Archive for the 'Teamwork' Category

Looking at a Shogun’s Leadership/Partnership Lessons from a 21st Century Lens

21st Century advice: Freedom of Speech  at Work Requires Partnership from Both Ends

I have been sitting on this blog post for some time now. And now with the summer coming to the end, I finally find some time to finish it. After working in training and development for over 15 years, I’ve been exposed to a lot of leadership development programs. And some programs really emphasize the importance of an open door policy, but it’s not always possible to exercise it without willingness and buy in on the part of leadership. On the other hand, people who follow need to realize that the open door is a gift that should be used wisely. 

 

Leaders should have a truly open door and be prepared to hear the good with the bad

One of my favorite stories from Japanese history is a simple story about listening and leadership…

One day while walking through his palace grounds with a retainer, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu met a low level soldier from the ranks. The soldier had a comment to say on his regiment. When the man had finished and walked away, Ieyasu’s retainer commented with shock, “What a waste of time. How dare he address you on such a petty and insignificant manner.”

The Shogun remarked frankly:

“It took a great deal of courage for that man to approach me. If I did not listen to him, he might not ever do it again.”

 IeyasuTokugawaShogun

Tokugawa Ieyasu – Japanese Shogun who helped unite feudal Japan

With the simple gesture of listening, this remarkable man sent a message to all of his followers low and high, that they could be heard. They could speak up (within reason, of course). The most practical reasoning for this was if he had no true visibility to the workings of his court, he would not be able to guide and manage them effectively. He was probably savvy enough to recognize that his leadership and ability to lead could be impeded by courtiers seeking to pander to curry favor. 

In hierarchical structures and cultures of leadership that are top down a truly open dialogue is painfully difficult if not impossible.

 

Followers to Leaders: don’t treat us like we’re still in middle school. Encourage an open dialogue with us

When I taught middle school students, every year I encountered at least one student who would express their dissatisfaction with rules or my decisions as a teacher aloud. I met one or two who insisted that in expressing their dissent they were expressing their freedom of speech.

Engaging in this kind of argument with anyone let alone a young person who’s testing the boundaries around them can seem like a sticky wicket. I’ve met teachers who avoid giving their students choices simply because of this fact.

I get this sense from many people in leadership positions regardless of their level or profession that there is a hesitancy to allow people to speak freely because they fear the result of this freedom, namely disagreement and even expression of dislike and resentment. This is old school leadership that can be defined by that phrase: “It’s my way or the highway” or the “buck stops here.” In the age or rapid market changes due to technology this management mechanism is too slow and inefficient to allow for the innovation and change needed to keep up and excel the market demands. Collaborative leadership should replace the old school top down model.

21st Century Advice: Don’t fear an open dialogue with people at all levels. Embrace it.

However, if we operate with the fear that people will revolt if we give them too much lee-way in expressing their feelings and opinions, then we gain our ability to control and dictate but loose our ability to lead and influence. The first option allows us to have our own way, the second makes allows those we lead to become self-sufficient and make their own decisions or act freely and efficiently to achieve the whole organization’s goals.

 

Leaders to Followers: use the opportunity to speak to share the issues and work with constructive solutions to solve them

But there should still be implicit rules of partnership built in any dialogue between leadership and workers and the focus must really be upon collaboration to make the organization’s goals and mission possible.

21st Century Advice: Align yourself with your company’s mission and goals,
but also find where you bring value and express this.

For those of us who are exercising our “Freedom of Speech” with our leadership, it’s important to not only be fully appreciative of the opportunity to do so, it’s good to be mindful of how we’re framing our words.

  • Are they thoughtful?
  • Are they constructive?
  • Are they forward thinking? Not focused on what happened or how things are with the past but defined by new possibilities for the future.
  • How can we help drive achievement of the organizations success? How can we be an asset?

 

Additional Reading & Resources:

How traditional leadership structures can destroy creativity and innovation:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140707105756-681714-13-ways-to-destroy-creativity-and-innovation

Ieyasu Tokugawa quotes:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/tokugawa_ieyasu.html

The Patience of Ieyasu Tokugawa:
http://hanofharmony.com/the-patience-of-tokugawa-ieyasu/

 

 

 

You’ve got diamonds in the rough, you just have to look for them

Sorry for the long hiatus from my blog life.

Wow, that’s an understatement, at almost 10 months with no writing or sharing.  I hope to be more attentive to this blog in the near future. It’s been too long.

Since I have been fascinated with the idea of the odd man out in corporate culture since I started working there over 15 years ago, I started crafting a story/presentation on the value of “Outliers & Misfits” within a corporate setting.

