Redefine Average

It’s time to redefine our positions in life. If you want to be awesome, surround yourself with awesome people. If you want to be smarter, surround yourself with people who have more knowledge and experience than you do. If you want to stop being afraid of the risks find someone who knows the methods that will keep you safe.

Find a mentor, become a mentor, learn a new skill, volunteer some of your time, or take on any other thing that allows you to stretch your boundaries.

Each of these tasks does the same basic thing. It helps you to redefine what your perception of normal is.

Jim Rohn was once quoted as saying:

Jim Rohn Quote erinburrell.ca
“You are the average of the five people
you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn

You commonly find this type of scenario in sports. If you constantly train with a group of athletes that are more talented than you, the odds are high that your skills will improve until you begin to hold your own.

When you think about it, finding average is a bit of a math equation.

Sally and Steve are both incredibly thoughtful people, let’s call them each a 9/10, unfortunately, Joe is a 4/10 and your partner is a 2/10. Total group score 24/40.

If you follow Rohn’s thought process this group of people likely leave you somewhere around a 6/10. Want to be more thoughtful? Hang out with more people like Sally and Steve and the number will start to rise.

But how you ask can you possibly be capable of raising your averages. You can’t just go out and make new friends, this isn’t kindergarten.…..Or can you?

A few years ago I would have said that this was an impossible concept. I love my friends. I wouldn’t want to spend less time with any of them.

Then it happened.

Not intentionally, it was an accident. I started to spend time with some new friends because of a charity that I had gotten involved in. My old friends were no less important, but they did become less frequent entries in my social calendar and I found myself changing for what I consider the better.

I discovered that I was capable of more empathy because of friends who lived their lives caring for others. I was more able to handle stress and navigate challenges because the people around me were able to offer guidance and their gifts of hindsight. My ability to deal with conflict increased and I went from being an attacker to becoming the person who helps to resolve issues. I became more willing to learn from others by surrounding myself with people passionate about learning.

My averages had moved. I had become a reflection of those around me without meaning to change.

After all these years, my mom was right. You are who you associate with.

Is the prize worth the cost?

Have you ever been to a fair and tried to win the teddy bear? Often if you are not incredibly skilled you will spend much more than the teddy bear is worth trying to win a game. I can recall more than once standing in front of a game I knew I couldn’t win thinking that maybe I should just go to a store and buy myself the toy and save the trauma of losing again and again.

Careers and life choices sometimes follow the same path. Sometimes there is a cost to quality, ethics, standards, or personal values to get to that finish line.

You may get a prize but is it worth doing whatever it takes to get it?

I recently had a coaching session with a talented lady who was concerned that she hadn’t progressed her career as quickly as another person on her team. She expressed frustration at the fact that the other person was getting increased prestige and, of course, more money and here she was in the same desk.

I challenged her with the idea that this other person must have made different choices than she had in order to achieve the increase in their status. She nodded her head and went into a stream of activities that she wasn’t willing to compromise her values to do. My response was simple, clearly she needed to surround herself with people who wouldn’t ask her to pay such a toll for the same rewards. (Fast forward a few months and she is in a new role with an organisation that isn’t asking her to compromise values for promotions.)

Easier than it sounds

Jim Rohn’s point was simple. Being in the middle of a group of amazing people isn’t bad, but in order to get there you need to surround yourself with the greatness you aspire to.

Anyone is capable of shifting their scores by being humble enough to realise that. So go out and find a new average and don’t settle until your calculation adds up to awesome.

The art of pushing through

Pushing Through-Erin Burrell
The art of pushing through

adjective push·ing \ˈpu̇-shiŋ\

Definition of PUSHING

  1. marked by ambition, energy, enterprise, and initiative
  2. marked by tactless forwardness or officious intrusiveness

preposition \ˈthrü\

Definition of THROUGH

  1. into one side and out the other side of (something)
  2. from one side or end to another side or end of (something)

Based on these definitions in order to push through (you) must be marked by tactless forwardness or officious intrusiveness into one side and out the other side (of something).

