Collaborating in the Digital Realm and IRT

Collaboration is a soft skill that in the COVID era rapidly acquired big implications. Even more than in the recent past, the ability to achieve efficient and effective collaboration within work teams, and in fact within organizations, is recognized as a fundamental leadership skill. Collaboration today plays a defining role in driving successful business outcomes.

Because it is now common practice for team members to work from either home or office and to be scattered across city, state, national or even international borders, in addition to occupying various time zones, it is critical to ensure that all players are on the same page. Freelance consultants would do well to diplomatically encourage a collaborative environment on every project in which they participate. A project that yields less than stellar results will weigh most heavily on the Freelancers’, and not the employees’, reputation. The opportunity to receive referrals and repeat business sometimes rests on making one or politically savvy suggestions.

Collaboration is born of trust, respect, communication and, ultimately, sharing information and responsibility. These attributes and actions promote both camaraderie and good decision-making. Teamwork begins when team members understand their project mission; understand how their project supports organizational objectives; have the data, tools and authority to carry out their work; and know whom to consult when questions arise. Think about how you can advance those ideals on your next project.

Digital workflow systems such as Asana, Slack, Trello, or Microsoft Teams are excellent tools that provide access to all relevant documents, support continuity, allow all team members to view and contribute information as work progresses and document progress. Study the project specs. Visit the websites of the digital workflow systems mentioned here or recall your experience with other systems. In the kick-off team meeting, raise your hand (virtually or In Real Time) and suggest a workflow system that will both expedite the work and promote transparency and collaboration.

Virtual check-in meetings may find some team members in a makeshift home office, on a park bench surrounded by greenery, or in their familiar workplace office but nevertheless, if trust and respect have been properly seeded and nurtured, open communication that also allows for differing perspectives, will support candid assessments of project progress, about what may not be working and enable the wisdom of the team to devise solutions that all will support.

Follow-up is where the team pulls together to implement whatever useful suggestions for improvement that surfaces at check-in progress meetings. It is often said that half of life is about showing up. Surely, the other half is follow-up.

Follow-up moves the team and the outcome they produce from good to great. Top teams never assume that someone else took care of an important detail— they make sure it’s been done, the right way. Dot the i’s, cross the t’s and deliver excellence.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Kim Clark. Nursery school students collaborate on their project (the morning walk).

Knowing How to Delegate Is a Productivity Plus

Those of us who work alone frequently need to at least maximize, if not increase, our productivity and hiring part-time or temporary help may be what it takes to get us there.  Sometimes, you need to ramp up to take on a big project for which you’ll need specialized competencies that are not in your skill set, prompting you to hire subcontractors.  In that case, you’ll lead a team and coordinate numerous tasks that drive completion of the project deliverables.  In other cases, you need administrative help to free you from routine tasks like bookkeeping and invoicing, or following-up with customer service requests.

In each scenario, the ability to effectively delegate will be instrumental in creating a positive working environment, where your hired help will strive to do their best work, so that desired outcomes are achieved.

Delegating can be considered both an art and a science and with practice, it can be mastered.  An unwillingness or inability to delegate indicates poor leadership.  Leaders who insist upon having their hands tightly on the wheel of every initiative are often perceived as controlling micromanagers by those who work with them. Such behavior telegraphs a lack of trust or even respect.  It is demotivating and ultimately counterproductive.  Here’s a checklist to help you perfect your delegating skill.

  1. Learn and assess the skills and interests of team members/ employees                                                                                                                        Consult with and observe your team members or employees when putting together a working group or assigning tasks and accommodate, to the best of your ability, their strengths and preferences, according to the project needs.  This could be a skills development opportunity for some and the wise leader will enable that process whenever possible and reap the benefits.
  2. Choose the right tasks to delegate                                                                                     You, team leader, are responsible for understanding and communicating the strategic, big picture view of the work.  Subcontractors and part-time help are responsible for their area of specialized skills.  You coordinate all tasks and ensure that milestones are met and the deliverables are provided within the project deadline and budget.
  3.  Provide the tools and authority to do the work                                                    Ensure that your employees or team have the resources—information, time, budget, equipment— and the authority to do what you’ve asked of them.  Don’t make them run to you whenever they need to take action.  Rather, empower them and let them apply their intelligence and creativity to making you look good.
  4. Be clear about expectations                                                                                           Explain the goals of the project or tasks and how they support short or long-term plans.  Explain how results/ success will be measured. Confirm that those who work for or with you understand their individual responsibilities and the collective goal. Make sure that the goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
  5. Provide feedback, guidance and encouragement.  Acknowledge success.     Monitor performance and quickly correct any misunderstandings or problems. Find teachable moments and provide training or useful suggestions when needed.  Encourage and enable excellent work to keep people motivated and productivity high.  Team members and employees will appreciate that you recognize and diplomatically call out both superior and weak performances.


