You probably know that successful businesses are built around good collaboration, but you may not know that sometimes collaboration can actually be a negative force in an organization. Author Morten T. Hansen addresses the issue with an example in his book, Collaboration:
“When oil giant British Petroleum (BP) started to promote cross-unit collaboration,” writes Hansen, “leaders encouraged the formation of cross-unit networks focused on areas of shared interest. Over time, this idea flowered into an unforeseen number of networks and subnetworks…which consumed increasing amounts of managers’ time.”
This tendency toward overdoing it stems from the notion that more structure equals better results. But this often backfires, costing time and money. In reality, collaboration is the result of good chemistry between individuals united behind a single cause. Instead of implementing rules for how to collaborate, or “forcing it,” we should promote an environment that allows individuals to collaborate naturally.
I came across a YouTube video by Angela Fernandez Orviz that does a good job of illustrating how collaboration sparks creativity and innovation.
After watching the video, I arrived at a few points:
1. Seek out diverse strengths and personality types
As Orviz states, we must utilize a large network of disciplines in order to address issues in a global world. Most groups must diversify their business to stay relevant. This means integrating all sorts of professions, be they doctors, scientists, journalists or salespeople.
2. Keep an open mind and embrace Divergent Thinking
Set your own ego aside and keep your mind open to many different ways of solving a problem. Each member of the team brings a specialized skill and viewpoint to the table, and it is up to the group as a whole to be open to everyone’s take on the matter. The brainstorming process may take longer as a result, as you’ll see ideas come from every angle possible, and you may face some frustrating road blocks. Hence, I strongly recommend that you…
3. Agree On The Objectives Early On
Before you even begin brainstorming, draft a written document that all members of the team agree on that specifically states the aims of the project at hand. This will act as a road map that keeps the collaborative process within a workable framework. In this way, you’ll be able to allow for divergent thinking and creative meandering, resting assured that you’ll eventually find your way to real solutions. Solutions which could not have been reached without many minds and strengths working in unison.
Hansen, Morten T. “Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity, and reap the big results.” Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009, page 12.
You don’t need to become a novelist to write well. Whether it is an e-mail, memo, initiative, or presentation, good business writing follows these principles: clarity, succinctness and authenticity. Here are some quick and easy tips to help you write in this manner.
Write Short Sentences That Mean What They Say
Limit sentences to one idea each, only at first. It’s actually pretty hard to write a short sentence that is both clear and to the point. We tend to add words over weak sentences in an attempt to make them more professional sounding, but this usually backfires and makes us sound like we’re trying too hard. As New York Times editor Verlyn Klinkenborg puts it:
“It’s perfectly possible to make wretched short sentences. But it’s hard to go on making them because they sound so wretched and because it’s easy to fix them. Making them longer is not the way to fix them.”
You won’t need lots of big words if the core of your sentence has a strong idea. Once you feel comfortable with short and sweet, you can begin fleshing out your sentences. But only use words you know…
Use Words You Know
I encourage people to use strong action verbs on their resumes. These are words that follow the first two of our three writing principles in that they describe specific actions (clarity) with a single word (succinctness). You may be thinking, wait, wasn’t I just told to avoid big words? Well, yes and no.
If you can use action verbs appropriately, then please use them and use them often! The trouble comes with those who use words in ways that do not make sense.
If you aren’t sure about a word, don’t use it until you look it up. Be sure to read examples of it used in a sentence.
Write In Your Own Voice
I think many miss the point that writing is an extension of our communication toolkit, and therefore an extension of ourselves. This may be due to negative experiences in school, where it seemed as if all the writing rules smothered a person’s unique voice.
Well, I’m telling you now that writing should always reflect a part of you. You must always be authentic with your words. Don’t betray yourself to big words you do not mean or big ideas you do not believe. Write what you know and what you believe. Disingenuous writing isn’t convincing and hinders real communication within an organization.
In this way, writing can be pretty empowering. You get to share your views in your unique way.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Several Short Sentences about Writing. New York: Vintage Books, 2013, page 11.
Researcher Behnam Tabrizi recently conducted a study to examine whether middle managers are still relevant in a world where executives have direct access to the front lines of their businesses. The results of the study showed that not only are middle managers still important, but the successful ones had a direct hand in the success of their company.
Based on the results, Tabrizi crafted three “rules” for being a successful middle manager:
Successful middle managers were able to see how their own personal aspirations lined up with the greater aim of the company. This notion of alignment is similar to ideas I shared in a previous post. Accommodating someone’s personal goals does more than simply make them feel good about their job; research continues to show that it has a direct, positive impact on the company.
