A New Year’s Resolution for #Leaders and #Teams: Who Are We?

Connection lights

A #NewYear’s resolution: Connecting in a deeper manner with your work team. We spend a great deal of time together being #productive. Let’s answer the question: “Who are we?”

At my father’s retirement ceremony as a college president, the local reigning politician concluded his remarks with a heartfelt statement. He indicated that if he were selecting someone to spend a week with in a fishing boat catching walleye, it would be my dad. In this rural northern Minnesota town this was the ultimate compliment!

This story gets at how important it is for us to spend time with colleagues that we know and like.  When teams are formed, they first naturally want to know what they are supposed to accomplish together. This is why the question that a team naturally asks itself is: “Who are we?”

Once their reason for being together has been answered, the next question is who is sitting next to me? Who are the people that I am about to take this journey with?  Just like the northern Minnesota folks who want to know who they will be spending a significant amount of time with in a boat, team members want to know more about their peers who they will rely on to work together as a team.

There are many packaged surveys and assessment tools that one can purchase in order to learn more about your team members. For example, I have led teams in completing and processing assessment instruments such as the Myers Briggs [https://www.themyersbriggs.com/, 2018], which indicates various psychological preferences of how people perceive the world and make decisions.

Instruments such as the Myers Briggs can be an effective way for teams to learn in-depth how they can better leverage each other. However, there is a financial cost for each team member who completes the tool. In addition, it typically takes a minimum of a half day to help the team process the instrument results.

For these reasons I have at times opted for a lower cost, quicker solution to help team members get to know one another. I simply ask them questions that will allow them to get to know one another better personally and professionally. I find that the time that team members spend getting to know about each others’ backgrounds, motivations, working styles and passions in life translates into better teams.

There is really no magic here, but following is a sample slate of questions:

  • Information about your background – career path, etc..
  • What do you like most about your city?
  • What do you like best about their work?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?
  • What did you do before you started working here? Not just jobs you held, but career path and aspirations?
  • What motivates you personally? What motivates you professionally? What gets you jumping out of bed in the morning “before” the alarm clock goes off?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • What thing in your life (outside of work) do you have a passion for? Do you have a career goal they would share with others?
  • Where’d you go to school how did you end up working here?
  • Why do you do what you do for a living? And why does your department do what it does?
  • Please let us know a bit about your education and work experience?.
  • What’s your favorite way to keep up on professional trends and best practices? [Conferences? Publications? Training? Podcasts? Etc.]

I have made this exercise a little more interesting for the participants by turning it into a “Crumple and Toss” activity. Each team member carries out the following steps, which results in the exercise being more dynamic and introduces an element of fun:

  • Step A: Participants select a question that has been crumpled and tossed in a hat.
  • Step B: They can answer that question or select a new question until they pick one they like, limiting answers to two minutes or less.
  • Step C: Crumple the question back up and toss it into the middle of the table. Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise is a great New Year’s resolution which started them on that path.

When I began in this field I assumed that team members would naturally get too know one another. I thought they would be asking each other these types of questions from day one. However, I have learned that most employees on teams go right to accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is a great New Year’s resolution.  It is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise started them on that path.

This blog does not represent the views of my employer.

 

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Being in a Thanksgiving Reality Show: The Uber Leadership Development Experience

turkey

My family was filmed last weekend for a reality show depicting how American families celebrate Thanksgiving. Since the show was produced by a German pop up museum, I am referring to our experience as the “Uber” leadership development experience. For you non-Germanic folks, Uber means “being a superlative example of its kind or class”.

The reality show was similar to being a leadership development consultant in many ways: The show required a great deal of planning. And, even though we followed a rough storyline, in the end, there were some surprises! For example, the turkey was still frozen with a chance of blowing up in the deep fryer oil. We also revealed during the family sit down interview that our only consistent Thanksgiving tradition was wearing turkey and pilgrim costumes. The director’s eyes lit up! She had flown all the way from Berlin seeking this kind of unexpected drama.

Sound familiar? Pulling together a group of leaders and helping them be more effective and efficient does not just magically happen. Just as the reality show director created an environment where our family was show cased, as leadership consultants we design an experience for leaders which leads them down a path of self-insight. Here are three areas of programming we grapple with during all of our leadership interventions:

1/ Requires Staging [Lots of Effort to Setup]

The reality show director met with our family a week before the filming to outline the goal of the reality show and learn more about us. She also spent most of the morning of the shooting figuring out the best places to film and having her crew set up the equipment.