It is the concept of officious intrusiveness that makes getting through personal blockages so key in my mind. It’s the idea that in order to get past/over/through something hard you have to stop being polite. You need to knock down the things between you and your goal in a bit of obstacle bowling so to speak.

When you are alone there are a thousand things that you can use as excuses as to why you can’t. They are all about being polite.

I have other things I should be doing: Really? Your laundry will wait for you to write that novel or climb that hill. We know you have clean underwear left in the drawer.

It’s not really what I want anyway: (I’m shaking my head as I write this phrase.) We cannot (and should not) give up greatness because it is too hard. If you want something: GO. DO. Carpe Diem is thousands of years old. Seize the damn day people!

Support-Erin Burrell
Sometimes we need a little support

It’s hard for a reason

If the things you hope to achieve are easy, they aren’t special. When you reflect on the lessons you have learned in the process you will be reminded why so many people never get to say they did this or that. Many years from now you might think back to a challenge you were faced with and it won’t be the finish line that you reflect on, but the hurdles along the way that you defeated.

Remember that you are overcoming something in order to feel the joy of achievement. The rush of victory is a powerful motivator, but you have to get out of your own head and stop listening to your excuses.

Stop being polite and start taking names

Excuses are your enemy. Between you and I we can come up with heaps of them.

Reasons why you shouldn’t be the hero in your story. Reasons why that goal was too big for you. Even reasons why you don’t deserve that achievement.

We are WRONG. The world is yours. Goals are specifically designed to be stacked up and knocked down like freaking dominoes.

Keep moving forward

My friend Anna was writing something that wasn’t easy to say. She is a woman of many talents and professions and had lots of reasons to walk away from the keyboard. BUT she didn’t. She pushed past the voices in her head that told her not to finish it. (You can see her thoughts on a page over at Too Convoluted. She’s funny and honest, read her stuff.)

Facing these fears and thoughts of inadequacy is never easy. They might have slowed her progress, but they didn’t stop her, she kept writing. One. Word. At. A. Time.

It took longer than it should have. It was harder than it usually is. It is some of her more thoughtful writing and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I get to say that because, she did it. She was marked by ambition, energy, enterprise, and initiative into one side and out the other side. I know that her next goal will be bigger, harder, and more complex than the last and I can’t wait to cheer her on.

There is no easy button on things worth pursuing.

No, it isn’t easy. No, it isn’t fast. It is, however really freaking worth it.

She was reminded (as was I) that by persevering past the blockage, that she could. The mere fact that she was able to do this thing reminds us all that we can continue to pursue bigger goals and achievements.

Pushing through to greatness

  1. Don’t apologise for wanting something for yourself.
  2. Surround yourself with empowering people who don’t accept excuses. They can help get you through the hard times.
  3. Choose big, hairy, goals. Goals that intimidate regular people. Goals that make you a bit afraid just by thinking about them. Then when you accomplish them you will dance by the light of victory.
  4. Use your fear of failure (and actual failures) as fuel. Let them remind you that the odds of achieving your goals can improve when you learn from your previous mistakes
  5. Don’t stop trying until you get there. Famous entrepreneurs, athletes, celebrities cite failure as their strongest motivational factor. A friend and accomplished endurance cyclist gave me some advice on how to achieve a goal. His thought was that any forward momentum, no matter how slow or small was getting you closer to your goal.

It is because I continue to be inspired by great people like Anna that I have accomplished what I have so far. Hopefully, these few words help to remind you that you are capable of doing something great as well.

The value of mentors (and why you should become one)

Recently LinkedIn told me that I should be thanking my mentors. While I think gratitude is important and I am an advocate for saying thank you publicly, I feel that the best thank you comes through action. I see the need to pay forward my gratitude in physical ways whenever possible and I think this is the lesson many of my mentors would like to have seen me learn.

Many people credit their mentors for offering them the insights they need to succeed while others state that it was their mentor that taught them not to be hard on themselves while they were learning. I see both of these concepts as adding value, but feel that we should all be reminded that no matter what age or career level we may have achieved, we have something to offer to other people.

