Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We've Got To Do Better Than This!

Occasionally, I'll get a request to allow a company to contribute to the blog or to advertise its wares. I haven't taken up any of these requests, and I don't plan to in the future. Today, however, I received an email from Dollie Todd who works for Best Colleges As its name suggests, Best Colleges Online helps potential students to learn about top online colleges and choose the best program to meet there needs.

Dollie asked me if I would like to share an article they had just published on their website: 11 Unbelievable Group Project Horror Stories How could I resist given my love for exploring human folly - including my own?

Although the stories are from the world of education, the same human foibles are demonstrated everyday in the world of business - plain ignorance; a lack of commitment; a vacuum where human caring and empathy should be; last minute - or no -contributions; disappearing into the black hole of virtual space, and so on.

Given that the stories are from education, I wondered to what extent our learning institutions are preparing people to engage in virtual collaboration? Research highlights the importance of this competency in the new workplace, but to what extent are students given any kind of training, guidelines, or processes for undertaking their projects. What are the rewards for collaborating, and  were there any consequences for being a poor team player?  Were students asked not just to produce a project report, but also a reflective review of how they worked - or didn't work - as a team? I would love to hear more about virtual collaboration successes stories in student education.

Just because most young people are technologically literate doesn't mean they have a clue about working together in virtual space. Being left to cope can be a lesson in itself, although rarely a positive one. Do we want young people entering the new workplace with only a negative mindset about virtual teamwork?  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yammer and Training

First, I should make a disclaimer. I have no relationship with the Yammer organization or with anyone employed at Yammer. I have no self-interest in saying nice things about the tool.  In coming up with ideas for using Yammer in training, I did scan some Yammer blog entries, but that is the limit of my contact.
At TMA World, we use Yammer as an internal social networking tool, but recognize that its potential goes beyond straightforward social and business communication.
We have built what we call our One World Curriculum (OWC) consisting of learning paths in global collaboration and management skills.  Each learning path consists of the following:
  • Pre-session materials and activities, such as, e-learning, video overviews, and  assessments
  • Session materials for either virtual or face-to-face classes
  • Deployment tools and resources such as short instructional videos, discussion groups, templates

We have also built our own Portal for supporting the delivery and deployment of our training, but if we didn’t how could Yammer contribute? Here are some ideas that could be of benefit to you in your training initiatives?
  • Facilitators who teach the program could form a Yammer Group to share their experiences and tips.
  • Participants can be asked to join a dedicated Yammer Group for the training. This will help forge a learning community before the session. It will also reduce time needed in the session for introductions and logistics.
  • Based on the Yammer conversations, the facilitator could adapt the training to the specific needs expressed by participants.
  • Yammer could be used to provide links to a program overview, agenda, objectives, expectations, and pre-session materials.  The Yammer Events app can help schedule sessions and invite participants.
  • The facilitator could pose questions on Yammer to help identify the current mindsets, knowledge and skills in the group.  

During the Session
  • Small groups of participants can use Yammer for recording outputs of their brainstorming and discussion time.  These can be accessed and added to after the session; this provides those who don’t feel comfortable participating in live sessions, or those who like time to process (like me), an opportunity to contribute.
  • In virtual team exercises, Yammer could be used as a communication device between groups.
  • A participant(s) can act as a scribe during the session. His or notes would be immediately available on Yammer.
  • Various Yammer applications could be used to engage participants in the training, e.g. Pages combines real time collaboration on document editing with Yammer communication. The Polls and Ideas apps can keep things lively by identifying differences in the value given to specific topics.
  • Participants often mention favorite web sites about a topic, and links could immediately be posted on Yammer.  Favorite books or articles in the group could also be referenced.

