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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review-Change or Die

What if someone put a gun to your head and said that you have to change or die? What if you knew that you were going to die if you didn't change? Would you? I know that we all believe we would. It seems simple. However, the statistics don't bear out this reality. These statistics are at the start of Change or Die and should be startling.

Consider those patients with heart disease. Most with heart disease find themselves needing medical help because of poor lifestyle choices. However, if you look at patients with heart bypass surgery two years later only one in ten changed their ways and took a healthier lifestyle that reversed the progression of the disease. The fact of the matter is that 80% of the healthcare costs in the country is consumed by five behavioral issues: Too much smoking, too much drinking, too much eating, too much stress, and not enough exercise. If you fix these behavioral issues you can reduce the healthcare budget by 4/5ths.

Convict recidivism rates (return rates for prison) are around 30% in the first six months and 67.5% in the first three years. So only one in three convicts will change their habits after having been incarcerated.

Only 36% of diagnosed alcoholics are believed to not be active in their addiction after one year. Even with the substantial impact of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in improving outcomes, it only works when people work the program and too few are able to stay with the 12 simple steps.

So how about I ask again. If you were told that you needed to change or you would die, would you? Most of us would like to believe the answer is yes, but somewhere between one third and one tenth of us would be able to actually make the change. Change or Die is about what works to change those odds in our favor.

Keys to Change

The key to changing, according to Deutschman, are the three Rs: Relate, Repeat, and Reframe. We'll look at them each in turn.

Relate

To make a change you have to believe that you can be successful and that's what relating is about. It's about connecting at an emotional level to a person or community. That connection, and their success story, can sustain you. Relating to other people including communities of people can create and sustain hope.

Repeat

Repeating is where you practice the new skills that you'll need in your new life. You repeat them over and over until they become habit. There's always the race between the rational self-becoming tired and discouraged and the new habit being formed. I've talked a few times about the elephant-rider-path analogy from The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch.

Reframe

Reframing is about changing how you think about your life and your world. Carol Dweck, in Mindset, talks about how we can all change and grow and how important the belief that we can change and grow is. Thinking in Systems highlighted the relatively high leverage of changing the paradigm in which you're operating. By changing paradigms you can radically change an existing system and can therefore break free of the bonds of an addiction or the monotony of doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Psychological Concepts

Throughout the course of the book there are 8 psychological concepts explained. They are: Frames, Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses, Short-term wins, The Power of Community and Culture, Acting as If, Recasting a Life's Story, Walk the Walk (Don't Just Talk the Talk), and The Brain is Plastic. Let's look at each one of these in turn.

Frames

Your reticular activating system (RAS) has a set of simple purposes. It's designed to regulate your asleep/awake cycle and your arousal (alertness). The system is also responsible for your attention. That is, the RAS, controls what you pay attention to. Many of us have experienced buying a new car and suddenly realizing the other cars on the street of the same make and model as ours. Before we bought our new car we could honestly say that we don't remember ever seeing the car. This is the impact of our reticular activating system. Once we have purchased the car it's more interesting to us and thus more worthy of our attention. In terms of Thinking, Fast and Slow this is System 1 handing off information to System 2. We're suddenly more aware because the information seems more noteworthy to our brains.

Our frame is our perspective, or paradigm, our way of seeing the world. Sometimes that frame is useful and sometimes that frame can create gaps. The frame of car driving we have is clearly incomplete, but we only see how incomplete it is once we've changed our frame. Our selective perception and confirmation bias tricks us into believing that our perspective is the right one.

I recently watched A Beautiful Mind, which is about the life of John Nash a brilliant mathematician whose work redefined economics. Nash also suffered from schizophrenia. That is he saw people and voices which weren't real. What was astounding about this was the distortion between what was real and what he saw. We all do this – just to a lesser degree. We all believe that our perspective – our frame – is right.

The key to change is a frame that insists that we need to change. Change is essential for survival. If we believe that we can cope with the problems we're faced with through alcohol – or through the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the case of heart disease – we're not likely to do the hard work to actually make the changes we need to make.

Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses

Our egos are remarkable things. They're amazingly resilient even in the face of immense pressure. We believe we're a good person despite knowing that we cheat on our taxes. We believe we're giving people, but can't find a few hours to work at a community kitchen or homeless shelter. We believe that we're at the top of our profession but fail to find the time to read the monthly magazine of the professional organization that we belong to. I'm talking about myself here – any resemblance to you just means that we're all alike.

Within a few minutes any discomfort that you felt as you read the preceding will fade. Your ego will assure you that you are a good person. It will assure you that it's ok. In fact you can ask most people in prison and be astounded as many will describe themselves as good people who were in bad situations. The reason any pressure you may have felt will fade is because the ego has its defenses. Change or Die refers to a book, The Ego and It's Defenses which I purchased. The Ego and It's Defenses catalogs 22 major and 26 minor defenses as listed in the following:

  • Major Defenses
    • Compensation
    • Conversion
    • Denial
    • Displacement
    • Dissociation
    • Fantasy
    • Idealization
    • Identification
    • Incorporation
    • Internalization
    • Introjection
    • Inversion
    • Projection
    • Rationalization
    • Reaction Formation
    • Rechannelization (Sublimination)
    • Regression
    • Repression
    • Restitution
    • Substitution
    • Symbolization
    • Undoing
  • Minor Defenses
    • Absolution
    • Atonement and Penance
    • Compartmentalization
    • Compromise Formation
    • Condensation
    • Convergence
    • Deferment
    • Devaluation
    • Distortion
    • Diversion
    • Extension
    • Externalization
    • Fainting
    • Fire Drill
    • Generalization
    • Intellectualization
    • Isolation
    • Overdeterminism
    • Personal Invulnerability
    • Replacement
    • Retribution
    • Retrospective (or Retroactive) Devaluation
    • Reversal
    • Splitting
    • Unwitting Ignorance
    • Withdraw

Despite knowledge of the defenses, they're not neutralized. Even though you can become aware of the psychological defenses employed by the ego doesn't mean that you're not still subject to them. However, these defenses aren't all bad – they're required for us to live relatively happy lives. If we had to consider that we're powerless to stop asteroids, earthquakes, tornados, volcanos, hurricanes, etc., we'd all have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. A little bit of ego defense isn't a bad thing.

Still, it's important to realize that when it comes to changing, folks' fear will fade and we'll return to our own normal state. That is unless you build a close network of personal connections. One of the things from Emotional Intelligence which didn't make it to my book review – but did make it to my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy is that isolation – lack of personal connection – was reported to be "as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise."

Overcoming isolation is what AA and other 12 step programs do. They ensure that you're aware that you're not the only one struggling with something. They put you in a group where you can share your struggle – and hear about others. This performs the dual purpose of connecting you to others and creating an atmosphere where you'll be held accountable, as we'll discuss in a moment.

Short-term wins

Everyone gets discouraged. This is particularly true for people who are facing real struggles in their life for which they need to consider change. Whether it's in the corporate context or a personal one it's important to create short term wins. In Leading Change and The Heart of Change, John Kotter speaks about an 8 step process of change which specifically calls out the need for short term wins. However, Change or Die expresses that sometimes the best way to get short term wins is to make a radical change.

The Power of Community and Culture

Kurt Lewin said that behavior was a function of both person and environment. That is that you have to account for both factors when you're considering the behavior you get. You can put a Bodhisattva monk in a situation where he might kill. (See Emotional Awareness) However, there's a secondary expression of interrelatedness that doesn't surface in Kurt's simple formula. It doesn't convey how the environment (culture) changes the person and how the person changes the environment (culture.)

We've shaped invisibly by the family that we grow up in. We learn habits and create expectations around what we've seen. We build expectations around how we treat each other, how much we help, what vacations look like, etc. In this way our familial environment changes us. It changes what we expect out of ourselves and out of others. Similarly, changing dynamics like a new powerful person in the family can shift the expectations of the entire environment. Replace an alcoholic and abusive father with an honorable and respectful step-father who expects that everyone will respect and support each other and the person starts to unwind the existing environment and remake what the environmental expectations are.

Mothers and fathers are concerned about the other children that their children hang around. A network of friends becomes its own environment. Children are shaped by their friends – for better or worse. A culture built around friends with different values can rapidly erode the moral framework that parents had attempted to instill in their children.

One friend of mine talks about being "refamilied" into a group of friends that love and support him despite his weaknesses. His new "family" is his new environment which supports the behavior he wants to have and is helping to make it easier for the person to get the behaviors he wants consistently.

Acting As If

We believe that the relationship between what we think and what we do is directly causal. That is we believe that what we believe we will do. However, the relationship isn't directly causal (as I've discussed here.) However, there's something more. Sometimes what you do changes what you think. It's possible to "go through the motions" or "act the part" or "fake it until you make it." The sayings are wise. They know that sometimes you won't FEEL like doing something but if you do it anyway, you'll start to feel it.

Changing – and sustaining change – is about creating new habits. It's about new paths for the elephant of emotion (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path model) to follow without the rider needing to intervene.

Recasting a Life's Story

I've spoken about victimhood a few times. (See Beyond Boundaries, Boundaries, and Daring Greatly) One of the revelations from Change or Die is that victimhood is a trap. It's a trap because if you admit that you're not the victim you have to face the fact that you've been doing the wrong thing for a very long time. It forces you to accept that you're the one responsible for your life's condition – not someone else's fault. This can be a hard thing to swallow. In Anatomy of Peace there were four kinds of "boxes" – one of which was the "I Deserve" box. This is the box of entitlement – and perhaps entitlement is why people believe they're victims. Boxes prevent people from perceiving reality clearly and cause them to lash out. Perhaps this lies at the heart of why a cycle of victimhood is so hard to break.

