Tag Archives: teamwork

Circular Firing Squads

One thing that used to amaze me without fail was when a room full of intelligent people would form a circular firing squad and shoot away. OK, so it’s not literally true, but you know what I mean and you’ve probably been in one or more of these situations yourself.

Photo by Holger Link

It happens when someone surfaces an idea or an argument that deviates from the conventional wisdom or thinking on an issue. Instead of evaluating the new thinking on its merits, people start taking potshots at one another. They should be united against a common “enemy” – the competition, for example, or a big problem. Instead, they attack one another.

I’m not really sure how one combats this. I always used to raise ideas along with all of the flaws inherent in what I was espousing. By showing that I understood the weaknesses in my thinking I was also showing that I could be balanced and not delusional enough to think that every idea I had was gold. What I was hoping for was for others to focus on the good parts of my thinking instead of spending time trying to surface the problems because I had already done that.

Whenever possible, I’d draw pictures of some sort – Venn diagrams, flow charts, whatever – because I believe that pictures are more easily understood, even those drawn by a person with zero artistic ability (me). The goal was always to get the team standing back to back, rifles pointed out at the problem and away from pointing inward at one another.

Creating an environment where new ideas flourish is one of the biggest management challenges. Keeping the team focused on the big goals and not on taking pot shots at one another to further their personal goals is another one. What’s above are some of the ways I do that. How do you do that?

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Hitting Curves

My friend posted a picture of his father on social media the other day. Outside of my own father, he was probably the most influential male in my life as I was growing up in many ways. Aside from wondering why he’s aged and I haven’t as I saw the photo (that’s a joke, kids), it made me recall one thing that he did to teach my friend and me to be better baseball players: hitting curveballs.

My friend’s dad was no ordinary dad when it came to imparting that little piece of baseball knowledge either. He had tried out with the Yankees and the family lore is that had my friend’s mom not told him that she would walk on the marriage, he would have been signed and playing in Yankee Stadium. Obviously, when this guy tells you he’s going to teach you about curveballs, you listen.

For those of you that have never stood in against a pitcher with a lively curve, the pitch starts by heading at your head and breaks down and away from you. That’s what my friend’s father threw at us – pitches that started at our heads and broke in over the plate. Of course, once he felt we were getting complacent about standing in against the curve, he’d toss the odd pitch right at our heads to teach us to look for the rotation of the ball and to duck if it wasn’t going to curve. A fastball at your skull gets you focused very quickly!

Almost every player who makes the majors can hit fastballs. It’s the ones who can hit breaking pitches – sliders and curveballs – who become stars. It’s true in business as well. When things are going along according to plan and not diverging from the track they’re on, things are relatively easy to manage. Even if something appears dangerous (like a fastball heading for your ear) it’s relatively easy to get out of the way if you can see where things are heading.

Learning to hit business curveballs is something that you need to do if you’re going to elevate your game. You need to prepare for them by planning and recognizing that they’re going to show up from time to time. Your team needs to be ready, and you need to think about who can handle curveballs as you’re assembling that team.  People who are regimented and can’t deal with it when events start tracking differently are probably not your priority hires.

Mostly, you need to expect things to go wrong. After bailing out and hitting the dirt a couple of times, I realized that some attempted curveballs don’t break even when the rotation makes it look like they’re trying. It’s better to have to wash your uniform than to repair your skull. Your team needs to recognize that bailing out might be the smartest option when things begin to go awry. Watch out for those curves, learn to hit them out of the park, and your team can’t be beaten. Right?

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Make Your Environment Cheezy

A little science this Foodie Friday. I swear this doesn’t come from some satire site either. A group of Swiss scientists conducted a little experiment with music and cheese. The idea was to find out if exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor. They took 9 wheels of Emmenthal cheese and put them in individual wooden crates. Then, for the next six months, each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels. You with me so far?

As one report had it:

The tracks include A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here, Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Vril’s UV, and Yello’s Monolith. Three of the other wheels were exposed to either low-, medium-, or high-frequency sound waves. One control wheel was left in silence.

Any guesses on the results? Well, amazingly, there was a noticeable difference in flavor according to the food experts who tasted them. They reported that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples. If you ask anyone who’s been around me whilst I’m preparing a meal, they will tell you that I often play a type of music appropriate to the cuisine being prepared: Zydeco when cooking Cajun, Salsa when cooking Mexican, etc. They think I’m crazy but now I have science to back up my thinking, right?

The business point here is that we often don’t pay enough attention to the environment we set up in our business places. While it’s become more common for people to listen to headphones while they work, there are many other factors in the environment that affect performance. Creating an environment where people are happy and motivated pays huge dividends, especially when you look at places where people are generally miserable. It’s not just good lighting and clean spaces. It’s also having an open-door policy as a manager and allowing the staff to personalize their spaces. It means bending the rules from time to time to accommodate special situations and doing a lot more listening than talking when conversing with your team.

If cheese can pick vibrations and react, you can be very sure that the people with whom you work can as well. Why not make them the kind of vibes that create the best flavor?

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Stew

It’s nearly 80 degrees here on this Foodie Friday and one might think that winter is gone. Not so fast – it will be in the mid-40’s tomorrow so we’re not yet past stew weather. Stews are a winter staple and since there are endless variations of them, one can’t really get bored with making them.

Some folks think of stews as a thick soup but I think that vastly underrates the dish. I wouldn’t serve soup over noodles or mashed potatoes, would you? As it turns out, they teach us a bit about managing too.

One thing that’s great about stews is that the longer they sit, the better they get as long as you don’t raise the temperature too far. You need to choose your protein – generally meat – wisely. You want the inexpensive cuts that really aren’t good for much else since they contain a lot of connective tissue. They require lengthy cooking (pressure cooking excepted) so that tissue can break down and the meat can transform into tender loveliness.

