Archive for the ‘Team Building’ Category


Four Ways to Apply Brainstorming to Your Small Business Meetings

To avoid idea freeze, small businesses need to take advantage of the brain power of every person connected with a product or project. If you have experience or knowledge of brainstorming, you already know that the techniques can be a great way to solve problems and generate new ideas … if you can get past a few downsides.

Good news: whether you need ideas from your employees, your vendors or your clients, brainstorming sessions do not have to require excessive and costly time commitments to develop workable solutions for your business issues. The following four techniques can help you use group-think to efficiently generate ideas and solutions.

1. Prepare in Advance to Keep Meetings from Becoming Overnighters

The cardinal rule of brainstorming sessions is that there are no bad ideas. But, there is no rule that says that you have to use meeting time to develop your initial idea list. Loran Nordgren, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, has a practical approach that saves valuable time. When issuing invitations for the meeting, ask participants to propose their ideas in advance.

A prepared idea list instantly eliminates the most time-consuming portion of the meeting. Once participants settle in with their coffee and sweet rolls, they are ready to assess the merits of each idea and build solutions that make sense.

For the record, Nordgren offers an app to help brainstorm participants decouple the idea-generation phase from the evaluation phase. While he stresses that the app can be helpful, he maintains that it is not absolutely necessary.

2. At the Onset, Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Even if there are no bad ideas, there are impractical ones, so don't get into any serious discussions before you apply a clear set of objective criteria to the list. You can quickly reduce the list by eliminating the unworkable ones. If you know up-front that an idea is too expensive, takes too long or requires resources that you don't have, then you probably don't need to discuss it further.

But, keep in mind that brainstorming sessions can reveal surprising solutions. For example, five people in the meeting might agree that you would have to hire three new employees to assemble a proposed new product. The sixth person, on the other hand, might know how the existing team can do it with minor modifications to the process. This kind of thinking is what brainstorming is all about.

3. Leave Power Trips at the Door

As a small business owner, you may be both co-worker and boss. And, if your brainstorming session involves outside participants — such as vendors or even clients — you might have several bosses in the room. Other participants sometimes remain silent when their ideas conflict with those of the power players.

Highly-ranked meeting participants need to leave all arrogance at the door — and actively encourage conflicting opinions and ideas. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. You probably know the attitudes of all of your invitees. If you believe an attendee cannot take an objective look at the ideas of others, it may be best to have them invite a knowledgeable representative who can better embrace the spirit of brainstorming.

4. Avoid Meeting Domination

Even if everyone in the meeting is at the same level, some people are more vocal than others. They instantly have more to say about any topic and they often interrupt when others attempt to voice their thoughts. Clearly, the facilitator needs to gain control over these situations, but it is vital to understand that the outspoken participants are no more at fault than the reserved ones.

This is not the time to reprimand rude behavior or teach conversational courtesy, but you don't want to revert to school days by putting the quiet individuals on the spot ("What do you think, Tommy?). Naturally, the personality profiles of the individuals at the table will drive how you handle any given situation. A great option is to use an extrovert's monologue to solicit other opinions (“George made some great points. Let's spend some time discussing them.").

Rules and Creativity Go Hand-in-Hand

It may seem counterintuitive to equate any form of structure with a free-flow of creativity, but without structure, creativity cannot exist. A brainstorming session based on a few logical rules provides the direction necessary to unleash meaningful ideas.


What is Amazing Service? We’re Raising the Customer Service Standard

7-14 Amazing Service smallAt Nextiva, we believe that standard customer service isn't good enough. Any business can deliver a customer experience that leaves the customer satisfied but not “wowed”. We are raising the standard of what customer service should be by delivering Amazing Service. This principle is at the heart of everything we do. It drives every decision, product innovation and customer interaction at Nextiva.

So what does Amazing Service mean for the businesses that rely on us for their communication needs?

100% U.S.-based Support

Outsourcing, especially when it comes to our support team, is not part of Nextiva’s business model. Every member of our support team is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.

