In 100 Words: On Blind Rituals

 

A cat that lived in monastery distracted evening meditation of the monks. One day, teacher ordered that cat be tied up daily during the evening meditation. Years later, when teacher died, the cat was still being tied up in the evening. When the cat died, another cat was bought and tied up to maintain the tradition. Centuries later, learned descendants of spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about significance of tying the cat during meditation.

In organizations and in life, complying with traditions without understanding them is a huge waste. When context changes, our thinking needs to evolve too. Isn’t it?


Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

Fluid Learning


“The tools of the mind become burdens when the environment which made them necessary no longer exists.” – Henry Bergson

When solving problems, we love standard solutions and tools. What worked for us in the past becomes our tool to solve problems in the future. A psychologist named Raymond Cattell termed this as “crystallized intelligence” – ability to use learned knowledge and experience. It is much like water frozen in to pieces of ice. It cannot flow.

But, we cannot solve problems of today with techniques of yesterday. With rapid changes all around us, it is even more crucial that we pay attention to “fluid intelligence” – to analyze and solve problems in novel situation without excessively relying on past knowledge or experiences, to observe the patterns and think critically. 

When it comes to learning constantly, we need both. While driving, we need the rear view mirror to avoid accidents but we can’t drive forward only looking at the rear view mirror. Fixed learning and experiences of the past equips us better to handle uncertainty but in itself, they cannot help us navigate the uncertainty. For that, we need an ability to learn, unlearn and relearn quickly in line with the given context. We need an ability to not let past experience interfere with the possibilities. We need to learn to navigate without a map – or create a map as you go along. We need a keen observation of patterns that emerge as we apply the learning. When we do this consistently, learning flows and grows.

The tools of our mind are fixed, but the environment is constantly evolving.

Our tools and methods of learning have to evolve too!


Also Read: Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

In 100 Words: Heaven or Hell?

A Rabbi used to tell a story of his tour to the heavens.

He first went to the Hell and it was horrible. Tables were laden with sumptuous food yet people looked pale and hungry. Their arms were strapped with wooden planks such they could not bend their hands to put food in their own mouth.

It was the same story in Heaven, except that people looked contented and happy. When he closely observed, he saw that people were using strapped arms to feed each other!

Hell or heaven is not about circumstances but about how we treat each other.


Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

Agility: 8 Pillars For Building Self Organizing Teams

Last week, I was invited to speak as a panelist at Agile Carnival, Chandigarh where I expressed my thoughts on Agile as a method and as a mindset. Agility in our approaches is one of the most potent ways to deal with the challenges of a constantly changing world.

Here is the summary of a few thoughts I shared (and a few more):

  1. Agile is not just a method or process, but a mindset. Which also means, if your organization wants to be agile (and strategically nimble footed), you have to invest in building a culture of agility.
  2. You need to build a system of management methods, rituals, processes, tools and motivation where people are more likely to exercise their choice of doing a good job versus doing a great job. Their discretionary effort is so vital for your success. If you are aiming to build teams that are self-organizing, this is even more crucial.
  3. To be a part of a self-organizing team, people require maturity, skills and expertise to deal with technical challenges and manage conflicts constructively. Without required technical and functional competence, team will just not be able to take decisions to move forward.
  4. Narrowly focused reward programs kill self-organization within teams. When people have narrow and conflicting goals, they will do everything to meet their goals and yet, system might fail. Setting up systemic goals are vital to encourage collaboration (everyone wins when the system wins) rather than competition.
  5. Self-organizing teams also need a leader (read coach) – only that the role of a leader is to guide self-organization and clarify the direction relentlessly. A leader enables self-organization between team members and plays the role of mentor or a coach to the team. For this, leaders have to adopt an abundance mindset and give up on old ways of leading others through command and control.
  6. You cannot manage what you cannot measure, it is said. But you only get what you measure. We need to measure right things for right things to happen. E.g. if you only measure utilization, you may get high utilization but lower efficiency.
  7. Learning – collective learning – is the currency of self-organization in a team. The job of a leader is to establish forums where collective learning can happen. I have seen leaders who use forums like technical reviews and retrospectives to guide collective learning.
  8. Prioritization is at the heart of self-organization. When you have too much on your plate, you cannot deliver excellence. I have seen so many teams  derail when multiple and conflicting priorities don’t allow them to focus. Lean methods like Kanban therefore suggests that we limit the work in progress (through effective prioritization) and make the flow of work visible.

