Tag Archives: teams

What We Have Not What We Don’t!

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still fight daily) is the idea that others know more than me, especially in areas where I am dubbed an expert.

I think a lot of it goes back to when I was younger, especially in my teen years where, although I was in the top set at school there were those around me who were like a cerebrum on legs: they oozed ability, knowledge and were more concerned with where they’d lost two or three marks in their exams than with where they’d gained them!

The problem with hanging out with these guys wasn’t anything to do with their personalities: most of them were really great people to be around.  It was the toll that it all took on my self-confidence and self-esteem.  My mind had a field day, reinforcing all those doubts that had ever dared to enter my thinking, or had been placed there by others.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I was forced to go back and revisit these difficult and confusing times when recovering from serious illness.  During the long, slow, often painful process that was called recovery I was forced (in the nicest way possible) to see these things in their true perspective and identify the lies that I had taken on-board and made an integral part of my life and psyche.

One of the biggest mistakes I had made was when I started looking at my abilities in comparison to others.  We live in a competitive world where we are continually compared to others BUT there is no need for us to do it to ourselves.  When we go for a new job, invariably our skill sets, talents and background will be compared to those of others competing for the same job.  That is the interviewer’s job. 

HOWEVER, we want to be at our best in those situations, showing others our true self and abilities. 

If we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do as well as others, then we will never see our own unique talents; our own unique skills and the things that we CAN bring to the table that others can’t. 

Here’s a couple of examples from my own life that may help:

  • When I left school, I went straight to university but was so clueless and dispirited about what I wanted to/could do that I gave up after a term (though I did return with my first drum kit … but that is another story!).  I worked for 3 years and then decided that I would go back to studying as I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to go (and where I couldn’t go at that time without a degree).  I entered the first year of my degree expecting to be worse than the fresh young things entering straight after their A-levels.  I looked to the brightest of them for encouragement and help but I was always aware in my own mind that I wasn’t as good as them.  That was confirmed in my exams at the end of the year.  For some reason and I still don’t know why, I decided over the Summer holidays that I would really work for myself and make sure that I understood what I was doing.  This meant re-learning a lot of what I’d not learnt very well during my first year.  The second year was different.  Nothing changed in my ability to work with others, but my internal focus was now on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.  I really WANTED to learn and understand to the best of MY abilities.  I came top of the year in my second year exams, something I could never have dreamed of.  I wasn’t the brightest on paper (my A-level results wer mediocre at best) but my focus had changed and I’d achieved my potential (albeit with a lot of hard work).  I passed my degree with a higher grade than I would ever have expected and then went on to higher study.  The point I’m trying to encourage you with is that if we look at ourselves it’s very easy to see what we lack.  But we have so much to offer that others don’t, and others rarely see the failings in ourselves that we do!  I’m definitely not trying to propose some self-help mantra but I am suggesting that a change of focus can bring a change of attitude and facilitate us reaching our fuller potential. 
  • Another example was when I was working as a member of a Medical Department’s clinical research team in the pharmaceutical industry.  I knew some of my strengths:  people skills, patience, generally up-beat and good to be around etc.  But, it took several years of working with the Dark Side, i.e., members of the Marketing Department, to really bring my core skills to the fore.  Medical Departments generally work to a dinosaur type time-scale; it takes a long time to design, set-up, run, and report clinical trials.  Marketing work very much in the here and now and want results today (or yesterday if possible). Initially I worked to set-up a Medical-Marketing Interface, a group of people from both departments who could get together on a regular basis to discuss what their priorities were at that time, what they were for the next year and the reality of what information was likely to become available or be wanted in that time.  These were not easy meetings but they gradually evolved into a broader set of discussion forums that really helped the two departments work together more effectively.  They opened the way for more constructive interaction rather than shooting at each other from the parapets.  Through them there was also much closer collaboration in the construction of sales and marketing literature and this is where I discovered something that had probably been obvious but I’d never seen it!  My personal ‘gem’ was an ability to make complex and highly technical scientific and medical ideas easy to understand by all, including those from a non-technical and non-scientific background.  This did two things: a) It boosted my confidence; I did have something special to offer and b) it paved the way for my last role in corporate business, that of communicating and building professional relationships with members of the medical and research communities and providing fora in which we could openly discuss  data supporting the use of specific drugs in difficult-to-treat-conditions.  It was also interesting that when I left my job, many of the most moving ‘good-bye’ messages came from these same people.