The good news is that we can change – as we learned in Mindset. We can learn to see ourselves not as a victim but as a savior. Instead of the one victimized we can recast our perspectives to someone who helps others be saved. In that transition there is a great deal of power to help ourselves. That's one of the things that was learned at Delancey Street, one of the book's case studies of change. Here convicts learned to recast their story into one of hope.

Walk the Walk (Don't Just Talk the Talk)

One of the reasons that many of us struggle with politicians today is that they talk about family values and protecting the American dream while being unfaithful to their wives and accepting campaign contributions from large lobbyists who have their own interests at heart. We don't need to look far to see leaders failing to live up to their own ideal words. Of course in truth everyone lives somewhat differently than the ideals that they espouse. However, alignment between what you believe and what you do is greatly respected because we have an innate understanding of how difficult this is to live out.

There are two kinds of misalignment that happen. The first kind of misalignment is unknown misalignment. This happens when we're truly not aware of the fact that we're saying one thing and doing another. Those misalignments are best addressed by our family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers holding us accountable to what we say we believe.

The other kind of misalignment is where we're aware that there's a difference between what we say and what we do. These misalignments will create a stress that the ego will attempt to protect itself from leading back to the state of being unaware of the misalignment. Being held accountable minimizes the ego's ability to keep the misalignments hidden.

The more you can bring into alignment what people believe with what they do, the less psychic stress they'll have and the happier they'll be. I've mentioned several times that our happiness has fallen over the past few decades despite books like Flow, Redirect, Stumbling on Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis trying to tell us what makes us happy.

The Brain is Plastic

Plastic in this sense doesn't mean cheap or breakable. In this sense plastic means that your brains are malleable. That is the more that you do with them the more they can do. This isn't a new concept per-se. Culturally we talk about what we're putting into our kid's brains in the form of cartoons, video games, and the news. We speak about how seniors live longer the more active and engaged they stay. However, it's more than that. In Outliers Gladwell discussed how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice could make you into a master. Howard Gardner in Extraordinary Minds came to the same conclusion. Gary Klein in Sources of Power talked about how experience worked its way into your thinking to the point where you couldn't distinguish where it came from.

Our brains are more malleable than any other part of our physiology. We can quite literally enlarge different processing areas of our brain over time the more we use it. Flute players can get enlarged areas for fine motor control. The upshot of all of this is that we have the ability to change. It's inherent in our physiology. It's in our DNA to change. We simply resist it at times.

Change or Improvement

Recently I heard that we should be speaking of improvement instead of speaking of change. While not directly related to Change or Die, I felt like the topic was one good to close with. Inherent and assumed in the language of change is that we're seeking improvement. We're seeking an improved match for our abilities and the environment which we're in. The idea is that we should change to improve our chances of not dying.

If you're looking for some compelling stories of situations where change is important – where it is truly life or death, you may want to pick up Change or Die.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Seeing David in the Stone

While speaking with a friend recently she said that she had written in her notebook a concept similar to Snapchat that she had never followed up on. I once knew someone who said that her father had invented the technology behind invisible fencing but never did anything with it. Seeing David in the Stone is about finding and seizing great opportunities. In today's world we've seen millionaires rise out of simple ideas executed well. Whether it's Facebook, YouTube, or one of the other dozens of companies that have sold for impressive amounts of money, it's clear that opportunities are around us, it's just a matter of us finding and seizing them.

About Joe

Seeing David in the Stone isn't exactly mainstream reading (not that most of what I read is mainstream reading). It was published in 2007 and hasn't been picked up on a New York Times best seller list so how did I find it? Well, as it turns out the book is written by James Swartz and Joseph (Joe) Swartz with contributions from the rest of the family. Joe is someone that my wife Terri had met and so we started up a conversation. Out of that conversation he gave me a printed copy of the book to read. As I've mentioned in my Research in the age of electrons post, I've mostly migrated to reading books on Kindle – however, I decided to make an exception for this book, because in our conversations Joe was sharing different perspectives on some of the same folks that I was quoting in my works. I wanted to see how his perspectives differed and how I might get some new insights.

One of the interesting things about the approach of the book is that it's narrative based. That is, that it's told in the style of a story. As you may remember from my book review of John Kotter's book Buy-In, I'm not a big fan of narrative based books. However, as Joe pointed out during our conversations, that's pretty normal as men often are "get to the facts" people and women are much more story focused. We've learned for thousands of years through story telling so it's certainly aligned with how we learn.

Talent and Hard Work

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers he spoke of how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice often made folks great. Seeing David in the Stone quotes Michelangelo with "If anyone knew how hard and how long I have worked to become what I am today, they would no longer think such great things about me." It's a quote I hadn't seen before and one that I appreciate. I've heard it other places too. James MacDonald mentioned in a series "Lord, Change My Attitude" that people want his success – as an author, speaker, and pastor – but they didn't want the hard work it took to get it. He spoke of long drives to small churches with little compensation (my calculations made it enough for gasoline and a sandwich.) It seems like many – but perhaps not all – of the people that we see as successful have spent years and years of hard work to elevate their practice.

Seeing David in the Stone walks through the dichotomy of the idea that in order to become truly good you have to practice and to practice you have to have some initial skill to build on. However, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in Finding Flow – getting to that higher state of functioning which he calls flow, requires the right balance of skill and challenge. You can start with relatively little skill if the level of challenge is relatively small. The state of flow fuels the process of learning and becoming more interested in the practice.

The point made clear in Seeing David in the Stone was that the innovators – the people like Edison who transformed industries – often had become experts not only in the area that they were seeking to innovate in but in complementary categories as well. For instance, Edison was focused on making safe electric lighting. In order to understand how to create this he wasn't focused just on the properties of electricity. He focused on how lighting was done and hired the skills necessary to create a light bulb. He found glass blowers, metallurgists, and chemists. He wanted to know as much as possible about the way things were done today – and was willing to engage experts in other disciplines to get the additional experience he needed.

Becoming an expert in any topic is in and of itself hard work. It is countless hours of practice, listening, and experimentation. However, hiring experts to come along side of you is a different kind of hard work as well. It's hard to get OK with the awareness that you won't know everything – you're accepting that you need others no matter how knowledgeable you are.

Long Term and Short Term

As a consultant, I'm intimately familiar with short term focus. As a consultant you're billing and will eventually create an invoice and, mostly, get paid. Working as a consultant I'm working on the short term. I'm working on the money that I'll have soon. This works really well – right up to the point where it doesn't. Anyone who has been in business for themselves will tell you that if you stay too focused on the short term billing and fail to look at the long term of who the next client will be – and on sales – you'll eventually be in trouble. In fact, as the chart below shows, the 3 year survival rate for businesses are in the neighborhood of 60% -- meaning 40% of the businesses have failed.

Five Year Survival Rates for Small Businesses (Credit: http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/09/failure-rates-by-sector-the-real-numbers.html)

The threat for survival if you're focused just on your short term needs is very real. If you're always living in the short term – moment to moment or paycheck to paycheck – there will be an event that will throw you out of whack and you'll have a problem. While we can't attribute all of the failures to a lack of long term awareness, there's no doubt that some businesses never escape the trap of the short term. I blogged about this in "SharePoint Isn't Your Biggest Problem – Right Now." If you want to see success in the long term you can look to the Jesuits. They are a 450 year organization whose purpose has a very long term focus. (See Heroic Leadership)

Seeing David in the Stone quotes Bill Gates as saying "My success in business has largely been the result of my ability to focus on long-term goals and ignore the short-term distractions." Ultimately it's a balance between the necessities of the day and the aspirations of tomorrow that create long term and sustainable growth but the balance between the needs of the present and the preparation for the future is delicate. It takes skill to get both to fit in the space we have for our lives.

Lifelong Learning

Kotter in Leading Change talks about how lifelong learning is essential to good leadership because lifelong learners take more risks than do the rest of us. Mindset sets us straight on the fact that we can learn, grow, and change throughout our lives. While not using the words lifelong learning, Seeing David in the Stone conveys that life is about learning and that everyone who wants to be a successful leader must continue to strive to be better. In fact, step 2 calls for individuals to use powerful learning processes – that is to say that everyone should be intentional about their learning. How do you continue to grow – even when you're at the top of your game?

Maybe the answer is in the idea of developing multiple mastery.

Multiple Mastery

I often joke with folks that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I say that because I started my career as a software developer. I transitioned to doing networking – because it was challenging. When it became less challenging I shifted back to being a software developer. I started working on the Shepherd's Guide because my clients were asking for help materials for SharePoint after I built a solution for them. That's lead me on a journey to learn more about organizational change and what it takes to help organizations leverage SharePoint more effectively. In fact, I've written a book about it – Making Organizational Change Work from the Inside Out. I wouldn't say that I've mastered everything that I've tried – things like Comedy are still on my backlog of things to get better at. (See I am Comedian.) However, I do recognize the need to

In 2004 I wrote an article for Internet.com titled "Renaissance Man" where I spoke about how we pick up knowledge and skills that are useful to us. I also discussed the idea in an article titled "Software Developers-Learn another Language" from 2003 where I was making a softer statement about the need to learn enough to be conversant in other areas. Ultimately the true breakthroughs in innovation rarely come from folks that know only one thing. The folks who do truly remarkable works are people who have multiple areas of mastery. Extraordinary Minds is four profiles including Mozart who was, obviously a master of his domain; music. So there are exceptions. However, Leonardo Di Vinci was even more highly regarded for his ability to be a master of multiple domains.

Whole and Parts

One of the most powerful aspects of Di Vinci was that he was capable of seeing the whole. He leveraged his existing skills into the new domain every time leveraging his awareness of how things were connected and fit together. He created designs which were focused on how the whole worked together. He was, in some senses, the original systems thinker. (See Thinking in Systems and The Fifth Discipline.)

