The long view

There are organizations and teams that take the long view. They dream and learn and grow their way into the future using a long view lens. The Agile Canvas supports this by starting off with dreaming out 20 years. This creates a uniquely powerful sense of inspiration and passion that reveals opportunities and engages strenths in ways the short view cannot. 

Long view organizations and teams sustain a commitment to the wellbeing of people and planet. The perspective makes this kind of caring possible while doing good business well. It's a both-and approach to the polarities. 

Team Metabolism

Living organisms function, respond to change and grow through the metabolic process of transforming nutrients into energy. Team metabolism is the transformation of useful feedback into energy. Thriving teams have better metabolisms than struggling teams. It is the metabolic wellbeing of a living organism that supports the thrivancy of teams.

Metabolism is catalyzed by enzymes. In the life of teams, good questions are the enzymes that catalyze the transformation of feedback into energy. 

These questions come in a variety of forms: 

  • What can we learn from the results we're getting? 
  • What are user experiences with what we deliver? 
  • What do users find most and least useful? 
  • What are our experiments teaching us? 
  • What's our actual brand in our markets? 
  • What do our markets know and don't know about us? 
  • What impacts are we having on each other as we work together? 

Struggling teams believe the sum of their individual efforts determines how well they function, respond and grow. Thriving teams know it's their team metabolism that makes the difference. They dedicate time daily, every two weeks and quarters transforming useful feedback into the energy that inspires and shapes their progress.

The secret to team agility

One of the keys to team agility is cross-competencies, when anyone can step into any task at any time. We can still have specialization. Specialization gives teams depth. Cross-functioning gives flexibility when workloads fluctuate unpredictably.

This means getting away from people "owning" siloed roles as property they protect and compete for. Optimal agility happens when anyone can take on anything they see needs to be done to further the core dreams and stories of the team. 

Can (And Should) Workplaces Be Democratized?

It depends on what version of democracy we're talking about. Even the more advanced versions today are still in their adolescence and would benefit from improvements and innovations for a digital, global age. 

We would do well to evolve to where engagement doesn't mean periodic representational voting as consumers but ongoing learning and direct engagement as contributors.

Organizational leaders who lack experience and competency in facilitating authentic engagement in decisions and strategy lack the will and skill to share power and responsibility. This is a profound issue because until this happens, they leave over 80% of their talent unengaged, and most importantly, don't even know it.  The good news is that it is possible, and equitably rewarding for everyone .

How important is seniority to leadership?

Can 20-30 somethings make for good leaders on teams populated with older members? Are older team members naturally better prepared and equipped for leadership? Are there any solid correlations between leadership capability and generational distinctions? For that matter, are there assumptions we can confidently make about leadership and technical experience and expertise? 

 

Navigating complexity

Leaders and teams make their worst decisions when they base them on assumptions. Working by assumption keeps things simple, which they sometimes are. The naturally curious know that things are not always what they seem. When we work by assumptions, the complex seems simple, which it isn't. 

Each of us and each team have different capacities for navigating complexity. When people and teams get overwhelmed by it, they use assumptions to make sense of the complexity. This never works out well. They miss important opportunities and fail to learn their way into an effective approach. Assumption based tensions and conflicts are unnecessary and unproductive, even risk making.

The mindful approach to complexity is through questions, curiosity, exploration and trying out new things. When we begin decision processes, all that matters is how well we articulate and organize our questions. 

Why Google and Apple Outperform

Here are some speak for themselves highlights from recent Bain research in Fast Company

Companies like Apple, Netflix, Google, and Dell are 40% more productive than the average company, according to research from the leadership consulting firm Bain & Company... Our research found that these companies have 16% star players, while other companies have 15%,” he says. “They start with about the same mix of star players, but they are able to produce dramatically more output.”

An engaged employee is 44% more productive than a satisfied worker, but an employee who feels inspired at work is nearly 125% more productive than a satisfied one, says (Bain partner Michael) Mankins. The companies that inspire more employees perform better than the rest.

