This is what teamwork and collaboration looks like at its best:
This is what it looks like at it’s worst:
Here are three signs you are stuck in a collaboration sheep cyclone:
You have a recurring meeting and the agenda items haven’t changed in over a month
You propose a ridiculous idea as a joke and at least 1 person says “great idea”
Your results don’t change even though everyone is “working hard”
What do you do to break out of the cycle? Here are some things to try – I’d love to hear what works for you!
Cancel Meetings – The best way to get out of a rut caused by meetings is to cancel them and then reform (if you need to) with a fresh agenda and a new set of goals.
End a Failing Initiative – Sometimes a project has died but no one wants to admit it. Take a hard look at your team’s portfolio and if you identify a failed project, reboot it if it has to get done or get rid of it if it’s just wasting everyone’s time and sucking the energy out of your team..
Try a Change of Scenery – Schedule an offsite and get everyone up out of their chairs and into a fresh perspective. Revisit your goals and how they are aligned with the organization.
Now it’s your turn – what breaks you out of a sheep cyclone?
Starting a new job with management responsibilities? It can be overwhelming. The good news is there are plenty of tools to help you be successful in your new management role. Here are a few of my favorites:
The American Management Association – The AMA is a great source for leadership and management training and development. They have seminars and events as well as books and podcasts that cover every imaginable topic.
The Dale Carnegie Institute – One of the original and still most respected management training organizations, the Dale Carnegie Institute offers training resources for every level of manager and provides courses in many locations and formats.
Franklin Covey – The Franklin planning system combined with Stephen Covey’s powerful tools for time and priority management can be a huge help as you try to keep up with new responsibilities and new priorities. Offering both training and tools, Franklin Covey is a great place to start if you are feeling overwhelmed and need better ways to get a grip on time management.
David Allen – Getting Things Done is David Allen’s process for time management. It’s a different mindset than Franklin Covey, and if your inbox is raging out of control, it’s worth understanding GTD to get yourself organized and get ahead of the game.
Mind Tools – This great site has both training and tools to support you as you grow your leadership skills. A full suite of great info to help you get off on the right foot!
Wally Bock’s Working Supervisor Support Kit – Wally Bock is a veteran in the leadership development space. His leadership kit will give you the benefit of two decades of leadership training and support for new managers.
Evernote - You never know when a great idea or a solution to a nagging problem will come to you. Evernote lets you grab clips of articles that inspire you, jot down ideas or take quick voice notes and share them across all your devices so wherever you are, your ideas can come with you.
Dropbox - Similar to Evernote, Dropbox is an essential tool for keeping documents (like draft meeting agendas) or other key items someplace you can access from anywhere.
LogMeIn – When Evernote and Dropbox aren’t enough and you really need to access your work computer to use an application on the network or look at something you can only see from your work PC, LogMeIn can be a lifesaver.
What tools do you use to keep you organized on the go?
Last week Cy Wakeman released her new book The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace. I want to start by applauding Cy for pulling no punches as she delivers her perspective on how to be successful at work. It comes down to one thing and really only one thing – taking accountability for your own behavior.
How many times have you participated in a “huddle and whisper” session after a meeting? How many times have you blamed your situation on your boss, your company, too many goals, the phase of the moon, or really anything except your own behavior? If you’re honest, the answer is probably “too many”. From page 1, Cy delivers a strong and compelling argument for purging those habits from your repertoire and building new ones based on her five simple rules:
Don’t hope to be lucky, choose to be happy
Ditch the drama
Your action not your opinion adds value
Change is opportunity
For me the most compelling part of the book was about 1/3 of the way in when the author talks about quitting without leaving. From her last book Reality-Based Leadership she introduces the statistic that 68% of employees quit every day. They just don’t leave. They quit trying. They check out. Great managers spend a lot of time trying to build an environment where employees can feel checked-in and engaged, but managers can only do 50% of the job. The other 50% is up to the employee. And if you don’t want to be where you are, don’t be surprised if your performance reflects it.
There are some excellent tools and questionnaires in The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace and since only you will see the results, there’s no reason not to be completely honest. Cy does a great job helping to define and show clear examples of the values and behaviors that high performers should be shooting for. If every employee took these to heart we would quadruple productivity in the workplace.
