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August 27, 2009

Trust enables easy communication and higher performance

A post last fall on management-issues.com lists 25 behaviors that contribute to mistrust. They’re worth contemplation to gauge how each of us may contribute to mistrust.

Does your behavior damage trust?

August 25, 2009

Building a sense of community

A spirit of buy-in and enthusiasm. ..A spirit of trust…We foster ownership…Our strength is in the diversity of opinion.
Those were the director’s assessments of the group dynamics at the close of the two day eXtension staff retreat last week.

Those values were achieved in part by the role of the eight moderators leading the sessions and the guidelines. They were given to staff before we got to the retreat. They set expectations. I’ve edited them a little. Consider adapting, adopting them for meetings, retreats or other events.

Moderator's Role
1. Frame the conversation at the start of the session.
2. Provide guidance to keep the conversation on topic.
3. Contribute to the conversation, but don’t dominate it. Bring out the thoughts of others.
4. If topics are introduced that take the conversation off topic, interject and move the new topic to the parking lot for later discussion. Bring the conversation back to the topic.
5. In cooperation with the recorder, summarize the conversation with action items when there are 10 to 15 minutes left in the time slot.

We agree, uphold and follow these guidelines in our work together.
1. Be supportive, constructive and genuinely helpful with each other.
2. Have the meeting in the meeting. Express your thoughts openly, honestly and constructively at the very moment.
3. Strictly avoid circling back off-line and trying to change what we've spent important time agreeing to as a group.
4. Be perfectly clear and avoid subtlety. Avoid forcing others to "read between the lines."
5. Be substantive and dig into the task at hand.
6. Disagree with people's ideas as opposed to attacking the individual person.
7. Avoid the urge to immediately criticize other people's ideas, even when they sound unlikely. Instead seek to understand how something might benefit us. View disagreements as opportunities to learn how others see things differently.
8. Support the decisions we make together (whether you agreed or not).
9. Be open to and curious about new and potentially foreign or threatening ideas. Seek to learn and understand the unvarnished truth.
Adopted from Russ Roberts, LTD; 2008.

They're really rules for civility, for getting along and being heard in the work community.

August 18, 2009

Inclusive preparation for a staff retreat

I’m at an eXtension staff retreat that begins this morning. Weeks ago, I could tell it would not be like any staff retreat I’ve attended or helped organize.

The timeline went something like this –
Months in advance staff was given the travel and meeting dates and the hotel link to book a room.

About a month in advance a wiki page was opened for staff to write what each thought important to discuss. The opening post was a recommendation from the director: review the eXtension Strategic Road Map to discuss current activities, make sure we are on task and discuss activities and priorities for the next 6-12 months.

Staff members added 10 entries during the next week or so. Some were collective thoughts from people who work together. Some were individual ideas because not everyone on staff has a workgroup. Then some would pick up an idea and tie to it or add a note to an existing entry.

Several weeks in advance, some of the leadership team created the agenda, selecting points from the idea page. We were alerted that the agenda was posted so we knew who would moderate each of the eight sessions and who would be the recorder; that tapped 16 people because no one is a moderator or recorder more than once. Ground rules for the two-day retreat were posted. We had reading homework.

It’s time to look forward
I am excited because of the democracy and inclusiveness. I anticipate we’ll accomplish a great deal because we’re mentally prepared.

eXtension, www.extension.org, is an Internet-based collaboration where land-grant university content experts provide objective, research-based knowledge to solve challenges. eXtension connects knowledge consumers with knowledge providers. Faculty and staff from more than 70 universities make up the eXtension community.

Staff scheduled to be at the retreat: 21 people from California, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

August 13, 2009

Strive to squelch the defensive retort

A civil person does not endure rudeness in silence. A civil person tries to make the community better for everyone. Here are some typical requests and comments you might hear in the workplace:
• Would you please take your cell phone with you with you leave your cubicle or silence the ring?
• It is an inefficient use of the group’s time to have to repeat what you missed. Could you come to meetings on time?
• Would you use your headphones so I don’t have hear your video?
• The sounds of flatware scraping on china makes me think I’m in a restaurant. Would you please not eat in your cubicle?
• I wish you had not forwarded my email message.

