Blog

Forgiveness
  • 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.

  • 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.