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    To Hack is the Way


    The challenges of the modern workplace aren’t new: low levels of engagement and morale, industry disruption putting pressure on the business, silos and disconnected teams, a slow pace of internal change due to resistance or lack of buy in and general busy-ness overload.

    It could sound a bit dull and depressing :-( yet when you look a little closer, you might find pockets of the business where ‘all is good’.

    For many people, teams and units across a business, a breath of fresh air and a jolt of innovation and inspiration is what’s needed to press ‘reset’ and embark on a new financial year or a new project or kick-off a fresh start. 

    So I’m here to tell ya: the hack is the way. 

    Yes, the hack.

    Not breaking-into-computers hacking, but rather coming-up-with-ingenious-ideas-for-tricky-problems hacking.

    Known as the ‘hack day’ or ‘hackathon’, increasingly clued-up businesses are bringing their teams together to identify top talent, reconnect their people, speed up the identification of ideas and shift up the vibe of the business’ culture.

    This article gives you three reasons why…  this one reckons all businesses should be hacking. 

    Too often in team days or dull planning sessions the loudest voices drown out fresh and upcoming idea makers in a workplace. Or worse, it's a meteor shower of PowerPoint bullet points. And even when ideas are presented, there’s a lack ofaccountability or responsibility or follow through to get things done to see if they’ll actually work. 

    So enter, the hack. A half, one or multi-day hacking event is proving to be a culture shaker, an innovation maker and a rut breaker!

    Full on input… and output

    Through these creative, collaborative, ingenious and full-on sessions, teams work together to design and deliver something; they create solutions to respond to real customer challenges. Whether that's a new strategy, or a new product. With an increasing focus on the customer, businesses of all sizes are seeing this is a sharp and clever angle for competitive advantage.

    The hackathon helps develop prototypes that can be put into practice quick smart.

    Best of all, you get a taste of agile - a taste of agility and of productivity. You get to play with some of the super human approaches and ways of working of leading global businesses who use hacks to their advantage. Think Google, NASA, Facebook, Salesforce, Uber, eBay, Qantas, Atlassian… 

    But hey, hackathons don’t have to be about technology; it’s where they were born, yes, but you can apply hacks to creativity and innovation in almost any aspect of your business, team, unit or industry. 

    I recently facilitated a hack session at a multi-industry conference; more than 100 people all working on individual projects and tasks but their outputs could only have been achieved in that timeframe using hacking techniques. It looks like we could be starting to hack the hack!

    Cool companies hack

    Big and small companies, teams and projects the world over are seeing the benefits of the hack.

    They get teams of people together to work intensively and rapidly to:

    • create new products
    • focus on customers
    • align the team and enterprise
    • create solutions to tricky problems
    • lift innovative thinking and
    • create collaborative environments.

    And wait, there's more. I love how hack events help you see how people work under pressure.  This type of environment helps you identify top talent, high potentials and high performers who may have been previously hidden, stifled or just uninspired!

    Plus it's time to find other ways to break out of those dull ruts and patterns that a team may have fallen victim to over recent times. It's so easy to get comfortable and stay there. 

    Most of all I love seeing teams mixing together - particularly when they're working across silos. People are enjoying the work  (because : happiness!) and they're bringing a competitive and cheeky team spirit to the event. The energy is electric and the solutions are often mind blowing!

    'Wha?! How did they come up with THAT?' is a phrase that's often heard. 

    Customer Focus

    With a customer focus, a hackathon or hack day helps create some big reasons to connect and talk more deeply with customers; to research and gather information, to uncover insights and to map out customer experiences. In these insights are genius solutions and ideas that the team can create during the hack. 

    Practical ... and Keep Going

    Many hackers rave about how practical and productive hackathons are. It's not about talking all day. Yawn! Hack days are about getting sh*t done, doing things. It’s about short sprints of activity over the day or days and teams working rapidly, pushing through doubt or procrastination and experiencing a highly productive environment where delivery is everything.

    And then with the experience of the hack, teams take hacking elements back to their workplace and workspace and find they’re able to generate innovative ideas and work productively by applying same, again and again. 

