Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Team Projects: So What Happens When It's Over?

Ever wonder why we think we are too busy to sit together after a project is done and review how it went?

I know I too often am already overwhelmed by the next project on my plate to give much thought to what has been completed. I'm starting to gather what is needed to notch the next success for my team. What's done is done, why waste time thinking about it?

STOP! Think about that for a minute. There are a lot of valuable lessons hidden back there now that the completed project is behind us. There are teaching points and training opportunities. There are successes and there are areas where we need to fess up about not doing what we said we'd do when we said we'd do it.

I spent 21 years in the Air Force--after each flying mission aircrews do what is called a debriefing. Teams need to do the same thing. Together, with the sense of position removed and only with those who participated in the task. There is a lot to learn and go over.

It is not as easy as sitting together and saying: "OK so how'd it go?" But that is a good start. Before the session, every member of the team needs to review the project from their point of view and have a good understanding of their contribution and their tasks.

Team members need to be self critical. But definitely not suicidal. It all has to do with the outcome--if the team outcome was overall successful, then remember that. If the overall outcome was less than successful, then there will be a lot of items to discuss.

Team members need to be honest. They know where the fell short of the mark.

Limit the time. Don't let this drag on into a "pity party" session. The leader should go first and definitely start with self-criticism. "I should have been clearer in specifying the format for the deliverable up front rather than saying, 'I'll know it when I see it,'" for example.

Why do this? Well it will help the junior members of the team learn that everyone makes mistakes as well as being successful. It is a training ground for the future leaders of the team.

As failures are noted, if they are major shortcomings, do an exploration for the root cause. Why did the team come up short. We may know why we failed--we made a bad decision, but what caused the bad decision or failure to consider some external factor. That is the teaching point.

The only way this works is if everyone checks their emotional baggage at the door. And, what is said in the room, stays in the room. It should not show up on performance appraisals or in water cooler discussions. The review of the activity needs to be a safe zone—or nothing will be gained. Everyone needs to come clean.

The leader needs to maintain order--one person at a time talking. And--it is OK to write down the larger items for the future such as best practices that worked and processes which need improving corporately.

This type of process is really applicable to every team endeavor including sports, musical bands, and organizational process teams. Groups with a performance activity involved, like a band, actually can have some very concrete data to review on the character of their performance. Recordings from the activity. Organizational teams can review process charts and the products as the basis for their review.

I do personal debriefings in my life--for successes and failures. It drives my wife crazy because I go over what happened (sometimes multiple times which is too many), what was the situation, what were the external influences, how did I react, how should I have reacted, what did I do and what should I have done. I do this after I play racquetball, after I do a project like working on my Jaguar, or a home improvement--good or bad, or serve as a leader for a conference or a performance oriented group. I do it after a poor interaction with someone. My personal debriefing gives me a basis for modifying my behavior. I also look for outside information (like form my wife) as to how my perceptions were askew from reality. I will even do a debrief if, for instance, I leave home without locking the door. I try to recreate the situation and my actions to determine where I should have acted and what external influence distracted me so that I did not act.

Leaders, take time. Schedule time. Make your teams go over the task just completed so they can learn from it and apply those teaching points to future projects. The apparent resource investment will more than pay for itself in future productivity and team morale.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Walked out of the Club This Morning, and

it was beautiful. I had just finished playing a match of racquetball and I noticed that day had broken, it was about 6:30 AM. The sky was bright. And I was filled with a sense of hope for the day.

I've been driving my Jaguar, even though I really don't want to, because my truck needs a new engine due to an oil pump failure. I like my Jag, but I did not buy it to be an every day car. Though it is fun to drive, I really want to turn it into a show car. And it has Historic plates on it, which the garage says is OK to drive since it is not an everyday car, but my everyday car is laid up.

I get to play racquetball three times this week at 5:30 AM--and I really like starting my day that way. What a great way to use my time and to get the energy level up for the day.

Do I win or lose and does it matter? Not really. Of course I'd lie if I said I didn't like winning--but I used to play a guy who I almost never beat--and my game improved dramatically over the four years we played so that by the end I was winning about a third of our matches. Now, I'm in a league and playing one guy fairly regularly. I can't remember a time when I was in as good shape as I'm in now.

So, I walked out of the club this morning with the earth alive and birds singing. It made me happy. Joy of living and life.

Team Competition: Playing in the Sandbox

Leaders! Come on now. Remember kindergarten. What good comes from throwing sand into other's eyes? Yeah, I know--we feel good for a couple of seconds, but then we usually get called upon to clean up the mess. So why make the mess in the first place?

In the world of team dynamics there is always going to come a time when teams or organizations come into conflict or competition. Competition can be a good thing for the larger organization. Conflict is probably not a good thing. It all comes down to how the leaders handle the situation.

There is of course good competition between teams. But, where it gets bad is when the competition becomes destructive--either in the relationships between the teams or in the overall outcome. Competition on teams can also be a good thing and help people strive for excellence--but again, leaders must be careful to encourage healthy competition.

So as a leader--how do we play together nicely in the sand box while encouraging competition?

Most important, ensure that the nothing gets personal. No personal attacks on people. Everything must be held to the inanimate object, impersonal level. Once things get personal, that is when the sand is beginning to leave the sandbox.

