Teams are as prevalent today in the workplace as water coolers in the common area. This is rooted in the nature of project work, often requiring knowledge and skill from disparate groups expected to work together. The rollout of a new technology or improved business process often requires coordination among business managers, external consultants, marketing, training or sales groups, each working toward a common objective. Often, the coordination produces more cross-team dysfunction than success.
What is Patrick Lencioni's major premise on how groups develop into high-performing teams? In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, it comes down to five qualities that people bring to group dynamics: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results. When these qualities are present, groups are able to accomplish extraordinary things. In the absence of these qualities, groups become mired in personality and political distractions that take away from achieving their goals.
Colleges and universities, corporations, local government — pick any organization with two or more departments — have got a silo problem. What would have to change to tear down these artificially constructed walls that create misunderstandings, gaps in communication, all leading to rampant inefficiencies? In this article, we'll look at these issues and I'll suggest how managers and staff can address this problem today.
This month's Higher Education Workplace magazine features a piece co-authored by our own Gail Gregory with UMass Lowell's Lauren Turner. In it, they share the story of change at UMass Lowell, how the university worked to instill the culture of transformation across campus with an eye on workforce planning initiatives.
Subscribers of The Higher Education Workplace Magazine can find "Are You Change Ready? Strategies for Workforce Management" in the Winter 2015-16 edition. And, for a limited time, the publication has given us permission to share the article with readers and members of the Teibel community here.
While in conversation, you find yourself unconsciously looking around the room, or checking your watch. Maybe while the other person is in mid-sentence, you interrupt with a thought. Are you listening? Instead, what if you were nodding your head in agreement, using the phrase "uh-huh", or the classic — making good eye contact? Are you listening now? What is it about listening that we find so important but so elusive?
Separate out the visual cues that typically suggest "listening". Visual cues are important, but they don't necessarily mean genuine listening is taking place. Think about the times you found yourself nodding in apparent agreement but had no clue what the other person was saying or didn't care.
Is listening different if you attempt to paraphrase someone's comment? To paraphrase, you hear the other person's words, privately interpret their meaning, then use your own words to convey it back to them. In either case (head-nodding or paraphrasing), what is the measure of being a good listener? Simple. The speaker feels heard. As the listener, you demonstrate that the point got through to you.
Imagine a conversation where you're apparently listening and before the other person even finishes their thought, you're privately rehearsing your reply. Person pauses for half a second and you jump in like a wild animal. I think you can slot that in the poor listening category.
What does any of this have to do with presentation skills? Just everything.
Consider for a moment that your challenge is not public speaking, but public listening. We're sold on the idea that being a good communicator means projecting ones voice, making eye contact, the list goes on. How about at the heart of presentation skills is listening, not speaking. Sort of turns the whole thing on its head. Think about it. What are the major complaints about meetings, presentations, and lectures? That we are not reaching our audience. Translation: we are not listening!
The problem is that when we publicly speak, our personal measure of success is the quality of our ideas or how well we deliver, not necessarily how it's heard. It's just a bonus if we connect with an audience. Listen up! The quality of your presentation is first and foremost how well you connect with a group, and connecting means listening; watching body language, facial expressions, extracting comments; anything that reveals how the group is feeling and what they are thinking.
How do we shift to be a better listener? Start by becoming keenly aware how difficult it is to just listen. No agenda, no quick replies, just get what the other person is saying. Consider this possibility; The people in your life who command authority when they speak are first and foremost excellent listeners, not excellent speakers. Their secret is that they speak when there is something of value to share. They don't talk for talking sake.
Here are a couple of simple exercises:
- The next time you're in a dialogue, observe when you are listening versus waiting to speak. Attempt to paraphrase someone's comments before providing a reply.
- In a meeting, plan to make NO points. Just listen. Take notes. Be prepared to summarize the key points made by the group. You may discover something profound: There is more power in genuine listening than speaking. While everyone else is fighting for the right to be heard, you're listening for the big picture. You may even end up getting asked what you think, and contribute something of value to everyone.
