Wednesday Apr 16, 2014

Start-Stop-Continue in Transitions

What do Sigma, a Leadership class and a webcast have in common? They’ve all created ideas that are swirling around in my head! Let me start from the beginning. I was sitting in on a leadership class for midlevel leaders, listening to a conversation about competing priorities and how to address them. Last week I listened to a web-cast that suggested leaders should create a “Do Not Do” list. I’m also exploring some ideas around transitioning to a leadership role and what an individual needs to do differently.

I struggled a bit with a “Do Not Do” list because it just seems a bit negative, and then my Sigma training kicked in and I thought of a great exercise we used to do…and I think it might work for new leaders, or really anyone who’s taking on a new role. It’s a simple Start-Stop-Continue exercise to identify behaviors and actions that you need to address.

Here’s how you do it. Take a piece of paper and draw three columns on it. At the top of one column, write Start; in the next column write Stop and in the last column write Continue. Then, close your eyes and really think about your new role - imagine what it will look like if done very successfully. If you’re a first time leader, you’ll want to think about how your leadership role is going to be different from your individual contributor role. If you’re a midlevel leader, you’ll want to consider the difference between managing people and managing managers. And if you’re an individual contributor, you might want to review your development plan and think about what your goals are for the future.

Now, open your eyes and write down those behaviors or actions that you need to Start doing in your new role. Continue to write down behaviors and actions that you need to Stop doing and then Continue doing. Now, take a good look at your list. Will your role or development be negatively impacted if you stop anything on the Stop list? Will your role or development be positively impacted by those things on the Start or Continue list?

If you have so many things on each list that you feel overwhelmed, try prioritizing the list. This may require a conversation with your manager!! You might ask questions like:

  • When choosing to continue a behavior/activity, what can I do to be more effective in that behavior/activity?

  • What behaviors or activities do the best leaders I know exhibit? Are those on my list?

  • What have I said I would never do as a leader? Are those on my Stop list?

This list could end up being your friend – it can feed into your development plans; it can help you prioritize your work; it can help clarify your role. If you choose to do this, I would make two suggestions. First, share your list with your manager to get his or her input. He or she might have some ideas that could provide a clearer focus for you. Second, keep your list and pull it out every quarter to review. This is a great way to determine if you’re modifying your actions and behaviors the way you want or intended.

Hopefully something like this can help keep you on track when changing roles!

Tuesday Jan 21, 2014

No More Micromanaging!

Micromanaging drives me nuts!! You know what I mean – you are hired for your expertise, and then your new manager watches over you like you’re the newborn babe, and they are first-time parents. Further, they actually want to “work with” you on your projects. It actually makes me a bit twitchy just thinking about it. (As a disclaimer, I do have to say that I haven’t had a micro-manager in many, many years).

As a parent, I can totally understand the need desire to watch over a new person – you want to be sure they’re on the right track, that nothing messes them up, that you’ve helped them be a success. As a manager, you want to do those same things, but most people in the workplace don’t want or need another parent. So, manager, what do you do?

You.  Let.  Go.

Period.

I’ve had two experiences this winter that have taught me that letting go is one of the best ways to help someone succeed. The first experience was watching my 9-year old daughter spar at a karate tournament. She had sparred three opponents back-to-back and was in her fourth match. In the middle of the round, she took a kick to her gut, and I saw her fold in half. I wanted to run across the mat and make sure that she was okay, but her sensei picked her up like a rag doll, focused her attention away from being hurt, and she finished the match…with me on the sidelines.

My second experience was taking my 6-year old son skiing for his first time. I put him in ski school, wondering if he was going to like skiing, if it would be too cold or windy, if he would spend most of the day laying on the ground after a fall, if he would miss me, and so on. When I checked on him at the end of the day, he was grinning, having fun and showing off his successful runs down the bunny slope. His instructor (the feedback loop in his world) even said that he had great coordination, lots of strength and needs to move up a level the next time he skis. But I wasn’t even there!

In both of these situations, my instinct was to micromanage – to get right in the middle of things and make sure that everything was going to be okay. But guess what? I didn’t, and everything was still okay. As a matter of fact, not micromanaging allowed my kids to learn to rely on themselves, work through the pain, gain confidence and achieve things they’ve never done. All by themselves. And my guess is that they are going to take those lessons forward into everything they do.

So the next time you want to get right in the thick of things with your employees, force yourself to step back. Make sure they have the right resources to get the job done, but then let them do their job. Maybe the only thing they need from you is your faith in them that they will achieve the goal. And then your employees will be the one who grow and gain confidence in their abilities. And isn’t helping your employee to do just that what being a manager is all about?

Thursday Aug 08, 2013

Scenario Planning for Your Career

Why would you “scenario plan” your career? Scenario Planning is used to chart uncertain futures and possibilities. And let’s face it – careers seem to be on an ever-changing path of uncertainty, so why not plan for those possibilities?

I’ve been intrigued with the concept of scenario planning since about 1995 when I was asked to participate on a small team to create scenarios for our business and help define our "move-forward" strategy. Shell Oil has been creating scenarios since the 1970s and is probably one of the best known companies in this area.  Using these scenarios have helped Shell predict future possibilities and move nimbly to address them.  Shell believes so much in scenario planning, that they've even published "Scenarios: An Explorer's Guide" for people who want to expand their scenario-thinking capabilities.

