Leading, ends and means

Those who set the purpose or the direction for a team need to exercise their authority and be absolutely insistent about the end states to be achieved, and then hold back and not dictate all the details of the means by which those ends are to be achieved.

And that’s tough for a leader to do. I know how to be an authoritarian and tell everyone what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. I know how to be a full-scale democrat and say “Okay, what would you all like to do and we’ll all try to come to consensus about that.”

But the right way to set a purpose is to be unapologetic about “This is the mountain that we’re going to climb.” And then not to follow that up by saying “And every time you get to a fork in the trail or a stream that needs to be forded, wait up for me and I’ll tell you how to do it.”

That’s a tough number for leaders to do but it’s really important.

Richard Hackman on the People and Places Podcast

What do you think? Maybe we could get consensus about it…

“How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?”

Getting a team together? Start building it before you’re even in the room.

Kathy Delaney-Smith is the coach of the Harvard woman’s basketball team… A few years ago she was asked to be the coach of Team USA in the international basketball competition. And what she was going to have was a dozen kids who’d been selected from a hundred who tried out, the very best female basketball players in the United States. And the problem was that they were going to be competing for five starting positions and moreover came from schools that were highly competitive.

So she had this question: “How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?” And she was only going to have four days of practice before they went to Turkey to actually do the competition.
And what she did was … she started building the team over a month before people came to Colorado Springs to the training center for their first practice.

She formed diads or triads … of women ahead of time by email and gave them little assignments to do, things like, since the tournament was going to be in Turkey, “What are the best museums in Turkey?” or “How would you teach the Turkish alphabet to someone who didn’t know it?”, and they had to do these things by email before they showed up and then make their presentation of their report when they arrived at Colorado Springs.

And it was amazing, she said, when they arrived they made their presentation to the rest of the team and the team USA staff, and it was all very funny, and they had started to bond as a team even before they started practice, which she said transcended the latent competitiveness that they were arriving with. So there’s all kind of creative things that you can do to try to help this set of people who are really individuals come together and experience themselves as a team.

Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast

Blood and Bone (2): policy from decisions

An easy way to start making policy is to take a moment to record decisions you’ve made and why you made them.

When you can articulate the reason for key decisions, you make it much easier to make similar decisions in future – or better yet, easier for someone else to make a good decision without needing to come to you at all.

Peter Drucker describes four types of decision:

1. Decisions for generic events, of which the individual occurrence is only a symptom.

These are questions or problems that keep cropping up in the same or in slightly different form. An example might be repeated questions from clients about a specific service – our question is ‘how should I answer’?

There are three ways to save time with problems like this:

  1. Make the decision about what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, and document it. In this example, it might be writing a template email that provides key information in an appropriate tone. Copying and pasting and tweaking an email is far easier than reinventing the wheel each time.
  2. Find a way to make the problem solve itself. A good-quality FAQ section on your website might reduce the number of people who end up emailing. (But whatever you do, don’t send people who email to the FAQs without copying the relevant paragraph into your answer).
  3. Eliminate the problem. Few problems or questions are inevitable. Is there something you can do to eliminate the need for the question? This could be a case of designing a better product, or investing in a better ‘wrapper’ – one that puts the necessary information in the hands of your client exactly when they’ll need it.

2. Decisions about problems that seem unique, but are actually generic

Your problem might be new to you, but be common to all organisations. Financial management, child protection policies and performance reviews are examples of this.

There are established standards and processes like double-entry bookkeeping because everyone has to deal with money. If they help – and they’re likely to – use them.

Ask for help, learn from others, then be generous in sharing what you know when someone asks you.

If there’s nothing helpful out there – could you share yours once you’ve made it? How about open-sourcing your policies to save others from reinventing the wheel?

3. Decisions about exceptional events 

Unique and unrepeatable events are rare – do the best you can.

4. Decisions about exceptional events that turn out to be generic

It’s possible that you’ll come across an apparently unique problem that turns out to be, in Drucker’s words, ‘the first manifestation of a new genus… the early manifestation of a new problem.’ Try to look closely and see, then treat as in (1), above.