- Be more patient in dialogue. Patience is not just a virtue; it's the ticket to being an effective listener and in turn, public speaker. There you go. Now read this again and paraphrase it to someone else.
A great presentation is measured by how effectively you engage your audience.
In this issue we will explore how using a flip chart can positively impact your presentation outcomes. Feel free to forward this to others who might find it useful. I missed last month’s newsletter due to our families expected arrival of another boy. Everything is going well and thanks for your patience.
Unlike formal lectures, most presentations benefit from group participation. The most frequently used technique to enourage dialogue is the phrase “Any questions?”
Imagine this scenario:
- You finish up a point and proclaim “Are there any questions?”
- People raise their hands and ask a few.
- You answer and move on.
For the most part, you have fulfilled the unspoken contract between speaker and audience to provide opportunities for interaction. Groups expect to be able to ask questions, make comments or just show off among their peers.
But what happens to the answers you provide? Where do they go? Frequently, they only become part of a one-on-one dialogue, with presenters fending off concerns that satisfy only one individual at a time.
Now picture this scenario:
- You say “Any questions?”
- Someone raises their hand and asks a question.
- You write the question on a flip chart and ask the group to think about it before providing an answer.
What have you done? Fundamentally, you’ve shifted the focus of the dialogue. It’s no longer one-on-one but an opportunity for the entire group to reflect and better participate in the answer. But what if the question is not relevant to the group? What if it’s just a private concern? Well, why are you spending time on it in the first place?
Point #1: The flip chart will keep you honest
Presenters are expected to be good listeners. In reality, we’re like everyone else in the room, thinking about what’s for lunch or who we need to call on the break. Using the flip chart forces us to be better listeners because writing down a point requires translating an idea for everyone. The questions and comments then become accessible to the entire group.
If you can’t find a reason to broaden a question or comment for the larger group, maybe you shouldn’t be spending time on it in the first place.
Point #2: The flip chart helps you handle difficult situations
Imagine you’re having a verbal exchange with a participant and they won’t let it go. You need to move on but don’t want to be rude and interrupt. Adding to your difficulty is this person doesn’t take a breath. What can you do?
Walk over to the flip chart and turn pages one-by-one back to the agenda. (Assuming you wrote down an agenda) Everyone will be wondering what you’re doing. When the blue in the face participant takes a breath, do one of three things:
- Relate what they’re saying to a topic you’re discussing later.
- Repeat their statement and point out that it’s not part of the agenda.
- Thank them for their comment and move on.
Your non-verbal action (flipping pages) tells everyone you’re about to do something different. You’re asserting your right to regain control of the conversation in a respectful way. I’ve even flipped to blank pages with no plan except to let people know it’s time to move on. It works.
Point #3: The flip chart takes the attention off you and puts it on the subject matter
For presenters who are uncomfortable with eyes continuously watching their every move, using the flip chart can alleviate this problem. Try this simple technique at the beginning of your next talk.
Write the following three things on a flip chart before the session begins:
- Your name
- Your role or position
- What you hope to accomplish
At the beginning of the presentation, ask people to introduce themselves and answer the three questions. Watch their eyes as they introduce themselves. They will repeatedly look back to the chart, referencing their response to what they’re reading. The flip chart becomes an aid for your participants to speak out. Once you observe how this helps facilitate better dialogue between you and the group, you’ll be inclined to do it more frequently.
In conclusion, flip-charts are everywhere. They’re mobile, they help focus your group’s attention and can be used in situations where you want to regain control. Get used to this low tech tool and you’ll never go back to doing your presentation alone again.
Webster's defines facilitation as "To make easy and less difficult" or "Help bring about".
I would define the facilitation experience as "The act of taking people through a group process with clearly defined outcomes, while encouraging participation and a group commitment to meaningful results." What are five elements that impact the quality of the facilitation experience?