Keep the competition focused on the objective. It is easy to devolve into scrapping for smaller goals and nonsense items, but if the competition remains focused on the organizational goal--then everyone on the team should feel empowered to contribute. If, for instance, the competition on the team becomes focused on the presentation--then other members of the team will become disenfranchised and potentially reduce the significant contributions in their areas of expertise.

Insulate the team, as much as possible, from outside influences which will seek to distract them. Sometimes, bringing in outside influences only increases stress while not serving to improve performance. Leaders must know their team well enough to encourage them and not demotivate or unnecessarily stress them--which usually results in sub-par performance.

Leaders should also identify the external factors and people/teams which are potential trouble spots and attempt to keep them from throwing sand into the eyes of their team.

The sandbox of organization in which teams play can be very small. Leaders should protect their teams and not throw sand at other teams which will engender retribution. The ability to meet organizational goals should be the standard of success, not the broken bodies and sand-filled eyes of the competitors.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

St Michaels Food and Wine Weekend - 2008

Food and wine weekend. What a fantastic idea. A get away to a bed and breakfast coupled with some great food and wine. Wow. We have been having a lot of fun sampling wines and talking to distributors.

The weather on Friday and Saturday was absolutely delightful. Today, it is a bit cooler and gray. But we have been lucky to be able to attend all three days of the festival.

The festival is great. We were there with friends. One of the highlights has been the B&B: Wade's Point Inn. A beautiful place right on the bay. I highly recommend it if you are planning a weekend get away. We enjoyed two fabulous nights at the Inn.

Dinner last night was at 208 Talbot. A very high end dinner which was nicely done. Although a bit more than just a night out dinner, it was worth the price to be reminded about classic and gourmet prepared dishes.

We have been having fun. I am just amazed at what I learned about wines and soils and growing conditions. And how to begin to identify different types of wines and then where in the world the grapes were grown. I found a new appreciation for Pinot Noir form Oregon. I was not a huge fan of Pinot Noir before the weekend, but I found the Oregon Pinot Noir very appealing. I especially was impressed with the Willamette Valley Vinyards and highly recommend their Pinot Noir.

We had a great time and I am already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Communication Part 2 - It Makes the Team a Team!

Communication happens on many levels. Formal and informal. Verbal and non-verbal. Successful leaders recognize the many forms of communication and the various channels. They are adept at using them to benefit the entire team.

Communication is what makes organizations work. The effectiveness of communication (or the lack of it) can be found everywhere in an organization and within a team. It ultimately is the leaders responsibility to ensure communication happens. The leader must be adept at using both formal and informal means to ensure the message is getting out and must also ensure that what is being communication in both types of systems is similar.

I've written before about secrets and how they can destroy an organization.The corollary to that is ensuring that the messages that are being sent are accurately portrayed and ensure that they are accurately received. Allowing the communication to be misinterpreted will have a similar result--it allows for the disintegration of the organization. And it will only cause problems later.

Leaders are the key to communication. They must develop a "transparent" approach to activities and ensure that the team is aware of developments and activities. And this doesn't just mean email. Communication is a process that requires the use of multiple transmission modes: verbal and non-verbal. And then there are the formal and informal means. Consider the difference to be the difference between a newspaper and a blog. Both get the news out--but each will have it's own spin on the truth. Good leaders know what is being said on the "grape-vine."

Here is a danger. something big is up and the team knows it. But, then nothing is heard formally. This is when the informal communications network takes over. In an information void rumors and speculation abound. And morale can plummet Openness is the key. Transparency. Leaders must bring as much to their team about what is happening as possible.

Another aspect of communication regards the day-to-day operations of the team. Keep them open. Constant communication will help a team come together. Years ago there was a management philosophy called: "Management by walking around." I like that concept. Don't just talk about work when you walk around. Go deeper into communications and find about about people's lives. What makes them tick. Why they are who they are. Find opportunities to catch people in the middle of doing good work. And praise them. In front of others. Let them know you saw what they were doing and appreciate it. Communicate your approval. Give them a high five!

Learn about communication. Develop your leadership skills and one of the key tools is communication. Try it! Communication is a unifying force when used properly.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jax is Getting Big

Jax is doing great and I thought it was time to update everyone on his miraculous progress. He is growing and is now over 10 lbs in weight. He came home from the hospital at just over 7 lbs. He is very alert and is just a joy to be around.

He is picking his head up and looking around trying to be part of this really big world. Of course his big brother Ethan, who always reminds me that that is my little brother, baby Jax; needs to be part of the action.

It is just so rewarding and exciting to watch him develop and grow after such a traumatic start. Keep praying that Jax continues to grow and is strong and healthy. Thank you to all of you for your continued prayers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Organizational Whitespace

The pastor at the church I am attending has been teaching about whitespace. While the actual concept of whitespace is a printing and graphic design term, it has application in life and for teams. He has been teaching that whitespace is necessary in everyone's lives and that Jesus, himself, saw the need for whitespace in order to stay in touch with God and what was important. There are many verses in the gospels which relate how Jesus withdrew to eat, or pray, or be alone with the disciples.

What is whitespace? It is the area of our lives we haven't filled up with meetings, or dinners, or some other preplanned activity (like driving the kids to and from practice).

