January 27, 2017


Practice turning down new business opportunities that are not an ideal fit

Why is it so hard to say NO to new business opportunities, even if they are clearly not a good fit or a long shot of epic proportions?

Your earnest hopefulness as a salesperson, entrepreneur, or business professional looking to grow your book of business is to be admired.  That type of positivity and can-do attitude is a part of what got you to this level of achievement in your career.  That said, the same approach that you had when you were young, foolish and hungry is not the way to take your business to the next level. Discernment is the name of the game now.

The next level of achievement and lifestyle optimization is reliant on your ability to know when and how to respectfully walk away from business opportunities that are not an optimal use of your time, energy, and attention.  There is a cost to everything you say YES to – in time, brain space, and precious company resources.

True discernment challenges you to focus on the right opportunities that are clearly in your sweet spot and to more boldly qualify the ones that are on the fence.  It is about creating internal processes and inquiry practices to protect you from your inclination to look for all the reasons why you SHOULD go after the opportunity instead of looking for any reasons why you SHOULDN’T.

Here are three tips to consider when you are deciding to pursue or participate in a new business pitch or RFP process.

 1 – Commit to saying NO to at least one new business opportunity this month.

Be willing to respectfully decline to participate in a complex pitch or RFP process if it’s clearly not in your sweet spot and is a long shot (i.e.: you have less than a 25% chance of winning).  Be willing to kindly walk away if your prospect is unwilling to agree to a few simple requests that are a part of YOUR process of qualifying the opportunity (i.e.: having a phone conversation with key decision makers to ask questions in advance).  Saying NO takes practice.  Do it once in the coming weeks and see what happens – Even if it’s uncomfortable, I guarantee you won’t die.

2- Set up a system to save yourself from your optimistic self.  

Create an internal team that is designated and encouraged to run counterpoint to your natural idealism.  Have a checklist of questions that every opportunity gets filtered through (i.e.: Are we competing against more than three other firms?  Do we have access to all decision makers?   Do they match our Ideal Client profile?).   Assign one point person to help create and own the opportunity-qualifying checklist and ensure you use it every time.   Also, consider including a member of the service team for their point of view.

3 – TRUST your instincts. 

Despite all I have said to the contrary, I actually do trust your instincts (after you’ve taken a breath and calmed down).  You’ve seen almost every situation and you know the indicators and warning signs that makes for a truly good new business opportunity and what’s a Hail Mary.  Trust your gut here.  Take a minute to really think through whether or not this is a good use of your team’s time and energy.  Notice the gravitational pull of FOMO.  And then….seriously consider saying “No, Thank You.”

One last thing to consider in this process of discernment…

If you are leading a team, remember that even when you tell your people that it’s OK to say no, they will not believe you at first.  They need to see you model and reinforce and make it truly OK to respectfully walk away from an upcoming new business opportunity that is not a good fit or is too much of a long shot to justify the investment.  Changing the mindset and organizational culture around this topic takes some time, and consistent execution.

Build your muscle memory for when and how to say NO to new business opportunities that in the past you have actively pursued despite them not being an ideal fit.  Be more discerning.  It’s sometimes scary.  It’s always liberating.  And, its essential for your sustainable, healthy growth.


Stay tuned for the February launch of my Selling 180 Toolkit (aka: “Tom in a Box”) 

Contact me with feedback / 760-492-1329 mobile/text

December 02, 2016


Role Mapping for Team Clarity

Do you know, I mean really know, what your teammates do? Do you know how they produce information they give to you and what they do with information you give to them? Do you understand their roles to the point where you could fill in for them for a day?

The better you and your teammates understand each other’s roles, the more effective the team will be overall. Points of intersection, where people’s work either overlaps or provides inputs to other team members’ work, are where the team will feel the greatest impacts from clarifying roles.

Map Your Team’s Roles

Mapping the intersections of roles will give your team clearer insight into how to work together more effectively. The following is a process that I have found useful for this.

 1.  Choose a time when everyone can get together. Set aside at least an hour for an initial conversation. If your team is distributed, consider supporting the meeting with remote graphic recording or graphic facilitation to create the maps of team interactions.

2.  Identify the places in which there are overlaps or shared inputs or outputs. What do you create that is then used by another team member? What do you use that other team members create? Make a list, and ask everyone on the team to make a list too. (This can be done as pre-work.)

