks, deadlines, and deliverables
  • Being on time and doing his/her part
  • Showing vulnerability
  • Encouraging colleagues
  • Listening well
  • Going above and beyond when necessary

A team that exhibits strong trust is job-focused not politically motivated, however a lack of trust can lead to discord, low morale and high turnover.

 Exercises for increasing trust with a team:

I. Personal Histories

Share your background and expertise. Knowing teammates is the first step to building trust.

II. Team Effectiveness Exercise

Discuss former team experiences. What worked well, what didn’t? What are personal goals for this particular team?

III. Personality & Behavioral Profile

Understand how teammates receive information and communicate. Think about roles they plan and where they can be most effective.

IV. 360 Feedback

Share honestly strengths and weaknesses with teammates.

V. Experimental Team Exercise

Share a team experience out of the office.

Taking the time to develop trust will prepare your team to go above and beyond for one another, with the goal of achieving more than the individuals could on their own.

In our next blog series on Teams, we will talk about the importance of conflict.


Twenty Tips for Navigating Change – Part II of II


We’re continuing this week to discuss organizational change. In the previous blog, we discussed documenting and developing a strategy for change. Today we discuss tips for communicating that change.


7. Identify the best way to communicate the change (in a group, individual meeting, company email, or combination of the above)

8. Identify the best person to communicate the change – ideally someone who has the trust of the group.

9. Allow a sufficient amount of time for discussion of the change – don’t cut people off.


10. Get feedback about the change. Write it down in front of group/individual and note importance and that concerns will be discussed – measure if this has become a “HOT Topic” – if so communicate that their voice will be heard and they will get feedback on their comments

11. Allow open communication to continue as individuals think of other concerns – encourage emails, phone calls or meetings to discuss further. Develop process for anonymous comments to be communicated.

12. Collect all feedback and review – identify valid concerns and develop strategies to address.

13. Consider if additional meetings should be held to communicate reactions to change and any changes that will be made in response to concerns expressed.

14. Prepare a communication process as Execution of the Strategy begins which includes: start date, schedule of events and end date.


15. Measure and benchmark progress and change occurs.

16. Develop procedure to get feedback from effected groups on:

  • How the change is going?
  • How they perceive the change is achieving results?
  • How are they feeling – is it better or worse than expected?
  • Do they have any suggestions as the process evolves?


17. Communicate status of changes – continue to solicit feedback in a methodical manner and respond in a regular way such as weekly email as the strategy is implemented

18. When project is complete, communicate how results will be measured and communicated to team/individual.


19. Reward/congratulate team on successful implementation


20. Continue to communicate in timely manner, success of strategy, failures of strategy, learning of team, and appreciation for everyone’s involvement.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – It is the key to successfully implementing change.

Twenty Tips for Navigating Change - Part 1 of 2


Over the next two days, we’re discussing change.

Organizations and people resist change. Change is hard. Change is scary. Change, however, can be good. It is necessary in this business climate that organizations be open and adaptable to change. This week we are going to go through 20 tips to help you as you implement new strategies to communicate the process, receive feedback, and present change as making a positive impact on the organization and its employees.

Today we’ll review 6 tips for documenting and developing a strategy for change.

1.    DELEGATE:  For each strategy (depending on the size of the company) designate a group responsible for managing change.

 2.   EVALUATE: Identify the employees, groups, processes, customers, vendors, etc. that will be affected by this change.  Do not assume that any change is too small to concern a person or group.  Lean to the other side, and assume that even a part – time individual will feel some impact and have an opinion about change.

 3.  ANALYZE: For each item identified, develop a written document on how the change will affect them objectively. Will they have additional responsibilities or less, will they need new training, will they make less money or more, will they report to a new person, will they change departments or work in a new location.

 4.   OBJECTIVE EMPATHY: Next, take each item and consider how they will be affected subjectively. Will they feel threatened? Will they feel that their job is at risk? Will they feel that they have been “demoted”? Will they feel they have not been understood? Consider whether they were knowledgeable of the change coming, a part of the discussion on the change, or if for strategic reasons, they were not aware of the change at all.

 5.  COMMUNICATE: Considering the objective and subjective effects for each group, develop a communication plan that includes the following:

  • Clarify the Vision
  • Identify the strategy necessary to achieve the vision
  • Identify the objective changes that will take place
  • Identify the “good” that will come from that change (increased productivity, less frustration, more profits, better communication, etc.)
  • Identify the concerns that will come from the change (consider both objective and subjective lists)

6.  MITIGATE: Identify ways to mitigate the concerns identified in 5e. For instance, if a strategy will involve change of location, identify what benefits come from this – increased productivity, better facility, closer to main arteries, bigger work areas etc.

Today we’re introducing a 7 Part Series on Team-Building.