Becoming a mentor/advocate is the most meaningful role I have ever held. Today most of the wins I experience are not my own. Instead, they are the achievements of people I have been lucky enough to work with and contribute to the development of.

Mentoring involves hard and soft skills

Dealing with conflict at work or challenges with navigating business politics are common themes for mentors. It is our gift of hindsight that helps to inform the knowledge we share with our mentees. However, it is the ability to see what worked and didn’t in our past experiences that leads us to offer tools, models, and approaches that will support our mentee in their hard skill development.

If you read Harvard Business Review you will discover that most articles regarding leadership success or management involve being a mentor to those below you and learning from those above you. I started to look for a particular article that displays this brilliantly and discovered this one.

While it also talks of the evolution from manager to leader, I don’t see any of the concepts being less relevant for those at any level in their career. Including ideas such as seeing the micro and macro pictures and understanding when to fight and when to negotiate will help to grow every resource.

What’s in it for you?

Victory in business and personal efforts feel fantastic. When you add those of your team and direct reports that feeling is increased immensely. Ultimately it comes down to the reality that helping someone else feels good for you.

What always surprises me is how much I learn when I’m mentoring. From the reminder to be excited about challenges, the desire to face new tasks with reckless optimism (often hard for those of us with battle scars), to the ability to be humble and learn new skills, my mentees teach me every day.

When you win: you feel good. When they win: you feel good. How can you possibly lose with that approach?

My lesson for you

Before you merely thank your mentors, become one and learn why acting is more valuable than speaking.

A few of the lessons I take with me daily from great leaders I am proud to have my career crafted by:

Work with people you love and respect.

Work with people you want to spend time with. While the relationships weren’t always critical to business success, it was worth the exchange for enjoying work more. Sometimes this means you don’t get the cheapest deal or resource, but making less profit and loving your day will be more impactful over the long term. Jeff Rushton

Detail matters in everything you do.

Going back and reviewing your work or someone else’s won’t ever hurt your business. As he always said “circle the wagons” (to make sure your load is stable). Mario Policicchio

Silence is powerful.

People are afraid of silence. It makes them uncomfortable. They will rush to fill the space you leave empty and that is where you will learn what to do next. Be quiet, watch, and listen. Andreas Lorenzen

Dr Seuss Quote
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

A blog by any other name

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I originally started in 2009 for a charity project I was working on and discovered a passion to share my ideas with the world (even if most of them were only ever read by my mom-Hi Mom!).

On this forum alone my posts go back to 2011, many of which are still relevant today. While I should admit I am highly critical of my evolution as a writer, I have never been afraid of to have confidence in my ideas no matter how flawed the delivery might have been. I credit this confidence in my words to the passion of my early years: journaling, and to the professors who give me good grades on my work.

So today I am wondering what the value my contributions and those of others are making on our culture and the digital space as a whole through the act of blogging.

Creating community and sharing ideas

The internet and all that lives on it from blogs and forums to ratings and reviews are about connection across time and space. Sharing ideas with people without regard for their time zone is something that makes blogging special.

Bloggers like Luis Suarez discuss the idea that this community and collaborative lifestyle is our right as citizens of the world. Kathleen Asselin also speaks of this interactive lifestyle and momentum in growth in her thesis (reference here: sadly not available outside of a library).

My posts started as essays on topics I was faced with in the workplace. They are littered with challenges of offering great customer experiences in eCommerce and digital marketing, topics, which were the reason I started erinburrell.ca. Here and there I would throw in a few accolades for those doing great things, but it quickly morphed into business commentary and hard-won survival tips with a sprinkling of academic content added for good measure.

Creating reach to new content and topics

As a student and scholar, I have access to publications most people only armed with Google and an internet connection will never see. Content under the badge of being scholarly and peer reviewed is often highly researched, validated, and edited for quality but sadly read even less than my personal blog in some cases.

Part of that fault is, of course, the desire for people to be paid for their content. An idea which with just a smidgen of understanding what it takes to publish an article makes sense. I have access to a great deal of paid content because I pay tuition and rich library access is included in my fees. I agree that content creators should be paid for their efforts, but I am sad that many publications and ideas will never reach people who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately, that means that the ideas we are all exposed to at no cost in some cases are….. well…. Let’s just call them poorly researched and not well cited to be generous.