Over to you: What have been your experiences in building a self-organizing and agile team? If you were on the panel, what would you have shared?

Talents of a Great Manager

Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Source: Gallup Business Journal – Why Great Managers Are So Rare!

Here are a few small additions to each of the point mentioned above.

  • To be able to motivate others and build relationships, they communicate with clarity.
  • They are assertive in driving outcomes and overcoming obstacles but they are graceful yet firm in dealing with people and situations. 
  • While creating a culture of accountability, they also balance accountability with engagement.
  • They work hard to build relationships and trust but they remain objective and unbiased without letting their relationships impact the decisions.
  • They make decisions based on productivity but they think critically about other aspects of decision (and its respective impacts).

Great managers are the catalysts of employee engagement.


Related Reading: 

#Leadership: Humanizing Our Approaches

I remember being inspired by a Maths teacher who once told me, “If you start loving the mental stimulation and excitement you get when solving a problem, mathematics is easy.” He did not try to inspire me by the grades I must achieve, but by something more deeper. That did not change the fact that I still needed to score well but now, scoring well was a by-product of chasing the stimulation and excitement.

The practice of business is driven by hard stuff. We need more revenues, better margins, higher utilization, more leads, strategic diversification, differentiation, operational efficiency, lower attrition, strategic focus, branding et al. For a business, these are crucial but..

…but on their own, they often fail to really inspire people.

That is because people’s needs are different than a businesses’ need. People often look for being a part of a larger vision. They want to be valued when they deliver value. They want to be respected for who they are. They need to constantly see the meaning of their work. They want to be understood. They look for learning and growth. They need a conducive space to perform. They need independence.  They want to be cared for before they care for the work. They need love, belongingness, trust, honor, honesty and purpose. All extra-ordinary human accomplishments have their roots in some of these virtues.

In business as well, we need more intrinsic motivation. We need to address precisely those things that inspire human beings. We need to create an environment where people can thrive.

We need to humanize our leadership approaches and communication to build a system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen.

Hard stuff then, is the by-product of doing the right things for right reasons.


Related Reading:

Great Quotes: We Are Made of Star Stuff, Carl Sagan

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff”.

– Carl Sagan

From – “That “we are” – The Connective Tissue of Humans Being” by Bernie Nagle which is a must read. Here’s one more:

But it all begins with acknowledgment and profound appreciation for the most rudimentary fact of human existence: “we are”. Joni Mitchell said, “we are stardust, we are golden” and in the workplace we are so much more than “Humans Doing”…we are “Humans Being”, with all the wonderful gifts of our unique person-ness right there for the sharing.

Do I need to say anything more?

Dealing With Analysis Paralysis Versus Death by Instinct

When it comes to decision making, there are two extremes.

First one is analysis paralysis. Large organizations, multiple layers of management and risk averse culture breeds over analysis of facts, data and information before making a decision. Too much analysis paralyzes progress. Even when progress is made, it is often reactive and slow.

Analysis paralysis is a sign of over-management and is, quite clearly, a huge waste in many organizations large and small.  Analysis, reflection and sufficient critical thinking is definitely required to make better informed decisions. It provides direction to the process of decision making. But when search for direction stalls forward movement, it is a waste. In a constantly changing and fast environment, analysis paralysis can be a real disabler.

The other extreme is death by instinct. At this end of the spectrum, decisions are taken on the fly, instinctively without any systematic study or thinking. Any failure, small or big, is a huge waste of time, energy and efforts.