If you’re unfamiliar with scenario planning, the gist of it is this: you identify a problem and two major forces likely to bear on that problem. Lay these two forces on a grid (x and y axis) and come up with “stories” for each quadrant of the grid. The stories outline what the future looks like and how you got there. Then devise a strategy for surviving each of the scenarios.

Wired magazine wrote a “Guide to Personal Scenario Planning” using the example of an aero-space engineer and possible career scenarios. This is a great step-by-step guide to get you thinking about different possibilities for your career.

My career is in corporate education, specifically leadership and professional development. When I apply scenario planning to this, two major factors that might impact me are “free agent” employment where people bid on jobs they want and the need for “just-in-time” (JIT) content. My grid, then, looked like this:

Once I had this grid, I was able to create the “stories” for each quadrant:

 And from there, I was able to create the implications of each scenario and possible actions I should take to prepare for each possibility:

Scenario planning takes some thinking - especially when you're first creating your list of uncertainties that will become your x and y axis.  I also found that while extracting the implications from the stories wasn't that difficult, defining possible actions to take required some more thought.  I tended to view actions from the "corporate organization" perspective rather than from the "me" perspective - possibly due to the fact that I've used this process in organizations, and that's what I'm used to.

Scenario planning isn't going to solve every career problem for you, but as you think about a career conversation with your manager, it might provide some ideas and possibilities that you've never considered.  Yes, it's a powerful tool for business strategy, but it can be just as powerful for your career strategy!


Wednesday Jul 31, 2013

Innovation, Leadership and a 5-Year Old Boy

There is a lot of talk in the learning industry right now around creativity, innovation and leadership.  I even attended a conference last month where the focus was on leadership and innovation - that is, what can leaders do to foster innovation and build a culture of innovation?

A couple of weeks ago, my family drove to the mountains to pick up my daughter from church camp.  On the way there, we got an earful from my five year old son:

"What if we made a gun that would bring our pets back to life?" he asked.

"Do you think we could build a parachute that would take you up so you could see everything and then go down to the exact spot you wanted?"

"Maybe we could try..."

"Mommy, did you know that if you do..."

"Perhaps we could..."  (yes, he's five and uses the word "perhaps")

"Why can't we..."

"They should make a spy dog that never dies."

You get the picture.  And if you listen to a group of five-year-olds, you'll hear them build on each other:

"Yea, and then we can..."

"And if you move this, we can do..."

"Ohh...check out what happens when..."

simply followed by huge eyes one one reverently whispered "AWESOME!!"

During my son's chatter, it struck me - innovation is a lot like 5-year-olds, and leadership is a lot like parenting.  Let me explain.

If we want to have creativity and innovation in the workspace, we need to foster creativity in our teams like we do in our five-year-olds.  We want people on our teams who are going to start their conversations with "What if," "Why can't," and "Let's try."  You also want those people who add on "oh yea, but what if we also did..."  These are the people who are willing to take a risk, fail, learn, and then take another risk.  In five-year-old talk, they "play good."

As a leader, you need to support this creativity differently than you do other work.  Let me give you an parent example.  My kids have math homework, and if they get something wrong, we tell them it's wrong, have them review the work to figure out where they made a mistake and then fix it.  In the work world, this is our standard approach to managing performance - assign work, make sure it's done correctly and correct as needed.

However, when my kids are playing "what if," I typically come back with "oh yea, well what about ____?"  We actually have a lot of fun doing this, and then I start thinking about how we could monetize any of these ideas and retire to a beach where a young man brings me umbrella drinks...but I digress.

 Think about the people on your team who start their conversations with "what if' and "why not" - is the typical response (from either you or other team members) "that never works...we already tried that before..." or is the response.  "Hmmm.  Well what about...?"  As the leader of your team, your conversations with these people need to be different thatn typical "business" conversation.  You might come back with:

"Tell me more."

"How can we expand on that?"

"What could make it different/better?"

"What could create a "wow" factor?"

Sometimes, innovation and creativity simply comes from having the right group of people having the right conversation...and, just maybe, looking at things with the curiosity of a five-year-old.  As a leader, maybe your role is just coming up with the questions you could ask that end with your team whispering "AWESOME!!"


Tuesday Mar 06, 2012

Will Employees Go Above and Beyond? Depends on You!

Sometimes, the stars align and point you in a direction that you just can’t avoid - and so it is with me and employee engagement. What made me think it was time to write about employee engagement?

  • I was asked to review Employee Engagement 2.0 by Kevin Kruse. This is a great little eBook that addresses engagement in easy-to-understand terminology and even provides a six step action plan to start integrating employee engagement into your thinking
  • I received another fortune cookie (see my last post) that read “Nothing motivates a man more than to see his boss put in an honest day’s work.” To me, that simply means that if you, as a leader, are not willing to engage in your work, your people won’t either. And with regard to the fortune cookie, yes, I probably do go out for Chinese food too often.
  • I watched an episode of Undercover Boss in which a CEO of a fast food company visited a store, disguised as a potential employee. The manager of the store was condescending to employees, and one employee was crying as he admitted it made him “feel worthless.” The CEO broke his disguise and shut down the store until all employees could be trained and the store could meet the principles and values that the CEO had for the company.