One of the challenges we have with our fragmented, piece it together culture of today is that we often end up focused on our narrow vision and fail to see the broader implications. This sometimes leads to a Tragedy of Commons (where rational individual actions drive dire consequences for the whole.) Stories abound of managers who are looking out for their department at the expense of the larger organization. We optimize our individual pieces without taking a step back to make sure that all of the pieces work together correctly, are appropriate, and are even necessary.

Leaders are able to optimize the overall system and then refine the behavior of the individual components of the system – doing it the way that makes the most sense.

Seeing David in the Stone

Ultimately, the key to innovation is being able to see what is hidden and to bring it to the surface – to see the David in the stone. It's not quite enough to see David in the stone – you've also got to have the tools to free David from that stone. Along the way Michelangelo had to see David in the moments before his fight with Goliath. He also had to develop his skills to the point where he could free David from the stone. For us this means the development skills, and the insight that comes with experience. (The kind of insight that Gary Klein discussed in Sources of Power.) So build your skills and then go find your David in the Stone.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Article: Eliciting Vision through Exercises and Games

It's certainly possible to reach a vision or get requirements through a traditional interview-based approach however it's neither as much fun, nor as effective, as leveraging exercises and games to accelerate the process.

Read More…


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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Article: Eliminate Costly User Experience Mistakes

Far too many web site design projects are plagued by continuous changes to mockups, or changes to the user experience after it's already been implemented. These changes are both costly and unnecessary. Leveraging a staged approach to development of the user experience can reduce costs, frustrations, and time.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Article: Setting Goals with Conflicting Stakeholders

Getting everyone to agree on goals is a challenging undertaking in any organization. Achieving shared understanding through the process of Dialogue Mapping leads to the opportunity to develop an approach to change the problem.

Read more…


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Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review- Making it Happen: Turning Good Ideas into Great Results

With a title of Making It Happen you might expect that the book is all about execution. How do you get the idea converted into action? At some level this is true, it's about making ideas happen. However, at another level, it's not. It's less about execution and more about converting the good idea into something that you can sell. This is a marketing book. However, it's not a marketing book in the same sense as Gorilla Marketing, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It's a marketing book in terms of how do you market your product through understanding and focusing. Making It Happen drives this further to talk about how to leverage your market offering once you get it refined.

Making it Happen has five main steps, steps that lead to the refinement of a single market proposition to the point that people will buy it and then on the other side an expansion of the idea into other places where you can have market impact. In addition to the five steps the book is littered with suggestions for how to refine your messaging and that's focused on two main categories – the things that you're offering and the people that you're offering it to. We'll cover those after the five steps.

Five Steps

Sheahan's story about focus, is about how the fire from an acetylene torch is used to cut metal. A big yellow flame looks pretty but it's not nearly as useful as a small focused blue flame. If you want to cut through you're going to need the focus of the blue flame – that's a focus that's surprisingly hard to get to.

  • Packaging – Packaging is the conversion from an idea into something that you can sell. It's taking the idea and turning it into a product.
  • Positioning – Positioning is the process of refining the package into something the market will buy by adjusting it to match an existing market need or creating the need in the market.
  • Influence – Influence is the point where you've convinced the customer to part with their time, money, or attention to actually purchase your product.
  • Acceleration – Acceleration is leveraging the conversion you have to adjacent offerings or to take the same offer to other clients – with a customer reference to get more return out of where you've cut through.
  • Reinvention – While you're successful with your first offering is the time to pursue the next one. You have the first idea fund the next one. This is how you personally get more leverage. It may also be converting the acceleration around an idea into a platform.

Many ideas never get refined enough to really penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Part of that is the natural resistance to exclude audiences for your offering. The thinking is that the fewer people you include in your offering the fewer deals that you'll get. This may – or may not – be the right thinking. Observationally, if you're not breaking through with anyone on a broad message it may be worth focusing the message to a set of people that you can influence.

Things or People

When there's an offer there are two components. The first component is the people you're making the offer to. The second is the thing that you're offering them. The thing may not be a physical thing – it may instead be a service offering or simply consulting time. However, in this context it's separated from the person that you're selling to.

It's About Things

When it comes to refining the message for your "thing" there are three pieces:

  • The Offer
  • Differentiation
  • Credibility

Let's take a look at these individually.

The Offer

It may seem obvious but knowing what you're offering is a critical component to selling. The more vague, imprecise, or unclear the actual offer the less chance you have to penetrate the audience that you're trying to sell to. Despite this and lots of sales training that encourages folks to have an "elevator pitch" or "back of the business card" answer to what they do and what they sell, most people can't adequately describe what they do. One more palpable test is can you explain to your best friend's wife or girlfriend what you do? If you can't, you don't have a refined enough offer.

Differentiation

As humans we are pretty dumb. I mean compared to the other creatures on the planet perhaps we're smart but we seem to think that we evaluate everything. However, the cognitive reality is more that we try to find neat boxes that we want to put things in. If we can't put an offer into a neat little box we're likely to not remember it. As sad as it is, the more unique you are, the less likely you are to be remembered. At the same time, if there's nothing about your offer that's distinguishing you won't be remembered either. That paradox is at the heart of the problem with marketing. You want to be different, just not too different.

Sheahan believes that we can differentiate the offer based on: the offer itself, an intangible (what he calls X-Factor), price, quality, speed, brand, or "you." Further he believes that the success to differentiation are: being proactive, basing actions on research, timing it right, displaying proof, staying targeted, and playing the game. Often we need to focus on how the buyer perceives our offer including what category they put the offer in. Once we know the category that a buyer puts our offer in we'll need to know how to differentiate it from the other offers and how to communicate that differentiation to them.

Credibility

Sometimes we can differentiate our product in positive ways such as customer testimonials and independent third party reviews which don't require much work of positioning. Instead they require that we gain credibility in the mind of the buyer. The most effective way to do that is to connect with the person that they want to be and either demonstrate that people like who they want to be accept our offer – or that people who are actually like them use the offer.

It's About People

Even though we've been focused on the things – the offer being made – there's been an inseparable aspect of the way that humans think and the things that drive us. Sheahan talks about the personal aspects that drive decisions in terms of our drives, our identity, our audiences, and inciting action. Let's look at each of these in turn:

Drives

Citing P.R. Lawrence's work Sheahan states that there are four key drives for all people:

  • Drive to acquire – We seek to acquire material and experiences that our sense of well-being or social status.
  • Drive to bond – We seek to connect with each other emotionally directly and through groups.
  • Drive to comprehend – We desire an understanding of the world in which we live and how it works.
  • Drive to defend – We protect what we already have including ourselves, our families, and our possessions. This is consistent with other works about sunken costs – including the book Paradox of Choice.

Lawrence's division of drives is somewhat difference than other views that we've seen in the past like Dr. Reiss' work in Who Am I? However, this may be a reasonable simplification for the purposes of attempting to market as the 16 drivers in Reiss' work is a lot to try to process.

Identity

One of the challenges with the drives indicated above is the drive to bond. The problem with this is that taken to the extreme that would lead us to the idea that we don't want to be different from others. And certainly there's an aspect of our nature where this is true. However, conversely we're often fiercely defensive of our identity and our need to be different and unique – which puts us at odds with our need to bond. Sheahan speaks of three views of ourselves – and six lenses.

Three Views

I've spoken before about integrated self-images and how important they are to use. (See Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types.) However, the integrated self-image is about how I see myself at different times. Sheahan speaks of how I see myself but also how I believe others see me and what I aspire to be. He states that it's misalignment between these views that drives our desire to bond. These views – particularly the view of how others see me of the "boxes" from Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace. It seems to me that the less that you are concerned by how you believe others see you the less likely you are to get trapped in the "box." However, conversely, Sheahan speaks about how others see you can make a big impact in your influence on them – so perhaps there is some middle ground.

In my own life and those around me who I care about, I can tell you that there is a great deal of energy when these three views of yourself come out of alignment. When you believe that you're not moving to the person you aspire to be and when you feel like others don't see you as you see yourself, there is a great deal of emotional energy that can be used productively – or unproductively. Each of us has some level of disconnect in these views when seen from all six lenses which come from Banwari Mittal of Northern Kentucky University and are quoted by Sheahan.

Six Lenses

In some parts of our lives we may be in total alignment about the views. Professionally, for instance, we may see ourselves as a successful accountant. Our friends and colleagues see us this way as well. If our aspirations are simply to be a staff accountant then the views are in alignment from that perspective. However, that's just one aspect of our life. That's just one lens through which we can perceive ourselves. When we look at the broader picture we may not see alignment in every area. Mittal's lenses through which we see ourselves are:

  • Our bodies: Our physical appearance, looks, the clothes we wear, our level of fitness and so on.
  • Our values and character: What we judge as being important to us and how we behave.
  • Our competence and success: What we have achieved, our professional and social standing and the wealth we have accumulated.
  • Our social roles: The roles we play in our life, including family, friends and broader associations. We could be a mother, a daughter, a coach, a leader, a creator, an artist and so on.
  • Our subjective personality traits: How we behave. Are we extroverted, passionate, shy, clumsy? And on the list could go.
  • Our possessions: What have we got? What car do we drive? What sort of house do we live in?

 

Audiences

Every buyer for our offer has a way that they see themselves and a way that they're measured. A frequent challenge in dealing with people is in not focusing on how we measure our success but instead to understand how our audience – our buyer – will be evaluated for success. Sometimes those metrics align completely, and sometimes they do not. For instance, I was invited by a consulting firm to do a presentation to their prospect. I delivered a presentation that by all accounts was great. It helped the prospect understand the challenges and to some extent why they needed help. However, ultimately the customer didn't purchase from the consulting organization. Clearly my metric of satisfaction with the presentation I did wasn't aligned with the goal of my buyer.

When dealing with people it's important to not just understand how they'll be measured but to be able to communicate how they'll be successful on their metrics. This would include what you're going to do that will specifically move their metrics forward but also how you're going to help them measure the success so they can communicate it. In Sheahan's example the ultimate metric was the people who were registering for the conference where he was focused on satisfaction of the people in his keynote. That's a big difference.

Inciting Action

I often say in my business that I have only one real competitor. That competitor's name is "do nothing." That is I don't find myself losing deals to other consulting organizations. I find myself losing to the client deciding not to take action because the problem is bigger than they expected, they have other more pressing priorities, or they just don't know how to get started. (The final one is my failure to communicate how we can lead them through the process.)

Sheahan suggests that inciting folks to action means aligning the offering to an existing market need – or creating the market need. Having spent years around parts of the technology space where vendors were trying to build the market need, I can tell you that having an existing need is much easier. In both the mobile space and search engine market the development has been painfully slow because the vendors are trying to create the awareness in the market of the need they have. It's not that there aren't important problems to solve. It's simply that the market doesn't understand the extent of the problem and the value they can get by solving them.

Conclusion

If you're struggling to figure out how to cut through the noise and make a difference, maybe you need to consider Making It Happen. It won't tell you about the latest new social strategy, talk about search engine optimization, or anything specifically related to how to engage the market. It may, however, teach you how to focus your message to cut through and how to leverage your success once you have.


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Thursday, June 05, 2014

SharePoint 2013 Minimal Fault Tolerant Configuration

Microsoft offers some advice and guidance on different farm configurations, however, starting with SharePoint 2013 there seems to be a preoccupation with the number of VM hosts that are involved and how the virtual servers are deployed across these servers. Certainly managing the distribution of virtual servers across your physical virtual infrastructure is important, however, this adds a layer of complexity in trying to understand the number of virtual servers which need to be created which can be safely deferred until you've determined the virtual servers and the resources they need.

The more difficult challenge I find with my clients is how many virtual servers are needed for a fully functional fault tolerant environment. The Microsoft answers are incomplete because they fail to take into account the Office Web Applications and Azure Workflow Service infrastructures which are required to fully utilize SharePoint. The diagrams provided on the posters from Microsoft simply don't make it clear how these pieces fit together and the number of virtual servers that you'll need. My goal in this post is to clarify ambiguity about the number of virtual servers, to provide a model for a minimally fault tolerant environment, and to create a plan that can be expanded for scalability.

Fault Tolerance or Scalability

Before we begin it's important to realize that with most of my clients we don't end up with scalability concerns nearly as quickly as we identify fault tolerance as a goal. Even organizations with a few thousand employees are unlikely to need more than one front end web server from a scalability perspective. However, organizations of less than a thousand employees quickly find that SharePoint is a critical service offering that needs fault tolerance to support the service level agreements demanded by their organization.

With my larger clients we have scalability conversations – particularly as it relates to the search infrastructure – however, this is the secondary conversation after we cover fault tolerance. The model here is easily expandable based on scalability needs, but that's not the focus.

Separation of Duties and Missing Pieces

Conceptually SharePoint has two types of farm-member servers – web front ends and application servers. The distinction between the two is largely which parts of the SharePoint infrastructure are running on each. Conceptually having them separate makes the conversations easier. This conceptual framework - between servers directly responding to users and servers responsible for services - is a well-established approach for delivering web applications. As a typical web application would, SharePoint has a set of non-farm member servers which are responsible for database services. On the surface this looks like a SharePoint installation would require only six virtual servers – two web front ends, two application servers, and two database servers. In fact, this was the configuration required for SharePoint 2010 and one could easily make the mistake that this is the right answer for SharePoint 2013 as well. However, there are two wrenches in this thinking.

The first missing piece is that Office Web Applications which used to be installed directly on the SharePoint farm can no longer be installed on a SharePoint farm member server. Office Web Applications are used by SharePoint to render previews of documents in search as well as allowing users to transparently work with documents even if they don't have the full Office application suite installed on their PC. Making this service fault tolerant requires another pair of virtual servers for Office Web Application fault tolerance – bringing our number of virtual servers to eight.

The second missing piece is Azure Workflow Services – the platform on which the SharePoint 2013 workflow engine is built. Typically this wouldn't be a big deal -- you would install these components on the application servers just like the host of other services that SharePoint offers directly. However, the challenge here is that Azure Workflow Services are built upon the Azure Service Bus and the Azure Service Bus requires three servers – not two servers – to be minimally fault tolerant. The net impact of this is that you have to either have three servers for running workflow or you need to scale out one of the existing layers to three servers. So a farm with Workflow on its own looks something like this:

Nine or Eleven Servers

Deciding whether to have nine big servers or eight big servers and three tiny servers for workflow is based largely on preference. A virtual server running SharePoint is recommended to have 12GB of RAM and four CPUs. A workflow server, by contrast, can be tiny. 4GB of RAM is plenty for a workflow server. So you can add another server with 12GB of RAM or three smaller servers with 4GB of RAM each for workflow. If you stacked the Workflow services on top of application servers it would look something like this:

There's some discussion about the best place to put the workflow services – whether they should be deployed with the application servers because the workload is more similar to the workloads of application servers. That is, that application servers typically don't respond to time-sensitive requests from the user and are more frequently used to handle back end processing where it's acceptable for a short delay – as is the case with workflow. However, the counter argument is that having extra capacity in the web front ends is more advantageous in most environments than having an additional application server. This is a decision that can be made on a case-by-case basis based on the workload of the farm.

However, I frequently recommend that clients run workflow on separate servers rather than scaling out the application or web front end layer of the farm due to separation of duties concerns. Most organizations prefer to keep distinct services on different tiers of hardware when doing so doesn't unnecessarily increase complexity. For most environments, the net effective use of resources is very similar.

Scalability Again

Either of the above approaches to building a farm can be scaled out as needed to add additional capacity to the Office Web Applications, Search services on the application tier, or even additional database instances to support larger database needs. Those scaling decisions are based on stress points in the infrastructure. For instance, if none of the clients will have Office installed, it may be necessary to scale out the Office Web Applications. If you're indexing a large amount of content on file shares it may be necessary to expand out the application tier to support greater search needs.

By beginning the planning by first looking into the fault tolerance requirements, it's easier to add additional servers to meet scalability requirements. However, the performance of your virtual host infrastructure is an important consideration in scalability.

Virtual Host Infrastructure

The performance of virtual machines across different virtualization farms is vastly different based on the architecture of the virtualization environment. So a small number of servers on a well-functioning infrastructure can easily out perform more servers on poor performing virtualization environments. The typical concerns for performance including processing capabilities (CPU), memory availability (particularly overcommitted memory utilization), network (sufficient network bandwidth), and disk performance are all important considerations.

In addition to the fault tolerance considerations for the number and type of virtual servers, it's also important to ensure that the virtual servers are spread out across at least two different physical host servers to ensure that a failure of the virtualization host won't bring down the environment.

When considering scalability of a SharePoint farm, in a virtual environment it's key to understand what the performance of the virtualization environment is – and will be.

Conclusion

While the appearance is that SharePoint can be installed in a fault tolerant configuration in as few as six virtual servers, this isn't the case when the farm is intended to be fully functional. For a minimally fault tolerant configuration, not considering scalability concerns, requires at a minimum nine servers and often as many as eleven.


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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review-Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam

I had the pleasure of working with Kate Pugh on a project for the Ark Group. During our discussions I found her speaking about her thinking about knowledge management and I realized that if I wanted to really understand what she thought about knowledge management the best way to get to know them would be to read her book, so I did. Sharing Hidden Know-How is aimed at solving the problem of how to get knowledge reused. While this may seem like an obvious statement, the differentiation is that the focus is on the actual practical steps that need to be done – the structure – that is necessary for a successful project.

The name given to the process – and to the specific capture event in the middle of the process – is a Knowledge Jam. The idea is that people come together and share their parts of the knowledge process much like musicians coming together for a jam session. Metaphorically speaking this is a great name because it helps people understand that it's an opportunity to work and interact together in ways that may not otherwise be possible.

Sure you need knowledge that is worthy of sharing and people who are willing to do the sharing but that isn't enough. You need a way to facilitate the transfer from one person or organization to another. That's what Sharing Hidden Know-How is about. It's about getting knowledge from one human or group of humans to another with all of the messiness of language and people in between.

Three Pillars – Facilitation, Conversation, and Translation

There are, in Kate's view, three pillars for Knowledge Management success. They are facilitation – the creation of the opportunity to have the conversation about the knowledge, the conversation where the knowledge is shared, and finally the translation. The translation is converting the knowledge that is available in a source context and relating it so that it can be used for something else. This makes sense as a model. It's preparing for the conversation, performing the conversation, and then using the output of that conversation. This flows from the belief that tacit knowledge flows from conversations. This is certainly something that many people in the knowledge management space believe. In Lost Knowledge we spoke about techniques to try to transfer knowledge and where they worked best. The New Edge in Knowledge Management discussed the questions about when you can store knowledge without the conversation.

However, three phases of the projects isn't specific enough to get things done, for that we need to descend into a set of steps that you can walk through to accomplish the work of reusing the knowledge.

Five Steps

From the three pillars come five steps that lead you through the process of selecting, facilitating, capturing, transforming, and reusing knowledge. The steps are: Selecting, Planning, Discover/Capture, Broker, and reuse. We'll look at each of them in turn.

Selecting

By not mandating that every project has a "lessons learned" or an after action review but instead prioritizing projects for the opportunity to participate in the Knowledge Jam process. There's psychology in the idea that it's a "get to" and not a "have to" thing. The selection process can consider many variables but ultimately consideration should be given to the perceived usefulness – and therefore value – of the knowledge of a team. Also, consideration must be given to how easy – or difficult – it will be to extract the useful knowledge out of the context that it's currently in. Ultimately, the project sponsor is likely to have a great deal of input of which projects get selected for attention.

