Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Wisdom of Letting Go

"Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day."

What thoughts, ideas, misinformation, grudges, fears, doubts, unrealistic expectations, self-limiting-beliefs, and/or unfair judgments might you let go of today?

What specific things do you need to learn to be able to do that? Probably none.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Client Story: a "Subtle Bulldozer"

One of my long-standing clients faced a particularly thorny problem 'head-on' last week. As a result, she was able to identify the precise steps she wanted to take ... and implement them to great success.

Being able to talk through issues like this with an objective advocate is one of the many benefits of working with a coach.

There's a "subtle bulldozer" quality of coaching (her term) that not only helps people plan for action, but also helps them clear away the debris that often keeps them from being as creative, confident, resolute, and fun-loving, as they would like. And it does it in a way that makes the heavy lifting seem that much less so.

I guess I wanted to blog about this client story in part to recognize her success and because I really appreciate the clarity her description offers about the coaching process.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Helping others find their way

"If you give people light, they will find their own way." - Dante.

Who might benefit from a little extra light ... from you?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Makes an Excellent Team?

"The ability to sustain outstanding results over time is the most obvious characteristic of an excellent team." So says Jesse Stoner, EdD in his work called Benchmarks of Team Excellence.

But if team excellence is the outcome, what then are the benchmarks that enable that outcome to occur? Stoner identifies six of them:
  1. Alignment - whereby team members share a common vision or purpose for the team's existence.
  2. Processes - whereby the policies and procedures enable team members to coordinate their efforts smoothly and effectively (Stoner calls this Team Effectiveness, but I like using the term 'Processes' better as it's more about the infrastructure that required than the outcome resulting from it).
  3. Empowerment - whereby team members feel authorized to do what's necessary to get the job done, and supported in their efforts in doing so.
  4. Passion - whereby each member brings a high level of enthusiasm, energy, excitement, excellence, and confidence to the group.
  5. Commitment - whereby each member feels a deep commitment to purpose of the team ... and to each other.
  6. Standards - whereby the group purposefully raises the level of performance above and beyond what is necessary. (Stoner calls this Results.)

If your team isn't operating at as high a level as you'd like, take a look at where they are on these 6 benchmarks. Start with alignment and work your way down the list.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Describing Team Performance

In his work Benchmarks of Team Excellence, Jesse Stoner, EdD identifies 5 levels of team performance. Where does your team place?
  • Excellence - Teams at this level produce consistently outstanding results. Meetings tend to be more about the future than on today's crises. Conflict is handled openly and directly.
  • Effective - Teams at this level produce consistently good results. Team member passion and energy is noticeably lower, though, and they sometimes fail to communicate with each other as proactively as they might.
  • Typical - Teams at this level produce good, sometimes even outstanding, results, but tend to do so inconsistently. Team members often do not understand the team's mission, how their goals align with that mission, or how their goals relate to other team member goals. As such, they're typically more focused on performing their own roles and responsibilities than they are on team performance.
  • Unfocused - Teams at this level tend not to function well at all. While the work often gets done, it is not through any coordinated effort, unless the group leader directly manages that coordination. Individual team members have very little commitment to the team.
  • Unconnected - Teams at this level are not really teams at all; they are just collections of individuals doing their work with little interest in, concern for, each other.

Tomorrow's post will look at the underlying benchmarks, or elements, of Team Excellence and what you might do to help move them up-the-chain.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Making Mistakes ... On Purpose

"While few companies are willing to commit to a course that looks like an error, the power of intentionally taking the wrong road can be seen in the high payoffs that have come from strategies that initially seemed like mistakes."
So say Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther in "The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes," an article that appeared in the June 2006 issue of the Harvard Business review (reprint R0606G).

One such example of mistakes-on-purpose-being-helpful came courtesy of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Mandated by Congress to build robotic, non-remote controlled, ground vehicles, they responded by sponsoring an unmanned-vehicle race, offering $1million to the winner. Purposefully engaging amateurs and university students in Pentagon matters? What, were they crazy?

No one won the race, but the 'losers' helped DARPA identify no less than 13 fatal design flaws that could now be avoided in their own design efforts.

But how can we decide which mistakes are smart ones to make and which ones are just plain dumb? The authors offer these insights:
  1. Identify underlying assumptions - focus on assumptions that are core to the issue.
  2. Select specific assumptions for testing - focus on the ones where you'd do things differently if you know these assumptions were false.
  3. Rank the assumptions - look for where the potential gains greatly outweigh their costs.
  4. Create your strategy - craft a meaningful mistake for the highest ranked assumptions.
  5. Execute the mistake.
  6. Learn from the process.
Admittedly, the authors acknowledge that mistakes made on purpose like this aren't really mistakes as much as experimentation. But I still like the idea. My 'tweak' would be to get real clear - in advance of the experiment - how you will 'mop up' the mess in the even that the 'mistake' goes bad.