Heidi Estes discusses the idea that blogging makes space for personal commentary and criticism in academic efforts and helps to round out the ideas of a scholar (here’s hoping).  Sadly her blog was not in the first few pages of search so the closest I can offer you for free is the abstract of one of her articles discussing the topic in more detail.-You can purchase instant access to the entire article for about what Netflix costs you each month.

Finding the balance: Freemium content

Freemium is one of my favourite things about the digital age. I could dedicate more than one post just to the value I think this adds to the digital economy, but for the uninitiated, this means that you have access to a product or service with limits. If you want to live life without limits you must pay for the privilege-somewhat like TV in the 90’s.

Great content providers in the entertainment, business, and journalistic space have embraced this idea. Harvard Business Review will let you read a little, as will People.com and the New York Times, but after you reach the limit it’s pay to play. I wish academia would embrace this, but I suppose it will be scholars like me that can change the face of publishing if we want to.

Freemium in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Creators get paid and if they are producing content people really enjoy, in turn they pay for a subscription or buy what they want in an a la carte pricing menu.

So who am I to direct you?

Today I would call myself a scholar-practitioner. I study a number of topics and currently practice in the space of information technology and business strategy. My content is free and without the burden of extra ads and marketing because I pay service providers for blocking additional noise from my words.

If you like something I share or dislike it for that matter, you are welcome to comment, like and follow me. Or not. Your call.

I will continue to share my thoughts because I might be able to offer connections between the dots of concepts that you wouldn’t hear about without me.

I do ask you to forgive the gaps that may occur between posts. I am currently working toward my second masters degree, work full time and have lots of hobbies that keep me busy.  Plus, we all know that I actually pay for the chance to talk to you through this forum (domain registration, ad suspension, web hosting), not the other way around.

Then again delays could be that I am randomly surfing YouTube watching the cat videos that make the internet great.

Head to the archives and see what else I have to say.

Becoming an educated consumer of ideas

I had a paper due last week that included a critical review on the ideas and strategy of a talented scholar. At first I struggled with the idea that my feedback could possibly be valuable. It wasn’t until I began to evaluate the content with fresh eyes that I was able to find the perspective I needed to add value.

Adding to a body of work in any area is intimidating, but it’s exactly how new ideas are born. The work I was reading had a particular approach that could be reused and adapted to meet other environments and it was my fresh perspective and background that make that possible.

It is in this frame that I present my newly created 3 step process to becoming an educated consumer of ideas:

  1. Educated idea consumers have a base to start from: You must first have a foundation of knowledge to evaluate content on. In the case of my paper, I was using research methodology and types of critical inquiry to evaluate the authors work. In order to provide any feedback of value, I had to make sure I understood the theory behind research and inquiry before evaluating theirs. See the contrary approach of the guy who refuses to vote but criticises the politician.
  2. Admit what you do not know: I was not an expert in the topic of the paper so didn’t provide feedback on the data itself, but instead on the way they approached the research question and the methodology they used to develop their theory. See the guy who critiques the mechanic when they have never even lifted a wrench.
  3. Take a chance to learn from what you read or hear: The topic of the paper was fascinating to me well beyond what I was tasked with reading it for. It motivated me to do additional reading to further solidify the new ideas in my own mind. While at first I was intimidated by the topic I was able to take the new content on a more personal journey through the internet so that I could understand the overall purpose more fully and add a new tool in my mental toolbox to further improve the way I work. See the girl who receives irrefutable evidence but still swears that her argument is valid.

Reading and writing critically will be something I continue to work on, but with the help of great instructors, and some friends on the internet I was able to learn about two things at once. Talk about double dipping! If we each apply these three simple steps we can all become more educated consumers and creators of ideas.

 

Critical Thinking this is Beer; Beer this is Critical Thinking

For a long time, I have been an advocate for sharing opinions freely and with honestly. Sadly, honest critique can hurt people you care about and offend others. It seems that finding a balance between honesty and attack is where true critical thought and feedback lives.

