Are you listening?

When facilitating a workshop, team event, or business discussion it can be helpful to have a few ground rules/guidance (relevant to the task in hand and context etc.) in place to help encourage and support conversations.

One such rule/guidance I sometimes use is related to the use of our ears and mouths i.e. most of us are fortunate enough to have two working ears and one mouth and in conversation, we should use them in that order/ratio.

Listening and listening skills are an important part of business/organisational life (and of course of life in general), and the importance of listening (and the ‘management’ aspects associated with listening) is further explained in an interesting set of slides titled Strategic Listening prepared by Tom Peters (of In Search of Excellence fame).

One of Tom’s slides touches on rule/guidance above when he mentions ‘the power of open ears and closed mouth’.

Enough said!

Teams, team building, and lessons from dinosaurs

Working in teams is an important part of organisational life and we can all think of teams we’ve been part of – some more successful, cohesive, enjoyable, collaborative and better performing than others.

The word ‘team’ (and the reason/importance of team work) is sometimes explained/described as: …Together Everyone Achieves More…but as a generally/broadly used word/concept in organisations, can mean different things to different people and situations.

When is a team a team?  Is a Project Group a team?  Is a Community of Practice a team or something different?  Just because I and 5 colleagues report to the same manager, does this make us a team?  Is my role as a member of a virtual team the same as for a cross-functional team?

There are many team development models and approaches that organisations use to help enable co-workers to improve (at both individual and team levels) performance and thus become more effective and efficient e.g. Tuckman and Jensen’s model/stages of “forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning”.  Selecting the right model/approach for the ‘team’ concerned and setting this in the right context (of the task, organisation, need, goals etc.) is key.  An approach I’ve found helpful is to consider the 7 characteristics of effective teams.

I think it was Meredith Belbin that said “no one is perfect, but a team can be” in his ideas and approach to team roles and there are many tools/techniques available for team building events, should you decide the ‘away day type route’ to be important/necessary.

If you are thinking about planning such an event you may want to take a quick look at the following video clip (from College Humor/Dinosaur Office).  Its message (learning point) is along the same lines as my blog post about ‘how not to do something’.

Using a ‘how not to do something’ approach (and humour) to support learning and knowledge sharing

Learning from mistakes or failure can be more impactful and memorable (and therefore result in the desired change of behaviour or action) than learning from good practice or success.

Most of us love to hear a good story, anecdote or joke, and all are interesting ways of helping us understand and relate to a situation, and take some learning from this.  Learning and sharing knowledge in this way can sometimes be easier (and certainly more fun) for the recipient than reading through a set of guidelines or good practice.

Many readers to this blog will be users of PowerPoint and will be experienced at giving presentations.  Some may even have read the ‘good practice’ guide to PowerPoint and will be all too familiar with its pros and cons.

In the following video clip, comedian Don McMillan gives an excellent and very funny presentation on Life After Death on PowerPoint.  Let me know what you think, and whether the ‘how not to do something’ (and with humour) approach might be a more impactful and memorable way of learning and sharing knowledge, than ‘reading the instructions’ in your organisation.

Conversations and round tables

One aspect of ‘managing an organisational environment’ with the objective of ensuring that knowledge flows from the parts that have it, to those that need it, and vice versa, is the ‘role’ played by the physical (work) environment.  In other words, the extent to which the buildings (including room layout and office furniture) in which knowledge workers work act either as an enabler, or as a barrier, to knowledge sharing, collaboration, knowledge transfer, innovation etc.

I was reminded of the importance of ‘physical space’ and (from a knowledge management perspective) that conversations matter whilst waiting for a key-note presentation to start on day 2 of Online Information 2013.  The experience of waiting for a key-note to start is not new to me; after all, I had a similar experience on day 1, or had I?  For whilst the waiting and build-up were the same, the conversations with other attendees were very different. Why?  Well largely because on day 1 the room layout was ‘classroom style’ and on day 2 ‘round table’ style.

And guess what, at the start of day 2 there were more conversations (attendees sitting at the same table introduced themselves to their colleagues), engagement (you could hear many “and what do you do”, and “what did you think about” conversations), activity (the exchange of business cards/email addresses) and the associated sharing of knowledge, contacts, and networking, than there was at the start of day 1.

