« December 2008 | Main | February 2009 »

January 29, 2009

Walk the talk on collaboration

I’m enamored by collaboration and can get really excited about it.

But I think about previous experiences when managers and administrators say there will be collaboration. They often fail to walk the talk. Somehow they just can’t let go of the command and control tactics.

Failure #1. My first boss in extension wanted to implement self-directed work teams. We talked about the concept and the methods. We created the teams. It soon became obvious my boss couldn’t really let go of command and control. She was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. Whether due to the structure above her or her own misgivings, she couldn’t walk the talk.

Failure #2. Fast forward 10 years to a several day workshop on LEAN. Each team was asked to map a process. One of the managers I worked with mapped a process on her own at home. At least in that instance, I was alerted immediately that nothing about that process was going to be improved. She didn’t want to know what we did in the process so our suggestions for improvement would not be needed.

Success #1. I needed to help on a project to recruit students from China. I knew almost nothing about the culture but one member of the team was from China. The question was: would I take over leadership of this effort? Ever hopeful that there could be collaboration, I said yes I would lead it. We pulled different people into that team at times to get more ideas and help. We had a very clear goal and timeline from the director but he stayed out of our work. When we gave him progress updates, he’d ask questions and offer comments. He was a part of the collaboration in a different way from the team members who knocked out the details of what we did and who was responsible. We recruited more Chinese students than the program could accommodate.

Show me by your actions, not your words
Collaboration is a great word and many use it. Do they allow new methods, new processes and new ideas? It’s no wonder we say—walk the talk. That’s civility to respect others and do what you say you will do.

Do you have similar experiences?

January 27, 2009

How to work from contentious to collaborative

You need
Clear written goals
Defined roles and responsibilities
Great access and communication

1. Look for openings where you can encourage collaboration. Mine came when I was assigned to do some project management work. What is project management? “Project management activity is leading the team in figuring out what the project is, shepherding the project through design and development work and driving the project through to completion.” –Scott Berkun, “The Art of Project Management”

2. Know your baseline perceptions and get buy-in. What did people think of project management, what could it do, what was their experience? I needed to know their perceptions rather than create a solo vision. I conducted informal interviews and focus groups. When people understand they are helping shape goals and mapping a work plan, you’re on your way to getting buy-in. I had my supervisor’s endorsement because I kept talking to her.

3. Create an action plan based on needs and perceptions; seek advice. My assessment of the staff opinions was we had to move cautiously into collaboration and project management (PM). The comments ranged from PM would solve all problems to it was an exercise in futility. I needed a framework that I had not devised (I didn’t want to own the process), was inexpensive and ready to use, was intuitive (didn’t require extensive training) and was accessible anywhere anytime. I asked IT staff for suggestions. We are using the mid-grade version of Basecamp to test how it will work for us. It’s labeled PM software but more than that, it’s collaboration software.

4. Give open access to the work. Everyone in the ISU Extension communications unit has permission to view, add to, modify and comment on the big extension-wide projects...from inception. Clients can have the same access.

5. The goals are listed on the homepage of the project. How can collaboration succeed if you don’t have direction and vision? Goals are a constant reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish. The goals sometimes come from a group discussion, sometimes they’re handed to me and sometimes I ask others to help define them.

6. Define roles and responsibilities. What work needs to get done, who will do it, what is the makeup of the team responsible? What is each person’s role? It’s efficient and civil to take the time for the project group to define roles and responsibilities which then saves production time. It’s contentious and inefficient to have several people inadvertently doing the same work or unclear about their role and responsibilities.

7. Hold one another accountable to get the work done. When there is trust in the group and transparent information, team members will hold one another accountable to get work done on time.

Continued from Jan. 15, From contentious to collaborative

January 23, 2009

New on the job: listening, asking and building trust

It doesn’t make too much difference whether the new job is
president of the United States
or something far more ordinary such as a new manager in our office,
a new assignment in our old office or
a new volunteer role.

The goal is to create high-functioning relationships that get work done.