Thanks for reading,


Image: A Goldsmith in Baghdad (1901), Kamal al-Mulk (1847-1941) courtesy of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Tehran, Iran

Freelancers Hiring Freelancers

Are you preparing to submit a proposal for a big assignment you hope to win and know that the project specifications will cause you to subcontract some of the work? Congratulations! You will have the pleasure of hiring one or more of your Freelancer peers. Together, you will become a team whose mission will be to produce the client’s deliverables by achieving outcomes of the highest quality, on or in advance of the project deadline and on budget.

You, the external team leader, must understand the skills that the project requires, know how much it will cost to secure the services of your Freelancer team and write a winning proposal.  Project management is an everyday reality for Freelance consultants and the bigger the project, the more planning is involved. Your reputation is forever on the line and when subcontracted work is involved, you must be diligent in your search to identify the best talent to bring on board.  Read on and get some helpful advice on how to assemble a winning team that will enhance your brand and your billable hours, current and future.

Get budget estimate

Get a reliable project budget estimate from your client, if possible.  If the client prefers playing possum with that amount, then make sure you are able to accurately estimate both the quantity and quality of work the project requires so that you can first, calculate your own labor cost and target profit margin and next, understand what you must budget to pay your subcontractors.

Hire specialists

Directly ask candidates you interview and confirm that the skill you need is a competency in which that candidate excels and that s/he has performed often enough to claim deep experience.  You are in no position to train someone on the job.  You must guarantee superior results.

Pay well

Why not ask candidates what they want to make as a subcontractor on the project? Start by researching the going rate range for that specialty, so that you’ll know what to expect to pay and you can rule out those who attempt to take advantage of you.  People will do their best work when they feel valued. They’ll be happy to give extra to make you look good and make themselves shine along with you.  They’ll go above and beyond because they’ll want to be hired to work with you again since you value their capabilities.

If you encounter someone who seems a perfect fit for the project but his/her subcontracting fee is somewhat beyond what you planned to offer, then ask what perks might make that person happy, in addition to money.  You may be able to get who you want for a little less money if you give a little more in another area that demonstrates how you value the skill set.

Set clear expectations

If the project is on a tight time frame and in order to meet the deadline long hours and a seven-days-a-week schedule will be needed then you, the external team leader, must present this schedule information to your candidates in the interview.  You need team members who are able to block out the necessary time and are willing to work hard.  If time is an issue, expect to pay a premium to your subcontractors and add a premium to your own fee as well. Develop a contract for your subcontractors, so that all responsibilities, relevant milestones, the project deadline and the rate of pay are in writing.

Communicate often

Request weekly or bi-weekly written progress reports from your subcontractors and send similar updates to your client.  Announce to the client and your subcontractors whenever a project milestone has been met.  Interim victories will give you an opportunity to thank and congratulate your subcontractors and inspire them as you do.  Learning that you and your team have reached a milestone gives your client confidence in you.

View work samples

In the subcontractor interviews, be sure that work samples provided correspond with the project specs, to confirm that you are evaluating what is relevant.

Check references

Ask to speak with two of your candidate’s clients.  Confirm the type of work that the candidate has done for each reference.  Inquire about the quality of that work and the candidate’s willingness to do what was needed to get the job done.  Ask what it’s like to work with the candidate—is s/he positive and upbeat, or a constant complainer? Finally, ask if there’s anything else you should know about the experience of working with the candidate.


Once you understand the project specs, the role that your subcontractors will play and what you will pay for their services, you can then write a draft contract.  Also, download from the IRS website tax form W-9 for your subcontractors to complete and return to you. You’ll retain the W-9 and use it to prepare and mail to subcontractors IRS form 1099 before January 31 of the following year if payments to any subcontractor reach $600.

Finally, set up an accounting method that will allow you to easily and accurately calculate hours worked and dollars earned for each subcontractor.  If you’ve seldom worked with subcontractors, then speak with a bookkeeper or accountant for more information.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Seven Samurai (Japan, 1954) Directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune (foreground)


The Classic 6 Leadership Styles

The effective leader is flexible.  S/he is possessed of self-awareness and knows that the style of leadership must fit the demands of the circumstances. What methods can a leader use to persuade team members to give their best performance? How can a leader inspire trust and confidence, obtain buy-in on a vision and goals, encourage bonding and build a cohesive team, build skills where necessary, acknowledge and respect skills where present, create loyalty and produce extraordinary results? The leader must assess the staff with whom s/he will work and employ the most effective leadership style.