Business meeting

Today we’re introducing a 7 Part Series on Team-Building. 

In our strategic planning practice, we see a key differentiator for businesses from their competition is the success of their teams; how effectively they work together, innovate and implement their strategies.  In this series we break down and discuss 7 key components of successful teams.

What do the names Lombardi, Wooden, Coach K. and Smith all bring to mind? Successful coaches.

These coaches accomplished great things by recruiting and developing good talent, building consistent training models, and delivering high quality performance for their schools and professional franchises.

Sounds a lot like what we would want to see in a corporate or non-profit organization:

  • Recruiting good talent
  • Building consistent business models
  • Delivering high quality performance for stakeholders

So what’s the difference between a successful “business team” and a successful sports team? First lets talk about the definition of a “team”. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines:

Team: a group of people working together in a coordinated effort, to join in cooperative activity

Teamwork: joint action by a group of people in which individual interests are    subordinated to group unity and efficiency

In life, sports, and business the greatest accomplishments can be attributed to the work of teams focused on a common goal to achieve unified results.

What does a highly effective team look like? In the following blog series we will discuss these seven characteristics that are fundamental and strategic to building a team that consistently delivers high quality and innovative performance.

  1. Trust
  2. Conflict
  3. Commitment
  4. Accountability
  5. Results
  6. Training & Creativity
  7. Leadership of an Involved Coach


Management Consulting Firm, The MLC Group Responds to Moody’s Negative Short Term Outlook for Higher Education

shutterstock_116073868-1On January 24th, The MLC Group, a strategic planning consultancy, responds to a recent article from Don Troop of The Chronicle of Higher Education, reporting that Moody’s had issued a negative short-term outlook for the entire Higher Education Sector.

Press Release – Charlotte, NC

The article states that pressures from reduced state-government appropriations, investment earnings, charitable gifts, research grants, and patient care reimbursements are negatively affecting the economic outlook for Higher Education. Normally thought to be safe due to their diverse sources of revenue, these institutions now face increased scrutiny and exposure to the lowered expectations in fundamental credit conditions of the industry.

The article goes on to state that the Moody’s Outlook Report, which is released annually at the beginning of the calendar year, bases its negative near-term outlook on five key drivers:

  1. Depressed family incomes and household net worth have suppressed net tuition growth.
  2. All revenue sources are strained; financial diversity no longer helps colleges.
  3. Rising student debt and default rates have hurt perceptions of the value of a diploma.
  4. Public and political scrutiny has increased the risk of more regulation.
  5. Colleges face a challenging future without strong leadership and better governance.

Lee Connellee, President of The MLC Group, responds to the article by saying that Higher Education is at tremendous risk.  In addition to the above concerns, competition is coming from a variety of directions:

  1. Low cost competitors using technology and new models of education
  2. The high cost residential campus is at risk thru distance learning
  3. Corporate and For-Profit universities are developing out of a need to reduce learning/training costs of businesses
  4. Learning is becoming a strong “life-long” process for career security instead of a 4-year investment.
  5. The ongoing trend to increase the percentage of non-tenured faculty relative to that of tenured faculty is indicative of the changing cost and revenue structure
  6. The “Lecture” learning model is being replaced with experiential models of learning.
  7. The traditional roles of the University are being displaced by “Certification Programs” that offer more specific training and outcome based objectives.

“Colleges and Universities play a very important role in education, however, the rules of higher education are changing. The organization that is willing to respond to the marketplace and the changing needs of its stakeholders will have a strong competitive advantage over those that remain fixed in the past..”

Connellee adds, “Innovation is critical to the future of Higher Education.  Colleges and Universities need to engage actively in strategically planning for a new future that responds to critical needs of its students/stakeholders, leverages technology, rethinks current staffing and education program models as well as collaborates with other organizations and embraces the life-long learning need of the workforce.”

The MLC Group – Because business needs clarity.

The MLC Group is a new breed of hybrid management consultants who bring innovative ideas and creative thinking strategies to organizations that want to improve the way they do business. The firm specializes in delivering world class strategic planning and facilitation services to executive teams using its proprietary VSE ProcessTM. Their services are designed to bring clarity to planning for the future as well as managing the day to day.

The MLC Group specializes in helping organizations solve complex issues, navigate change, plan for the future and develop strategic plans that include a clear execution strategy.



Growth through Innovation - Part III of IV

We’re continuing with Part III of our four part blog series on Innovation – Preparing your company for the ever-changing business environment.  We discussed that there are three key drivers of the innovation engine.  We discussed Globalization in Part I and drivers two and three – Information Technology and Lifecyle in part II.  Today we’ll discuss how we get in our own way on the Road to Change and the Proactive Solution.


