Learning: Experience Plus Reflection

“A good starting point for embedding reflection into daily workflow is to approach the practice at two levels; individual reflection, and then reflection with colleagues and team members. Reflective practice itself doesn’t ‘just happen’. It is a learned process. It requires some degree of self-awareness and the ability to critically evaluate experiences, actions and results.”

The Power of Reflection in an Ever-Changing World, Charles Jennings

I once worked in a team that followed a well established process of doing structured retrospectives after every major product release. This worked well and as a result these reflective exercises, team performance and quality of work improved. Then, speed took its toll. In pursuit of doing more frequent releases, teams stopped doing retrospectives. In the rush to deliver more faster, there was simply no time to reflect and share.

One of the most important ways to build a learning organization is to have rituals that facilitate reflection, sharing and learning individually as well as collectively. In this 2011 post, I recommended three rituals for constant alignment and learning – kickoffs, reviews and retrospectives. Apart from these, daily stand up meetings, team huddles and informal peer to peer communication play a vital role in how a team learns – and more importantly, puts their learning in practice. Done correctly, these rituals can have a powerful impact on team building, quality of work and learning.

In his post, Charles Jennings also outlines four ways we learn (read here). Here is a quick sketch note summary of the learning process.

Related Posts at QAspire

What Makes a Team Great

Last week, during an internal team event, we organized an interesting activity. Team members were asked to form a human chain by holding hands. A round hoop was then passed through one end of the chain and participants had to pass the hoop through themselves to other end without breaking the chain. The team that passed hoop across in least time would win.

The hoop signified challenges and issues that a team faces. To achieve the goal and overcome challenges, team members had to contribute equally – each link of the chain was important. When a team member was struggling to put the hoop through the head, the other team member would just raise the hand and help put the hoop into next person’s head. They empathized with struggle of the other team member and changed their posture (alignment) to help put hoop through the head. Teams learned that empathy, emotional intelligence, self-alignment (adaptability) are the key ingredients of a strong team.

In the same week, I stumbled upon a 2015 NY Times article titled “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others”. According to the research presented in this article, three characteristics that differentiate a smart team are:

  • Equal Contribution: from all members rather than a few team members dominating.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Ability to read  complex emotional states of others.
  • Women Power: Teams with more women were found to be more effective. This had little to do with diversity (equal number of men and women) but just having more women on team. Women are, on average, are more intelligent emotionally than men.

Read the full article here and a summary of the same in sketch note form below:

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire.com

A Quick Guide To Managing Conflicts

In early years of my career, I avoided conflicts just like any other obedient contributor would, not knowing that they were inevitable in the process of doing meaningful work. Most of us learn how to deal with conflicts through our instinctive reactions when we are in middle of one.

Here’s my one big lesson about managing conflicts – whenever I tried to “react” in the face of conflict, the situation mostly worsened. But when I chose to “respond”, conflict became a constructive learning experience. Response is nothing but a time delayed, thoughtful and goal-oriented form of reaction.

In an idea cast at Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo, author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, outlines four types of conflicts and offers very useful guidance on how to handle them.

I outlined the key ideas from the idea cast in form of a sketch note while listening and sharing it here with an objective that others may find my notes useful. Please listen to the idea cast here for more nuanced insights on the topic.

BONUS: Seth Godin’s guidance on managing disagreements and on managing conflicts with our own selves.

15 Simplest Acts of #Leadership

 

  1. Smile. It is a universal language of compassion, care and love. 
  2. Greet people by their names.
  3. Share positive feedback about the work they are doing.
  4. Ask them about their advice on a critical problem.
  5. Listen with an intent to understand.
  6. Learn about them, their work, their process and their challenges.
  7. Help them in getting rid of their roadblocks.
  8. Establish trust to create a non-threatening environment for people.
  9. Be your authentic self when dealing with people and remain integral.
  10. Act on their feedback.
  11. Show them how much you believe in them.
  12. Encourage them.
  13. Thank them for their contributions.
  14. Recognize their work and their achievements.
  15. Celebrate their accomplishments.

Bonus:

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)

To Communicate Effectively, Connect First!

I have seen people feeling more comfortable about a presentation or a meeting when they have all the details and facts lined up in a presentation. They massage the message and try to cover as many statistics and nice looking pictures as they can.

They feel comfortable because they focus on communication – transfer of facts, information and figures. But this alone may not be sufficient, because people look for connection first. Communication is simply a tool to connect – a means to an end and not the end in itself.

Connection is the transfer of energy and emotion. Communication starts with details whereas act of connecting with others starts with an intent to identify with people, to understand their context, find a common ground and then demonstrate passion while mapping your ideas to their context.

You can devise complex plans with lot of information to do an effective sales pitch however, the real impact depends on how much you were able to connect with the prospect. That’s because people first look for energy and intent and emotion and authenticity. Once they are connected, they pay heed to information.

Ability to connect meaningfully with others and generate influence is so crucial for leaders at all levels (parents included!) and lack of connection is also the biggest reason why leaders fail to make the mark.

