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Conducting Communication in the Workplace

Sir Thomas Beecham on BBC Radio 4 Great Lives

Sir Thomas Beecham uses his “rhythmic vitality” to lead his orchestra. Click on the image to hear from BBC Radio 4 Great Lives how this conductor communicates through his “wit and energy”.

Conducting a meeting is like conducting an orchestra? Definitely.

The ‘conductor’ in a meeting needs to ensure that all the ‘instruments’ get a chance to be heard, that the tempo is right and everyone is on the same page of the ‘music’.  The conductor in an orchestra uses many subtle signals and cues to communicate with the musicians and in the same way we, as leaders and managers of people, employ a huge repertoire of words and movement to convey meaning and understanding to those around us.

Watch how Itay Talgram – conductor of music turned “conductor of people” – masterfully and entertainingly demonstrates how conductors communicate effectively and why these are good lessons for leaders. Talgram  guides us through a range of conducting styles in this 20 minute TEDGlobal talk, Lead like the great conductors.

Check out this too: 8 Leadership Lessons from a Symphony Conductor .

We communicate constantly and we do it consciously and unconsciously.  As a leaders and managers, being able to convey our meaning clearly and concisely to those who need to understand it; being skilled at listening and well as talking and being able to construct communications that hit the mark again and again are essential skills.  Without them we won’t inspire others, we won’t influence anyone, we won’t take the people with us; we won’t be leaders.

For further reading and ideas:

  1. Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language by Desmond Morris
  2. Powerful Listening. Powerful Influence. by Tim Hast
  3. Humour Works by John Morreall
  4. The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto

If you would like to communicate better, we can help with one to one coaching or through one of our many leadership and management workshops.

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Making Space for Change

Making Space for Change

“Who likes change?”

When I ask this question at the beginning of Change Management workshops, invariably a lot of hands go up.  When I then ask the group to keep their hands up if they like change that is imposed on them by others, virtually all the hands go down.

People share ideas during an OST discussion session.

People share ideas during an OST discussion session. Empowering Communities through Conversation [photo credit: Justin Wan, The Gazette, Iowa City]

We seem to be energised by change that we initiate ourselves; when the change is based on our goals, desires and values.  We are considerably less energised when change is based on someone else’s priorities and we haven’t been consulted before we have to implement it.  When I linked this recognition to the often quoted statistic that 70% of change initiatives in organisations fail (Professor John P. Kotter, McKinsey & Company),  it made me think about how to approach change differently.

As is often the case with these sort of epiphanies, there is usually a connection with something that’s happening in one’s own life and in mine, my thoughts came when I had just been introduced to Open Space Technology (OST).

Open Space Technology is a process of self organisation that can be used to build ideas, find solutions to problems and, most importantly, to engage and enable people in making things happen.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Harrison Owen, the originator of Open Space Technology, and I asked him what he thought were the ideal circumstances in which to use OST. He replied with the following three scenarios:

  1. When there is a large and diverse audience who are faced with a complex problem that they don’t know how to resolve.
  2. There is energy and enthusiasm about finding a solution.
  3. An answer is needed quickly.

One of the essential principles of OST is ‘Whoever comes are the right people’ so the potential audience could be anyone who has an interest in finding a solution to whatever the problem or issue happens to be. Those people are then invited to join the event; no one is forced to attend, everything is voluntary.

OST is an extraordinarily enabling process perhaps because it asks those attending to think about and discuss what is important to them in relation to the topic and they are given the time and space to explore their ideas or concerns with people who are genuinely interested in exploring them too.

The specific outcomes from an OST event cannot be predicted but what is certain is that those involved will be energised in making the change happen because it’s their idea and they were given the opportunity to make a difference.

Watch a short video of OST in action:

Open Space isn’t the panacea for all change situations but if managers can stop thinking that they must manage every aspect of change and that they must make every single decision;  if they can involve the people who will ultimately be responsible for making the change happen, then perhaps that 70% figure will be dramatically reduced.

For further reading and ideas:

  1. Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World by Harrison Owen
  2. Build a change platform, not a change program by McKinsey & Company
  3. Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail by John P. Kotter on hbr.org

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Good Gossip & the Information Vacuum

We all like gossip

I read an article recently that suggested that everyone — men and women — like a bit of gossip, the generally harmless chat that happens when people gather together and have a few minutes to spare. They might share a moan about everything and anything but they also talk about the good stuff and share non-essential but welcome information about what they did at the weekend, what’s happening with the kids, the cats or the latest movie.