    One team I worked with recently continued using their 'Hack Pack': it's a bunch of practices I run in a hack day. When they want to re-live the experience of the hackathon in their everyday work, they simply choose a technique from the Hack Pack ... and go!

    7 things

    Now, before you go all crazy and book a venue and invite everyone to hack together, think about these 7 things first: 

    1. Focus: why are we going to hack and what might the theme be? 

    2. Hackers: who's in? Who wants to come, needs to be there or would benefit from the lift of the hack?

    3. Schedule: what's going to happen when on the day? What's the schedule of things? 

    4. Process: how are you going to hack? What will you do when? Who will facilitate it for you (yes of course, let's talk about this!)

    5. Celebrate: how will you cheer on the ideas, outputs and progress the hackers make throughout the day?

    6. Implement: how will you bring the prototypes you create to fruition and put them into practice beyond the hack? 

    7. Integrate: how will you weave the learnings from the event into your culture for ongoing benefits, ROI and overall hacking goodness?

    Your hack plan could look like this...

    Leading companies and businesses across so many industries (beyond technology) are learning that today's challenges need new ways of thinking, acting and working. They're looking for better ways to drive creativity and ingenuity - yet all the while still solving problems and challenges. (Oh and let's maintain or strengthen our competitive advantage at the same time!)

    When you need to get all of that done, they know - and you do too - that where there’s a hack ... there’s a way!

    Handling the sh*t that goes down in teams

    Whether it's in a meeting, a conversation, a workshop or general day-to-day stuff, when you get people together, it's natural that some sh*t is gonna go down. 

    People being humans, that's all. Trying to get something done to the best of their ability, trying to work with others, work with constraints of time, budgets, environments and .... other people!

    You've likely seen it today... stuff going down like: 


    • someone interrupting someone else
    • another person who's all-talk and waffle
    • some blame going on 
    • not getting to a decision (in a meeting that was meant to come up with a decision!)
    • people who have views but aren't expressing them at the all-important meeting
    • some people not seeming to listen because you just explained it, again
    • ... and some dude going on and on and not making much sense. 

    These are all human behaviours and they can be handled, clarified, refocused and made sweet so you can get on and do the great work you've got to do.

    You don't need to 'slap down' people or to bark out "order" in a meeting or workshop session. Neither do you need to be the soft-as person who just lets it all go wildly off-track. (Urgh, don't you just wish the meeting leader would DO something to bring it back on track!)

    I see there are four things you need to do to handle the sh*t that goes down:

    1. Get your own sh*t together
    Yes, you be a leader. You need to get ready to lead a meeting or brief a team, or elicit information or be prepped for that thing you're about to do. Think mindset, get ready and be in the right 'space' to do this thing.

    2. You make the environment 
    Some people brighten up a room just by leaving it. Don't be that person. Don't. Be the person that people go 'Oh thank goodness you're here; now we'll get great stuff done'. You impact the vibe in a room by what you say, do, how you look, how you handle every little thing. Eye-rolls, sighs and other verbal nasties leak out of us all. Keep the environment positive, productive, focused, creative. You influence the environment and you can change it if it's not working. 

    3. Follow some type of process 
    Don't wing it or make it up as you go along. There are many tools, models and processes you can apply and follow to make for a good interaction in a team. I love my Facilitator 4-Step process (the visual is about to be translated into Spanish) to help people move from giving their opinions, to coming up with ideas, to finally committing to action. Otherwise, you'll be lost in an infinity loop of 'OMG when is this thing gonna end'. Even if your process is a series of three or four questions, it's a process nonetheless. 

    4. Respond. Handle what happens. 
    When you're ready, the environment is good and you've got a process you're running... then all you have to do is handle what crops up in the session. You'll have your attention on the people and the work to be done, rather than your agenda or the timing or how you're feeling.


    Avoid the cliched advice on how to shut up a non-stop talker or the corny questions on how to get input from the quieter people in your team. They are just that - corny cliches. 

    Too often we're killing collaboration and diversity - without even knowing it.  "Gulp, what me? No, surely not."

    So look out leader, there's this contemporary capability I call Leader as Facilitator. You've got to achieve an outcome, get people on board and keep engagement high. It really is a balancing act. And it doesn't happen by accident or by 'winging it'. 