What a difference a table makes – and in particular a round one!  If readers to this blog need further examples of the importance of ‘managing an organisational environment’ so that it is a conducive to knowledge sharing and collaboration then they should no further than King Arthur and the use he made of his round table.

Photograph from neilalderneys123’s Photostream on Flickr


Why children prefer to play with the box rather than the toy – and what organisations can learn from this

In the run-up to Christmas many parents, grand-parents, aunts/uncles, friends and family will be thinking about what presents to buy children.  No doubt many will also be pondering questions like ‘should it be an out-and-out fun type present’, should it have a more serious/educational side’, or ‘should it be functional/practical’?

Many will also have experienced the joy of watching a child rip-off the wrapping paper and open their present.  However, sometimes this joy is short-lived as the child is then more interested in playing with the box, rather than the (well thought out) gift itself.

According to Tim Brown in his TedTalks video ‘Tales of Creativity and Play’ the reason is that unlike toys, “boxes provide infinite choices”.

In the video clip he uses this example and many others to help those in organisations to think creatively about the products and services they offer and to use this creativity and play to support innovation and the sharing and transfer of ideas and knowledge.

Creativity and play are very important aspects of learning and ‘remembering how it was to be a child’ is one of the reasons Knowledge Managers, Trainers, Change Agents and L&D Professionals use games (and fun activities) in their organisations to promote knowledge sharing, idea generation, team building, collaboration and learning.

What forms of creativity and play take place in your organisation, and why?

Thinking of organising an event? Wake up and smell the coffee!

Organising a conference, workshop, training course or large meeting takes time and effort.  In the run-up to such events the focus of planners/organisers can become fixed on the schedule and agenda, and on the time slots allotted to each activity.  Questions like “will it all work?”, “what happens if we overrun?” and “will the attendees like the format?” are top of mind and likely to remain so until after the event.

In his book Open Space Technology – A User’s Guide, Harrison Owen relays his experience of organising an international conference for 250 people.  The event took him a full year of labour and though it was agreed by one and all that the event had been outstanding, it was also concluded that “the truly useful part had been the coffee breaks”!

We know that people like to talk and communicate and when so doing are creating or building relationships and sharing knowledge and experiences.  Many of us will have witnessed the challenge of bringing a coffee break ‘to order’ when an organiser/facilitator asks attendees at an event to return to the ‘task’ or their seats to listen to the next speaker.  As the noise levels die down and conversations shudder to a halt, the energy that was in the room can appear to evaporate.

In his book, Harrison Owen questions whether it is possible to combine the level “of synergy and excitement present in a good coffee break” with the “substantive activity and results characteristic of a good meeting”; and answers this question by describing an easily-repeatable method/strategy for organising events/meetings – an approach he calls Open Space.

So the next time you are about to organise an event/meeting, make yourself a coffee, remember Harrison Owen’s experience, and carefully consider the approach you will use.

Photo ‘coffee beans’ from Amanda28192’s Photostream on Flickr:

What was supposed to happen?

The first question often asked in an After Action Review or AAR (learning whilst doing) exercise is “what was supposed to happen?”  Alternatives might include “what was planned?” or “what were the desired outcomes?” or “what were the objectives of the activity?”

Whatever the ‘format’ of the first question, the reason it (and other AAR follow-up questions) is asked is to position the AAR as a learning event – providing those concerned with the opportunity and time to reflect (on recent ‘action’); to consider what has been learnt thus far; and to identify actions to take to support continuous improvement.

When this first/opening question is asked, for example, of a project team or group of people engaged in a business activity, the facilitator or person leading the AAR might (not unreasonably?) expect the question asked to elicit responses or answers from which the project team or group can share their understanding about what was actually supposed to happen.

More often than not, in my experience, answers are forthcoming – but not always from all of those in the room.  One of the reasons for this is that, as individuals, we have different preferences for learning styles and ways in which we prefer to pay attention to information and make decisions.  An example can be illustrated through the lens of the Extraversion and Introversion dimensions of the personality type indicator MBTI. 