Unfortunately being truly unfiltered with your feedback in business or academia can create conflicts with employers, clients, and colleagues. While being too harsh in other areas of life can make you a cruel critic and let’s be honest: friendless.

However, over a pint with a friend or peer a portion of the experience to hearing feedback such as

“You do look fat in those jeans”

and

“Your product is crap”

were decidedly softened because of the informal environment and sensibilities that had been lubricated with libations.

So… what is the point you ask?

I was recently assigned a critical comment on a paper for my MA. It was the act of reading content critically and writing a paper as a critic that I was reminded of a project that had never even gotten off the page.

A few years ago I was having dinner (well…beer and nachos) with some friends who were equally passionate about sharing opinions and ideas without worrying about all of the ramifications. Over drinks we decided we were each able to be the most constructive without being hurtful when we were out for a drink in a safe environment. We decided to create a project that was lost to the path of good intentions until now.

So in the interest of stretching my own boundaries and taking on another project that my professional, scholarly, and personal lives may not love I offer you the first podcast from Critically Drinking.

Remember: I am an amateur in this space and have lots to learn, but it is my own Minimum Viable Product. If you need to rip it to shreds at least offer to buy me a drink first.

 

 

Creating Community

A few weeks back I was able to attend a couple of different conferences and at each time I was struck by the welcoming groups I was surrounded by. Despite never having met or engaged with many of the attendees, organisers, or presenters in each case, we found reasons to discuss ideas and master new skills and concepts in a safe space through shared experience.

Erin Burrell Community of Practice
Creating Communities

It is this movement towards shared experiences that turn strangers into friends across demographics and time zones. What was most surprising to me was not the differences, but instead the similarities in each conference despite them being from totally polar parts of my life.

A community is something that we all belong to regardless of our level of participation. While some may seek to just read a product review, coach a sport, or to present best practices at a global conference each level of contribution helps to make the community function.

In digital strategy, we often discuss the need to create an engaged and empowered group of consumers, clients, and vendors. Our digital community

In business, we focus on developing best practices inside each discipline so we can share ideas and learn from one another. A community of practitioners

In education, we work within our scholarly groups to develop research and further the knowledge we can contribute back. Our scholarly community

In sports, we work with coaches to grow our skills so that some day we can be just like that talented professional that we have posters of on our wall. A fitness community

 

Each scenario is unique in its output but is ultimately responsible for the same thing. All versions show a community of like-minded individuals with each segment contributing their knowledge and experiences for the betterment of the wider group.

Personal Reflection-increasing understanding by making space

The need to have time to reflect is critical to solidify learning theories for students and professionals alike. By acknowledging the space between what we read or hear and what we already know we are able to create links between the two. It is through these associations that new ideas and perspectives are born.

Making time

When I headed back to school to complete my MBA in 2012 I had an instructor (Kim Gunning-Mooney)  recommend we focus on taking the time to reflect. She explained what I think was some version of my description above (honestly I was mentally and physically exhausted for most of MBA so I can’t guarantee that I am totally accurate here, but she deserves credit), and rationalized that we would never imagine what this space could do for the development of our ideas.

Honestly, I thought it was crap. What would writing down my thoughts about what I had read, seen, or heard do for my ability to write an assignment or to do my job?

LOTS!

We often don’t realise how our brains create connections, but in many cases it is when we aren’t studying a topic that we begin to understand it. Have you ever had that moment in the shower or driving to work when everything suddenly makes sense?

That is the power of space to reflect.

Creating connections

I spend a lot of my professional time telling stories to clients and partners. Customising the story to each individual is critical to making it relevant to them and this is where I discovered how reflection helps us make connections.

Many of the early years of my career were spent in the home improvement industry. This causes me to tell a lot of stories about how computer software/employee engagement /management/ marketing/leadership is like the plumbing in your home.

Stay with me here….