I’m sure not everyone will take advantage of the opportunity this book presents because it doesn’t allow for any excuses. There ARE bad bosses and bad workplaces and tough situations in the world, and it’s much easier to blame our circumstances instead of ourselves. But I applaud Cy for rejecting the idea that someone else is to blame for our own situation.
Did you read The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace? What did you think?
Last Friday I attended a presentation by Charles Jacobs, author of Management Rewired. It was a fantastic talk about how our brains work, and particularly how motivation works (or doesn’t) in the workplace. I walked away with a brand new understanding about management that’s incredibly simple and important to the happiness of employees.
Let’s talk about motivation for a minute and think about the conventional wisdom on how to improve employee performance. If you manage by the old-school “command and control” model, the answer is “tell people what to do and they do it”. But I doubt you do manage that way since it has become abundantly clear that it’s totally ineffective. More recently managers have shifted to a feedback or coaching based model. Agree on goals, set target behaviors that you want your team members to exhibit, and then give them timely feedback:
Positive reinforcement for good work
Constructive criticism for areas that need to improve
So praise doesn’t improve performance (although it does prevent it from deteriorating – people do like to be appreciated for what they do and they notice if they aren’t) and negative reinforcement makes things worse. What’s a manager to do?
Well first off don’t throw out all the feedback. Positive reinforcement can and should be used when someone is learning a new skill. Let’s take dolphins as an example. Have you ever seen a trained dolphin perform? They do some unbelievable tricks, and if you ask the trainers how they do it, they’ll tell you that it’s 100% positive reinforcement. Any behavior the dolphin exhibits that the trainer doesn’t like, they simply ignore. This process is called conditioning in the world of psychology. And while we can certainly condition our great team members to follow the rules, it doesn’t lead to innovation or high performance, mainly because humans are a bit more complex than dolphins when it comes to motivation.
So now on to what does work:
What makes people feel engaged and happy is self-direction.
If I order my tasks based on what I think is the best use of my time, I’m much more likely to work hard and do a good job. If my boss comes and gives me a list, in order, of what she thinks I should be working on I’m much more likely to want a cup of coffee and to start polishing up my resume.
Specifically, Towers Watson concludes that organizations must create policies and practices that make it possible for employees to better manage their workload, live more balanced lives and exercise greater autonomy around how, when, and where they get their work done.
What it comes down to is having choices. Workers who feel like they are free to choose their own direction are more willing to be accountable for the results, work harder and better on the tasks that they choose, and are more likely to describe themselves as happy in their jobs. This is especially true for high performers. In a recently released survey by Custom Insight, the top 20% most engaged employees listed autonomy as the 5th most important driver of engagement, and the top 10% listed it as the second most important driver, coming in just behind “personal expression”. In other words great people want the ability to speak up about what they think is right, and they want the freedom to act on those ideas.
How do we do it? How do we create an environment where team members feel like they have choices, feel like they have control, feel like they can be self-directed?
Stop telling, start asking.
Do you know that if I tell you to vote you are less likely to do so but if I ask you if you plan to vote, you are 25% more likely to head to the polls on election day? Asking is powerful and shifting the conversation from telling to asking can have a dramatic impact on your team’s performance. Employees who participate in decision making are more likely to fully commit to and support those decisions. Wouldn’t you rather have everyone on your team fully supporting the goals and direction of the team?
So how does this look and feel in the real world? Let’s see it play out:
Scenario 1 (Old School Command/Control Method)
Manager: Pat, come into my office! (Closes the door) The TargetMart project numbers just came back – the results are horrible! You’re demoted to individual contributor. If your next project results are this bad you’re fired. Got it?
Pat: Got it. (Thinks “I’d better spend all my time and energy on finding a new job and keep my head down until I can get out.”)
Scenario 2 (Feedback Method)
Manager: Pat, can I see you for a minute? (Closes the door) The results are back in on the TargetMart project and the numbers weren’t what we hoped for. It looks like you did a great job on the final deliverable but you went way over on hours that we couldn’t bill to the client. In the future you need to do a better job of making sure the hours you put in are in line with the project estimate.
Pat: Thanks for the feedback boss! (Thinks “Too bad the guy who quoted the project didn’t have any idea how long the work would take.”)
