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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ten Rules for Succeeding as a Leader in an Age of Turbulent Change


The future ain’t what it used to be.

Known for his pithy and often mangled quotations, New York Yankees catcher and manager Yogi Berra nevertheless ended up making poignant observations. In this instance, the future keeps materializing in a typically different form than what “experts” have predicted. We tend to think that today’s society is under an onslaught of change. Indeed it is. However, huge change faced people living in Great Britain and Europe during the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700s. The same with the late 1800s.

Rather than compare past change events during different periods over the past few hundred years, what’s more relevant is to talk about change adaptability. In this post, we’ll look at 10 rules for successful personal leadership in the age of turbulence. Hopefully, they’ll assist you in your personal learning and leadership journey.

Rule #1: Commit to Your Job. There’s a saying that people don’t quit their jobs but rather their bosses. Fair enough. However, there comes a time when commitment to our work and employers must be reconciled with the propensity to leave jobs when we become frustrated and fed up. I learned many years ago that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. What may appear to be Eden often turns out to be a worse situation – from the frying pan into the fire, as the expression goes.

This prompts a sidebar comment: if you’re in a position of hiring staff, whether as a manager or business owner, the worst thing you can do is make empty promises to attract new employees. My maxim with customer service is always under-promise but over-deliver. I would argue that this is what those who engage in hiring should practice; over-deliver by providing excellent leadership and an engaging workplace.

To commit to your job means aligning yourself with your organization’s mission (why it exists as an entity), understanding who are the customers or clients, and determine where you add value. If you find that you’re not adding value, then some personal reflection is needed.

Management guru Tom Peters commented once that you should only take on work that adds to your resume. Now this may startle some people, with the response: “Yeah right, I’ll tell my boss that I’m not going to do a certain task because it’s useless.” What Peters is actually suggesting is that we need to continually seek to learn and improve ourselves; his statement, in typical Peters’ fashion, was aimed to be provocative.

Committing to our jobs does have the element of an opposing tension to look after our own self interest. However, being only half present at work because we’re day-dreaming or commiserating in our self-perceived sorrow helps no one, certainly not our personal growth and career development.

Rule #2: Adapt Quickly to Change. 
When a big change hits your organization, emulate Superman by quickly shedding your old corporate duds for the new approach. If you can’t find a phone booth, any office will do.

The key point here is to understand that your organization is about to go through some whitewater change (e.g., merger, acquisition, downsizing, or new technology introduction) and management won’t have all the answers. However, by adapting quickly to the change, you’ll significantly reduce your stress while simultaneously showing management that you can be counted upon when the going gets tough and ambiguity is the daily challenge.

Rule #3: Learn to Focus and Go for Quality, Not Quantity
. Okay, I admit to being a multitasker. How about yourself? When in the elevator at work or waiting in the coffee line, are you texting and checking emails on your wireless, while attempting to acknowledge coworkers and friends at the same time? What about while driving? Are you checking for emails or text messages while at the traffic light?

I’ve seen people reading books while driving on the highway, or juggling a cell phone, coffee and a cigarette. My favourite story is from the Ontario Provincial Police who pulled over a motorist who was doing the ultimate in multitasking. His crime? He had a Coleman propane stove on the passenger seat and was cooking bacon and eggs. Now that’s commitment to multitasking.

All joking aside, multitasking performed while driving or walking across an intersection can have disastrous consequences. In the context of organizational work, multitasking has the negative effect of valuing the superficial and mediocrity. In what has been labeled the knowledge age, in which employees are supposedly knowledge workers, my view is that multitasking is dumbing down organizations, in particular those individuals in managerial leadership positions who parade around with smart phones stuck to the sides of their heads.

A key competitive asset resident in Canada and the United States is their well-educated populations. If our economies are to evolve to respond to the sweeping effects of technology, it’s vital that people are engaged to use their brains in meaningful ways in order to stimulate creativity and innovation. Go for quality, not quantity. Strive for the deeper solutions (see Rule #8).

When it comes to leading people, being present is a vital element of effective leadership. If you’re trying to multitask while speaking to one of your staff who’s dropped by your office, you send out the message loud and clear that the individual is not important. Focus on what your colleague is saying; at that moment he or she is the centre of your attention.

Rule #4: Be a Promise Keeper. One of my admitted pet peeves is people who make promises only to break them. None of us are perfect, especially yours truly; however, I’ve always made an effort to fulfill promises or commitments to others. No, my batting average is not 1000, but it’s pretty high.

With that said up front, keeping promises to others–whether at home, to friends or workers, or in our community–is an essential part of who we are as leaders.

Over my 35-year working career I witnessed too many promises that were broken, and I’m not even referring to those that people broke to me. It never ceased to amaze me how, for example, a manager could make a string of promises to staff, only to not fulfill them. On too many occasions I moved in to manage a unit whose manager had left, for whatever reason, leaving the carnage of poor morale among staff because of broken promises. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in as a manager.

When you keep your promises and commitments to your co-workers, staff and bosses, including those with whom you interact in your community, you’re viewed as someone with integrity and whose word is gold. And when the occasional situation arises where you’re unable to keep a promise, then it’s essential to take the time to explain what happened to the person or people who were affected. Refrain from making up excuses; just be up front and people will be much more likely to be understanding. They may even respect you more when they see you admitting a mistake and acknowledging that you’re human.

Rule #5: Embrace Uncertainty and Ambiguity–Ride the Wave. Trying to resist the onslaught of whitewater change is futile. The metaphor of learning to ride the wave is very apt here, one that creates a positive and energetic outlook. Throughout history since the start of the Industrial Revolution, people have fretted about the introduction of new technologies and how work is performed. They adapted quickly, however, moving forward to create new inventions or adaptations of existing technologies.

At the organizational level the effects of globalization–characterized by most work being capable of being done anywhere around the world, thanks largely to communications technology–are having profound effects on workers. Depending on what you read and from what vantage point, the offshoring of work is viewed as ranging from being a pernicious practice imposed on North American workers to improving the distribution of wealth globally.

What’s important to keep at the forefront is not who’s right on the job distribution issue, but rather to identify what YOU control and do NOT control. You control your morale, willingness to learn and adapt, and desire to seek out new opportunities.
By assuming the identify of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes. And you’ll signal to senior management that you’re equipped and ready to contribute to helping the organization meet its new challenges.

Rule #6: Be a sponge for learning–and then SYNTHESIZE
. The amount of information is growing exponentially every day. It’s no doubt overwhelming with the massive onslaught of information we must try to absorb. As much as it’s important to keep learning (as the mantra goes) and to expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives, my view is that the critical skill to acquire is how to synthesize this data overload. This is my personal daily challenge, being a voracious reader and keen observer of geo-political events.

The opposing tension to developing your synthesis skills is the superficiality created from multi-tasking (see Rule #3). Again, this is part of my personal daily challenge. Go for the deep perspective–find your a-ha! moment, when you discover that gem of wisdom or burning idea that catapults you to another level. Ensure that you take time to reflect and explore possibilities.