Planning

Jack Youngblood said that "Luck is a residue of preparation." The planning process is about planning for success of the event. The Four Disciplines of Execution spoke in detail about how to prepare for meetings – Sharing Hidden Know-How focuses on WHO should participate, WHEN it should occur, and WHERE the Knowledge Jam should occur. There are the standard lists of interested parties like the facilitator for the meeting, the sponsor, and the SMEs. What makes the process interesting is the introduction of Knowledge Brokers – who are tasked with finding useful information for their organization and the champions who are tasked with tactical execution of the meeting.

Discover/Capture

This is the main event. It's the meeting that's used to share the knowledge – and to have the conversations. One key here – in addition to the standard things that you would do in every meeting – is the establishment of ground rules – or expected norms for the conversation. I talked about norms in posts on Primal Leadership, Heroic Leadership, Six Myths of Social Software, and Redirect. Setting a new social norm is important so that people know how to behave. In most organizations the behavior of employees isn't quite deplorable – but it isn't great. By setting expectations up front you can establish a protective zone where a new normal is created – something that the authors of Primal Leadership would definitely support.

The actual facilitation uses a shared display either through a projector or TV in a single room or via web conferencing software. In-person face-to-face conversations are definitely preferred because much of the facilitation of the Knowledge Jams is in reading the other people in the room – something that's hard to do via a web conference – even if there is video.

Broker

If you've ever wondered where a good gossip could find a role in an organization it's in the role of a broker. The idea of a broker is that they're out seeking a "buyer" for the knowledge. Someone who can use it to move their business forward. The brokering step is about matchmaking between what was captured and who might be able to use it. This role bridges the difficult gap between those who have the knowledge and those who need it.

Reuse

The real goal line as it pertains to the Knowledge Jam is whether the knowledge gets reused. As Sharing Know-How shares that valuing the knowledge reuse is difficult – however, while assigning a specific value to reuse may be difficult, knowing that knowledge management is valuable isn't a question – it's the goal.

The real problem is that often the actual reuse doesn't get recorded so it's hard to say which Knowledge Jams were successful and which were not. The ideas that were procured through the Knowledge Jam are so transformed by the process it may not be possible to even identify that they originated from the Knowledge Jam when viewed from the outside. Only those who used the knowledge may be aware of where it came from.

Creating Space

"People join companies but they leave managers." – First Break All the Rules.

In the five steps above we discussed the idea that you create a new norm for the capture event. This normal amount to creating what Sharing Know-How would call a container – but it might also be called a space – or ba. Nonaka a pioneer in knowledge management wrote an article describing "Ba" for the California Management Review in 1998 that spoke of creating spaces. Spaces are not meant in the physical sense but rather they're meant in the psychological framing sense.

By establishing the ground rules for a meeting you're establishing space – and the norms that maintain the space. The norms can be as simple as a set of rules for behavior like the rules suggested in Sharing Know-How:

  • Be responsible for inquiring/pushing the collective thinking (show "common curiosity").
  • Use data (illuminate points of view or positions).
  • Drive for clarity with questions, but not judgments.
  • Speak one's truth.
  • Ask the group for permission to digress or probe (use a "parking lot" liberally).
  • Pay respect/don't interrupt.
  • Pay attention (laptops, mobile devices off).
  • Share outside the "room" only as agreed on by the group.

The space may be deeper – driving into the need for trust, vulnerability, and a professional intimacy necessary to share knowledge that was earned through blood, sweat and sometimes tears. (See Trust->Vulnerability->Intimacy for much more about how trust is required for vulnerability which is required for intimacy.) Creating space may also be about explicit conversations about the unacceptability of the dysfunctional behavior that Michael Wilkinson describes:

  • Discourteous: Participant arrives late.
  • Impatient: Participant is weary when the conversation is extremely detailed.
  • Distracted: Doing email.
  • Silent: Holding back knowledge or opposing the process.
  • Passive-aggressive: Some participants may "vote" with absence. "If it's not my meeting, my participation is optional."
  • Resigned: Feeling discouraged when the new ideas threaten the status quo. Not feeling empowered to make changes happen.
  • Argumentative: Sometimes a participant may contradict the speaker.
  • Cynical: Participant says, "Knowledge Jam will blow over, like all fads."
  • Doubting: "You can't capture that knowledge," or "It's too complicated to explain," or "It becomes obsolete too soon."

A space can also be shifting from one mode or model of thinking to another. From the model that Chris Argyris describes as: "Model I behavior is characterized by taking positions, being certain, and using abstract (as opposed to tangible or data-rich) language" to a model that " takes the focus away from protecting one's positions or one's correct status and opens the possibility of unspoken (even forgotten) concepts showing up, combining, and forming something new."

By defining the expectations – the norms – for behavior inside of the meetings a space is created for people to be safe – and to live out the behavior of those norms.

Make Some Noise

If your organization is struggling with a knowledge management initiative but can't quite figure out how to make it happen, then perhaps it's time to make some noise and take a few tips from Sharing Hidden Know-How on how you can make knowledge management real in your organization.


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Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Primal Leadership-Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

There are numerous books about leadership. A plethora of visionaries over the years have sought to improve leadership in organizations. So what makes Primal Leadership unique is that it talks about the emotional component of leadership. Speaking about emotions in business seems to have picked up a taboo. Those who do speak about emotions in business are in HR and they're often seen as out of touch with the real issues of the organization (as the book points out.)

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee lead you through some of their and others research about how emotional intelligence impacts the performance of individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations. While I've read some of Goleman's other works (Emotional Intelligence, for instance) I've not seen all of the works assembled in a way that helps the reader understand how vitally important emotional intelligence can be to success of leaders.

Successful Attitude

Zig Ziglar said "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." This is a great summary statement for the thesis that IQ doesn't matter nearly as much as emotional intelligence. The song "Accentuate the Positive" Has powerful lyrics. Consider this snippet "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with mister in between." This is a song has guidance that is useful in our real world.

The first half of emotional intelligence is self-awareness and self-management. This is the ability to monitor and manage your feelings and mood. Ultimately managing feelings and moods means that you can manage your attitudes about the things that come up in your day-to-day life. It's attitude management, the ability to focus how you feel about things that can be immensely powerful. In Thinking in Systems we learned about how a paradigm shift is one of the most powerful ways to impact a system. Attitude shifts are paradigm shifts. It's changing the way that you see the world around you. When I read Stumbling on Happiness, I mentioned that it was during an unusually long rescheduling at the airport – and it was fine. Compare that with the irate people you see as you're walking to your next flight. It's simply a different world.

The second half of emotional intelligence is social awareness – knowing how to see emotions in others – and relationship management. The finesse of emotional intelligence comes in when deciding how much of someone else's mood or attitude to take in. While it's natural for us to synchronize our emotional state with others – particularly when sharing an experience like watching a movie, we need to be able to define the boundaries between where our responsibility begins and where it ends.

Learning about how to set boundaries can be difficult work for those of us who didn't have great examples of appropriate boundary setting as a child. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries) Learning to communicate your desires and to not take ownership of someone else's feelings is tough stuff. At the heart of this is a simple understanding. When you communicate to someone else your needs and desires, you're not taking anything from them. You're allowing them the opportunity to give you what you need. The subtle change here is in attitude. It's the attitude of taking verses the attitude of giving. That makes a world of difference. Taking depletes our emotional bank where giving makes a deposit.

The idea that we're synchronizing our attitudes with those around us isn't necessarilyy bad. In fact, leaders can use the fact that humans try to synchronize – or attune – their feelings to one another as a powerful motivator.

Attunement Instead of Alignment

Emotional synchronization may be at a micro level emotional attunement. However, at a broader – less episodic – perspective attuning emotions and moods can be a powerful tool for leaders. John Gottman talked extensively about attunement in The Science of Trust. The context there is for couples to have better relationships but as Primal Leadership points out, attunement may be a better paradigm for business as well. Attunement isn't about lining up objectives. Rather, attunement is about bringing things in harmony with one another. Attunement in business means getting everyone bought into the same vision. There's more to buying into a vision than just aligning objectives.

One of the challenges in the process of developing and executing a strategy is that often times the process assumes that people are replaceable cogs in the larger wheel of the organization. Fred Brooks famously spoke of the inability to replace developers in a project in his classic essay The Mythical Man-Month. People are not directly replaceable. Each person brings their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics to the organization and the strategy has to account for that. Attunement is that process of bringing all the individual strategies – for the lives of each of the employees in the organization – in harmony with the organization strategy.

I've spoken before about the model of the Rider, the Elephant, and the path from The Happiness Hypothesis and from Switch and the need to engage people emotionally. That's what attunement is – an emotional engagement between two people. It's a harmony between people – whether in a relationship or on a team. The fastest way to that attunement is laughter.

The Shortest Path between Two People Is Laughter

When I took my path into learning more about comedy (including the class which I detailed in my post "I am Comedian", and the books Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy, and The New Comedy Writing Step by Step) I didn't realize the power of laughter. One of the books that I started to read but haven't finished, Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse Engineer the Mind, talks about Duchenne laughter – the kind of laughter when we genuinely find something funny and social laughter – how we respond when other people are laughing. This is based on research about how the muscles in the face are engaged differently based on whether the person spontaneously smiled – or smiled because other people were smiling. We're social creatures by nature but it seems one of the shortcuts to our social nature is how we laugh together.

You probably already know about mirror neurons – but they act much more slowly than the behavior observed with non-Duchenne laughter. Laughter is contagious – and fiercely so. Primal Leadership talks about how powerful laughter is. Including the fact that outstanding leaders tend to use humorous comments three times as often as the average leader and the fact that most laughter doesn't come with a punch line. One of the great learnings of comedy for me is that sometimes it's not the punch line that gets the big laugh – sometimes it's the tag – the thing added to the joke to extend the laughter.