It took me a long time to realise that it’s not always simply how much we know, it’s a lot more to do with recognising our own skills and talents, developing and using these to the best of our abilities, whilst never missing the opportunity to hear what others are saying about us.  As we refine our path, we will be amazed at what we have to offer and as with my university exams, we may just move from being one of the crowd to being a leader. 

Even if we don’t, I can guarantee that you’ll feel so much better about yourself and be more confident with what you can offer.

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Teamwork Suffering in Downturn

I have just read a very disturbing, yet unsurprising article reporting that 12% of workers admit to having become more insular during the recession. 

At the very time when companies need greater interaction and greater interdependency (teamwork), individuals are seeking to protect their own workloads and projects and around some 27% admit to working longer hours.

The report quotes Mike Bourne, professor of business performance at Cranfield University School of Management as saying,

“Team collaboration and knowledge sharing is essential to help businesses chart a way through the current climate. However, while some employees are understandably worried about job security, firms with business processes to automate teamwork are able to reconcile both workforce productivity and personal performance.”

See report here.

I’m not sure whether it is part of British DNA or culture, but we seem to really struggle with the concept of working together to achieve a common goal.  Perhaps we’ve had experiences where we’ve been betrayed by those whom we have trusted, or had others leapfrog over us as they take our ideas and use them for personal gain and promotion. 

Unfortunately, these sad characters will always be with us. 

But teamwork is exactly the forum that will help to expose these individuals and it provides the team with a level of security impossible to achieve on an individual level.  Who in their right mind (if they are that way inclined) will take on a group of people, a group which is likely to include members of the management team?

But teamwork isn’t really about sinking these rogue battleships; it’s about achieving an objective more quickly, efficiently and completely than is possible when we work alone.

The proof is in the marketplace.  Look at the most successful companies and see how many of these use teams and creative approaches to problem solving and company direction.  A recent survey suggested that in business cultures which engender trust and co-operation, productivity is around 269% greater than where it is absent.

I guess it’s up to us whether we choose to believe the statistics and give it a go … or continue as we are.  Only time, and possibly company solvency will tell.

Innovation: A Team Sport

Innovation and creativity are not entities and they do not happen spontaneously.

They are the fruits of people, people interacting and working together, complete with all of the friction and personality clashes.  Innovation is analogous to a musical writing partnership or team sports.  If all roles are performing well, we get a positive force for innovation.  And just with sports teams, it is not essential to have total excellence in every area.  Some of the most effective and innovative teams have true excellence in one or two areas combined with strength in many others.  There may be stars in our team, but the team is the powerhouse.

Perspiration, dedication and hard work are also at the centre of creativity and innovation, honing skills practiced and developed over long periods of time, until they really work.  Here are Some basic principles for success:

  1. Stretch for Strength:  Flexibility is more important than strength, size or power.  Many ‘giants’ of the business world have disappeared as smaller, more nimble companies stole the market through exercising their flexibility and operating according to new business models.
  2. Go for distance:  Innovation is less about a programme and more about a way of life; a culture.  It is a culture that should be at the centre of every part of an organisation and one which continues to evolve and develop with time, and over time.  It is about longevity rather than fad.
  3. Never give in:  Wherever there is innovation there are obstacles and these must be overcome.  Personalities within our teams will be able to see ways around whatever obstacle is in the way or objection raised.  At these times close collaboration and problem sharing are essental for going the distance.
  4. Fight the mental battles:  One of the biggest obstacles or hurdle to our progress looms in the battle of the mind; our psyche.  To quote Tom Kelley, ‘Innovators have the uncommon sense to pursue ideas long after others give up.’
  5. Celebrate the coach:  Behind every great sports team there is a geat coach.  Behind every great project team there is a great coach.  They may not be in the limelight, but they labour tirelessly in the background making sure everything and everyone stays together.  The right coach brings out the best and we notice the difference

The most successful teams comprise a rich mix of different types of people with different personalities or personas, different talents and abilities, different temperaments.  The correct mix will produce sufficient innovative friction to push forward the team and push forward the innovative process.

When innovation is experienced, it is a mighty force to inspire further innovation.  Perhaps the most important step is to make a start, no matter how small, get the innovation engine turning over, see the benefits and build on them.  And these benefits will be pretty obvious when they occur, hopefully enough to overcome politics and convert even the most cynical as they see a turn-around in their group, department, business unit or  company.