Getting stuff done is, quite obviously, the reason why leaders exist in organizations at first place. But the real legacy of a leader is how well they connected with others and how did it help others in becoming better versions of themselves while still getting the stuff done.

Your ability to connect with others enables you to build that legacy – one conversation at a time!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

A Compelling Vision is an Anchor

Seagull Half Shot QAspire Blog Tanmay Vora

Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: ‘Who do we intend to be?’ Not ‘What are we going to do?’ but ‘Who do we intend to be?’ – Max DePree

Specific, measurable and time bound goals are important to set expectations on results and drive performance in short term. Goals is like math; they address the head. Goals have an end date.

Goals however, are not sufficient. If you only try to provide direction to people through goals, they will know “what” needs to be done but may not know “why” something needs to be done.

When leading others, we need math but we need music too. Something that addresses our hearts and taps into our emotions. Something that is larger than us and gives us a powerful “why”. Yes, we are talking about vision.

I have seen companies falling into the trap of managing people through quarterly or half yearly goals without clarifying the vision. That works to keep everyone running, only without a sense of direction. Result? A disengaged workforce that just complies to goals, and that too – dispassionately. This becomes even more challenging when an organization has distributed teams across the geographies.

In a creative economy, people will give their best output and exercise their discretionary effort only when they are completely aware of the vision. In moments of handling difficult conversations, choices and ways of working, vision serves as an anchor. It provides a meaning to our day to day work. Vision is not a destination, but more like a compass that guides us through our goals and decisions.

Managing your organization’s work only through goals is like focusing your kid on simply getting good grades in the next examination. Kids need goals but they first need a vision of what kind of human being they should become.

What is true for kids is also true for organizations and teams. They are, after all, made up of human beings too!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Cute Pug, Angry Expression!

The cricket coach had some wise words for his team. This team was reeling under pressure to perform and was marred by penalties imposed on key players due to their overly aggressive behavior on the field. Coach knew that some course correction was required.

“Aggression” he said, “is a double edged sword. If used correctly, aggression can lead to improved performance. It elevates the intensity of your game”.

The coach continued, “I like to call this ‘good aggression’ because it is instrumental in generating new energy within the team. As a team, we must be aggressive but only assertively. The purpose of our aggression is to help ‘ourselves’ not to harm others.”

The team was slowly realizing their folly.

“What I call as ‘bad aggression’ makes us hostile, unfriendly and negative because we try to draw our energy from negating and obstructing others. It may improve our performance in a short term but is not healthy in a longer run. The energy within us manifests itself in many ways and aggression is just one of the ways our energy comes out. We only need to positively direct this energy.” the coach said.

He then asked the team to think about how some of the greatest players in the history of cricket handled their own aggression. After a few quiet moments, the team members realized that best players always kept their aggression in their bellies, not in their heads. They were able to channelize this aggressive energy into a constructive one.

When the team returned to nets for practice sessions, they knew they had a choice to exercise. They chose to be constructively aggressive. No snide remarks on the field, no dissent, no fierce expressions and no more clenching of fists; just a consistent focus on performance of the self and the team.

The coach silently observed them from a distance and smiled because he knew the players had learned something that will not only improve their conduct in sport but also in their lives!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

– – – – –

P.S.: I participated in a corporate cricket tournament recently and this post is partly inspired by my lessons from the tournament and conversations around each game.

Critical Thinking and Talent Development: A New Blog

Traditionally, career success was linked with 3 R’s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) but in American Management Association’s critical skills survey 2012, respondents emphasized on 4 C’s (Critical thinking and problem solving, Effective Communication, Collaboration and team building and Creativity and innovation) as their key priorities for employee development, talent development and succession planning.

Organization suffers when leaders take decisions purely based on their emotion, assumption, perception or a bias without questioning them. It can sometimes prove fatal. One of the most important agenda for HR Professionals today is to assess and develop critical thinking skills of their people.

Pearson TalentLens India has launched a brand new blog that delves deeper into critical thinking and talent development. I am so happy to be a contributing author to this initiative where I share insights at the crossroads of critical thinking and talent. In their own words,

Effective leaders have never been in greater demand and critical thinking skills never so sought after. The Critical Thinking India blog is an online meeting place, to help you stay on top of sophisticated decision making and problem solving as a professional and gain the critical thinking edge in the 21st century workplace.

Here are a few snippets from posts I have contributed so far.

With people being at the core of an organization’s greatness, it is extremely important for HR professionals to pay attention to two things – that existing people are trained to think critically and people are hired based on their ability to think critically.

– – – – –

An organization thrives on people and decisions they make. An organization grows (or doesn’t) one decision at a time. These decisions, ranging from strategic ones to tactical, are taken by people at all levels in the organization. The foundation of a right decision is based on one of the most important skill of 21st century – critical thinking.