That way, you can jump into your mistake-making with both feet without worry and better focus your attention on learning what's to learn.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Care and Feeding of your Gear-Train

I was looking through some of my old class materials from my teaching days at Northwestern University (teaching nights, actually!) and ran across a great little article by Michael J.Robson called, Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. (Quality Digest magazine, January 1993.) The idea of the piece was that, like a 10-speed bicycle, we all have gears we rarely use.

Taking Robson's premise a step further, in addition to the gears we tend not to use enough, we probably also have gears we use too frequently. Given that, here are some suggestions for effectively switching gears, as it were:
  1. a. Use more of your 'accepting constructive criticism' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'ego leads the way' gear.
  2. a. Use more of your 'encourage staff to contribute more fully' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'disregard the opinions of those who don't' gear.
  3. a. Use more of your 'this could be interesting' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'close-minded and cynical' gear.
  4. a. Use more of your 'clarifying the goal' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'activity in lieu of achievement' goal.
  5. a. Use more of your 'collaborating with others' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'I'll just do it myself' gear.
  6. a. Use more of your 'I'll finish this up by 5:05pm' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'I'll stay late and work through dinner' gear.
  7. a. Use more of your 'holding staff accountable' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'letting them drop the ball ... Again' gear.
  8. a. Use more of your 'being curious and engaged' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'being judgmental and enraged' gear.
  9. a. Use more of your 'confident, capable, and caring' gear.
    b. Use less of your 'fear, uncertainty, and doubt' gear.
  10. a. Use more of your 'creativity and resourcefulness gear.
    b. Use less of your 'I just don't know what to do about this' gear.

What other gears do you want to become more facile at shifting in and out of?


Monday, August 14, 2006

So what did YOU read this summer?

I know for a fact that many of you enjoy a good book, whether it's printed-, electronic-, or audio-format. And I know that many of you have been worked your way through quite a number of titles. Well here's your chance to share:

Tell us, if you will what titles did you read this summer?

I'll get things started in the comments section.

P.S. If you've got a favorite blog you'd like to recommend, included it, too.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

What's your Decision-Making Tempo?

Do you tend to make decisions too quickly, or not quickly enough?
Do you tend to step into action too soon, or not soon enough?
How do you determine when the time for these things is the right time?

We often assume that the only relevant decision-making variables are the What and the Why (and to a lesser extent the Who and the Where).

But what about the When?

Deciding too soon forces you to omit some potentially decision-changing information into the process. But not deciding soon enough has its own set of implications. Acting too quickly might cause you to unnecessarily misstep, but not stepping into action quickly enough will likely get you left behind.

Pick an issue you're working on and consider if the tempo of your decision-making is optimal. Modify your actions accordingly.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If you can't quantify, make it tangible

Often times, bosses want to assess an employee's progress by looking at statistics that validate said progress. But meaningful 'quants' - quantifiable data - aren't always available. (And just because certain statistics can be collected doesn't mean that they're the right statistics to be looking at.)

So what can you do when there are no stats to provide? Provide tangible data. Examples of tangible data include:
  • a completed report
  • an optimized workflow
  • a fully-articulated strategy
  • new customer endorsements
  • meetings with higher-level vendor personnel
  • a problem avoided - yes, as counter-intuitive as this may seem, the absence of something can be considered a form of tangible data

Obviously quants are best - especially when the boss is looking for them. But as Henry Clay said: "Statistics are no substitute for judgment." So don't underestimate the value of having gotten things done.

Just be ready to explain how your tangibles meaningfully advanced the business, operation, department, etc.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gotta Love Those Linear Days

So those of you who have been following GottaGettaBlog! already know, probably, that I'm a big fan of what I call Linear Days. There was:

Today is a variation on the theme - it's a reverse Linear Day:

  • 8-7-6 (August 7, 2006)

Don't know what it means, but at four minutes after 5 should be an interesting moment: 8-7-6, 5:04.

3...2...1...blast off!


Thursday, August 03, 2006


Okay. You've been working really hard lately - and it's paid off handsomely ... or not. Regardless, it's now time to relax and recharge a bit. So how about it?

There are all sorts of ways to relax and they don't all require a lot of time or effort on your part. As example, how about you:
  • taking a day off?
  • scheduling a long lunch?
  • enjoying an extended coffee break?
  • listening to an entire song on the radio?
  • sitting quietly for 30-seconds?
Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can't take the time for a few really deeps breaths. Don't kid yourself into thinking that they wouldn't be helpful.

Go on, relax. (And then get back to work!)