Similarly, as consultants we first learn what our leaders are trying to accomplish and acquire knowledge about them as people. In addition to a leadership assessment, I typically have a one-on-one conversation with each member of the leadership team to learn about their unique leadership styles, temperament and goals. I am then in a position to determine the best formats for helping the leadership team reach their objectives.

2/ Follows a Story Line [Even Though is Supposedly 100% Spontaneous]

The reality show director outlined how the day would play out before she ever started filming. She crafted a rough story line based on her interview with us. Our segment began with us reminiscing as a family about past Thanksgivings, leading us to prepare for our celebration and culminating in our Thanksgiving dinner. No one knew what would happen during these steps, however, we all knew the schedule of events.

As consultants, we follow a similar discipline as we craft an experience for the leaders. We cannot simply tell these leaders to be better. No, we introduce methods which allow the leaders to realize for themselves how they can work together better. Our interventions feel like a spontaneous experience for the leaders. They feel like they are pulling brilliant leadership insights out of thin air. Little do they know that we are the reality show directors. We planned out a story line which helped create an environment of self-insight.

3/ Did NOT Go as Planned [The Unexpected Happened]

As referenced above, the reality show director could not have predicted that the turkey would be frozen. This required her to come up with an alternative plan. On the spot, she declared that we would head to the grocery story to purchase a thawed turkey. Luckily, our nearby grocer was accommodating as our family paraded through the isles with a film crew in tow.

Similarly, not one of our leadership gigs has ever gone as planned. The reality show involves filming situations where what transpires cannot be predicted. Similarly, we are working with humans and cannot predict what they will bring to our interventions or how they will react in the moment. I have had the power completely shut down requiring us to relocate. Leaders have attempted their own awkward interventions with peers who do not welcome their “helping hand”. And, perhaps the most challenging, I have led full day sessions where we only had decaf coffee!

Where the Magic Happens!

Through all these challenges we persevere. In fact, it can be the unexpected that results in leadership teams experiencing their biggest break throughs. When they forget that the cameras are turned on and they have real conversations with each other, things start to happen. Some of those conversations can be loud and uncomfortable, sounding more like a reality show family in a heated argument. However, that is when leadership teams get real and the magic happens.

At the end of a long day filming our reality show had a similar sort of magic happen. After all the setup, being interviewed per our story line and a few glasses of wine thrown in, we donned our turkey and pilgrim outfits. We forget that the cameras were rolling. And we danced around the Thanksgiving table with pure unfettered joy!

The Backstory of the Goethe Pop Up Museum in Minneapolis

A German pop up museum in downtown Minneapolis created the reality show about how American families celebrate Thanksgiving.  The series will be posted at their website.

https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/en/sta/gpm.html

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

True Organizational Culture Change: “Everyone Talks Different”

culturechange

The #culturechange that Sandra Johnson engineered at a challenging City Government division is the most astounding cultural turn around that I have ever witnessed. An informal City leader who missed 50% of the meetings due to an illness came back and said, “I don’t know what happened but all I can say is everyone talks different.” It is a pleasure to post this amazing turn around #organizationalculture case study:

The Client: City Government

The client was a City Government Division with 25 union employees. Over 50% of the staff had been with the City for 10 years or more. The division manager had been with the division for over 25 years.

The Situation:

The division had some of the highest number of grievances in the City. The assistant manager had been hired into the position over other more senior staff and there was an active movement against her. The culture of the division included at times yelling, name calling and all around staff of unhappy campers.

The division scores on the #EmployeeEngagement survey were some of the lowest in the City.

I was brought in to help improve the organizational culture with the goal of improving overall employee engagement and reduce the number of grievances.

The Solution:

The #leadership agreed to a 9-month program meeting once a month for two hours with the entire staff. In between the monthly meetings, the manager and assistant manager agreed to bi-weekly coaching. Management also supported intermittent small group discussions with staff members who volunteered to work on issues, brainstorm and propose solutions.

The Results:

During the program, one of the informal leaders did not attend the monthly meetings as they were held on her normal day-off. The second informal leader missed about 50% of the meetings due to a medical leave. The other two informal leaders ironically were both up for a promotion against each other and the assistant manager, who was a key champion in the initiative, interviewed and ultimately selected the one who agreed to and was willing to support the organizational change.

At the end of the 9-month program:

  • Over 50% of the staff were actively involved in small group “think tanks” and volunteering to take on projects to promote the new culture
  • The informal leader who was promoted transformed from a resistor who previously sat “outside the circle with her arms folded” to a champion of the change, taking on additional responsibilities
  • The manager humbly announced to the team that he was “amazed at the amount of talented people and exceptional ideas he had on his team that he didn’t realize.”
  • The assistant manager embraced the movement and took over the leadership role of ensuring the continued success of the program.
  • Weekly staff meetings became led by staff members with everyone contributing to the agenda opening up two-way communication.