3.  Gather the team, compare lists, and rank the items to decide where to start. Look for items that appear on several lists, and start there for the biggest impact. Alternatively, select the most high-profile activities on the lists as a starting point.

4.  Map what happens around each item on the combined list. Give team members who touch that item a chance to explain what they do and how they do it. What tools do they use? What information do they need to have handy when they start? What format do they prefer to work with? Allow everyone to describe his or her workflow and preferences without trying to problem-solve at this point. Just listen. It might help to draw a picture of the process  on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper as it is described. Make notes of questions or issues as they come up.

5.  Once everyone has spoken, have a conversation about the questions, concerns, and other issues that came up. You might find that something as simple as changing the way information is conveyed or presented will make a big difference to the recipient. Once you understand why someone wants it this way or that way, it’s often easier to modify your own workflow slightly to accommodate them. Use a flip chart to clearly record new agreements or procedures your team wants to try.

6.  Repeat the process for each item on your combined list (this might take more than one meeting).

7.  At the end of the meeting, review the flipchart of agreements and make sure everyone understands what he or she has personally agreed to do. Agree on an evaluation period—two to four weeks, perhaps—after which you will all reconvene to talk about whether the changes are helping, identify new issues that have come up, or discuss new ideas.

Remove the Obstacles in Your Team’s Workflow

This activity is particularly valuable for distributed teams in which members do not have a way to see directly what their co-workers do. For these teams, the way that inputs and outputs are created and delivered can make a huge difference in team effectiveness.

For example, it is common for someone to create a document and send it as a PDF, but if the recipient needs to extract information from the PDF to use elsewhere, this can be time-consuming. Something as simple as switching to a shared document editor or keeping the shared information in another system may result in a much smoother workflow.

Alternative Approaches

• Instead of making individual lists of overlapping tasks in Step 2, ask team members to work in pairs.

Try writing each overlapping task on a separate large sticky note, then use a large board or sheet of paper to organize them. This method works especially well if you are mapping a workflow that many team members touch, because you can move the sticky notes around and annotate the space between them with notes, questions, and arrows.

• For distributed teams, consider using an online collaborative whiteboard/sticky note tool, such as Boardthing,, Leankor, or Whibo.

The Wonders of Clarity

Arriving at clarity about your team’s roles will substantially improve the team’s ability to get its work done. Once you each understand more about the work your teammates do and how they do it, all team members can play their roles in ways that help each other be even more effective and make better use of everyone’s abilities.



This article is adapted from a previously published longer version on Rachel Smith’s blog.

For more on role clarification, see these resources:

1.  Clarifying Team Roles by Workshop Exercises

2.  Discussion of Roles and Responsibilities by Collaborative Justice

3.  RACI Matrix (How-To) by Duncan Haughey, PMP, Project Smart

June 02, 2016


Team Performance Facilitates Cross-Cultural Teaming at W. L. Gore

This article was co-written by The Grove and Gyung Hee Han, a longtime HR business partner at W. L. Gore. Based in Korea, Gyung Hee is the Team Performance lead for Gore’s Asia-Pacific region. The article is the fruit of a conversation in which she shared stories and insights from her extensive experience working with Asia-Pacific and global teams.


As W. L. Gore has grown, its teams have become bigger and the teaming dynamics are more challenging. The team environment in the Asia-Pacific region is especially complex. Many teams function virtually. People work from dispersed locations, navigating Gore’s culture and wide-ranging local cultures while communicating in a language that may not be their first language. Team composition, roles and responsibilities may be in flux. Working in cross-functional teams adds even more complexity. Gore has found the Team Performance System to be especially useful in situations like these where the teaming environment is complex, diverse and global.

The Most Common Teaming Challenges at Gore

Gore HR partners have noticed that most team challenges occur in the “creating stages” stages of the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® (“the Model”), the first four stages (1). Many teams must deal with significant change, with shifts in team composition as well as evolving strategies and processes. Sometimes team members don’t understand each other. Lack of trust may arise from changes in team membership. Some members may not be fully engaged in the process. Sometimes the decision-making process is not clear, or people may be confused about people’s roles within the team.