Individuals who have a preference for Extraversion are said to get their energy from the external environment – preferring to talk through activities and problems and learning best through doing or discussing with others.  Individuals with a preference for Introversion are said get their energy from their internal world – preferring to think through activities and problems and learning best by reflection, inner thoughts and ideas.

In the context of an AAR, responses to the first/opening “what was supposed to happen?” question might initially come from those with a preference for Extraversion; whilst those with a preference for Introversion will be thinking through their responses to the question.  Unless the leader or facilitator of the AAR provides the time, space and opportunity for those with this preference to gather and then share their thoughts, they may go unnoticed/unsaid.

For more information about the links between MBTI and Knowledge Management, check out my blog post why Jung still matters and matters to KM.  Those leading or facilitating AARs and interested in finding further information about ways to create the right environment and conditions conducive to supporting learning before, whilst and after doing activities, may find my blog post about the role of a facilitator helpful.

How singing can improve morale and collaboration – from ‘Postman Pat’ to ‘we can sort this out’

Last Thursday saw the second programme in a new series of The Choir, on BBC2. In the programme Choirmaster Gareth Malone attempts to teach choral music to people with little singing experience –

In essence the programme is about looking for volunteers to form a choir for their organisation; to start signing together and to build confidence and sound quality; to sing in front of an audience and then in front of their organisation; with the final show (sometime ahead) centred on a singing competition of the organisations featured in the series.

The readers of this blog who like singing will no doubt enjoy the programme, but the readers of this blog who are interested in all things related to people management; team building; change management; knowledge management; and leadership will definitely enjoy the programme.

In the first programme we got an insight into the working structures and culture at Lewisham Hospital, and in the second a ‘fly on the wall’ view into the workings of the Royal Mail in Bristol. Organisational themes, in addition to the singing, included:

  • The importance of collaboration and collaborative working – to improve performance
  • Breaking down functional and geographical silos – and bridging management/staff structures
  • Developing a community of interest – a sustainable meeting place to discuss shared interests (mostly about work!)
  •  Re-energising pride in an organisation – and improving the morale of those in the choir and their colleagues

Next week the series move to Manchester Airport. Place your bets on appropriate songs. Come fly with me? Summer holiday? Travelling light?

How many of your virtual meetings start late?

The world of work is full of meetings.  Many of these take place around desks; open ‘collaboration’ spaces; coffee machines; or in meeting rooms (that is if you can book one or find one free).  As we all know, not all of the meetings we attend are a productive use of time and organisational resource.  For further information see my blog post meetings meetings meetings

Increasingly, many of our work meetings are taking place virtually, and it is suggested that for these meetings to be effective, new ways of working and communicating need to be considered. 

A recent article in Management Today explains this further and describes ten top tips to help organisations get the most from virtual meetings –  

According to the author, ‘about 90% of virtual meetings start late’.  Is this true in your organisation?

Photo from Pringpring’s photostream on Flickr


How famous and effective is your work team?

An event or activity designed to create, build or improve a team in an organisation might start with a ‘visioning the future’ discussion.  

There are many different approaches to facilitating such a discussion including Rich Pictures e.g. draw a picture of an animal that represents the team (how it works and operates) today and then draw a picture of an animal that represents the team (how we would like it to operate and be) in 12 months time.  Whilst this approach can be fun and interactive, and appear on the surface ‘trivial’, discussing the similarities and differences between the two pictures will highlight the barriers and enablers to change and identify actions that need to be taken. 

Whatever the approach selected, a facilitator can help set the scene and create the right environment for the discussions that will follow by telling a compelling ‘change’ or ‘vision’ story. 

A good story to use is that of the Pike Place Fish Market ‘how we became world famous’.  You can read an overview of the story via, and for further information about what makes an effective and high performing team check out my blog post 7 characteristics of effective teams.  You will note that the first characteristic is Common purpose – an effective team has a clearly identifiable common purpose or goal.  All parties are aware of, and committed to, the goal or purpose.  

Does you work team have one?

Photograph from Paul Schultz’s Photostream on Flickr and


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers