A Messy Business: Principles for Effective Collaboration

Collaboration is a messy business.  It is time-intensive and can be interpersonally challenging.

It is also the best way that we know to solve the worlds’ complex problems: from vast issues like climate change, health and education, to more concrete issues like how to create a sustainable, regenerative building or a state of the art hospital (or sometimes both!).

Genesis Building Effective CollaborationTerry Taylor and I have been working with Jim Bedrick, an expert in “Integrated Project Delivery“(IDP), a form of construction that builds buildings which have a very different design process.  Instead of using a “Design-Bid-Build” system, where architects, construction managers and subcontractors, and owners are all three separate teams, they use IPD- a system that brings these groups together onto one team, and asks them to collaborate from the ground up.  This is pretty radical in the competitive field of construction – and what they are finding is that it is possible to solve building conundrums more effectively and – here’s the crux – more innovatively – than in the old system where groups were in a competitive stance from day 1.

We have been working together to design a workshop for individuals who would like to develop and hone their skills for collaboration.  Along with tools for dialogue, problem-solving, and facilitation, we have developed a set of principles to help collaborators in any field work more effectively – and innovatively – together.

These principles are timeless, they work regardless of the situation, and without them, collaboration cannot happen effectively.  See if you agree about the following principles, which are rooted in well-known theories of high-performance teamwork (The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach), systems thinking (5th Discipline FieldGuide, Peter Senge et al,) and Mutual Learning (The Skilled Facilitator – Roger Schwarz).

  1. Focus on shared purpose: Shared purpose forms both the reason for bringing the group together.  Without shared purpose, the “stakes” of engaging together are not clear – and it is not “worth” the investment of time and energy.
  2. Build respect and trust: Without respect – the acknowledgement of the diversity of opinions and perspective – it is very hard to build trust.  Without trust, the “root problems” may never be addressed, the best ideas may never be shared, and ultimately the relationship that helps ride the waves of interpersonal ups and downs doesn’t get strengthened.
  3. Detach ego from ideas: Ego is an important part of innovation – without some form of confidence and self-concept, new creativity does not get brought to the mix.  However, once ideas ARE offered, it is best to step aside and let them have their own life.  That can be challenging – we naturally are invested in our own ideas.  But that’s how best results in collaboration occurs.
  4. Align self-interest and shared interests:  We define collaboration as the following: “A joining together of people with multiple loyalties to share risks  and combine ideas to obtain benefits greater than any single individual could accomplish.”  Specifically, “people with multiple loyalties” come to the table for different reasons.  By looking for ways to align self-interest and shared interests in the group, you create common ground upon which the collaboration can flourish.
  5. Emphasize equal relationship and status: As in negotiations, significant power differentials in collaboration can create a sense of unequal dependency, vulnerability, and a shoddy foundation for partnership.  Ultimately, this is due to whether all parties feel they will have gain and reciprocity – and whether others are stepping up to the plate.  By emphasizing equal relationship and status, you create an equality of contribution – whether through ideas or other forms – and an equal playing ground.
  6. Disagreement is a positive force, look to harness it: Conflict can make or break collaborations.  It is also a form of powerful energy that can drive clarity and strengthen relationship if used well.  It is also an expected and important part of collaboration.  If we seek to harness conflict in our collaborations, the energy can be transformative, leading us to deeper understanding of each other and solutions that break the mold.  See my recent article on conflict for tools to harness its power.

These principles are a foundation for effective collaboration if used consistently and precisely.  Let us know how you have seen them at work in your own collaborative effort!

How to Work with the Element of Surprise in Negotiation

by Terry Taylor

One of the more interesting and challenging demands of any negotiation is the myriad decisions each of us must make when we negotiate:  when to be tough, open, make an offer, give a little or lot, reveal information that might help or hurt our cause, stay silent…and so on.  With every decision we make, we must also manage how we use our emotions.  Can we show anger or frustration?  What about showing anxiety, happiness, sadness, or confusion?

Conventional wisdom for many is that emotions should be left out of the negotiation.  I challenge that as both impossible and unwise.  Emotions have both a positive and negative impact on our negotiations, so the task for us is to know the difference and use emotions to support the outcomes we are looking for.  Not an easy thing to do when we are feeling angry, frustrated, or disappointed. These kinds of considerations make emotions a complicated element of our negotiations, so I view this as a first article on the topic that will be followed by others in the future.  Your thoughts on the topic would be more than welcome!