Successful businesses gave middle managers the power to initiate projects. According to Tabrizi, “organizations create cross-functional teams of MLMs, who author change and innovation plans that turn executives’ visions into concrete steps.” Putting the power of the initiative into the hands of middle managers provides them a sense of ownership and commitment to success.
Because middle managers in Tabrizi’s study were authoring initiatives, he stresses that they must be responsible for the enactment of their plans. They are the foot soldiers who must work through obstacles on a daily basis. It’s not always a glamorous job, but they’ll be motivated by the fact that they authored the initiative, not some out-of-touch executive.
This study puts the scientific stamp of approval on the things we already knew: that managers who didn’t share the common aspirations of their company don’t make good managers; that the company must place trust in their managers to come up with initiatives of their own; and that managers who work through enacting their own initiatives do much better than when they are handed an initiative from above.
Here’s a link to Tabrizi’s article.
Eager to learn more? Read my post about authentic leadership HERE.
Tabrizi, Behnam. “New Research: What Sets Effective Middle Managers Apart.” Harvard Business Review, May 8, 2013.
Exciting new technologies are now available which turn a droll presentation into something truly captivating. Let’s face it: Power Point has been with us since Pagers. It’s probably fair to say that sitting through meetings full of pie charts, bar graphs and poorly-cropped clip art is getting kind of old.
Great Presentations Tell A Story
Data is vitally important to business. We all know it, but it’s tough to get interested in plain old numbers. To understand data, we need to apply it, put it in terms that make sense. A good presentation therefore rests upon your ability to explain the hows and whys of the data you’re sharing.
New interactive applications allow for you to do this in a manner that tells the story behind the data, gives it context, and clearly shows how it relates to each and every member of the team.
Prezi is a website which provides interactive templates that lead the viewer through a story. Here’s an example:
Their basic templates and services are free, and you can upgrade to even more extravagant applications with a fee. Here’s their website: http://prezi.com/
But remember, tools like Prezi are only as good as you make them. There’s quite a bit of potential in interactive presentations, but with said potential is also the risk of going overboard. Here are three tips to keep in mind when drafting your presentation.
Use Less Than You Think
Less motion, fewer pictures, fewer flashy effects. You want to keep your viewers tuned in the entire time, and overstimulating them will turn them off to your message. The effect of any attention-grabbing techniques should always be intentional, which leads me to point two…
Highlight The Data With Attention-grabbers
Bring attention to the data you’re presenting with motion, images and other dynamic visual techniques. Do this intentionally and sparingly to highten the overall impact of the data. Finally…
Keep The Story In The Viewer’s Mind Throughout
Weave the data into a larger narrative. Lead the viewer from one point of data to the next in logical, incremental steps. Wrap the presentation up with a larger application of said data and your own conclusions. Perhaps open it up for discussion so others have a chance to verbalize their thoughts. I make these suggestions–keeping the data within a narrative, applying it, and relinquishing the floor–for one simple reason: doing these things will help the audience remember your presentation long after you’ve finished. This is the goal of any presentation. You want to make an impact on your audience past the 20 minutes or so of the time they give you.
“Authentic leaders remain focused on where they are going but never lose sight of where they came from.’
Striving to be authentic is hard enough on its own, but in a leadership role it can seem impossible. There’s the constant battle between expressing our true selves and managing the competing personalities and opinions of those around us. It’s the dance between plain-speaking and politically-conscious wording. It’s the struggle of trying to remain “human” in a leadership role, while simultaneously appearing resilient to any bumps in the road.
And believe me, we must stay human if we are to be effective leaders. People want a leader who is approachable, honest, forthcoming; someone who knows where they are coming from. They want to know that you have opinions and emotions outside of your role, that you have passions and hobbies, that you root for a sports team or enjoy a night out. We can all point to a leader in our lives who was distant, stale, or off-putting, and I’m willing to bet that the person you’re envisioning wasn’t a very effective leader.
So how exactly do we convey our authentic, imperfect selves right along side the impression of strength and confidence that all leaders must possess?
1. Striking A Balance
This takes time. You must make an effort to stay approachable and friendly, but also know when to assume the “fearless leader” role. There is no formula for this, unfortunately, because every leadership role requires qualities specific to the organization they lead. The main thing to do is to be observant and receptive to your environment. You must also be flexible, willing to adapt.
