Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

30 11 2006

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating?

That is the premise of Kevan Hall in Drowning in Co-operation and followed up with additional comments in the Slow Leadership blog The Truth about Communication.

The idea that we must communicate and include everyone in the team in every part of the project, all the time, is a classic example of a good idea that has gotten out of control.

Teams perform well when each team member:

  • Has a specific job, not shared with others
  • Is proficient at what they do, no learning curve required
  • Has easy access to the resources, tools and information required in order to get the job done
  • Clearly understands the group objectives and expected outcome
  • Clearly understands how their input/output affects the other team members
  • Is individually responsible and accountable for their performance and on-time results
  • Is not smothered with controls and time wasting meetings
  • Shares relevant information and communicates with those team members who need that information in order to do their job correctly

Analyze how a relay race squad works together. Each member has a specific and unique function, each member runs their part of the race alone, they expect their co-worker to hand them the baton at the right time in the right place, they all share the same goal and final outcome.

There is no stopping for meetings and communication between members during the race, there are no meetings with the coach halfway around the track to see how they are doing.

The runners do not stop to explain why they are passing the baton to only one member of the team.

The coach selects the qualified members of the squad and interacts with the team members before (preparation and focus) and after the event (evaluation of results), not during the race.

The focus of each team member is on doing their job efficiently and professionally, in order to reach the shared objective in the shortest time possible.

As a leader your mission is to identify the people with the best skills required for each part of the project, empower them by giving access to the right tools and training, build enthusiasm for the project and the other team members contributions, clearly identify the goal and the expected performance for their part of the project and let them do their jobs.

Encouraging communication between team members and leadership is only important and desired when it is focused and shared with those who really need the information to get the job done.

 

Related Links

Leadership, want the job or just the title and benefits

Leadership – who do you want to lead

13 tactics guaranteed to kill any project

Step by Step beginner’s guide to project management

Slow Leadership: The Truth About Communication

Management Issues: Drowning in Co-operation





Great International Business Trip Results

16 10 2006

In any international relationship communication and understanding are critical for success.

Problems created by; language, stereotypes, misinformation, lack of information, and cultural misunderstandings combine with normal business problems to create a complicated scenario for anyone involved in international relationships and global business.

Prepare your international meetings and business presentations using the following questions as a guide to organize your ideas and focus on actions that will produce positive results for everyone involved.

6 Questions – Create Great International Business Trip Results

  1. What does this organization know about me, my company and my country?
  2. What do they think they know about me?
  3. What can I tell them that they do not know?
  4. What do I know about my international partner, culture and country?
  5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country?
  6. What can they tell me that I do not know?

1. What does this organization know about me and my company. When you walk in the room an opinion has already been formed about you, your organization, and your ability to perform in the future. These ideas are based upon facts, information and past experience.

  • What has been the history of our relationship in their country?
  • Who has been involved in our mutual business, and why?
  • What promises have been made and kept by both?
  • What promises have been made and not delivered upon?
  • What have the major problems and success been in the past?
  • Press and media, our organizations promotional material.

2. What do they think they know about me. Clarifying the unknowns or presumed realities in a relationship is crucial to success. These ideas may be very damaging and limit your ability to trust one another. What stereotypical behaviour can you avoid or prevent? What can you clarify or refute through information or actions?

  • Behaviour and reacts based upon past experience with your organization.
  • Rumour and innuendo, press and media reports.
  • Negotiation styles.
  • Business objectives.
  • Behaviour, goals and methods of doing business based upon country and cultural stereotypes.

3. What can I tell them that they do not know. Today’s business world requires trust, information and solutions. Reinforcing your need to work with your international partner, providing important information or solutions, and clarifying misunderstandings can only help the relationship.

  • Clarify or destroy cultural stereotypes.
  • Clarify business objectives and why they are important in order to reach these objectives.
  • Provide solutions and alternatives to existing situations and challenges.
  • Provide information of value for their business and strategy.
  • Clearly identify current or potential business problems.
  • Predict and have answers ready for their questions.

4. What do I know about my International partner, culture and country? What do I know is true and not innuendo or interpretation? The numbers, facts, information, agreements and past performance history of the business. Information about the country and the business culture.

5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country? What preconceived ideas and stereotypes are you working with? What are you assuming and what has been proven?

6. What can they tell me that I do not know? What questions do you need to ask in order to verify information or create plans. What pieces of your information puzzle are missing? This is the time to get your questions answered, what are they?

Related Links

Cultural misunderstanding it can happen to you

Stereotypes and global business

Create great international business relationships

16 Essential questions – the international business traveller’s quiz

Lessons in international business





Individuality and chaos in the workspace

4 10 2006

Is your workspace unique? Should it be?