Scenario 3 (Engagement Minded Method)
Manager: Pat, do you have a few minutes to talk about the TargetMart project?
Pat: Sure – can I just finish up this email and then I’ll meet you in the conference room.
Manager: So how do you think things went?
Pat: I’m glad you asked – it was a tough project. I think the sales team might not have had the information they needed to build an accurate scope of work. We ended up having to go way over on hours and I’m sure we didn’t make the money we should have. The good news is we managed to keep the customer really happy and I have some ideas on how we could work with Sales earlier in the process to make the scope more accurate so the next project of this type goes a lot more smoothly for everyone.
In real life I’d bet that the project wouldn’t have gone off the rails at all in scenario 3 because there would have been communication earlier in the process. But just imagine yourself as either the manager or Pat in these scenarios. Do you feel like the engagement minded method could work in your organization?
I’d love to hear from you – what are some ways you have created choices in your workplace? How did you change the conversation from telling to asking? Let’s talk about it!
It took me a long time to read Give and Take although not for the reason you might think. While I did find that Adam Grant has a tendency to repeat himself from time to time, overall I found the book to be thought provoking. I often put it down to consider a point and observe my colleagues and myself in action to see if I observed the same things the author saw in his research. So this review has been a bit delayed, but not because the book was not interesting or compelling, but rather because it was so applicable and observationally accurate in my day to day life.
The premise of the book feels both natural and surprising. The idea of a spectrum with “givers” at one end (those who offer time, resources, connections and energy to help others with no real intent or focus on reciprocity) and “takers” (no explanation needed) on the other makes great logical and intuitive sense. The surprise (spoiler alert but a small one since it happens in the first chapter) is that the givers end up at both the top and the bottom of the success range. As Dr. Grant explores these themes, he draws us in with stories and then expands on the observations with research and data. This is the new model (pioneered by Malcolm Gladwell) for books of this type and for good reason. It’s fun to learn new ways to look at our relationships and at success.
Cleverly there are no quizzes in the book to show whether you as a reader are a giver or a taker (although they are available on the author’s website). And of course everyone I talked to about the book identified with the givers and empathized with the idea of being too giving. While the author does focus primarily on the benefits and pitfalls of the givers which is consistent with the theme of the book, it did leave me wondering whether it’s truly possible to change from one category to another or if this simply allows takers to disguise themselves a bit better.
Overall Give and Take was a solid read with some great insights for both work and life. Did you read it? What did you think?
In 2011 Mumford and Sons broke out after their appearance on the Grammy’s. After watching them, a friend of mine quipped:
Too bad Mumford didn’t have any sons who played drums…
It’s tempting as a manager to think about the elements you need on your team and worry about the skills you don’t have. You might think you need just a few more people, just a few more players to make your team perfect. You start to believe that if you match some framework of what the ideal team looks like, everything will be easy. Maybe you don’t need all those elements after all. Maybe your team already has everything in place to be successful. Maybe you just need to believe that these things are plenty:
Maybe you have exactly what you need right now even without a drummer…
I’ve never come up with a great idea sitting at my desk going through my to-do list. My best ideas come when I do one (or more) of these things:
Walk away from the problem – Sometimes when you leave something alone for a couple of days, you see it from a different perspective and you see a solution that wasn’t obvious before.
Talk to someone – Just explaining a problem to someone else might show you something you haven’t tried or help you see something you’ve missed. And if you don’t see it while you’re talking, the other person may see it or may have ideas you haven’t considered.
Go for a walk – There’s something about walking that makes your brain work. I have some of my best ideas out in the woods where I can’t actually do anything about them. When you unplug from all the distractions (including your ipod) and just let your brain work, sometimes it comes up with amazing stuff!
Read - This is not just shameless promotion for bloggers either! There are a lot of smart people who have been through what you are going through and many of them write about it. There are tons of wonderful resources to help you solve just about any problem. Read books, read articles, subscribe to newsletters, listen to podcasts, whatever floats your boat. Just keep adding fresh ideas to your head and sooner or later you’ll find someone who has been where you are and thought about the situation differently.
It’s easy to think that everyone else knows something you don’t know. But a lot of being a good manager and a good leader is about solving problems by using your own common sense. How do you solve tough problems? What are your favorite resources?