Whitespace is the area where creativity and reflection can occur. It is the unplanned portion of our time and it is the time where people can reflect on their direction and their strategies. People, he maintains, need whitespace to decompress and to help order their lives. In terms of capacity and load whitespace is what is left over after the load of our lives is subtracted from our capacity. If the our load equals our capacity--then there are problems because there is no whitespace.

I have experienced this in my own life. I feel that lack of whitespace contributes to burnout. It may also contribute a sense of being out of control and a victim of what is occurring around rather than participating in life as the individual desires. When I run out of whitespace, I don't sleep well, I can't think well and my actual capacity for accomplishing things diminishes. The funny part of it all is that I don't believe I'm actually fully maxed out on my capacity when this happens. But over the course of a few weeks, it becomes apparent that there is not enough whitespace in my life. We, as people, can function at max capacity for a time--but not for an extended time.

As leaders, we must be aware that our teams and organizations can suffer from lack of whitespace, too. Organizations or teams where the pace is frenetic are prime candidates. Or where the team members are constantly moving from meeting to meeting and then dutifully creating meeting minutes or correspondence are another example of an organization in need of whitespace.

What are the symptoms of loss of whitespace for an organization or team? I think there are a few that can be listed as sort of a list of symptoms to look for:

1. Innovation decreases or stops all together

2. The organization or team becomes stagnant

3. Team member morale declines

4. Social networks begin to collapse

5. The team does less outside work together--parties, get togethers

6. Simple tasks become monumental endeavors

What can leaders do to create transforming whitespace for teams? Of course first, recognize that whitespace is valuable and (this sounds funny) plan for downtime to create the whitespace.

1. Create situations where the team is together just to talk and vent with no ulterior motive. This could be an extended lunch outside the office or it could be a morning coffee break.

2. Assist the team members in devoting part of their day, say 20-30 minutes (about 5 percent of an average work day) as unscheduled time. Let them surf the net if they want to.

3. Ramp up slowly in the morning as the day begins and encourage exchange of ideas and niceties.

4. Get the team away from their desks for meals--or at least ensure they are reading the paper or surfing the web if they remain at their desks.

5. As the team gathers for projects allow some time to get off task and digress--do not be quick to keep everyone focused. Great ideas are born out of free association.

Whitespace is a new concept for me--but as I learn more about it, I see how valuable it is. The applications to teams and organizations are just as valuable as to our personal lives. I used to think that unplanned time was wasted time--but now I am beginning to believe that unplanned time is the most valuable time. It is the time where I am most creative and it should be the time which is most productive for teams as well.

Backyard Friends

We love to feed the birds in our backyard. We have three feeders for three different kinds of seed: Safflower, sunflower, and thistle seed. We get a variety of birds at the feeders throughout the year and we also enjoy the spring and autumn transients the nuthatches, the junco's and the like. But we really enjoy the regulars--the cardinals, the jays and the tufted titmouse along with an assortment of finches who change color with the seasons.

Spring has brought a great bounty of birds this year and we can barely keep the feeders full. Additionally this year has brought a new friend to watch--Rocky, a gray squirrel (who is really a female). She will take peanuts directly from the hand and is very comfortable with people--a trait which I am sure will be her undoing at some point.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Leaders need to be consistent in thought and direction. This is different from the concept of minimizing dissonance. Leaders need to set an organizational objective that enables the team to implement strategies and develop the tactics to achieve the objective.

I was once part of a team which had a pretty well defined objective. The strategy though was not so well defined and the tactics shifted weekly. As a result, the team under performed. It went through the motions of establishing itself, but the leader of the team kept changing the strategic direction which kept the team members from achieving their potential. It seemed that every time the leader went to a conference, class, or seminar--everything had to change. I agree things had to change but one strategic direction was never adopted for long enough to give the team a chance to develop the tactics necessary to make the strategy successful and then to achieve the objective.

Leaders are driven people. They are inherently successful and want to be successful. I know I like to be on the cutting edge of my profession. But the downside is that if, as leaders, the direction of the organization or our leadership style is constantly changing, the team cannot adapt and learn how to be successful. Worse, if the objective or strategy is constantly changing, the organization cannot succeed.

So what is consistency? Does that mean we can never change or alter our organizational course? No, of course not. Leaders need to carefully consider that every change comes at a cost. At a minimum the cost is lost momentum as the organization shifts to another objective. Organizations undergoing change become inward looking--focusing on internal mechanisms and operations. Successful organizations remain outwardly focused--keenly aware of the changing external environment and the competition. Successful teams adapt to the changing environment because their strategy already incorporates the ability to change to meet external stresses. A major reorganization and redefinition of the strategic goals should not be necessary every time a new external obstacle/threat appears.

Some leaders work well with organizational chaos, but for the most part long-term chaos is not healthy for people or organizations. Boundaries need to be set, goals determined and the approached fairly well planned. In military speak--the objective is identified, the strategy defined, and the tactics to implement the strategy are developed in response to the external forces which impede progress towards meeting the objective.