Does your company project the image of sameness, order and uniformity by having cubicles and work-spaces coordinated and equal to one another? Why? Because it looks good, gives the impression of order, control and discipline?

Is this sameness and order a good thing for sparking employee creativity, innovation, happiness and positive results ?

Alexander Kjerulf offers up ideas about workspace, sameness and creativity and roadwitching at The Chief Happiness Officer.

If we want to have a creative, enthusiastic workforce why do we want them to work in ordinary, uninspired surroundings?

Does it just look better when the office layout is coordinated and everything has a mathematical formality about it? Is it a fashion statement or is it about control, and the desire to reduce chaos and “environmental noise”?

Is there a study that shows that working in neutral sameness and coordinated surroundings makes us more productive or efficient?

The industrial world used assembly lines and standardization to increase time efficiency and mass production. Are we applying the assembly line system to today’s information workers without questioning the efficiency and effect on innovation and happiness?

Alex writes “…..so many workplaces have lost their human touch to a desire for sameness, efficiency and professionalism. It’s a shame, because it makes people less efficient.”

The same goes for meetings. Why are they always in the same conference or meeting room? You know the drill, everyone files, in, sits in the chair they always sit in, and the meeting drones on. How much innovation, creativity and enthusiasm will people bring to the meeting if you change the location?

Distracting, perhaps. Maybe, just maybe, people will focus on the task at hand and not the structure, hierarchy and safety of a routine. Perhaps being outside what is “comfortable” is what is needed to provoke new ideas or new ways of analyzing the same situation.

Move a meeting to the cafeteria, to the sales floor, under a tree, to the park, to the library, to another unfamiliar location and see what happens.

Ted Dewan (Link): “One thing that might be fun is renegade meeting rooms. I once heard of a group that set a meeting table up in a parking spot (they were meeting to plan Roadwitch-like activities) and they found the experience envigorating and it helped their thinking as a result. It might be a bit distracting, but depending on the sort of meeting, it’s worth a try I suppose. I’d test it first before offering it as paid-for advice, of course.”

You choose:

Choice # 1 – Chaos – Energy – Random Opportunities – Innovation

Choice # 2 – Order and Control – Suppression of Energy – Routine – Lack of Innovation

Related Links

5 ways to stimulate creative thinking and idea generation

Weird ideas that work

Successful managers should be breaking the rules

With nothing, anything is possible





Analyze and Plan using 7 simple questions

3 10 2006

Who – What – When – Where – Why – How – How much

Project management, organizing a team, writing a business plan, creating strategies, planning meetings, running day to day operations, general analysis and problem solving can be facilitated and improved by using a simple application of 7 basic questions.

The application of the standard reporters’ questions of who, what, when, where, how and how much to a specific situation will help organize the process of analysis and planning.

In order for this system to work, all the questions and answers should be written down. You’ll be building a visual map while defining the objectives, tools, resources, bottlenecks, time limits and chronologies of the problem. It will become clear what the real goals are, what is required, what is missing, who should be involved and when the tasks should be accomplished.

Who – Who is or will be affected by the decision or process? Who are the participants? Who will be involved or affected in some way by the project?

What – What are the objectives and desired results? What is the problem or challenge? What are the options available? What tools are required?

When – When is this supposed to happen? Define the deadlines, time limits and chronologies.

Where – Where is it going to happen? The physical place or space should be defined and examined.

Why – Why are we doing this? Why are we doing it this way or by this procedure? Why is it occurring?

How – How are we going to do it? The mechanisms, requirements, and processes needed in order to achieve the goal.

How much – How much is it going to cost?

Example – You are asked to give a speech on the sales results in Mexico for the last quarter for the upcoming Board of Directors meeting on January 10.

Who – The audience is the Board of Directors. The sales department, marketing, logistics and finance departments have the numbers and explanations of the results. Who is responsible for the agenda, audiovisual set up, room reservations? Are any other members of the company required to attend the presentation? You are the project leader and responsible party for the presentation.

What – The presentation is directed at the Board of Directors, they want to hear about results, expectations and strategies of the sales in Mexico. What questions will they ask, what aspects of the business will be of interest or concern? What information is important?

When – The meeting is January 10. You’ll need all the pertinent sales information by what date? It has be polished into a concise presentation by what date?

Where – The meeting will be held where? How big is the room, what equipment will be required for the presentation.

Why – Why do they want to review this information, is there a problem, is it routine? Why me?

How – Will you give a visual media presentation along with documents? What graphics will you show? Will you be the only speaker? Will the presentation style be serious, upbeat, creative or different from other presentations?