The feedback from this effort clearly suggests a true cultural transformation!

Facilitator: Sandra Johnson, MA RCC, Strategic Corporate Solutions

http://www.strategiccorporatesolutions.com

sandra@strategiccorporatesolutions.com

This blog does not express the views of my employer

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If Mayors Ruled the World!

mayorruledworld

If Mayors Ruled the World [http://bit.ly/1kq50ah] it would be a better place!  This premise of a recently released book is becoming increasingly true as each day passes.  As gridlock and a circus-like atmosphere permeates Washington, with many State governments not far behind, the important work being carried out at the City level chugs on!

During my two years of leadership and organizational development work at the City of Minneapolis, I witnessed first-hand smart, hard-working employees make this City run.  A small subset of these efforts hit the papers.  Rather, most of the stories we read about in the media concern highly visible construction projects, the latest neighborhood fracas and interesting tidbits a council person muttered at the last committee hearing.

However, these topics are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the practical work the City carries out that positively impacts citizens each and every day.  I am talking about the folks who ensure that the water that comes out of your tap tastes good, the roads you take to work are quality, the building where you work is safe, the restaurant where you have lunch is a healthy environment, the park where you take your kids is enjoyable…   You get the idea.

The combined impact of each and every service provided by our City, which we too often take for granted, is significant.  Here are additional wins from a rush of other recent books about Cities:

  • A Country of Cities: Ninety percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 86% of our jobs are generated in metropolitan areas. And, by the way, these metropolitan areas comprise 3% of the land in the U.S. [Chakrabarti, 2013, http://amzn.to/2rTZDKT%5D
  • Green Metropolis: Cities are poster children of sustainability since density linked to infrastructure consistently lowers carbon footprints per person. This allows for the creation of walkable neighborhoods which builds community connections. [David Owen,2010, http://amzn.to/2r2GPrw%5D
  • Triumph of the City: People with a powerful skill ready to tackle the problems of the day tend to migrate toward and settle in cities. Cities such as Minneapolis and Boston have capitalized on great schools and a highly educated workforce.   [Edward Glaeser, 2012, http://amzn.to/2t1WBUu ]

The authors of these books praising Cities all make the similar point that City’s offer us solutions to the big problems of our day.  These author admittedly down play the challenges in many major cities around public education, equity and inclusion and maintaining quality of life at reasonable price points.  However, even on these fronts, Cities are diving in and making progress.

As a result of doing organizational development at the City of Minneapolis, I had a front row seat to the work cited in these books.  At a leadership level, the City Coordinator function brings an outstanding level of strategic expertise.   Regulatory Services, Planning, Property Services, Fire, Communications and Public Works leaders are paving new ground (In the case of the latter, literally!).  To name just a few of the amazing leaders.

Combine all this with Human Resources leadership with a compelling vision for building Talent Management of the future.  This capability allowed me to deliver one of the most innovative Leadership courses in the country hands-down – public or private sector.  This six month program involves emerging leaders from across City Departments exploring how to increase skills and collaborate more.  The program also involves bringing in some of the most experienced leaders from the Twin Cities in government, nonprofit and the corporate sectors.  They deliver practical, real-world advice that hits the mark.

Equally impressive I worked with young up and coming leaders doing incredibly innovative work with their teams.  A few examples of the many:

  • Imani Jaafar is partnering with various City departments on Civil Rights Office efforts which are practical and get to the heart of challenges.
  • Kim Keller’s Regulatory Services internal services group is finding new ways to move quickly from strategy to execution.
  • Patrick Hanlon’s Environmental Health staff dedicate 20% of their time to cutting edge projects which have had sizable impacts. [Take that Google!]

These are the types of innovative leaders that every organization in the world is trying to attract and retain.  Ramping up the level of leadership is the key to making great public organizations even better as pointed out in Transforming Public Leadership:

“Leaders possess the ability to structure conversations that create a sense of collaboration and a feeling of mutual support by their ability to communicate openly about what may be achieved in the future and what can be achieved through each individual’s purposeful actions so that those involved believe in themselves.” [Christine Gibbs Springer, 2007, http://amzn.to/2sRUnHP%5D

In the end, these local City efforts perhaps do not have the scope that national and state-wide initiatives make.  However, given the latest news coming out of Washington, perhaps local public servants making a difference in our daily life is the real news!

Note: This blog does not express the views of my employer.