I attend leadership conferences and seminars to improve my skills and tool set. It is critical that leaders continue to improve their skills. The danger is that, based upon attendance at a conference or seminar, the leader will return and "change everything." While the leader may see a need to do this, the incorporation of change needs to be carefully considered and orchestrated. It must be communicated and if the change can be incorporated within the existing structure--so much the better. People expect product improvement and organizational improvement--these at least should be values that the organization is built upon. So small changes and incorporation of new procedures and ideas should be the norm. But if, as in the case of some leaders, the desire to change everything occurs after attendance at every seminar or class--then the problem is much larger and is probably related to feelings of inadequacy or inferiority that the leader has regarding the task or the organization or the situation.

Consistency is the ability to, when all of the chaos is happening, keep the organization's focus on the objective. Use the existing strategies to adapt and succeed. Consistency allows a leader to incorporate improvements and enhancements within the existing framework and not have it appear as a shift of focus from the existing objectives and strategies. The leader who lacks consistency is always chasing the next fad or invention and clearly is behind. The consistent leader is ahead of the fad and can rapidly incorporate ideas without giving the team a sense of emergency or panic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

E is 3

Ethan is Three and having multiple parties to enjoy the achievement. Party One with his friends was yesterday at Chuck E Cheese. There were 12 or 13 of his closest in age friends there to celebrate the moment. It was grand, noisy, fun, and generally high energy. Chuck E Cheese made a personal appearance in the mayhem and was impressive.

The gang was there and it was a very enjoyable time. For my own part, I had forgotten how high energy these affairs can be. But all of the parents of the other children stayed and so there was a lot of good adult conversation as well. Chuck E Cheese provides a reasonably safe environment for kids to play and enjoy these types of affairs in. I was impressed with the security system for matching children to parents. It was good to see that they are concerned about the safety of children--after all, their business is all about catering to the young part of life.

A definite good time was had by all and especially Pop-pop!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sol De Chile - Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Estate Bottled)

Well, we tried two bottles of this wine to be sure, but despite the following tasting notes from the wine maker:

Our Cabernet Sauvignon has a rich and concentrated ruby-violet color. It has aromas typical of its variety and added hints of chocolate and coffee. Its tannins are mature and firm.

My experience was much different. The wine seemed very immature. I was overwhelmed by the tannins and never found either the coffee or the chocolate. The nose was very hard but it did linger.

Not being a fan of this wine I cannot recommend it for anything even though it seems to be a reasonably priced wine.

Recommendation: Must miss. Not suitable for use as even a gift to someone you do not like.

Moon Sand Evening

Until last night--I did not have a clue what Moon Sand was. I guess i was just uninitiated--but Ethan was there to help educate Pop-pop about the virtues of Moon Sand.

So there I was, celebrating the first warm evening of 2008, in my shorts, my best Aloha shirt and sandals sitting in the middle of the driveway getting educated about Moon Sand by a very talkative and excited three-year old. And having a great time doing it. The conversation was interesting as we rolled the big wheeled trucks through the sand and made castings of the trucks and one person. We were joined by the neighbors who further educated me on the uses and versatility of Moon Sand. Of course, a lot of it was left in the driveway--but we had fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Respect for People Helps Improve Balance

A very difficult subject is respect.

Leaders want to be respected and their people want to be respected as well.

It is very easy to become so focused upon the mission that people become tools to achieve a goal and are therefore devalued as the most important part of the team. I use a simple memory device to describe the difference between a leader and a manager. Leaders lead people and managers manage things. When leaders lose focus of this little idea, they are in trouble of losing the team.

People are not tools. People are not objects. People are people. They each come equipped with wonderful talents and capabilities. Leaders must resist the tendency to devalue people and talk about them in terms of resources or billets or positions. There are faces and families attached to those impersonal concepts.

Leaders need to deal with people differently. Leaders must recognize that when the team is working late, there are family events being changed or missed. When business trips happen, there are many other people who are being affected. This stresses the people and may impact optimal performance. It may contribute to burn out.

It isn't all about the job--hopefully, we a working to live and not living to work. In my own adult life, I have made the decision to accept a salary cut to take a new job because the net quality of life improvement outweighed the value of the additional income. People are making these kinds of decisions everyday. Sometimes they are too afraid of the unknown to make a change, but then their stress over feeling not in control of their lives will negatively impact the team and others around them.

What are some examples that in certain circumstances could be construed as lack of respect for the people part of the team equation?

- Calling a mandatory meeting for 4:30 PM which will definitely go until after 6PM (and most people are off by 5PM).

- Emailing a team member a task overnight and expecting it in place for an 11 AM function--hoping they check their personal email before they come to work.

- In volunteer organizations, not understanding that some people are working 45-50 hours or more per week at their main job and then devoting then next best part of themselves to the volunteer organization.

- Constant short notice meetings without published agendas so the team members can prepare in advance and make the meeting productive

- Line of sight tasking.

- Believing that the reward for good work is less punishment.

- Sending someone on a trip when you know there are important personal events planned.

A wise person once told me--when you leave the organization you are in, who is really going to remember you after five years. You have your family with you your whole life and five years after you leave that company, if you are mindful of them, you will still have your family.

Good leaders understand that their workers or volunteers are trying to achieve balance in their lives. I remember The Karate Kid movies in which the wise sage taught Daniel-san about balance and lives being in or out of balance. Leaders need to help those around them achieve balance. Look for the warning signs that the lives of your people are out of balance: divorces, stress, illnesses, short fuses in discussions.

