Collaborate (verb): to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something.
Collaboration isn’t an airy concept but a practice that’s found in our daily reality… Time to plant the fields? Everybody pitched in and got it done. Harvest time? The community raced to get the crops in before the rains came. Where were those crops stored? In barns built by teams of neighbors…. A celebrity is made up of many people, usually a team… You can’t force people to collaborate. You can make them share offices and serve on committees together, but if their hearts aren’t in it, the process is an empty shell. Personal, emotional commitment is crucial… Be sure everyone on the team gets acknowledged.
– Twyla Tharp, The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together
Walter Isaacson, President & CEO of the Aspen Institute, biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Steve Jobs, has a new book coming out this fall. Here’s a brief description of the upcoming book, The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution:
In a statement released by his publisher, Isaacson says he would go on beyond the headlines and tell how many of the major digital innovations were produced through collaborations. He says the best minds were made even better by their ability to work with others.
For some reason, I’ve been thinking about collaborations lately. This is definitely an era that proves the power of a good collaboration, and the more we can learn about how to participate well in the act of collaborating (remember–collaborate is a verb), the more we can help move things forward in every endeavor we tackle.
When people genuinely work together, pooling their training and wisdom and ideas and expertise, what they can accomplish together is greater than what any one can accomplish on his/her own.
And I think there is a subtle challenge in this. There may be a fine line between a good collaboration and a desire for a corroboration. A collaboration requires an open mind of all within the group. But when a person seeks to be dominant, and wants confirmation and support, such a person seeks corroboration, not collaboration.
In other words, one produces more ideas, more breakthroughs, and ultimately greater outcomes, while the other may produce fewer ideas, and much less of a breakthrough.
In other words, “The best minds are made even better by their ability to work with others.”
Here’s a simple test. Are you currently working with any one at this moment? Are you in the midst of a collaboration? I have a hunch that the only way to get good at collaborating is to be collaborating with others on actual challenging projects as often as possible. Thus when one collaboration is completed, the next is ready to begin. Collaborating will make you better at being a good partner in the next important collaboration.
You know: practice, practice, practice…
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at the results.” He reminds us that no matter what else we do, as leaders, we are ultimately judged on the basis of whether or not we can execute. Casting vision, building teams, challenging the processes—all of these are important—unless we fail to execute! If we fail to execute then nothing else really matters, either.
I have found that following these steps provides a model that is very effective for me. If I find myself floundering, I go back to this model, and it almost always works.
- I select one thing to work on at a time.
I’ve discovered that I really cannot keep 32 ping-pong balls underwater at one time, so my approach is to work on one thing at a time. I may not be able to work on it until it’s completed; but while I’m working on it, that’s all I’m doing.
- I set a stopping time.
Some people lose all track of time and spend way too long on a given project. Others cannot force themselves to focus for any length of time without wanting to check email, social media, the weather in Arizona, and so on. Either way causes a loss of productivity, so I have found it helpful to set the alarm on my phone for 50 minutes later and to stay focused on the project until it fills the air with “Stargaze,” “Ripple,” or “Radiate.” (Where do they get these names?) Sometimes, I do need to continue working on a project after the alarm sounds, but I carefully think through whether I should stay on it or come back to it at another time.
- While I’m focused, I ignore everything else.
Phone calls, emails, instant messages… all of these things are great, but they can also be enemies of execution. To really be productive, I need to let those things wait until after the “focus period” is over. Otherwise, I will spend the entire allotted time just being a puppet to the tyranny of the urgent. If I am working on a 50-minute period, I can answer emails, send messages, and listen to phone messages in less than ten minutes, take a breath, and then…
- I reward myself for staying focused on the project.
I don’t give myself a trophy, but I find some way (even if it’s just grabbing another cup of coffee) to reinforce this reality to myself: good things happen when you focus. After that? I select the next thing and start the process all over.
I’d like to know what you do to stay focused. How do you manage time to execute effectively?
“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” – Martina Navratilova
There are only a handful of quotes that will make me stop dead in my tracks to start writing about them. This is certainly one of them.
Maybe you should reread that quote.
It’s one thing to have a part in what you do for your organization. Don’t we all? Simply being hired and doing our daily tasks makes us involved in the organization.
But for public servants, it’s imperative to take your mindset to the next level.
That new park in the neighborhood that was specifically designed with special needs children in mind wasn’t built because someone was just involved. The complete website overhaul to ensure your organization stays ahead of the technological curve didn’t get accomplished because someone was just involved. Transforming the way people think about how their carbon footprint affects future generations and starting a sustainability department didn’t happen just because someone was involved.
To reach out-of-the box goals, you have to be committed. As they say on Wall Street, the greater the risk, the greater the reward.
So are you all in?
