Friday, January 29, 2010

Combining Metaphors to enhance effect and performance

The use of animals as metaphors for behaviours was covered in The Organizational Zoo as well as some other places.  Sports metaphors also have been widely used for business teams.  I have for some time played with the combination of the two to generate an understanding of the relationship between behaviour and a team role.

Belbin's research built an understanding of how different teams benefit from acknowledging that a diversity of roles is required to optimise outcomes.  My own interactions have been experimenting with the understanding of getting the right behaviours expressed in the right roles within teams.  Where people with particular behavioural preferences are put into a role not matched with those preferences, conflicts can occur as well as personal stress. 

However, if the roles are matched with the behavioural preferences a better balance of behaviours can generate a smoother flow of the work.  We still need diversity of behaviours and a set of roles appropriate for the task at hand, as each team needs "small agile players" and some "more robust players" to complete the different tasks.  In the basketball and football images shown the goal and required tasks are very different and this requires a different set of behaviours.  The level of aggression and the nature of the players are different, but each team has internal diversity to match the appropriate roles within that overall requirement.  If the basketball team is doing HR (less contact and more supportive) and the football team is in sales (more robust contact and aggression) I am comfortable.  However, if the football team represents my HR team and the Basketbally represents my sales force my business is suddenly not looking so good.

Combining the metaphors in this way provides a richer picture of what is required to be successful.  The overall context, the roles within the teams and the interactions between the players are all important.  People get the importance of this very quickly and have fun exploring the implications.  As with many metaphors, this quickly introduces a complex message in a simple and safe way which stimulates conversations between people around the impacts for them in their contexts. This is where the real value is generated.  People talking with each other about things that matter in a constructive way.

Get the right players in the right roles and you fly with the eagles, get misalignment of behaviours (animals) or have them in the wrong "positions" (roles) and success is far more difficult to achieve. I see this as being aligned with some of the recent writings of Dave Snowden on the interactions of crews.  Interested to know if readers can identify with this concept.  As always, I appreciate the fun images provided to me by my friend John Szabo (a good example of roles - I write and he draws, other way round would not be so good as I still struggle with stick people!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Park Ranger and the Leading Lion

A scenario where leading from behind can be effective.

Collaborative employee A
We are between a rock and a hard place, they will not change their plans and we cannot force them to. I honestly believe this training proposal is necessary for the program be successful, but they simply won’t resource it.

Collaborative employee A’s manager

I'm almost to the point of saying "to hell with it - let them rot", but I know that isn't the answer. If they persist then we need to be prepared to assist when the project fails - which costs more money than if we did it correctly the first time.

Collaborative employee A
I had been in this battle for a long time before I realised they would not allow us to help. There are only so many times you can come back and fight the same battle. Then I challenged myself: "So this means that you can't manage what is needed?" I really dislike the sound and implications of that question.

Supporting aggressive leaders with knowledge-based proposals is like being a ranger in a wildlife reserve responsible for caring for the lions. The lions consider only the immediate benefit to themselves and have little interest in longer term strategies. They are not able to understand that the ranger is there to support and guide them and without whom, the lion would not survive in the wider changing world. The ranger ensures sustenance and protection for them and their part of the world for rest of their life. However, this requires a little cooperation from the Lions. Unfortunately the lions are disinterested or incapable of understanding the value of the ranger’s advice and support. Even once it is implemented (assuming the lion does not try to eat them whilst doing so), they may not appreciate what it has done for them.

I ask myself why are we rangers take the risk of working for lions on the open grassland with little protection and kudos? Unfortunately, as the Global Financial Crisis has shown much of the business world is ruled by prides of primeval carnivores living day to day for their own benefit. The rangers are those of us trying to convert this into something more sustainable for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, lions have not asked for this and don’t appreciate why we are doing what we do. They are blissfully unaware of the wider impacts on the world and how this ultimately affects others as well as themselves.

We are bound to lose a few battles and win some others. Not perfect, but progress. We are in this environment because it needs us. Going back to the management question.… So how do we MANAGE the primeval carnivores so that they make the most of the situation they don't understand (or don’t want to understand)? Sometimes it is better to allow some small mistakes to be made and prepare to be there to support them though and to minimise the consequences when they happen. It is quite conceivable that under such circumstances, you will be chastised for “allowing” the mistake to happen, despite your best efforts to prevent them (and probably being mauled a few times).

The fact those “accusing” you of not doing enough to prevent the issue are the very animals that flatly and robustly rejected your earlier suggestions should not surprise you. They will not thank you for cleaning up, will criticise you for poor management in allowing it to happen, but in your heart you know it was the best outcome overall as it prevented the major disaster. Rangers are Owls and ultimately Owls can only influence over time to optimise outcomes, not force actions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Conversations that Matter

Constructive conversations are the single most powerful way to engage people and make a difference for those you interact with. It is a pity that many people underestimate the power of the conversation. Everyone engages in conversations, but only a small percentage know how to create the right environment for "Conversations that Matter".
Effective conversations that matter follow a simple structure defined around understanding what you are trying to achieve and four fundamental focus areas: Outputs, Outcomes, Benefits and Beneficiaries.
For example, brainstorming, making a decision and authorising actions are all usually done through conversations, but in each of these cases, the focus of the conversation is different. This impacts on the type of information being exchanged and the people you need to involve. Certainly the outputs (tangibles such as documents, lists, decisions, communications) and outcomes (intangibles such as emotions, buy-in, creativity, identity and "enhanced performance") are very different. Brainstorming conversations that matter generate outputs such as lists and outcomes like creativity and potential (and perhaps even fun). A conversation that matters about succession planning and business continuity will generate outputs like a strategy, some decisions, agreed actions and hopefully some processes and pairing of mentors and mentees. However, the outcomes may be great (the strategy is good, the chemistry between the pairs positive and there is time to achieve the desired knowledge transfer) or bad (the strategy is impractical, matching poor, a lack of trust and sharing is ineffective). Too many projects that finish on time and on budget are a failure because we converse about the more easily measured tangible outputs rather than the far more difficult (and important) intangible outcomes. "We finished on time and on budget, but once the project team disappeared we had no idea how to operate the system effectively let alone optimise it". Very familiar words, regardless of what type of industry!
This is where conversations that matter generate their most significant impact. Managed well, the facilitator ensures everyone in each conversation understands the purpose of the conversation and what benefits will be delivered to which beneficiaries. Performance improvement results when the ultimate owners and users of the new idea, product or concept have been engaged in a series of conversations that matter at the appropriate moments throughout the initiative. This generates engagement, ensures understanding of how each interaction will impact their performance after it is finished and how the right knowledge is going to be transferred to them so they can take ownership. A good facilitator knows how to ensure each conversation is completed across each of the four focus areas so that everyone involved is fully aware of the impacts. When the leader creates the right environment for the conversations that matter to flow, it builds trust, effective relationships and greatly increases the likelyhood of achieving the desired outcomes. For more on Conversations that Matter refer to the book, Being a Successful Knowledge Leader or ask a Zoo Ambassador

By the way, metaphor is a great way to have fun with conversations that matter. Metaphor can be used to stimulate emergent ideas and get people thinking outside the box (if brainstorming or focus on consequences and risks if in a decision forum). All Organizational Zoos are happier places when people talk with each other with a positive purpose, rather than talk at each other with avengence.