Respect those around you. Sure, there are going to be those times when everyone needs to pull together to achieve a goal, but it should not be an "every minute of every day and then some" environment. Be sensitive to the families and friends behind your people and to the drivers in their lives. Then, when the team really needs it--they'll be there and be happy about pulling together to achieve something really important.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Recognition--the Force Multiplier

Leaders are responsible for ensuring the members of their teams feel as if the contributions they make are important. To do this leaders need to both acknowledge contributions and recognize the value of the contributions.

Not every contribution needs to be recognized, but it is too easy to fall into the trap of recognizing no contributions at all--or even worse--calling out only the not so good contributions. This is demoralizing. After a while the team begins to wonder if anyone cares about what they are doing.

It is easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that people appreciate knowing that what they are doing is moving the mission forward--in whatever endeavor is being attempted: work, sports, music--leaders have an obligation to encourage. One of the best ways to encourage and reinforce good behaviors is to recognize--when it happens, good stuff. Don't wait until weeks later. Do it on the spot if you can. Catch people in the act of doing good!

We all generally have a real good grasp on reality and know when bad stuff happens. What we don't really understand sometimes is what is the good stuff? What do we need to emulate? That's the job of the leader--to recognize the good stuff and let everyone else now what it looks like so they can recognize it too.

How to recognize? A public comment that that was good is a great way to start. It can be done on the spot and in front of peers. Certificates are good. Awards are nice--especially money or time off.

Develop a culture that recognizes and encourages. Amazing things will happen as people push themselves a little bit more--without even realizing it, because they know their efforts are appreciated. And then the team, work unit, or whatever will be capable of doing more than it believed it could.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dissonance--When Words and Actions Don't Agree

Have you ever run across someone whose words and actions don't agree? And they don't even realize it? Let me give you an example:

The weekly staff meeting is scheduled to start at 1 PM on Wednesdays. But every week the leader isn't ready to start until 1:10 PM. After a few weeks people stop arriving at 1 PM and start arriving at 1:10 PM. But what does the leader do? Gets upset that people are arriving late? But are they really late? So what time does the 1 PM staff meeting begin?

A similar situation is when the leader indicates that subordinates should be open and honest and say and relate what's on their minds. But what inevitably happens when something bad is brought up or a different (notice I didn't write opposing) point of view is presented? The slam dunk as I call it. Or even worse, the cold shoulder where it is made clear that input from that person is unwelcome.

This stuff is easy to do. I've done it to others and had it done to me. It is dissonance because I am no longer consistent. What I think I want is not what I am showing my team that I want. I get unhappy with the team because they're not doing what I think I want and the team gets frustrated with me because I say one thing, but do something else and hold them accountable for an inconsistent expectation. It causes a lot of problems when this happens and the good leader needs to be constantly aware of these situations.

Seven steps to reduce dissonance

1. Make the decision to change.

2. Realize that your own actions have caused the situation. Do not blame it on circumstances. Accept responsibility for the dissonance and work aggressively to overcome it.

3. Look for scheduling situations which contribute to the problem--like closely planned successive meetings or events. Ask yourself--Why do meetings have to begin on the hour or half hour? If there is a scheduling problem which does not allow getting from one meeting or event to another until quarter past, change the scheduled time to quarter past! And then stick to it

4. Do what you say and say what you mean.

5. Start on time, regardless of who is present. After a very short time, people will adjust to the punctuality just as they did the lateness.

6. When bad news or dissenting views are being presented--don't say anything negative. Say thank you--and mean it. Realize that you need to hear good and bad news and you will never hear the bad if you continue to shoot the messenger. Take the information away for processing later. Ensure you understand the context.

7. Ask a trusted team member if there are things you are doing which cause frustration on the team related to dissonance.

Dissonance is dysfunctional to teams and prevents teams and organizations from achieving their full potential. Be aware of how your words and actions contribute to dissonance and notice how people respond to it. If they can, people will often vote with their feet--and leave the dissonant leader for one more consistent.

Keep Going O's

Another day another come from behind to tie followed by a late inning win! I am believing in these O's. The Baltimore Sun said today that this was the best start in 10 years! I say--enjoy it and keep cheering. I would love to see Oriole Park at Camden Yards rocking again with over 40,000 fans attending a game other than the Yankees or Red Sox.

I am getting to the point where i don't wnat to miss any of the action because--these guys are exciting! Who knows, maybe the O's will be looking to get talent for a pennant run in July rather than renting talent out (like they did Trachsel, last year). This is the American League East and anything can happen.

See you at the yard!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Trust and Teams

Are there trust issues on your team?

How do you know? When there seem to be more and more secrets--things that everyone can't know--there are trust issues. When the words: "Don't tell ___ about ____" are being used, then there are definite trust issues. At this point the team is in trouble.

To develop the closeness which helps teams overcome rough times, secrets need to be minimized. If there is something out there which affects the team--then everyone on the team needs to be aware of it. Look at it another way--if there is an issue and members it is being kept from some members of the team, then the team is not able to fully use all of its resources to overcome the issue. It is like playing a baseball game with only seven players instead of nine. The team is handicapped even before the first pitch.

So the question the leader has to ask is: "Why do I not trust my team with this information?" or "Why do I only trust certain members of the team?" The savvy leader recognizes that there are no real secrets on close teams anyway. The whole idea of secrets and trust may be related to concern about control of the team. But in the end, the trust issues not handled properly will fracture a team and render it ineffective.