I.      Directive

No-questions-asked coercive style that demands compliance. “Do as I say” and controlling.  Motivation is “encouraged” via threats and discipline. Are you looking for a way to kill motivation, persuade the staff to lose commitment and enthusiasm and squelch any respect the staff may have had for you? Look no further.

Most effective:       In a crisis when decisive action must be taken ASAP and there is no room for deviation from a tightly prescribed rescue strategy.

Least effective:       With highly skilled team members, who will quickly resent micro-management and the disrespect of an authoritarian culture.

II.    Visionary 

Inspires the team. Employees come to feel that they are a team and understand how and why their work contributes to the realization of the vision. Moves people toward shared goals/outcomes through empathy and clarity.  This leader states the vision clearly and compellingly, gets buy-in and then steps back and allows the team to work, stepping in from time to time to reiterate the vision and reinforce commitment and enthusiasm.

Most effective:     When seeking to help the team create and achieve goals for the long-term.

Least effective:    The leader is not credible and employees do not trust the vision and goals proposed.

III.   Affiliative 

Creates harmony that boosts morale and resolves conflict.  Builds trust between the leader/manager and employees. People first, task second. The focus is on helping the team to bond, but there may be hesitation when it’s time to take charge and get down to business.

Most effective:     When stepping into an environment where conflict has damaged commitment and morale.

Least effective:     When producing results is imperative and where clear direction, strategies and action plans are needed.

IV.   Participative 

Superb listener, team builder, collaborator and influencer.  A primary objective is to build commitment through consensus. Employees know that their input is valued and this generates commitment.  However, constantly seeking consensus can impede progress toward completing projects.

Most effective:     The staff are highly competent and mutually respectful. Turnover is low and the team is cohesive.

Least effective:     Close supervision is required for the inexperienced. There is no time to build commitment and consensus.

V.    Pacesetter  

Leads through example, has great initiative and a strong drive to achieve through his/her own efforts.  This leader has high personals standards and high energy,  but little patience and can become a micro-manager.  The team is a meritocracy and only A + results are acceptable.  Anything less and the under-performing employee will be pulled off the project.  Nevertheless, team members are inspired and remain engaged and motivated by a leader who “walks the talk”.

Most effective:    Managing highly motivated experts.

Least effective:   When skills development,  coordination and coaching are necessary.

VI.  Coaching 

Good listener who helps employees identify their strengths and weaknesses.  Knows how to delegate,  which provides skills training for staff members.  Encourages peak performance by providing opportunities for professional development and building the employee’s long-term capabilities.

Most effective:     When professional development is needed and employees are motivated to achieve.

Least effective:    The leader lacks expertise and/or the ability to teach or coach. Results produced by highly skilled employees are immediately needed.

Thanks for reading,


Business Meeting Etiquette

We are now on the other side of Memorial Day Weekend.  For many Freelance consultants,  the start of Summer means that work assignments wrap up and one wonders not only how to make good use of time,  but also how to create the conditions for a profitable September and fourth quarter.  Over the years,  I’ve found that a surprising number of decision-makers are also less busy in Summer and are therefore more amenable to scheduling a meeting with me.

On the other hand,  you may be very busy working with a client who must have a certain initiative up and running right after Labor Day.  You may be leading a team and thus responsible for achieving milestones,  disseminating information and maintaining team member enthusiasm and focus during steamy Summer days,  all of which will cause you to occasionally schedule meetings.

Regardless of your motive,  take steps to ensure that your meetings are perceived as worthwhile by those who attend.  Define a clear purpose and use that to create an agenda.  If you are a project leader,  you must identify questions that need answers,  confront current or potential roadblocks,  or possibly evaluate the need to make adjustments to the project scope or its time-table.  Next,  decide who should attend and begin the scheduling process.  Invite only the stakeholders: those who are carrying out the project,  the project sponsor and those who will be directly impacted by its outcomes.

To win a client meeting,  your agenda is to articulate the value of what you propose and convince the prospect to meet with you and ultimately,  offer you a contract.  A telephone call in which you propose a meeting is the simplest approach,  unless you can arrange to  “accidentally” encounter him/her at some location and  make an in-person request.

When bringing together your team,  a group email is the preferred method of contact and within it state the purpose of the meeting;  who will be asked to present;  any materials that team members should bring along;  and the expected length of the meeting.  In both scenarios,  offer two or three possible date/time options.  When a date has been chosen,  immediately send a confirmation email and reconfirm 24-48 hours before the meeting date,  with an agenda and relevant reports attached for the team meeting.

