Blog

Communication
  • Where Are the Ground Rules When We Need Them?

    It is more and more common that when groups are forming, they create ground rules as guides for productive behavior. Many ground rules are similar: Start on time, end on time, disagree respectfully, don't interrupt each other, listen deeply, stay on topics, no attribution of who said what, etc. Some groups have just a few and others have a long list.

    What happens to the list of ground rules after that first meeting? Usually the ground rules are buried in the meeting notes never to be seen again. They are not too useful in that state.

    I like to have the ground rules on a piece of battered flip chart paper that I bring to every meeting I facilitate with the group. (I have often forgotten to bring the ground rules and then regretted not having them.)  If people start interrupting each other or getting off track, I can use the ground rules we created together to help people adjust their behavior. I can just go and stand by the list and sometimes that's enough to make people aware of behavior that is not what the group hopes for. I sometimes remind groups of the ground rules which can easily be forgotten in the heat of a discussion. Sometimes I ask the group frankly: "We have a ground rule that we are not observing. Do we want to change it or get rid of it?" 

    It is a delicate balance between coming off as a jerk and being a gentle shepherd of the process. That's why it's so important that the group create its own ground rules. As a group facilitator or leader, you are helping them observe their own rules, not yours.

    Every group violates its own ground rules sooner or later. We are all human beings. The point is that when we do slip up, we apologize, correct ourselves and keep going forward. The healthier the group, the greater the likelihood individuals will self-correct when their ground rules are violated.

    One group at Maricopa Community Colleges has its ground rules printed on the back of members' name tents, so they are always in close sight. A group at Madison College has its ground rules posted in its conference room. Another option is to have the ground rules at the bottom of every agenda.

    Ground rules can be a useful guide to shaping group norms and behavior, but only when they are in plain sight.

  • The Power of an Apology

    I was furious. My 83 year old mother had arrived at the hospital via ambulance. She was having trouble breathing and chest pains. Her thin body was trembling and her words were slurred.

    The doctor in the ER strode into the examining room. “Hey, have you been drinking?” he asked her with a humorless laugh. Everything he did and said after that telegraphed “I don’t give a hoot.” He talked with the nurses about his expensive vacation and brushed off questions about mom’s condition. We were angry at how cavalierly this guy was treating our mother. He diagnosed pneumonia, but sent her home without a prescription for oxygen. Later that day, her condition was so serious, we drove her to a hospital 30 miles away where she remained for four days.

    A week later, Mom suffered complications and was back in the ER. That same doctor was there. (We had penned, but not yet sent, a letter of bitter complaint.) My brother and I told the admitting nurse that we didn’t want him to treat mom because we had a bad experience with him last time. As we waited for a different doctor, my brother and I could see this man going over charts. It suddenly seemed juvenile not to tell him ourselves why we didn’t want him near our mother. I asked to speak to him in the hall. I told him how disappointed we had been with how he had treated our mother previously and gave some specifics.

    He said he didn’t remember her or us. He said flatly, “I don’t know what I’m apologizing for, but I’m sorry.” He walked away.

    My brother and I looked at each other and wondered, “What just happened?” Well at least we had spoken the truth as we saw it and had communicated directly. We decided to send the letter of complaint later the next day.

    About 45 minutes later as we sat next to my mother’s bed, my brother’s cell phone rang. It was the doctor apologizing profusely. He said he realized he had been right at the end of his shift and probably wasn’t at his best. He then went on to tell my brother how much it means to him to practice good medicine and to take good care of people. He said he hadn’t been aware of how he was coming across. “Apology accepted,” I heard my brother say and “Thank you very much for calling me.”

    That call lifted such a heavy burden of anger off all our shoulders. I could literally breathe more freely. It was as if I had put down a bag of rocks. We agreed that it was no longer necessary to send a complaint letter. These very real feelings of relief reinforced for me how anger consumes so much energy from our minds and bodies. It takes energy to stay mad. I would like to devote that energy to other things.

    The experience also reminded me how powerful a sincere apology can be. I look at that doctor with new eyes.  I believe that if mom has to be treated by him again in the future, that she will get considerate and thorough care. It’s a good lesson. A sincere and humble apology has the power to heal.

  • Reviewer Focuses on Interdependence

    In his review of Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™,  UK Consultant Philip Whiteley seized on “Declare Your Interdependence.”

     

    He says, “When I reached the third of the three principles…I thought I had mis-read. Where I expected to read ‘declare your independence’, it runs: ‘declare your inter-dependence’ (my emphasis). This was the first indication that something original is going on. I rather tire of ‘how to’ books that place too much of a burden on the individual to sort out their workplace context. But she strikes the right balance, warning individuals against victimhood, and blaming the context for lack of effort to achieve.”

