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“Assume Positive Intent When Working with Your Team.”

Kristin J. Arnold, MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP is the President and Founder of Quality Process Consultants, Inc., with offices in Scottsdale, Arizona and Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island, Canada. As a professional facilitator specializing in high stakes meeting facilitation, interactive speaker and engaging trainer and consultant, Kristin is passionate about teamwork, engagement, action and momentum.

Kristin’s passion for teams is reflected in her writing, speaking, facilitation and consulting. She is the author of several books in the Extraordinary Team Series (Team Basics, Email Basics and Team Energizers), as well as a newspaper columnist and contributing author to a myriad of other team-based books, such as The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation. Her latest award-winning book, Boring to Bravo was published in August, 2010.

Quality Process Consultants, Inc., offers high stakes meeting facilitation, speaking presentations, training and consulting and resources.

They are known for their concrete approach to teamwork and a treasure trove of practical concepts, tools and techniques that their clients can apply immediately to see positive, substantive results.

MO: Where does your passion for teamwork, engagement, action and momentum come from?

Kristin: Although I had been on teams my entire life, in 1990, I was asked to be one of the first Total Quality Management (TQM) facilitators for the US Coast Guard. Unfortunately, no one really knew what a “facilitator” was or did, but they read the job description and said, “My gosh, this sounds like what Kristin does!” So they sent me to some training (unfortunately, it was about how to teach TQM principles and not how to facilitate a team) and then assigned me to my first team. Which was an unmitigated disaster! Determined to get it right, I researched everything there was on the topic of facilitation and created a workshop designed to help my fellow Coasties be great facilitators guiding teams to achieve substantial results. At that moment, I knew I found my calling.

I am a big proponent of using teams as a strategy. Not the only strategy, but A strategy to achieve amazing results. However, teamwork is not a natural talent, and so you have to engage people in the work, so they can take action, and sustain those actions. After all, the real “work” doesn’t happen in teams. Teams are great for planning, coordinating, collaborating, making decisions, etc. But the actual work, putting the pen to paper, assembling the rod to the widget, actually doing the work happens at the individual level.

MO: You were one of the first female graduates of the United States Coast Guard Academy and the first woman stationed onboard the USCGC Buttonwood. How have you managed to take the experience you gained in the US Coast Guard and incorporate in to how you approach work and life in general?

Kristin: Being one of the first classes of women through the USCGA had its challenges. I decided do the best job I could and be helpful to my classmates. I was not immediately accepted by my peers nor the upperclassmen, nor the command structure on my first assignment after graduation. However, I persisted and let my work speak for me. I have adapted this philosophy over the years to “assume positive intent” – that everyone is just trying to do the best job they can, given the situation they are in. We can either help them up to do an even better job, reframe the situation, or change the context.

MO: What are some suggestions for individuals to work constructively and effectively with others?

Kristin: Assume positive intent for one! Another is to adopt some guiding principles about how you will behave in the team. Once you have been on a high performing team, you know what it takes – and that you have to nurture and grow that team over time. Take those great teaming behaviors with you to each and every team. You can be a positive force of change and growth on the team.

MO: What are some of the best ways to get the most out a team?

Kristin: First and foremost, have a common goal. I find the most fractious teams have misaligned goals where the individuals have different goals that the team and/or organizational goals. Get crystal clear agreement on the main goal(s) and how success will be measured. Then keep that goal front and center – so when the team gets sidetracked (which it will), you can point to the goal and reaffirm the team’s commitment to that goal.

MO: No matter what industry you work in there are often difficult people. What are some tools and advice for dealing with challenging individuals and the conflict it can create?

Kristin: Contrary to popular belief, conflict is not necessarily “bad” Conflict is a normal and natural part of the teaming process. It’s when it is not managed constructively (e.g. escalating into a heated discussion) where it tears down the team. Think of it this way: If we all thought the same way about the same thing, why form a team? You NEED diverse thoughts and opinions – so make sure you let everyone have a chance to comment, add to the discussion, and get their fingerprints on results. We all know that people are far more committed to that which they had a hand in creation – so make sure all have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

MO: Could you provide our readers with any practical concepts, tools or techniques that they could apply immediately and start to see positive results?

Kristin: Sure!

1) Have a common goal and keep it front and center. I like to post a flipchart with the goal and it so we literally don’t lose sight of what’s most important.

2) Establish common ground rules that make good teaming behaviors explicitly stated and known by all.

3) Have an agenda so all know how you are going work through the issues. Make sure all have an opportunity to contribute.

4) Know how the decision is going to be made. Is the team aiming for consensus? If it can’t get there, talk about how the decision will be made – is it the majority? The team leader makes the call?

5) Don’t forget to celebrate success. Step back every once in a while and congratulate each other on what you have done – and how you can make your team even better!

MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally for 2012?

Kristin: I have just started a new quarterly webinar series – and I invite all the MO.com readers to register at www.extraordinaryteam.com/webinar-series/. It’s free for 2012 as I work the kinks out of the technology!

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