Getting in Our Way

Corporate attitudes, management, and organizational structure can be a huge disadvantage to innovation and global collaboration.

Barriers to Innovation:

  • No commitment to innovation
  • Comfortable status quo
  • Too many chiefs in the process
  • Management focused on problem du jour
  • Strategic plans given little or no attention
  • Corporate focus on current quarter performance rather than what’s next

The Proactive Solution:

Globalization, IT development, and rapid change are all contributing to advancements in world interaction and social welfare. The downside for companies today is that these movements also bring increased competition and threaten to undermine established marketplaces. Innovation is the answer to these concerns.

Defining Innovation

It is creative, strategic, and determined thinking designed to capture and implement vision and value within an organization and a marketplace. There are infinite ways for companies to embrace innovation and enhance their business models. We will disclose three that have significant impact: strategic planning, intentional collaboration, and global collaboration.

I. Strategic Planning

In order for a company to embrace innovation, it has to start at the top. The board and CEO must be aligned in the belief and support that innovative practices are vital to the continued life of the company. They must be integrated as part of Strategic Planning. Whether innovation is included as an objective for each manager or a company chooses to invest in a full-time Chief Innovation Officer, innovation goals and investments must be developed, measured, and monitored.

II. Intentional Collaboration


Communication is a critical component of Innovation. It is important for a company to create a “listening” system to get continual and strategic feedback from customers, workers, and the competition whether from the sales force, the manufacturing line, or the marketplace – ideas for innovation abound.

Many companies find they are not short on ideas – but on the process for filtering ideas into those that can actually create value. Developing a process to review and test new ideas, strategically adopt and implement that which provides the biggest promise of success, and then anticipate that many will fail, are all critical to the Innovation cycle. An additional process to “fail early” is necessary to limit investment in innovation only to those ideas that are producing results. These processes will vary based on the size and industry of the particular business. The learning that occurs in these internal processes is vital and needs to be regularly reviewed and managed.

III. Global Collaboration

Global Collaboration is a new model in innovation management. The traditional approach of using a central and co-located R&D team is being challenged. Companies are looking to partner globally with other firms to:

  • Gain access to complex products and technologies – no one firm can be an expert in it all
  • Gain access to cheaper skilled labor in developing countries
  • Gain access to market intelligence, supplier relations, and political ties overseas

Global collaboration is not to be confused with outsourcing. This innovative strategy is not just about cutting labor costs – but about gaining synergy with other firms by:

  • Sharing knowledge (while protecting intellectual property)
  • Leveraging new ideas/strengths/skills
  • Sharing risk

It is designed to achieve economies of scale and create competitive advantage, resulting in both reduced costs and product differentiation.

Global collaboration requires focus in four areas: people, process, platform and program.

  • People must be trained to work collaboratively with other teams/companies
  • Work flow processes must be managed and continually corrected Technology platforms must be developed and coordinated
  • A holistic management view of all the programs must be taken for the collaborative process to be successful.

Companies need an organization structure to develop innovation, measure it, and manage it as a whole. WIPRO’s Innovation Council is an example of this structure – a functioning group that nurtures and incubates new ideas, acts as custodian of R&D and innovation investments, and monitors all the processes and results.

In Part IV we’ll discuss “What is the Return on Investment for Innovation?”

The MLC Group announces a new consulting service, CCM or Comprehensive Creativity Model

The MLC Group announces a new consulting service, CCM or Comprehensive Creativity ModelTM, which answers the question CEO’s and their leadership teams are asking:  How do we innovate within our organization? Innovation and Creative Thinking are the buzzwords spoken in offices around the world – but bringing these qualities into an organization can be a daunting task.  The MLC Group has developed a framework that blends the “Art of Creative Thinking” into the culture and business processes of organizations making it a part of their DNA. 


Press Release – Charlotte, NC

“Working at 50% capacity.”

Most organizations do not realize that the potential of their teams is limited at best to 50% capacity if they are not engaging the right brain and its creative thinking strengths.  “Left brain analytics are the normal day-to-day tools that most employees use and are comfortable with. Can you imagine the explosive opportunities for a business if the entire team adds 50% capacity to the way they think?” says Lee Connellee, MLC Group CEO.

The MLC Group’s new Comprehensive CreativityTM model brings innovative thinking into an organization at multiple levels. They work with key teams to both teach and apply creative thinking techniques in their daily work.

“What’s Unique?”

“We’ve been asked how this is different from sending your leadership team to an executive training seminar on innovation and creativity,” says Melanie Connellee, President. “The problem is that while the seminar is great and exciting – it is difficult to apply. Leaders get back to the office and are inundated with the daily issues of running a business.  They don’t have the time to bring this new thinking into a group that has not had the experience. Sending the whole company can be daunting in terms of cost and time. That’s where our new service comes in. The MLC Group comes to your business and outlines a custom program designed to drive innovation and creativity from both the top down and bottom up. We literally become part of the team and help teach and apply these critical tools throughout the entire organization. As always, we provide our services for a reasonable cost, a pillar of our company’s value proposition.”