- Understand your audience — Too often meetings are convened without any knowledge of what expectations people bring to the discussion. The impact is that there is too much focus on the agenda rather than what would be an effective use of the group's time. Shifting your focus to the groups concerns will increase the chance that people will participate more fully, be interested in the topic, and get value from the dialogue. One simple way to learn about your group is to send out an email with your proposed agenda and ask what concerns are they bringing to the discussion.
- Clearly articulate your purpose and intended outcomes — A very important shift in your planning is to articulate a purpose statement and intended outcomes for the discussion. You should be able to tell the group: "Our purpose today is … and this is what I hope to accomplish." This requires stepping back from what you often think is the purpose (getting through your agenda) and identify more of an umbrella statement that reflects outcomes you hope to achieve.
- Balance your role — Ideally, you'll engage everyone just enough and at the right points so the group can self-generate a dialogue. The challenge is to continually balance when to stir things up and when to quietly observe. You keep this focus by remembering where the real value lies, that is; what your group has to say is more important than what you know.
- When you engage the group, think of yourself as a translator — Put yourself in one of your department meetings. If you looked behind the dialogue, you would discover that most people are not listening to each other. Everyone's looking for the right moment to share his or her own ideas. While one person is speaking, others are privately rehearsing their response or preparing a new comment. Add personal stakes, politics and emotion to the mix, and you might as well be observing an international meeting of countries. As facilitator, you are the means for people to take a moment and consider other points of view. Performed successfully, you will find yourself in a position to accomplish the final element.
- Summarize the dialogue, draw conclusions, and identify next steps — Summarizing is like a break in the action, where everyone takes a moment to reflect on the value of what just happened. This ultimately gives meaning to a dialogue. As facilitator, you are in the position to make this summarizing possible. End the discussion by asking what next steps should be taken and who should take ownership of the different tasks. Assigning tasks to individuals can be enough to keep a process moving forward. At the heart of why meetings are considered a waste of time is leaving out this last step.
Improving your facilitation skills or utilizing an experienced facilitator will elevate what people can expect from a group dialogue. When applied thoughtfully, the purpose of your meetings will be clearer, your audience will participate more fully, and your gatherings will be viewed as a valuable use of people's time.
Presentation Tip: Three Contributors to an Effective Speech
Research your audience and identify what concerns they bring to your talk. Keep your message to three things and reiterate them throughout the speech. If you practice nothing else, practice your introduction. People decide within 15 seconds whether you are worth listening to.
For those of you who have had to give presentations, you're well aware of the challenges. How do you distill the details of your talk into sound bytes that people can digest? Too much information and people go south, too little information and they leave unsatisfied and expecting more. What's the right balance of disseminating information and making an impact on your audience? Here are some tips to keep you focused on maintaining this balance:
1. Less is more.
Rather than stuffing five topics in a thirty-minute talk, pick three and make time for comments and feedback. There's nothing worse than sitting through a presentation with five minutes remaining and the presenter rushes through the last ten slides. Picking fewer topics forces you as the presenter to ask "What's my core message?" With less content to cover, you'll have additional time to interact with the group. You can then focus on how the message is playing with your audience, rather than apologizing for going too fast.
2. Don't just tell your audience WHAT you're going to do, tell them WHY.
The most frequent mistake I've seen presenters make is assuming the audience understands your goals in speaking. You've probably heard the phrase "Tell them what you're going to do, do it, then tell them what you did." This is a good start but take it one step further. What you're going to do sets expectations for what people will hear. Why you're doing it reveals what your group should take away. When everything is said and done, what really matters is what people remember, learn or do differently as a result of your presentation. Asking yourself why you're speaking on a topic will force you to identify the CONTEXT behind your CONTENT. To assist you in identifying this, put yourself in your audience's seat and ask "why is the presenter telling me this?" Know the answer before you get up to speak.