    Think about it. Be ready. Do these four things so you're ready to handle what happens in the moment. No sh*t. 

    10 cliches that kill collaboration, smash diversity and slow-up progress.

    So much advice available out there on meetings…  yet still so many sad behaviours and cliches that stop progress in its tracks.

    I've had the pleasure to work with some teams lately to help them get more done in their projects by helping develop their leader as facilitator skills. 

    This capability is needed in workplaces to

    • boost collaboration
    • get alignment
    • get work done and
    • meet deadlines...

    all the while working with diverse teams who have different backgrounds, cultures, generational views and opinions. 

    The days of leaders ‘telling’ are done… or at least, leaders need to be doing less of it. The technique of facilitation when you’re a leader is secretly genius. It’s artful, engaging, collaborative and impactful. 

    Plus we don’t have time to traipse through the levels of Tuckman’s 1965 tired team dynamics model to wait weeks and months for people to be storming and norming before they start performing. Oh yawning! We’ve got to get people together quickly - people who may not have worked together before -  and get things done swiftly,  all the while respecting them, treating them well and acknowledging their views. They're human after all!

    This is what diversity is about and the inclusion of differing views.  

    So yes, there are still some deeply ingrained habits hanging around meetings, workshops and breakout areas in workplaces.

    Here are the top 10 meeting and workshop cliches I see that kill collaboration, smash diversity and slow-up progress. 

    1.    Would you take the notes please (...insert woman’s name)

    Still seeing this way too much. A woman in the room is the designated note taker; is it a hangover from the days of the typing pool or the ever-obliging secretary or worse, ‘because you have such neat writing’? Urgh! Yes, a meeting facilitator can also do note taking. You may argue or not believe you can both facilitate AND capture content, but it can be done, and it’s called Visual Facilitation. Anyway, make people take their own notes or ask ‘who will be our note taker today?’

    Plus the role is so not secretary-ish anymore. It’s a powerful sense making tool - the person who makes sense from complexity and detail is the present day workplace genie!

    2.     I hear what you’re saying but…(we’re going to do this anyway)

    You may have heard advice about the use of ‘but’ in this situation and how that part is the problem... but I think it’s really about the ‘I hear what you’re saying’part.

    Actually you haven’t proven that you’ve heard what they're saying. Plus it’s so habitual and cliched; you must spend a few moments (less that a minute even - relax!) to deal with that person’s comment. Saying you’ve heard it but… is not good enough. 

    And don’t even THINK of saying ‘we’ll take it on board’! Urgh!

    These are verbal slaps in the face. You’ve smacked down collaboration with your impatience for an outcome.


    3.    Lets car park it

    If you have a flip chart or whiteboard with ‘Parking Lot’ written on it I will develop car park rage! It’s another slap in the face. It’s saying ‘we can’t handle this right now…’.

    Actually, no, it's you saying ‘I can’t handle this right now so I’m going to deflect it off over there and then we can speed on to the outcomes.'

    That's another smack down!

    It's another way of saying 'Be quiet. We’re not doing it now.'  That’s effectively what you’re saying. 

    Go ahead and try and get collaboration and engagement going at full speed again after that. It will be hard work.  

    Rather, you need to take that point for a 'drive'. Do not park it. Take it for a test drive and see what happens and where it goes. You might get some other stuff done because of that tiny side track or scenic journey.  And you don't need to spend too long, just a minute, tops. 

    4.    Let’s take it offline 

    Here's another slap in the face. Another version of ‘not here, not now’. You’re saying this meeting now is not the place for it.

    Rather ask ’should we set up another session where we can talk about this - we can cover x, y and z?, or 'what piece of that can we do today, now?'

    Taking it offline is lazy shorthand and workplace waffle and again, if you spent even one minute facilitating an interaction, you might actually get something done on this point and you’d keep collaboration going. At least make this thing into an action and when it will be worked on in at another session. 

    5.    What do others think?

    I call these big blind overhead questions. Shot out there into the group like a cannonball for anyone to catch. It's too big, too fast and too dangerous. Often the louder voices will speak first with a question like this. They've been waiting to let you know what they think for so long now!

    This question is too broad for my liking. Leader as Facilitator capabilities look at how you can narrow the focus in situations like this.

    What are you asking people’s thoughts on: What they think about global warming? About Tom’s new haircut? About the bicycle storage racks in the basement?

    Too broad. Narrow it down. Get focus and facilitate to that. 


    6.    We need to move on

    Someone has done the wonderful duty of contributing and you may feel like things are a little out of control and so you bring this cliche out. You’re not saying ‘we’ you’re saying "YOU need to move on. You have spoken about this for ages. Can’t you just get over it!! Didn’t you hear me??!! MOVE ON."

    Aaah no; people will move on when they are ready.

    This is about you - you need to handle it better; it's not about them needing to 'move on'. 

    Spend a little more time finding out what their concerns truly are or what they want to happen. When they’re really listened to, they’ll move right along.

    It may seem like a paradox or you may fear you'll open a can of worms that will never be closed again, but that's a fear of yours. It works a treat when you actually listen to someone and what their concern is. 

    7.    Are well all in agreement then

    This is often about premature decision making or a leader trying desperately to get to a decision. Perhaps you haven’t even decided HOW you’ll make a decision and yet you’re trying to make that decision.

    So you might bring out this CLOSED question that the group can answer ‘yes' or ‘no' or ‘maybe' to. You can’t ask a group a closed question. The group then has to respond. You could go around and ask them 'yes, no, no, no, yes'… to find out what they think, but it’s a lazy cliche for trying to get closure on a topic or a decision on a topic.

    Set up a clear decision making process and use that. 

    ... Oh sorry, I know I promised 10 cliches but there are only 8, because...

    8.    We've run out of time

    That means two of the cliches haven’t been covered. They could have been the most important pieces of this whole thing! But we didn’t do them upfront in the meeting.

    Too much important work gets rushed, or worse, not done at all. So get your important pieces done first. Not in the order it arrived in your inbox or the order you thought of it, or the order you did it last time. 

    Get the tough stuff done. Yes, you can go for quick wins if you want to build the group’s momentum, but with some capable facilitation you will be able to get through the tough stuff and get even more done than you thought possible. 


    The leader - whether that's a leadership position, title, role or responsibility, or the leader of a meeting - has incredible opportunities to build engagement, gather diverse views and opinions and get important work done. 

    Avoid these cliches; go for more productive responses that keep a conversation going, build engagement and don't slap down. Then you’ll build a stronger environment of collaboration and collective output that will be reflected in the results that team can create. 


    Leader as Facilitator 

    We know the days of barking instructions to people in teams and telling them what to do are fading. 

    Yes sometimes you still need to give instructions or directions but overall, people need to be engaged. Global engagement scores are not good. Must try harder. 

    Additionally, there are countless untapped capabilities in teams the world over, with people just itching to put their experience to work - if only they were asked.

    And plenty of teams aren't quite working at their peak levels of performance because the environment, situation or processes they're working with are slowing them down, stifling them or hindering their opportunities to collaborate and deliver.

    Leader as Coach : too slow and inefficient?

    The Leader as Coach approach has been in play in many industries and organisations for years, decades perhaps. I remember running a Coach the Coach program for a big bank who were helping their leaders be better at those one-on-one conversations. 

    And while coaching is still a highly valued and valid leadership tool, many leaders find the drain, drag and pace of one-to-ones less efficient than they'd like... and need. 

    As one leader said in the bank's coaching program:

    "It take sooooo long to get that person to realise what needs to be done, to go through that GROW model and get them on-board with it. I just don't have the time or patience". 

    And while that may run counter to what leadership or leaders should be like, the realities of pressured schedules, busy teams and project deadlines mean leaders need to leverage more than the one-to-one... at least some of the time. Granted, the one-on-one coaching conversation is a must for performance, development and other discussions. It will always be needed. No argument there. 

    Leverage for impact

    So how else can leaders leverage their time and the interactions with their teams, to inspire the tribe, get them engaged and aligned to the work that needs to be done... and then go ahead and get it done?

    The shift from 'Leader as Coach' to 'Leader as Facilitator' is well underway. 

    Leaders are noticing that leverage is possible when they're adopting the role of a facilitator of their team. Group harmony and cohesion is strengthened and the sheer energy or 'vibe' of the team, tribe or group coming together seems to lift people to build higher levels of team performance. 