The meat needs to be seared properly. That means you can’t overload your pan or the meat with steam and not brown. You don’t want to put too much flour on the meat or into the stew to help thicken it or you end up with a gloppy mess. Let the collagen from the meat do its job. If you need more thickening, use gelatin (look it up!) which does the job without changing the flavor or adding lumps.

So why is this appropriate for our business blog? Your team is your stew. You need to find the right ingredients, which are often the overlooked cuts. The best stew meat comes from the muscles that do a lot of work but need help in transforming into dinner greatness. Dig deeper for people, especially the ones who’ve been working hard but maybe not getting the recognition they deserve. You need a sturdy pot that can hold the heat. That, dear readers, is often you, the leader of the team. Great stews have lots of individual components, each of which needs to be added at the right time or it will get mushy. This speaks to the need to pay attention to the individuals on your team to bring out the best in each of them. Pull things together, apply some gentle heat, and give it time. Your team is a magnificent stew!

Here is a list of stews. It is quite varied, but the dishes have a lot in common while still being quite distinctive. Your stew – your team – will be too. Go out and pull it together.

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Five Feet From Where?

If you’ve been reading the screed on a regular basis of late, you know that my recent experience of purchasing and moving into a new home has provided wonderful fodder for my rants. Today will continue the trend.

One thing that I asked the builder to do as part of the deal was to put up a five-foot fence in the back yard. He agreed and yet another adventure in communication began. It dawned on me as this adventure progressed that there is a great business point contained within.

I live in a community that has an HOA – a homeowner’s association. I’d never lived with one before and so wasn’t really used to the fact that most of the people living in “neighborhoods” down here live with the fact that a board can tell them everything from what color they can paint their home to the type of trees they can plant to the type and height of the fences they can erect and where. To build my fence, I needed HOA approval, and that’s when the fun started. I couldn’t get that approval until I actually owned the home. Until then, the developer’s regulations applied, meaning the fence could only extend five feet from the side of the house and be no more than four feet high. I wanted to live with the HOA rule of the fence being five feet from the property line, not from the house, which in my case meant it would extend an extra eight feet from the house. I also wanted the HOA to approve a five-foot-high fence. You with me so far?

The builder was happy to put up the fence but he would have to do so within the builder regulations unless I wanted to wait almost 2 months, the time it would take to close on the house and go through the HOA approval process. I won’t bore you with the details, but I managed to get the approval much faster (it helps to have golf buddies with good connections). The fence was going up as of last Friday and should be done by Monday, move-in day.

I drove by the new house on Friday and sure enough, the five foot high posts were in the ground, exactly five feet from the house and NOT from the property line. Despite many emails and calls back and forth, somehow the point of the delay – to get a variance to get five feet from the property line and not from the house – was lost even though the message about extra height got through. The fence company was told five feet from the house and they were not happy when they got the call to reset all the posts. Of course, there were also emails asking for proof that the variance had been granted (they’d received the copies several weeks before). As of right now, I’m looking at posts five feet high sitting five feet from the property line (and 13 feet from the house) awaiting the rails and pickets to be attached, hopefully, today or tomorrow.

What’s the business point? No matter what you think you’re communicating to someone, it’s always a good idea to review it again, especially when it involves something that’s not easily undone. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you. Make sure that nothing was lost in the communication. In my case, “five feet” wasn’t the issue. Five feet from where certainly was and that’s what got lost somehow. Good teams are all built around great communication. So are good partnerships and great customer service.

Frost wrote Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Apparently, that something is unclear instruction and faulty communication, right?

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Top Posts Of 2018 #3

It has become an end of year tradition here in the screed that I use the time between Christmas and New Year to post the most-read posts written during this past year. You guys did a lot of reading – traffic was up 17% this year over last. Thank you!

Today I’m posting the third most-read post. Tomorrow will be #2. On Friday you’ll see the most-read Foodie Friday post and Monday will be the most-read of the year. Today’s post was written last August following my daughter’s wedding. It’s about decision-making, which is a hard thing for many people. Maybe that’s something to put on the resolution list I just know you’re writing now?

I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?

Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.

Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.

It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.

As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!

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Girls And Boys Just Want To Have Fun

One thing I learned after I began managing people many decades ago is that even though it’s called “work,” it doesn’t have to seem that way all the time. Since I was still pretty young (24) when I got my first managerial responsibility, I still placed a good deal of emphasis on having fun as well as getting the work done. In fact, most of the time when problems arose it was because I had failed to act in a way that would be how I would want my boss to act or that I’d forgotten that for most people, work is what they do and not who they are. Let me explain why remembering to have fun is just as important as remembering to get things done.

I felt I was running a benevolent dictatorship. What I mean is that most decisions were mine because I bore the responsibility for them to the powers that be whether I had made them or not. However, I rarely took those decisions in a vacuum. I got input from my team and always encouraged them to voice their opinions. They knew that I might not decide to do things the way that they wanted but that I’d listened and considered their thinking on the matter.

That’s part of having fun. It’s letting every member of the team feel valued. It’s taking what we were doing together seriously but not taking ourselves so seriously. I read somewhere that great leaders are ambassadors of happy. I like that, especially since I’ve worked for a few bosses to whom “happy” and “staff” were never words that intersected.

People have fun when they know what to expect from their leader. When leaders make a conscious effort to have fun, whether via silly signs or self-deprecating humor or through the constant appreciation of the good work of each person on the team. That’s when “work” becomes a place that’s a lot more than a job or a paycheck. Ask yourself, “are we having fun yet?” Ask your team too. Are you? Are they?

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