Dell Technologies recognized the productivity difference between inspired and average teams, says Mankins. “Sales teams led by an inspiring leader are 6% more productive than those that have an average leader. If you extrapolate that 6% it accounts for an extra $1 billion in annual revenue. Consider what [poor leadership] is costing your company.

Making Learning Intrinsic To Work

One of the prime differentiators between flourishing and stuck teams is their relationship to learning. In stuck teams, learning is instruction you get when you take time away from working. In flourishing teams, learning is intrinsic to work. Learning is continuous because we know how to engage all five core sources of learning in work.

 

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Reflection 

We look at our successes, progress, failures and disappointments and look for patterns for future implications. We extract learning from experiences by creating narratives that deliver new lessons learned.

Feedback 

We use solicited and unsolicited feedback to discover the intended and unintended consequences of our actions, decisions and contributions. We use data from results to draw implications for our future efforts and success. 

Experts 

We interview and shadow people who already do what we we ant to learn how to start doing or do better. We utilize their artifacts of learning through courses, videos, conversations and written materials.

Curiosity 

We learn new things about our world and ourselves through ongoing everyday updates and discoveries. We do this through always having new learning questions about anything unclear, unexplored, uncertain or undecided. 

Experiments 

We gain new skills and insights through experiments with trying new things, taking on new work and new ideas. This kind of action learning is vital when we have to learn our way into creating a new future together. 

The 4 I's of Flourishing Team Cultures

Flourishing teams know that they can’t get to the next level with the approach that got them to the level they are at today. They appreciate the research on Mt. Everest climbing teams demonstrating that teams who struggled or died on the way to the summit were trying to use the skills that got them to basecamp.

Flourishing team cultures have distinct principles they share and work from day to day: initiative, integrity, inclusion and internal motivation. 

Initiative 

People assign themselves in pairs and individually to everyday work tasks based on their strengths and passions. This leads to meaningful and high quality work. Commitment to work is higher when people choose rather than get assigned to what needs to be done at any point in time. When people have freedom to take initiative, they also become better at knowing their strengths and passions and knowing how to recognize and prioritize work.

Integrity 

Integrity is transparency and working by agreements. In transparency, there are virtual spaces where anyone can see what anyone else is doing, needing and getting done. This sustains tempo and keeps everyone in sync. Working by agreements is the effective opposite of working by assumptions. Tensions are reduced and prevented when the team works by agreements about what matters most to everyone in their work.

Inclusion 

People are smarter together. When people collaborate, decisions are smarter, ideas as richer and more realistic and learning becomes a continuous and natural experience in the course of everyday work. When people feel included they feel valued and valued people deliver higher value in their work. Teams with flourishing cultures learn how to collaborate with optimal efficiency and resilience.  

Internal motivation

Working with internal motivation means working from a clear and connected Why. Our Why includes our passions, strengths, dreams, signature stories, what matters most to us and our core questions. Performance and loyalty at optimum when motivation for work is more internal than external. Internal motivation also creates organizations of contributors rather than consumers.

These principles make it possible for these teams to work with far higher levels of performance, loyalty and profitability than average and struggling teams. 

 

 

The importance of employee experience

A recent HBR piece presents new research indicating that the key driver of employee engagement, performance, profitability, attention and attraction is employee experience.  

Organizations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on employee engagement programs, yet their scores on engagement surveys remain abysmally low. How is that possible? Because most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot. A perk is introduced to boost scores, but over time the effect wears off and scores go back down. Another perk is introduced, and scores go back up — and then they fall again. The more this cycle repeats itself, the more it feels like manipulation. People begin to recognize the short-term fixes for what they are.

When organizations make real gains, it’s because they’re thinking longer-term. They’re going beyond what engagement scores are telling them to do in the moment and redesigning employee experience, creating a place where people want, not just need, to work each day. But what does that mean, and what does it look like?