If you’re to summarize the message in three lines it would be this:

  • If you’re a CEO, manager, or leader, learn how to appreciate the value that these outliers can bring to your company or organization. Learn how to engage or entertain alternative perspectives.
  • Understand that their misfit energy & ideas should be channeled according to your business goals, and learn how to do so.
  • If you’re an outlier or misfit, then learn how to communicate clearly so that your ideas align with organization goals. And don’t forget to find a champion.

 

 

Future Think for Educators

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8]

Great film that helps us envision education and learning in transition. Some things educators, policy makers, parents, teacher, curriculum developers should all be getting excited about…

  • Cloud Computing - In many cases you don’t need to have software installed on your computers.  Content development tools such as Google Docs and many others make it possible to create and share documents, materials, etc. on the web. Students can track changes, add notes or comments and truly author pieces together.
  • Mobile Devices – Mobile devices and smart phones are definitely here to stay. Yesterday I realized that I only use my laptop if I’m working on something complex or lengthy. All other materials for reading or immediate access are funneled through my mobile. Educators can search out or even design learning enhanced by or using Mobile Devices – Why not create or develop learning activities where students can enhance their learning by connecting to materials and resources while they’re learning, or on a field trip? In a previous post I shared a number of different possible learning applications for cellphones. Several are quite ingenious and fun. You can view a detailed mind map of the lecture notes from the presentation where I got those ideas.
  • Leveraging Social Networking and Media Sharing Tools – Students and educators can learn from social networks that have pods or communities built around the topics they are interested in.  I found this great community on Learning Physics Online. You could even find or start communities on Ning or other similar networking site. Students (and or their teachers) can create videos, film projects, and presentations to put up on ‘safe’ sharing sites such as TeacherTube or YouTube. Check out this group of student’s retelling of the Boxer Rebellion. Love how they cleverly used recognizable styles and characterizations from Hong Kong  & martial arts cinema. I shared this some time ago, but I never get tired of watching it.
  • Alternatives to Written Papers – While I still think this skill is absolutely necessary to have. I don’t think the essay is the only way to test someone’s knowledge and grasp of content anymore. Students can put together podcasts. Writing the content and putting together the interview questions for the podcast as well as engaging in the discussion and interviews can help reinforce the content they are learning. Sometimes writing a script for a film, story boarding, and coordinating the filming is way more labor intensive than writing a term paper. Plus you’re actually using far more skills that can transfer to real jobs and life (… outlining, drafting, planning, writing, coordination, directing, … ummmm project management. I actually heard somewhere that film school is the new MBA :))
  • Ethics & Security Education for Parents and Students – yes the web can be a scary place, but so is the street. If we train students  (and parents) to be aware of the dangers and learn guidelines for avoiding them then that’s half the battle. It would also be in our best interests if we teach the younger generation appropriate netiquette.

More resources:

Found in Translation… Communication between Techs and non-Techs

I found this post on how to speak to more technically savvy individuals to get what you want.  But I think communication between the more technically adept and those who are less is  a two way street.  I should preface this by saying… I am not a pure “Techie.” I sort of can figure out what is being said because I try to understand basic terminology and understand the context in which it is being used.

I still need to find a better way of describing these two groups that doesn’t sound like a division between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’  So for now I will say Techies and Non-Techies. It’s the best I can do right now… I’m not much of a wordsmith or a linguist :).

Here’s the abbreviated version of the tips for working with Techies:

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Put things in writing.
  3. Be clear on jargon.
  4. Continually check the context.
  5. Come clean about being confused.

Here’s my version of the list from the tech side’s point of view:

  1. Establish their goals and needs. Help re-translate and provide examples of things that already exist if possible –> For example: have a browser open and be able to link to or find existing solutions or examples for what they’re looking for.
  2. Document what they want. At the end of every meeting capture clear statements that describe what they are asking for. Make sure that they agree to the content and directives explained in these statements.  Also, leave yourself open to explaining things off-line or separately for those who don’t want to admit that they don’t know what you’re talking about.
  3. Define vocabulary or terms that may be unfamiliar whenever possible. Take some time to gauge whether or not they understand the terms being used, but don’t be condescending. In fact, preface initial meetings by saying, “Please feel comfortable about asking us to explain technical terms or items we are sharing if you don’t know what they are or are unclear about them…”
  4. Make sure they understand what can be done and can’t be done in the context or environment you’re working with or building for them.
  5. Look for signs that the audience may be confused about what you’re talking about. As you’re providing explanation, periodically do a check for understanding.

I have little patience with any sort of divisive talk that gets people away from accomplishing needed tasks.  For me the important thing is getting a well-defined set of goals accomplished in the work that needs to be done.