The Element of Surprise  

Let’s start with the all too common element of surprise – the seed of many internal emotional and physical reactions.  Suppose someone unexpectedly says something that feels like a personal attack, or they make an unfair, seemingly ridiculous offer, or simply refuse to listen to you.  Surprises like these are dangerous, as we are likely to have a visible emotional reaction, particularly if we feel that we have done nothing to deserve them.  Emotional reactions, however, can be controlled.

I once watched an experienced negotiator (let’s call him Ken) deal with someone who was throwing four letter words at him as fast as he could think of them and he had done nothing to provoke this.  His eyes showed surprise, and he said…nothing.  Eventually, his counterpart ran out of words or energy, and a moment of silence was reached.  Ken seized this moment with a comment:  “I am surprised to hear all this.  But I really want to know is what do you want to achieve from this conversation?”  It was the other party’s turn to appear surprised, and, after a second short silence he calmed down and stated what he was after.  There were no more attacks or surprises from that moment on.  I discussed this later with Ken and he simply said that he was used to surprises and, for the most part, always ready for them. When one is mentally prepared for surprises, the surprise loses much of its potency.

Here are a few methods people have found useful when preparing for surprises:

  1. Mental coaching—repeat to yourself before you negotiate that you are going to accomplish your overall goals no matter what happens.  It is much easier to stay calm when surprised if you have something significant to focus on, a clear intention to achieve.  This is using your intention to control your inner tension.
  2. Mental rehearsal—imagine in your mind’s eye what you feel like when you are surprised. Imagine also that you do not verbalize any reaction, you simply let the surprise move past you like the wave of emotion that it is.  With practice, this prepares us for the unexpected, and gives us an opportunity to avoid reacting emotionally.
  3. Verbalize the surprise—this works best when combined with # 2 above.  After the initial reaction to a surprise, use the word itself, but follow with a question that helps you understand what the surprise is all about.  For example, Ken’s response “I am surprised to hear all this.  But I really want to know is what do you want to achieve from this conversation?”

Ken’s big advantage was his experience.  He mentioned that he had seen so many surprises in negotiations that almost nothing ever surprised him.  You may have noticed that when we are emotional, it always has a physical, or “body” element to it.  Emotions start in the body, not the mind.  Ken has reached a place where the physical reaction to surprise is not able to overpower his mental and physical control of it.  He may have strong feelings (indeed, he confessed that this is often true), but it no longer translates into a defensive reaction or emotional outburst.  While there is no perfect substitute for experience, emotional control can be expedited by mental practice.

The tools mentioned above can be practiced if you want to more quickly gain your emotional control when you negotiate or, for that matter, interact with any sort of difficult situation.  Developing our ability to prepare for, accept, and effectively respond to our emotions can give us tremendous strength when we are negotiating or working with others.

Navigating Conflict – How to Get to Common Ground

by Genevieve Taylor

“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
Lao Tzu

Ah, conflict.  What would we do without it?  What do we do WITH it?  In stories, the conflict – the interplay between people, the striving for what we think are opposite sides – is what keep us interested.  In real life, some would say the same – while others would say, “if you give me conflict – get me out of there!”  People have many reasons for avoiding conflict – perhaps they value the relationship over whatever the “fight” is about; perhaps they don’t want the discomfort of conflict; perhaps they feel it is too risky.


At Global Genesis, we believe that conflict is not only a natural part of the human dynamic, but that conflict can be an opportunity to build relationship as well as get results.  We help people get better at conflict ultimately so they can achieve better outcomes, better relationship – and even common ground.

Our image for conflict is the volcano.  For those of us who have had the opportunity to see a volcano, there is nothing like stepping onto sharp, raw new earth – literally glowing underneath from the efforts of being made.  Creating common ground in conflict has its similarities – conflict can truly be an opportunity to forge new territory together, to open up the opportunities for new innovation and creativity.  However, it takes personal will to take the pressure of conflict and harness it to create that common ground.

Principles for Effective Conflict.  We have probably all seen conflict “blow” – and the detritus from that explosion impacting not only the parties involved, but sometimes innocent bystanders.  Less often, we see individuals work through conflict effectively.  Below are principles for conflict that we have taught in over 60 countries.