    Whiteley says he uses the book as a guide in negotiating and contracting with people he doesn’t know well and recommends it for anyone “charting difficult waters” at work. In addition to these practical uses, Whitely says the book’s focus on teamwork and interdependence has deeper implications for organizational design and philosophy. “I’m aware that a few organizations, Nokia, Southwest Airlines, WL Gore, for example, have broken out of this and embraced much more teamwork. The next step is to start to encourage shareholders and others to look at companies through this prism, rather than stick to the mono-culture of the quarterly report.”

    See the full review at http://felipewh.wordpress.com.

    Whiteley is the author of How to Manage in a Flat World: 10 Strategies to Get Connected to Your Team Wherever They Are.

  • Moving People’s Desks Every Year

    Employees change desks each year for stronger teamwork at Care.com.

    CEO and founder Sheila Lirio Marcelo says that all employees of her company, Care.com, change desks every year. In her NYT interview, she says that the rotation is mandatory and the arrangement is determined by corporate leadership. The annual change of location reduces “turfiness” and enables the 40-employee staff to get to know each other. The end result is stronger teamwork. Marcelo says that new space each year has “actually become an exciting thing that people embrace.”

    Marcelo also heartily supports the practice of keeping a journal for raising awareness of one’s own style and behaviors with the aim of improving.  See “Be A Better Leader—Take Notes!”.  Care.com helps people find babysitters, nannies, senior care providers, pet sitters and other specialized care services across the U.S..

  • Getting Serious About Email Marketing

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email

    I just read that only 3% of US homes do not have Email which means, of course, that the overwhelming majority do. And given the fact that so many people access their Email on their phones, it’s important to think about how the email message and graphics are going to play on that tiny screen. These stats were provided by Active Web Group which also advised that the majority of electronic devices are used at home from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening. Another good guide for when to communicate. Sometimes organizations and groups want to avoid investing in Email and electronic marketing with the comment that “Not everyone has Email.” That argument really doesn’t hold up anymore.

  • Operating Principles Can Build Trust In An Organization

    Creating a set of operating principles for how employees will behave towards each other and those they serve can be the foundation on which a more cohesive, trusting and trustworthy workplace culture can be created. And although giants like Google and Whole Foods Market have created operating principles, no group is too small or too large to take this step. As my article for Leadership Strategies, Inc. emphasizes, operating principles only have power if everyone from the CEO to the newest employee is expected to follow them.

    See Build Trust with Operating Principles at Leadership Strategies, Inc.

  • We Can Rewire Our Minds

    We carry many unconscious habits and prejudices from our past experiences into our everyday work and family lives.

    Yet scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is showing that we can literally change the way we think, act, and see the world. Our brains have much greater plasticity and capacity to change than previously thought. See the NightLine story on the impacts of meditation at 

    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/changing-brain-meditation-14249224

  • Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life!

    Most strategic plans are never implemented. Organizations may put a great deal of time and effort into creating a strategic plan and then neglect to implement it.

    To paraphrase author Patrick Below, the purpose of planning is not to create plans. The purpose of planning is to create results.

    I have watched my clients create amazing results with planning and intentional implementation activities. Now I have put everything I know that works for making the plan happen into one book, Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide for Nonprofits and Public Agencies (iUniverse, 2011). The book is just out on Amazon and lists for $13.95. I wanted to keep the price as low as possible so organizations could purchase multiple copies for leaders and board members. This book is short on theory and long on what to do right now. I provided a lot of space for taking notes and filling in the questions, forms and formats. I hope readers will mark it up with highlighters and notes to themselves and really make this resource their own.

  • Three Ways to Use Your Operating Principles

    Leaders may know intuitively that having clearly stated operating principles or values is a healthy step for an organization. But once they are created, what happens next? Follow the example of netlogx and learn three ways to unleash the power of the principles.

    Creating operating principles or values statements is a way to build trust. Operating principles describe the way members of an organization behave in interactions with each other and those they serve—customers, clients, students, stakeholders. Having operating principles clearly spelled out makes expectations crystal clear. Operating principles also give anyone in the organization a way to talk about behavior that is outside the boundaries.

    Although common themes can usually be seen, every organization will express operating principles differently. If your office or work group has established operating principles—bravo! You have taken a step towards creating and maintaining a healthy workplace. What’s next? How can you put them to work?

    1. Talk about them as a group

    netlogx is an Indianapolis-based information technology and security company  poised to expand not only nationally, but internationally. While growing, the company also intends to retain its status as a family-friendly preferred employer.