Every morning I go for an hour-plus walk, which includes enjoying some wooded areas. These morning walks help slow down my thinking, which tends to race, and enable me to look at solutions to problems I may be facing or what I should write about in my next blog post.

Rule #7: Own your attitude and behaviour. When I was doing my Masters in leadership residency back in 1998, we spent a lot of time in action learning teams. This was one of the more profound learning experiences of my long working career. As with any team there are sometimes dysfunctional people. What became apparent as my cohort of 55 mid-career learners went through the first of two residencies was that several of the 10 teams encountered serious problems.

My team was no exception. Fortunately, as we realized that one of the male learners on our team was imposing his baggage upon us, a female team member who was well acquainted with this type of behaviour stepped up to the plate and called him on it. Her many years of working as a social worker in maximum security prisons had sensitized her to manipulative behaviour. We got through our action learning project in better shape than other teams, due largely to her intervention. But I never forgot her words: “You have to own your own shit.” Crude, but true.

How often have you seen bosses or co-workers trying to dump their problems on others? What was the effect? Did anyone call the individual on it? What was the response from management?

When behaviour like this occurs it can have a corrosive effect on the team and even more broadly on the organization. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see it happening. Speak up and empower yourself to help correct the behaviour. Lead by example.

Rule #8: Be a problem solver, Not a finger pointer. It’s really easy to identify problems and complain about them. Some people excel at this. The bigger challenge is exploring solutions to problems, and especially doing so in a collaborative manner. When you approach your work from this perspective you automatically start adding value to your organization.

Avoid the finger pointers; instead seek out people who want to be part of finding effective solutions for organizational issues and problems. You’ll be seen as the person who makes things happen, who fixes problems and, especially, adds value to your organization.

Rule #9: Practice what you preach. Treat people as how you like to be treated, whether it’s responding to a request for information from another unit in the organization or serving a customer, client and supplier. When others see that you act consistently in accordance with what emanates from your mouth, they’ll take you more seriously and respect you for your judgement and views. Aligning what you espouse and what you actually practice is a cornerstone to leadership integrity, one essential to creating a loyal followership.

Rule#10: Become a barrier buster
. Avoid becoming entrapped in silo thinking, in which people hoard information, reject ideas from other parts of the organization (as well as from outside) and attempt to protect their turf. Rise above this and get known for being a barrier buster who openly shares information, connects people and communicates effectively across organizational boundaries. You’ll get noticed by management as someone who understands the bigger picture and is contributing to the organization’s mission and vision.


Of course this is not a definitive list of ways to cope effectively with change. These 10 rules are merely my interpretation of how people can approach change, based on my experiences. Each of us has acquired our own knowledge of ways to adapt. Therefore, please take a moment to add your own rule for being a successful leader.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. —Yogi Berra

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

from ChangingWinds

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Personal Mastery: The Never-Ending Quest for Self-Discovery

Personal Mastery.jpg

Personal Mastery is the expression used to describe the discipline of personal growth and learning. People who possess high degrees of personal mastery are continually increasing their abilities to create the results they seek. Their never-ending quests for self-improvement and self-discovery underlie the spirit of organizations that buzz with excitement and creativity.

When we speak of personal mastery, it’s important to be clear that we’re not just referring to skills and competencies. Personal mastery includes spiritual growth and approaching life as a creative work. It means that we continually clarify what’s important to us and continually learn how to see the real world more clearly.

People who possess a high degree of personal mastery share some basic traits.
First, they have a strong sense of purpose that supports their personal visions and goals.

Second, they’re individuals who work with change, not against it.
Third, they feel connected to others and to life itself. And perhaps most importantly, they live in a continual learning mode.

Systems thinking brings out the more subtle aspects of personal mastery; for example, combining reason and intuition, seeing the interconnectedness of events in the world, compassion and commitment to the whole. To embark on a journey of personal growth means that one has made a conscious choice. It’s impossible to force an individual to engage in personal growth. As Peter Senge says, “It is guaranteed to backfire.”

There’s a key lesson here for managers: you can’t push against a string. People must want to change. Managers help create the environment, which includes modelling the desired behaviours.

Managers must work daily at creating a climate that promotes personal mastery. They must, above all, establish an environment in which people feel safe to create their personal visions, where they can challenge the status quo, and where inquiry and commitment to the truth are the norm.

If managers live this on a daily basis, personal mastery will be strengthened in two major ways. First, it will reinforce the notion that personal growth is indeed truly valued in the organization. And second, it will provide a sort of on-the-job-training, an essential part of personal mastery. The manager who is serious about her own quest for personal growth will send a powerful message to her followers.

Think about learning plans, a concept that many public and private organizations have adopted in recent years. Unfortunately, in many cases learning plans are done TO employees instead of WITH them. People thrive when they’re given the chance to empower themselves; when they’re controlled they shrivel up in spirit and performance.

Last, personal mastery is seen as one of the two individual disciplines. The other one is mental models. However, it’s important to remember that the five disciplines are interrelated. In the case of mental models, they’re also intertwined with systems thinking because they deal with how we view the world.
People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old. —Anonymous

Next Post: Mental Models

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

from ChangingWinds

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

How Siemens build Knowledge Assets

Knowledge adds value when it is current, useful, validated, acccessible, combines knowledge from many sources, and is packaged in a usable format. Here's how Siemens does its knowledge synthesis and packaging. 

Siemens define a knowledge asset as being Validated Explicit knowledge on a value-adding Business processes.  I like this definition, as it implies that knowledge becomes an asset when it is validated, and when it helps the business.

However creation of such an asset requires a creation process involving the main knowledge holders from across the organisation. From this source, here's a diagram showing how Siemens goes through the synthesis and validation process.

You can see from the diagram that a knowledge asset takes about 3 months to build, and involves three workshops involving the relevant subject matter experts, plus a final review workshop.

  • A strawman of the asset is prepared before the first workshop, at which the SMEs agree the content structure, the scope, and the key knowledge to be included (in the form of processes, products and roles).

  • At the second workshop, the SMEs start to populate the content with processes, work products, and best practices - namely, searching around for good Explicit examples. They may provide practice guides, methodology, business frameworks, example work products, case studies, templates, architectures and role descriptions.

  • At the third workshop, the tacit knowledge is added in the form of tips and guidance, checklists etc.

The validated knowledge assets are stored separately from non-validated project documents, therefore making a clear distinction between project information and cross-project knowledge.

Once the knowledge asset is in place it is continually improved through work experience.

from Knoco stories

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Organizations That Breathe In and Breathe Out

The more virtual an organization becomes, the more it needs to put into place periodic opportunities for workers to come together to renew relationships and cement their commitments to each other and to their joint goals. Think of it as breathing out and breathing in. Organizations breathe out by spreading across the globe, they breathe in when teams come back together to have human interaction. Oscillating between the two provides the best of both worlds.