When a customer joins Nextiva, their Account Executive is sitting just a few feet away from the Onboarding team that will set up their phone system and the support team that will assist with any questions or issues that may arise during their time with Nextiva. This makes for efficient and effective internal communication so our customers can get the help they need as quickly as possible.

No Customer Service or Sales Scripts

We believe in letting each team members’ personality shine through. You don’t want to talk to a robot, you want to talk to a person you can connect with.

We focus on hiring team members who exhibit a positive attitude, are driven and passionate about helping others. Our team is our greatest asset, and they are what set Nextiva apart from other communications providers. We focus on fostering a fun and positive work environment because we feel this directly correlates to the service you receive as our customer.

Advocates for Your Business

Our customers are not just a number at Nextiva. They trust us to deliver reliable service and we take our job seriously. Account Executives, Technical Specialists, Account Managers, and everyone at Nextiva are here to help your business succeed. We don’t believe in saying “We can’t do that,” but instead not giving up until a solution is found and the issue is completely resolved. We're dedicated!

Each Business is Unique – Treat Them That Way

We don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all mentality. We want to provide the communication solution that best fits our customers’ business needs. We tailor our plans and feature offerings to fit each customer’s business needs and pain points. Personalization is key and each team member takes this approach when interacting with the businesses we serve, from the first call with an Account Executive to the last support interaction.

What does Amazing Service mean to you? 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Improving Office Morale

3-16 Employee Hapiness smallEvery office goes through cycles – from motivated, focused productivity, to the doldrums of boredom and complaints.  When you see the need for a collective boost in spirits, try out these tips, guaranteed to get your staff back on track.

  1. Daily Huddle.  Try conducting brief, daily meetings designed to keep your team collectively focused.  Identify challenges and goals, then get right back to work.  I like to conduct these meetings with the entire team standing, so there’s no temptation to get too comfortable.
  2. Schedule change-up.  In nearly all cases, there’s really no reason to require every single member of your staff to work the same set hours.  If it makes sense for some folks to work unique schedules and manage their personal lives better, you’ll discover they’re more focused and ready to be productive when they’re on the clock.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  Remembering why you started your business – and reminding your staff of your purpose – can help employees redirect their energy toward accomplishing big picture goals.  Look at the benefits you provide your community if you need inspiration to keep going.
  4. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost you a cent to express your appreciation.  Make sure your staff knows how much you appreciate them, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you and your customers.
  5. Listen.  Just like dealing with an irate customer, you need to provide a private way for dissatisfied employees to air their grievances.  Getting the problem out in the open lets you manage office problems, and it keeps your employee from spreading dissatisfaction to the rest of the staff.  If your staff thinks you don’t care about their concerns, their productivity and morale will inevitably suffer.
  6. Take the bullet.  While you don’t want to fall into the trap of being the number one troubleshooter for your company, sometimes the very best thing you can do is swoop in to save the day.  Letting your staff know you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work will inspire them to greater heights.  If they know you have their backs, they’re more willing to be creative and innovative.
  7. Provide a change of scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of creativity.  When your staff tires of staring at their cubicle walls, take a field trip!  Whether you reward your employees with a day at the baseball park, or you band together for a community service day, sometimes giving your staff a change of scenery is all you need to reinvigorate them.

Most of us are operating on a budget and have more work to do than we have hours in a day, but you’ll be surprised at how effective an investment in your staff’s collective happiness can be for your company.  Keep ‘em focused.  Keep ‘em on track, and you’ll reap the benefits. 


Mondays with Mike: 10 Interview Questions That Find Great Employees

Job InterviewWe all know prospective employees spend hours prepping for important interviews.  They research the company they’re applying to, and they try to anticipate tricky questions they’ll be asked.  What surprises me is how little time many entrepreneurs spend preparing to interview their prospective hires.  If you take the time to think through what you want to learn from an interview, you’ll make the most of your time and effort.