GG Principles of Conflict Copyright Global Genesis
Global Genesis Principles of Conflict

Principle 1: Turn “tension” into “in-tension”.  Consider – what is the most critical moment in a conflict?  You are preparing to talk to that someone who “does that thing” that really MUST change.  You find a time to sit down with them… and you proceed to tell them exactly they MUST change.  Backup- rewind – you missed it!  The most critical moment is even before you begin.  If you really want for your conflict to be resolved, if you want to use it as an opportunity to build relationship, you must set your intention from the beginning to look for a win for both of you.  In fact, your intention must be that you will work as hard to create a win for them as you do to create a win for yourself.  Your intention then becomes a tool of transformation – and is ultimately the decision to “enter the volcano” of conflict.

Principle 2: Start with Acceptance.  Once you have decided to “enter the volcano”, it is important to start with accepting both sides of the dispute.  This is NOT about agreeing – it is rather about hearing what each party has to say.  It is the opportunity to hear the first level of stories, opinions, and ideas that brought each party “to the table.”  What you are really doing when focusing on acceptance is enhancing mutual regard.  The key is to help the other party know that they have been heard – and also ensure that you feel the other party has heard you.  This builds respect between parties, the foundation for future progress.

Principle 3: Build Understanding.  The next step is to create deeper understanding between both parties.  Now that you know what, the question is why do they believe the way they do? What is the motive for their action?  What stories are underpinning the events to date?  it is only when you have understanding that you can create solutions that will really work in the long-term.

The classic Getting to Yes  tells the story of two sisters who fought over an orange.  They achieved a compromise – to split the orange, at which point the first took her half off to zest it for a cake, leaving the pulp unused, while the other took hers off to juice, leaving the zest untouched. By missing the motive of each sister (and settling for compromise, as opposed to resolution), both sisters lost out on a win-win solution.

Ultimately, by focusing on building understanding, you create trust together, which will help build a safe container for  “discussing the undiscussables” – those things that are hard to discuss, but may hold the key to a solution that will be a true win for both parties.

Principle 4: Craft agreements  It is only AFTER focusing on acceptance and understanding that agreements can begin to take shape.  Why?  In our work, we have observed again and again that trust only comes after respect is built, and it is only with both respect and trust in play that solid agreements that last over time can be created.  The second and third principles help build both trust and respect.  If solutions are offered before those other principles have been explored, most times they will either a.) not last because they don’t solve the real problem, b.) will be shunned immediately because the trust hasn’t been built to the point where the offer is trusted, or c.) that problem is solved, but the conflict continues and arises in a different form at another time.

Lets say that you have moved through all of the principles, and are crafting an agreement. Try to diverge first –  open up different solutions and play with different scenarios, without making a decision.  After you have put your options on the table, that’s when you can converge  on a solution. This allows you to be creative in not only the facts of the solution, but also the form of the solution.

More about conflict: Ultimately this rests on your ability to manage your own emotions internally – where much of the pressure of conflict really stems from.  See Terry’s blog here for his description of Global Genesis tools for working with the emotions of conflict.  Further, each principle has a set of skills that you can employ to put these principles into action – we will explore those in another blog post.

Designing An Organization Built to Change

Complete MBA for Dummiesby Genevieve Taylor

I picked up the Complete MBA for Dummies a few years ago, curious as to whether one could actually get a Complete MBA through reading a 414-page (including the index) book. While I can’t answer that question, I was struck by the first chapter. They said that the thing each organization needs to be prepared for, to expect, to relish, is… (drum roll please)…

The Prospect, the Countenance, the Reality of Change.

It was, to say the least, very confirming.

The truth of it, in these days, with the rapidity of change, the complete turnover of technology (where did the analog system go?), most businesses, non-profits, and everyone else are aware of the need to be prepared for change.

And yet, we still have trouble adjusting for change, building for it, preparing for it. Oh, maybe at the beginning of an organization’s life, when everything is being created, it is easier. Structures are malleable, and people are open. But, as Terry Taylor says…

Nothing Fails Like Success.