3. Practice your first five minutes three times.
I have read numerous studies that suggest you have fifteen seconds to make a positive impression on your audience. Although no one needs this kind of pressure, practicing your introduction will set the tone for the entire talk. Delivering a good introduction conveys the following about you to your audience:
- You're in control
- You're credible
- You're comfortable with yourself
4. You don't have to answer every question.
Believe it or not, your most difficult, outspoken participant probably just wants to be heard. You unnecessarily sabotage your presentation by defending your point of view against every challenge or hostile comment. Allow your participants to express themselves, without necessarily having to change their minds or prove that you're right and they're wrong. This takes self-restraint, but it allows you to stay focused on your objectives and avoid unnecessary battles.
5. Make time for group reflection.
Webster's defines reflecting as To make apparent; express or manifest. If you accept the premise that the value in a presentation resides with what the listener takes away and not what you're doing, group reflection becomes a critical step. Simply put, make time for people to verbalize what they heard or their reactions to your topics. Do they agree with your premise? Is your message clear? What will your audience do differently as a result of going through the presentation? These questions are examples of how you can help your audience uncover value. In a matter of minutes, the simple act of asking people to reflect on a topic can transform a seemingly bored group into an engaged, interested audience.
Traditional presentation coaching focuses on clarity and being dynamic, both important skills. At the same time, the heart of a great presentation is not what the presenter does, but what the listener takes away. If you focus on these tips, you'll observe a noticeable change in your presentation skills; not because you're clear or dynamic, but because your group will walk away saying they got value.
And isn't this where it counts most?
As a professional presenter and coach, I am often asked; what's the key to giving an effective presentation? I start out by saying what is not — proper posture, voice projection, clean appearance or any of the other qualities we associate with good speakers. Like the real estate slogan "location, location, location", my motto is "practice, practice, practice".
Practice is probably the most overlooked preparation technique but the most powerful one for improving the quality of your talk. At the end of the day, not practicing is your biggest risk, not the lack of flashy PowerPoint graphics.
Like a sport, your presentation will have inherent weaknesses, even potential land mines — an incomplete idea, poor sequencing of a topic or too much detail about a subject. Practice helps identify those weaknesses when nothing is at risk, that is, when you are not under the spotlight of your audience. Here are some techniques to uncover these presentation land mines:
- Technique 1: Find an empty room in your office or home. Stand up and picture your audience waiting for you to begin speaking. Verbally introduce yourself to your imaginary audience, describing what you're going to talk about. Now here's the important part - As you speak, listen for your own clarity and understanding of the topic. When you find yourself unclear about anything, stop and ask yourself, "Why am I speaking about this?" Speak that part again, setting a better context for the topic.
- Technique 2: Invite someone you trust to listen to your practice session. This will have a very positive impact on your comfort level when you finally do the actual talk. Ask for feedback on anything they found confusing or unclear. Let them know about the audience you will be speaking to and ask them to listen from that point of view.
- Technique 3: After you've successfully practiced it once, do it one more time. This one extra run- through can make the difference between being comfortable and just getting through it.
A good backhand looks easy. What you don't see is the practice performed to get there. And once you observe the benefit derived from practicing your talk, you will never go back to being completely unrehearsed.
Practice makes perfect sense. Try it out.
Presentation Tip: Dealing With Falling Behind
No matter how good you are, you will run out of time in your presentation. Too often, I have heard presenters say to a group "we've fallen behind, so we need to, etc." This commentary adds no value to your presentation. On the contrary, it unnecessarily flags a problem where there was none.
Alternative: Privately adjust your agenda to make up for lost time (translation-cut stuff out!) and proceed as if this were your plan all along.
Howard Teibel is heading to the the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities 2015 Financial Officers Conference at Fordham University this week. He will join Randy Gentzler and Terry Sawyer from Loyola University Maryland for a discussion on Loyola's "New Way of Proceeding," hosting a wide-ranging conversation on the process, impact, and benefit of the Administrative and Academic Review at Loyola.