 After the Session
  • The facilitator can keep the learning conversation going by helping maintain the training group on Yammer; participants could discuss experiences and lessons learned when deploying the training. All of the groups who have been through the training could become part of a mega exchange and support network. 
  • Any action plans created in the session could be shared on Yammer.  Group members could be encouraged to support one another in deploying them.
  • Yammer could also be used to identify totally different areas of expertise in the group and facilitate knowledge sharing.
  • Links to additional useful resources could be put on Yammer rather than add to email traffic congestion.
  • Using the Topics app, conversations can be tagged to facilitate their organization and accessibility.  

Let me know if you have other ideas and I’ll share them on this blog.

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Moonshots' For a Much Needed Management Revolution

I’m all for a revolution in management. Let’s reinvent organizations of all kinds to better serve humankind. It’s been a dismal few decades in which we’ve seen an epidemic of greed - and a mentality of ‘everything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught’ – bring economies to their knees and destroy trust in business, government, and other institutions. Human folly is always with us (just read history or great literature), but so too is the aspiration for human betterment. Business at its best creates individual and societal wealth, and I can’t wait for the corrosive ‘virtue of selfishness’ and ‘there’s no such thing as society’ ideas to be treated for what they are - hazardous waste to be handled with great care. Capitalism doesn’t need a PR job; it needs to engage in its own process of creative destruction and renewal. 

As well as the broad issue of the economic system, we also need to revolutionize how we manage work. Some of my most miserable years were spent working in a U.S. corporation in which hierarchy, routine, aggressive internal competition, and control ruled. For a somewhat creative and initiative-taking person like myself who wanted to do the best job possible, it was a soul destroying - even degrading - experience.
I have a great respect for the work of Gary Hamel, and his latest book What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change (Jossey-Bass, 2012) addresses both of the critical issues I’ve mentioned above.  It’s not only insightful, but also a good read.  Hamel sees management as the technology of human accomplishment, but the old scientific-industrial paradigm that has defined this technology for at least a century is now more negative than positive in our growing creativity and innovation-based economy.  The mechanical control view of management served us well when we were moving from an agrarian and craft-based economy to an industrial economy, but now gets in our way.

In 2008, Hamel was instrumental in bringing together 36 management experts in Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco. Their mission was to “create a roster of make-or-break management ‘moonshots’ that would inspire business innovators everywhere.”  Here are those ‘moonshots’:

Mending the Soul
1.       Ensuring that management serves a higher purpose
2.       Embedding the ethos of community and citizenship
3.       Humanizing the language and practice of business
Unleashing Capabilities
4.       Increasing trust, reducing fear
5.       Reinventing the means of control
6.       Inspiring leaps of imagination
7.       Expanding and exploiting diversity
8.       Enabling communities of passion
9.       Taking the work out of work
Fostering Renewal
10.   Sharing the work of setting direction
11.   Harnessing the power of evolution
12.   Destructuring and disaggregating organizations
13.   Creating internal markets for ideas, talent, and resources
14.   Depoliticizing decision making
Distributing Power
15.   Building natural, flexible hierarchies
16.   Expanding the scope of autonomy
17.   Refocusing the work of leadership on mobilizing and mentoring
18.   Creating a democracy of information
19.   Encouraging the dissenters
Seeking Harmony
20.   Developing holistic performance measures
21.   Transcending traditional trade-offs
22.   Stretching management time frames and perspectives
Reshaping Minds
23.   Strengthening the right hemisphere
24.   Retooling management for an open world
25.   Reconstructing the philosophical foundations of management
To learn more about these ‘moonshots’ – and remember, we did get to the moon – get a hold of Gary Hamel’s new book, and if you want to join in the conversation visit the open innovation project also known as the MIX.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Are You Getting Unstuck

This really isn't my thing. I'm probably too old, or not in the mood for personal growth. Bah humbug! (I've had a sinus infection) Unstuck is a new iPad app that is creating lots of buzz; Oprah likes it apparently.
Unstuck was launched on December 8, 2011. Developed by SYPartners - a firm with nearly 20 years of experience in helping clients, leaders and teams transform themselves - it aims to help individuals from holding themselves back from achieving their goals and designing their futures. That's huge! Not bad for a free app.