Success breeds satisfaction, rigidity. And while we don’t need to imitate Mao with a Cultural Revolution (aka purge) every 10 years, we do need to keep the learning curve fresh for ourselves. Keeping the Learning Curve – essentially, the ability to innovate, fresh is one of the key reasons that so many large organizations have attempted to create smaller entrepreneurial organizations within.

Surf the Wave

So, how can you design an organization so it is fully ready to surf the wave of change?

How can you ready your people? How can you predict curves and swoops of change, and take advantage of it through strategy and precise action?

The Reconfigurable Organization:

A fantastic book, Designing Dynamic Organizations,suggests the Reconfigurable Organization as a strategy. It says that there are five components to organizational design, and how you handle each of them will directly impact your ability to maneuver change – and have negative consequences if you fail to do so.

The five components of organizational design:

  1. Strategy – The strategy for the organization must be integrated into the organizational design. The direction of the company – its goals, its vision, the reality of the economy, environment, and market must all inform how an organization is designed.
  2. Structure – The authors refer to the structure as the home, the body of the organization. How functions are organized, and how roles are defined, will have a subtle and not-so-subtle impact on how energy in the organization is channeled, how work is accomplished, and on the focus of the organization.
  3. Processes and Lateral Capability – Specialization of function, while it has its obvious strengths, naturally creates boundaries and barriers to collaboration. This can be overcome by looking at the interpersonal communication networks, informal and formal, the technological networks, and by specifically naming integrative roles that, as the authors point out, form the “glue” of the organization.
  4. Reward Systems – How people are rewarded signifies how the organization measures success. What types of results and behaviors is the organization looking for? How can it encourage those by what it measures, incentivizes, and discourages?
  5. People Practices – Depending on what the organization needs, the skills, competencies, and resources of its people could significantly change. How you are selecting, developing, and what you are giving feedback on should evolve in tandem with the how the organization evolves.

The authors make the point that if any of these pieces do not reflect the organization’s current needs, it could lead to confusion, friction(inability to execute), gridlock (no collaboration), internal competition, and low performance. Any of these problems sound familiar?

Their solution? The Reconfigurable Organization – an organization that by its very design is ready to change and evolve with the organization’s needs; that encourages collaboration and execution. They point out –

If change is constant, why not design the organization to be constantly and quickly changeable?

Redoing Org Structure

The Reconfigurable Organization is characterized by…

  • Active Leadership
  • Knowledge Management
  • Learning
  • Flexibility
  • Integration
  • Employee Commitment
  • Change Readiness

Designing Dynamic Organizations walks you through the process of organizational re-design, discussing everything from focus groups to the design process. They are thorough, accessible, and really intending the group for leaders and practitioners, pointing out that top leaders and HR Directors will find this very useful. It is the best book I have found on looking at how an organization can be designed to meet the needs of its most fundamental asset – its people.

Changemaking: Expanding Your Circle of Influence

In the “The Process of Transition”, we talked about managing the psychological impacts of change. We talked about how change is inevitable, as are the emotional consequence of change. So how do you negotiate the waves of change for your own, and others’, benefit?

Being The Leader of Influence

In the post, Tactics for Leading Change, I made the argument that a Leader’s most effective long-term tool is that of influence. Influence, while being a less direct route to making change, has a much larger impact.

Covey's Circle of Focus
Covey’s Circle of Focus

The tool shown here is modified from Stephen Covey’s “Circle of Focus” first described in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe Circle of Focus contains anything whose behavior you can directly control. This includes you, your dog (possibly), your small child (before they begin walking, maybe), and, for a very short time, anyone who you are able to exercise direct power and authority over. I say a short time, because if you have to exercise direct power and authority for long periods of time, you are likely engaged in a power struggle which can tend towards dysfunctional, passive-aggressive behaviors.

So, lets say that the Circle of Focus contains, essentially and most functionally, you. The Circle of Influence contains anything that you have some degree of, well, influence, that directly affects you and thus warrants you exercising your influence. Typically, you must work with others in this circle – you can’t effectively get the outcome most beneficial to you without the help of others. Thus, we spend much of our time in the Circle of Influence.

Finally, the Circle of Concern contains everything that concerns you, but that you don’t have any control over. There are times, particularly in the short term, when it is important to realize those things – that realization can bring a lot of relief.  IE, your children may do what they do; the polar bears may die; China may soon take over the world in carbon; etc.

