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UXL Blog

Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Teamwork


Updated August, 2019

A Note From Margaret:

In the history of the UXL Blog (which has been active since 2011), this post is by far the most popular. That says a lot to me. For one, it means that people are interested in effective communication and developing a deeper understanding of their colleagues and co-workers. It also means that many people suspect that Insights® Discovery is a useful tool for digging in and approaching communication issues from a science-based, practical approach. 

If your team is struggling with communication (whether among team members, between bosses and staff, or with clients), I can help. As an Insights® Discovery Licensed Practitioner, I offer workshops and training to individuals and teams of any size, in any industry. I invite you to contact me today for more information.

Now, on with the post…

Do you ever wonder why a certain co-worker is so quiet? Or why another co-worker always wants to work in teams? Or why another won’t make a decision until everyone’s voice has been heard?

Assessment tests, such as Insights® Discovery, can unearth the mysteries behind your co-workers’ communication tendencies. Insights® is a science-based personality test designed to help you gain a better understanding of your own and others’ behaviors, tendencies, and perspectives. As an Insights® Licensed Practitioner, I have introduced many teams to Insights® and have witnessed improved communication, better leadership, and greater team cohesion and empathy.

One of the things I like best about Insights® is its approachable model, broken down into four main color energies (blue, red, yellow, and green). The idea behind the model is that everyone has the capacity to exhibit and embrace all four distinct personality types, but we all tend to lead with or prefer a certain personality type. Here is a brief overview of each color/personality type. Which one do you immediately identify with?


RED: Those who lead with red energy tend to be assertive, bold, and to-the-point. They are natural leaders and love to take charge and make quick decisions.

YELLOW: Yellows are bright, sunshiney, and social. They love working in teams, brainstorming ideas, and connecting with new people.

GREEN: People with a strong green tendency are typically empathetic and inclusive. Above all, they care about the happiness of their team members and want to make sure all voices are heard.

BLUE: Blues are data-driven, analytical, and contemplative. They like to mull over an issue and consider all angles before making a decision.

Now that you know a little bit about each color energy, let’s hone in on communication. Each group of people–reds, yellows, blues, and greens–has a different communication preference. The image below outlines how best to approach those who lead with a certain color energy:

Insights Discovery communication preferences
Yellow: Involve me.  Green: Show me you care.  Red: Be brief, be bright, be gone.  Blue: Give me details.

If you have a good hunch about someone’s leading color, take the time to stand in their shoes and consider how they might prefer to communicate. Should you be brief and bright with them (red)? Should you take the time to be social and ask about their family or weekend (yellow)? Should you ask about their emotional reaction toward a project (green)? Should you present them with a complete set of data and analysis (blue)?

This, of course, is just the tip of the Insights® Discovery iceberg. For more information on Insights®, or to find out how to acquire an assessment kit for your team, please contact me today.



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A woman sitting outside on her smart phone

Remote conferences are an integral tool of the work place. In an increasingly mobile and diverse business landscape, maintaining lines of communication in a way that is regularly organized and easily accessible ensures projects remain on task while goals are clearly maintained and communicated.

Phone meetings are by far the most commonly implemented for remote conferencing, and come with their own sets of headaches and challenges. As a team member or project coordinator, you may find yourself in need of strategies to use as a shorthand in organizing consistent, quality phone meetings. Feel free to use these suggestions below while you’re planning!

1. Stick to a schedule

Humans are creatures of habit, and scheduling phone calls can be one of the larger sources of frustration for mid-size or large teams. If you’re looking to utilize phone meetings as a convenient and regular means of convening a team, make it easier on your team members by scheduling calls at similar times at similar points in the week.

Typically, it’s simpler for someone to block out an hour in the morning every other Wednesday than to constantly be checking their schedule to see if they can make a meeting work. Sticking to a regular schedule upfront also helps establish project timelines. It can also help instill a sense of structure and a general sense of expectations.

2. Have a routine

Make sure to outline a procedure for beginning meetings, and for larger groups. Utilizing established formats, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, can help facilitate the chaos of having many voices present. Stick to a consistent limit of how long the group waits for people to join, and outline consequences for non-participation at your first meeting. Reiterate standards as necessary.

3. Prepare a small agenda; have someone take minutes

Board meetings utilize both these strategies, and are a simple but effective means of staying on task. Agendas serve doubly as excellent meeting reminders when provided in advance, and allow more time for team members to formulate specific questions they may have. You may want to incorporate unconstructed conversation time toward the end of meetings to field sentiments about the project at hand and candidly address issues that don’t neatly pertain to a specific task.

4. Be gracious, have a consistent facilitator

Always remember to be polite and professional. And remember, without visual cues and body language, you are bound to encounter miscommunication in a phone meeting at one point or another. Having a consistent facilitator, or a regular rotation of facilitation provides additional support and structure in meetings, as well as a default avenue for conflict resolution as the need arises.

Phone meetings don’t have to be a source of stress. When conducted effectively, they can be brief, clear, and helpful for all team members. Pair these strategies with a framework that best suits your team members’ schedules and working styles. And when in doubt, talk it out!

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author, Insights® Discovery (and Deeper Discovery) Licensed Practitioner, and founder of UXL. She hosts WORKSHOPS for people who need career or personal guidance.
NOW LIVE: Check out Margaret’s NEW online Leadership Course.

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Images of seagulls in a row depicting when a team is too similar

Every team is unique, which means every team encounters its own challenges and pitfalls. Sometimes communication between team members breaks down. Other times productivity dips due to colleagues not seeing eye to eye on a particular problem. But what do you do as a team leader when you are faced with the opposite problem? What do you do when your team members are too similar?

Strong teams rely on their members as individual engines of creativity, each with their own specific skillsets. While it’s not necessarily always an issue to have a team with overlapping abilities and points of view, a lack of diversity of thought can stifle creativity or hamper problem-solving. When Joe, John, and Jack all offer the same, incomplete solution, that’s a sign things need to change.

Being an effective team leader means being able to bring out the best in your team and point it in the direction that will allow you to accomplish your goals. So, if your squadron suffers from being too similar, you might want to consider some of these solutions:

1. Brainstorming Homework

Homogenous teams tend to lump together in groupthink if given the opportunity. A way to combat this habit is to isolate each individual team member’s strengths and abilities in an environment where they’re allowed to contemplate without the influence of their like-minded peers. Assign different tasks or divvy up a single task into components to each of your team members, and have them come up with solutions or ideas on their own. This can give better insight into each of the individual members’ limitations and quirks, and be used as a road map for what qualities or ideas to encourage folks to bring to the table at full team meetings.

2. Role Play

Sometimes team members can’t call upon different perspectives because they haven’t been given the opportunity to engage with them. Identify strategies or types of problem solving you would like to bring out more in your team, and give them the opportunity to utilize these methods in practice exercises. It may be helpful to bring in someone from another group or department familiar with the process to serve as a guide.

3. Switch Up the Roster

If there is a persistent problem in addressing challenges, the roster may be in need of some alterations. You can experiment switching out team members on specific tasks, bring in different staff for certain projects, or even bring on a new hire to inject energy into a complacent group. Variety and situational changes keep people alert and help draw their attention to the issues that are causing these changes.

4. Competition

Who says innovation can’t be a contest? Incentivizing behaviors is a timeless and effective way to instigate desired results. Offer a small reward for team members who are able to provide new or sought-after solutions to ongoing problems. If the desire is to correct a more systemic homogeneity, consider creating broader rewards for seeking outside collaboration or professional development that can be integrated into your team’s stagnant dynamic.

Team dynamics are tricky, and often problems are not resolved by any one solution. Try out a couple different strategies, and don’t give up if one doesn’t foster the changes you are looking for. As long your team is persistent and committed to growth, you will likely find an answer.

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author, Insights® Discovery (and Deeper Discovery) Licensed Practitioner, and founder of UXL. She hosts WORKSHOPS for people who need career or personal guidance.
NOW LIVE: Check out Margaret’s NEW online Leadership Course.

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foster team's creativity

Creativity is a key resource in any successful team’s problem-solving toolbox. New projects bring together many different kinds of people, with a diverse array of perspectives and strengths. Creating an environment that fosters not only your own creativity but that of your team as a unit can be tricky and unintuitive at times. Small groups thrive when everyone is comfortable and participates. Here are some tips to facilitate that dynamic and get your team’s creative juices flowing.:

Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming sessions are a tried and true way of teasing out new ideas. Have your team gather in a comfortable, neutral space. If the office conference room doesn’t inspire, a change of venue like a neighborhood coffee shop can put people in a new headspace. Break problems down to their smallest components and encourage your team to share ideas as they come – even if it’s just popped into their head. An off-hand thought may transform into a fresh innovation.


Responsibility and control kindle confidence, and allow team members to put themselves more fully into a task or project. Break projects into portions that can be overseen by individual team members. If you have a gauge of your team’s individual strengths and talents, try pairing them with a role that will feed off the team members’ personal strengths. A developing designer should be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to spatial or engagement issues. An engineer who loves puzzles can be asked to incorporate that strategic thinking with the task at hand.


A team that gets along can address problems more effectively. Find an activity or outing outside the confines of your assignment that will engage folks and keep them at ease while building up your relationship. This will change depending on the group and their interests. Maybe rec sports are the answer, or trivia night at a local pub. Whatever the outing, make sure it is something everybody would like to do. Take suggestions!

Get Inspired

Are there similar cases and problems that groups in your industry have faced? Creativity is often inspired by work that’s come before. Send your team digging for solutions and situations others have faced that are similar. Discerning others’ methods can provide a helpful opportunity to compare and contrast real-world solutions to your own project’s context and particular needs. Like Brainstorming, a gathered set of tangible ideas allows focus and connections to be drawn instead of working from scratch.

Creativity is an extension of ourselves. By giving your team the space and footing they need to put themselves into a project, and you’ll grow together and see colorful returns. Go forth and expand your palette.

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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.


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Tap into Team 3

There’s a valuable source of information, assistance, and support you have access to at your office. I’m not talking about the internet, your training manual, or how-to guides. I’m talking about your co-workers.

Your work team can be an incredible asset to you, if you let them. Oftentimes, we either don’t trust others to help us with projects OR we simply don’t know what our co-workers have to offer. This is a shame because a lot of talent ends up going untapped and unutilized. How can you change that? How can you leverage the resources available to you through your team?

Start with these three steps:


Get to know your team. Talk with them, listen to them, invite them to share lunch or a cup of coffee. Unless you make an effort to reach out and connect, you’ll never truly know what others have to offer or what their talents are. You also won’t have a strong sense of their weak spots—the areas in which they might need additional assistance.

When you make an effort to get to know your work team, you’ll have a better understanding of how you might all function together. Who is detail-oriented, and who is better at working with the bigger picture? Who is talented at crunching numbers or analyzing data? Who is best at optimizing the customer experience? Who will always meet their deadlines…and who might need a little bit of a push?

Knowing who you’re working with, inside and out, is essential for knowing where to turn when you need a little extra assistance or when you need to assemble a team that is best suited for a specific task.


Extend trust and be trustworthy. Trust is a vital component of any successful work team. Sometimes, we take on too much and try to do everything ourselves because we believe that no one else will be able to do the job quite as well as we can. While that may be true, it’s usually a matter of perspective. Others might do a task in a different way than you, but it is not necessarily the wrong approach. By letting others occasionally take the reins, you’re opening the floor to a wider variety of perspectives and methods—and that’s a good thing! As long as everyone understands the big-picture goals, the path to getting there can be flexible.

Trust others to take on projects that are suited to their talents. Trust them to meet deadlines, do excellent work, and bring innovation and creativity to the table. Unless they violate that trust in a major way, have the courage to relinquish some control and be trusting.