Great leaders accept their flaws and learn from them. You will make mistakes, as we all do, and you may be inclined to shove it under the rug. Don’t do this. While mistakes are embarrassing, they provide an opportunity for you to show your human side. If you handle it with grace and humility, and focus on how to handle situations more aptly in the future, your organization will see that you’re authentic and appreciate you for it.
3. Making Clear Distinctions
I used to give my staff hand-written thank you notes when they did a great job. One man in particular held on to my note, as it reminded him that he was a capable, valued worker. At an appropriate time, I was able to let my leader guard down and express my appreciation. This strengthened my connection to this member of my team, which in turn boosted productivity. The trick is learning when and where it’s okay to lose the leader role and “be yourself.”
I firmly believe leadership is a learned trait. Sure, some are naturally more prone to leading than others, but with time, patience, and a willingness to be brave, you can teach yourself the balance needed to lead authentically and effectively.
Goffee, Rob and Gareth Jones. “Managing Authenticity: The Paradox of Great Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, December 2005, accessed April 23 2013. http://hbr.org/2005/12/managing-authenticity-the-paradox-of-great-leadership/ar/1
We spend at least 40 hours a week at our job. That’s almost one third of our waking lives. So we better darn well get satisfaction from all that time and effort.
To recap on last week, Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You highlights three components that result in job satisfaction:
Autonomy - feeling like you have some control of your job, and that your actions make a difference
Competence - knowing that you are good at what you do
Relatedness - being able to connect with your coworkers
Newport contrasts these “ingredients,” as he calls them, with the pervasive belief that passions lead to success. Instead of following your passions, Newport argues that becoming very good at what you do, and knowing that it makes a difference, transforms a droll job into a rewarding career.
But let’s narrow the focus today to you and your job. Do you feel you have control of your own work? Does it make a difference? Are you valued? And can you relate with your coworkers?
Answering these honestly will give you a clue as to why you may feel dissatisfied with your work.
From here, the first thing to do is to take ownership of your skills. You can blame your job and your circumstances all you like, and you may have good reasons to do so. But this won’t change a thing. Become determined, if only for your own satisfaction, to master the skills needed to excel in your field.
There is no excuse not to work toward mastery, because no one has ever mastered anything completely. Take Jiro Ono, for instance. Widely considered the best sushi chef in the world, 85 year old Ono tirelessly pursues perfection in his craft, as depicted in the award-winning documentary, “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.” His age and position in the culinary world don’t deter him from chasing after perfection.
So, you can always get better. While at work, take a personal inventory of areas in which you need to improve, and occupy your day with trying to master the skills your job requires. You feel better when you know that your work is valued and desired. Aim to be sought after.
Second, look at your past to boost your confidence about your present situation. Leadership coaches Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write: “To strengthen your confidence, first face the facts. When you look to your past, you’ll realize that successes often outweigh failures. And more importantly, that you survived through the failures and gleaned priceless lessons along the way.”
Looking back puts things in perspective. You may just realize that although your present job may not be ideal (and no job is), you have it now because of your accomplishments, qualifications and perseverance leading up to where you are now. This should give you some confidence and reassurance of your decisions.
Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.
Su, Amy Jen, and Muriel Maignan Wilkins. “To Strengthen Your Confidence, Look to Your Past.” Harvard Business Review, April 11, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2013. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/04/to_strengthen_your_confidence.html
In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport makes a startling observation: “When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.”
How can this be? Don’t passions lead to great careers? That’s the common thinking, but Newport found that this is actually a dangerous way to search for a rewarding career. Your passions don’t always translate well from what you’re interested in to what you do for work, for one thing. For another, how can you know what a career will be like if before you’ve tried it? An aspiring musician may be passionate about music, but can they honestly say they’ll be happy with music for a career? Of course not; after all, I don’t think any of us have ever had a job that perfectly met our initial expectations of it.
Newport isn’t saying that being passionate is a bad thing. He’s instead warning us not to put too much confidence in our passions as the sure way to a rewarding career. It’s the other way around, in fact, as he explains: ”Passion is a side effect of mastery.”
It turns out that current research (the Self-Determination Theory) has pointed to three main components that make you more motivated in your work:
Autonomy - the feeling that your actions throughout your day matter, and that you have control over your own work
Competence - knowing that you’re good at your work
Relatedness - connection to others in your place of work
These three ingredients, according to the Self-Determination Theory, enable you to achieve mastery in your work, and from there passion and happiness will naturally result.
That’s right: rewarding careers are created through finding, refining and pursuing your skills, not your passions.
It may take a while longer to enact this principle, but I think Mr. Newport is onto something. We too often give “passion” too much credit when it comes to finding a great job and growing in it.
Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.