But many organizations have decided they need to do one or the other. Some think that after spending all that money on software, team members should have no need to come together. Others like IBM, Bank of America, and Yahoo, having tried being virtual, have called workers back to the office to strengthen collaboration. Both have an “all or nothing” way of thinking - when the answer is really both!

Virtual (breathing out) contributes:

  • The ability to draw on the global talent pool
  • Reduction in the cost of office space
  • Autonomy that provides workers greater opportunity to experiment and try out new ideas
  • Being able to respond quickly to local customers
  • More satisfying integration of work and family life.

In-Person (breathing in) contributes:

  • Commitment to jointly made decisions
  • Shared understanding of goals/purpose
  • Parts smoothly come together into a meaningful whole, despite having been developed independently
  • Innovative solutions to complex issues that are arrived at through collective sensemaking
  • A sense of community, cohesion, and belongingness

I envision a future in which organizations that breathe out and breathe in are the new normal. A future in which organizations make full use of the unique attributes of both virtual and in-person.

“Office buildings” will have become “convening centers.” No longer will they be they places where individuals enter one by one, each heading to his or her assigned cubicle, instead whole teams will arrive together, greeting colleagues they have not seen over the past few months. Convening centers will be conducive to renewing relationships but also to addressing difficulties that have arisen related to the joint task a team is engaged. There will be spaces of all sizes, which are easily re-configurable with moveable furniture to accommodate groups of five or fifty and lots of open space for putting chairs in multiple small circles or one large circle. There will be rolling whiteboards and wall space for making joint work visible. There will be large windows with no need to worry about having too much light to see the screen because convening will be about conversations, not PowerPoint presentations. There will be lots of comfortable, informal space, ideal for chatting over coffee and snacks.  

When breathing out, I see organizations using advanced virtual tools to collaborate and stay connected. Tools that, with just a click of a button, a team member can be virtually in another member’s office, or all ten team members can be developing a plan in a virtual space. There will be effortless ways to view what others are working on and to contribute to each other’s work. There will be visualization tools that allow everyone on the team to see each member’s progress toward getting the group’s task accomplished, so team members can reach out to help where and when they are needed, and so that accountability is visible. Team members will have learned to be proficient in their use of virtual tools; able to make sound judgments about when to use what form of media to address different types of issues, e.g., decision making, brainstorming, requesting information. And they will recognize when an issue is too complex to try to solve virtually, so will schedule that issue on the agenda for the next in-person meeting.  

Look around! It’s already happening at the edges!

from conversation matters

Thursday, December 21, 2017

10 community principles to make your MOOC stronger

In January we had a lot of fun facilitating our 

knowmad MOOC.

 600 people participated and we had quite intense exchanges. We received many compliments for the way we facilitated it: personal and quick responses. A social MOOC requires a good design of the learning activities, design of the platform and spacing of activities. I think there were many details in our MOOC that made it a success. If you want to read something about the content, check out my

 some of my blogposts about the knowmad.

An example is our online network café and the wrap up with a meetup. It is nice to see that the network café idea and the 'space for informal conversation' have been copied in many other MOOCs. Do you recognize this: sometimes you can not even properly say why you are doing something, at time it is so instinctively or a gut feeling.

Hence it was a good idea of Jos Maassen from MOOCfactory to invite 

Peter Staal from Bind

 and myself to exchange about the design of a social MOOC and what you can learn from the way you facilitate a community. There are definitely parallel processes. This conversation has produced an article called:

10 community principes to make your MOOC stronger.

The 10 tips are:

1. Size matters. Keep the MOOC small (couple of 100rds) or work with subgroups in which people with a specific interest can meet each other.

2. Build trust. Under the guidance of a reliable and present moderator, participants are more inclined to share information, to express their doubts, to stimulate discussion, or to ask questions.

3. Develop Tacit knowledge. People in a community share knowledge with each other by entering into conversation, the so-called tacit knowledge. Facilitate a process in which people with similar interests find each other in forums to engage in discussion.

4. Find a balance between 'Connecting and collecting'. In the case of a social MOOC, participants want to gain knowledge (collecting) and get to know new people (connecting).

5. Use Peer pressure. Group pressure is a well-known phenomenon that can also strengthen the learning process. For example, state how many people have already responded or are 'through the gate' to stimulate engagement.

6. Involve experts and key persons in the domain. A cMOOC is not about transferring knowledge from you to novices. You do need experienced people and thought leaders. To make the discussions interesting, it is important to involve the experts and key figures (influencers) in the MOOC besides novices.

7. Allow for reputation building. Once people are together in a group, they build up a reputation. A social MOOC must facilitate that people can also build up online reputation by recognizing contributions or eg through leadership boards.

8. Connect online and offline. In this digital era, the online section is the most important in a cMOOC. But the offline aspect also remains utterly important, arrange for meetups or facilitate that people who live together can look for each other. Incidentally, this can also be looked up online via skype or zoom.

9. Provide public but also private spaces. Many people find it difficult to share their thoughts with a community of roughly a thousand people and prefer to do this in a smaller group or one on one. In this way trust and social capital are built up.

10. A warm but obligatory welcome Important in a new community: the feeling of coming home. A personal welcome and a good follow-up are therefore crucial.

You can read the whole article on the site of HT2: 

10 community principes to make your MOOC stronger.

from Lasagna and chips

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book review: 'Fast/Forward, make your company fit for the future' by Julian Birkinshaw (keynote speaker at KIN Workshop Spring 2018)

There's been some push-back recently regarding the benefits of the digital revolution. Julian Birkinshaw's book Fast/Forward suggests that organisations that embrace 'adhocracy', make smart intuitive decisions and act decisively will be the best prepared for uncertainty. Whilst it would seem that this almost defines small, agile firms, the book is full of examples of large corporations that have done this successfully.

The core principles of Fast/Forward are built around what he calls 'The four paradoxes of progress'. 

1. Creative destruction. A heretical idea challenges orthodoxy (Darwin or IKEA), disbelief of the establishment (Nokia), followed by the innovator becomes the establishment (Microsoft).

2. The more we know the less we understand. 'Whilst the human race is becoming collectively more knowledgeable every year, each of us (as individuals) is becoming relatively more ignorant'. 'Relatively' is the key word here due to the exponential increase in digital information available, compared to the linear rate of learning by us as individuals. Birkinshaw makes the case that team and networking can to some degree mitigate this paradox.

3. Connectivity and unpredictability.  Competing on computational power has become a race to the bottom when it comes to solving complexity. 'There is a risk that the combination of new technology and old questions means that you end up with answers that are exactly wrong, rather than roughly right'. This is where the book makes the case for more agile management, particularly experimentation and learning.