To get ready for the presentation, join Howard for this series on the Navigating Change podcast (at right) in which he interviews Randy Gentzler, Terry Sawyer, and Steve Fowl. The series makes for terrific background to the informative presentation to come this week.
For more information on the conference, visit AJCUNet.EDU. See you in New York!
Keep up with Teibel at AJCU 2015
Howard Teibel has joined the catalog of presenters at the 2015 National Conference on Trusteeship this weekend in Phoenix, Arizona.
Howard's pre-conference presentation is dedicated to helping trustees as they work to Institutionalize Change.
Trustees understand that business as usual is no longer an option in higher education. Change is a given. But boards often struggle with how to start change initiatives and what questions to ask to shape the process. Utilizing the knowledge of a change-management expert in higher education and the experience of board and institutional leaders, this workshop will address questions such as: How does culture impact our ability to institutionalize change efforts? How do we help individuals and the institution deal with difficult facts while creating a positive vision for change? What are strategies to create a topdown and bottom-up approach that engages all levels of an institution in the change process? The workshop will provide tangible strategies and tools for board and institutional leaders to bring back to their campuses.
To those Arizona-bound looking for some additional insight on the conference, listen to Howard and AGB President Rick Legon discuss board leadership and adaptability in the face of change in higher ed on episode 86 of the Navigating Change podcast. The conference runs through April 21 in Phoenix, Arizona.
I’m just back from a few great days in Charlotte for the NACUBO 2014 Managerial Analysis and Decision Support program. It was a powerful session with strong participation from insightful leaders across the board. I want to reflect with you all my key message and some of my own insights now that you’re back to work.
Your primary job as a communicator is to educate, engage, and inspire your audience to action.
If there is any one thing I’d like you to come away from our time together at the NACUBO MADS conference, that’s it, and here’s why.
As financial officers, we have a natural affinity for the weeds. We live in data and analysis, and thrive at our most authentic place when we’re communicating with others who live in that space with us. But most of our institutional world does not live in our data. To reach them, we have to change the way we see ourselves. We have to recognize that cultivating an environment of creativity means telling the story of our data in a way that inspires others to act.
In that light, here are three key points from our time together which serve as a reminder of our purpose at the leadership table.
- Keep Focused on the Big Picture. It’s easy to follow the data down the rabbit hole. In most cases, your audience will not follow you.
- Make a Case you can Stand For. If you want to inspire others to act, obviously you have to paint a picture that is worth acting on. That’s easier said than done. The real question to ask yourself is, “when I stand up and deliver my pitch, is it something that I am personally willing to advocate for?” If you believe in your story, your audience will feel it, and they’ll be more likely to follow you. If you don’t, you can bet they’ll pick up on that, too.
- You are the Guide for your Audience. Before you take your first step on stage, before you design your presentation materials, ask yourself this question: “What are the key outcomes I need to see from my audience as a result of my story?” If you have these outcomes in mind as you design your talk, you’re in a better position to guide your audience in their role in this presentation. Make sure you’re actively reminding them that they play a part in this presentation dance with you!
I love connecting with rubber-meets-the-road finance leaders, it’s a very comfortable space for me — home turf, as it were. But just as it’s comfortable space for all of us personally, it’s important to be aware when our own work does not translate clearly and effectively to others. As leaders, the responsibility to educate, engage, and inspire others to act is all ours.
Thank you for your time and attention in Charlotte. I look forward to connecting with you all, and hearing your stories at future events!
Photo: James Willamore (Flickr)
Here are some highlights from a fantastic event held at experience at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.
Our charge together at ESU was to work together not to address revenue challenges, or enrollment issues, or staffing, or tenure or any of the litany of challenges facing our institutions today. Our charge was to come together and challenge the perception of what it means to work together as a team in the face of long-held belief in the way we’ve always done things.
This, too, is nothing new to so many institutions. We all face the daunting chore of breaking up cemented norms. Here are three areas where ESU is different in my view.