An article in the Jan. 10, 2009 Salt Lake Tribune adds the twist of being in difficult times, but I think the advice is applicable any time…and I’d go so far as to say it’s a reality check where you’re a new or seasoned manager or leader. It’s just good advice. It’s civility.
On the Job: New managers face tough task during difficult times
“…… new managers -- before setting any agenda for their staff -- should first listen to employees and spend time asking questions about what each person does, the challenges they face and what each employee needs to get the job done.
Next -- and perhaps the most challenging given the current business climate -- is to establish trust with workers.”

Read the article at: http://www.sltrib.com/business/ci_11412577

January 20, 2009

Lesson from Obama: Surround yourself with smart people and listen to them

Before the Iowa caucuses, the Barack Obama campaign had an evening that Iowa precinct captains could gather people to hear Obama on an audio link. It was what we’ve come to know as Barack style: succinct but meaningful. He made three points in that short presentation. The one that impressed me the most was his philosophy for making decisions. I can’t find my notes from that session, but he makes that point over and over. This is from a conversation with Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the Houses of Parliament in London, Saturday, July 26, 2008.

OBAMA: "The truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know ten times more than we do about the specifics of the topics. And so if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything then you end up being a dilettante but you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you."

Civility is respecting others
It was refreshing to hear that more than a year ago and it’s just as refreshing today. Here is a man who today becomes our president who surrounds himself with those who know more than he does on any number of topics. He listens to them. He’s smart and has some knowledge of the topic but he looks to people with expertise in areas he does not have.

There’s humility there, being able to acknowledge he’s not an expert on all things. Another mark of civility.

In many actions leading to this inauguration, Obama has copied actions of President Abraham Lincoln. This is a Lincoln concept: picking the best and the brightest and not necessarily those that agreed with each other or him because he was a leader. It doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly. Look at Lincoln’s experience with generals in the Civil War. But ultimately, the man was smart enough to make real progress for his country.

I think Obama will be a decider, but in an entirely new manner with lots of civility.

P.S. dilettante, dabbler, sciolist, (an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge)

P.P. S. Isn’t Obama’s command of the English language impressive?

January 15, 2009

From contentious to collaborative

Have you ever worked in
a freewheeling and competent team
of dedicated individuals
where trust is taken for granted,
roles are fluid yet well understood,
and authority is delegated according to ability?

Rodney Napier from a management consulting firm specializing in change management says few people have experienced that kind of teamwork. He says you’re lucky if you’ve had that experience.

I count myself lucky.
I work part time for eXtension, a collaboration of 74 land-grant universities. I offer suggestions, get involved in debates, volunteer to do extra tasks and have become an evangelist. Everyone’s ideas are valued. Goals are set and available to all, as are meeting notes and works in progress. Everyone has information. The energy and enthusiasm buzz because we see many working across the country. We are more creative than one person or a small management team. By combining knowledge and resources, we can get work done at a very fast pace. We are never afraid to borrow ideas and resources from other organizations and companies. I’ve seen no competition among people, no inflated egos but rather people who acknowledge they don’t have all the answers. People listen to one another …….. a lot.

More of how collaboration looks
The communication is rampant—via conference calls, email, chat, Web conferencing, wikis and once in a while, in person. The people I work most closely with are in California, North Carolina and Nebraska so there’s no magic created because we’re in close physical proximity.
The ongoing work is on wikis that people can read, edit and comment on. The work is out in the open. It’s group think.
Napier writes, “Talented knowledge workers challenge the most skilled leaders.
The potential is huge for providing creativity, support, motivation, skilled inquiry and problem solving.
The group, when well trained, can stimulate, challenge, and synthesize beyond the capability of the most highly trained and intelligent individual.”

Academe is not the easiest environment to work like this
Napier writes, “While collaboration is sometimes encouraged, independence and secrecy permeate many scientific and academic communities. While the concept of collegiality is intellectually valued, individuals, project teams or departments seldom seek to collaborate. Even within a department, the isolation of the laboratory or computer terminal only reinforces the isolation of individuals and the lack of interdependence. Many technical environments are predicated on a premise of individuality, selfless dedication to original thinking, and competition. They provide environments that are quite often antithetical to team thinking and functioning.”