4. Knowing and believing. Ironically, the torrent of data pouring into our lives may mean that we may inadvertently be making decisions by 'appeals to our emotions, our intuitive beliefs and our hidden values'. Fast/Forward suggests that this is no bad thing and may be a way of business leaders differentiating themselves. The example cited is Apple, where product design was as much about beliefs and emotions as it was about hard-headed business.

The concept of 'Adhocracy' is not new. Alvin Tofler explored the idea of flexibility in dealing with uncertainty in his 1973 book Future Shock. Birkinshaw updates the concept for the big data and machine learning age. He also neatly contrasts it with meritocracy and bureaucracy. 
I was glad to see that rather than dismissing bureaucracy as an outmoded concept, he considers the merits of each and proposes a 'Trinity in Reality' model. 

The main call-to-action for me is in the chapter 'Linking Strategy Back to Purpose'. 'Leaders need to make a stronger emotional connection to those around them, rather than allowing sterile, data-driven decision making to dominate their actions, reactions and responses'. Birkinshaw suggests that organisations should put 'pro-social' goals first, for example hire for attitude and train for skill (most organisations do the reverse). There are many examples cited of large organisations that clearly instil a sense of moral purpose (Tata, Arla, SouthWest Airlines) whilst innovating to break orthodox organisational models. 

With all the excitement (and fear) around AI, big data and machine learning, it is easy to lose sight of vital business principles and values. The first half of Fast/Forward can be seen as a useful playbook for leaders wanting guidance on how to meld a technology revolution, give a clear sense of purpose for their organisations in an increasingly complex world and to embrace disruption.

Julian Birkinshaw is keynote speaker at the KIN Spring 2018 members' workshop 'Reimagining the Innovative Organisation'. This will take place at The Shard in London on 22nd March 2018.

Authors: Julian Birkinshaw, Jonas Ridderstrale
Published 2017 
Stanford Business Books 
ISBN 9780804799539

from 'KIN Bloggin'

Friday, November 03, 2017

Why efficiency


One of the simple definitions I like in work is that effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing things well. The best world has us doing the right things, and doing them well. (I have seen this attributed to Russell Ackoff and a number of other thinkers.) And yet, we somehow only seem to focus on the "doing it well" part - leaving whether we are doing the right things to chance.

The Ministry of Ideas podcast has a recent episode of the idea of (In)Efficiency. It was also excerpted in yesterday's Boston Globe, Long Before Uber, Efficiency Was Divine.  

It turns out the term efficiency goes all the way back to Aristotle. Over time, the term developed some religious connotations. But more recently, the engineering idea of efficiency (output / input) came from the "world's first civil engineer," John Smeaton, did detailed experiments on the waterwheel - the first big powersource of the industrial revolution. The experiments showed how to design and use waterwheels to prevent lost energy - how to be most efficient.

The discussion then jumps into the modern day version of efficiency: companies and people designing tools and services to help the world become more efficient. And this is most easily seen in the people themselves: busy people striving to be (individually) more efficient.  Of course, sometimes, there is a big assumption that just because we are busy, we must surely be producing useful results.  

Efficiency is a problematic concept though. This is touched on to some extent in the podcast: we all need personal downtime to decompress and let the juices flow. Organizations and business too need "space" - in particular, we need to be able to handle the normal ebb and flow of the demands on our time and attention. Variability exists, and it cannot be wished away.  If we plan every activity to within inches of its life, the first little hiccup will cause the entire network to fall apart.

I often see this in organizations where efficiency is applied to each sub-organization independently. There is an assumption that the organization is merely the sum of its parts. But these parts are interdependent. Changes in one area will have an impact on another - and often "efficiency" in one can create serious damage in another. A simple example is the idea of batch size: for one work center (or person), efficiency drives larger and larger batch sizes. (It's easier, less changes, etc.)  But those large batch sizes cause problems in the hand offs to the next work center. At the very least they have to wait for the entire batch. Even worse, problems are only discovered after the entire batch is processed.  In knowledge work this often translates to time and the people upstream having forgotten what they did a few weeks ago. Which leads to rework loops. Which leads to overall system inefficiency, even though each of the work areas might appear to be "efficient" - certainly they are always busy.

The podcast doesn't mention Frederick Taylor, but his work is discussed up and down the networks I follow, whether in knowledge management or process improvement.  He is credited with some of the first time-and-motion studies and the start of "scientific management." 

The biggest question I have on listening to the podcast and reading the summary article, is why efficiency is such a strong driver for EVERYTHING we do. Is it because, like Taylor, efficiency is something we can see and measure? Is it truly that difficult to think about the larger system and whether the whole system is being effective - doing the right thing AND doing it well?  

from Knowledge Jolt

Leadership Matters #ILTALead

Not a day goes by without yet another stark reminder that leadership matters. And, that good leadership is not as common as one might wish. For this reason, I am so grateful that the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) sets aside time and resources annually to develop leaders.

One of ILTA’s signature leadership programs is its Leadership NEW.0 conference. It is held every year in honor of the late Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sharon T. Swartworth, a beloved volunteer leader at ILTA. This conference brings together current and future leaders from law departments, law firms, and the US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

At this year’s conference, we will be looking at a model of leadership that does not seem prevalent but should be: servant leadership. Originally articulated by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, the principles of servant leadership are a vivid contrast to some of the selfish power grabs and lack of integrity we see too often across organizations and society. For Greenleaf, a servant leader is driven by a desire to serve the greater good. That drive causes the leader to focus on the development, growth, and health of that leader’s team.

In his preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Greenleaf’s book, Steven Covey makes some strong assertions about what is wrong with traditional approaches to leadership and why we need servant leadership:

A low-trust culture that is characterized by high-control management, political posturing, protectionism, cynicism, and internal competition and adversarialism simply cannot compete with the speed, quality, and innovation of those organizations around the world that do empower people. It may be possible to buy someone’s hand and back, but not their heart, mind, and spirit. And in the competitive reality of today’s global marketplace, it will be only those organizations whose people not only willingly volunteer their tremendous creative talent, commitment, and loyalty, but whose organizations align their structures, systems, and management style to support the empowerment of their people that will survive and thrive as market leaders.
…the old rules of traditional, hierarchical, high-external-control, top-down management are being dismantled: they simply aren’t working any longer. They are being replaced by a new form of ‘control’ that the chaos theory proponents call the ‘strange attractors’ — a sense of vision the people are drawn to, and united in, that enables them to be driven by motivation inside them toward achieving a common purpose. This has changed the role of manager from one who drives results and motivation from the outside in, to one who is a servant-leader — one who seeks to draw out, inspire, and develop the best and highest within people from the inside out. The leader does this by engaging the entire team or organization in a process that creates a shared vision, which inspires each person to stretch and reach deeper within himself or herself, and to use everyone’s unique talents in whatever way is necessary to independently and interdependently achieve that shared vision. [emphasis added]

If you are in the Chicago area on Thursday, November 2, I invite you to join us for a day of learning how you can become the kind of leader who draws out, inspires, and develops the best and highest within people from the inside out.