The trick to this circle is to expand the Circle of Influence into that Circle of Concern. Thus, much of change is about helping individuals, companies, governments, non-profits, know that they CAN do something that will positively impact the world around them.

Expanding your Circle of Influence

There are books and books written on how to “Increase Your Influence NOW!” and “Be a More Influential Person!” They describe mainly tactics – not fundamentals – for increasing your influence, including trading favors, complimenting the right person, putting your best foot forward. And while these tactics may be helpful when used wisely, they are like dust in comparison to a person who is filled with integrity and character, whose results and competence are trusted, and who shows discernment in how they exert and increase their influence.

So, how do you expand your Circle of Influence? Here are a few fundamentals.

  1. Know Thyself.The fundamental lives on. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedbackand making appropriate changes, knowing your values and vision for your personal life is where you have to begin. Starting from there, you will attract people and build respect because of your clarity.
  2. Be Trustworthy. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Live to your commitments to yourself and to others. By doing that, you build trust which you can draw on when you need it most – making a change for something you believe in.
  3. Exhibit Competence & Follow-Through. Trust does not come without Respect. Let me repeat – Trust does not come without Respect.In our intellectually driven, outcomes-oriented culture, respect comes when people show they “can get the job done.” Doing whatever it takes to be really, really good at what you do, whether it is developing skills, exhibiting willpower and perserverence, or being clear about what you can and can’t do, delivering results based on competence and character is the fastest way to build respect.

I am a huge fan of a book written by Stephen Covey’s son, Stephen M. R. Covey, called The Speed of TrustThere, he talks about how business happens much faster – and I would add that change happens much easier – when there is trust. He also discusses how people can build their own “trustworthiness”, through exhibiting character, integrity, competence, and results, and gives some keys to developing trustworthiness yourself. Highly recommended read.

Using Influence to Create Change

Back to change. A leader who wants to make a fundamental change – whether or not this leader has authority – can do so by weaving a wide web of influence. Building trust amongst your community (professional, personal, and everything in between) builds your influence.

In a sense, you have built up, over time, the slow way, a sort of “Influence bank account.” Stephen M.R. Covey goes so far as to call it a “Trust Account.” So how do you spend it?

A few tips on Creating Change through Using Your Influence:

  1. Choosing your battles. In this world, discerning which battles are worth taking on is an important one. Battling everything and everyone to get your way (or the way of a select few) can pay off if there are results. But if the strain of the risk is too great, and it doesn’t “pan out” (a reference to the might risky business of panning for gold) it can actually break down people’s willingness to follow you when they most need to.
  2. You have to spend it to make it. Building “social capital” by making introductions, helping people out, taking risks on changes you and your team believe it actually builds trust not only in your team, but also in the organization at large. Because you arechoosing your battles, you develop a reputation for taking thoughtful risks – and when you believe strongly that something needs to change, people will pay attention because of that.
  3. Keep your eye on what’s best for the collective, and make sure it stays there. As soon as people know that you are promoting self over the collective, they will begin to question your motives. If your “trust account” is high, that is not a big deal, particularly if you are transparent about it. But the greater the change you are proposing, the greater the need for a large “trust account”, and the more you need to keep an eye on promoting the collective over the self.

The Smart Art of Performance Management

How well do your employees perform?  How well does your organization as a whole perform?  Do you have clear ideas as to what great performance for your organization is, or do you believe that you’ll recognize great performance when you see it?

Most companies set both long and short term goals.  How well those goals are transformed into everyday goals and objectives at the individual level is more the challenge, and how the employees in aggregate are accomplishing the organization’s goals and objectives is the key to performance management.

Performance management is a systematic process by which an organization involves its employees in improving organizational effectiveness toward the accomplishment of the organization’s mission and goals.  Performance management is the process of creating organizational goals and objectives, communicating clear expectations, setting standards of excellence, establishing measurements and aligning all activities.

The intention of performance management is to create alignment of thinking and action by “cascading” broad organizational goals down to departmental and individual goals.  This, in turn, allows managers and supervisors to set clear expectations for results and for employees to understand and work toward meeting them.  This results in the “line of sight” where every employee can see how their work supports the overarching goals.

Thinking –> Doing –> Checking –> Developing –> Evaluating –> Rewarding 

 Elements of Performance Management


How do you currently get everyone to operate together toward goals?  You can use the Elements of Performance Management model as a way to systematically think about performance management.