How much – Do you have a budget for the presentation and required materials? Do you have to fly in the Mexican sales representative to be present at the meeting? Do you have to rent equipment, hire caterers or provide refreshments or coffee service?

Related Links

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

9 steps to better decisions





Meeting people in Mexico – kiss, shake hands or hug?

22 08 2006

What is the correct method to greet a business acquaintance in Mexico?

For a first time meeting with a business contact in Mexico a handshake is the appropriate greeting, eye contact is important, say your name, followed by the presentation of your business card. This applies to men and women.

When leaving the meeting or event it is appropriate and expected to shake everyone’s hand and say goodbye individually. This is also true for social situations.

If the business relationship has developed over time, you may find that upon arrival your host will hug you (un abrazo), giving 2 or 3 firm slaps on your back, followed by a handshake. This is a sign of confidence and friendship. This is also used when saying goodbye, especially when leaving on a trip, or when you will be separated for a long time.

Greeting women is a bit more complex. In developed relationships or personal relationships, an “air kiss” is common and expected. This is a swift encounter, cheek to cheek, and only on one side of the face. It may also be accompanied by a handshake. This greeting is common between women.

A man should always rise from his chair whenever a woman arrives at the table or is introduced.

My advice is to avoid the “air kiss” until you are approached, and it is obvious that the woman (or man) is comfortable with the kiss greeting. A handshake is the appropriate and “safe” greeting for all business and personal situations with women.

The kiss has no sexual connotations, it is a greeting of familiarity, but until you feel comfortable with it, and understand it’s use, best to be conservative and put your hand out.

Watch how others Mexicans greet one another. Learn to distinguish the differences in how business people, workers, friends, and family have different greetings.





Intellectual wealth, sharing ideas and knowledge

17 08 2006

There is a quote attributed to Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, about wealth.

“Economic wealth is like an orchard, it must be protected and cultivated carefully so it can grow and expand. If you leave it unprotected, or try to divide it among all the people it will soon be destroyed and cease to exist.”

That might be true for economic wealth, but what about intellectual wealth, created by ideas and knowledge?

Ideas are valuable and important. They should spread and be disseminated to as many people as possible. Once these ideas are processed, filtered and modified they provide us, and society with richness.

Intellectual wealth (which benefits us all) can only increase if we share our ideas and knowledge.

Remember this the next time you’re in a meeting and have an idea but are afraid to mention it

Remember this when a new employee begins work in your company.

Remember this when speaking with children and young people.

Remember this when talking with customers or creating marketing campaigns.





13 Tactics Guaranteed to Kill any Project

26 07 2006

How many of these tactics can you identify and how many are at work right now in your organization?

13 tactics guaranteed to kill any project

1. Assemble and invite a huge group of people to participate, most of whom have no stake in the outcome.

2. Do not assign or elect a leader, or better yet, assign leadership to several members.

3. Never make the goals and objectives of the project clear. Leave them as vague as possible.

4. Never assign responsibilities to specific members and never set firm dates for the completion of tasks.

5. Stifle and block all new and alternative ideas, never allow questioning of procedures or goals, eliminate all creativity and any dissension.

6. Plan lots of long, unplanned meetings without an agenda, where nothing is achieved, goals are not reviewed, and no new compromises are agree upon. Especially good are meetings very late in the day, on Fridays.

7. When asked for information and interaction with other members, take a long time to answer and do not give them what they are asking for. Never respond to emails from other members.

8. Never participate during a meeting, but outside the room complain to everyone that the project is doomed and that everything is wrong.

9. Allow meetings to be interrupted by phone calls and visitors, let everyone answer emails and do work on their laptops during the event.

10. Make sure there are no resources assigned to the project or members, this includes time and money.

11. Give all the decision-making power to one individual, and make sure they never make a decision. Good lines to use to delay decision-making include “this is an important decision, I think it should be reviewed and studied further”, “we don’t have all the facts yet”, “I’ll take it under advisement”. This person should also travel often and be difficult to contact.

12. Big decisions that affect the project should be shared with only a few of the participants.

13. Always blame other members for anything that might be wrong. Attack aggressively, loudly and in public if possible.

Related

Effective Business Meetings

Create a debate – find out who really wants the project to work

Step by step beginner’s guide to project management





9 steps to better decisions

21 07 2006

Trying to pin the blame for a bad decision on an individual or group is fairly common corporate activity.  We believe that errors are not to be tolerated, and that anyone who commits an error should be identified and punished.  Too often this search limits and inhibits people from speaking up and making good, creative and bold choices in their organizations.  The fear of failure prevents action. 