The post Leadership Matters #ILTALead appeared first on Above and Beyond KM.

from Above and Beyond KM

Friday, October 27, 2017

Analysing questions and answers in communities of practice

Analysis of search trends is common in KM - and you can use a similar approach to analyse community questions and answers.

Many organisations analyse internal searches of their Intranet or Knowledge Base, using tools similar to Google Analytics to find out what peopele are searching for, and what they find through those searches.

However your Intranet search engine is not the only tool for finding knowledge - manage aorganisations also use question and answer forums in their

communities of practice.

We tried a similar approach of analysing queries in a big online community of practice recently. The queries to the community forum were already characterised into topics, because when you submit a search to this particular community of practice you have to choose which topic it is related to. So that saved us having to assign categories.

We divided these topics into four quadrants;

1. Topic categories where there were few questions, but each one got lots of answers. These tended to be areas of common knowledge, where most people knew the answer and only a few new people did not. For these topics, we could write guidelines or faqs for the benefit of the new staff

2. Lots of questions, lots of answers. These were the important and evolving Knowledge topics where it was worth while setting up community meetings so that we could start to exchange and document best practice (maybe a knowledge exchange, maybe a knowledge market).

3. Lots of questions, few answers. These were the problem areas, where some more research or action learning was needed to start to develop solutions.

4. Few questions, few answers. Our assumption was that these are not particularly important areas, but that it was worth watching them in case they developed into problem areas.

This was a very useful analysis and led to a greater understanding of the important evolving and problem topics within the community, as well as helping to suggest some community activities in order to improve their knowledge.

from Knoco stories

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

How to create an agile organization

Transforming companies to achieve organizational agility is in its early days but already yielding positive returns. While the paths can vary, survey findings suggest how to start.

Rapid changes in competition, demand, technology, and regulations have made it more important than ever for organizations to be able to respond and adapt quickly. But according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey, organizational agility—the ability to quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities—is elusive for most.1 1.This definition of organizational agility was given to respondents when they began the survey and reflects McKinsey’s proprietary definition, which is distinct from how we define organizations with agile software-development processes. Throughout the report, we will use “agile transformations” to refer to transformations that focus on organizational agility. The online survey was in the field from February 14 to February 24, 2017, and garnered responses from 2,546 participants representing the full range of regions, industries, company sizes, functional specialties, and tenures. Of these respondents, 207 work at nonprofits and government agencies or departments. But we will use the word “companies” to refer to all respondents’ firms, whether in the private or public sector Many respondents say their companies have not yet fully implemented agile ways of working, either company-wide or in the performance units where they work,2 2.“Performance unit” refers to a part of the organization (for example, a functional team, cross-functional team, or business unit) that is responsible for the delivery of specific performance outcomes. We asked respondents to answer the survey with regard to the performance unit in which they are most familiar. Forty-four percent responded on behalf of a business unit, 31 percent on behalf of a cross-functional team, 23 percent on behalf of a functional team, and 2 percent on behalf of another type of unit. though the advantages are clear. Respondents in agile units report better performance than all others do, and companies in more volatile or uncertain environments are more likely than others to be pursuing agile transformations.

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Few companies are yet reaping these benefits, but that may soon change; the results also indicate that organizational agility is catching fire. For many respondents, agility ranks as a high strategic priority in their performance units. Moreover, companies are transforming activities in several parts of the organization—from innovation and customer experience to operations and strategy—to become more agile. Finally, respondents in all sectors believe more of their employees should be working in agile ways. For organizations and their performance units that aren’t yet agile, the path to achieving agility depends on their starting points. But the results indicate some clear guidance on how and where they can improve, whether they are lacking in stability or dynamism.

Organizational agility is on the rise

Across industries and regions, most survey participants agree that the world around them is changing, and quickly. Business environments are increasingly complex and volatile, with two-thirds of respondents saying their sectors are characterized by rapid change. In such environments, the need for companies to demonstrate agility is top of mind: the more unstable that respondents say their environments are, the more likely they are to say their companies have begun agile transformations (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1

To date, though, few organization-wide agile transformations have been completed. Only 4 percent of all respondents say their companies have fully implemented one, though another 37 percent say company-wide transformations are in progress. When asked where their companies apply agile ways of working,3 3.The survey asked which of 12 agile ways of working were currently applied in respondents’ performance units. The 12 options were cross-functional teams, self-managing teams, knowledge communities, innovation hubs, scrums, integrator roles, staffing portals, hackathons, flow-to-the-work pools, Skunk Works, scaled agility frameworks (for example, Scaled Agile Framework, Large Scale Scrum), and holacracy. respondents most often identify activities that are closest to the customer: innovation, customer experience, sales and servicing, and product management.4 4.Innovation includes R&D, new-technology development, and/or idea generation; customer experience includes marketing, branding, campaigns, customer journeys, and/or customer-experience design; sales and servicing includes customer services, sales, and commercial and/or account management; and product management includes product development and/or product engineering. This is not too surprising, since customer centricity is cited most often—followed by productivity and employee engagement—as the objective of agile transformations. Companies are also focusing on internal end-to-end processes. At least four in ten respondents say their companies are applying agile ways of working in processes related to operations, strategy, and technology, while roughly one-third say they are doing so in supply-chain management and talent management.5 5.Operations includes production and/or manufacturing; strategy includes general management, corporate strategy, budgeting, and/or resource allocation; technology includes IT infrastructure and support; supply-chain management includes purchasing, procurement, logistics, and/or product delivery; and talent management includes organizational culture, human resources, and/or capability development.

Looking forward, the results suggest that companies have higher aspirations for agility. Three-quarters of respondents say organizational agility is a top or top-three priority on their units’ agendas, and more transformations appear to be on the way. Of those who have not begun agile transformations, more than half say plans for either unit-level or company-wide transformations are in the works. Respondents across industries also report a desire to scale up agile ways of working. On average, they believe 68 percent of their companies’ employees should be working in agile ways, compared with the 44 percent of employees who currently do. By industry, respondents in telecom and the electric-power and natural-gas industries report the biggest differences between their actual and ideal shares of employees working in agile ways—followed closely by respondents in several other industries: media and entertainment, the public sector, oil and gas, pharma, and advanced industries.

What’s more, the survey also confirms that agility pays off. Eighty-one percent of respondents in agile units report a moderate or significant increase in overall performance since their transformations began. And on average, respondents in agile units are 1.5 times more likely than others to report financial outperformance relative to peers, and 1.7 times more likely to report outperforming their peers on nonfinancial measures.6 6.The survey measured financial performance as the revenue, growth, market share, cost efficiency, and profitability of respondents’ performance units, relative to units at competitors’ organizations that do similar work, and nonfinancial performance as performance units’ development and innovation (that is, of products, services, processes, and/or solutions), responsiveness to customer needs, time to market, productivity, and employee engagement, relative to units at competitors’ organizations.

Agile organizations excel at both stability and dynamism

In previous work, we have determined that, to be agile, an organization needs to be both dynamic and stable.7 7.For more information, see Wouter Aghina, Aaron De Smet, and Kirsten Weerda, “Agility: It rhymes with stability,” McKinsey Quarterly, December 2015. Dynamic practices enable companies to respond nimbly and quickly to new challenges and opportunities, while stable practices cultivate reliability and efficiency by establishing a backbone of elements that don’t need to change frequently. The survey scored organizations across eighteen practices (see sidebar, “Eighteen practices for organizational agility.”), which our research suggests are all critical for achieving organizational agility. According to the results, less than one-quarter of performance units are agile. The remaining performance units lack either dynamism, stability, or both (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2

Of the 18 practices, the 3 where agile units most often excel relate to strategy and people (Exhibit 3). More than 90 percent of agile respondents say that their leaders provide actionable strategic guidance (that is, each team’s daily work is guided by concrete outcomes that advance the strategy); that they have established a shared vision and purpose (namely, that people feel personally and emotionally engaged in their work and are actively involved in refining the strategic direction); and that people in their unit are entrepreneurial (in other words, they proactively identify and pursue opportunities to develop in their daily work). By contrast, just about half of their peers in nonagile units say the same.

Exhibit 3

After strategy, agile units most often follow four stable practices related to process and people: entrepreneurial drive, shared and servant leadership, standardized ways of working, and cohesive community. When looking more closely at standardized ways of working, the agile units excel most on two actions: the unit’s processes are enabled by shared digital platforms and tools (91 percent, compared with 54 percent for others), and processes are standardized, including the use of a common language and common tools (cited by 90 percent of agile respondents and just 58 percent of all others).

Among the dynamic practices, process—and information transparency, in particular—is a strength for agile units. Within transparency, for example, 90 percent of agile respondents say information on everything from customers to financials is freely available to employees. Among their peers in other units, only 49 percent say the same. The second practice where agile units most differ from others is in rapid iteration and experimentation. More than 80 percent of agile respondents say their companies’ new products and services are developed in close interaction with customers and that ideas and prototypes are field-tested early in the development process, so units can quickly gather data on possible improvements.

The path to agility depends on the starting point

For the performance units that aren’t yet agile, the survey results suggest clear guidance for how to move forward. But organizational agility is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. The specific practices a unit or organization should focus on to become agile depend on whether it is currently bureaucratic, start-up, or trapped.

Bureaucratic units

By definition, bureaucratic units are relatively low in dynamism and most often characterized by reliability, standard ways of working, risk aversion, silos, and efficiency. To overcome the established norms that keep them from moving fast, these units need to develop further their dynamic practices and modify their stable backbones, especially on practices related to people, process, and structure.

The keys to organizational agility Read the article

First is the need to address the dynamic practices where, compared with agile units, the bureaucratic units are furthest behind (Exhibit 4). Only 29 percent of bureaucratic respondents, for example, report following rapid iteration and experimentation, while 81 percent of agile respondents say the same. A particular weakness in this area is the use of minimum viable products to quickly test new ideas: just 19 percent of bureaucratic respondents report doing so, compared with 74 percent of agile respondents. After that, the largest gap between bureaucratic units and agile units is their ability to roll out suitable technology, systems, and tools that support agile ways of working.

Exhibit 4

At the same time, bureaucratic units also have room to improve on certain stable practices (Exhibit 5). For example, bureaucratic units are furthest behind in performance orientation; in agile units, employees are far more likely to provide each other with continuous feedback on both their behavior and their business outcomes. What’s more, leaders in these units are better at embracing shared and servant leadership by more frequently incentivizing team-oriented behavior and investing in employee development. And it’s much more common in agile units to create small teams that are fully accountable for completing a defined process or service.

Exhibit 5

Start-up units

Start-up units, on the other hand, are low in stability and characterized as creative, ad hoc, constantly shifting focus, unpredictable, and reinventing the wheel. These organizations tend to act quickly but often lack discipline and systematic execution. To overcome the tendencies that keep them from sustaining effective operations, these units need to further develop all of their stable practices—and also broaden their use of the dynamic practices related to process and strategy in order to maintain sufficient speed.

First is focusing on a stronger overall stable backbone. On average, 55 percent of start-up respondents report that they implement all nine stable practices, compared with 88 percent of agile respondents who report the same. According to the results, a particular sore spot is people-related practices—especially shared and servant leadership (Exhibit 6). For example, just under half of start-up respondents say their leaders involve employees in strategic and organizational decisions that affect them, compared with 85 percent of their agile peers. Similar to bureaucratic units, respondents at start-up units also report challenges with process, particularly with regard to performance orientation. Within that practice, only 44 percent of respondents at start-up units say their people provide each other with continuous feedback on both their behavior and their business outcomes; 80 percent at agile units report the same.

Exhibit 6

Start-up units also have room to improve their use of dynamic practices, particularly in process and strategy. According to respondents, the agile units excel much more often than their start-up counterparts at information transparency—for example, holding events where people and teams share their work with the unit (Exhibit 7). Moreover, agile respondents are much more likely to say new knowledge and capabilities are available to the whole unit, which enables continuous learning. On the strategy front, the start-up units are furthest behind their agile peers on flexible resource allocation—more specifically, deploying their key resources to new pilots and initiatives based on progress against milestones.

Exhibit 7

Trapped units

The trapped units are often associated with firefighting, politics, a lack of coordination, protecting turf, and local tribes. These organizations find themselves lacking both a stable backbone and dynamic capabilities. In applying the stable practices, the trapped units are most behind on those related to people: specifically, shared and servant leadership and entrepreneurial drive. Just 13 percent of respondents at trapped units say they follow shared and servant leadership, compared with 89 percent of their agile peers. The dynamic practices in which they are furthest behind are process related, especially continuous learning and rapid iteration and experimentation.

Looking ahead

In response to the challenges that the survey results revealed, here are some principles executives and their units or organizations should act upon, whether or not they have already begun agile transformations:

  • Embrace the magnitude of the change. Based on the survey, the biggest challenges during agile transformations are cultural—in particular, the misalignment between agile ways of working and the daily requirements of people’s jobs, a lack of collaboration across levels and units, and employee resistance to changes. In our experience, agile transformations are more likely to succeed when they are supported by comprehensive change-management actions to cocreate an agile-friendly culture and mind-sets. These actions should cover four main aspects. First, leaders and people across the organization align on the mind-sets and behaviors they need to move toward. Second, they role-model the new mind-sets and behaviors and hold each other accountable for making these changes. Third, employees are supported in developing the new skills they need to succeed in the future organization. And finally, formal mechanisms are put in place to reinforce the changes, rewarding and incentivizing people to demonstrate new behaviors.8 8. See Tessa Basford and Bill Schaninger, “The four building blocks of change,” McKinsey Quarterly, April 2016.
  • Be clear on the vision. The results show that agile units excel most at creating a shared vision and purpose and aligning on this vision through actionable strategic guidance. In contrast, at companies that have not yet started a transformation, one of the most common limitations is the inability to create a meaningful or clearly communicated vision. An important first step in deciding whether to start an agile transformation is clearly articulating what benefits are expected and how to measure the transformation’s impact. This vision of the new organization must be collectively held and supported by the top leadership.
  • Decide where and how to start. Respondents whose organizations have not started agile transformations most often say it’s because they lack a clear implementation plan. While the right plan will vary by company, depending on its vision, companies should first identify the part(s) of the organization that they want to transform and how (for example, by prototyping the changes in smaller parts of the performance unit before scaling them up, or by making changes to more foundational elements that go beyond a single unit). Second, they should assess which of the 18 agile practices the organization most needs to strengthen in order to achieve agility, so that the actions taken across strategy, structure, process, people, and technology are mutually reinforcing. Third, they should determine the resources and time frame that the transformation requires, so the effort maintains its momentum but the scope remains manageable at any point in time.
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About the author(s)

The contributors to the development and analysis of this survey include Karin Ahlbäck, a consultant in McKinsey’s London office; Clemens Fahrbach, a consultant in the Munich office; Monica Murarka, a senior expert in the San Francisco office; and Olli Salo, an associate partner in the Helsinki office.

They would like to acknowledge Wouter Aghina, Esmee Bergman, Aaron De Smet, and Michael Lurie for their contributions to this work. Article Actions

from McKinsey Insights & Publications

Friday, August 11, 2017

How the demographics of the organisation affect Knowledge Management

The demographics of your organisation determine the distribution of knowledge, and therefore the Knowledge Management Framework

Here's another factor that can affect the way you address KM in an organisation; the demographics of the workforce. Because the demographics are is linked to the distribution of knowledge across the staff, it determines how many sources of knowledge you have, and how many net users, for example:

  • A company with very many junior staff and few experienced staff will have few knowledge suppliers and many knowledge users; while
  • A company with very many experienced staff will have many knowledge suppliers, each of whom is also a knowledge user.

Please note that I am not talking here about whether older people behave differently to younger people - there are many assertions made about these differences in behaviour, few of which seem to stand up to scrutiny.

Take a Western engineering organisation. 

Here the economy is static, and the population growth is stable. Engineering is not a "sexy topic". The workforce is largely made up of baby boomers. A large proportion of the workforce is over 40, with many staff approaching retirement - the blue line in the graph above.

Experience is widespread in the organisation - this is an experienced company, and knowledge is dispersed. Communities of Practice are important, where people can ask each other for advice, and that advice is spread round the organisation. Experienced staff collaborate to create new knowledge out of their shared expertise. Knowledge can easily be kept largely tacit. The engineers know the basics, and a short call to their colleagues fills in any gaps. The biggest risk is knowledge loss, as so many of the workforce will retire soon, and a Knowledge Retention strategy would be a good investment.

Take an Asian engineering organisation. 

China or in India the economy is growing, the population is growing, there is a hunger for prosperity, and engineering is also a growth area. The workforce is predominantly very young - many of them fewer than 2 years in post. There are only a handful of real experts, and a host of inexperienced staff - the red line in the chart above.

Experience is a rare commodity, and is centralised within the company, retained within the Centres of Excellence, and the small Expert groups. Here the issue is not Collaboration, but rapid onboarding and upskilling. The risk is not so much Retention of knowledge, it is deployment of knowledge, although the reliance on a few experts means that they must be given a Knowledge Ownersgip role, rather than using them on projects.  Rather than keeping knowledge tacit, it makes sense to at least document the basics in explicit form (the experts will be too busy to answer so many basic questions), keeping this documentation updated as the organisation learns.

These two demographic profiles would lead you to take two different approaches to KM. The Western company would introduce communities of practice, and use the dispersed knowledge to collaborate on building continuously improving practices, processes and products. Wikis could be used to harness the dispersed expertise. There would be huge potential for innovation, as people re-use and build on ideas from each other. Crowd sourcing, and "asking the audience" are excellent strategies for finding knowledge.

The Eastern company would focus on the development and deployment of standard practices and procedures, and on developing and deploying capability among the young workforce. The experts would build top-class training and educational material, and the focus would be on Communities of Learning rather than Communities of Practice. Innovation would be discouraged, until the staff had built enough experience to know which rules can be bent, and which must be adhered to. Crowdsourcing is not a good strategy, and the "wisdom of the experts" trumps the "wisdom of the crowd".

This is one of the factors that KM must address, namely the amount of expertise in the company, and how widely it is dispersed.

from Knoco stories

Leaving lessons in a lessons database doesn't work - an example from NASA.

NASA found out the hard way that just collecting lessons into a database is not enough.

Image from wikimdia commons
5 years ago, NASA conducted an audit of lesson-learning. At the time, NASA spent 750,000 annually on their lessons learning approach, centred around a tool called LLIS (The Lessons Learned Information System).  NASA was at the time (and still is) one of the worlds leaders in Knowledge Management, and they wanted to know if this money was well spent, and if not, what could be done (note of course that lesson learning is only a part of NASA's KM approach, and thanks to Barbara Fillip for bringing me up to speed).

According to the levels of use and application found by the auditors 5 years ago, there was plenty of room for improvement in lesson-learning. Specifically -
"We found that NASA program and project managers rarely consult or contribute to LLIS even though they are directed to by NASA requirements and guidance. 
In fact, input to LLIS by most Centers has been minimal for several years. Specifically, other than the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), no NASA Center consistently contributed information to LLIS for the 6-year period from 2005 through 2010. 
For example, the Glenn Research Center and the Johnson Space Center contributed an average of one lesson per year compared to the nearly 12 per year contributed by JPL .....  
Taken together, the lack of consistent input and usage has led to the marginalization of LLIS as a useful tool for project managers" 
With minimal contributions (other than at JPL), and with rare consulation, then this system was just not working.

Why did it not work?

The project managers that were surveyed offered a variety of reasons for not using or contributing to LLIS, including:
  • A belief that LLIS is outdated, and is not user friendly
  • A belief that LLIS does not contain information relevant to their project
  • Competing demands on their time in managing their respective projects.  
  • Policy Requirements have been weakened over time. 
  • Inconsistent Policy direction and implementation. 
  • Lack of Monitoring. 
Interesting that three out of these six reasons are directly related to governance. One wonders that, even if a spanking new LLIS were introduced, whether (without better governance) anyone would bother to use it. 

The auditors suggested a number of improvements, including improvements to process, policy and resources, but one of the main issues with a lessons database is that it is a clumsy solution. Lessons should not be stored in an ever-accumulating database - lessons need to be embedded into design, into principles and into process.