    Facilitators make progress easy... or easier. They run a process, respond to what happens and draw on communication tools to make this progress. 

    As a participant in a recent Leader as Facilitator program said:

    "Now I'm able to get stuff done; we talk as a team, I can help remove barriers across the team, we can make decisions and I'm better able to handle the general sh*t that goes down daily in our team." 

    (Note, this leader wasn't naming his people as sh*t; it was more about the finicky, challenging issues and hiccups that happen throughout a typical day when leading a diverse team).

    So leader as facilitator, hey?

    Ah don't be mistaken, facilitation is not ‘soft’ work. Be assured, there are many effective and well-structured approaches and techniques that professional and full-time facilitators use to achieve swift, creative and relevant outcomes with a group.

    And though the 'Shit facilitators say' meme is a good laugh, it's time those cliched phrases and lip service statements were sent to the trash file; they're dated and a poor first response for a present day leader using facilitation approaches with their team. 

    There are many more contemporary, authentic, empathic and realistic ways to get stuff done in teams and keep the team connected to the piece of work via facilitation skills. 

    Diversity demands it

    A leader adopting the capabilities or behaviours of a facilitator is able to achieve outcomes that have a direct connection to business goals, and importantly, get genuine input and contribution from teams and units across the business.  

    It's not enough for a team to meet to just to talk or discuss. In the volatile, uncertain and complex world that businesses operate in, decisions, input and diverse contributions are paramount. 

    In trying to facilitate and drive these types of meetings, many leaders head into steamrolling territory, shutting down contributions or closing down creativity without even knowing it. You might have just caused what you were trying to avoid!

    Then when the room is silent, you might not know what to do. Was it something you said or did?  Possibly. And there's also something else you can do to change that again. 

    It's not soft

    Business facilitation is not about looking at a candle and taking three deep breaths, holding hands or singing 'Kumbaya'. Some industries and fields use this to good effect. I'm not a proponent of it. 

    It's a balance of people participating and contributing AND achieving business outcomes.

    The leader as facilitator needs to balance the business imperatives of:

    • Achieving outcomes
    • Boosting engagement
    • Driving productivity
    • Encouraging contribution.


    Leader as Facilitator is all about using approaches that achieve the things that need to be done. 

    Understanding how to be a Leader as Facilitator puts all of these imperatives to work in contemporary workplaces and makes great things happen.

    Overall, this is about a culture of leadership, a style of leadership in your organisation that you create. It supports teams and leaders with the capability they need to influence, drive and deliver. And that's not 'soft'. 


    How to work with people ... when you don't want to work with people

    In this era of increased, required (and expected) collaboration, it can be tough to work with people, if there are times when you don’t feel like working with people!

    Particularly if you see yourself as more of an introvert or ambivert or shy, or you're dealing with some sh*t in your life. Showing up and putting on your ‘collaboration face’ can be tough if you’d rather work alone.

    For some it’s a feeling of social anxiety where we might find the interaction, talking or problem solving parts of working with others a challenge or uncomfortable. Some days collaboration is one of the last things you feel like doing, especially if you think there are more pressing things to do or important alone work to be done. For some people who get frustrated easily or have less patience and want to just get stuff done, collaboration can feel slow or time consuming or plain annoying.

    Yes indeed, many of us are loners and may well prefer to be alone, work alone and do it all alone. 

    When we are required (or strongly encouraged) to join a project, team, group, workshop, planning session or conference that suggests networking and games to 'get to know each other’ ... maybe we just don't want to. 


    But isn't collaboration a 100% positive thing?

    While we might understand the benefits and positives of collaboration, sometimes we just need some breathing space and prefer space alone.

    It can be overwhelming for some people to be constantly in the company of others. Think of people who have customer service and customer facing roles in high volume and high pressure environments. Or those who are constantly problem solving with others, dealing with group behaviours, beliefs and barriers for an extended period of time. 


    Recharging, retreating or relaxing

    We often need to grab some time alone and recharge or be with people we can fully relax around and not be expected to collaborate. 