How does a leader handle proprietary secrets that senior leadership indicates may not be shared? Don't let the team know you have a secret. Someone else has determined that your team is not trustworthy. The leader's job is to convince that leadership that the team is indeed trustworthy and failing that, do not indicate to the team that there are trust issues with higher leadership. It is really demoralizing for someone to say: "I know what's up and I can't tell you." Coming from the background I do, I fully believe the best approach is to deny knowledge at all of the larger situation for the benefit of the team. Good leaders will protect their team.

But what if someone violates the leader's trust? Look, it's going to happen anyway sometime. The benefits of what I like to call "transparency" far outweigh the potential losses caused by occasional trust violations. We are dealing with people--and people make mistakes and interpret situations very differently. Why give people a reason to believe you are not being honest with them? Both in the good and the bad information. Expect people to be adults and even when getting bad news, set the expectation that bad news will be dealt with in a mature and encouraging manner.

Leaders need to look at themselves. How do they handle honest communication. Killing the messenger of bad news, although I do like the scene from the movie 300, doesn't change the news and generally does not encourage the openness and transparency necessary for effective teams. Leaders need to be able to hear the bad news, too. And to keep openness alive on a team they need to be able to hear bad news from their team.

Trust the members of your team--with the good and the bad. Allow and enable them to participate in decisions and situations which affect members of the team. Do not play the "I've gotta secret" game. Grow the team into one that pulls together when times are tough and plays together when they can and you will have created a team that will rise to levels even the leaders did not imagine possible.

Oriole's Baseball - April 2008

Wow--I'm excited! What a great baseball weekend. This time last year the O's were 1-4--today they are 4-1 and alone atop the AL East!! I have to get excited about it because we need everything that we can to cheer about after ten consecutive losing seasons. And even a glimmer of hope is worth excitement.

The team has demonstrated they can come back. They have been behind in every game they played this year and won 4. Coming from behind to over come 2 or more run deficits on at least four occasions!

I went to the Saturday night game where they came from behind twice to win. It was cold--but the play of the gritty O's kept us at the game believing that something good was going to happen! AND IT DID! 6-4 and the O's win. I watched yesterday's game and saw the O's stick with it until the end--last out. AND WIN!

I do like the continually changing scoreboard and I feel that after this homestand they may actually get the bugs worked out. The team at least returned the pitch-type and speed to the smaller stadium scoreboards. And they even figured out how to still show the pitcher pitch count.

One more small product improvement though--the message of who is warming up in the bullpen should not be placed inside the player's stats on the lower board. Take down the defensive alignment on the upper board to show that message.
Let's go O's

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Day with E

Saturday was a great day. I thought it was going to be a total washout, but then our almost three-year old grandson walked into the day and totally changed my point of view.

About 11AM--he arrived and the women departed with Jackson for places unknown. So it's me and E. Off to the dump to get rid of some of those not going to be used this pool season items. This was E's first ever trip to the dump and he was a bit underwhelmed. He expected to see the BIG dump trucks and only saw the myriad of pick-ups and minivans which go to the residential side during the Saturday time period. But he was happy to watch everything going on.

When we got back I helped him discover flowers and smells. We walked around the gardens smelling hyacinths, and daffodils, rosemary, thyme, oregano and many other things. He really enjoyed the hyacinths and the rosemary. We learned how some flowers smell sweet and some don't. We learned about the smell of grass and forsythia, too. And on the walk we also saw a group of Hostas peaking their heads above the ground for the growing season. I promised to show Ethan what they grow into in a few weeks.

After lunch and nap we went to Home Depot to buy flowers so we could plant them. That was an experience. After being sensitized to the flowers he was all about picking out flowers to plant. So our garden this year was designed by a three-year old. He was very good about planing the flowers, though he was a bit literal when I told him to drop the plant into the hole.

Mowing the lawn was another experience. He rode with me on the tractor as we dodged trees and mowed the lawn. He was a great assistance as we emptied the bags and he began to understand that the clippings in the bags were created by the mower.

The crowning achievement of the day was Wormy. A pet worm and friends. He was all about the worm. And finding more. Digging in the unplanted vegetable garden. A couple of the neighbor children arrived and were also into searching for friends for Wormy. I don't think much about worms on a day to day basis--but I am sure I will always be on the lookout for Wormy and friends to thank them for helping Ethan get in touch with the world.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I played football in high school. I am always amazed at how much I learned about life and being a member of a team from playing football. I was not a star on the team. More like, as my coach said--I was hamburger for the good players to use and abuse in practice to get ready for the games. I knew my place, I knew my mission and I did it as well as I could so that the team was successful. And for the two years I played varsity, the team went 17-0-1. I did my part, everyone else on the team did their parts and we were successful. We were well coached.

Leaders need to know the members of their teams. We have to learn to make the team successful by maximizing individual strengths and using others to fill in the weaknesses. Everyone can contribute--but they need to know their place and how they are going to contribute. Some will be the stars and be in front doing the high pressure presentations. Others will be in the background--the hamburger, getting what the presenters need to "win one" for the team.