Please take a look and read the posts I have contributed. You can also follow conversations related to critical thinking on Twitter at @ThinKritical

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

It was a time to participate in #IndiaHRChat again and the topic this time was “Coaching: The Art and Science of Success”. The topic is very dear to me and it was a great learning experience reading tweets from various people in HR Fraternity. Tweet-Insights from the special guest Mr. Gurprriet Singh (@JoyandLife), Managing Consultant and Head of YSC India helped in understanding the nuances of coaching based on his experiences.

It was fun sharing my insights and participating in this conversation. You can read all tweets in this storified version of the chat. Here are the bite sized ideas on personal branding that I shared or amplified.

Why a Culture of Coaching?

A culture of coaching fosters trust, accelerates learning and builds collaboration.

– – – – –

Coaching helps people navigate change and be adaptable. Adaptable teams help in organizational adaptability.

– – – – –

Better coaching = Better team/business results = Satisfied Customers = Better Bottom lines.

– – – – –

Coaching takes the baton where training leaves it! Coaching complements training and induces behavioral change.

– – – – –

Coaching increases performance, productivity and job satisfaction at all levels.

– – – – –

"I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum capabilities." Bob Nardelli, former CEO, HomeDepot

Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching addresses specific purpose or task and is time bound. Mentoring focuses on the individual and long term.

– – – – –

Coaching is the subset of mentoring and focuses on specific goal or task at hand.

– – – – –

Mentoring is broad & relational while coaching often tends to be about functional improvements. (RT @sundertrg)

– – – – –

Mentoring is led from the front, coaching supported from behind. Mentor sets agenda, coach does not. (RT @SeapointCenter)

When Should Coaching NOT be Used?

When challenges are related to attitude and thinking of the person, coaching will not help.

– – – – –

Never ask managers to coach people unless managers have demonstrated capabilities to be a good coach. (RT @ThinKritical )

– – – – –

Try coaching in a situation of fire/escalation where response time is critical and you may fail. Coaching needs time.

– – – – –

Never ask managers to coach people unless managers have demonstrated capabilities to be a good coach. (RT @ThinKritical)

– – – – –

Coaching is ineffective when used as a last resort to retain an employee. (RT @ThinKritical)

Characteristics of a Good Coach

A coach has to be humane. Interested in people. Committed to growing others and elevate their game.

– – – – –

You can never coach others when you are insecure about yourself. Personal proficiency is a pre-requisite.

– – – – –

To ENLIST people, a coach has to LISTEN, probably why both words are formed using same letters!

– – – – –

When people are being coached, feedback is their compass. Trust is the currency. A good coach knows that!

– – – – –

A good coach needs content skills and context skills – ability to map the knowledge and actions w.r.t. specific context.

– – – – –

Good coach is: Positive. Enthusiastic. Respectful. Empowering. Supportive. Patient. Result Oriented. Knowledgeable.

The Ideal Coaching Candidate

An ideal coaching candidate is open-minded and willing to learn.

– – – – –

When it comes to a coaching candidate, as @tom_peters says, “ATTITUDE > ABILITY”

– – – – –

The coach will appear when the student is ready ! start getting ready. (RT @JonasPrasanna)

Challenges in Establishing a Culture of Coaching

Not having clear objective of coaching exercise OR not aligning the coaching goals with business objectives.

– – – – –

An organizational culture that thwarts new ideas will seldom succeed in building a coaching culture.

– – – – –

Coaching being given by people who don’t "get" the essence of coaching.

– – – – –

Looking for short-term ROI from coaching exercise :)

– – – – –

BONUS: Read the interview I did with Marshall Goldsmith and Chip R. Bell on The Art of Effective Mentoring to complement these lessons.

– – – – –

Also Read: Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

How to Build a Great Team and Culture? 60 Pointers

I recently delivered a talk at a local entrepreneurship forum on the topic “How to Build a Great Team and Culture”.

It won’t be unfair to say that establishing a great culture and team is highest on priority of a business leader. And why not? A great culture enables success, builds team fabric and attracts talent too. We have all seen many talented teams failing simply because of a poor culture and human dynamics. Here is the running list of 60 odd lessons I shared during my talk:

A Great Team is all about “People”

  • Good team work is mathematics – it adds leverage, divides work and multiplies success.
  • People are at the heart of a great team. Where there are human beings, there will be dynamics of how they operate. Human dynamics remain the same –be it team, family or community.
  • Treat them as humans. Living, breathing, emotional and intelligent people are not “resources”. They are not a part of machinery. They are humans.
  • Human beings have self-esteem.
  • They are driven by ambition.
  • They want to grow.
  • They want independence.
  • If ambition is the driver, inspiration is the fuel. Feedback is the compass that enables them to validate direction. Trust is the currency.

Why Team?