Some rules for future success

  • Know what’s important
  • …and know what’s for you (and what isn’t)…
  • … and act accordingly – NOW.
  • Be ‘on assignment‘ – make stuff happen, get stuff done.
  • Really – determinedly, doggedly get stuff done. Done is better than perfect.
  • Find the right people. Say the words. Collaborate. Coordinate. Lead.
  • All the time, be learning.
  • In particular, identify and work on foundations and fundamentals.
  • Communicate clearly and well.
  • Be attentive to feedback of all sorts.
  • Be able to use the best tools of the day to facilitate the above.
  • Be kind.**

** This might sound a bit limp at first pass, but really – If nothing else, what would you hope for in your interactions with yourself, family, friends, strangers?

Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?

 

*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

 

Value loop

Most businesses that prosper create value for their communities and their customers as well as themselves, and the most successful businesses do so in part by creating a self-reinforcing value loop with and for others. They build a platform on which people who don’t work directly for them can build their own dreams.

Tim O’Reilly, WTF?

This is a key to building a fruitful and sustainable business or charity – be part of your partners’ success story.

Make yourself so useful that they can’t imagine doing it without you, and are eager to pay for what you do.

Align your interests so that their success is your success.

Be such a source of good in your community that they cheer you on.

Be indispensable.

Team performance (3): Learning and individual growth

Richard Hackman‘s third lens on teams and team performance looks at what happens to the individuals on the team.

Individual Growth

What happens to the individuals? Did they learn something? Did they grow and develop professionally, or was this a waste of their time or something that frustrated and alienated them?

Richard Hackman

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Team growth and individual growth are interrelated, but distinct. Team growth is (primarily) related to the team’s ability to work well together as a team, and whether their ability to get the job done is improving, and the improvement is sustainable.

Individual growth is about personal learning and development:

  • Are the members of my team developing their own vision?
  • Are they and exercising and deepening – or possibly redefining – their values?
  • Are they gaining new tools – ideas, skills, understandings – that will serve them and others well, beyond the team?
  • Are they developing significant relationships and resources that will help enrich their lives and the lives of those around them?

How is what you’re doing now going to make their lives better in future? How is the work of your team an act of generosity the teams of the future?

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I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Team Performance (1)

I’ve just been listening to Richard Hackman on teams and team performance. His first lens for evaluating team performance is straight forward:

Delivering the goods

Did you get the job done? How well did you do it?

Who is the legitimate receiver, user, reviewer of this performance and what to they think of it? Did you serve the client first?

At a non-profit leader you might have several ‘customers’: the people you serve, donors, the team itself. If you can’t keep everyone happy, where do your priorities lie?

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Leadership: say the words

Boy: “Are we going to give something to help the people in Palu*?”
Me: “Good idea – how much do you want to give from your pocket money?”
Boy: “Hmm…”
Me: “You choose an amount, and we’ll add ten times that amount.”**
Boy: Names an amount a little over one week’s allowance
Me: “Done.”

And so at 6.30 this morning my eldest son went to school with his own donation, and 10x his own donation in an envelope to send to Palu.

If he hadn’t said anything, nothing would have happened. If I hadn’t said yes, and told him what I’d give if he went first, he might have found it harder to give. We made it easy for each other, and everyone won.

If you’re with the right people – people who share your values, people who are ready to be led – sometimes all it takes to make a change is to say the words.

Even if people might not share your values, and might not be ready, it’s often worth saying the words anyway, because they might come with you, or at least be more likely to come with you next time.

Do you want to lead? Say the words.

Want to see change happen? Be listening for the right words, and be ready to say yes.

* (see this article if you’re not sure what he was talking about)
** I knew roughly how much he had in his piggy bank

Education for the future: what do our kids need?

How do we prepare our kids for the future?

There have been places and times where the rate of change has been faster than it is now. There have been wars, invasions, revolutions, disasters.

But I think people are right when they say that the rate of change in the world as a whole is faster than ever, and getting faster.

So the question becomes, how do we prepare our kids a future that’s becoming less and less knowable as change accelerates?

And I think the answer is the same as it always has been. The best – the only – way to prepare our kids for any future is by showing them a vision of a flourishing life, and by equipping them with the best tools we have to achieve it, and with the wisdom to use those tools well.