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    Entries in culture (7)

    Monday
    Dec032018

    Bad systems beat good people

     

    'A bad system will beat a good person every time' - so said W. Edwards Deming. 

    You've got some great people in your team, on your project, in that meeting, attending the workshop. You really have. Great people.  

    The thing is... the system - whatever system is at play in the project, meeting, workshop -often isn't working to support those great people. It may well be stifling them, stopping them, slowing them down or just slowly breaking their spirit, enthusiasm and sense that they can achieve something. 

    Let those great people give the great ideas, suggestions, hunches, hopes and insights they have. Create a system that leverages the people and doesn't limit them. 

    When you plan your next meeting, workshop, session, project, what systems will support the people to bring their greatness? That's the stuff to fix. Don't blame the people. Remedy the system or structure that's inhibiting them, hindering them or keeping them from doing their best. 

    Wednesday
    Nov282018

    How safe was that meeting or workshop you were just in? 


    Every time we're invited to a meeting or to participate in a workshop or conversation we're either a participant or the convener/leader/facilitator of the session. 

    Levels of engagement continue to drop across workplaces, yet we're increasingly needing to get people 'on board', 'aligned' or 'buying-in' to strategies, plans, directions and programs of work.

    That workshop, meeting, planning session or conversation you most recently attended - or led - may not have been that 'safe'. 

    Safety - in this case, psychological safety - was less than it could have been. 

    It wasn't safe for people to take risks, to speak up and contribute their ideas or to challenge and discuss in ways that help solve problems, resolve conflict or progress a project to deliver great value. 

    At the intersections of engagement and outcomes
    If you've ever felt steamrolled or stifled, shut down or stopped in a meeting or workshop, I call that a 'Hostage Situation'. It's where outcomes over engagement are the priority. 

    Just as awkward and uncomfortable can be the 'Yawn Fest' where it's low engagement, low outcomes. 

    Sure it's all fun and games at the 'High Priced Party' where we're having high engagement but getting zip zero done. 

    Ultimately we're aiming for the sweet spot of 'High Impact', high engagement, high outcomes. 

    It all looks like this...

     



    ...and I don't think you get there by accident or by default. It's achieved via great design, great facilitation, leadership and safety. 

    Work at it from both perspectives
    I’ve been working with a couple of teams in organisations at two levels or ‘fronts’: 

    1. To help the team feel more comfortable to speak up and contribute their thoughts in meetings and workshops. They have great stuff to give but sometimes they feel shy, uncertain, worried, unsure about what they’re thinking and how best to express it... and how it will be received. 

    and

    2. To help the leaders of teams and projects lead better, safer, more effective meetings, workshops and sessions. 

    You might think that the team just needs to ‘lean in’ or ‘toughen up’ or ‘speak up for goodness sake’ or ‘get over it and get into it’, but that’s not how they might see things. It's this impatience or lack of empathy that's got us here. 

    Additionally, you might believe that the leaders are doing the best they can or it’s not their fault, or there’s so much to do in so little time that of course, they just need to just ‘get on with it’. But there is a way where you can make great progress, and do it within the constraints of a well-designed and facilitated process. 

    Plus... it’s not a clean ‘us and them’ because you can be an ‘us’ in one meeting e.g. a participant, and then shuffle out of that meeting room and straight into another where you’re the ‘them’, the leader of the meeting. 
    We can adopt both of these roles at different times, even if we’re simply having a 1:1 or a 1:2 meeting or conversation about progress, status, problem-solving or planning. 


    Work at making it safer
    The topic of psychological safety isn’t new, but the adoption and acknowledgment of it isn't widespread… enough. Amy Edmonson's TEDx Talk on the topic is a must watch. 

    There are meetings, workshops, conversations and interactions going on in workplaces all the time where people aren’t contributing or speaking up or giving their best; because it’s not safe (enough) for them (their level of safety) to do so. 

    In a leader’s efforts to ‘get shit done’ they might also be stomping on people, steamrolling or shutting things down - often without knowing it. Their only hint is 'people aren't engaged' or 'they're not contributing.'

    Contrast that to a leader who’s been given the feedback that they are a little steam-rolly and then they may swing too far the other way; they become hesitant, uncertain, ambiguous, treading on eggshells and not providing enough direction or leadership or enough constraints for people to do great work. 

    In the workshops I lead with clients on both developing better Leader as Facilitator / facilitation skills and being a great participant / speaking up skills, I hear and see the challenges that each group feels and experiences. 

    Check with a tool
    In planning your next workshop, meeting or conversation, check over how safe is it for people to do all of these things I've mapped out in the grid or matrix-ish thing below.

    Or to not do them. Safe for people to not do them. 
    There can also be the expectation that 'you will speak up' or 'you will contribute' (when we do that dreadful 'go around the room' cliched technique - no please, stop it, don't do that anymore!) when in fact, people might not be ready. Some of that stuff simply shouldn't be forced and there are many other tools, techniques and processes that help get contributions rather than 'around the room' in order. 