  • A team of discrete individuals join hands because they want to achieve something that is beyond their own selves. Having a compelling purpose is the first pre-requisite of building a great team.
  • In today’s world, people cannot be simply “roped into” the team. They have to “opt-in” – which means that a leader’s first job and biggest value addition is to articulate the clear vision and principles for how the team will reach it. To clarify the purpose in so many words (and through actions). People need to know how their work fits into a larger picture.
  • Clarifying the purpose and setting the vision is not a one-time communication. It has to be re-iterated in every meeting and every interaction. Vision and values are not “feel good things” written on the wall plaque – they have to be lived in every decision that an organization takes. Formal and informal forums like water-cooler conversations, one-on-ones, all hands meetings, and internal newsletters are a great way to reinforce the message.
  • If you want to ENLIST people onto your vision, you have to LISTEN – probably a reason why both the words are made up of same letters.
  • Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit. Communication that sets expectations right!
  • “If people are subordinates, what are they subordinating to?” In my view, people never subordinate other people. They are subordinates to a cause. In that sense, even a leader is a subordinate to a cause.
  • Set expectations on behaviors you value. As Michael le Boeuf says, “You get more of the behavior you reward. You don’t get what you hope for, ask for, wish for or beg for. You get what you reward."

Getting Right People

  • A team is as good as the people in it. Get people on your team who are either rock stars with proven capabilities or the ones who possess the attitude of being rock stars.
  • Never hire on capabilities alone. Attitude is as important as capabilities. In fact, with the right attitude, a team member can build capabilities. Skills alone, without right attitude doesn’t move a needle.
  • As Tom Peters says, “Attitude > Ability”
  • Embrace diversity. Diversity is the key to an innovative team. If everyone belongs to a similar background or have similar thought processes, how will the team think different? How will they look at same things with a new set of lens? How will they challenge the status-quo? Celebrate these outliers, for they are the ones who will help you grow!
  • Before hiring a team members, look for actual working skills. Learning history. Communication. Adaptability and most importantly, integrity.
  • After all this, ensure that the person is fun to work with, social and emotionally intelligent.
  • Get people on team with complementary skills. A good team is the one where people complement each other. It is like a puzzle where the whole picture is not complete without any one of its parts. Each piece of puzzle fills the other!
  • Even after having all traffic rules, accidents still happen. It will happen when you are building team. The key is to know when to let someone go.

Managing Smart

  • People don’t need micromanagement. They don’t need carrot and stick. They need an ecosystem where they can exercise their discretionary effort and deliver their 102% – 100% of what is expected and 2% value addition.
  • How to create such an ecosystem? Dan Pink’s new theory of motivation comes in handy. People need autonomy (control over their work). They want to pursue mastery (work that helps them become better). They need a strong purpose (working on what matters).
  • Trust is the currency for eliciting excellence. Because it is simple: people only do their best work when they are trusted. With traditional “command-and-control”, people will comply at the best. With trust and empowerment, they will exceed the expectations.
  • In a team, people share the same vision, but not accountability. Establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities early on.
  • If people are involved in planning, they co-own the plan (buy-in). Involve people when planning for tasks that impacts their work.
  • Rituals are powerful. Communication cannot be left to a chance. Establishing rituals (daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, one-on-ones, retrospective meetings) are a powerful way to ensure that team stays on track.
  • Have systems in place. It is said that “Processes without results are a waste. Results without processes are not sustainable.”
  • Share feedback early and often. Feedback validates the direction and helps in course correction.
  • Manage meetings well. Keep them short and focused on actions.
  • Foster collaboration. Don’t rely on emails when you can walk up and talk to a team member.
  • Play to their strengths and let them shine. A lot of team leadership is knowing who can do what and delegating accordingly.
  • Let them take lead. People fondly remember what they started or owned.

Grace Under Fire

  • In Storming phase of a team’s lifecycle, conflicts are inevitable. It is not about conflicts but how you manage them.
  • The harder the conflict, the glorious the triumph – because every conflict tests (and strengthens) the team fabric. It refreshes the dynamics.
  • Treat people well when they make mistakes – when they least expect it.
  • When you have to be firm, be firm – but not at the cost of politeness. Being firm and polite is an art! Dealing with others without grace kills autonomy.
  • Manage the grapevine. Avoid small talk within the team. Encourage people to address issues directly.
  • In all situations bad and good, always be transparent about what is really going on and how will it impact the team.
  • Monitor progress, not people.
  • Question process, not individuals.
  • When you encounter an ego situation, quiz your goals. Am I (are you) focusing on ‘who’ is right, or doing ‘what’ is right?
  • Be graceful, always!

Inspiration and Gratitude

  • Someone rightly said, “We always get more from people by building a ‘fire within them’ than we do by building ‘fire under them.’
  • Be generous about recognizing contributions. Be authentic when appreciating. Say more than just “good job” and tell them what exactly do you appreciate.
  • Thank often.
  • Own failures but share success.
  • Gratitude and Recognition feeds self-esteem (one’s assessment of self-worth) – one of our basic needs.
  • Inspire by improving the work, processes and rituals. Constant improvement leads to better engagement. “The greatest danger a team faces isn’t that it won’t become successful, but that it will, and then ease to improve.”
  • Celebrate successes and early wins.