Yes, it will take countless hours, and you’ll run into a brick wall at times. You may even have to start all over after you’ve been working on your project for months. But that’s what being a public servant is all about—doing whatever it takes to improve the quality of life for your constituents, even when they’ll probably never know how hard you’re working for them.
Commitment. That’s one of the main differences between those who choose to work for the public sector and those who don’t. And if you don’t have commitment, why are you there in the first place?
I started using a game in a class I teach on coaching to try to generate some discussion on the difference that coaching makes. Sound like a waste of time? You’d be surprised! Here’s how the game works.
One person on a team volunteers to try to bounce or throw a ping pong ball into a small tub from about 15 feet away, while blindfolded. The object is to see how many out of ten the person can get into the tub.
During round one, I ask for the rest of the team to stand around the contestant to give moral support, but the teammates cannot say anything. Not one word. They are just there for moral support so that the person will know he/she is not alone. The result? No one has ever put more than one ball in the tub. Most get zero, and most of their attempts are nowhere near the tub. Same zip code—barely.
During round two, I select a different team and a new person to be the blindfolded contestant. However, in this round, I tell the other five team members that they can encourage their colleague by saying something to them just before each throw. However, the teammates can only say what is on the index card that I have given them—nothing more. Since there are five teammates and ten balls, each person gets to say his/her “saying” two times. What’s on the index cards? Platitudes. Things like, “I’m glad you are on our team,” “I am here to support you,” etc. The result? The contestant always (and I mean always) gets more in the tub than the person in Round 1. Usually four times as many! Even though all they are hearing from their teammates is platitudes.
In the final round, I select a third team, but this time I tell the team, “You can do anything you want to help your blindfolded teammate be successful. No restrictions.” The result? It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the blindfolded contestant always gets as many or more in as the person hearing platitudes. On the other hand, it’s very interesting to see how some people “interpret” coaching. Some teams listen to me and realize that I’ve said, “No restrictions!” So, they have their teammate step closer and closer to the tub and drop it in the bucket. But other teams take their coaching style from the previous team, and seem to be able to think of nothing to say except the platitudes that they heard that team spouting!
Afterwards, I let people talk about it in small groups and then share with everyone else. The discussion is always lively. Here are my three favorite comments or observations that I’ve heard people share:
- “Saying nothing to the person throwing pulled our team apart. We tended to emotionally distance ourselves from her the more she failed.” (You don’t say?)
- “Well, we don’t just blindly put people into positions without giving them any guidance!” (The room broke up laughing, and said, “Oh Yes we do! We shouldn’t, but we do!”)
- “Maybe too many of us just coach the way we’ve heard others coach, instead of thinking outside the box and focusing on what we really can do to help others succeed.”
Sometimes you can learn a lot when you’re just playing around!
Learning is an action verb.
Most of us learned the definition of “action verb” in junior high school, but as a reminder action verbs “express something that a person, animal, or object can do.”
Learning requires doing. Obviously, if no action is involved, then no energy is expended; and if no energy is expended, then no transfer of knowledge or acquisition of skill is taking place.
So, whether you are an online course designer, classroom instructor, or curriculum developer, you are faced with a major challenge when attempting to train others. And what is that major challenge? Competition with another action verb that people also enjoy—finishing.
Finishing also takes effort. However, finishing a course or class may be more attractive because it typically does not require the same amount of effort as learning. What does this look like in practice? How about someone clicking through online course slides just to print a certificate of completion, or someone sitting in a classroom checking Facebook the entire time? Learners may pick up a nugget here or there, but behavior transformation is highly unlikely.
As a designer, I see tons of emphasis on the importance of engaging and interactive course design. While I certainly believe training designers and developers should put their very best efforts forward, learners are also part of the equation. Here are some tips to remind employees of the role they play in the learning process:
- Ethical standards apply to learning – If employees take an online course or participate in a live class, the employer is footing the bill. Skipping ahead or checking out is, quite frankly, stealing from an employer. An employee may say, “This course is boring.” Well, so is patching a pothole, but crews don’t skip ahead to the next one until the one under repair is good to go.
- Beware of repetition fatigue – Employees may think, “I have heard this a million times.” Actually, that may be true. However, practicing fundamentals is key to long-term success regardless of the industry. If employees can’t find personal application, then encourage them to find application to team, customers, or the organization.
- Remember the power of choice – Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor once said, “One has the ability to choose one’s attitudes.” “Choosing” is also an action verb. It requires energy and effort. When employees are presented development opportunities, we must encourage them to wisely choose when it is time to learn and when it is time to finish—and the importance of knowing the difference.
This is what we know.
People resist change.
They really resist change.
And yet, they need to change. They really need to change.