Learning to cultivate laughter is a difficult art. A few nights ago I sat in a comedy club listening to a show that was barely more than an open mic and watched a dozen comics try to hone their craft of working with an audience and to get them to laugh – when that's what they wanted to do. Imagine the challenge of a leader trying to develop this skill in a town hall meeting where the employees aren't expecting to be entertained. It's a difficult – but powerful – skill for those leaders who can use it. Like at a comedy club there will be many "bombs" where you and the audience don't connect. However, it's those failures that make you better.

Great Failures

One of the hallmarks of great coaching and mentoring is accepting short term failure for the longer term purpose of helping an employee to grow. There's a point of view that failure shouldn't be allowed – but in truth we learn much better when we have the opportunity to fail. Primal Leadership makes the point that there's a delicate tension between folks feeling safe to fail – and not feeling enough pressure to succeed. It turns out that humans are uniquely able to experience stress even when there's not an immediate threat to our survival. We can become stressed based entirely on our own perception of longer term issues. With this stress we're flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. The effect of these two chemicals aren't conducive to learning.

The body's response to these chemicals, the "fight or flight" response that we're all familiar with, is a biological adaptation to allow us to focus all of our energies on escaping the life threatening situation. However, this system was never designed – from an evolutionary standpoint – to be left on for long periods of time. It reroutes the way that learning is done from our normal executive function to a way that can trigger the amygdala the next time there is a threat so the amygdala can more accurately trigger based on it. The result is that we're not really learning from the situation in a meaningful way.

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco where my friend works. Another friend described this museum as a love letter from a daughter to her father – which perfectly describes it. As you walk through the first few galleries of the museum you realize both the failures of Walt's early life as well as his perseverance. Bankruptcies, accusations, and swindlers are all a part of the story. If you were to look at his life prior to moving to Hollywood it wouldn't be at all remarkable. What's remarkable is what he did after each setback. He pulled himself up and used that as a learning point on how to move forward. In fact, that may be one of his great legacies as the later galleries point out. He would work on smaller projects to learn the skills that were necessary to do larger projects.

Abraham Lincoln is another great leader who suffered failure after failure. He struggled with his first business. He lost a bid to become an Illinois state representative. He failed at another business. He had a nervous breakdown, three failed attempts at becoming a member of congress, and a failed bid for vice president by 1859. This is a man who had tried and failed and tried some more and failed some more. However, as the 16th president he had to lead the country through one of its darkest hours and is remembered universally as one of the best presidents that the United States has ever had.

The difference between those who don't succeed and those who ultimately succeed wildly isn't the number of failures – or even the percentage of failures. The difference it seems is the number of times at bat. It's the number of times that they got up, dusted themselves off, and tried again. The strength to get back up comes from a great deal of inward focus – work on who they are as humans whether that work was intentional or not.

Inward Focus

One of the oddest things about leadership – and working with other people in general – is that to be better at having relationships with other people you have to have a better relationship with yourself. That means finding your true self. Finding out what is important to you. It means finding what makes you happy. (Or at least what you think what you think will make you happy. See The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness for that.) Loyola and the Jesuits found that self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism were key values that led them to be the longest corporation in existence. (See Heroic Leadership.) The trio of books from the Abinger Institute include the leadership book – Leadership and Self Deception. In this book we look at the "boxes" that we can put ourselves in where our reality is distorted – and where we seek to bring others into their own "box" and their own distortion.

What Primal Leadership knows is that much of the problems that are caused in leadership are actually poor self-management. (See Emotional Intelligence for details on the four components of emotional intelligence – one of which is self-management.) By learning to better manage ourselves, we learn how to leverage the knowledge we already have about how to manage well. What's even better is that people who have done a great deal of inward work often find that they're able to create a space around themselves where things work better. There's a halo effect where their presence and influence through the clarity of who they are and their confidence drives other's behaviors as well.

Halo Effect

Have you ever been in a place where people just behaved differently with a certain person in the room, in the meeting, or in the area? I'm not talking about the way that people behave differently when their boss or the CEO is in the room. I'm talking about a person that somehow quells arguments, calms people, and just seems to get them to get things done? It's an eerie thing to see it happen. "Joe" walks into the room and all of the sudden the fighting stops. It's not that anyone fears "Joe." It's just that they know that it's not an acceptable thing with "Joe" there.

What "Joe" has is sometimes hard to quantify. Sometimes it's that he's set boundaries about what is and isn't acceptable in his presence (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries) Maybe he's developed a sense of calm that simply radiates from him the way that people describe their meetings with the Dali Lama (See Emotional Awareness). No matter what it is there's an effect around "Joe." There are people like this in your organization now. These people – who may or may not be in leadership positions – infect the people around them with a better sense and practice of leadership. This infection happens relatively outside of the leadership approaches that they use. It's an outcome of their inward work.

Leadership Approaches (Skills or Styles)

Though Primal Leadership identifies six leadership styles, I see six approaches or sets of skills. The reason for the language change is one of the core messages of the book – that managers get better by learning more styles and learning when to use them. If you have a style you have a set way of doing things. You'll tend to continue your style for long periods of time. However, the research suggests that having a full tool box of these approaches and learning when and how to switch between them makes leaders more effective. It's much easier to switch from using one skill to another than it is to switch from one style to another. However, skills doesn't quite match up to these because each of the styles in the book is really a set of skills – thus an approach toward a leadership event. So while I'm picking at the language the key messaging – the approaches – are quite solid.

These approaches are rooted in Daniel Goleman's research and article for Harvard Business Review titled "Leadership That Gets Results" – however some of the names of the approaches have been changed between the writing of the article and the writing of Primal Leadership. Where possible I've tried to tie the two names together.

Visionary (Coercive)

Initially called coercive, the visionary style gets people to move towards shared dreams. The initial term – coercive – may have seemed negative but the visionary leader is a powerful leadership style. It helps rally everyone around a common objective. The visionary leadership style asks those who follow to give up – or attune – their goals to the goal of the leader. Like the pied piper the visionary style asks people to follow.

Goleman's data indicates that this is the most effective leadership style perhaps because it can be used to shape even the most dull and mundane tasks into something else. If your vision is "delivering Christmas" how much more powerful a thought is that from a job sorting packages at a FedEx package sorting facility?

Coaching

We've all seen numerous sports coaches that are great examples of coaching – and numerous who are not. Or have we? Coaching isn't about demanding performance or even rallying speeches. Coaching – particularly in the context of leadership – is about connecting a person's goals and aspirations to the organization's goals. The first step is understanding the person's goals. However, from there the coach must draw lines between how the person's individual goals line up with and support the organizational goals. Finally, the coach must identify ways to work towards both goals at the same time.

Affiliative (Connecting)

Taken to the extreme, the Affiliative style is peacemaking. That is never allowing conflict for fear that it might drive divisiveness into the group. However, used appropriately, an affiliative style works by connecting people to one another. Where coaching was about the one-on-one relationship between the coach and the coachee, affiliative leadership is about helping the team bond together better. (See more about the impact of this in Collaborative Intelligence.)

Democratic (Listening)

The democratic approach is about letting everyone have their say and get their buy in through the thought that they were heard and that their ideas were valued. This style can be very positive in that it can get everyone feeling like they had their say. However, this style requires more skill than it might at first appear because it's important to not just let people have their say but also for them to feel heard. This is discussed in Dialogue Mapping and the Heretic's Guide to Best Practices where the dialogue mapping process is discussed as a way to demonstrate that at topic was heard.

Conceptually the democratic approach is about the wisdom of crowds. However, often democratic approaches deteriorate into the tyranny of a mob. The skills of a leader are tested most when trying to manage all of the factors that can take the train off the tracks.

Pacesetting

Some people like a challenge. Sometimes leaders can put a stretch goal in front of a team for them to accomplish. These goals are useful for helping folks break out of a performance level they've been stuck at. However, the important part of this is that they're not a sustainable pace. It's not sustainable to always be working on stretch goals. Employees need time to recover and recharge. We've seen this with agile software development methodologies where high performance relies upon consistent delivery – not unsustainable paces.

Leaders who use pacesetting need to do so carefully to prevent overuse and fatigue. The challenge is to keep enough challenge for people to do their best but not so much they become burnt out and conversely that there's enough pressure on them that they stay motivated.

Commanding (Authoritative)

There's also a leadership approach that's commanding. This can be appropriate in limited circumstances where there's an urgent need or a great deal of disruption which has frozen people but long term is corrosive and leads employees to feel like they are not valued. Even organizations where commanding approaches are essential – like the military – balance the commanding approach with other more positive approaches.

Tools in a Toolbox

Primal Leadership makes the point that the more of these approaches that you can use well, the better you will be as a leader. The more of these skills that a leader is competent and comfortable with the greater the possibility that the leader will be able to select the right approach when necessary – and the greater the possibility that they'll use it in the right amount. The answer isn't that there's one right – or wrong – way to approach things. Rather it's about knowing which tool to select for different situations. Learning is a critical part of leadership not just because the market is changing around you but because there's an opportunity to become a better person.

You can change

As was discussed in Mindset, there are two ways that people can see themselves and others. They can see them as either: fixed and unchanging or as an organism capable of change and growth. In order to accept that you can learn new leadership approaches – and to get better at the approaches that you use today – you have to accept that the way that you lead isn't a fixed set but rather, it's something that you can learn.

Adult Learning

When you're trying to lead you're trying to teach people how to get across the next goal line. We've talked about the factors that influence adult learning in the review of The Adult Learner and some of the techniques that can be used to teach in Efficiency in Learning. What's interesting is that in Primal Learning there are discussions that the best way to change people isn't to focus on the performance of the person – but rather on the learning that they needed to be successful. It was also clear that the employee needed to have a strong personal desire for learning – beyond work – for the best results. When employees are lifelong learners they're able to better integrate learning and overall be better performers.

Tipping Point

One of the areas of research for Richard Boyatzis has been the impact of increasing the number of leadership approaches that are being used and how the ability to leverage four or more of the styles can make you much more powerful. Similarly, learning how to better use individual styles can make you more effective with them. There's a tipping point with the individual styles where you'll be more successful and also with the number of styles that you can use which can propel you to the next level of leadership

The Power of Norms

There's power in the habits and the normal. I've discussed the rider-elephant-path model several times (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis). Primal Leadership speaks about how creating norms of conduct that are positive can influence everything. Everyone wants to be positive to others. If you don't believe in the power of norms, consider that even during the LA Riots in 1992 people were looting stores after parking their cars inside the lines in the parking lot. They're willing to openly loot from the store but parking outside the lines was so foreign that they didn't even think to do it.

Leading With Style

Everyone has some approach to how they lead – even if their position isn't that of a leader. Some of the best leaders may be introspective and focused on improving themselves and their awareness of themselves to be able to be more comfortable with stretching themselves out to learn new styles (See How Children Succeed for more.) Learning how to adapt your styles between the various approaches makes you a more versatile leader and thereby can make you more effective at leading. Pickup Primal Leadership to learn how you can be more effective.


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Saturday, May 03, 2014

Book Review: Collaborative Intelligence – Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems

Like many people, I enjoy action movies where there are terrorists trying to wreck our world and the lone hero – or hero team – that are standing in the breach between the terrorists and our way of life. However, I've never really given much thought to what it would be like to be in an intelligence community. I can quickly spot the flaws in a plot line but I've never given much thought to what would have to happen to prevent terrorists. However, I found the view of intelligence communities, provided through Collaborative Intelligence very intriguing. I didn't pick the book up to learn about the intelligence community – I picked the book up to learn about team dynamics – but it was interesting.

Many places where you start to study about team effectiveness you'll find references to Richard Hackman's work including articles and papers. Collaborative Intelligence is his latest (and sadly his last work.) It lays out six conditions to increase the potential for team effectiveness and three criteria for measuring the performance of teams. The work lives outside the bounds of the traditional cause and effect popular management books of the day. Hackman doesn't seek to tell you one way to be successful. In that way it's like The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices. Instead, Collaborative Intelligence is about the things that can make it more likely for teamwork to work – and things that work against it.

Three Criteria

Hackman ultimately was interested in making teams more effective but more effective by what measurement? It's possible to be focused on only the results but as I discussed in my reviews of The Fifth Discipline and The Four Disciplines of Execution, this isn't really enough. You have to look earlier into the process – and later in the process. Hackman uses three criteria for team performance:

Criteria

Indicator Type

Productive Output

Lagging

Social Processes

Leading

Learning / Growth

Far-Leading

Hackman also discusses three team processes that I believe fall into the category of sustainability which I'll cover first, before covering Hackman's three criteria.

Sustainability

In agile development there's a concept of a sustainable pace. In a market dominated by hero development where a lone programmer stocks up on Mountain Dew and Doritos and spends a few days without sleep, coding something magnificent, there's a palpable awareness of how things must be sustainable. You can't continue to drive developers above a sustainable pace any more than you can make a horse run continuously. For instance, the Pony Express swapped out horses after relatively short distances because an individual horse couldn't sustain the high speed that they were asking of them.

Hackman measured three key team processes to observe the sustainability of the team:

  • Amount of Effort
  • Team Choices
  • Level of Knowledge and Skill

Hackman was measuring the same sustainability metric by looking at the amount of effort that the team was putting in order to get their output. It's certainly possible – and productive – to burst activity towards the goal but those bursts have to be paid for at some point.

Team choices are about the social dynamics and making sure that the team is collaborating to produce strategies for getting the work done instead of allowing one or a few members to dominate the approaches. If approaches are thoroughly thought out by the team and negotiated to agreement (not just acceptance – see The Science of Trust and How to be an Adult in Relationships for more) then the team is likely to be able to continue to operate for some time effectively. If one person or a small group are dominating the approach decisions then eventually they'll run out of good ideas or the rest of the team will revolt – or both.

Finally, you can only get lucky for so long. If you're working in uncharted waters where there the team has no knowledge or skill you can "get lucky" with some early successes, however, eventually the team will make a mistake because they've never done something. Knowing how much knowledge and skill is being applied to the problem at hand helps you to understand the risk of a small failure.

Together these measurements allow you to see how long the team can sustain its productive output.

Productive Output

At some level every team gets measured on its results so it is no surprise that you would measure the output of the team. However, as mentioned in The Four Disciplines of Execution, output is necessarily lagging. (Also see Thinking in Systems for delay.) To be able to intervene and make changes you need leading indicators, like the social processes in use.

Social Processes

Anyone who was a part of a large family has seen sibling rivalry and has seen the sarcastic "picking" at one another that sometimes happens in a family. Some of us have seen a mostly different experience where siblings go out of their way to support one another. Whether it's complimenting an accomplishment, encouraging around a disappointing setback, or simply listening to the world of the sibling without comment, there's a more supportive social construct that can also develop.

Hackman measured how the social processes of the team were working. They were looking for how the team was building each other up, not tearing each other down. When a team works to support individual member's weaknesses -- we all have them -- rather than attack them, the team is more effective. The more that a team can develop an open, honest, and supporting environment the more likely it is that the team will be successful in creating it's deliverable – and helping each of the individual members to grow.

Hackman knew that overtime the ability of the team to support and accept each other's weaknesses would improve productive output – and perhaps even spur individual and team learning.

Learning and Growth

Measured in the long term the current project doesn't matter. The current team effectiveness will be a faded memory. However, what will really resound is the velocity with which the organization moves. The velocity of the organization is driven by the ability for its teams to get things done and that means that teams need to get more effective over time – over the long time horizon. That is done by ensuring that the team dynamics foster the growth of individuals both in their ability to work in a team as well as their individual skills.

One of the great things about Ford's assembly line was that he could leverage unskilled workers because the requisite skill to work on the line was low. One of the worst things about the assembly line was that the assembly line didn't encourage, support, or to some extent even allow, workers to grow their skill level. While we still use assembly lines in the production of some things, the way that they're executed are much different. They take advantage of lean manufacturing thinking and cellular manufacturing to create an opportunity for the individual workers to become more skilled – and there by create the opportunity for success.

Knowing that we want to improve outcomes, improve our interactions, and improve our people, we need to explore the conditions that lead to these outcomes.

Six Conditions

What makes some teams very effective and some completely ineffective – or perhaps even capable of moving an organization backwards? There's no one answer to that question. Certainly individual performance and competency impact the capabilities of the team, however, some "dream team" collection of players work spectacularly and some fail miserably. Certainly there's more to a team than the sum of its parts. That's the core of the six conditions which are:

  • Real Team
  • Compelling Purpose
  • Right People
  • Clear Norms
  • Supportive Context
  • Competent Coaching

Let's look at each condition in more detail.

Real Team

Sometimes organizations create groups of people and give them a name like "Team Quality." However, giving a group of people a name doesn't make them a team. Instead teams are "a bounded set of people who work together over some period of time to accomplish a common task". Hackman describes several kinds of collaboration. The types of collaboration he discusses are:

  • Community of Interest – A loose collection of individuals that share a common interest. They have no common task, timeline, nor membership.
  • Community of Practice – A loose collection of individuals that are leveraging the collaboration to accomplish their own organizational goals. They too, don't share a common task, timeline, nor is there typically a clear membership.
  • Emergent Collaboration – Sometimes individuals are assigned similar responsibilities inside of different teams or organizations. These teams share information among the group for the betterment of all. IT security groups that share the latest information about current threats, schemes, and tools are an example of emergent collaboration.
  • Coacting Group – Commonly a collection of individuals performing similar – but not interrelated tasks – are called teams but are instead coacting groups. They are not working together to accomplish a common task. They're working individually to accomplish the same task.
  • Distributed Team – A distributed team isn'tt located together and therefore must rely upon technology and travel to stay coordinated but they do generally have a clear membership and do share a common goal. Distributed teams have coordination challenges. Many of these challenges are described, in agile development and knowledge management literature.
  • Project Team / Task Force – The project team meets the definitions of a real team but tends to have a relatively short life. The team is formed the mission is accomplished and the team is disbanded.
  • Semi-Permanent Work Team – Similar to a project team but more typically aligned departmentally a semi-permanent work team focus on operational work – or a stream of projects – and works together towards those goals with not specific end to the work.

The last three types of collaboration are considered – by Hackman – to be real teams.

Compelling Purpose

Strangely many teams don't know their real purpose. They get wrapped up in the operational details of the work to be done and never get focused on why they're there. Collaborative Intelligence speaks of exercises where a red team (terrorists) are attempting to attack while a blue team (good guys) are attempting to thwart the red team. A great deal of time is spent talking about why the red team has a set of serious advantages from a teamwork perspective. Not the least of which is that the purpose for the red team is quickly formed from a simple offensive goal, whereas the blue team frequently struggles to convert a generic "defend" goal into a set of meaningful actions.

Red teams are given the purpose of disrupting and often start by the members throwing out their skills that might be helpful to the group while blue teams often throw out their positions in their organizations. Red teams move on to forming a specific approach to accomplish their goal while blue teams flounder trying to find their purpose.

While the two teams have a clearly stated goal the red team has the ability to convert their generic purpose into a specific set of actions. Often this goal – where the approach to accomplishing the goal is specified by them – represents some sort of a stretch where they'll need to bring in skills and knowledge from others to accomplish it. This maps neatly into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on Finding Flow. They're able to moderate their difficulty level to a point where they're most effective.