We seem to enjoy gossip as long as it’s not too much, or too little… we Good Gossip & the Information Vacuum: the communicating teamdon’t like it when people don’t gossip. You know the situation when someone is sitting in on your every-day conversation but isn’t contributing, you may feel a bit uncomfortable. You may begin to mistrust them… after all, gossiping is pretty relaxed and unguarded.

The need for information

All this got me thinking about how people feel about information and how they react when they don’t get information which they think they need. After observing this for some time I came to the conclusion that when we don’t get information which we think is relevant to us it creates a vacuum… a vacuum that sucks in nothing but negativity.

The information vacuum in action

In the airport when the screen says ‘flight delayed’ we only last a few minutes before we start thinking negative thoughts. If, after ten minutes, the screen is still giving nothing away, we’re not just thinking bad things, we start telling other people just how incompetent this airline really is. However, when a member of the airline staff comes out and tells us they apologise for the delay which is ‘due to operational reasons and as soon as they have more information they’ll let us know’ we feel much better about them and our negativity disappears. Even though they haven’t told us anything definite, the information vacuum has been, at least temporarily, switched off.Successful Team Working with TW Associates

In a team, openness between team members is essential to avoid creating an information vacuum, and the negativity it attracts, causing damage to relationships and affecting the team’s wellbeing and productivity.

Just keep talking

I’m not talking about telling everybody everything — that would be indiscreet. But it’s not for us to judge whether the other person will be interested or not, if they don’t think the information is interesting or relevant they’ll ignore it. After all, when we gossip we don’t think about whether the other person needs or wants that information, we just talk, openly and unguardedly about, well, stuff. It keeps the communications channels open and prevents the negative thoughts and potentially damaging rumours that will always occur when we don’t keep people informed and we unwittingly create an information vacuum.  And it’s not only teams and organisations — keeping the communication channels open is vital in any relationship if it’s going to stay healthy and positive.

If you would like more information about communication in teams and organisations, visit us at twassociates.co.uk.

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The Field of Freedom

Would you like to delegate work to someone without feeling the need to step in and do the job yourself?

Would you like people to use their initiative without the fear that they might go too far?

Whether you are talking to employees, subcontractors, associates or trades people, they all need clear information but also the opportunity to use their initiative and their creativity.

Imagine a game in which it was ok for the head coach to run onto the pitch and kick the ball whenever he was unhappy with the way the player was kicking it. Sounds ridiculous? Why then, is it acceptable for a manager to take a job back from a member of his work team and do it himself because he is unhappy with the way the team member is doing it? Who is at fault, the team member or the team manager?

The white lines that define the field of play in a game of football, rugby or basketball keep the coach off the pitch during the game. If we are to motivate and enable people we need to give them the space in which to play their own game but we need to keep that game within clear boundaries. We need to delegate responsibility in a way that gives them the greatest scope for development and satisfaction and gives us, the managers, the confidence to let them get on with it – we need to give them a Field of Freedom.

* * *The Field of Freedom from TW Associates

“If we are to motivate and enable people we need to give them the space in which to play their own game but we need to keep that game within clear boundaries.”

* * *

The head coach of the football team would never put a someone into the game if he didn’t believe the player could play and managers should never delegate to anyone who is not ready to be delegated to i.e. they have reached the level of both competence and confidence needed for them to take on the job.

So, assuming you have someone who is ready to take on a piece of work or an area of responsibility, there are a number of specific things they need to know if they are to a) deliver the result you seek and b) get the most from it themselves. They need to know:

  1. The GOAL or objective you are trying to achieve – expressed as an outcome not an activity
  2. The RESOURCES they have at their disposal – e.g. time, information, money etc.
  3. The CONTRAINTS they have to work within – e.g. deadlines, budget, legal limits etc.
  4. The SUPPORT they can call on if they need it – e.g. review meetings, information etc.

When the manager and the team member discuss these four items and agree what they each need, it creates a clear ‘field of play’ within which the team member can use his initiative and his creativity to produce the result both parties have agreed upon. The team member is motivated because he knows WHAT he needs to deliver but HOW to deliver it is entirely up to him and his creativity – as long as he stays within the boundaries of the Goal, the Resources, the Constraints and Support.

10 Ways to Save Time on Emails

Email inbox_Empty your inbox1. Empty your inbox and keep it at zero.
Be clear on what is coming in, which emails are putting pressure on your time and attention, and what you need to keep on top of. Keeping your inbox at zero will help you make quick decisions about what each email means, which are valuable to you and which you need to be ruthless with.

2. Perfect the art of the subject line.
Writing clear subject lines is the best way to reduce the volume of emails coming back to you, as well as ensuring that the emails that you send to others are clearly understood and quickly dealt with by their recipients. Always match your subject lines to the content of your email.