- Leadership: Vice President Administration & Finance Ken Long has built a team that is positioned to face new challenges. The positive energy is palpable. More importantly, Long’s demonstrated commitment to growth manifests in his behavior to the team, his willingness to receive sometimes difficult criticism, and his ability to adapt to behavior cues that define how he works with others in his capacity as leader.
- Risk: Bruce Tuckman coined the model of group development under the moniker “Forming — Storming — Norming — Performing” back in the mid 1960s. The longevitiy of the model always strikes me when I see it so profoundly demonstrated in teams. At ESU, the team has formed and is clearly on the path to face new challenges. The result of strong leadership and momentum is a team that is developing its own identity. In each exercise I threw into the mix, ESU stepped up with energy and enthusiasm ready to take on the most difficult areas of operation with gusto.
- Faith: What was clear to me by the end of our time together was that this is a team that is developing a strong sense of faith. Their growing team identity is one that is steeped in confidence in themselves as individual contributors and confidence in their peers to face the difficult road ahead and deliver results together.
Long and his team are putting into action a plan to change their institutional approach to the challenges we face across our industry. But what’s most noble to me in their effort is their willingness to test their own belief in success, to ask the question, “is good enough, really good enough?” And to recognize the incredible power in facing the future as a strong team, together.
Last month, I was honored to deliver the keynote address on change management and decision making to the Unimarket Fourth Annual User Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a wonderful event, well-orchestrated and efficient — I’d expect nothing less from procurement professionals.
That, as it turns out, is an important statement: I expect nothing less than efficiency from procurement professionals. It is the set of basic skills in procurement that we have come to see as the norm. Of course the event was well planned. Of course it came in under budget. Of course it was staffed appropriately. Anything short of these things would, by definition, equate to an unprofessional execution of a core competency.
The case that Unimarket carries forward through the procurement industry is one I think is worth reflection: From buyers to strategic sourcing to finance, there is no department better positioned for reducing costs quickly than procurement.
Why, then, is it so rare to see procurement rise beyond a tactical role, to a strategic one? Because procurement needs to tell a better story.
- Demonstrate an understanding of institutional strategy. If you’re in procurement, do you understand the connection between your tactical role and the broader operation of the academic and business model at your institution? Strategic procurement officers do.
- Cultivate a culture of influencing up. If you’re in procurement, do you understand how to genuinely support each department through your unique skills, and demonstrate that support to senior leadership? Strategic procurement officers do.
- Deliver insight that hides between tactics and strategy. If you’re in procurement, have you developed the threshold skill of connecting tactics to the strategic plan, delivering key hidden insights to senior leadership in a way that affects change? Strategic procurement officers have.
This is a great group of people, well-positioned to deliver substantial change to their institutions. Unimarket is in an interesting role, both as a vendor to this critical group, and as an advocate for better, smarter procurement. They’re uniquely positioned to help procurement officers in this march to craft procurement as a strategic role.
Next year, let’s keep things simple and hold the conference on Unimarket’s home turf: New Zealand. … Oh, yes: I’m available!
Photo: Daniel Perry — Unimarket
This year’s EACUBO Annual Meeting offered us a valuable insight into the continued evolution of our field, perhaps more than any year prior. There was a greater — more tangible — presence of change as a strategic discipline. In our own work with business leaders, we’ve seen a continued progression toward the CBO-as-key-leader mentality, more than just a number cruncher and resource for the president. And this year at EACUBO, we’re seeing an even greater push supported by new data accounting for CBOs as strategic leaders across our institutions.
Every function requires a complex set of skills. It’s rare to find a career in which a singular expertise is a clear marker for success. But in the CBO role, a discussion of meta-competencies is particularly timely. Today’s CBO is being asked to do more, with more groups, and greater responsibilities than ever before. As Cindy Matson reported in her talk, presidents are demanding more of their CBOs as representatives of the institution, not just representatives of the budget. Today’s CBO is the advocate of the business model.