    At the start of the company’s expansion journey, Audrey Taylor, Managing Partner and the executive team identified a draft of operating principles and then took the draft to the entire group of 30+ team members. The aim of this all-hands meeting was to make the operating principles more real for everyone. The question was, “Think of a situation in which netlogx will ‘live’ each of these principles.” Working in small groups, the netlogx staff described many current activities and scenarios where the operating principles were clearly already in full swing. An additional operating principle was suggested by the staff and added to the official netlogx list. (Talking about what the principles look like in action is essential if they are going to guide behavior. Especially for the new team members in the group, the netlogx discussion evoked a response of “Wow, this is really a great place to be.”(netlogx Operating Principles are shown below.)

    2. Use to screen new team members

    netlogx expects to at least double its staff in the next several years. The operating principles make a nuanced screening tool for selecting new team members. Using the list in the interview, ask the question, “Which of our operating principles appeal to you most and why?” This gives people who are most likely to fit into this culture an opportunity to show it. People who really resonate to the principles will be able to provide examples of how they have encountered situations that relate or why they believe the principles are important. Anyone who can’t make a personal connection with at least several of the operating principles is probably not a good gamble.

    3. Use in performance review

    In addition to discussing goals and objectives in a performance review, ask team members how they have “lived” the operating principles in carrying out their work. Ask them which of the principles are most challenging to live out on a daily basis. This conversation may point towards particular professional development. For example, a manager may reveal that he or she is very uncomfortable to give team members negative feedback (e.g. communicate honestly), even when a change is clearly needed. This can be addressed with online learning, role-playing, identifying a mentor, attending a seminar or workshop, or “bibliotherapy,” like the always excellent Crucial Conversation Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition (Patterson, et al., 2012).

    Most every organization will violate its own operating principles at one time or another. Perfection is not the goal. Awareness and sincere intentions to live by the principles are what matter. If tended to over time, as described here, the principles can shape behavior and soak into the bones of the organization. When the principles are violated, give team members (or yourself) a “do-over” and move forward. A slip doesn’t mean the operating principles aren’t working. In fact, acknowledging a slip is an indication that the principles are alive and well.

     

    netlogx Operating Principles

     

    Integrity

    Possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles and professional standards

    Respect

    Express consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something

    Communication

    Connect clearly, honestly, directly, frequently, and with empathy with anyone in the organization

    Recognition

    Acknowledgment of achievement

    Empowerment

    Make decisions, learn from the outcomes and thereby develop a greater sense of confidence or self-worth

    Initiative

    Embrace challenges, managing expectations and taking practical and pragmatic responsibility for their work

     

    Note: Humor is an underlay for all the principles.

    For more information, visit netlogx.

  • Planning Ahead for Difficult Meetings

    Have a difficult meeting coming up? Here are 16 questions to ask yourself as you prepare.

    Successful meetings, especially those that are potentially difficult or high stakes, require advance planning and preparation. Following is a list of questions to think through before the meeting begins.

    1. Are the purposes and expected product(s) of the meeting crystal clear?
    2. Is the agenda “actionable” In other words, are the items written as verbs—decide, review, recommend, discuss, select?
    3. Is the room arrangement optimal for the work at hand?
    4. Are the right people included?
    5. Are ground rules agreed upon?
    6. Is it clear up front how the final decision(s) will be made (consensus, voting, secret ballot, etc.)?
    7. Are planning and decision-making tools used (affinity process, dots, criteria matrix, etc.)?
    8. Has the group identified the characteristics of a good decision (least expensive, reaches a particular group, reflects our values, etc.)?
    9. Are basic meeting roles shared (leader, facilitator, scribe, timekeeper)?
    10. Is a neutral outside facilitator used for highly emotional discussions or decisions?
    11. Is time allotted for silent independent writing before group discussion?
    12. For large groups, is discussion begin first in smaller groups, then the larger body?
    13. Are appreciative questions posed (What has gone well? What do we want to continue doing? What values do we want to hold onto as we move forward?)?
    14. Have processes been built in to ensure that everyone can participate (round robin responses, 3 x 5 cards, interviews in pairs, World Cafe)?
    15. Have we tapped into the power of the visual (discussion questions posted on wall or screen, voting with dots, data displayed graphically)?
    16. Have we discussed security?

    Finally, if you walk into a meeting and there is no agenda prepared, suggest that one be created on the spot. At least one organization I know of has empowered any employee to decline or even walk out of a meeting that has no agenda. Who has time to waste?

  • More on the value of saying Thank You

    One of the most effective ways to become a better leader is to take the time to say “Thank You.”

    Most people have not heard a word of thanks from their boss in months. This article from SmartBrief suggests being specific about what is appreciated.