On a sports team, players have different positions; similarly on work teams people fill different positions. The job of the leader (coach) is to put the right players in the positions where they can have the greatest impact for the entire team. Not everyone may be playing in their best position if there is a lack of talent in a particular area. But it is still up to the leader to maximize everyone's talent for the good of the team.

How do you maximize talent? Tear down and remind everyone how many shortcomings they have? Or build up and encourage them by reminding them that everyone makes mistakes, but no single person causes failure. If it is a team sport--everyone plays a part. But everyone working to their potential is a surer means to success than minimizing the abilities of the less talented. There is a place for everyone. And once the team is comfortable working together, begin to encourage everyone to increase their skills and, therefore, value to the team.

Let me give an example. How well would someone continue to be motivated for a team if the leader came to someone who is definitely giving 100 percent for the team and is one of the stalwarts on the team and encouraged them by saying: "You're really not that talented, if you want an assessment why don't you send a tape of your play to some scouts and see what they say?" Sounds like the leader has a bigger issues to deal with and is intent on driving someone they consider a threat away. And who loses? Everyone! The team member, the other members of the team, and even the leader. The team member knew, "I never had any aspirations of playing at the next level, I was happy to do what I could do right here with this team and these people." sometimes it is more about who you are with than clawing to the next level--whatever that is. And the obvious personal assessment of an exchange like this? I'm not valued--maybe it's time to move on.

Leaders have to get over their own frustrations (and pride) of being where they are versus where they want to be. The team you have is the team you have. Work with it or go somewhere else. Encouragement is critical. How many Cinderella teams with definitely less talent have shown superior talented teams that a close-nit, well-coached team can overcome the odds and win? I think the last Super Bowl is a good example. It is the same in all of the teams we are members of. A close, motivated, well-led team will almost always succeed.

Great leaders encourage their teams to success and facilitate developing close relationships between the members. Key word--encourage!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Communication - Email

I remember when I was in school one of my professors said that communication problems were the causal effect in 95 percent of the problems on the planet. Now whether that is actually true or not, experience shows that communication issues certainly are behind many of the situations we find ourselves in.

Think about this seemingly clear statement: "Bob would you pick me up at 4 at Nicole's?" And Bob--while in the room and not actively communicating (because he's watching the O's lose again) acknowledges that something was said. Later that same day when it's time to act Bob heard something more like, "Bob, pick me up at 4 at Coles." Trying to be a good husband, Bob goes to Coles and is doomed. The ensuing post-event discussion has no good outcome: Bob either has to admit he wasn't listening, needs a hearing aid, or worse--really doesn't know the difference between Nicole's and Coles.

Communication is a two way process--a sender and a receiver. But to have effective communication both the sender and receiver must acknowledge the communication and confirm the meaning of the message. Otherwise there is just a lot of noise or electrons (in the case of email) passing by each other in a disconnected manner.

Communication. We are living in an email world. Frankly, I love email. I have a Blackberry to access my email accounts (yes, plural) so I can receive and send information whenever I have time. I am no longer tied to sitting in front of a computer (desk top or laptop) in order to check email and respond to people. I love email because I can handle the communication on my schedule, unlike a phone call which usually comes when I'm right in the middle of something else and so I lose twice--once disengaging from the project I'm working to answer the phone and the second time to get into the conversation at hand. I can also think more deeply about the topic and if it is emotional I can let my emotions abate before responding.

So what's the problem? Not everyone understands that an email is an important form of communication. I receive well over 200 emails per day. Most are informational only (or advertisements for some Canadian prescription drug plan) which require nothing more than hitting the delete key. But there is a critical subset of the total which require action. At the least the receipt of these emails must be acknowledged with a quick note to say, got it and am thinking about it. Or even, call me and let's talk. Using email to lay out the agenda for a phone call or meeting makes these forms of communication even more effective.

What happens when, say, an email proposing a new idea is sent and the receiver does not acknowledge it? I'm an action oriented person. Most action oriented people I know wait a week to allow for a response. Then, if they believe the proposal is within their area of influence or responsibility the lack of communication is considered tacit approval and the idea is implemented.

Who is right and who is wrong? The receiver of the email has a responsibility to at least acknowledge the communication. It is the right thing to do. Face it--it is flat out rude not to respond at all. The leader who fails to acknowledge an email should not expect to sympathy later nor do they have any justifiable reason to be upset because the answer comes back--you were info'ed on the email, when did you send your objections? Additionally, if the leader sends objections--follow up to ensure they are received.

The bottom line is--respond to email! It is an effective form of communication which helps remove ambiguity while providing critical documentation for the future. Good leaders must be effective communicators and using email is a critical skill. There are rules of email etiquette, use them. I referenced my favorites here.

Email can save time, increase effectiveness, and provide necessary documentation for decisions! But, you must answer the mail or don't quibble about the consequences.

Saga of the Dead Horse

I had read this some time ago and needed it so I looked it up:

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount."

However, in government, education, and in corporate America, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse's performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses

I've seen some variations, but it is critical for organizations and leaders to realize when they are riding a dead horse and to change. If it's not working--it's not working?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Empowerment and Encouragement

So there I was, in an organization which had stopped moving forward. And people began wringing their hands about the lack of progress. Numerous reorgs (the standard solution) had not generated the enthusiasm to motivate the organization to lean forward in the "chocks" and begin to make progress.

