Tag Archives: leading teams

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

observe-look-magnifying-glassIn Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too. At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto. At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle. Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation. It is part of a mental process that Edgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it. We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other. We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead. The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what. As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste. Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on giving time to observation and critical thinking. Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for. And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway? What do you think?

Note: Originally published in August, 2012

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Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams

Leadership and the Challenge of Change

ten-tall-tales-climate-change-skeptics-29-Jun-11I am not a baseball fan. Nonetheless one day, I sat, somewhat reluctantly, in front of my television and watched the movie “Moneyball”. I say somewhat reluctantly because, well, Brad Pitt was involved… so I forced myself.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, “Moneyball” is based on the story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. It’s about how he defied deeply entrenched tradition and beliefs and changed the game’s system of player selection forever.

There are valuable lessons and reminders in this story that are worth considering when it comes to making change happen. Here are just a few of them:

Begin by defining the problem correctly

Change usually begins with a problem. While everyone involved might acknowledge its existence, it would be a mistake to assume that everyone sees it in the same way. Here is a clip

*

Billy Beane saw the problem as one of disadvantage. His scouts saw the problem, more traditionally, as one of deficiency. If, collectively, you fail to see the problem in the same way, resolving it will be that much harder.

To find a different solution, you have to employ different means and sometimes, different people

In order to better understand and resolve his problem, Billy partnered with a very unlikely individual. Peter was an economist, newly graduated from a prestigious University, who had developed an unorthodox method of player evaluation. It was an untested process and yet to Billy, it spoke of possibility. Sometimes to make change happen, you’ve got to take a leap of faith.

Once you’re committed, there’s no going back

Billy’s story made me think about just how hard it is to make a major change in any organization. At some point in the process the going is bound to get tough, often unbearably so. In spite of it, a leader’s belief in what s/he is doing cannot waiver, especially in the face of naysayers. Failure is always a possibility but giving up too soon, or not trying in the first place, is a kind of failure in itself.

In the face of immovable obstacles, go around

In the movie, the Oakland Athletics Team Manager was fiercely opposed to Billy’s new approach. Billy’s suggestions for player positioning fell on deaf, and very stubborn, ears. The manager continued to play in his time-honoured way, honestly believing that Billy was making a terrible mistake. No manner of persuasion would convince him otherwise. So Billy traded the players favoured by the team manager, effectively forcing him to do something different. Sometimes you have to rattle the cage hard.

Know when it’s your turn to take charge

The introduction of a new process and a new Assistant GM was a great boon to Billy in initiating change. When something is working it is tempting to become reliant on it for all the answers. However, good leaders understand that a system, process, or even the advice of others can only take you so far. That means that on occasion, decisions have to come from your own experience, your own talents and your own understanding of what’s going on. It goes with the territory.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please Note: The clip used from the movie “Moneyball” is not used for commercial purposes or financial gain. It is respectfully borrowed from Sony Pictures for illustration purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyright.

* This post was written and originally published in June, 2012

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Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Vision, Leading Teams, Management

A Reflection on Teambuilding… and the Story of Edith

These days we talk a lot about ‘Team’.  Indeed, we have come to appreciate the value of teamwork, collaboration and engagement much more since, through technology, the World became small.

I’ve been thinking about this…and also about Edith.

Edith was a clerk among a myriad of others working in the International Department of the very large bank that employed us both.

Back then, I was a Personnel Officer, although it was a role much more akin to Police Officer than anything else. And Edith was a pain in the neck.

She was notorious for not showing up for work on Fridays.  Long weekends seemed to suit her, much to the chagrin of her manager.  Her excuses were priceless.

Once when asked about a Friday absence she remarked,

Well, on Thursday I went to the cafeteria for lunch and they were serving fish.  They only ever serve fish on Friday.  Naturally, I thought Thursday was Friday, so the next day, thinking it was Saturday, I didn’t come in”

All the time I worked with Edith, I thought her to be an often cantankerous, rather silly woman.  In my youth and to my shame, I looked down on her.  Her job performance was not particularly remarkable and her eccentricities, of which there were many, were a source of both amusement and great irritation.

Edith retired at the mandatory age of sixty-five.  She went happily into the sunset without my, or her manager, ever really understanding who she was or what we might have learned from her.  That kind of thing happens when you’re arrogant, when you look at people, not as people, but as employees…bums on chairs.

Recently, I happened upon Edith’s obituary.  She died in her 97th year.  This is what I discovered about her.

She was a woman who had endured hardship all her life.  When she was very young, she suffered a complete memory loss, something that even the strongest among us might have difficulty coping with.