This transition across our CUBO regions is palpable. Professional development initiatives are framed in such a way that it’s no longer acceptable for CBOs to be simply managers of the institution’s resources. That’s a given. If we want to move the needle on deep change (riffing on the powerful work of Robert Quinn), we have to be able to count on our CBOs and leverage the unique understanding they have for our institutions both as educators and advocates for our place in higher ed.
I had the opportunity to wrap up my series of talks around the regions on “Communicating Strategically to Make an Impact,” with the wonderfully talented CBO, Nicole Trufant from University of New England. There is an increasing resonance with this idea of communication as influence among business officers that have attended these sessions. Perhaps the most challenging point for our audience is this: People don’t care what you think. We love to imagine that people tune in to our messages because they believe that our well-educated insights are priceless. But when we stop and reflect, we see that people only care if we can find a way to tune our message to focus on what they think, what they care about.
As it turns out, that’s the difference between doing what’s expected of us, and inspiring others to action. Between reporting the numbers, and inspiring others to embrace change in their departments as a result.
We had the distinct pleasure of co-hosting the EACUBO Cheers Reception on Monday evening, and set up our recording studio for a few episodes of our show, Navigating Change, interviewing leaders for a live EACUBO audience. Our first episode from that event is live today, a conversation with EACUBO vice chair, Lynne Schaefer, and NACUBO vice president for professional development, Marta Perez Drake. You can listen on the website or find the show in iTunes now.
According to our special guest Greg Lovins, although communication is a vital responsibility, it is not always easy for business officers. As vice chancellor for business affairs at Appalachian State University, Greg and his team are responsible to ensure that the institution is equipped with the information they need to collectively make smart decisions. Ensuring buy-in and collaboration among key constituencies is a challenge for the very best communicators, but when the message is loaded with complexity and offers a high opportunity for jargon, clear communication becomes much more difficult.
Greg will be joining Howard Teibel at NACUBO's 2014 Managerial Analysis and Decision Support, November 13-14 in Charlotte, North Carolina to deliver their presentation, “Communicating Financial Information Effectively.” This week on the show, Greg joins Howard and Pete Wright for an introduction to their interactive session.
I'm just now settled here in Ames, Iowa at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center for the NAEP Great Plains regional meeting. The hotel is adjacent to Iowa State and I've spent the last while walking the grounds and taking some photos of the beautiful gardens — a wonderful setting for a terrific session!
I'll be speaking tomorrow on impactful group decision-making. I'm characterizing it as an art in this talk, and that's not me being clever. Coming together to make meaningful decisions requires the diligent application of our best creative and cognitive skill, and developing this new muscle will not only streamline efficiency and effectiveness in the work we do in teams, it will make us happier in the process.
This is one of my very favorite topics and I'm thrilled to be collaborating with the Great Plains region's talented procurement professionals!
My deepest thanks to The Northwest School in Seattle. This was one of the most authentic and progressive bodies of faculty I’ve met. In my line of work, I consider it an immense gift to share in transformation, and I can say I’ve learned and grown as much in my work with you as facilitator as I hope you’ve learned about each other.
One of the greatest moments of clarity in a change process comes when we are able to make sense of the complexity we have unconsciously grown into our work. This frustration lives in our clear memory of what it was like when there were fewer rules, when we were designing as we went along. The impressions we have of bureaucracy are symptoms of growing pains and maturity, an outgrowth of our affinity to “the good old days.”
There was one question asked frequently in the session, albeit in different ways: "How do we preserve what we love about our place, about the work we do, without becoming an obstacle to change?” Remember this mantra: Don’t try to answer that. Leave that question open.
Our sessions together at The Northwest School demonstrated for me a team absolutely dedicated to both asking difficult questions of themselves as they brave the sea of change, and solving the biggest problems ahead together. To those in attendance this week, I offer you a few reminders which I hope you will carry forward in your work this year.
