Archive for team effectiveness

Get Moving! Part 2: A Simple Model

In my last blog post (which you can read here) I revealed my oft-used habit of “counting loose change,” my term for procrastination (or, as I like to think of it, “the art of not doing what I should be doing when I should be doing it but don’t want to”). In that post I offered up four simple ideas for how to quickly prioritize your time.

Sometimes, though, there’s simply more to manage than a few simple guidelines can handle.  Perhaps your work to-do’s and your home to-do’s have started overlapping and you’ve found yourself (as I sometimes do) working on a Sunday morning to finish a report or missing an evening dinner with my husband because I’m on a conference call. Or perhaps you’re suddenly faced with a burst of emergencies that only you can handle.

When that starts to happen I often lean on a model I learned several years back.  It’s a simple four-box matrix developed by Steven Covey that addresses a way to manage to-do’s and discern what is urgent, important or trivial.  (He outlines the model quite well in his book, First Things First.)

Covey’s quad-graph provides guidance and language for determining where your time goes by having the reader place tasks in one of four buckets:

  • Urgent/Important – those things that are at crisis mode or deadline-driven,
  • Not urgent/Important – those things that fall into leading, planning, relationship-building and empowerment,
  • Urgent/Not important –those nagging little things that feel like word balloons on the old VH-1 show “Pop-up Videos” — interruptions, some phone calls, some emails, many popular activities (I’d much rather be doing that!) and most of the so-called “pressing matters,” and, finally,
  • Not important/Not urgent – trivia, busy-work, junk mail, some phone calls, and escape-luring, counting-loose-change activities.

And, if you think nothing will ever end up in the Not important/Not urgent bucket, my guess is you’ll be very surprised at how much actually lands there.  Go ahead; try it.  Then let me know what you find out.  My guess is that—like me—you may have spent a bit more time than you’d like counting loose change!

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When a Bad Day is Good for You

No one likes to have a bad day, especially when it starts with good weather and an optimistic outlook.  We start out with our best intentions, expecting that everything will go as we planned, only then it doesn’t.

I had a day like that recently. Invited to an offsite for a newly reorganized team, my job was to introduce them to some ways in which they could quickly coalesce into an efficient and effective group.  I had worked with many of them before; they all knew me and I knew them, so I was pretty sure I knew what they expected of me.  I also knew what principles they were already familiar with, since I was the one who had introduced them. I brought some concepts to reinforce the old things to review and, with PowerPoint slides ready, I hopped in my car and drove to the offsite.

When I walked into the room I got myself set up, and when it was time for my facilitation session I launched right in.  That was when it got messy.  It turns out that they weren’t looking for reinforcing concepts or a review of previous ideas.  What they wanted was to hash out some hard questions in a tight time-frame, and what they needed from me was to act as an aggressive challenger, someone who would shake them out of their comfort zones and force them to air any concerns they might have about the changes that had taken place.

I wasn’t prepared for it.  I stumbled, took two steps forward and one step back. I challenged what I shouldn’t have and let slide what needed attention. I was not fully “in the moment” and it was NOT one of my better days.  When I got home–and that was a long uncomfortable drive, stuck as I was with only myself for company–I was still running scripts through my head, thinking about how I had messed up, how I had let the client down.

And then I was glad it happened.

Not that I wanted to give my client other than my best–far from it.  But it served as a reminder that I should never get complacent, never fail to expect the unexpected and never stop honing my own skills so that I can be better the next time.

No, my client didn’t get me at my best that day.  But he did get an apology. I appreciated his understanding and he appreciated my candor.

How about you?  Have you ever been glad of a bad day?


Blind Faith

Day One/Scene One: Husband and I doing laundry. Husband takes laundry out of washer and places in dryer. I put new load in washer. Husband sets up dryer cycle by turning knob to desired temperature and then pulls knob to start dryer. Knob comes off in his hand. Husband pushes knob back on and tries again. Same result. Husband and I look at each other in dismay, look at the knob-less spindle sticking out of the control panel, then look at each other again. I suggest trying to pull spindle out with pliers. Husband tugs with no success. Husband and I drag drying rack up from basement and hang clothes on deck to dry. Husband calls Dryer Repair Guy.