We have to “blame” the process more and the people less. 

But who doesn’t make bad choices, mistakes, and accidents due to omission or over confidence? 

It’s part of life and learning.  The more I learn about chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, the more difficult it is to identify an individual who can be singled out as the responsible party for a “decision gone wrong”.  The trial and error decision-making process is still prevalent in the natural world, and will continue to be part of the corporate world.

What would happen in your organization if you stop seeking someone to blame, and focus on the decision-making process itself and the evaluation of results, independent of individuals? 

Where there is a failure, first take a look at the following list, answer the questions to determine if the decision-making system was at fault, or if it was an individual failure within the process. 

Run de-briefings and analysis of outcomes, good and bad, and find elements that were responsible.  Let your people know that mistakes can happen, and can be tolerated, but that a systemic process should be used in order to eliminate or reduce errors. 

9 steps to better decisions 

  1. What are our objectives and expected outcomes?
  2. What information should we accumulate in order to make a decision?
  3. What information is not important for this decision?
  4. Who is evaluating and processing the information?
  5. What criteria are being used to evaluate and process the information?
  6. What are the possible scenarios based upon the present information?
  7. What is the most likely scenario or best decision for the company at this time?
  8. Who are the decision-makers for this issue and why?
  9. What elements are critical and essential for success?

Shift your focus from the person to the process itself, what is or was missing?  Why? 

Related Links

More access to information – more mistakes

How to set up a beginner’s “Business Intelligence” system 





Serendipity as part of business development

19 07 2006

There is something missing from most business development project evaluations, serendipity.

Defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”.

Seth Godin has outlined why companies fear business development (Link). It’s hard to justify the expense and risk on new ventures and projects. The control aspect asserted by legal and financial people reflects one reality inside the company, but don’t forget the other side reflected by the sales, marketing and business development people.

If it’s a good to great idea, and the cost is low, and the chance of success is moderate to good, and the possibility of adding knowledge to the organization is part of the project, then go ahead and try.

Can your organization consider and discuss “serendipity” as a factor in your next business development meeting?

Related Links

Seth Godin: Careful consideration and analysis





Another factor to consider before a meeting is called

3 07 2006

An interesting idea to assist in evaluating the cost/benefit of having a meeting can be found at the Signal vs. Noise weblog.

There’s no such thing as the one-hour meeting (Link)

There is no such thing as a one hour meeting, unless you are alone for that hour (and then it’s not a meeting…is it?).  The moment there are 2,4, 6 people assembled, that hour is multiplied by the number of attendees…..making it a substantial investment in terms of total “participant-hours”.

What you have to ask yourself before calling a meeting is….will it be beneficial to assemble all these people? How can we maximize results and minimize wasted time while we are together?  Is the total time dedicated to this issue worth it?

Related Links

Effective Business Meetings (Link)

Leaders, weekly meetings, responsibility (Link)

Create a Debate (Link)





Create a debate – find out who really wants the project to work

26 06 2006

I’ve always been the “Devil’s Advocate”, and a contrary voice throughout my career/life. Not because I’m a negative person, but to question and create a discussion about a project or idea. Too often ideas are not questioned due to “group think”, peer pressure or fear, resulting in projects and plans that have not been embraced by the members, and will slowly fizzle away and fail.

Who really wants the idea to work? Without a bit of an argument or debate, I find it difficult to determine who is committed to the idea, and ultimately this is what matters. Commitment by group members does not insure success, but it facilitates communication and guarantees that everyone is shooting at the same target.
This is why I loved Cuculuains blog entry “Don’t fear the Devil’s Advocate” at Businesspundit

I believe his observations are important in that they ask you to create an attitude and environment in your company that actively seeks to promote debate and question the merits of an idea WITHOUT fear of losing their job or offending members of the group. Create the position of Devil’s Advocate at each meeting or presentation, and let the company know you are creating an environment that promotes and can reward ideas and debate.

The idea of implementing constructive criticism and encouraging your people to play the “devil’s advocate”can only result in more communication, better project presentations and more unity in final decision-making.

Related Entries:

Invite a Challenge from 2 Weeks 2 a Breakthrough

Weird Ideas that Work

Does your company like new ideas?





Leaders, weekly meetings, responsibility

19 06 2006

In the June 19, 2006 issue of the  HBS Working Knowledge For Business Leaders newsletter, Marty Linsky has advice about how and why highly functioning leadership teams should have focused meetings every week. 

The Morning Meeting Ritual

Good common sense advice that creates the need for participants to arrive fully prepared and take responsibility for their actions, ideas and corporate performance. 