The basic premise behind this list of questions is that you want to evoke genuine – rather than scripted – responses that reveal patterns of behavior in your applicants.  The way they’ve behaved in the past is the best indicator of how they’ll behave in the future, and as expensive and time consuming as it is to hire, train, and sometimes fire new staff, you want to get it right.

Here’s what to ask:

  1. What is your purpose in life?  The folks who have thought about the answer to this question are the ones less likely to be motivated solely by money, meaning they are less likely to jump ship for a higher wage.  Since staff turnover costs you money, you want to identify candidates with long term potential.
  2. How do you make decisions?  This question is a two-parter:  you want to assess your prospects’ decision making process, but you also want to ask for examples of decisions prospects have made in order to determine if their actions support their words.
  3. Show me how…  Ask applicants to demonstrate some of the skills they’ll be using in their new job.  They may feel like you’re putting them on the spot, and in truth, you are.  Whether you ask them to show you how they’d answer the phone, pitch your product, or resolve a customer complaint, you’ll get an idea of how they’ll handle the work they’ll be doing.
  4. How did you go about researching our company?  Serious candidates take the time to learn something about the places they apply.
  5. Tell me something about me you think is interesting.  Again, you’re putting an applicant on the spot, seeing how they think on their feet, and testing the extent of their research.  Do they understand your goals and values?
  6. Tell me about your past bosses.  This is a particularly powerful question, as it gives you insight into candidates’ relationship to authority, and it also tells you how they like to be managed.  Keep an eye out for applicants who complain about every single boss they’ve ever had;  they’re revealing more about their struggle with authority than they realize.
  7. What is your greatest fear about this position?  This question sifts out dishonest applicants, as every single one of them has fears, whether they own up to them or not.  It also lets you identify areas that will need extra attention when you hire.  You’ll be able to start off on the right foot by addressing concerns on the very first day.
  8. If money were no object, what would your ideal job be?  In a perfect world, you want to hire long term employees, and finding out what candidates really want to be doing lets you know if they’ll be around for the long haul.  If the position you’re hiring for isn’t at least a stepping stone, then you may be looking at a short-timer.
  9. Who are the biggest jerks you’ve ever dealt with?  What you’re looking for in this answer is a reveal of candidates’ conflict resolution skills.  How do they see people who cause them problems, and how do they deal with the conflict that will inevitably occur?
  10. What parts of work drive you nuts?  This question offers another way to catch a glimpse of applicants’ weaknesses and insecurities, letting you weed out inadequate candidates or address challenges early on.

Hiring new staff is too important for you to walk into an interview unprepared, but sometimes you’re still uncertain whether prospects are a good long term fit for your company’s goals and values.  When that’s the case, I advise you to hire on a temporary basis – say three months.  At the end of the trial period – assuming you’re pleased with the work – offer the employee a chance to stay on for a full time position or walk away with a $500 check.  The folks who jump at the check aren’t likely to be committed to your long-term success, and the ones who rip up your check are proving their dedication to you.


7 Creative Team Building Exercises

Soccer players celebrating a goalPerforming at a high level of productivity demands breaks from the daily routine. Take 30 minutes or less to try one of these seven team building exercises at your next company or department meeting to improve a certain skill.

Improving Communication

1. Two Truths and a Lie. Time required: 20 minutes.
This popular college game can be adapted for business when certain boundaries are used. Divide the group into teams and have each person introduce themselves and states two truths and one lie. Within the team, have a quick 30 second discussion to come to a consensus about which one is the lie. Award points to each team when they guess the lie correctly.

2. Classification Game. Time required: 10 minutes.

Split the room into teams of four. Instruct the participants to spend a couple minutes introducing themselves and quickly discuss some of their likes and dislikes. Then reveal to them that they have 60 seconds to classify themselves into two or three subgroups. Examples of subgroups can include night owls, morning people, or sushi lovers. Teams present more of their likes and dislikes in these subgroups to the entire room.