The real "red teams" are also able to frame their objectives in terms of a broader mission. In other words, their work is seen as consequential to their greater purpose.

The blue team may be able to "protect" but this isn't typically specific enough to achieve the goal of a specific set of actions for thwarting the red team. While their work is consequential to protecting their way of life, the difficulty in getting clear about the exact approach can be very disruptive to performance.

Right People

Jim Collins in Good to Great starts off with getting the right people assembled. His metaphor is that you have to get the right people on the bus first. Hackman agrees that having the right people in the right positions is critical to team success. Specifically he was concerned whether or not team members had the right skills – or aptitudes. In his research he found that ensuring that a team had all of the required skills – they knew what to do – or the right aptitudes – they could learn what to do -- was an important first step. The next step was to design the team so that the skills of the individual team members can be leveraged. Teams with the right skills and the right design were nearly 40 times as powerful as teams without the required skills and design.

While Hackman suggests that direct skills are best for team design he also indicates through his research that aptitude for the subject area or even in some cases general intelligence is effective at creating well designed teams. This is particularly true when the team is coupled with good coaching around the areas where they don't have core skills. (See condition number six).

Hackman is equally clear that having the right number and mix of people is essential. It's important to support the team with resources (see condition five) but not to over provide them with resources so that they will blindly accept a sub-optimal strategy. This applies to people resources as well as material resources. Keeping the team slightly under resourced leads to more productive teams.

Finally, Hackman admits that the data is that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. An entire team can become derailed with a single bad person. So it's often better to get rid of one person who is disruptive to teamwork – even if that person has key skills that are perceived as necessary because it's possible that the rest of the team can't be effective with a single bad person in place.

Clear Norms

Defining normal is a power force. One of the barriers to adoption of a new technology or approach is not having norms. Establishing the rules of behavior for teams can be important and powerful as well as helping the team organize into what is – and isn't acceptable. In fact, Hackman found that establishing clear norms was more strongly associated with team effectiveness than any other factor. There are two key factors in how powerful the norms will be.

The first factor in the power of the norm is the vigor with which the group will defend the norm. Some things are defined as normal behavior but for which there aren't clear, consistent consequences for not following. For instance, there may be a norm that you wash your own coffee cups in the break room but since there's a receptionist who will wash them if you don't there's little vigor of enforcement.

The second factor is the level of agreement on what the norm should be. Crystalized norms, those with which there is nearly complete agreement, are different than norms of conduct that most people agree to – but not everyone. The lack of crystalized norms reduces enforcement but also reduces the ability to develop a set of universal expectations about what is and isn't acceptable.

Don't let the simplicity of establishing norms fool you. They are sometimes difficult to create. One way to speed the process is to borrow norms from other groups or situations and either get buy-in or simply decree that it's the normal. As long as no one is willing to stand against the proposed normal, it can quickly be adopted by the group.

Supportive Context

A friend once said – to his boss – that his mission on the helpdesk was like being parachuted in behind enemy lines with only a spoon. Needless to say he didn't feel like he was being well supported. It's not surprising that he and his team struggled to be effective because they found themselves spending most of their time working around the things they did not have. Hackman's work identified that the supportive context of the organization made a big difference in the ability for the team to be effective. Specifically there are four key aspects of supportive context:

  • Access to the information a team needs to accomplish its work.
  • The availability of educational and technical resources to supplement members' own knowledge and skill.
  • Ample material resources for use in carrying out the team's work.
  • External recognition and reinforcement of excellent team performance.

The presence of these four things represent a supportive context under which the team is more likely to succeed. As mentioned earlier, having what a team needs isn't about over supplying the team, however, it is about giving them what's minimally necessary to be successful. One of the specific things that teams need are competent coaching.

Competent Coaching

Most of the research on coaching has been evaluated at an individual level. Did the coaching work for a specific person on the team. Most of the individual coaching is done in the vacuum of an off-site workshop where folks are given a synthetic scenario to solve – or are being taught that their team members will catch them when they fall. While these exercises get good marks in post-event feedback studies, it's not been conclusively proven that these sorts of interventions are successful at driving a chance in outcomes.

The first part of competent coaching is simply finding the right coach with the right experiences to be able to help. Coaching is difficult to measure effectiveness before starting and because each situation is different it's difficult to see if a coach will be effective for your situation. (See wicked problems in Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices.) Strangely Hackman discovered that better coaching was less interactions. Experienced coaches waited longer to provide feedback to give themselves more time to see the problem and to consider a response. They seemed to inherently know that there's a limit to how much coaching an individual can take in a given time.

This runs counter to the idea that the sooner you make a correction through coaching the less rework and redirection must be done. This is, of course, true, however, the other factors in the system are more important than the redirection. (See Thinking in Systems) In fact, Hackman found that different kinds of interventions were better at different times. So not only was it good to reflect on the situation before providing coaching but sometimes the type of coaching changed based on where the team was in its lifecycle.

When starting a project, teams are most responsive to motivational interventions. They want to be "fired up" about the shared challenge that they're getting. However, engaging the team in discussions about the alternative ways of going about the work – picking a process to follow – are ineffective. It isn't until the midpoint of the team's life where they're willing and able to evaluate their processes and refine them. It's then that the consultative approach of optimization and reflection is effective.

The final part of the lifecycle is the near end or post end when things like after action reviews (See The New Edge in Knowledge Management and Lost Knowledge for the importance of after action reviews.) Most teams struggle to do after action reviews because they see little direct value. However, Hackman measured teams effectiveness based on how the teams became more effective both individually and as a team as a part of the process and so the ability to capture what the team learned is important to informing the next teams.

Beyond the timing and quality of the coaching, there are even dimensions of how the training is conducted that are important to whether the training will be effective. The first is whether the coaching is focused on individuals or teams.

Individual coaching may be effective at improving individual skills and in some cases individual coaching on how to participate in a team may be appropriate (see Right People above). However, coaching targeted at the team can be much more effective.

Another dimension of the effectiveness of coaching is whether the coaching is focused on the process of teamwork – or on the task at hand. The assumption is that working on the harmony of the team – the process of teamwork – is what causes teams to be effective. However, it may be that effective teams become harmonious – that we're reading the causal relationship in reverse. It appears that the goal of a team shouldn't be harmony – because there are numerous successful teams that aren't harmonious – but instead the focus should be on respect. If you respect and trust one another the team is more likely to be able to avoid traps like "groupthink." (See my post on Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more on trust.)

The research indicates that coaching on the actual work that the team is doing is more effective than process coaching. It seems that helping the teams solve their problems and better understanding the challenges of their space is more effective at helping them than coaching them how to operate more effectively. Hackman's research showed that no amount of team structuring, or process coaching was effective at improving performance of a team when there weren't the people who had the requisite skills or the ability to get them. In fact, process coaching when the team didn't have fundamental skills just reduced their performance.

60-30-10 – Setup, Startup, and Operation

Hackman asserts that sixty percent of a team's effectiveness is in the setup, another thirty percent is in the startup of the group, and only the remaining ten percent can be accounted for by tweaking various operational parameters after the team is up and running.

The setup, in Hackman's view, is the team's purpose, composition, and design. That is what the team is tasked to do, the team members selected, and the roles that the members are expected to perform.

Certainly there are others that would agree that setting the right goal is important. We saw Loyola implore the Jesuits to focus on the right outcome not the trivial details in Heroic Leadership. Covey was clear about beginning with the end in mind in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The composition – getting the right people – is something Jim Collins emphasized in Good to Great. It's also the focus of books like Who: The A Method for Hiring. There's a great deal of research on how impactful getting the right hires for an organization can be.

Judging simply by the sheer number of management books available all aimed at getting the right skills into the right roles there's little doubt that there's a belief that the design of the team – what they're expected to do – is important as well.

The next step in Hackman's model is the startup or launching of the team. One component of launching is the communication of the purpose of the team. Something that no doubt Patrick Lencioni would approve of, given the focus on clarity in The Advantage. Similarly John Kotter's model for change focuses on the need to build a coalition and communicating the change as discussed in Leading Change and The Heart of Change.

Similarly how a team is introduced to one another is important. By introducing skills – rather than introducing positions or groups – the team can focused on how they work together not what stereotypes they have of the group from which the member came.

Finally, Hackman discusses how facilitating – coaching – can be effective. However, he cautions, as mentioned above, that the right kind of coaching should happen that the appropriate time in the team's lifecycle.

Cost and Utility of Information

One rather accidental observation that Hackman raises repeatedly is the bias for intelligence groups to treat information that is difficult to obtain as more valuable than information that is readily available from public sources. This reminds me of an admonishment from a CEO when I was doing product management work years ago to not do "cost+" pricing. That is that the price that we can obtain from the market for a product doesn't have anything to do with the actual cost of manufacturing. We should focus on the utility of the product and what the market is willing to bare – instead of what it costs us. Douglas Hubbard in How to Measure Anything also shares that just because something is harder to get doesn't make it better – in fact, it often makes it less good.

The point, however, isn't that we shouldn't judge the value of information based on its cost – the point is that we as humans often have trouble separating the effort that we spent to get something and the value it delivers. Luckily I have a reasonably good reminder. I have desks that I literally built out of door jamb, file cabinets and pieces of tempered glass. The desks weren't expensive – but they're incredibly effective at keeping my stuff off the floor. It's my visual reminder that just because something is more expensive doesn't make it better.

Collaboration in the End

Good collaboration – good teams – in the end are about the organization of appropriate individual team member skills to accomplish the goal and for the development of everyone involved. Good collaboration has each member supporting other member's weaknesses without complaining or condemnation. Team members build each other up rather than tearing them down. If you want to figure out how to create these kinds of teams, read Collaborative Intelligence.


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