You often don’t take the time to think about your plumbing or FILL IN THE BLANK business challenge until it is broken and find yourself in a hurry to get it fixed before you are covered in poop. In a really bad circumstance, it is being covered in poop that tells you the problem exists in the first place.

The importance of the analogy (or any analogy really) is the fact that people can suddenly see the connection between two ideas and just how urgent or serious the challenge they are facing has become.

Our ability as experts to connect the dots matters more than the dots themselves

By walking away from a challenge, literally or figuratively we are able to encourage our brains to connect these new concepts with the information that we have already internalised.

Build compelling arguments

I used to follow my gut on everything. Gut instinct is a powerful thing, to be sure, but honestly it is meaningless when you are pitching a multi-million dollar venture to the board for sign off. You need to have evidence (shown through the connections) in order to make a point.

You: “Hey board of experts I just know that this is a good idea so can I have some cash, please?”

Them: “Yeah, nah bro.”

But when we have some evidence (I consider all ideas evidence to create a compelling argument), and then we combine it with gut instinct and past experiences we are able to make connections that create a compelling and successful business case in many situations.

You: “Hi board of experts we have a challenge and it can be met by combining this times that. We believe it will work because of this idea X connection = result and this idea X connection = result.”

Them: “Well of course! Here are your millions of dollars”

Yes, this may be a bit of a simplified circumstance, but the likelihood of creating those connections is infinitely higher when take the time to reflect and internalise new information. A few steps that work for me are below, but feel free to reflect in whatever way you find effective.

  1. Write down what the content told you in your own words:
    1. Create a summary of what you read so that a fifth grader can understand it.
    2. Journal about the items you are reading. When you start telling the story you connect items without thinking about it.
    3. If you can’t summarise it yet, that’s ok move to step 2
  2. Brainstorm around the topic:
    1. Use a mind map or fishbone diagram to list concepts and create connections between them. The lines are the part that matters most
    2. Use a word blurb to see what concepts repeat most in the article. Tools like Wordle are awesome for this.
    3. Use your favourite method of brainstorming, the method is not as important as taking the time to do it
  3. Walk away
    1. Go for a run, take your kids to the park, binge watch some OITNB, read a trashy novel, it doesn’t matter what it is just get away from the work for a few minutes/hours/days as your timeline allows and let your brain do its thing.

What’s in it for you?

This is the age-old question when we put a task in front of someone. Why would you give up something you value (time, space, money) in exchange for this thing?

Reflecting makes connections faster than reading or listening to lectures alone. It helps us to find ways to internalise the idea and merge it with our personal expertise to make it valid and relevant. AND even if you don’t get anything special from it at that moment, we are raising our likelihood for shower Ah ha! moments exponentially just by trying something new.

 

References:

Reflection is the most important part of the learning process

Mind Tools Brainstorming

Acting on your research: The business and humanities merger

Most of my career and definitely throughout my academic efforts, I have attempted to make immediate use of the knowledge I acquire. For me, application (or in some cases failed application) is in direct correlation with my ability to understand concepts clearly. What I didn’t realise was that despite being traditionally business-focused, many models of planning and research are pretty much the same, just with fancier pictures and acronyms in some cases.

In business we have models, and in the humanities we have models, while most people are loyal to one side very little keeps them apart. The main difference between the two seems to be a bit of editing and marketing jargon. Business, as we know is overwhelmed with buzz-words and visual tools to support memory and application. The humanities seems to be equally filled with people using big words to tell the story a picture could effectively convey.

One of these is just like the other

While neither approach is right or wrong, the more we understand the similarities, the more the two disciplines can merge for more effective implementation.

Action Research

The goal of action research is to learn from current and past experiences (through data analysis, interviews, literature reviews, etc.) and arrive at new approaches to problem-solving.

Following seven basic steps action research allows the researcher to make informed decisions about what is working or not working and arrive at conclusions that allow them to put their learning into practice to improve the life of the participants.

  1. Select focus: Identify the problem area
  2. Clarify theories: Perform preliminary research around the topic to ensure a clear understanding of challenges currently valid
  3. Identify research question: narrowing the field of purview to a single question
  4. Collect data: Through first person study or literature review
  5. Analyse data: with the research question in mind
  6. Report results: share with those involved
  7. Take informed action: based on what you know

Sounds simple right?