Pendant with "Techie" label

Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK - you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information - no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

What Does the Ideal Virtual Workforce Look Like?

I was talking to my manager the other day about writing some sort of article that highlights the skills and talent needed to manage a virtual team. Last year I was able to briefly describe the ideal virtual employee. I decided to come up with characteristics for both virtual managers and virtual employees.  This is what I came up with so far… I’m still working on it.

Ideal Virtual Workforce

Click on the image to view the full sized mind map

I based the qualities and behaviors of managers on several of the managers I’ve had in the past whom I felt to be highly effective. In a nutshell, I really liked/like working for these people and I’d pick up another job with them in a heartbeat if it was available.

Honestly, I feel that the first thing an effective manager of a virtual team does is hire ‘the right people.’  In a sense, half the chore of managing a team is done once they’ve hired the correct type of person. This isn’t easy, because good employees are often hard to come by, and I speak from my own experience on hiring panels in a corporate workplace. Often interviewees have been coached to “talk the talk,” and a hiring manager needs to be able to see through this. A good virtual manager will probe employees to see if they can truly demonstrate the qualities and behaviors of the “ideal virtual employee.”  Moreover, a virtual manager will request and thoroughly review a portfolio of the prospective hiree’s past work before the actual interview. They will aslo ask pointed questions about how the interviewee accomplished or made these portfolio items.

To be honest, when I enter an interview, I actually look for the behaviors I described above in the hiring manager.  I want to know that the person who’s leading me is capable of managing me and the whole team effectively. There’s nothing worse that being hired into an extremely dysfunctional team. I’ve often thought of scripting scenarios that take the best moments from interviews I’ve had with managers.  I’ve even thought of taking the best coaching moments I’ve experienced and sharing them.  So many of us have in the past worked for or currently work with poor managers, sometimes It’s good to know that there are good ones out there. While the economy is bad right now and many people might be willing to put up with working in a dysfunctional workplace, it’s still important to hire good managers (virtual or not) who encourage productive innovation. Innovation and the ability to change and adapt readily is what helps companies survive in succeed in trying times.

Addendum… thanks to Twitter, I’ve found a number of interesting articles on virtual workers:

Wikis: it’s okay to make mistakes here

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article "Minds on Fire"

More and more, I’ve come to see wikis (collaborative websites) as informal ‘playgrounds’ where people can share, learn and collaborate together. I’m not really referring to Wikipedia, because it’s seen as a semi-formal/formal resource. Now I don’t want to get into the veracity or the level of formality associated with Wikipedia, that’s not the main focus of my thoughts here.

I’m talking about wikis as an active place for a ‘learning community’ to share, build and collaborate to learn information. An example of this is a wiki set up by a classroom teacher of any subject where students (and the teacher) can build their store of knowledge on a subject together. Note, ‘grown ups’ in the workplace can use this in a similar fashion (see the last examples). Here are a bunch of sample scenarios:

1.) History/Social Studies Class - develops a section in their wiki on each of the topics they cover in class. Teams of students are responsible for updating the wiki with information on a particular subject. Class invites another history class from a different part of the country or world to contribute to some of their pages and volunteers to contribute to the other class’s wiki in return.

2.) College Physics Course – shares information they gather on particular phenomena. Smaller teams work together on the wiki to develop papers on particular projects. The wiki is used as a place to collaborate and develop a draft.

3.) Elementary School Class – learns about punctuation. The have a page for each of the different rules of punctuation. Each student contributes to the rule page by writing their own correct example of usage.

4.) Hi-school English Class – students work to write scenes of a play that parodies the work of a featured playwright or author. For, example they create a modernized version of Hamlet.

5.)Marketing team – uses wikis as an ongoing brainstorming area for throwing out random ideas to explore.

6.)Software Development Team - uses wiki to document issues and successes with code.

In these situations, the wiki is not serving as a definitive or formal resource for information. In my opinion, people should not throw hissy fits about making little mistakes like grammatical errors or broken links. People shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, because these mistakes can always be corrected. The more knowledgable wiki-users should be able to model and teach their less-experienced co-users how to correct these mistakes. Users and participants in the wiki work with each other to share ideas and grow the content without the fear of ‘making irreversible mistakes.’ The content in the wiki is ‘organic': always changing, evolving and growing.

I have to admit, I’ve very excited about this aspect of knowledge-sharing and the idea that content grows and changes, because I firmly believe that this is where innovation, growth. But in the sense of content development, I think of Wikis as being the rehearsal for the ‘play’ that is print or documented information. Again, I also see it as a playground for learning.

Resources/More Info:


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