To be continued in the next post: tips to move to collaboration

Resource for this post:
High Performance, High Courage Teams

January 13, 2009

Big time transparency, empowerment…collaboration

Cisco Systems is the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet. It is a multinational corporation with more than 66,000 employees and annual revenue of $39 billion. John Chambers is the CEO. These excerpts are from the current issue of Fast Company magazine.

Power to the people; it motivates them
Cisco CEO John Chambers believes his company “is the best possible model for how a large global business can operate: as a distributed idea engine where leadership emerges organically, unfettered by a central command.”

The Cisco culture was inspired in part by management guru Gary Hamel’s ideas about the need to democratize strategy and distribute leadership to stimulate innovation. Supporters inside the company argue that the global marketplace and the ubiquity of Web 2.0 tools demand a workforce empowered to generate ideas, solve problems and contribute to the greater good without micromanagement. A vice president at Cisco said, “I think that culture is really a reflection of the CEO personality.” Collaboration works, “but only if it is what the CEO believes.”

Trust and openness are words you hear a lot in the endlessly optimistic world of Web 2.0, but at Cisco, it seems to be more than a PowerPoint mantra.…”We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know.” The open-source nature of the culture has yielded a litany of surprising results. Chambers says the ratio of distributed innovation to traditional decision making is about 70-30.

“I now compensate our leadership team based on how well they do on collaboration and the longer-term picture,” Chambers says. “If we take the focus off of how they did today, this week, this quarter, it will work.” Playing well with others is also an increasingly important part of rank-and-file employees’ performance reviews.

Read what I read to get information on this look into civility in the workplace, How Cisco's CEO John Chambers is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist
Fast Company magazine, Dec.2008/Jan. 2009

And don’t miss the voices of staff and the CEO in the Cisco blogs at http://blogs.cisco.com/news

January 07, 2009

The best on the blog

What did you like best? Here’s the list of top entries as viewed by you…
Failing the civility test in social media
Continuation: self-centered marketing … inside the creative camp
Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)
Choose Civility in Howard County
Civility defined by an anger management specialist
How much can you express in three words?
Transparency: Let it be real, not the next buzzword
How social media = civility
Manners and knowledge of etiquette on display at conferences
Redesigning the organization for today’s economy

What about all-time popular content?
Here’s the list as viewed by you without duplicates from 2008
How to stop bullying in the workplace
Email anatomy
Do you want your boss to be your friend?
7 Habits of Highly Reflective People
The seven key needs of employees
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children
Email emotions -- duplicity and anger including sarcasm, loaded phrases and rhetorical questions
Roles and responsibilities
Do you mask who you are at work?
Subject: your professionalism shows in email

January 06, 2009

9 Email Resolutions for 2009

Civility, responsibility and professionalism in emails
1. I resolve to send fewer emails. I will opt to talk to people rather than automatically revert to an email. Calling someone or visiting in person enhances communication…and often saves time.
2. I will be concise, editing out the unnecessary. My emails will be examples of good communication.
3. I will not send nor answer unnecessary emails. For example, an email refers to an earlier email which I didn’t read. I’ll find it rather than bother the sender for information I have. I also will not answer such emails. I may call or go visit the person but I’m not going to answer via email to perpetuate this habit.
4. I will acknowledge receipt of information when I don’t have time or the information to answer immediately.
5. I will not contribute to those email conversations that are unnecessary one or two liners.
6. I will note who received the email so I don’t forward an email on to someone who already received it.
7. I will note when I’m on the copy line rather than the ‘to’ line. That typically means it’s for my information and I’m not expected to respond.
8. I will gauge the tone of my emails by reading them from the receiver’s perspective before I send.
9. I will send work emails on my work account; personal emails on my personal accounts.

After I wrote this, I wondered what others resolved about email messages. This one is good---take a look:
An Associate Professor of Religion at Indiana Wesleyan University posted
Ten New Year’s Resolutions we ought to make about Email

What email resolutions would you add?