Isn't that what it's all about?

More about meetings:  Effective Business Meetings





Effective Business Meetings

14 06 2006

Making Meetings Effective

It is universally recognized that most participants consider the majority of meetings to be a waste of time. I have attended 4 or 5 outstanding meetings, out of thousands, during my career. Most meetings are; without leadership, unfocused, rambling, without clear objectives, participants are not prepared or interested and 99% of meetings last too long.

Meetings have specific objectives; Information Sharing, Information Seeking, and Decision-making.

Information Sharing Meetings are designed in order to inform others of project results, economic results, corporate decisions, projects and policies.

Information Sharing Meetings are generally brief, as limited member interaction is required. This is not a meeting that seeks or promotes discussion, but often will include time for questions. An agenda is required and should include time estimates for each item on the agenda, including questions. The presentation(s) should be delivered clearly, in an orderly fashion, and if possible a copy of the presentation and key ideas given or sent to each participant after the event (not during, as it will distract their attention).

Information Seeking Meetings are designed to share and receive information from the participants, to discuss and interact, allowing members to share specific information or analysis, in order to make informed decisions.

Information Seeking Meetings, require a strong leader to maintain control of the objectives and discussions. An agenda should be shared, including time estimates for each item on the agenda. All relevant information should be shared via email or hard copy prior to the meeting, in order to reduce presentation time. It is critical that each member arrives at the meeting prepared with information, comments, analysis and questions that will be shared.

Decision-Making Meetings are for making decisions based upon information gathered independently or through a prior Information Seeking Meeting.

Decision-Making Meetings require a strong leader and all participants must be prepared to make decisions at this meeting. An agenda is required, with approximate times for each item. If the participants are not prepared or informed, or important information is incomplete or missing. Stop the meeting and re-schedule, get firm compromises and dates when the information will be available from the responsible individuals, so that the decisions can me made at the next meeting.

I believe it is an error to try and combine these three objectives in one meeting, although many times due to time and logistics constraints it is required. Information and agendas can be shared prior to any meeting, and will significantly reduce the time required to bring the participants “up to speed” on the topic(s).

The keys to any successful meeting are; the leadership, the agenda, and the preparation of each participant.

Leadership and the Agenda

  • A great meeting will always have a great leader or facilitator who plans, directs and efficiently moves the meeting in a specific direction.
  • All meetings should be announced, and all participants invited, as far in advance as possible.
  • Provide a specific agenda for the meeting, and let each participant know what is expected from him or her during the meeting.
  • Follow-up with each participant and determine if they understand what is required, and confirm their participation.
  • A great meeting leader or facilitator will not allow the event to get bogged down or deviate from the agenda.
  • When faced with a situation that cannot be resolved during the meeting, seek specific compromises with the members about who, when, and what is required in order to move proceed.
  • When the agenda has been completed, the meeting is over. There nothing wrong with a 5 or 10 minute meeting, if that is what the agenda calls for.

Every participant in the meeting should be prepared before they walk in the room.

  • Every meeting participant should understand the objective of the meeting, understand why their participation is requested, and should be prepared to participate.
  • Invite only those individuals that are required to reach the objective of the meeting, if others need to be informed of the meeting results, send them a summary of the meeting. By limiting the participation to essential participants, this will guarantee higher attention levels and higher levels of compromise.
  • If it is apparent that the participants are not prepared for the meeting, cancel it and re-schedule it. Continuing a meeting under these circumstances is a waste of time.
  • Meetings that last longer than 60 minutes will not hold the participants attention, and the information presented is not relevant, or could have been shared prior to the meeting. If there is no reason for every member to be present during certain presentations or discussions, let them leave the meeting.

Business meetings are NOT the place to:

  • Discuss the weather, politics, sports, fashion, cars, television shows or movie stars lives. (Unless you are involved in government or the media, fashion, or automotive industries.)
  • Criticize and discipline participants or presenters
  • Take cellular phone calls
  • Work or send emails on your laptop
  • Clean your nails, teeth, apply make-up, or indulge in any other personal hygiene activity
  • Sleep

When it shouldn’t be a meeting

Many time meetings are called with the intention of forming teams, for developing or strengthening inter-personal relationships, and to discuss a business idea (seek group consensus). These are conversations, and not meetings. These “social gatherings” (albeit a business social gathering) should take place outside of the meeting room and meeting process. These “conversations” are best for the cafeteria, the water cooler or better yet in a neutral or off-site location. Want to kick around an idea? Take everyone out to lunch or for a drink after work. Don’t schedule a meeting for this type of activity, it wastes everyone’s time, and contaminates the real meeting process.