We need a balance between these two extremes. Between the rational and the emotional.

We need a system where internal checks ensure that folks think through their ideas before deciding.

We need just enough analysis to have all information at hand to avoid major disasters.

Once we decide based on just enough analysis, we need short bursts of implementation – pilot runs may be, to gain early feedback on the decision.

We then need constant loop of diagnosis and realignment of our approaches.

Managing anything is never a binary process but often something that swings between the two extremes. The key is to strike a balance and draw a line between the two depending on problem at hand and the context of the decision.


In the Pic: Shooting the empty beer bottles, Kufri, Shimla, India – via my photostream at Flickr.

Purpose and Progress: Powerful Motivators

Progress is a powerful motivator. When individuals and teams achieve small wins, they have a big impact on the overall motivation. It also generates positive momentum and energy to take further steps in the journey of achieving the purpose.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer presented their research findings in a book titled The Progress Principle” – Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work where they found,

“Of all the positive events that influence the inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work” – The Progress Principle

The converse is also true. Setbacks and lack of visibility into progress (as a team and as an organization) can be powerful de-motivator.

In this context, three things are very crucial from a leadership perspective:

Make the purpose visible.

We are talking about meaningful work here. In the daily conundrum, it is easy for your folks to lose the sight of the purpose and meaning of their work. While the meaning of our work is largely driven by the personal lens we use to see our work, the key question you need to ask as a leader is: Are people clear about what we are trying to achieve here and how their work contributes to that purpose?

Enable Progress.

People will get stuck. Their ability to make progress will be stifled by all internal and external forces. And that’s when they will need help. Enable progress by helping people, coaching them when required and eliminating the roadblocks (potential derailers). When a setback is encountered, help them in finding a way through the set back. The key question you need to ask: “Am I doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I am enabling progress?”

Make the progress visible.

Once people are clear about the purpose, then progress matters. Leaders have a huge role to play in making the progress visible. Use all forums of communication (daily stand up meetings, weekly status, monthly meetings, newsletters, wiki, portals etc) to make the progress visible. The key question you need to ask: Knowing what purpose are we working to achieve, do people know all the time about progress we are making (or not) towards the purpose?

Why does this matter? Because people want to make valuable contributions to a purpose larger than themselves. And when they know that they are making progress in achieving meaningful work, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.

That’s what we need more of in organization’s and teams today – isn’t it?

Some Gentle #Leadership Reminders

  • You are a leader only when people who choose to follow you see you as a leader.
  • Which means, it helps to see yourself through the eyes of those who have opted to believe in you.
  • Then live the traits your tribe is looking for in their leader. 
  • While your greatness may be the starting point of influencing others, you don’t lead others by constantly showing them how great you are.
  • Real leaders show people how great they are.
  • Can you bring the possibilities lying within people to the fore?
  • And help people see the source of their own power?
  • And when people live up to those possibilities, celebrate? Emphasize what you want to see more from others in the organization?
  • The fact that you are seen as a leader does not mean you should have all the answers all the time.
  • Your role is to facilitate collective sense-making with people and guide exploration of possible answers.
  • Leadership is not static to someone who has authority or power.
  • It emerges from anyone depending on the context and situation.
  • It is about action, initiative, problem solving and results – not about position.
  • Your role is to build an environment where people feel free to raise their hand often and lead.
  • To consistently set high expectations for your tribe (including yourself) because people respond to expectations. Set low expectations and get low performance.
  • You have to demonstrate traits that are paradoxical. As Jim Rohn puts it, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly” ~ Jim Rohn 
  • It is easy to lead when the ship is sailing smooth, but that is not the test of your leadership character.
  • Most importantly, do not let the purpose be diluted amidst frenzy of day-to-day activities. Constantly clarify the purpose, the meaning of work your folks do and how it helps in achieving the purpose.
  • Because the truth is – purpose and meaning are powerful tools to rekindle the intrinsic motivation. (Hint: So are autonomy and mastery)