    So do this...
    1. Print or save and tick off, be aware of and make deliberate efforts on these. 
    2. Let the team know upfront that you're trying to make it safer to do some of these things. Let them know you'll be wanting to hear how it's going. 
    3. During or on conclusion of the session, ask the team how safe it was to do some of these things - depending on the type of meeting or workshop you held. You'll get instant and immediate feedback. 
    4. Plan and think about how you'll incorporate these into the design, the process, the agenda and  the activities (yes, these are all different things: design, process, agenda, activities) of your workshops, meetings and sessions. 

    We all need to consider how we can make it safer for those who've been stomped on, interrupted or shut down w-a-y too many times in the past. We're all carrying scar tissue of times we weren't given the environment to give our best. Ouch... still hurts. 

    You can make the next interactions with the team more productive, creative, collaborative and effective... when they're safer. 

    And that will most certainly feel good, for everyone. Safe and good. 

    Thursday
    Jan282016

    When your meeting culture sucks: 8 ways to refresh

    The meeting culture in many companies sucks. It’s no surprise given how last century some of our meeting behaviours are. We have meetings that are too many, too long, too little achieved, too much talk, too frustrating… it’s all too much!

    The culture of how we meet can be deeply ingrained in an organisation. There are plenty of unwritten and unspoken rules that get followed simply because that’s how it’s been done for years.

    And because we expect (or hope?) that so much will get done in our meetings, we owe it to our schedules, customers, colleagues (and families) to get as productive as we can.

    Here’s how to inject some fresh thinking and behaviour into your workplace meetings for this week, month, year:

     

    1. Have less: Say ‘no’

    This is a classic piece of advice. Start fresh this year. Don’t meet if you don’t need to and if you do need to...

     

    2. Have shorter: Time box it

    Ok yes, you’re going to meet but keep the duration shorter. Use the technique of time-boxing; set a timer on your phone and go for the surprise of a seven, 16 or 23-minute meeting. I like to use a humorous ringtone for the alarm like zombie noises, spaceships or the theme from a well-known sit-com. It always gets a laugh, breaks the tension and inspires people to refocus for the next topic.

     

    3. Go visual: Show me

    Help people cut through all the blah-blah. When people can see what you mean, they’ll understand quicker and you’ll make faster progress. Everyday I work with leaders and teams and use sensemaking or mapping techniques with them. You don’t need to be able to draw. Pick up a marker and capture the key points, those ‘in-a-nutshell’ comments on a flip chart, whiteboard, tablet or note pad. What shape is their idea? Map that. The meeting will be 25% shorter once people can see what they’re talking about.  

     

    4. Follow a process: This then that

    Too many meetings follow an agenda - if you’re lucky - but no process. A process outlines how you’re going to handle each agenda item.

    The default tends to be ‘let’s all talk about it’. Here the whole group of the meeting talk (or interrupt each other) to put their views forward. But it’s so challenging to move from the talking about your opinion, to the brainstorming solutions part and then try and get to making a decision – all in the one breath. 

    Borrowed from the world of professional facilitators, a process will help you confirm the facts or background, then hear opinions, then generate ideas and finally, agree to actionsHere’s my advice on an Accelerated Meeting Framework that just works and how to do it. 

     

    5. Stay creative: Yes and…

    Aim to include more creative techniques in your meetings, workshops and sessions. I’m not talking about ‘Pass the Orange’ or ‘Bust the Balloon’ party games by the way! I love to borrow from the world of improvisation. The Improv Encyclopedia is a rich trove of creative loot for groups and teams to be more innovative, ingenious and collaborative when they get together.

     

    6. Get inspiration: good better best

    It’s practical to aspire towards ‘better practice’ if you can’t quite get to best practice yet. Do this by learning from other fields and businesses that nail their meeting productivity and culture 

    There is a lot to learn about productive collaboration from the Scrum methodology used by many software and tech companies, and increasingly other industries and businesses. This is thanks Jeff Sutherland – one of the inventors of Scrum and his practical book ‘Scrum’. 

     

    7. Stand up sometimes: No chairs required

    A popular scrum approach is to have a daily standup meeting. Simply start by removing the chairs and tables from your meeting; you’ll have shorter, more focused and productive meetings right away. You don’t even need a meeting room for this! Stand up in your workspace. I saw a Zara retail team having their morning standup huddle between the shorts and the shoes!

     

    8. Change your environment: Love thy neighbour

    Break your habits and patterns of same/same; the same rooms for the same meetings. In workplaces where it’s challenging to find a meeting room, why not go outside? Try walking meetings, go to a cafe or other unusual and inspiring venue like sports courts, community colleges, bowling alleys, community theatres, swimming pools, the beach or lake, local park or other recreation facility. Take a deep breath while you’re there!

    A client recently hunted out some meeting room locations in the businesses that were next door or nearby. Now they have some inspiring collaborative ventures up and running that started just by finding out who was in the neighborhood and whether they might have some meeting space available.

     

    9. Bonus tip: Stay open

    If someone else in the team brings along some creative and cultural shifts to the way you meet, collaborate or communicate this year, take it… stay open. Say ‘yes’. Experiment, test and try.

     

    Try hitting ‘refresh’ on your meetings, workplace, collaboration and communication habits. Test and experiment with things to find what works and keep at it. Avoid falling back into lazy meeting habits or you’ll have the same things, creating the same outcomes and getting the same results. That’s so last century!

    Tuesday
    Nov102015

    How inspiring are you as a leader?

    Straight up then: how inspiring are you as a leader?

    Do you even know?

    Television’s Dr Phil McGraw often asks guests getting some pop-psych on his Oprah offshoot program ‘Dr Phil’, 'How much fun are you to live with?'

    It's a brilliant question that will put you in the shoes of your partner. But the same can apply to workplaces, organizations, teams, leaders and groups.

    So how much fun are you to work for? Work with? Collaborate with? Communicate with? Do you even know? Do you need to have a chat to someone?

    Think of it like a bellows that fuels a fire with air. At the historic re-enactment tourism village in regional Victoria, Australia, about 90 minutes from Melbourne, there’s a place called Sovereign Hill.

    Here you can buy boiled sweets, watch people wear clothes of the pioneer days or get your name printed on a bushranger ‘WANTED’ poster. On a school-day visit in years gone by, I remember seeing the impact of the bellows at the town blacksmith. The Smithy would be operating the bellows using a foot-pump to stoke, feed and ‘air’ the fire and then he’d be tapping, belting and chinking out horseshoes and other historic items of metal blacksmithing in between whooshes of air.

    When you look at bellows, you see they have two actions:

    • first they draw air IN ...
    • before they can blow it OUT.

     

    Do you give or take?

    Are you the sucking-air-in kind of person… squeezing the life out of; the one who brightens a room just by leaving it? Do you leave people deflated and flat, beaten and feeling hopeless? Do you even know? Oh how depressing! No no!

    Rather… be the one who gives with (good) air and energy and possibility and hope. Make the environment, space, team, project and business feel fired up with air and energy because of you. Whooosh – blow fresh air and energy into the environment. Be inspiring! 

    Be filled with possibility

    When you’re leading change in a team or organisation, you have to fill the air and the environment with possibility and hope and ‘yes we can do this.’ This is not ‘yee-ha’ but rather a great feeling of capability, high likelihood and a sense of ‘we’re gonna do this because….’ and ‘we can do this because…’

    If I followed you around for a week (not in a creepy way), what would I see? How inspiring are you as a leader? 

    Friday
    Jul312015

    Think. Build. Ship. Tweak. 

    Forget the days of heading to the CD shop to buy a CD – just stream what you want to listen to via an online service like Spotify.

    So how does a business like Spotify get their sh*t together and take on a market, and an industry and revel in the opportunity to disrupt?
     
    Henrik Kniberg shined a light on some of the leadership and management insights of Spotify at a conference recently - he's been working as a lean and agile coach.  

    Go anti-silo and have squads and tribes
    Henrik reckons a minimum viable bureaurcracy is the way to go…to group people into tribes; to have squads of people who collaborate with each other to find the best solution. These groups cut across the organisation. It’s somewhat of an anti silo strategy.

    Healthy culture heals broken processes
    Don’t try and scale your product or service – rather, descale the organisation. A healthy culture is what will heal broken processes. We’ve all felt the pain of a broken process when we’ve interacted with a business or organisation and things just didn't go well :-(
     
    It seems that control is dying but not yet buried. In fact it’s trust that flourishes; it’s more powerful than control. Having autonomy across the organisation means you can move fast. Be agile.

    What agility looks like
    In Henrik's words, agility looks like this:

    • Think it
    • Build it
    • Ship it
    • Tweak it

    Don’t you love it?
     
    And it's alignment that enables the autonomy. Without people being aligned to the vision, plan and purpose, you’ll create fear, silos, yawn culture, and a host of flow on problems.

    Fail fast ... and recover from it
    You’ve got to let people make mistakes. To fail fast. But then recover from the failure.

    I think too many leaders think they're encouraging failure yet secretly fear failure because it takes so damn long to recover from it – “hmmm, best to not go there at all,” they think.
     
    Rather, go there. Fail it fast. But Henrik says limit your ‘blast radiance’ – limit the effect of the fail and how far it impacts around the organisation.

    Are we learning anything people?

    Leverage the learning from the fail. And further, you’ve got to then share the learning from the fail. Trust and support people.

    Contemporary leaders of today have to let go and let their teams make sense of what needs to be done and how to do it. Community is what matters.
     
    Move fast, fail fast, limit the blast.
    Think. Build. Ship. Tweak.