Thinking is about setting expectations and goals to direct activities.  It’s the planning phase.  Thinking goes beyond a job description – it helps the employee know what, why, when and how things are to be accomplished.  It includes teambuilding, developing a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and team interdependence.  This creation of expectations is the basis for the performance appraisal; employees must know ahead of time not only what results they will be held to, but how their results will be measured.  SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals are set up front for each employee and department or employee group.

Doing is the execution phase.  It’s getting things off the ground and in the groove.  This is often an organic process, where experimentation and flexibility are employed.

In Checking, projects and job duties are continually monitored, using a consistent basis of measurement.  Feedback to employees is best if delivered both regularly and “in the moment’.  Unless an employee is receiving any feedback, they believe they are doing a great job.  Don’t forget the best motivator of all – recognizing good performance.  In Checking, poor performance is “nipped in the bud” by providing immediate feedback and remediation, otherwise a manager may spend countless hours in disciplinary activities.

Developing starts with recruiting and orientation.  Skills, knowledge and abilities are evaluated and training requirements are discerned.  Orientation helps the employee to understand the culture, procedures, policies, resources and expectations.  In Developing, performance deficiencies are identified early and remediated.  Find an employee’s strengths and create challenges and advanced responsibilities, maximize their potential, and increase their value to the organization.  Development is not an annual exercise or a few workshops.  It’s about recognizing opportunities in everyday situations to help employees grow and improve.

Evaluating  is a process of delivering consistent, fair, honest and constructive feedback, both formally and informally that serves as a basis for rewards.  Make the evaluation mean something to the employee; ascertain that they understand both the accolades and the needs for improvement and leave with an action plan for performance improvement and/or enhancement.

Rewarding  is the culmination of the Performance Management process.  Since the reward is the incentive that motivates the employee to perform in a manner that moves the organization to success, careful consideration should be given to determine the right rewards.  Get to know your employees in order to understand what excites them – tickets to their favorite sports team? An early end of the day?  Be sure that the reward matches the level of performance.  Also, the “great job!” is thought to be the number one motivator – much more that money and other fringe benefits.  It’s certainly the easiest!

Think of this Performance Management process in action for every employee, every department, every day and you’ll get a sense of the power it provides.  It can be the difference in success for your organization, can create satisfaction for your employees and huge rewards for you!  It is something of an art and takes time, but the payoff is well worth it – it’s smart!

Book Review: The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage took all of us at Global Genesis by storm. Since reading it, I have since referred many clients and consultants to it, have used it or referred to it in almost every client engagement since, and am looking forward to incorporating it in my client work as I move forward.

Why? Because Patrick Lencioni (who is known best for his “business fables” in books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) did a fabulous job of synthesizing – and really renewing  – work that has been lynch pins of organizational development for decades.  He takes great ideas from Chrys Argyris(Systems Thinking), Jim Collins(Good to Great), Stephen Covey (7 Habits) – who of course, were working from other great masters – and boils it down into simple clear directions, a cohesive framework, and practical guidance.  His framing – that organizations must be healthy to succeed – is brilliant, his defense of that idea is cogent.  He has done a service to not only his clients, but to change agents who have been looking to help others understand why things like goal -setting, teamwork, conflict, and communication make such a difference.

Specifically, he offers four disciplines that support organizational health:

Four Disciplines to Organizational Health
Four Disciplines to Organizational Health

These are of course explained in detail in his book.  They are not rocket science – but one must do them to create advantage, and that is where it can be challenging.  But he does well in making the steps appear clear, accessible, and doable.

I highly recommend this book!

Growing Transparency

I have heard from and talked with many people at all levels in companies and organizations who have expressed their desire for more transparency in their work environment, including their teams, throughout their company, and with the world at large. Most of them are aware that transparency—open disclosure without reserve or secrets–is an idea laced with dangers: too much being said in the wrong time and place, risks of being misinterpreted by those who are not in the flow of decisions and activity, and, of course, what you say being used against you, either overtly or covertly. With all that being said, many of these same people still feel that we err on the side of too little transparency. Without it, they argue, debate, opinion, and differences are minimized, at the expense of continuous organizational learning, the foundation of innovation and productivity. They claim it is necessary that they and their colleagues need to be more transparent in their perceptions of one another as well as in and across departments. Add to that a desire for their company to be more transparent about decisions and finances. A dangerous game, indeed!