- Assume good will, be of good humor. Nine times out of ten, when we respond to difficult news, we’re responding to style over content. If you assume good intentions of the messenger, you’ll be more nimble as you respond to the message.
- Practice the language of the 4 Rooms. The 4-Room Model for Change can help you adapt and respond to disruption more effectively, but using this language is a muscle that must be developed. Use the language of contentment, denial, confusion, and renewal when coming together to discuss issues and opportunities.
- Be aware of the subtle difference between airing a problem without commensurate focus on a solution. When we support others, it goes a long way to make sure people not only feel heard, but that the are heard. Feeling heard is a head nod from the listener. Being heard means you’re reflecting back to the speaker their message as you heard it. Just as we did in our time together, look for what lies behind what you’re hearing, reduce misunderstanding, and increase engagement in the real challenges you’re facing.
The Other Learning
I’m going to be honest. This marks the first time in my professional career that I have literally been undressed by a set of faculty.
Thankfully, the audience offered gentle guidance, disabusing me of my west coast assumptions around “business casual” and providing just the right accoutrements so that I fit in perfectly! Why do I tell this story? Because we all need to remember how important it is to be flexible. And I want that vest back!
As we strive to become change leaders, remember that it’s possible to frame every crisis as an opportunity, and doing so directly informs your ability to respond to it. That’s part of the value of the New Normal, and our work to internalize this language will help us to build a more agile team.
I had a wonderful time with The Northwest School community. It’s clear to me that this team is poised to continue breathing life into the place this academic year and beyond. Thank you for a trip I’ll not soon forget!
I’ve just finished my session on decision-making for the Administrative Management Institute conference at Cornell University. To those of you in attendance, thank you for your terrific engagement today. You came ready to be challenged — and to challenge me in return! Our time was brief, and I know you’re all faced with a deluge of information from other sessions. So I want to share with you three key observations from our decision-making model that you can apply directly to your own work.
Internalize Your Vision of Success
We are exceptionally talented at looking for bad potential outcomes. We’re wired to find fault and risk in our plans. But as you look back at our work today reviewing the Decision-Making Model, the first three steps comprise the most important part of the process of making change: Why?
If we work together to understand why we’re taking on a new initiative, we can then visualize ourselves in the future, looking back as if the successful results of our work are already in place. If you take anything away from our time together today, please take this. There is no better way to motivate individuals and establish team alignment than to create a clear vision of a future in which you’ve already won.
Remember the classic film The Princess Bride?
Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up
Vizzini: HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Such is our relationship with consensus. Over the years, the word has evolved, and now it brings with it such baggage that any process seeking consensus is met with eye-rolls at best. But consensus does not mean what we think it means. While team members shudder that all a consensus leader is looking to do is to make sure that everyone agrees before making a decision, the reality is much different.
When you’re starting a new project, at your first meeting, reframe the word clearly and concisely. I’m even going to give you a script:
“In our team meetings, we’re going to be working toward consensus. We will not agree all the time. But for us, consensus means that we are all willing to move together in the same direction, even if that direction is not our personal favorite.”
Reset the expectation around consensus and you’ll go a long way toward streamlining your decision-making process.
Time is Everything
We accomplished what we needed to accomplish today in about 1/3 of the time I typically allot for these sessions. On the surface, I count that as a big win — we came with concrete objectives, and with focus and determination, we met them. You can do the same with your own work as change leaders.
But that comes at a cost. Without the time in workshop to reflect and practice the principles we learned today, a much greater weight is placed on you all to do that work individually, at home, at work, and beyond. It’s up to you to study the model, to adapt and align it with your internal processes, and most importantly to practice moving through each step with your own teams, on your own projects.
Yes, we saved time today. But decision-making is a muscle, and to build it takes focus, practice, and repetition.
I walked out of our session today feeling great about our work together. I hope you share that feeling, and I’m confident that the decision-making model will support your work in leading change in your own institutions. My deepest thanks to AMI for inviting me to present today. I look forward to our paths crossing again down the road.