3. Keep it short.
The website www.fivesentenc.es. recommends never using more than five sentences in an email. If you have more to say, pick up the phone, or put it in an attached document. Use short bullet point lists to keep your emails brief and to the point. That way, your five sentences can be devoted to describing the action required and your message is more likely to be clearly understood.

4. Make decisions.
Never close an email without having decided what action, if any, you need to take as a result. That way, you will never waste time reading an email more than once. Reduce procrastination time by increasing your decisiveness.

5. Turn your email off.
Do not be a slave to your email account. Turning it off, even for just an hour a day will increase the focus and energy you have available for other tasks.

6. Do not mistake connectivity for productivity.
It is easy to think being connected means you’re getting things done but we all need our rest time it’s so much easier it is to make those difficult decisions in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

7. CC less.
CC is an over-used button and the cause of much of the excess volume that we see in so many offices. Think before you send an email about who really needs to be copied in and remember, every email interruption costs a colleague’s time. Include on the address line anyone who is actively involved and use CC for ‘information only’.

8. Keep your reference folders simple.Email audience
Having sub-folders and sub-sub-folders only makes it difficult for you to quickly file emails away. Have a simple folder structure with no more than a dozen, broadly-defined folders. This will save you a lot of filing time and the chances are it will not affect your ability to retrieve emails at all.

9. Know your audience.
Resist the temptation to forward your favourite ‘funnies’ to professional contacts you want to respect you, but equally, recognise when a little informality will help build a stronger working relationship.

10. Facilitate discussions about email policies within your organisation and invest in some good training.
Surveys indicate that the average employee spends between 30% and 40% of their time on email, so even getting slightly better at it can be a huge productivity saving.

Snowflakes, Rugby and Great Teamwork

Snowflakes, Rugby and Great Teamwork

“A snowflake on its own is a delicate thing but when they team up they can shut down a city,” so said Steve Maraboli and it’s a great way to think about the power of people working together.

Rugby players would probably take exception to being referred to as snowflakes but the evidence of incredible teamwork in virtually every game in the recent Rugby World Cup was fantastic, and judging by the size of them, shutting down a city wouldn’t be beyond their capabilities.

Tweet: Click to Tweet:

“A snowflake on its own is a delicate thing but when they team up they can shut down a city.”

When team members crystalise

In organisations when teams don’t function effectively, we very often find that the team members are unclear of their own and each other’s roles with the result that vital tasks ‘slip through the cracks’ and everyone (understandably) denies responsibility. Unless something is done, the negative effect of this is likely to permanently affect the team’s performance and they are unlikely ever to achieve their full potential.

In almost every game in the Rugby World Cup there was plenty of evidence of absolute clarity of role and there was also great trust and communication between players consistently ‘offloading’ the ball without looking, in the sure knowledge that their team mate was exactly where he needed to be to collect it and use it positively.

When the members are all in agreement about the team’s purpose; when each individual is clear about their own and each other’s responsibilities and they have developed trust through open and clear communication, the essential ingredients are in place for a great team performance. Add a dash of inspiring and authoritative leadership and the snowflakes have some serious competition.

What an effective team looks like

  • Everyone is clear about the team’s essential purpose – why it exists.
  • Each team member understands his or her own (and the other team members’) responsibilities and priorities.
  • The role of the team leader is clear.
  • There is an atmosphere of openness and trust.
  • The team appreciates and is able to deal with conflict and different points of view.
  • Communications are open, confronting and co-operative.
  • There is a willingness to forego personal goals in favour of group goals when needed.
  • The team have clear and agreed methods for problem solving and decision-making.
  • Team members are given the opportunity to adopt a flexible, responsive and creative approach to their work.
  • There is time and scope given for individual and collective development.
  • The team regularly reviews how it operates.

Need further team building inspiration? Watch this riveting TED Talk on teamwork…

Tom Wujec’s Build a Tower, Build a Team 

See Wujek present some of his powerful research behind the “marshmallow problem”. You read that correctly… it’s a simple team-building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow.

Further reading and ideas:

  1. Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research (Psychology of Work and Organizations)
    by Michael A. West
  2. Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances
    by J. Richard Hackman
  3. The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team
    by John C. Maxwell
  4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
    by Patrick M. Lencioni

If you would like to find out how our services can help your Leadership, Teams and Team Working, please contact our Senior Partner, Richard Thomson, on r.thomson@twassociates.co.uk or +44 (0)131 343 3055.

The information, conversation and interaction doesn’t end here. We are discussing these topics on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Join the conversation.