So – they need to change; they know that they need to change; they want to want to change… but they resist change, and are almost always led “kicking and screaming” into any change.
And sometimes — more often than not — needed changes simply are not made. And the bad ripple effects of this “non-change” are costly in every way. It’s probably greater than the cost of any changes that are made. In other words, it may cost more to not change than it does to change.
This is such a truism that we all know it, we’ve all experienced it, but… we haven’t found a fix.
And maybe we are as guilty as the next person over there who resists change so strongly.
I think if we could understand why we are so resistant, we might do a better job actually changing our ability to change when we need to. (And, we are always needing to make some changes.)
So, here’s a clue from John Kotter’s latest book, Accelerate:
People cling to their habits and fear loss of power and stature.
It’s the last part to that sentence – “they fear loss of power and stature” — that is revealing.
People know their place in the world, in their neighborhoods, their churches, and certainly in their organizations. Chances are, they have worked to get to where they are. “I am a manager.” And, whether they realize it or not, they do not want to move back down a single notch from their current place in the world. So when anything/anyone “threatens their place in the hierarchy,” they resist with all their might.
(A side observation: there are plenty of articles asking what is motivating Vladimir Putin, re. Crimea and Ukraine. One theory — he is trying to reclaim Russia’s “rightful place in the world.” He misses Russia’s place in the hierarchy}.
I realize that this is not a new insight. Kenneth Burke, in my view, said it best in his “Definition of Human” (he first called it his “Definition of Man”):
Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal…goaded by the spirit of hierarchy…
Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy. “I’m not changing because it could cost me my place in the hierarchy – and I would lose power and stature.”
Now, I don’t know the solution to this. John Kotter tells us one way to change and adapt the structure of the organization in this book, but he does not quite tell us what to do with the issue of people “losing their power, their stature, their place in the hierarchy” in the process.
And, until we can figure that out, any change that threatens someone’s place, whether from without or within, will be resisted, and resisted, and resisted…
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
How do you keep good people on your team? When good people leave, we often console ourselves by saying the reason they left was because someone offered them more money. However, money may not be the main reason.
In a recent study of exit interviews from employees, money came in 5th for top reasons why people leave an organization.
You may not have much control over how much money an employee makes, but as a manager or supervisor, you have a lot of control over other areas. Mastering these areas can make up for the fact that you may not be able to be as competitive when it comes to how much money you can pay. In fact, effective leaders strive to make sure that no one outpaces them in these things.
What are these things that caused people to leave jobs more often than money, and why are they so important?
- Not treating people with respect.
When I teach on being an effective coach, I often ask, “How do leaders build trust?” Inevitably, when small groups work on this question, almost every group will list the word respect. We crave respect in our culture. We get angry if someone calls us a liar even when we are lying!
- Being prevented from making an impact on the organization.
Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller Furniture, says that one of the things people ask themselves about their workplace is, “Can I own this place?” That doesn’t mean they want to be on the Board of Directors. It means that they want to be able to make their mark. If you don’t allow them to do it, they are going to move on.
- Not being listened to.
One of the most important ways to create a sense of team is to listen to the team! Good leaders listen and know how to implement the input they receive into strategies, policies, and initiatives. People are up on what they are in on.
- Not being rewarded with more responsibility.
The people you want to keep on your team are the ones who want more responsibility. Delegation is not just a means for getting more done. It’s an important part of developing leaders. Leadership is like swimming. You can’t learn to swim just by reading a book. People expect to have their skills nurtured, and if you don’t allow them to grow—they will go!
Take some time to evaluate yourself. Don’t wait to lose good people. Provide the best compensation package you can; but beyond that, provide the kind of culture that may be matched but cannot be surpassed.
I bet you weren’t expecting this title in a leadership blog, but the truth is that leaders can’t do it all.
I’ve had a few coworkers (and I bet you have too) who want to be the “super employee”. Even though they have tons of things already on their plate, they always say they can add more to it. Eventually, their work days are spent coming in early and working late—all while accepting more tasks to add to their never-ending list.
They think continually overworking themselves will get them into a position of leadership because they are constantly “burning the midnight oil.” (Note: I am fully aware that some organizations are understaffed and overworked. I’m talking about the people who would take on every task regardless.)
On the surface, this sounds like an ideal employee to promote. However, these types of employees possess traits that are completely contradictory to those of a good leader. They apparently can’t say no, they have bad time management, and they don’t know how to delegate tasks.
It’s not the job of a leader to be Superman. That’s unrealistic and virtually impossible.
Great leaders aren’t always the ones who “do it all” and take on every duty there is. Great leaders know their own strengths and weaknesses and build a team that can complement or make up for those qualities.
That means knowing what you can and can’t handle and trusting someone else more knowledgeable to take care of the things you can’t handle.
Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, actually taught me this by example. He’s not afraid to say, “I have no idea what this means, but I trust that you do,” or “Can you research this and make a decision based on your knowledge?”
No micromanaging… no second-guessing… no trying to handle everything on his own—just trusting the people on his team. And when you trust your team, they’re more comfortable to do their job to the best of their ability.
Think differently about what it means to lead.
Build a team you trust, and trust the team to do what they were hired to do. Then, you’ll have the time and clarity to look at the big picture and steer your crew into the right direction.
Even though the recent recession postponed retirement for many Baby Boomers, it didn’t eliminate it; and now many of them are exiting the workforce stage left.
Because of this reality, many innovative organizations in both the private and public sectors are developing creative ways to develop effective leaders. Here’s a quick look at three unique approaches that could help prepare your team for the future:
Toyota has modeled this with great success. They created a diverse team of young (and I mean young!) leaders and provided some advanced leadership training. However, they also reached out to other organizations in their community and “loaned” this team of leaders to these organizations, many of which were non-profit groups. The purpose was to have the emerging leaders help these organizations solve problems they were facing. It was a win-win in more than one way. The organizations benefitted from receiving input from a different set of eyes. Toyota not only had a public relations win, but their leaders received some hands-on experience. It provided both learning and evaluation opportunities. This is something that many local governments could explore.
- Cross-Departmental Training
In The Southwest Airlines Way, author Jody Gittell describes the practices of Southwest Airlines in developing employees. Due in part to their aggressive cross-departmental training programs, employees are likely to know how their work relates to the work of the entire organization. They know how their work impacts other departments. Gittell argues that this is not typically true for other airlines. This may not seem like a quick fix for developing future leaders, and it’s not, but it may be an important foundational issue. John Kotter, distinguished business professor at Harvard, suggests that creating ways for employees to reach outside the boundaries of their own silos will facilitate innovation because it spreads operational knowledge and builds relationships. No leader is prepared for the future without those two things, no matter how many classes he/she has attended.
- Executive Assistants
This idea, sometimes used in the military, involves taking a young leader and re-assigning him/her for a period as an executive assistant to a department head. The key word is to have them serve as an “executive” assistant not an “administrative” assistant. This is not the next step to being the “assistant department head.” It is one step in the process of developing a future leader who will be much better equipped because of the opportunity to see things from a higher level for a period of time. It may seem like a luxury that you can’t afford to have, but if you are serious about developing leaders, it may be a necessity that you can’t afford to be without.
In this final post of a four-part blog series, we wrap up our list of unethical behaviors that all local government appointed and elected officials and employees should avoid. Feel free to review all four posts and send links to those in local government.
- Personal Use of Organization’s Property – This unethical behavior is a form of stealing and may include, but is not limited to:
- Using the phone to make personal long distance calls
- Using the postage meter for personal mail
- Pirating software for personal use
- Using any piece of equipment or resource for personal gain
- Use of any facility for political campaign activities
- Policy – It is unethical to ignore policy.
- Political Campaigns – It is not unethical for a local government employee to run for public office. However, it is unethical for a local government employee to verbally campaign, wear a campaign button, post campaign literature in any form, solicit support during regular work hours, or utilize local government resources for campaign purposes. It is wise for any employee who is campaigning for public office to keep a, “campaign log” in order to verify use “work-time” in contrast with “campaign-time.”
- Presenteeism – Coming to work when you are ill and exposing fellow employees to potential illness and lower productivity.
- Procrastination – It is unethical to put off work that needs to be done/has been assigned.
- Sabotage – It is unethical to tamper with or destroy personal or the organization’s property. It is also unethical to “set someone up” for failure.
- Safety – Ignoring safety rules and regulations is unethical.
- Secrets – It is unethical to hide information that could damage the reputation of your organization or damage public trust.
- Stealing – It is never ethical to take something that does not belong to you. Even borrowing money from a fellow employee is not a wise decision. If you feel you are at the end of your rope and have no choice other than stealing, consult with your organization’s Employee Assistance Program.
- Taking Credit – It is unethical to take credit for work you did not do. It is also unethical to give credit to a co-worker by giving him/her credit for someone else’s work.
- Turf Wars – It is unethical to protect yourself from losing control or power by manipulating or bullying others via a, “my way or the highway” mindset.
- Waste – Whether it is paper, time, fuel, or anything belonging to your employer, it is your responsibility as an employee to be a good steward of all workplace resources for which you have been entrusted. This includes working slow on purpose to extend the length of a contractual project, or in an attempt to avoid additional work. Extended breaks, lunches, and business meetings also fall within this category and should be avoided. Even environmental sustainability should be important to the public sector employee. Recycle and re-use as much as possible.
We hope this series has been a help to you and your staff – Happy training!