I would include employee experience things like meaningful work, high trust cultures, people feeling valued and freedom to collaborate and take initiative. 

Is genuine happiness at work possible?

There is a difference between being distracted from one's unhappiness at work and being genuinely happy at work. The former is the product of parties, contests, ping pong, donuts and entertainment. The latter is the result of finding meaning in one's work, feeling valued, making learning core to work and having a sense of progress.  

Genuine happiness at work is possible. It takes growing the kind of culture of meaning, value, learning and achievement. 

Rethinking pay inequities

It is still the norm in many industries to continue justifying pay disparities. We use gender, education, tenure, level and experience differences to justify all manner of inequities. Much of it is based on assumptions about value. Without valid evidence or logic, we assume people deliver more or less value to the organization based on these differences. In many cases, organizations get the assumptions wrong. Questioning them is the beginning of adult conversations about pay.

Is your team learning from its successes?

Success is a teacher only when we explicitly engage it. Teams don't automatically learn from their successes. It needs to be fostered with questions designed to extract learning from successes. Not having this learning becomes a glass ceiling on the performance potentials of the team. Analysis of failure in no way compensates for a lack of learning from success. Success yields a whole different set of lessons compared to failure. This needs to be a habit, done periodically and at the end of projects. The more the process has a narrative quality, the more powerful it is.

Helping people take more initiative

The only way people can learn to take more initiative in their work is to be given more freedom to take initiative. It is the work of leaders to make a habit of reminding people where they have freedom to take initiative. This makes work more mindful and therefore more meaningful.  This is also the work of creating more opportunities for people to take intitiave. People get better at it through practice.

Initiative taking accelerates performance and learning. 

A radically new question heuristic

What would the world look like without this problem?  

This is a classic example of a beautiful question, one capable of liberating new perspectives. It's startlingly different from the old question of how we could solve this problem.  

In some contexts, doing well involves creating whole new realities that make evident problems less relevant, dominant or impactful. This is particularly true in human rather than mechanical problems. 

The key is to research and craft as many relevant possibilities and then research and experiment with the world we can imagine free of this problem. 

Leadership as the failure of teams

I recently listened to a leader of a technical team talking how her team frustrates her. He is not new to leadership nor is the team a group of inexperienced professionals. Their sociology is a hot mess and she is reminded of this every time she needs to intervene. I suggested the rational proposal that leadership is sometimes the clearest signal of team failure. 

She completely agreed.

The sociology of teams

The sociology of teams is how everyone interacts. It's when and how any kind of information and knowledge gets shared. It's how communication is emotionally charged. It's how people include each other in thinking, learning, decisions and tasks. It's how people share feedback. 

At the heart of sociology is the ecology of agreements and tensions that exist.  Tensions are disconnects due to working by assumptions rather than agreements. When we get the sociology right, everything else on teams happens right.

The Agile Canvas & Intrapreneurship

Whether because it's their job or that they have a unique vision of strategy or innovation in the organization, intrapreneurs need an approach to their passion that works. The Agile Canvas delivers on this. 

Each of these efforts begin in the emergence of dreams from a sea of things that are unknown, unclear and undecided. The process succeeds when it is decidedly question based. Dreams need to be translated into new questions. Things we need to research and decide need to be translated into new questions. It is our questions that make us creative, aligned, realistic and adaptive. The experiments we ultimate navigate and proposals we ultimately deliver are solidly grounded in real facts and inspired by real markets.

The Agile Canvas, with its unique structure that is based on questions, strenths and action, optimally supports intrapreneurs as they become shining lights in the future of their organizations.  

The radical possibility of prepared public leaders

What if, when someone wants to run for any local level public office, they are invited to go through a year-long training process and there is a community expectation that these are the better prepared people? It would increase the probability of the kinds of creative and intelligent public office holders every thriving community needs and deserves.