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How To Build A Better Team

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In today’s workplace, teams of coworkers often collaborate on projects, presentations, and other professional responsibilities. Managers tend to assemble these teams according to each member’s job role, experience, and skill set, but the internal relationships and communication within a team may be even more important determinants of successful group performance.

Luci Leykum and Holly Lanham, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, study the relationships at play within teams of physicians at hospitals. In a recent study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they explored how different styles of communication within a team relate to the quality of treatment the group provides to patients. Their findings may be relevant not only to health care teams but may also give clues about effective teams in other industries.

Leykum and Lanham observed 11 teams made up of attending physicians, residents, interns, and house staff over the course of 28 days as they interacted before, during, and after their daily rounds. They evaluated each team’s habits based on attributes including trust, diversity, respect, heedfulness (awareness of how each person’s role impacts the rest of the team), mindfulness, social/task relatedness, and rich/lean communication.

It turns out that trust among team members and mindfulness of alternative points of view are critical elements of a functional team. Patients who were overseen by teams that did not exhibit those characteristics spent more time in the hospital than patients treated by teams that did demonstrate those qualities — as many as three to seven extra days.

Groups that demonstrated trust and mindfulness (which Lanham describes as “openness to new ideas, seeking novelty even in routine situations, and having a rich, discriminating awareness of details”) communicated more directly and effectively, allowing them to do more effective triage and catch problems they might have otherwise missed. These behaviors may also reduce the likelihood of complications that would lengthen the hospital stay.

As a result, Lanham and Leykum, who presented their research at the recent Health Care Symposium at the McCombs School of Business, recommend loosening up the hierarchy or narrowly defined job roles within teams. Instead, they argue, teams should embrace shared responsibility, reflective conversations, and interpersonal relationships.

Toward a More Flexible Hierarchy

Organizations often embrace internal hierarchies because they establish a clearly defined chain of command. But Lanham says there are several negative aspects to hierarchies that often go overlooked.

“Hierarchies … can be a barrier to organizational behaviors such as problem solving, learning, and innovating or discovering new and better ways to meet performance goals, satisfy customers, raise profit margins, etc.,” Lanham says.

Lower-level employees are often hesitant to speak up when they need further instruction or have ideas to contribute for fear of rocking the boat. But in that type of environment, Lanham says, all members of the team miss out on potential learning opportunities.

“If you want the people who work for you to learn how to do their jobs better, they will at times need to be able to say, ‘I don’t know,’” she says. “One way to get employees to say this is to model it for them. This is important in hospital teams because patients’ lives depend on it. It’s also important, however, in business — particularly in thinking about ethical considerations that businesses face, such as protecting consumers from harm, providing employees with a safe work environment, increasing shareholder wealth, etc.”

Rethinking Job Roles

Like hierarchies, narrowly defined job roles can constrain a team’s ability to express new ideas and share information openly.

Leykum and Lanham’s findings suggest that when each team member only takes on responsibilities within his or her own prescribed skill set, the team does not operate as effectively as a unit. It is preferable for individuals to be able to adjust as the situation may require.

On one team Leykum observed, the attending physician occasionally took the lead on tasks that normally would be done by people lower in the hierarchy — perhaps the issue was particularly complex, it was a busy day, or a team member was out. Leykum says this was a powerful and effective use of role-modeling because it demonstrated to the team that everyone should do what is needed to help each other and take care of people in a timely fashion.

“How we move from saying, ‘This is what I do, this is what you do,’ to ‘This is what we do,’ is very important,” Leykum says.

Job roles should be somewhat malleable, but they should not relax the group’s structure to the point that a manager’s authority or oversight begins to erode, she says. The key is to be able to adapt.

“One of the things I observed in some teams was an ability to improvise, or use what they know or do as the basis for trying something new,” Leykum says. “That way, it is building on a platform of knowledge, not just trying something completely different.”

Recommendations for Managers

Managers of employee teams can take away several lessons from Leykum and Lanham’s research when assembling teams or planning group projects. One of the most important ingredients is mutual trust.

“Building trust as the basis for positive relationships is critical,” Leykum says. “Just by being deliberate in asking for different peoples’ viewpoints, thinking about how one person’s actions may influence another, and admitting that they don’t know something are powerful actions in creating trust.”

Making time for conversation and reflection is also key. “This allows people to think and make sense of things together, in a way that has a positive influence on the relationships,” Leykum says.

Willingness to consider alternative viewpoints from other team members is another factor that could affect a company’s performance as a whole, Lanham adds. “If people are operating on autopilot, they are less likely to seize an opportunity that presents itself, such as noticing a more efficient way to perform repetitive tasks, or notice when a machine isn’t working quite right, which could result in harm for employees or inferior products for consumers,” she says.

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About the Author

This article was written by Rob Heidrick of Texas Enterprise. Texas Enterprise shares the business and public policy knowledge created at The University of Texas at Austin with Texas and with the world. Texas Enterprise stories by drawing on research from all over the university. see more.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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