And innovation doesn’t just turn companies around, it becomes a way of life.

My Zimbio
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Brainstorming: Dead or Alive?

Brainstorming seems to have been transient in many organisations, though in some cases the title has been changed but the process is essentially the same.

Probably ten years ago, Brainstorming was at its zenith, a hip tool that seemed to impact any and every scenario in businesses; management meetings, project teams, ideas committees.  All embraced it actively … and then as quickly as it arrived on the scene, it departed from many settings …  which is very sad.

For many, a brainstorm was little more than an excuse for firing out ideas, discussing them and then forgetting them.  The sessions were ill-structured, poorly manged and produced little lasting fruit.  And yet, over a decade later, innovation experts still sing the praises of this tool.

So, for those who have perhaps missed out on the power and value of brainstorming, here is a short(ish) summary of the method and its benefits.

Brainstorming is a very important technique, not only because it generates ideas but because it lays the foundations for a creative and innovative culture.  Bob Sutton, a Stanford University professor suggests that Brainstorming is especially beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Organisational Memory – Many valuable and experienced members of our organisations are too busy to be involved on project teams.  BUT they can spare an hour for a brainstorming session. The brainstorm thus allows us access to organisational expertise and knowledge that would otherwise be inaccessible.  During the session, possible solutions from past, present or future experiences may be explored, thereby drawing on the organisation’s memory and intelligence.
  • Reinforcing an attitude of wisdom – The attitude of wisdom is the balance between confidence in what we know and a willingness to listen to ideas that challenge us and our worldview.  Brainstorming matches our wits and creativity with those of others, which can be humbling, but also makes us wiser.
  • Increases visibility of team members – When run properly, the free-spirited atmosphere of brainstorming sessions allows people who may not normally be ‘visible’ to shine and to make their contribution, and their mark.  They are able to gain attention and status which may have otherwise passed them by.

However, a brainstorming session can only be as effective as those contributing, and in a large part, to those responsible for leading the group.  Here are some simple rules for making the sessions effective:

  • Target focus – Start with a question that really states the problem in an open-ended but not too braod manner.  An example of this type of question would be, “How can we gain deeper insights into our first-time customers?”
  • Stick to the rules – Go for maximum quantity rather than quality, encourage wild ideas, be visual, defer judgement until later, allow only one contribution at a time.  Make sure everyone knows these rules and make them visible to all (e.g., printed in large letters on posters, white boards etc which are positioned in clear view around the room); it is important.  By adhering to these rules we are able to keep the meeting and ideas focussed and empower members of the team to contribute.
  • Number all ideas – By keeping a tally of how many ideas we have generated we are able to motivate and spur on the team to even more.  If we are aiming for 100 ideas (a good result for one hour’s work) and we have reached 94, it is unlikely that any team will settle for less than the target.
  • Add and switch –  At some stage during the process ideas will dry up or slow down.  Rather than dwelling on this, it is a good idea to return to some of the earlier ideas and build on them for a while.  A good question to ask here is something like, “How might we apply these?”  Once we have answered a few of these, we can return to adding to the list, where it is quite common for ideas to freely flow again.
  • Use space – Use the whole room; all vertical and horizontal spaces.  Use Post-Its and low-tech mediums that everyone can share and use.  Use a room that allows this to happen (rather than one which says, “Do not stick tape on the paintwork“).
  • Pre-warm the brain – Set attendees a bit of ‘homework’ by asking them to think about the problem the night before and then sleep on it.  A pre-warmed brain is a good tool for increasing output during the brainstorming session.
  • Include the physical – Verbal ideas are good, but some projects lend themselves to visual and physical ideas, such as the creation of prototypes, construction of crude models, drawing diagrams or pictures etc.  Make a good supply of ‘creative staples’ (plastic bottles, boxes, paper, tape, glue etc) available and visible.

So there we have it.  A few hints and ideas to breathe new life into our next brainstorming session.

I have to acknowledge and thank Tom Kelley for his book, The Ten Faces of Innovation [Profile Books, ISBN 978-1-86197-806-6] for help on this subject.

Until next time, happy storming of the brain!

 

My Zimbio
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Creativity: The Other Global Crisis

Perhaps one of the most eloquent and engaging speakers I have heard is Sir Ken Robinson. he has this style which instantly puts one at ease whilst totally drawing us in to what he has to say. If you want an example, pour yourself a coffee and Watch Ken Robinson Talk to see him in action (opens in a new window … use the ‘Close Window’ button after viewing).