Problem Solving
3. Zoom. Time required: 30 minutes.
This activity requires the wordless picture book entitled “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. Hand out one picture to each participant, making sure a continuous sequence is being used. Give participants time to privately study their own picture. The participants must then place the pictures in sequential order by discussing what is featured in their picture and how it fits the overall pattern.

4. Sneak a Peek Game. Time required: 15 minutes.
Build a small structure out of Legos and hide it from the group. Divide participants into teams of four. Hand out building materials to each team, being sure to include enough to recreate the structure you made. Place the structure at the front of the room (but still hidden). One member from each team can come up at the same time and look it for ten seconds. They then have one minute to instruct their teams how to build a replica. Repeat with a new member and continue until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original structure.

Planning

5. The Paper Tower. Time Required: 10 minutes.

A quicker version of the Marshmallow Challenge, each person is given a single sheet of paper and told to construct the tallest free-standing structure in just five minutes using no other materials. Review the structures and discuss what worked well and what didn’t.

6. Lost at Sea. Time Required: 30 minutes.

Divide room into groups of four. Read each team the lost at sea scenario in which a boat catches fire, leaving you with only 15 items to survive. The group’s chances of survival depend on their ability to rank the salvaged items in relative order of importance. After the teams rank the items, reveal the rank of the items according to expert coastguards and determine the winning group.

Developing Trust

7. Eye contact. Time required: 5 minutes.
This exercise requires no special equipment, just an even number of participants. Instruct participants to find a partner. Have them sit or stand 2-3 feet away and face each other. Tell them to stare into their partner’s eyes and start the timer for 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. There will be giggles and some will feel awkward at first, but this exercise will help co-workers become more trusting of each other.

Do you have others you want to suggest? Which one will you try?


Can You Beat the Marshmallow Challenge?

1-30 marshmallow challenge smallHow can twenty sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow help build a stronger team?

The Marshmallow Challenge has become a popular exercise in which small groups are asked to build the “tallest free-standing structure” out of the materials provided. The teams have eighteen minutes to complete this task including the entire marshmallow on top. It’s a fun and instructive exercise that allows teams to experience simple lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The challenge has been conducted with business school graduates, CEOs, architects, engineers, and even kindergarteners. There have been surprising findings for which groups perform most successfully. Surprisingly, recent business school graduates are among the worst performers and kindergarteners often excel at this challenge. The children don’t spend time fighting to be the leader of the group. Instead, they just start playing and in the process begin prototyping. Business school grads spend most of the time talking, planning and building, which means they don’t have much time to change the design when it finally comes time to put the marshmallow on top which is usually too heavy for the structure that was built.

The teambuilding lessons from this challenge include:

Always test assumptions through prototyping: Participants think that marshmallows are light and will be easily supported, but when teams start building the structure, it suddenly tips it over. Only through realizing that every idea has value and then prototyping various solutions can the teams find out what works.

Don’t focus on being the tallest. When the instruction is given that the tallest will win, teams assume that height will win the contest. As a result, they wrongly focus on how high they can build the structure instead of the stability its base. Many times, companies try to grow too fast before they have a solid business.

Use what is available. Development of every product has limitations and teams can only use what they have and not get resources they want to build something better. In business, there is never unlimited resources or the perfect environment to grow.

Use only what is needed. There are some things that are given in the exercise that do not need to be used like the string. Teams have to figure out what is useful and what needs to be discarded in developing any solutions.

Give up perfection. Teams start out dreaming about building an elegant structure like the Eiffel Tower. They have to give up this idea of perfection and build something (even if it is ugly) that works that can be “good enough” to win.

If you’re looking for a fun way to kick start a meeting or get a team into a creative frame of mind, try running a marshmallow challenge of your own. Is your team up to it?


4 Ways to Use Technology to Plan Your Office Holiday Party

Friends setting the table for Thanksgiving dinnerEach year, offices struggle to put together effective Holiday parties. Whether your business is planning a potluck or an outing to a local restaurant, getting employees together to determine the best time, location, and food preferences can be complicated. With professionals busier than ever, this process can be complicated and involved.