Leaders tend to underestimate the importance of working out these earlier stages of teaming. As a result, teams may jump to goal-setting and implementation too quickly. HR partners explain the Team Performance Model using stories that show the importance of working out the earlier stages of teaming first to provide the foundation for successful teamwork over time.

Simple Questions That Spark a Team Conversation

After the stages of teaming are explained, team members are asked, “What stage of the model do you identify with as an individual team member at this time?” The answers vary greatly. New members may be at Stage 1 (Orientation), while other people may be at Stage 2 (Trust-Building) until they have a chance to get comfortable with the new members.

It is helpful for the team to be aware of other members’ perceptions, and it’s vital for the leader to know. Often the leader is a few steps ahead of the rest of the team and moving to implementation too soon. This conversation gives team members a way to reveal what needs to be dealt with before the team can move on to the later stages.

Working with Interdependencies

Any team is part of a larger context, an interconnected system stretching across regions and business functions. Much clarity comes when three questions are engaged: “What do I do?,” “What do we do?,” and “How do we do what we do?” These questions spark a conversation that reveals relevant interdependencies, clarifies expectations, and builds trust.

After taking The Grove’s Team Performance Survey™, one cross-functional team used an interdependencies continuum to fill the gaps in its understanding of each other’s independent and interdependent functions. At first when people placed each item of their functional tasks in the continuum, they saw themselves as independent. Then they had open dialogue, sharing thoughts and clarifying expectations. This exercise brought insight and a better understanding of the activities that they needed to work on together. They made agreements on the spot about how to collaborate, and going forward they were a more effective cross-functional team.

Appreciating Different Work-Styles and Cultural Norms

Gore’s Asia-Pacific associates often find it challenging to work in or with global teams due to language barriers, communication styles, different working time zones, and cultural differences. For example, it is a strong cultural norm for Asians not to interrupt when in conversation. Instead, we wait for the person to finish before speaking. When people exchange ideas or opinions at a rapid pace during online business conversations, it may be difficult for the Asia-Pacific person to enter the conversation comfortably.

When associates from Europe, the United States, and Asia-Pacific did the Work-Style Continuum exercise, they were asked, “What are the implications from this activity? Knowing what you now know, what will you do differently in your work with this team?” These questions sparked a conversation that brought a better understanding of how to respect each other’s personal and cultural styles and preferred work styles.

Ground Rules That Make Room for All to Participate

In a meeting with an Asia-Pacific team, a work-styles conversation was impactful using a shifted focus. Team members were asked: “If you are feeling outside the conversation when Western associates are dominating it, how can you influence the process to go a different way?” A proposed rule for the beginning of meetings was voiced: remind Western associates of Asia-Pacific team members’ participation challenges, and ask people to be mindful about making room for all to take part. A facilitator might ask, “What will make participating easy and comfortable for you?”

Some people feel put on the spot when they are asked to say something, while others wait until they are asked to speak. Some associates prefer that someone ask them directly, “What are your thoughts?” Others prefer to take turns speaking on the call. Still others prefer to use web-conferencing features to “raise their hand” or send a message through a chat function.

An Organization-Wide Perspective

The HR business partners have been delighted to hear from Gore business leaders and team members about the usefulness of the Team Performance Model and tools. Gail Townsend, Gore’s Team Performance champion, reports: “Because our teaming model is integrated with the organizational-structure model, it reinforces and supports the effectiveness of Gore’s teaming processes in achieving business goals.” Craig Theorin, a global business leader, says, “The Model provides a lot of structure to what our HR business partners have been trying to do already. It defines specific ingredients that are necessary for success and puts a helpful structure and language around the elements that make a team effective.”

Gore’s HR business associates are now partnering with business and functional leaders to help their cross-functional teams get results that align with their business strategies. Leaders have become aware that when their teams undergo a significant change, they need to step back and re-focus on the creating stages of the Model. When people click on Gore’s strategy model on the intranet, they can select High Performing Teams, which takes them to the Team Tools website. Connecting the Team Performance Model with Gore tools, processes and best practices has helped to internalize it. A global Community of Practice shares experiences and learnings virtually to build practitioners’ skills in using the Team Performance System.

This has been an organization-change process at Gore, and buy-in has occurred. Having this common teaming language for all of our teams is invaluable, and integrating Team Performance into our organizational strategy has greatly enhanced Gore’s effectiveness as a teams-oriented organization.