What was wrong? The leadership seemed to want to move forward--but something was holding them back. Two things: Empowerment and encouragement. One of the most interesting and dysfunctional things which had been happening was the consolidation of power into the hands of a seemingly apt individual whom as it turned out, was a micromanager with a risk avoidance mentality and a love for secrets. This is a recipe for disaster.

The motivated, fired up individuals in the organization were reigned in and had their creativity and innovativeness stifled. Empowerment was taken away and encouragement replaced by a fear of failure. Organizational secrets became the norm and only the "in" group was party to the secrets. The most motivated individuals in the organization were affected first and feeling minimized began to withdraw. This malaise stretched to the informal groups and the entire organization began to suffer from lack of energy and vitality. No one wanted to do anything for the organization or even with the organization. Even old established traditions of fellowship began to die. It went adrift. And the micromanager more tightly controlled everything because certain failure was looming. And the secrets grew.

Fear of failure results in organizational death. The most creative people in an organization need to be allowed to set the pace for everyone else to follow. They will lead. The micromanager needs to follow and resist the tendency to reign them in. In organizations searching for an identity, empowering and encouraging the motivated individuals will help the organization shake off its lethargy and the direction will become clear. Leaders need to be transparent and fully and honestly communicate both their values and vision to those working with them. Failure should be acknowledged as a necessary and valuable by-product of creativity. Not every idea is going to be a success--but not encouraging innovation is stifling and will strangle an organization. And hiding behind secrets only serves to foster discontent.

The worst thing for a leader to tell a highly motivated, creative person is that "we're not going to innovate in your area anymore. There are other places we need to focus our energy." And while this may seem reasonable on the surface, what is being heard by is: "We don't value you anymore." No matter what or where--everything we do and every part of our lives (professional, personal, spiritual) can be better. Stopping work on any area says--this doesn't matter anymore and I don't care about it. And the organizational result? People leave. Those who have been minimized and had been stifled leave first. And then the organization slowly begins to die without the infusion of new ideas. Many organizations go outside, recruit new blood and repeat the process all over again. Until the new people become discouraged and also leave.

Leaders first and foremost must set the vision. They must be transparent in their dealings and resist the urge to personally approve every minute detail of projects that are in progress around them. They must trust those working with them to have honorable intent and maturity. Speak in broad vision terms which lay out the goals and encourage and empower the creative energized people in your organization. In these cases, a funny thing will begin to happen and to use a colloquialism: "The horses will run" and in chasing them the organization will prosper.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

People or process? Where's the joy?

I've been confronted these past few days with an interesting dilemma: which is more important, process or people?

I admit, we need process to ensure that people are treated fairly and equitably. Yes--those two words have very different meanings. Yet, sometimes it is relationships outside the process and the established organizational bounds which are essential to success--both in business and in our lives. There are formal relationships and informal relationships. Read another way--business partners and friends. Sometimes it gets really sticky when the same person is in both roles. And when one role changes it can get very complex, if you let it.

So where does that leave us as we consider the question of people or process? I believe good managers and leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of the people around them and from whom they seek assistance and advice. For the good of the organization, it is critical to continue to get good advice regardless of the process. Often, we seek advice form the sounding board person who is not so ingrained in the process that they provide, free of organizational fluff, unvarnished assessments of what's what.

There, ideally, is a congruence of process with people. But sometimes because of organizational limitations this does not happen. In this case, we surround ourselves with the best advisers we can and work through the process to move the organization forward--sometimes despite its own inertia.

I think of it as circles of influence and I'm sure I picked it up in a management class sometime in my past. I am part of many circles--social, organizational, familial. Some of the circles are formal, some informal. Sometimes these circles of influence intersect. At the point of intersection I am free to draw across the boundaries (color outside the box?) to use everything I touch or that touches me to make decisions and provide background. To do less than this is not to use everything available to face a problem or to celebrate a success. I consider it a critical part of the process.

So of course, to answer my own question. People not process. Relationships are most important because process can destroy relationships and render enthusiasm and joy meaningless. Why is joy important? Because I believe where we are experiencing joy we are moving forward. That's how you can tell if it's all working. If the people are motivated and full of joy for what they are doing, then we are successful as leaders. We have created the right environment which is open and safe. We probably recognize the circles of influence and are effectively using them to ensure no one feels disconnected. And it is the process which is helping to support the people and not the people which have become pawns of the process.

Opening Day - 2008

Baseball is back and hope springs eternal on opening day. Unless of course it's the O's in a rebuilding year. Then it is hope that we won't be too embarrassed or finish behind Tampa Bay in the standings. And after yesterday, we are already one game behind Tampa in the standings after losing our Opening Day game 6-2 to the Rays. But I was there with my three sons and we had a great time at the Yard--or is it Birdland this year?

The new scoreboard is really cool and has a lot more stuff on it. They also upgraded the smaller scoreboards around the stadium. One change I'm still struggling with is the loss of the pitch type and speed. On the smaller screens that used to display that info we now have the pitch count--which I also like and think is a great addition. But why can't we get both?
But all in all, it was a great day with the guys. We watched baseball, we talked, we laughed, and most of all we were together. Baseball does that--it brings people together. If we had won that would certainly have been nice, but this year that may be a bit much to ask for.

My Zimbio
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