In one of his more recent appearances he continued to present some uncomfortable facts which will impact us all unless things change. Here is a sample of out-takes from his talk. Full article here (opens in a new window).

  • The world is facing a crisis of human resources … “I believe that fundamentally we have both underestimated and continue to misuse – if not actually abuse – many of our most important talents; our talents, our children’s talents, and the talents of the people who work with us. And unless we fix [this crisis], I feel we’re not going to make much progress fixing the other one.”
  • Both crises are the result of our “industrial mindset,” which is incompatible with modern society and modern business. Both manifest themselves in terms of imbalances. In the natural world it is the imbalance of gases in our atmosphere, although human activity is also disrupting many other ecosystems. In society we have legions of people dislocated from their own talents, legions of people suffering from all kinds of anxiety, legions of people in dysfunctional communities. And there is an enormous cost of handling this.
  • In California (Robinson’s new home town) spends $3.5bn a year on the state university system; it spends $9.9bn on the state prison system. Similar figures exist for other Western countries, as well as other US states. The UK spends millions of pounds a year on remedial education, to try to get kids through a system which many of them are bucking against. And we spend millions of pounds a year on career counselling, because people have not found their way.
  • The result for educators, employers and HR professionals is that it is vital to have an understanding of “the ecology of human resources.
  • As a society, we must improve our understanding of human capabilities. We believe mistakenly that creativity and intelligence vary in inverse proportion to one another. The things we take for granted as being true are the real problem; the enemy of making the best of ourselves is common sense.
  • Thankfully creativity is not dead but merely latent, in most adults.
  • Work by Land and Jarman showed that in a smaple of 1,500 children aged 3-5, 98% ranked as “geniuses” in divergent thinking. In children aged between 8 and 10 years the figure fell to just 32% and by the time children had reached between 13 and 15 years it had declined further to a mere 10%. In other words, children become less creative as they grow older. What coincides with this period of development, aside from hormonal changes and socialisation, is that they enter formal education where they have learnt a) there is one answer to every question, b) don’t look, because that’s cheating and c) don’t copy from anybody else, because that’s cheating too … even though outside of school we call this collaboration.
  • This mindset goes well beyond school and college. Land and Jarman also performed a control test of two-thousand adults (aged 25+) where only 2% ranked as geniuses. We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, because of the ways in which we become institutionalised and socialised. Education is a big piece of this, but work is an even bigger piece.
  • Creativity is most frequently associated, in the workplace, with innovation but it is equally important in helping society cope with, and harness, technological advances. No matter what we do or where we do it, technology is going to swamp us: new information systems are going to subvert all the things we take for granted.
  • The over-25s think we’re OK, but we’re not that great. We have learnt digital technology like a second language, so we kind of speak phrasebook digital compared with our children. IT systems are becoming more and more pervasive, but they’re not fundamentally avoiding the powerful need for better and better use of human resources. To the contrary. Human resource is the only way we can engage with these things properly … and at this moment we are locked into an industrial mindset about our own capabilities.
  • Business people can help to nurture creativity and imagination by thinking of organisations as organisms rather than organisations A better metaphor is from agriculture. A farmer can’t make a plant grow. A plant grows itself. A good farmer provides the conditions for growth. And a great plant doesn’t just grow from the top, it grows everywhere simultaneously, as do healthy organisations, which have a reciprocating relationship among the parts.
  • There is a huge difference between a creative team and a committee: great creative teams require real expertise among managers and leaders to work. It’s a skill-set that we need to be teaching managers and leaders.
  • Great teams, large or small, are deliberately diverse: they have people from different backgrounds, experiences, ages and responsibilities in the organisation. The processes employed by these teams ensure that their diversity is not an impediment but a resource.
    The best senior managers are those who are not afraid to let teams congregate for specific tasks and then disband, to form other teams as necessary, perhaps one of the best ways to spread cultural information around the organisation.
  • It is essential to create the right habitat, in terms of culture and environment. Anyone who is serious about making more of people must be serious about the environment in which they work. And not just the colour of the walls: innovative organisations have a rigorous approach to questioning algorithms of behaviour and changing the environment as need be.
    Challenging stuff.

What I think is obvious is that we have a long way to go. BUT we need to make a start, no matter how small to change the inertia of creative decline. and just perhaps some of our organisations and social structures will be rebuilt into healthy living cultures.

Until next time …

 
My Zimbio

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