Day Two/Scene One: Dryer Repair Guy shows up at house. Husband escorts him to dryer. I remain in my office where I soon hear laughter wafting up the stairs. Husband writes check. Dryer Repair Guy departs in less than two minutes.

“What happened?” you might be wondering. Well…On Day One/Scene One I stood next to my husband while he turned and pulled the temperature control knob – multiple times, I might add – to start the dryer. I, in my “trying to help with mechanical matters that elude me from the get-go” place, attempted assistance with the pliers suggestion. Here’s the problem. The dryer has NEVER started by pulling on the temperature knob. The dryer has a separate knob that controls the on/off mechanism. It’s always worked that way and in the six years that we’ve had the dryer there’s never been a time when the knobs had a secret meeting to switch roles. My husband simply lost his mind for a moment and I, in blind faith, followed where he led.

How many times do we blindly follow others? What would we learn if we stepped back to assess the situation on our own, give ourselves a moment to take a breath, calm our mind and access clarity of thought? What would be new or different?

I work with leadership teams and sometimes observe such blind faith, people following senior leadership even in the face of a better option. In coaching these leaders I’ve learned that there are various emotions or mental blocks that distract them–lack of confidence, fear of making a mistake or a feeling of being overwhelmed, for example. If I were to replay the tape, I’m sure I’d find that my mind wasn’t on the dryer that day, that I was distracted by something else.  If I had stepped back and taken a deep breath I likely would have removed the pliers from my husband’s hands and had the insight to pull the correct knob.

Day Two/Scene Two: Husband says to Dryer Repair Guy, “At least you’ll have a good story to tell, huh?” Dryer Repair Guy says to Husband, “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. But it usually happens to guys much, much older.”

What do you notice that distracts leaders’ ability to see clearly?


Growing Relationships

April has just begun and, after a brief April Fool’s Day snow storm has melted away, tiny green daffodil shoots are poking up in our front yard. Thoughts of sunny, warmer days ahead are playing in my mind; it will soon be the beginning of the CSA farm season.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is an opportunity for black-thumbs like me to support a local farmer — in our case, Roger and Lori Noonan of Middle Branch Farm in New Boston, NH — by investing in a share of their vegetable crops. This is a win-win proposition. Roger and Lori receive financial support to help sustain their land, equipment, feed and such. We receive in exchange a weekly share of fantastic vegetables and fruits conveniently delivered to a central pick-up location where share owners like myself meet, select from what’s available that week, share recipes (what exactly can I make with this much kohlrabi anyway?) and then head home to slice, cube, puree, saute, bake and preserve whatever we’ve selected.  Then we do it all again a week later, with the ritual continuing into October, when the last of the pumpkins and squash signal the end of another seasonal cycle.

As you might imagine, our relationship with “our” farm goes well beyond the one-to-one collaboration we have with our farmer. We are contributing to and participating in the well-being of the farm, absolutely; we are also contributing to the well-being of our ecosystem, our earth, by supporting the Noonan’s efforts with clean farming — devoid of harmful pesticides, hormones or unnatural farming practices. He, in turn, provides us with — hands down — the best tasting produce we’ve ever had and rich, tasty eggs with dark-yellow yolks. We truly believe that we are both feeding ourselves and feeding the earth.

But for me the most valuable thing about being part of Roger and Lori’s ecosystem is the tremendous respect the entire system has for itself.  The Noonan’s do what they do best, the soil does what it does best, and I do what I do best.  The result is seed-to-table nourishment for all. But the ecosystem only works when it is nurtured, when attention is paid.  Without it plants would dry up, eggs would be tasteless.  Respect and attention is what’s needed.

It occurs to me that all of our relationships are part of an ecosystem just like Roger and Lori’s, if we only pay close enough attention to them.  Our friends and family, the people we work with, the people we buy things from or sell things to.  Being aware of them–respecting them–is all important. It’s what makes it all… well… nourishing.

Best to all,


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