About The MLC Group

The MLC Group is a new breed of hybrid management consultants who bring innovative and creative ideas to organizations that want to change the way they do business in the 21st century. They combine strategy + analysis with design + creativity using their proprietary VSE ProcessTM to deliver world-class strategy, planning and facilitation services to executive teams. Their services are designed to bring clarity to organizations both in planning for the future as well as managing the day-to-day.

Growth through Innovation - Part IV of IV

We’re wrapping up today with Part IV of our four part blog series on Innovation – Preparing your company for the ever-changing business environment. There are three key drivers of the innovation engine. We discussed Globalization in Part I and drivers two and three – Information Technology and Lifecyle in part II. In Part III we discussed how we get in our own way on the Road to Change and the Proactive Solution. In today’s final series – we discuss the ROI of Innovation.


What is the Return on Investment?

Ask any CEO today what keeps him/ her up at night and they’ll tell you:

  • Customer needs and trends
  • Employment issues
  • Current product/ service
  • Enhancement and new product/ service development
  • Shareholder value
  • Community relations
  • Local and global economic cycles
  • Financial markets/ currency dynamics

Watching the global horizon, the bigger picture must be a priority as well. Innovation is a necessity. Organizations that embrace it will continue to “write the next chapter” in their industry and their successes. If managed, innovation’s ROI will be to derive value from globalization, embrace and utilize information technology creating both product differentiation and reduced costs, resulting in additional shareholder value.

We’ll conclude with a story of successful innovation:

Your local gas station:

I discussed innovation with the CFO of a $3 billion oil company serving 7 states on the east coast. This firm started with six full-service gas stations in the late 1950′s. The founder had a degree in agriculture, and no formal business training, yet he did have his “eye on the market” and it served the business well. In the early 70′s, he enhanced his stations with the new concept called “self-serve.” After researching his customer behaviors, he determined 95% of gas was dispensed self-serve – so he converted 100%.

The next chapter involved the “C” concept, or convenience store model. By the early 1980′s the firm had 67 stores. In the late 80′s the company moved into diesel and the travel plaza business emerged, growing to 140 stores and introducing successful franchising partnerships with Wendy’s, Subway and Taco Bell.

Responding innovatively to consumer trends, this company next made the investment to provide an ethanol blend gasoline to satisfy “green thinking.” Government subsidies for providing an ethanol blend offset costs.

The organization now has 340 stores, 50 restaurants and continues to ride high on the bell curve. The latest innovative strategy has been to bring in new management to enhance the administrative side of the business, as well as focus on revenue generation on the non-oil side of the business.

Their challenge is to determine the next frontier for the industry – how to maximize profits on the other side of the gas pumps – with food, convenience items, ATM’s, copy services, car wash, television and streaming ads within the store – even selling advertising on the stall doors of restrooms. GPS available at the pumps, and other promising concepts have to be balanced against capital and staff development expense and investment. Determining the right blend of dedicated labor costs and resources to make services profitable is a continual focus of management. Watching the market and studying competitors is another way they focus on the future. Obviously, alternative fuel is a looming issue for any oil company. The company is studying this – seeing it as a long-term initiative that needs further development – and continuing to seek innovation within their current business model.

I include this company as an example of innovation success for 3 reasons: First, All businesses whether they are a high tech chip company or your local gas station need to innovate to survive. This company has stayed on the cutting edge of trends for almost 50 years and experienced transformation and profitable growth as a result. Second, it recognized the need for partnering or collaboration – to enhance product offerings, cut costs, and take advantage of resource availability. Third, it cannot rest on its laurels. The company continues to look forward – to watch its customers, the marketplace, and the economy to write the next chapter in its success.

Innovation and collaboration guarantees new life for organizations in a continually changing social, economic, and political environment.

References: * The Economist: Nov. 10-16, 2007, Special Rpt. on Technology in India & China * The Economist Oct. 13-20, 2007, Special Rpt on Innovation * Harvard Business School, Working Paper-Div. of Research, “Innovation Through Global Collaboration; A New Source of Competitive

Advantage. * Open Busisness Models, Henry Chesbrough, author, Harvard Business School Press * The New Argonuats, Annalee Saxenian, author, Harvard Business School Press * World Trade Magazine, 08/07, Pg. 34 Value Added Networks will Render Supply Chains Obsolete * OECD Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,, OECD Countries Take New Approach to Fostering

Innovation. * KOF Swiss Economic Institute (Zurich)