It’s pretty automatic to give a defensive retort when we feel we’ve been criticized.
They might be something like these:
• I’m waiting for an important call.
• I was busy doing other work.
• This won’t take long.
• I can’t imagine it would bother you that much.
• It’s not a big deal.

That defensive retort is fast and automatic.
Sometimes we regret what we said or hopefully at minimum think about whether we violated common courtesy. I’ve observed few people who have the self-discipline to remain silent and simply listen or apologize.

The people who have self esteem, who are really comfortable with themselves, seem to be the ones who can accept or discuss well-meant criticism. That is a mark of civility. It encourages good working relationships and communication in the future.

And those who never seem to let go of defensive retorts get cut out of communication and collaboration because it’s too difficult to work with them. It’s a lonely and uninspiring way to work.

Try this instead.
The next time someone makes a comment to you that seems a criticism…clamp your lips together, take a big breath and listen. Focus on what the person is saying and think before you respond. There can be some real peace in listening and certainly it’s civil to respect the requests and perceptions of others.

August 06, 2009

Check your ego at the door to lead in assists

That’s how Robert E. Kelley describes ‘followership’ in How to be a Star at Work. It is one of his nine strategies.

Two primary factors distinguish a star follower from an average one:
• independent critical thinking and
• active participation in the destiny of the organization.

Stars bring enthusiasm, intelligence and self-reliance into implementing organizational goals. They cooperative with a leader even when there are personality or workplace differences. Kelley estimates 90 percent of the company’s success is coming from people who implement the directives.

Five styles of followership
Two are negative—sheep followers and yes followers.
Alienated followers are critical thinkers who don’t like the leaders or their work situation.
Pragmatist followers use their independence for political gain.

Star followers can disagree constructively. They are self-starters and creative problem solvers, using their talents to help the organization even “when confronted with bureaucratic inanities or nonproducing colleagues … They add as much value to the organization as anyone in upper management. Star followers are often purposefully committed to something—a cause, a product, an organization, an idea, a person—in addition to their own lives and careers.”

If star followers “sense that a leader has so much ego that it conflicts with their mutual goal attainment, or if the leader starts to swerve away from the goal, they will strive to get the leader back on track. If they cannot, then they will end the working relationship with that leader, even if it means undermining the leader or leaving the organization.”

I think you’ve caught the civility angle in this post. Typically large egos don’t provide benefits to organizations, particularly if those with large egos are dismissive about what others can contribute. I’m not sure where large egos do work well. Mostly I see the situation as sad because puffed-up egos often are a tactic to cover inadequacies. The solution is easy -- let the workers help define the way.

August 04, 2009

Staying on the critical path

The critical path is the most direct route that can be plotted from an employee’s work to the consumer. Staying on the path influences profitability and value. You have to know your company’s goals and connect to them by reducing costs, increasing revenue or increasing value. The closer you work to the critical path, the more value you have as a worker.

This is one of the best business books I’ve read.
The critical path is a theme throughout How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed by Robert E. Kelley. Kelley is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s business school. The book is the culmination of 10 years of research.

Let me give you two examples
Yesterday a colleague from another university asked if she should have an editor copy edit every contraction out of an article, which is what the author, a university expert wanted. Would that work add value? I can’t imagine it would. It reminds me of a quote about perspective, looking at the big picture. “Workers who dig a hole, burrow down and get more and more fascinated by less and less are the workers who never break out of the ‘average’ worker rank. For too many people, ten years of work experience is merely the first year’s experience repeated ten times…there is no leap to the perspective ability.”

Several of us attended a one-day writing workshop in June. We asked the presenter if we could photocopy her handouts to share. She considered that outreach and granted permission. Rather than simply pass on these writing tips, we held a lunch and learn to explain what we learned at the seminar plus pass on the handouts. Was that on the critical path? I think so because it hopefully provided inspiration, fresh perspective, some quick-start ideas for writing.

After reading this book, I now ask: Is this work on the critical path? Is it of value to my organization? Does it cut costs or increase revenue in some way? Will customers benefit?

That’s working for the well-being of your organization, being true to your employer or maybe it’s volunteer work. I call that civility because you’re working for the good of the community and being brutally honest about your work.