Does your organization hold meetings as a proxy for meaningful human interaction?

Do you find yourself in meetings in which, just as you’re all about to reach a decision, someone raises another objection or reason for further investigation?

Now ask yourself if you spend more time in these meetings that you do speaking to people one-on-one.

If you answered yes to both, your organization may be culturally replacing meaningful human contact with controlled group interaction.

Possible reason:

Your organization started small with a lot of collaboration, then grew and virtualized. Now, except for meetings, you only communicate by email or chat. Meeting as a group was once a fertile collective ideas-generation activity. Now it has become the only way for people to connect with each other.

People need human contact. For people who work long hours, their colleagues at work are often the only trustworthy resource they have. When people don’t have a way to connect one-on-one, they will use meetings to get what they need. And when final decisions threaten to end the possibility for continuing to connect, people will find a way to preserve the ongoing resource for connection by blocking the decision.

Test the theory:

For two weeks, encourage everyone to meet one-on-one with two or three colleagues for a few minutes each before the meeting. Tell them the goal is to be curious, listen and ask questions – perhaps suggest 2-3 minutes for each person to ask questions of the other. Then hold the meeting. Notice if some of the meeting behaviour changes.

Next encourage them to switch the colleagues they meet with before the meeting, so they aren’t always having one-on-ones with the same folks. Ask each participant to eventually meet at least twice with each of the other participants who regularly go to the meeting. Again, the goal is listen and ask questions.

When the participants avoid one-on-ones with specific people repeatedly, take note of how they interact in the meeting. There may be an opportunity to join the two of them and, rather than rescuing them or facilitating their conversation, simply model asking questions and listening. Ask them to work on their interaction together on behalf of the rest of the group who want them to be able to work together more effectively.

And let me know how it goes 🙂




Making space for change

I’ve been thinking about making space for change. When I get overwhelmed, my instinct is to stop doing the most recent thing I took on. But is that really the best choice?

Instead, this time, I took a few minutes and listed my current commitments, ranked them in order of the value I get from them, and was surprised to see the result.

An activity I used to enjoy, and had invested lots of time and money training myself to do well, was at the bottom of the list. The change in ranking happened less because I no longer loved the activity, but that the context in which I had enjoyed it was no longer satisfying me – the group I did it with had lost its inspiration, and none of us, including me, was willing to put the energy into getting it back.

So, instead of giving up the thing I was enjoying today, in a fresh, exciting, inspiring group of people, I decided to put the old activity on the shelf and give it a rest. I might come back to it one day. Or not. And that’s ok.

The slow swell of business cycles

I’ve been pondering a cycle that I’ve noticed in my business. It seems to go action, reflection, reinvention and back to action. As a consultant and coach, I deliver as long as the client needs my help and wants me to be their helper. Fortunately, I get repeat business. But even so, the process has a fairly stable cycle to it. There’s always “slow time”, during which the client is regrouping, or getting funding for the next cycle. During that time, I reflect on what went well, and what I’d like to improve. I follow that with decision-making and beginning the new behaviour or activity. Then the next gig starts.

What’s interesting to me is to ponder the possibility that we are all participating in a meta-cycle, both creating and reacting to it, resulting in economic bubbles and recessions. We could all be on a slow swell of action, reflection and reinvention, which collectively creates a kind of macro-cycle, like traffic on the highway. One car slows, and all the rest slow too.

A macro-cycle would make sense in the organic view of business since life does proceed in cycles of output, rest, renewal and more output. It’s anathema to the machine model of business, born in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, which requires and expects production to never stop. That could be why business people are caught off-guard when the cycle plays out.

Thoughts? Do you see patterns in your business? Let me know…

I’ve been reading and rereading Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen. I find it particularly useful because it identifies the thing that has always baffled me about “those” conversations: they’re not about facts and logic. Even though we spend inordinate amounts of teeth-grinding time on “But you said…” and “I don’t remember saying that, but if I did that’s not what I meant”, what happened is just one of three conversations we are really having.