Choosing to be transparent is, like most human choices, an individual choice. Many team leaders have tried to mandate it, but they have sooner or later learned that mandates typically turn out to be meaningless. So why don’t more individuals make this choice if they recognize the dangers but still think transparency is important? When I have asked more in-depth questions, I have come up with two reasons from my conversations with others: 1) people don’t feel as though they can “do it” on their own. In other words, if someone acts from a transparent base, they often look to others to join them and are sadly disappointed that it doesn’t happen; there are few things worse than to look around and find that no one is standing beside or behind you; 2) there is a subtle belief that while transparency could change things for the better, it most likely won’t change things at all. Things are just too complicated and beyond our control, so why take the risk? A general shared feeling is that no matter what we do, we can’t really make a difference.

Keys to Growing Transparency

In my opinion, transparency cannot be installed…it must be planted and cultivated. And, like anything that grows, it progresses on a continuum from fragile to more strength. Here are a few suggestions for how to start and maintain it.

  1. Think network: find those in your company that share a belief in more transparency and have active agreements about fostering transparency between yourselves;
  2. Practice transparency in order to perfect it; the dangers are real and must be understood so they can be managed or mitigated. This will allow the “conditions for success” that transparency needs to flourish and avoid causing harm to you and others;
  3. Conditions for success—there are a couple of major supports that transparency needs to grow strong.
    1. The first is that it must become an expectation for everyone. A great approach to this is to use it as a guideline for your team meetings. Set it then discuss what it means, particularly in the person-to-person realm.
    2. A second condition is to give and take feedback (an essential part of transparency) between people who work together. You can start with having your team give feedback to each member on what they are doing to help the team as well as hinder the team, starting with the team leader (see The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni).
    3. The third condition is to put an unwavering spotlight on it. Ask your team how at the end of each meeting how it is doing on transparency and how more can be done with it. Allow for discussion of what people are learning about it.
    4. The fourth condition is to recognize it…mentioning any examples of transparency in action and the beneficial effects it produces. Talk about the courage it takes and the rewards it offers on a consistent basis, keep it top of mind.

Changing our way of working together is a difficult and challenging undertaking. I hope that the ideas above are food for thought and actions that move in a positive direction toward more transparency.

Twelve Creative Ways to Foster Employee Development

How are you investing in your employees?  Most managers would reply that both time and money are lacking.  The “task” of employee development comes to mind at review time, when a deficiency becomes apparent or when an opportunity to delegate is missed due to the employee’s inability to handle the assignment.  Too often, development is relegated to a few half-day workshops, with no real follow up to ensure that the employee can assimilate the newly learned skills.

I’ve had to learn to be creative with employee development.  I had to train myself to recognize those perfect moments for feedback or suggestions; they can’t be scheduled, they just show up on their own.  Here are some of creative ways to contrive effective learning experiences:

  1. When your employee comes to you with a problem, insist that they offer at least one solution.  It’s great that they recognize a challenge, but they can’t become dependent on someone else to solve it.  Recognizing a problem suggests that they are familiar with the situation and the probable causes – they are well equipped to devise a solution.  Presenting a problem is mechanical; solving a problem is value-add.  Asking an employee for the solution is an act of empowerment.
  2.   Train yourself to provide “on the spot” feedback.  When a problem is happening in real time, it’s the best time for a lesson.  Be respectful and constructive.  Offer a good business reason why the situation must change.  Ask what the goal is and analyze why their actions won’t achieve what they want; suggest alternatives or better yet, ask the employee to suggest alternatives.
  3. Keep a diary.  Create a computer file to store your documentation, both positives and negatives.  Documentation is imperative should disciplinary action need to escalate.  When preparing and delivering a formal review, it’s effective to be able to offer these “real life” examples of what the employee is doing well and doing poorly.  Create reminders to follow up with the employee.
  4.   Assign projects in their entirety to the employee.  Let them own it. Provide guidance and support, but let them own it.  For example, I once had a situation where the entire employee file system was in need of revamping.  The employee who was assigned to the project was expected to educate herself on legal compliance and best practice, through research and workshops, design the new system, implement it and finally create and deliver a presentation to the executive team.  This gave her a sense of accomplishment and provided management visibility.
  5.  If appropriate, encourage employees to sit in on other departmental meetings.  This is an excellent way for them to understand the issues and challenges that they can possibly help to remediate.  It builds team spirit, positive relationships and visibility.
  6.  Encourage your employees to sit on committees.  It will result in the same results as above.  This is a great way for them to expand their responsibilities and broaden their perspectives of the entire organization.
  7.  Get the most out of a formal educational event.  If your employee is signed up for a training, have a discussion ahead of time to set the expectations of what they’ll learn.  Inform the instructor of these expectations as well.  When the class is completed, have a discussion with the employee as to how they will assimilate the new learning into their job, and be sure to follow up.
  8.  Advocate education.  If your budget can’t provide funds, encourage it anyway.  They are investing in their own careers.  Education can also be provided by books (ask for book reports to share with others or white papers for publishing), research, webcasts and podcasts.  Set goals for all of these.
  9.  Find a mentor.  This may be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience, knowledge and the right demeanor to act as an advisor to your employee.
  10. Encourage employees to join professional organizations.  It’s an opportunity to expose and expand their career-related experiences beyond the walls of your workplace.
  11.  Practice good performance management.  Use a healthy and effective process to change behavior and improve skills.  Have the employee own their improvement. Make sure that expectations are understood. Set and enact consequences.  Recognize and reward improvements.
  12.  Put the time and effort into a high quality formal review.  Think of what you want for the employee and yourself and make sure the review delivers it.  Be open, listen well.  Revisit the goals set forth in the review regularly to keep them alive, head off any obstacles and inspire success.

A manager by definition, coaches and develops employees; it is an everyday, ongoing process.  Train your eye to recognize the learning opportunities.  Challenge yourself to find creative ways for employees to grow.  In the end, it pays off for everyone, for you, for the employee and for the organization.

The Process of Transition

Change. Whether it is in your family, in your team, in your organization, the psychological ramifications of change are powerful, subtle, and themselves temper a person, as much as the event itself.

The Process of Transition
The Process of Transition

The Process of Transition

The model described above is a take-off from Dr. Kubler-Ross’ work on grief and transition; she wrote her book On Death and Dying in the 1970s, and her thinking was an enormous contribution to understanding transition and change of all types.

My own experience with death of close loved ones has helped me understand the process of change both in myself and others.  As a result, I have become more and more accustomed to managing change – I have come to expect the wave of emotions sweeping myself and those around me; I have started to look for the joy in the situation, as there always is; I have been able to help others accept what is happening as well.   Kubler-Ross’ model has been accurate from my own experience – from anxiety, to the awkwardness of happiness and denial, to the lows of guilt and even depression.

And, I too have been “derailed”  – at times from the natural process of change, into denial or hostility. Even more common is to get “stuck” in a certain feeling – the nervous feeling of guilt that never quite goes away; the fear or anxiety around the future; the depression.

Change in Organizations

As leaders, it is important to understand the process of transition, and how it applies to the company as a whole. While useful, the process is not nearly as neat as described in the model above; people may experience only pieces of the cycle. They may get stuck, they may move rapidly all the way through. There may be several iterations, as multiple levels of what the change really implies sinks in. They may experience some, not all of the stages.

A leader who is aware of the possible psychological impacts of change will be looking for them. They will meet people “where they are at” – accepting that the likelihood of an impact is high, to be expected, and not in itself too worrying – unless someone gets stuck. By not attempting to change them instantaneously towards acceptance (through tactics like “forcing,” “selling,” etc.) they leave open the opportunity for that person to make the transition themselves, and thus integrate it fully. Strong-armed tactics can actually damage the trust and respect a staff member has for its leader.

To protect herself and the organization must make options clear for those who may not wish to accept the change, and may need to provide resources, psychological or otherwise, as people work through a transition. An organization must keep moving, and can only “wait” so long for its members to catch up.

As Peter Drucker so aptly puts it:

Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work — on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself — it must be organized for constant change.

A change may mean a realignment of values; in that process, the change may spur other changes, in terms of who wants to stay, and who doesn’t. A savvy leader heads into that “ready to ride the roller coaster” to the other end.