On the same token, be trustworthy. Be someone whom others can count on. Your reputation as a reliable worker will be noticed. Even if you don’t think others recognize your steadfastness, they will. Don’t worry. Just keep at it and be a model of trustworthiness.


Communicate. If you want something done, ask. If you’re unsure if you—or someone else—is unsuited for a particular task, say something. If you’re pinched for time and need to meet a deadline, ask for help.

Instead of hinting at what you need or want, be direct and open. Keep an open line of communication with others and regularly check in with them about your projects. Along with expressing your needs to others and soliciting their help, you must be willing to return the favor and assist them when needed. You, too, are a resource for others and your talents will be needed from time to time.

Of course, it’s okay to say no to certain tasks or projects that do not fit your areas of expertise or your schedule. Be open about that too!


Tap into the skills and resources surrounding you. Your teammates have a lot to offer and you are all part of a network that will work best when everyone’s strengths are utilized. Get to know your co-workers, build trust, and establish an open line of communication.



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You wake up…and check your work email. You come home…and keep your phone handy just in case. You get ready for bed…and shoot off a few emails before the clock strikes midnight.

Your constant connection to your work might be more damaging than you think.

Here are 10 ways working after (or before!) normal office hours can harm both your team and YOU:

1. It pressures people to be “always on”

Even if you’re sending a casual email about a thought you had about work, think again before hitting SEND. Your email sends the underlying message that you’re working and others should be too. And that’s not great.

We all need downtime to recharge. It’s important to have designated “away from work” time in which ideas are allowed to naturally percolate. If we don’t have this down time, we begin to feel worn down and turn to auto pilot mode, in which we simply keep busy instead of pausing, evaluating, and allowing for outside-of-the-box thinking. As Ferris Jabr, writer for Scientific American says, “Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.”

2. It creates unhealthy competition

Just mentioning a late night conversation between yourself and a co-worker is enough to spark unhealthy “who can outwork who?” competition. When there are no limits in place, after-hours work can spiral out of control.

Some companies are beginning to place strict limitations on when colleagues are allowed to contact each other regarding work. Such limitations give employees breathing room in which they can round out their lives with other activities besides work.

3. It prevents you from being present

You can’t enjoy a baseball game, dinner with a friend, or a family game night if you’re constantly checking your work email or waiting for a work-related phone call. The constant presence of work means that you can’t give your full attention to anything else, including yourself. This distractedness is not great for building and maintaining healthy relationships…and it’s also not great for your mental wellbeing.

4. It can lead to quicker burnout

That feeling that you’re always being watched—that you must constantly check in or suffer the consequences (or at least some shaming from your peers)—can quickly wear you down. Today, Americans are working harder than ever for fewer rewards. Hard work has simply become the norm and, according to a study conducted by Quartz and Kronos, burnout is responsible for “up to half of all employee attrition.”

5. It throws off your life balance

Remember those things you used to think were important? Like hanging out with friends, eating a nice meal out, curling up with a book, or practicing a hobby? Well, those things are probably still important to you…they’ve just been shuffled off to the side.

A healthy life is a life with balance. If you’re overworked, you are denied the chance to explore outside interests, build strong relationships, and truly become a part of your community. It’s great to find meaning in your work, but that’s not all there is to life. Find the right blend of family, hobbies, relaxation, and community involvement that works for you.

6. It stifles creativity

Everyone needs a little space and downtime for ideas to surface and creativity to flow. Not to mention, it helps to actually be immersed in the world outside the office to create new life experiences that could, potentially, be linked to your work.

Time away from the office can lend a fresh, new perspective. As Maura Thomas, writer for Harvard Business Review says, “Experiments have shown that to deliver our best at work, we require downtime. Time away produces new ideas and fresh insights. But your employees can never disconnect when they’re always reaching for their devices to see if you’ve emailed. Creativity, inspiration, and motivation are your competitive advantage, but they are also depletable resources that need to be recharged.


The next time you are tempted to send out an email after-hours, pause. Think about the potential consequences to both yourself and your work team. It’s time we all start respecting and appreciating our time away from the office.


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