Levels of lesson learning

I described, earlier this year, 3 levels of lesson learning, and the approach reviewed by the auditors is Level 1 - reactive capture of lessons in the hope that others will review them and learn from them.

Ideally any organisation should aim for level 2 - where lessons lead to changes in designs, practices or procedures. A lesson is therefore an increment of knowledge, and those little increments are used to build an ever-improving body of knowledge. Once the lesson has been embedded as a practice change, or a design-principle change, or a change in a checklist,  then it can be removed from the database.

Ideally the NASA database would be empty - all lessons would be incorporated in some body of knowledge somewhere. The only lesson in the system would be those pending incorporation.

If this system works well and quickly, then there should be no need for anyone to consult a lessons database - instead they should go to the designs, the checklists, and the design principles.

By relying on a Level 1 lesson learning system, NASA were already making things difficult for themselves. 

from Knoco stories

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Free and cheap technology is killing organizational effectiveness

Technologies supporting knowledge work are deceptive, especially for knowledge work shared among groups and teams. The ease of getting started obscures the challenge of learning to be effective. We focus on the details of particular features and functions at the expense of ignoring the cognitive challenges of deep thought and collaborative work.

I’ve been participating in a Slack team with a loose group of colleagues scattered across two continents. I was off the grid for about two weeks and found myself lost when I returned to the conversation that had continued in my absence. My first hypothesis was that Slack was the culprit and that some magically better UX would eliminate the problem. Slack, of itself, isn’t the problem but it is emblematic of the deeper issue that should be tackled.

In trades and crafts, the most experienced and effective practitioners would never invest in cheap tools or materials. Learning to use those tools and materials effectively is the work of years of deliberate practice. The strategy shouldn’t be any different if you are manipulating ideas than if you were manipulating clay. But the marketing and deployment of software rejects these hard won lessons. Software fame and fortune is built on promises of simplicity and ease of use, where ease of use has been interpreted as ease of getting started and minimally productive. We’ve all become facile with learning the first 5% of new tools and services. We’ve been led to believe or we pretend that this is enough. Few among us are prepared to invest in pushing further. Fewer still belong to organizations willing to support this investment.

The payoff from even this 5% has long been sufficient in terms of personal and organizational impact. We’re reaching the limits of the return from this minimalist strategy–it’s even more acute when we shift focus from individual knowledge workers to teams and groups.

To go beyond the 5% we need to modify our expectations and approaches about how we blend powerful tools with powerful practices. We need to adopt the attitudes of those who think in terms of craft and expert practice. Organizationally, we need to provide the time, space, and support to design and invent this new craft.

My hypothesis is that there are models to look to and borrow from. In particular, I believe that the world of software development has the longest and richest experience of dealing with the individual and group production of the thought products of the knowledge economy. Further, there are individual expert knowledge work craftspeople in various other fields; their tools and practices are also worth understanding and reverse engineering.

I don’t have this all figured out yet. Nonetheless, I ‘d like to get a new conversation going about how to improve on this train of thought. Where are good places to look?

The post Free and cheap technology is killing organizational effectiveness appeared first on McGee's Musings.

from McGee's Musings

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Role of Storytelling in a Team of Teams

Team of teams and storytelling

Four-star general Stanley McChrystal became the commander of US forces in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. When he arrived in the country, he found the American military operating much as it always had, through command-and-control organisational structures. It didn’t take him long to figure out that wasn’t working against an enemy organised in flat networks that could adapt and reconfigure at a moment’s notice. So McChrystal restructured his forces into what he called a Team of Teams, which is the title of his 2015 book on the subject.

The principles of a Team of Teams are grounded in an understanding of complex versus complicated environments. A complex environment is where there are so many interconnected parts with non-linear relationships that it is impossible to predict with any certainty what might happen next. Cause and effect are intertwined and only make sense in hindsight. Complicated environments, on the other hand, can be pulled apart and analysed.

Human systems tend to be complex, whereas mechanical systems, such as the workings of the giant Airbus A380, are complicated. The Cynefin framework makes this distinction nicely. I have a minor YouTube hit with a simple explanation of the Cynefin framework which you might like to take a look at.

Companies have been quick to implement the ideas behind a Team of Teams, although to be frank it’s not easy. It requires culture change, even in modest-sized companies. But if you want to give it a try, here are some of the things to consider when implementing this approach.

Key elements of a Team of Teams

The first step involves structure. You have to move from a fixed hierarchy to a set of teams that interact in the same way people do inside a high-functioning team. This means, at a minimum,

  • having a clear and common purpose across all teams
  • being able to speak your mind with other teams1
  • having the freedom and trust to make decisions and get on with the job
  • having a shared consciousness around values and what ‘good’ looks like
  • trusting the capabilities, track records and intentions of others
  • leading like a gardener, focusing on creating an environment in which good work can happen rather than task-managing.

How stories can help

You need to carry out three jobs to embed the Team of Teams approach:

  1. craft and tell the change story of why a shift to a Team of Teams is necessary
  2. enhance everyone’s story skills, particularly those of your leaders and sellers, to enable people to find and share stories that illustrate the new way of working, foster rapport, and allow influence without hierarchy
  3. develop a systematic and purposeful process of embedding stories across teams that illustrate values and what ‘good’ looks like, and grow a shared consciousness.


Story trainagle

Change story

Leadership expert Simon Sinek has shown the importance of starting the change process with the question ‘Why?’ If you answer this question using a story, people quickly get the cause-and-effect and, more importantly, take away the intended meaning. In the first paragraph of this post, for example, I told a short story about why Stanley McChrystal moved to the Team of Teams approach.

Each organisation needs to create its own version of this story. It’s best done by involving as many individuals in your company as possible, so that the maximum number of people understand and own the change story.

Story skills

A few weeks back I worked with a group of executives at a large UK supermarket retailer at their learning academy just outside London. I was reminded of just how much retailers are numbers people who, at the same time, are in positions where they must influence thousands of employees. Everyone was a storyteller, but I needed to help them become systematic and purposeful in sharing their own experiences and those of their colleagues. Within a couple of days, their story switches were on and they were all actively looking for stories to tell.

Embedding stories

If you want to change a workplace culture, you need to change the stories within the workplace. Now you could just leave that to chance and see what stories emerge. Or you could develop a process where, across all the teams and on a regular basis, stories are shared and discussed that illustrate what ‘good’ looks like. The great thing about stories is that they are not directives or checklists. Instead, they illustrate a pattern of behaviour which people can choose to copy and modify for their own purposes.

Of course, this approach is relevant to any change you are introducing. The more stories you get into the system, the more concrete and real the change will feel for all involved. You will quickly move away from corporate doublespeak to people authentically talking to each other and sharing real-life examples.

1. If you want a simple tool to assess how well connected your teams are then I recommend you check out

To change a culture you need to change the stories told. Learn how Anecdote can help you do this

The post The Role of Storytelling in a Team of Teams appeared first on Anecdote.

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