In her middle age, while also working for the bank, she was caring for an “erratic” mother and living in a farmhouse with no electricity, heating or indoor plumbing.

Later, she married a man who was a refugee, someone who had lost his entire family in Europe during WWII.

Together, they worked to acquire property, without incurring debt.  They did this through, what was described in the obituary, as a shared philosophy of “mend and make do”.  In the end, this approach helped them amass a winter home in Florida, a family home in Toronto and some acres in Muskoka.

So what is my point?  It is this.

A team is made up of people.  It is the leader’s job to learn as much as possible about what those people are capable of bringing to it and to encourage their willingness to do so.

Had I, or her manager, stopped for just a little while to look deeper, beyond Edith’s dowdy appearance and eccentric ways we might have seen a creative woman with great business sense and a steely determination to achieve her goals.  We might also have seen someone capable of fierce loyalty and resilience…. all skills that any team would be glad of. But we didn’t.  And our opportunity to capture Edith’s attention and draw from her experience was lost.  Instead, the performance she gave at the bank can only be described as sufficient unto the day, a means to an end. She didn’t care because we didn’t care.

So if you think that seeking depth as well as breadth in the relationships you build at work is just a warm and fuzzy thing to do, I invite you to think again.  There is gold beneath the surface to be mined. What you find could be more than useful in helping you build a focused team bent on achieving its business goals.

As for Edith, she may or may not have responded differently had we behaved differently toward her. But we’ll never know will we?

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, Teambuilding, Uncategorized

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

In Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too.  At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto.  At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle.  Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation.  It is part of a mental process thatEdgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it.  We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other.  We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead.  The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: oRJI

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what.  As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste.  Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on  giving time to observation and critical thinking.  Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for.  And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway?  What do you think?

13 Comments

Filed under communication, Leadership, Leading Teams

Leadership and the Challenge of Change

I am not a baseball fan.  Nonetheless the other day, I sat, somewhat reluctantly, in front of my television and watched the movie Moneyball.  I say somewhat reluctantly because, well, Brad Pitt was involved… so I forced myself.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, “Moneyball” is based on the story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. It’s about how he defied deeply entrenched tradition and beliefs and changed the game’s system of player selection forever.

There are valuable lessons and reminders in this story that for any leader are worth considering when it comes to making change happen.  Here are just a few of them:

Begin by defining the problem correctly

Change usually begins with a problem. While everyone involved might acknowledge its existence, it would be a mistake to assume that everyone sees it in the same way.  Here is a clip

*  

Billy Beane saw the problem as one of disadvantage.  His scouts saw the problem, more traditionally, as one of deficiency.   If you fail to see the problem in the same way, resolving it will be that much harder.

To find a different solution, you have to employ different means and sometimes, different people

In order to better understand and resolve his problem, Billy partnered with a very unlikely individual.  Peter was an economist, newly graduated from a prestigious University, who had developed an unorthodox method of player evaluation.  It was an untested process and yet to Billy, it spoke of possibility.  Sometimes to make change happen, you’ve got to take a leap of faith.

Once you’re committed, there’s no going back

Billy’s story made me think about just how hard it is to make a major change in any organization.  At some point in the process the going is bound to get tough, often unbearably so.  In spite of it, a leader’s belief in what s/he is doing cannot waiver, especially in the face of naysayers.  Failure is always a possibility but giving up too soon, or not trying in the first place, is a kind of failure in itself.

In the face of immovable obstacles, go around

In the movie, the Oakland Athletics Team Manager was fiercely opposed to Billy’s new approach.  Billy’s suggestions for player positioning fell on deaf, and  very stubborn, ears.  The manager continued to play in his time-honoured way, honestly believing that Billy was making a terrible mistake.  No manner of persuasion would convince him otherwise.  So Billy traded the players favoured by the team manager, effectively forcing him to do something different.  Sometimes you have to rattle the cage hard.

Know when it’s your turn to take charge

The introduction of a new process and a new Assistant GM was a great boon to Billy in initiating change.  When something is working it is tempting to become reliant on it for all the answers.  However, good leaders understand that a system, process, or even the advice of others can only take you so far.  That means that on  occasion, decisions have to come from your own experience, your own talents and your own understanding of what’s going on.  It goes with the territory.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Please Note: The clip used from the movie “Moneyball” is not used for commercial purposes or financial gain.  It is respectfully borrowed from Sony Pictures for illustration purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyright.

16 Comments

Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Vision, Leading Change, Leading Teams, Management