A Note about Culture

  • It is said that an organization is an elongated shadow of the leader. As a leader, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes will become the culture of your organization. It pays to be careful about what kind of organization you want to build.
  • Be the example others want to follow. If you want excellence, be excellent first. First “be” and then “seek”.
  • Culture is built one choice at a time. Choices made up in start-up phase often end up building culture.
  • If you are not conscious about what culture you want to build, culture will happen. Culture by default or Culture by Design? That is the choice every business leader has to make.

Growing Others

  • When people do the work, their work makes them. It helps to see what people are becoming as a result of the work. 
  • A leader’s real legacy is the net positive difference they have made in lives of people working in their team.
  • Actively mentor them through the journey. Mentors elevate human potential and hence performance. Mentors open up a world of possibilities for people being mentored. Great leaders are farmers – cultivators of human potential.
  • Practice tough love with them – push them to achieve more or achieve better!
  • Have a goal to make yourself redundant, so that others (with potential) can step up and play a bigger role.
  • Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.”

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

– – – – –

Also Download: Graceful Leadership 101 (PDF)

Interview: Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith on Art of Effective Mentoring

Last week, Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith released the revised edition of their classic bookManagers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. This week, they open up in a free-flow conversation with QAspire on the art of effective mentoring. In my view, this interview is almost a definitive guide to become a great mentor! Let’s get started:

[Tanmay Vora] Chip and Marshall, it is my pleasure interviewing you. Effective mentoring is a great way to elevate capabilities of people. How does one approach mentoring when working in a hyper-competitive business environment where speed and results take up precedence?

[Chip and Marshall] The same way any leadership or coaching activity occurs…it comes down to priority. In today’s time’s up work world, mentors can be impatient thus rendering the mentoring. Mentoring means starting where the protégé is, not where the mentor wants him or her to be. Mentor and protégé must focus on the quality of the process not a rush to the outcome. Mentoring need not be a long leisurely dialogue away from the chaotic highs and lows of a busy enterprise. Few mentors or protégés have the luxury of time to have a conversation as if over a five-course meal in a fancy restaurant. But, there must be time for a rapport-building appetizer and a where-do-we-go-from-here dessert. There must be time for focused listening and meaningful reflection. And, there must be time for the sincere communication of interest and concern.

[Tanmay Vora] If I am a mentor, what is your #1 tip for finding my protégés. What is your #1 tip if I am looking for a mentor?

[Chip and Marshall] For the mentor, start with people you directly influence and supervise. The old-fashioned view of mentoring as someone outside the leader’s chain of command it no longer relevant. Arie de Guies wrote in his book, “The Living Company” these words: Your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only competitive sustainable advantage.” Leaders create learning organizations. For the protégé, select a mentor who can help you be the best you can, not one you think can help you get a promotion.Remember, you can sometimes learn more from people who are different than from people who are “just like you.”

[Tanmay Vora] In your book, you offer SAGE model of great mentoring. Can you explain that a bit for benefit of the readers of this blog?

[Chip and Marshall] The mentoring model found in this book is built around the belief that great mentoring requires four core competencies, each of which can be applied in many ways. These competencies form the sequential steps in the process of mentoring. All four have been selected for their ability to blend effectively. Not accidentally, the first letters of these four competencies (and steps) spell the word “SAGE”—a helpful mnemonic as well as a symbolic representation of the goal, the power-free facilitation of learning. They are: Surrendering—leveling the learning field; Accepting—creating a safe haven for risk taking; Gifting—the core contributions of the mentor, the main event; and Extending—nurturing protégé independence.

Mentoring is an honor. Except for love, there is no greater gift one can give another than the gift of growth. It is a rare privilege to help another learn, have the relevant wisdom to be useful to another, and partner with someone who can benefit from that wisdom. This book is crafted with a single goal: to help you exercise that honor and privilege in a manner that benefits you and all those you influence.

[Tanmay Vora] Not all managers possess the qualities required to become an effective mentor. What are these qualities?

[Chip and Marshall] Balance. Unlike a relationship based on power and control, a learning partnership is a balanced alliance, grounded in mutual interests, interdependence, and respect. Power-seeking mentors tend to mentor with credentials and sovereignty; partnership­-driven mentors seek to mentor with authenticity and openness. In a balanced learning partnership, energy is given early in the relationship to role clarity and communication of expectations; there is a spirit of generosity and acceptance rather than a focus on rules and rights. Partners recognize their differences while respecting their common needs and objectives.

Truth. Countless books extol the benefits of clear and accurate communication. Partnership communication has one additional quality: It is clean, pure, characterized by the highest level of integrity and honesty. Truth-seekers work not only to ensure that their words are pure (the truth and nothing but the truth) but also to help others communicate with equal purity. When a mentor works hard to give feedback to a protégé in a way that is caringly frank and compassionately straightforward, it is in pursuit of clean communication. When a mentor implores the protégé for candid feedback, it is a plea for clean communication. The path of learning begins with the mentor’s genuineness and candor.