What I didn’t see at the beginning of the exercise was that this model is just the same as one that I have been using for years. I wasn’t calling it action research I was calling it lean management.

Lean Management-PDCA

The goal of lean management and the PDCA model is to focus on continuous improvement and the elimination of muda (waste). Muda is described by Kaizen World with 9 types of waste including wasted time, effort, and motion. This description is broader that the seven types traditionally listed, but is relevant for today’s environment.

Elimination of muda can focus on items like efficiency in production, reducing wait times, inventory maximisation (human or physical), ultimately resulting in process improvement.

Contrary to many opinions, lean management application is not limited to the traditional environment of manufacturing where it was born at Toyota. Lean methodologies are being used to create better human workflows and more effective automation in categories like marketing and health care.

  1. Plan: Identify the challenge and what you want to change
  2. Do: Carry out the test in a small (hopefully low risk) environment or pilot project
  3. Check: Identify what worked and what didn’t
  4. Act/Adjust: Place new knowledge into application

Sure, lean does in four steps what action does in seven, but what is really different? Nothing. The same concepts hold true for both. The more work you do planning and analysing, the more capable you will be of making change that is significant and valuable to participants.

So, what does this teach me? It reminds me that business and humanities are closer than I think. It also tells me that as my knowledge builds the ability to translate concepts from one to the other will be empowering.

Resources

Wikipedia PDCA

What is Action Research?

Kaizen for Dummies

Kaizen World

The importance of teams

Being a part of a high performing team is a pretty rewarding thing. What few people realise is that it rarely happens overnight, and is incredibly special when it does.

Pulling the weight

I’ll admit it, I never used to like working on teams. A team always meant pulling someone else’s weight and dealing with last minute scrambles to do work that someone else committed to delivering and didn’t. I’ve talked about how everyone wins when everyone contributes here, but sadly this is not always the case.

Over years of working in ineffective teams, it became easier to promise only what I could deliver and so I became an advocate for independent projects. Truth be told, even when I started to manage people I was selective about how I continued to work within the team I was leading. This is a bad habit to get into and only serves to create large groups of people doing tasks in a similar space.

Nothing changes without new inputs

In order to create a new output something has to change or be introduced. Yes, as an individual I was able to get things done. I was able to consistently deliver at a reasonable level, but nothing was pushing me forward.

Working independently doesn’t offer as many chances to grow a skill base or challenge ideas. By working with others, you are able to collaborate and create great ideas and output from what would otherwise be good enough, but not spectacular.

Some people would argue that they are pushed by reading and engaging with new content through independent development efforts and while this is partially true, we cannot always see past a single idea or concept limiting the scope of our ability to grow. A second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes, experiences, and ideas offers us that new perspective to help us develop.

Making things great

Great teams challenge one another through dialogue, brainstorming and more. By introducing new variables, (such as alternate skill-sets and backgrounds), we are able to develop hybrids of our approaches that meet the needs in new ways.

Sometimes this leads to creating something that is entirely new. This magic cannot happen without a collaborative approach to delivery.

With good comes bad

Challenging a person’s ideas is a place for potential growth and has the high potential to create conflict. Having lived through some pretty tense team environments, I can say that this is something that should be addressed early on.

Setting expectations for engagement and conflict resolution early in the effort cam serve to avoid or limit the scope of these issues. I understand that one bad experience can create a bit of fear when it comes to team delivery, I have to say that when it all comes down to the end it is all worth the drama.

My discovery: great teams are strange polygamous relationships.

Each person finds their way to contribute and cares for the team dynamic differently. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people I might never have met because of team assignments and I am better for them all.

In order to create high functioning teams, tools like charters, communication plans, and expectation management are critical.

There are lots of resources out there that can help, but Lane Sherman, a former team coach of mine recently wrote a book that really steps you through everything you need. You can buy it here. I was lucky enough to help provide feedback on it, and he has done a great job taking some of the mystery out of developing (or fixing) teams.