Fortunately, there are many technology tools available to help. Instead of sending an employee around with a sheet of paper and pen, businesses can now send one link to everyone and collect information immediately. By automating the process, your planning team can be more efficient, allowing them more time to focus on their daily duties.

Apps

There are numerous polling apps available that allow groups to vote using a PC or mobile device, with results available in real time. Your employees can vote on the type of Holiday party they want, the type of food they want served, or the restaurant they’d prefer. If a potluck party has been chosen, teams can use Google Drive or sign-up sheet apps like Jooners or SignUpGenius to allow team members to sign up for the items they would like to bring.

Party Planning Apps

If your office is planning a more complex party or you have an ambitious party planning committee, party planning apps can help. From organizing the layout of the banquet room to automated reminders that keep your team on track, these apps are usually designed to run on a smartphone, giving you the ability to work on your party planning from anywhere.

OpenTable

If your plan is to rent a facility or take your office to a local restaurant, OpenTable is a great resource. In many major cities, Holiday party venues are listed under “Private Dining venues” in a list on the left side. You can browse the list of venues that advertise that they host Holiday parties and complete a contact form to have someone get in touch with you to arrange your event. You can also make online reservations directly through OpenTable at select locations, although many venues limit the party size for online reservations. If you’re planning a small office party, however, OpenTable is a great resource for making a reservation without having to pick up the phone.

Online Ordering

If you want catering for your Holiday party, this can be set up online, as well. Some grocery stores and restaurants allow you to browse their selections and choose menu items online, as well as pay for everything and schedule a delivery time. After determining the type of food your employees prefer, find local restaurants, grocers, or catering companies that can deliver the items and get several cost estimates before making a final decision.

Thanks to modern technology, this year’s Holiday party can not only be a success, but planning can be made easy and quick. From getting a team-wide vote to ordering items to be delivered the day of the party, you can use technology to set everything up from the comfort of your office, freeing up time to focus on other tasks.


Everyone In Your Company Needs To Be Responsible For Complaints

??????????????????????????????????????

Here’s an important question to ask yourself: Whom do you feel should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?

How you (and others in your organization) answer this question can make or break your company.

Here's my answer.

Make everyone responsible for the customer experience.  Responsible for handling complaints. For suggesting improvements in your processes. For maintaining the customer-friendly processes you already have. If you don't,  you'll find the actual responsibility for the customer experience at your company devolves quickly "no one."

This answer isn't as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. "Everyone" here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’

Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).


Stop Dropping The Customer Service Ball On Your Handoffs

I have a pretty good idea of where you're dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.

Although you and I, as far as I know, have never met,  from what I’ve seen in the world of business, I can tell you that the odds are good that you’re dropping the customer service ball when you make your handoffs.

It's easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results. Fair enough: but did the details of the customer's needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball? And did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow-up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And they’re often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

???????????

Going to Lexus levels to eliminate handoffs

When the Lexus brand was being created by Toyota, the company zeroed in on a dealer strategy of reducing service defects through the minimization of ‘‘handoffs’’ between service providers.

Think of what an automotive customer typically experiences: You bring your car for service to a service department. There is a person at the door who greets you and takes you to the service advisor. The service advisor writes up what’s wrong and calls the mechanic. The mechanic takes the car away. At the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, the service advisor reappears, gives you the bill, and you have to go and deal with a disconnected, bored cashier, who is probably not focusing on you, not living up to service standards that match the car this same dealer sold you, and not capable of explaining what the strangely coded charges were for, because she wasn’t even aware of your existence until this very moment.

Imagine instead that a single superbly trained service advisor, Sharon, takes care of you from the moment you enter the premises until the moment you leave the premises. Sharon greets you. Sharon writes up your service ticket. Sharon summarizes your complaint to the mechanic. Sharon alerts you when the car is ready. Sharon presents you with the bill, and Sharon accepts your payment.

Lexus settled on this as their ideal approach, to be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size and other realities of a specific dealership.

You may want to consider it yourself. 




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Patents Sitemap