Archive for October, 2011

False Starts and Emerging Leaders: A Step-by-Step Journey to Relationships and Real Collaboration

In early 2011, I facilitated a one-day leadership offsite for a group that all worked together in the same organization – some for several years – and were dependent upon each other for achieving revenue targets and meeting organizational goals.  The objective of the meeting, as directed by the Sr. VP, was to have the leaders work together to create cross-functional objectives for the upcoming year.

The offsite flopped.

People didn’t understand how to move from granular group objectives to cross-functional objectives, and couldn’t easily articulate (or necessarily admit) that obvious dependencies even existed.  The twenty or so leaders sat in a room for much of that day wrestling within themselves. They struggled, argued, fought and, finally, declared the effort a complete waste of time. People were angry – mostly at me – and wanted their day back. The HR Manager generously declared the day a “false start.”

Upon reflection I realized that, although these leaders had worked together in some important ways,  they hadn’t ever really taken the time (or been given the time) to really get to know each other, to build relationships and trust. Therein was the problem and, as a facilitator, I should have pushed back from the very beginning.

I called a “do over.”

Here’s what we did: We scrapped the idea of building cross-functional objectives for the year. Instead, we built a plan for the leadership team to dedicate time, away from the office, aimed at building relationships and trust, understanding their interdependencies, and engaging in solving problems together.

1.    First, we created a “design team”  comprised of one leader from each of the functional areas.  This team, under my guidance, had a series of meetings aimed at a new offsite scheduled for a few months downstream. This process created a “core of trust” and started the path to working together across functions.

2.    Based on that core of trust, the leaders were able to use the next major gathering for a specific exercise we use with many of our clients, one we call Customer-Supplier Mutual Relationship Mapping ™. This exercise has each function see themselves both as “customers”, allowing them to declare their “needs,” and then as “suppliers”, allowing them offer their “gives” to the other functions. The teams matched their needs and gives, and then identified where gaps existed. Eyes opened, light bulbs lit up! This exercise opened the door for authentic conversation and understanding across the functions. We captured the matches and gaps and decided to use the outcome of the exercise as a living document for the next major meeting three months later.

3.     In this next meeting, a new design team developed and facilitated the agenda and activities by themselves, with my role primarily as an observer.  The meeting resulted in a deeper analysis of dependencies and roles. Most importantly, I observed great dialogue, strong agreements, and team-based problem solving with very little input or guidance from me. It was clear that the team was moving to functioning as a high-performing team. A new design team volunteered to take the reins for the next meeting and the team and I agreed that my role was no longer required.

As we closed out this third offsite and I looked back at the time we had spent bridging what at first seemed to many like “a complete waste of a day,” I realized how far we had come. The next step?  A suggestion was made for a next meeting topic in Q1 2012: to use the time and create cross-functional objectives, ones that will ensure that the functions are tightly aligned and integrated.

And, so they grow…

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3 Ways to Celebrate (and Prepare for) Change

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the changing temperatures, the changing foliage and the personal changes I feel as I prepare for winter. I find them invigorating. They energize me for something new, different and, sometimes, unexpected.

The shifting of the seasons also has me thinking about the many changes we experience in our professional lives. Some of those are within our control, things we can adjust to easily. Some are not. Here are three ways to celebrate and prepare for the changes you may experience.

1. Change your wardrobe. It’s fun to switch clothes to match the season. Often I find things that I’ve forgotten I had: perhaps a pair of black slacks hidden towards the back of the closet (thankfully without any dog hair on them!) or a pair of comfortable shoes in a box long unopened. Such discoveries are often a cause for celebration. The same is often true with our business “wardrobe.” Perhaps there’s a way of doing something that’s become comfortable, and you’ve put off learning or discovering something new that can help you grow as a leader. Now may be a good time to try it on.

2. Change your playbook. It’s well-documented that if we exercise in the same way over and over again, our bodies stop responding as effectively as they once did because our muscles aren’t challenged the way they were when we began. Just so with our professional lives. Are you doing the same thing that you were last year or two years ago, using the same methods or skills? Do something different! Stretch yourself by changing how you perform your job, how you run your meetings, or how you view yourself as a leader. Give yourself the space to “play” differently and celebrate how your professional “muscles” respond to the new exercise.

3. Change your support system. Before we invested in a generator for our home (a recent — and highly prized — addition), any time the power would go out for more than a day or two, we would find ourselves (with our dogs) heading to a hotel to wait it out.. After the third or fourth time it wasn’t an adventure anymore. We needed to change our support system. The same is true here. Michael Watkins, in his book, The First 90 Days, encourages us to change and upgrade our support system — those whom we depend upon for our counsel and guidance — as we experience changes in our leadership path. Even though we are certainly grateful for their influence, those whom we depended upon in the past may not be the best support for changes you experience today. A new perspective provides new and innovative ways to navigate your growth.

Yes, autumn is my favorite season. Next year these plants and trees will come back stronger than ever. Nature tells them that shedding some of the old is a healthy way to grow. So take a look outside. Then take a look inside. Allow yourself to change and grow.

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4 Tips for Anyone Who Needs to Begin Something…Anything!

I’m sitting here, stuck for something to write about, so I’ve decided to write about it.

It doesn’t matter if you are a leader, coach, homeworker or student, I’ll bet there have been times when you’ve been stuck about how to move forward with a project or with your things-to-do list. Perhaps you’re a bit distracted by something that happened at home that morning. Or maybe you’re facing a tough nut and haven’t yet had that eureka moment that will help crack it open.  Or maybe you’re just simply blocked, short of ideas and frustrated.

I know I’ve been there (many times), and what I’ve slowly discovered is that by tapping into these four behaviors, I’ve been able to get myself refocused and unstuck, allowing me to move forward toward what I want to achieve.

Here are four things I do to get myself going:

Just Start — It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the fact is that you can’t get moving until you start to move.  It doesn’t always matter how or what you do; just begin by picking up a pen, contributing a thought, initiating a conversation. The rest will oftentimes follow. Just think to yourself: “Why not?” and “If not now, then when?” Sometimes just one step towards your “doing” will gain you the momentum you need.

Just Breathe — Sometimes, by taking the time to take a deep breath, getting in touch with what you are feeling and calming yourself, you can get clear about the one thing that might be getting in your way. Reflect upon and identify what might be getting you stuck. Is your inner critic questioning your original idea? Is there someone’s approval your trying to get? Taking that extra moment–changing your “space, place or pace”– can often release whatever’s blocking you.Try it in whatever way you feel comfortable. It’s really quite powerful.

Just Ask — Asking those whom we care about and whom we respect can provide us with a broader view and additional insights. Anais Nin once said that, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Sometimes we need to get out of our own way to see clearly. Allowing ourselves to detach from our own thinking and consider someone else’s perspective may give us the shift we need.

Just Walk – Taking time away can often open new ways of thinking. Take a walk, outside if possible.  Notice your surroundings, listen to nature, recharge your brain. We know that our brains need oxygen to function. That fabricated cubicle and formaldyhyde-laden carpeting may be clogging up the pathways to your eureka moment. I’ll bet that the unknown British chap who first coined “stop and smell the flowers” had this in mind.

Sometimes just one of these things will do the trick; other times it may be a combination, so feel free to pick and choose. Whatever helps you get yourself unstuck is fine. The point here is to take one step outside the space called “being stuck” and see what happens. My guess is that you’ll quickly find yourself back on track.

What have you tried that has helped you get unstuck?

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