The book tells us there are 3 conversations:
The “What Happened” conversation – what was the intent, who’s to blame and what is the truth
The Feelings conversation – we both have feelings and if we don’t make them explicit in a non-threatening way, they can take over, leaving us overwhelmed and confused.
The Identity conversation – what does this say about me? Am I a good person, am I worthy of love, and am I competent?

They follow on with examples, words to say, and ways to correct common mistakes.

It’s exciting to think that conversations that seemed so obscure and confusing actually were! Have a look.

Swine flu? Learn to work from home

Don’t travel. Don’t get close to people. Stay away from large gatherings.
Whatever this becomes, the effect on the our workplaces and way of working will be severe. If you have children and / or are a knowledge worker, spending your time talking, thinking and working on a computer you must get prepared to work from home. 

Here are some tips:

Prepare a workspace for yourself – quiet, clean, organized. Getting that in place now will help you later.

People who are already comfortable with teleconference, email, social networking, self-management and lack of “face time” will have the easiest time of it. Start now to work with people over the phone, by video conference and by yourself.

Prepare to have kids at home while you work. If public health agencies close schools and daycare, somebody’s going to have to look after the kids.  Plan ways for them to keep busy and out of trouble while you stay productive.  Sharing care with other families will be essential.

Prepare to not have “face time”. If you’re a person who likes to be physically present with others, this will be hard for you.  Even preparing for video conferencing will help, as you will be able to see people’s facial expressions.
Of course, these are emergency adaptations. This may all come to nothing, but in the short term as public health agencies and companies learn how to respond to the situation, there will be decision made that restrict and change ways of life we have come to expect and believe are our rights. The transition to another way of working can be very hard.  Begin to work through the loss of your comfort and move into a new way of working while things are easy.

And depending on how long it lasts, we will all be affected. Basic needs must be met, and if you don’t live on a farm and grow your own food, work may become the last thing to worry about.

What would Atticus Do?

I just read a great blog from Harvard Business Review based on the work of Rafe Esquith, the author of Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire. It’s all about morals.  Morals in Management.  Ring any bells?  HBR has gone to an award-winning 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles for help.

According to the blog, Esquith has “adapted a framework from psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg called the Six Levels of Moral Development. In some ways, Esquith’s formulation is more useful, translated as it has been into something a fifth-grader can relate to. Here’s Esquith’s channeling of Kohlberg:

Level 1: “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Level 2: “I want a reward”
Level 3: “I want to please someone”
Level 4: “I follow the rules”
Level 5: “I am considerate of other people”
Level 6: “I have a personal code of behavior and I follow it”‘

Sound like anyone you know at work? Where are you usually on the scale?  Where are you in a crisis? According to the Wikipedia article on Kohlberg, most adults stop at level 4 in terms of consistent behaviour.  And the instance of empirical evidence of level 6 was so low, Kohlberg couldn’t prove it existed, but believed it did.

One of the tools Rafe uses in his classroom  for Level 6 is the question, “What would Atticus do?” Atticus Finch is the dad in To Kill A Mockingbird, the readers choice all time best book ever in every poll ever taken.  Atticus always does the right thing, even if it might hurt or will be painful.  If you haven’t read it, read it.

Where are you on the scale?

In your immediate challenges at work, what would Atticus do?

Are you ready to do that?

Presence in Coaching

I’ve tried a couple of ways of keeping session records for coaching:

Take notes while I’m in session

Take notes when I’m done

For all kinds of reasons, when I don’t take notes during the session, but instead stay present and aware of my client’s voice, energy and patterns of speech, the outcome is always deeper and more effective.  I usually note observations and commitments in my client file when the session is over so I can follow up later.  

My own presence is not just affected by multitasking.  I can get distracted by noise, visual activity outside the window, reminders popping up on my laptop.  So I settle myself with intent before I start a coaching session, take some deep breaths, clear my mind.  If I can hear myself breathe and count to 50 without losing my place, then I’m ready to attend and listen effectively.

Anyone have a similar experience?