Trust. Trust begins with experience; experience begins with a leap of faith. Perfect monologues, even with airtight proof and solid support documentation, do not foster a climate of experimentation and risk taking. They foster passive acceptance, not personal investment. If protégés see their mentors taking risks, they will follow suit. A “trust-full” partnership is one in which error is accepted as a necessary step on the path from novice to master.

Abundance. Partnership-driven mentors exude generosity. There is a giver orientation that finds enchantment in sharing wisdom. As the “Father of Adult Learning,” Malcolm Knowles, says, “Great trainers [and mentors] love learning and are happiest when they are around its occurrence.”1 Such relationships are celebratory and affirming. As the mentor gives, the protégé reciprocates, and abundance begins to characterize the relationship. And there is never a possessive, credit-seeking dimension (“That’s MY protégé”).

Passion. Great mentoring partnerships are filled with passion; they are guided by mentors with deep feelings and a willingness to communicate those feelings. Passionate mentors recognize that effective learning has a vitality about it that is not logical, not rational, and not orderly. Such mentors get carried away with the spirit of the partnership and their feelings about the process of learning. Some may exude emotion quietly, but their cause-driven energy is clearly present. In a nutshell, mentors not only love the learning process, they love what the protégé can become—and they passionately demonstrate that devotion.

Courage. Mentoring takes courage; learning takes courage. Great mentors are allies of courage; they cultivate a partnership of courageousness. They take risks with learning, showing boldness in their efforts, and elicit courage in protégés by the examples they set. The preamble to learning is risk, the willingness to take a shaky step without the security of perfection. The preamble to risk is courage.

Ethics. Effective mentors must be clean in their learner-dealings, not false, manipulative, or greedy. Competent mentors must be honest and congruent in their communications and actions. They must not steal their learners’ opportunities for struggle or moments of glory. Great mentors refrain from coveting their learners’ talents or falsifying their own. They must honor the learner just as they honor the process of mutual learning.

Partnerships are the expectancy of the best in our abilities, attitudes, and aspirations. In a learning partnership, the mentor is not only helping the protégé but also continually communicating a belief that he or she is a fan of the learner. Partnerships are far more than good synergy. Great partnerships go beyond “greater than” to a realm of unforeseen worth. And worth in a mentoring partnership is laced with the equity of balance, the clarity of truth, the security of trust, the affirmation of abundance, the energy of passion, the boldness of courage, and the grounding of ethics.

[Tanmay Vora] From an organizational perspective, is it important to have a culture of mentoring, starting from the top? How does it help?

[Chip and Marshall] Today’s organization succeed if they are growth-oriented, excellence-focused and innovative Growth is about change, so is learning; excellence is about a pursuit of betterment, so is learning and innovative is about unfreezing old ways to find new ways, so is learning. When the organization embeds learning as a part of its DNA, the expression of that core is growth, excellence and innovation. So, what do leaders do in a learning organization? They mentor!

[Tanmay Vora] Your book is a treasure trove of meaningful advice on the art of effective mentoring. If you had to share one message from the book for aspiring mentors, what would that be?

[Chip and Marshall] Be humble, be curious, be courageous and be willing to share what you know with others in a partnership-relationship.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you for offering third and revised edition of “Managers as Mentors”. It was a pleasure interviewing you and I am sure, readers of this blog will find your ideas and your book, a very useful resource on developing people and bring the best out of them. Thanks again.

[Chip and Marshall] Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share with your leaders a topic we are passionate about. Happy mentoring!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

– – – – –

Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

Save

6 Lessons in Leading a Cross-Functional Team

Being into quality and organizational improvement, I have always worked with cross-functional groups. By definition, a cross-functional team is the one where members from different functional areas work towards a common goal. A few years back, I got an assignment to lead a cross-functional team (xFT) and it was a great learning experience. Our goal was to implement information security management system spanning all departments, support groups and technical production team. It was an interesting ride because of challenges it posed, and challenges = lessons.

Recently, when one of my friends was also asked to manage a xFT in a different context, I ended up sharing the following key lessons (and challenges) on how to lead a xFT effectively:

In xFT, like in anything else, leader is an enabler: Every team member’s contribution to the team is vital because they carry the knowledge of their own context. The role of leader in a xFT is that of a coach – an enabler who eliminates roadblocks for team members to surge ahead in their priorities.

Leading xFT = Managing Diversity: Functionally, all team members are diverse and have their own reporting relationships, beliefs and values. They have to be led without the strings of formal reporting structures attached. This also means their time allocation may be diverse, so would be attitude and skill level. A leader’s challenge is to elicit their involvement without binding them into traditional management structure.

Trust is even more crucial for success: Since they don’t have a formal working relationship with the leader, building trust is the only way to move things forward. Leading is all about trust, more so in the case of leading a xFT. With trust, people self-organize, think favorably and take right decisions. As a leader, be inclusive, respect their opinions, showcase their contributions, recognize their work and be positive.

Clear goals are drivers of autonomy: In a xFT, decision making is bottoms-up. They decide the course of action and have autonomy to change the course depending on situation. So, the only way a leader drives these discrete decisions is by setting very clear goals and defining clear outcomes. This also means that leader has to work extra hard in setting up rituals for communication and status tracking.

Early “wins” are important: When a xFT starts working together, there will be a lot of ambiguity and doubt in their minds. They may not be confident about their ability to work together. They may be swayed away by their own departmental priorities. In such situations, if they see early wins, it reinforces their confidence. A team that achieves constantly, in increments, is the team that stays together productively. Early wins make the work and progress visible.

Constant communication is the glue: that binds the team together. Establishing rituals and communication forums (formal and informal to create face time is critical to keep team on track. These routines also helps a leader sense problems even before they actually happen, manage expectations constantly, provide feedback, learn about each other and manage conflicts. Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit for building trust.

Building a high-performing team in any situation is difficult and when team members are from different functional groups, a leaders role in creating a performing whole from discrete parts is both a challenge and an opportunity.

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

– – – – –

Related Reading at QAspire:

Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

– – – – –

If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

Cohesive Leadership Team: A Few Questions

In software world, cohesion is referred to as a degree to which modules belong to each other. If modules have little in common, performs varied activities based on unrelated sets of data, it is a low cohesion software which is difficult to maintain and understand.

Drawing the same analogy for an organization’s leadership, cohesion is the degree to which senior leaders belong to each other and to the collective goal as a team. If senior leadership team is not cohesive, organization runs in different directions and becomes difficult to just sustain, forget about growing further. Building an aligned and cohesive team of leaders is a crucial first step towards building a culture of excellence.

This is a significant challenge, and the one that requires a great deal of introspection. Following questions may help:

1. Are all senior leaders, department heads and second level leaders absolutely convinced and clear about the collective goal?

2. Do they know the organizational value system and do they demonstrate those values through their actions, words and behavior?

3. Have they participated in setting up those goals? Has goal-setting been a collaborative activity?

4. Do they take decisions for greater good of the organization or to simply protect their own departmental fortress?

5. Are they willing and open to disagree with an objective to find optimal solution or they disagree for purely political reasons? Do they avoid conflict by passively agreeing to critical decisions?

6. Do they (really) trust each other? Do they complement or compete with each other?

7. Are they accountable? Are they completely aware of their objective accountability (results, targets etc) and behavioral accountability (attitude, communication, behavior etc)?

8. Do they only focus on results without caring about how those results were achieved?

– – – – –

Join in the conversation: Have you ever been a part of a cohesive leadership team? What lessons would you like to share? What questions would you add to the list above?

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.

In 100 Words: The More You Tell

I used to get angry and preachy when my kid threw tantrums till I heard this wonderful statement from a leadership expert, “The more you tell, the less you sell.”

Leadership starts with listening. In face of a conflict, reacting is our natural instinct. We want to tell/justify immediately without an attempt to completely understand the problem.

The better alternative is to step back and ask open ended questions. Then sit back and listen before you respond. Listening enough is caring enough.

This works with kids and works even better in teams. There is a difference between responding and reacting.

– – – – –

Wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2013!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to the conversations!

– – – – –

Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quote: On System of Management by Deming

W. Edwards Deming, the pioneer and guru in quality revolution wrote the following paragraph when commenting on Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” and it instantly struck the chord.

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning.
The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university.  On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

The birth of an organization happens with a technical idea that solves a problem. It starts with creativity, passion and inventive thinking. When people start organizations, their sole interest is to focus on excellence to deliver best results. Success breeds success and somewhere in the growth process, the focus shifts from creativity and passion to profits and numbers. At one point, this focus on numbers becomes a chronic obsession. Organization starts being driven by numbers alone and the human aspects of work (respect for people, intrinsic motivation, creativity, innovation etc.) are pushed into the margins. Physical infrastructure gains prominence over emotional infrastructure.

Deming said this in 1990’s and still sounds so true in current context when we look at how our schools, colleges and organizations are being driven.

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to the conversations!

Taking Charge of a Team? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

Managers often end up in a situation when they are hired to take charge of a team/department that already exists and performs to a certain level. New leaders often find it difficult to generate acceptance because a team/organization is a complex network of emotions, relationships and issues. The history comes along, but is invisible to this new manager.

Two things add to this complexity. One is the time new leaders have to perform. They are often under pressure to perform and demonstrate some “early wins”. On the other hand, they cannot make any progress unless they have won the support of the team members. Second is that experience of leaders make it difficult for them to “unlearn”. They start operating within the confines of what they have experienced so far.

Here are a few mistakes new leaders make:

They fail to listen (this is #1 mistake). Joining a team in leadership position is an opportunity to gain team’s respect and support. Don’t squander this opportunity by hurrying into rapid action, dishing out directives, talking too much about your great past and giving elevator speeches. This is a sure way to alienate the team members. A new leader needs to seize this opportunity by listening. People want to explain the context provided they have an opportunity to talk. Give them that and you will know what drives them, their struggles and their ideas to grow. Missing this opportunity can be costly for your further journey with the team.

Worst, they criticize and/or threaten. Yes, there are issues in this team, processes are not optimized and there is some resistance. Try beating these issues with criticism and threatening that you will commit the second biggest mistake. Be appreciative of what team has achieved so far. Share the responsibility of driving improvements rather than keeping it to yourself. But more important than anything else: watch your words and impact they have on the team members. Keep them positive. Use “we” more often than “I”.

Or, they ignore resistance. Resistance is negative energy, but energy nevertheless. Two things you should never do: ignore the resistance and overpower it. Both will boost levels of resistance. Try directing this energy instead into constructive initiatives that leave people feel more valued. Once they see results of their efforts, resistance will slowly give way to acceptance.

They lose momentum. Sometimes, situation can be overwhelming establishment can take up months. Let it not affect your results. One of the simplest strategies to generate buy-in is to generate results. Establish goals, keep setting expectations, define milestones and let your team members stretch to achieve those. Handhold and facilitate when needed. Once results are visible, team fabric gets stronger. Results are the value statement for a new leader.

– – – – –

So, what do we do? Get over with “taking over the team” mindset to be a facilitator for better results. Be positive, seek to understand first and focus on results. It all takes time, but it is all worth it.

– – – – –

Bonus: Check out some excellent posts on Leadership Development at “The July 2012 Carnival of Leadership Development” by Dan McCarthy which includes my post Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion.

Leadership and Building Emotional Infrastructure

Last two posts (here and here) focused on managing the emotional aspects of workplace to build a culture of engagement. While I was writing about it, I came across a very interesting paper titled “The Emotionally Bonded Organization: Why Emotional Infrastructure Matters And How Leaders Can Build It” by Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of MindTree.

The paper emphasizes that role of a leader within an organization is to primarily create infrastructure. Organizations are composed of three types of infrastructure:

  1. Physical Infrastructure (buildings, furniture, equipments, offices across global locations etc.)
  2. Intellectual Infrastructure (systems, processes, technical capabilities, unique tools, patents, copyrights etc.)
  3. Emotional Infrastructure (aggregated positive feelings employees have for the organization and each other)

According to the authors, emotional infrastructure is most time consuming and difficult to build. They state:

In comparison to physical and intellectual infrastructure, emotional infrastructure is the most time-intensive and the most difficult to build. Yet the factors that create emotional infrastructure are not visibly manifest to an outsider and hence it is the most difficult for a competitor to copy, yielding a sizable and sustainable competitive advantage. This is precisely why numerous people visit Toyota in Japan but very few are able to replicate Toyota’s legendary manufacturing practices.

Further, this paper outlines 8 factors that build an emotional infrastructure.

Bottom line: Employee engagement and emotional infrastructure within an organization are a result of conscious choices at the top. Leaders who are aware of the emotional aspect of culture building will be able to build highly engaged and connected teams – a direct competitive advantage in a knowledge oriented world.

More Insights from Subroto Bagchi

Team Performance: Keeping Ego at Bay

Ego is a strong emotion and often, success feeds it. As we evolve as professionals and accomplish more, we tend to accumulate beliefs about ourselves (and the world around us). Soon, we start looking at world from the lens of these beliefs and decide what is right or wrong. Unfortunately, our world view is often skewed when it is only seen from the lens of our egos and limited beliefs.

By definition, ego is a false and emotionally charged image of the self. At work place, personal egos between peers often result in situations where work takes a backseat. He thinks that she should have initiated that difficult conversation. She thinks why would he not initiate? If he delayed it by one week, why should I walk the extra mile and complete it on time? People in meetings try to protect their forts and drive meeting through their egos. They avoid confrontations and often resist change.

End result? Things don’t move and progress stalls.

Here is what works for me: When you encounter an ego situation, quiz your goals. Ask yourself (and others) this question: “Am I (are you) focusing on ‘who’ is right, or doing ‘what’ is right?”. In teams and projects, doing what is right (and actually doing it) is more important than proving who is right.

Secondly, while individual accomplishments are important for your self esteem, you need to check if they are helping the team. Higher technical proficiency or better individual traits are of no use if they don’t help the team achieve the desired outcomes. If you are known as a best designer or coder, but your projects still fail then being the best may not be as important.

Finally, business leaders need to keep a constant check on the ego-index of middle management. You can work hard to hire best people but if they are being led by ego-driven managers, their spirit and enthusiasm will quickly fade out. People who cannot manage their own egos are not the good ones to manage others.

– – – – –
Join in the Conversation: Have you encountered ego situations at your work place? What advice would you share with a manager who is struggling to keep ego issues away in the team?

– – – – –

Stay tuned to QAspire Blog: Subscribe via RSS or Email, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.