Unstuck takes you through a process that helps you get out of stuck moments. First, it helps clarify what kind of stuck moment you're having, and what that says about your stuckness. You might be diagnosed as one of 11 stuck varieties that include the Tunnel Visionary, the Deflated Doer or the Perplexed Planner. I was defined as the Reluctant Adapter (along with 7% of other stuckees).  But given a different stuck place, I could be another variety, and, therefore, be taken down a different path. As any good algorithmic personal coach does, it takes you on a trouble-shooting journey (via fill-in-the-blanks), and helps you work towards a solution.

Some people are going to love it; it's easy, and simple in every way you could imagine. You're not going to get challenged in any meaningful way, and you will undoubtedly end up with platitudes like 'trust your gut', but if it helps, why not?

Why am I talking about this? Well, Unstuck has community ambitions. As the number of subscriptions increase, you will be able to share your stuckness with others who are - or have been - in a similar stuck place. You will be able to "work as a team and share the goodwill to help one another get unstuck." Collaborative unstuckiness!

I don't know. If I'm stuck, I think I'll do things the old fashioned way and sleep on it, or reach for Angry Birds.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Soccer and the Art of Collaboration

Before writing another word, have a wonderful 2012!
I’ve played or watched soccer (or football in my country of origin - England) since I was a toddler. It’s sometimes called ‘the beautiful game’, and it can be. At it is best it is free-flowing and fast-paced; a game of skill, strength, and close teamwork. A game that can be intensely exciting, even if the final result is 0-0. Many times, a collaborative, cohesive and committed team will defeat a group of individual superstars.
One of the fundamental skills in soccer is anticipation – getting into the heads of teammates as well as those of opposition players. What do soccer players need to anticipate?
Anticipating needs
A teammate with the ball will very soon find him or herself challenged by one or more offensive players. I remember that getting caught in possession of the ball was a cardinal sin; you had to keep the ball moving between players by passing to teammates who were in a space where they could receive the ball without being put under too much pressure.  The key word in that last sentence is ‘space’. When you don’t have the ball, one of your primary responsibilities is to create a space which provides your teammate with the ball a possibility of passing to you. You look at the situation and create options for your teammate – you see the challenge and anticipate his or her need. Barcelona is an example of a football team that plays this passing game extremely well; players without the ball are in constant motion creating open space and options.
Anticipating opportunities
Football is not just physical; it is also a thinking game.  The best players can assess the possibilities in situations quickly, identify the best possible outcomes, and put themselves in positions that make those outcomes a reality. There are opportunities to attack even when defending heavily (the fast counterattack), and good players can anticipate and be prepared for such opportunities. The player that anticipates the next move is the one who is going to be in the right place at the right time.
Anticipate conditions and their consequences
Soccer is played in all kinds of weather, and the conditions can greatly alter how a team and individual should play the game. A ball bounces and travels differently on a wet or dry surface, and can be unpredictable on an uneven surface or on a pitch at high altitude. If you don’t anticipate and prepare for the conditions, you – and the team - are unlikely to perform at your best.
Anticipate strengths and weaknesses
Every team has strengths and weaknesses; the more you know about them on your team the better able you will be to anticipate how best to play to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses. Whatever position on the field you play, what can you do to support teammates and achieve best results? As an attacker or midfielder, how can you help close gaps in defense, and as a defender or midfielder what can you do to push the attack forward?
Anticipation is critical to collaborative team success. As a leader or team member think like a soccer player (I don’t know enough about American football, but I am sure there are similarities):
  • Am I anticipating the needs of others and creating options that benefit my individual teammates and the team, e.g. by sharing information
  • Am I anticipating opportunities for the team and positioning myself (and others) to take advantage of them?
  • Am I anticipating the conditions under which we’ll be collaborating - both favorable and unfavorable – and preparing to adjust. A virtual collaboration is a different game to face-to-face collaboration.
  • Am I anticipating the strengths and weakness of myself and others in undertaking the project and being mutual supportive?