Your first day on the job as a new manager can be nerve wracking. New responsibilities, new expectations, and everyone looking to you for leadership when you don’t even know where the bathroom is yet. So what do you do in your first days and weeks as a new manager to start things off on the right foot? Here are ten great questions to ask:
Who is on my team? While it may be obvious who is part of your team and who isn’t, it’s a really important question to ask. Often in addition to the people who directly report to you, there are others who either partially report to you or whose assistance and support you will need in order to be successful. Find out who your direct reports are as well as anyone else who is a resource or an ally.
What are our goals and targets? In some companies this will be easy to learn and well articulated. In other organizations it may be complicated or unclear. What are the goals of the organization as a whole? How does your team fit into that picture?
What deadlines and deliverables are coming up? If you’re stepping into leading a team in an organization you’ve just joined, you need to find out what your team is supposed to produce in the near future and when it’s due.
Who are the influencers? Every organization has them – they might be managers or they might not, but knowing whose ideas carry weight within the organization is an important first step in learning the political landscape. The best way to learn who has influence is to go meet with other people in the organization. If you are in sales, talk to people in finance, in production, in support, or whatever other teams exist around the company to learn who’s who.
How can I help? One of the best ways to build strong ties and relationships in a new organization is to offer help. In Adam Grant’s book Give and Take he shows that giving can be tremendously beneficial in building a network of allies who are willing to help you whenever you need it.
Coming into a new organization, especially in a leadership role is a big challenge. What kinds of things have you found helpful when you start out as a new manager?
In a short (14 minute) talk, Amanda Palmer helps us understand the power of asking. A truly fascinating example of leading by giving. I’m reading Give and Take this week (book review to come). This is a good example of a successful giver.
There are a lot of different kinds of days in your working life. There are days full of meetings and days where you plow through your to-do list. There are days where you thought you were going to get one thing done but some other urgent task appeared and your plan went out the window. There are days when you get a chance to think ahead and be proactive, while other days you feel like you are drinking from a fire hose and barely have time to breathe.
While you can’t control what happens every day, you can and should build some specific types of time into your schedule.
No Meeting Day: This is just what it sounds like – a day where you don’t schedule any meetings. These days are good for one of two purposes.
Working through a backlog of tasks. If you’ve gotten behind and need to make progress on some things you’ve procrastinated or just need to get through some busy work, a no meeting day will help you do this more efficiently
Pulling yourself out of the day to day to plan ahead. A no meeting day is a time to gather your thoughts and formally think ahead. Review your current goals and re-align yourself. It’s a good time to use the Eisenhower Grid to think about how you are spending your time and decide if you and your team are focusing on the right priorities or need to adapt.
Team Day: I like to do a team day as an offsite (which, depending on what kind of team you run, might mean that you need to get coverage for any type of incoming requests or other interactions your team has with the rest of the organization and/or customers). This is a time to review and reset goals, get input from your team members collectively about what’s going well and what needs to go better. It’s also a time to do something together whether it’s a structured team building activity or just a baseball game. It’s a time to remember that everyone on the team is a person outside of work too.
Ask for Feedback Day: Once every few months is a good idea to schedule a day of meetings (or a survey if it’s not practical to do it in person) to hear from the people you and your team interact with regularly whether they are customers, colleagues, vendors or neighbors. Go out and ask how you and your team are doing and then listen listen listen to the answers. Record them all, don’t try to respond to any critiques at the time, but just gather the data and let people know you will be using that info to make improvements in how your team operates.
Documentation/Organization Day: Let’s face it – most of us don’t have all the documentation we should have on how our team operates. If you win the lottery and move to Hawaii tomorrow, how seamless will the transition be? Once per month or once per quarter, have a day where everyone writes up at least one key process they do. Review and organize what you have in place, identify places where your documentation is lacking, archive old stuff, and generally clean up.
Thank You Day: Once in a while take the time to consciously say Thank You to some of the people that might not have heard it enough. Thank the receptionist who deals with all the telemarketers. Thank the first tier IT support folks who take calls from grouchy people with computer problems all day. Thank anyone who helps you get your job done even though they don’t work directly for you. Try to have a lot of Thank You days.
What kind of scheduled days do you include in your routine? What do you set aside time for, even if it’s not a whole day?