Set a good tone by opening your meeting no more than 5 minutes after the official start-time and by warmly greeting participants and thanking them for attending.  Remember at the start to properly introduce any guests or anyone who is new to the team,  stating proper names,  job titles and role on the project.  Have hard copies of the agenda and any meeting materials available for each attendee,  no matter that those were sent with the confirmation email.

Move through the agenda items and get resolution on each one,  even if that means follow-up is needed.  Encourage attendees to participate and enforce good manners.   Make certain that no one gets shouted down and that everyone who would like to contribute gets a respectful hearing.  Ask that only one person speak at a time and that those who would like to speak first raise their hand to be recognized by you,  the presider.   End the meeting on time,  unless participants agree to stay longer to complete unfinished items.

If the meeting is held in a restaurant,   you called the meeting and you pay the bill.  If you are a consulting project team leader,  confirm reimbursement procedures with your company contact in advance.  If you meet with a client,  arrive at the restaurant 15 minutes early and arrange a discreet payment protocol with the host,  so that an awkward moment is avoided.

Enlist a meeting note taker,  or take them yourself.   Within 72 hours after the meeting,  send to all participants a draft copy of the notes and invite corrections.  When corrections have been made,  send the final copy to all who attended and also to the project sponsor,   whether or not s/he attended.  If meeting with a client,  send a thank you letter that is hard copy or an email,   in which you document any agreements and action items.  Make sure that all meeting participants carry through with their follow-up commitments in a timely fashion.

Happy Summer and thanks for reading,


Leadership Starter Kit

Christmas Season notwithstanding,  I am busy this December and it feels so good! Catch my act on Wednesday December 4,  when Dalya Massachi of  “Writing Wednesdays” and I talk about the benefits derived when nonprofit leaders write a business plan for their organization.  3:00 PM EST,  2:00 PM CST,  1:00 PM MST,  12:00 PST. FREE! Register at

Readers in the Boston area may want to direct clients who are leaders at nonprofit organizations to get essential how-to information on business plan writing at my popular workshop “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”.  We’ll meet on three consecutive Wednesdays,  December 4, 11 & 18  5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston 02116. Register at  or call 617.267.4430 class ID# 10190.

Congratulations,  you have been named project leader of a prestigious assignment.  You are thrilled to the gills,  but also apprehensive.  You have practical experience,  creativity and enthusiasm,  but you are not quite accustomed to such a front-and-center role.

You’ve scheduled a meeting to bring everyone together for the project kick-off,  where roles and responsibilities will be discussed,  timelines established,  milestones identified and important success factors and potential stumbling blocks will be acknowledged.  You know this is where you establish your bona fides and stake out your claim as the leader.  You are in charge and ideally you will project good natured authority and not arrogance or insecurity.  You are 20 years younger than several project team members.  How do you get this right ?

Introduce yourself

Welcome the team and thank them for participating on the project.  Express that you are very happy to work with such a talented and experienced group of professionals.  Without bragging,  state your professional experience as it relates to the project,  to let the group know that you are qualified and that they have every reason to trust your judgment and expertise.

Team introductions

Invite team members to participate in the standard round robin of introductions.

Confirm the project deliverables and due dates

Establish the expectations and begin to assign roles and responsibilities,  milestones and timelines.  Encourage team members to have a say in this process,  as they know more than you about how departments interact,  unspoken protocols and overall how to get things done.  Be secure enough to accept their suggestions,  as it will promote your credibility and earn you respect.

Ask questions

Pose questions that allow team members to contribute to the decision-making process and telegraph that you value their expertise.  Let team members share their knowledge.  Avoid being a know-it-all.

Listen carefully

Make team members feel heard and you will earn their confidence,  respect and loyalty.

Be humble

Team members must believe that you are qualified to lead the project,  but take care to portray yourself as a team player and a leader who wants to make everyone involved look successful.

Be empowering

Champion good ideas that are presented by team members,  and not just your own perspectives,  and you will build the team’s enthusiasm for and commitment to the project.  Respect and value the perspectives and recommendations that deep experience and long tenure bring.  Some ideas may fall by the wayside when explored in detail and others may turn out to be brilliant. Your tenured team members have the ability to make the project successful. Whatever happens,  empowering team members builds respect and loyalty and makes you look like (and be) a good leader. Remember also to be publicly generous with compliments.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,


Intermediate Expert  Ezine Articles

Ezine Articles Intermediate Expert