Tuesday, 12 March 2013

What happened to trust in virtual teams? Yahhhhooooo?

Is there anything more demotivating than your CEO expressing to the world that your company is suffering from a lack of creativity and connection in the hallways? I was demotivated just reading about it in the news for the last few weeks. I can't imagine how the employees feel packing up their home offices and joining the lanes of traffic, losing time here and there: all to be a "part" of the new corporate Yahoo culture.

Is it just me or does that scream "I don't trust you"?

While we can all agree that leadership has changed and evolved over the years, we can also see something of a trend in virtual leadership. Everything begins and ends with trust. We know that from leadership lessons of years past. Yet with virtual leadership, the principles are the same, the practice is different. We know the WHAT. We just need to figure out the HOW. How can we trust when we don't see each other everyday? How can we create a spark around an idea when we are sitting in our home offices? How can we bump into Fred at the coffee machine and walk away inspired?

And let’s stop saying it can’t be done. Let’s change the conversation from what it isn’t, to what it is. Here are three best practices for virtual teams.

1. People need connection; make a connection. They might not get that spontaneously at the coffee machine. Instead of calling everyone into the office, start looking at the HOW. The principles of connection are the same.. the practice is different. If Twitter proves anything, it is that connection can be made by the abstract, linking the theme, and initiating a conversation. Start connecting and remember: to get trust, give trust.

2. People need clarity; create clarity. In F2F teams, this came from popping by with simple questions or reviewing a project during the walk down the hallways. Now people are dealing with endless Lync powerpoint dumps and presenters that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Where’s our HOW? Visual project sites, the art of open questions, and interactive meetings are good places to jump start.

3. People need inspiration; start inspiring. Start building context with picture language for your team. Where are we now as a team? Where do we want to be? How can we get there? The “get back to the office so we can build a corporate culture” message is not inspiring. Especially when the intention was to inspire creativity happening in the hallways. Think back to your last inspiring a-ha! moment. Were you exercising, relaxing, or walking down a crowded corridor? Chances are you were exercising or relaxing and letting your brain process information. Start instead thinking about how you can activate someone from a distance. Inspire them with a-ha’s all over the place. Check out this advice to leaders for how to inspire creativity.

Yes, Yahoo's argument is to go back-to-basics… but now I wonder why we want to go backwards? Let’s evolve. Let’s keep working with our HOW to make virtual teams work. Let’s connect, clarify, and inspire!

Chris Hogan

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

You’re Invited to an After Action Review….be afraid, be very afraid!!

I overheard this tongue-in-cheek remark from a project leader who was referring to his organisations approach to reviewing projects. The prospect of attending a project review in this company filled those invited with dread at the possibility of being made a scapegoat.

The After Action Review (AAR), was first introduced by the American Army in the mid 1970’s as a way of capturing lessons from simulated battles and they gradually became embedded in the army’s culture during the Gulf War. AAR’s sprang up spontaneously as small groups of soldiers spent time in the desert hidden in bunkers and under vehicles reviewing their most recent mission.

The technique is now used by many organisations as a formal way of capturing learning at the end (and occasionally in the middle) of large projects with huge success. There's even a trend of using this approach in regular discussions among teams on their operational performance. The AAR can be formal or informal and has been used by large groups and small and can be a quick 5-minute chat or a long reflection lasting hours or even days. Whatever the approach, the questions that are used in an AAR seem revolve around:

  1. What did we set out to achieve? 
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Why did it happen?
  4. What are we going to do next time?

This is where the challenge lies. The nature of these questions can lead to an unhelpful ‘witch-hunt’ if not facilitated very carefully. Question 3 in particular is a cause/effect style of question which works really well when doing problem solving with machines, however when people and relationships are involved it's not too far away from '...and who's to blame?' 

Another difficulty is that the first two questions are very much open to interpretation when reviewing complex projects. Try asking individuals on project you work with what each individual sees as the target for the project and you will be amazed at the different range of answers you'll get back.

Some time ago I worked with the Solutions Focus expert Mark McKergow to develop an approach that can help capture the learning from from projects that is more Solutions Focused in approach.  We called it  a ‘Project Booster’ and is similar to the AAR in that it involves the project team answering 4 questions, however these questions that are noticeably different:

  1. What were we trying to do from everyone’s perspective...what would have been a 10 out of 10?
  2. On a scale of 1-10, how did we do (you can break this into a number of categories if required)?
  3. How come it’s that high?
  4. What do we need to remember for next time and what would be useful first physical steps.
I've now used this approach on several complex projects and found it to be very enlightening and importantly, useful for the project teams involved. 

Question 1 gives space for different perspectives to be explored without there being 'one right answer'.
Question 2 uses scaling, a key questioning tool in Solutions Focus and also described in Daniel Pink's recent work 'To Sell is Human'. Again, this allows different perspectives to be shared in the group.
Question 3 focuses on what's working already, what's helping and where the solution exists already (rather than why was it so bad and what/who is to blame)
Question 4 captures both learning for the future and also some specific small steps.

We also replaced the name 'After Action Review' as it seemed to imply that it is best done at the end of a project whereas experience tells us that useful change can be explored before and during projects too. This of course might be a bit tricky in the middle of a military exercise but it's more than possible in projects. We also liked the idea of describing more actively what the approach does.....boost your projects.

Trevor Durnford