    You might have seen people lunching alone at a busy conference, or having quiet time to get stuff done or taking some time away from a group meeting or workshop. They may well retreat to recharge. 

    And of course, for many, we know there may be plenty of other humans who you absolutely must collaborate with when you get home - that includes pets, partners, friends or family, members in community groups and others in the interests and network groups we are part of. 


    Are we 'over collaborating?'

    At times things can feel ‘over collaborated’; that is, we’re required to do so much with others, there never seems to be a break from team, group or unit work. 

    In the work I do bringing teams together, working with leadership groups and helping people co-design, co-create, decide and do, there are always always always people who don’t want to play in this group space. They may be forced into it by colleagues or have gentle pressure (and guilt?) applied by leaders that insist that collaboration is ‘the way’ or the expectation is constantly there, yet they would prefer to contribute in other ways that don’t involve full-on collaboration.

    The messages that 'the group is wiser with you' or 'everyone has their strength' are high on inspiration (and yes, fact) but they can also be low on the practicalities of what to do if you just don’t want to work with others. 

    So when you’re next faced with a workshop, meeting, space or situation where you’re expected to collaborate an don’t feel like, there are some things you can do.


    Cohesion over collaboration

    There are other roles you can play in collaborative environments that don't require you to be the leading light and winner of the collaborative stakes.

    Rather you can play a role that builds the cohesion of the group, keeps the group or team together, performing and progressing well.

    Sometimes cohesion is better than collaboration.

    If you adopt a role of helping the group stick together, you don’t need to be the star of the show or the loudest mouth or need to present yourself as the wisest in the room. You’re simply playing the ‘glue’ that helps the group ‘stick’. 


    Here’s what you can do:

    1. think about the role you can play; this may not be your normal role or default behaviour. So how else could you be, what could you do or how could your act to contribute and collaborate and build cohesion? 
    2. adopt a role that is not IN the group, but rather FOR the group.  What could you do that places you in a support role - you’re still contributing and doing, but not as one of the collaborators?
    3. think about offering to facilitate, guide or enable the process and progress of the group. This is real cohesion work. Think of it like a tour guide or an air traffic controller. You’re not the artist of the artworks you’re explaining in the museum, you’re taking people through and showing them. You’re not flying the planes landing at the airport, rather you’re helping keep the planes in order; which one first, which one next. 
    4. be at the service of the group; what do they need right now? Do they need someone to listen, scribe, time keep, summarise, present back or distill or make sense?
    5. lead a session rather than contribute content to it; ask the team questions - get people’s input, ideas, suggestions and contributions. Your role is then to listen, to make sense of, to get them talking. This is a mega-cohesion activity. Good stuff!
    6. be the listener, the hearer. Too many meetings, workshops and sessions are full of people intent on putting their points of view across as soon as possible. Take on the role of a listener, a distiller. What are you hearing? Who said what? What did that mean? Are there similar points of view in the room? Are there different points of view? This helps to keep the group together despite differences. 
    7. And importantly, let people know you’re taking on another or different role in the meeting or workshop and that you are being at the service of the group and to the group or team’s outcome. 


    Expected and respected

    Collaboration is an expected part of work these days. You've got to find ways that respect the values, expectations and behaviours of the workplace, but that also work for you. It’s important also to not ‘disappear’; don’t be invisible. Look for ways where you are contributing to a purpose, doing something that is of value to you and the team, as well as being helpful to all. This is great cohesion work. 

    Your team mates will likely prefer to work with someone who’s supportive, helpful and collaborative in nature, rather than a grumpy quiet anti-collaborationist who skips meetings and gatherings and shows up in what might look like passive aggressive mode (even if you’re not!)


    Plan ahead

    In this era of collaboration, you’ll probably want to avoid the image of ’not being a collaborator’, so remember to plan ahead.

    What meetings or gatherings have you got coming up?

    What can you do before, during or after the event that is of service, help and assistance - and is just as valuable as you sitting around the table or being in the room contributing and collaborating as others are?


    You be awesome

    You have wonderful gifts, skills, talents and expertise to share and contribute. Acknowledge that sometimes you may not feel like playing with others. When that’s the case, adopt another role to help build cohesion in the group or event. You’ll contribute more than you’ll know!