When I entered “employee engagement” in Amazon’s search engine, I found that 119 books on the topic have been published in the last 90 days. A Google search on “employee engagement articles” returns over 8 million hits. Restricting this to just blog entries still gives a person over 800,000 reading opportunities. Employee engagement is huge, obviously, but you may be asking yourself why all the fuss? Probably because recent reports are bringing to light some (kind of scary) facts:

  • Only 31% of the world-wide workforce is engaged. Nearly 17% are actually disengaged to the point where they are effectively working against their company. (BlessingWhite)
  • The lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the U.S. economy $370 Billion annually. (Gallup)
  • 1in 4 employees are actively looking for a new job – including employees considered high performers. This could impact company performance and create retention challenge as we move through 2012. (Corporate Executive Board)
  • Trust in executives can have more than twice the impact on engagement levels than trust in an immediate manager. Employees are more likely, however, to trust their managers than their executives. This places a huge burden of proof on the executive levels of a company. (BlessingWhite)
  • Highly engaged organizations had a shareholder return 19% higher than average (in 2009); low engaged organizations had a shareholder return 44% below average. (Hewitt Associates)

If you’re still reading, maybe I’ve convinced you that employee engagement is important. But what IS it, and what can you do about it? From the readings that I’ve done, I’ll define employee engagement as the degree to which someone is committed to their company and willing to put in discretionary effort to help the company meet its goals. We all know the people who put in minimal effort (they’re not engaged); but an engaged employee will go above and beyond what is expected. As a leader, there are some simple steps you can take toward engaging your team members.

Make the Connection Between Work and Organization Strategy. According to a Corporate Leadership Council report, this is the number one driver of employee engagement. Take time to communicate the business strategy to your team and explain how the work your team accomplishes impacts that strategy. If you’re complimenting someone on a job well done, be sure to tie it back to the strategy. For example, someone does a great job satisfying the customer – you might say “Brenda, the customer was really pleased with how you handled their fire drill yesterday. Work like that will definitely help us realize our customer retention goal. Thank you.”

Be mindful; Walk the Walk. The fortune cookie said it – your employees are watching you. Employee Engagement 2.0 says “First and foremost we need you to be engaged.” Many different surveys of employees show that employees don’t leave companies – they leave managers. Engagement needs to be a priority. If you can make choices every day that show you are interested in communicating, growing and recognizing your team members, your team will put their trust in you.

Provide Opportunities to Grow. In the BlessingWhite report, only 52% of employees surveyed felt they had opportunities to grow or advance in their careers. We all know that money is tight in today’s economy, but have conversations with your people about what they would like to do – you might be surprised that many of your people are not interested in a standard “career” that moves up the management ladder. Once you know this information, it’s easier to see unique career possibilities that come up – lateral moves, special assignments, “in place” development, presenting at a conference, etc.

Have a Stay Interview. Unlike an exist interview, a “stay interview” is conducted when your employee is still your employee. The goal of a “stay interview” is to find out what motivates a person to stay with a company, what they value in their job, what they might need to learn to be better at their job, what you can do to make their job easier. There are a variety of resources on the internet listing “stay interview” questions – I liked this one. Give it a try – take an employee to coffee and have a conversation around what motivates that employee. I’m pretty certain that you’ve got nothing to lose.

For me, employee engagement can be boiled down to one simple rule – the golden rule – treat others the way you would like to be treated. You probably want to be valued for the work you do; you probably want to do work that is intellectually stimulating; you probably want to be in a position that uses the best of your skills. Not surprisingly, your team members probably want these same things. Have those conversations with your employees, and chances are pretty good that if they know you genuinely care about them, they’ll go the extra mile for you.

Monday Sep 12, 2011

You're a Manager...Now What?

You shone as an individual contributor.  You completed assignments that were thought impossible.  Your reward?  You were given a team and told "Congratulations.  You're a manager."  Gulp!  Now what do you do?

You refer to this blog for resources that can help you shine as a manager, too!  Plenty of resources exist to help you in your transition to management, but I think the resources below are some really good ones for people new to a management role:

  • www.12manage.com  - when you're in a meeting and someone mentions the Theory of Reasoned Action or a PEST analysis and acts like everyone should know what it is, head to this site.  12manage defines over 2000 management theories across 12 disciplines, including areas like strategy, decision-making, leadership and communications.
  • www.managementhelp.org  - also called the Free Management Library, this site provides overview and in-depth information on over 650 topics managers deal with, including coaching, crisis management, social networking and finances.
  • www.businessballs.com  - started as a "free ethical learning and development resource," the site has over 200 topics across 10 categories, all designed to help you be a better employee ad leader.
  • iTunes University has some great channels and podcasts on improving your management skills.  What Great Bosses Knowincludes titles like " Tips for New Managers," "The Power of Questions," "The Myth of the Open Door" and "Secrets of Great Coaching."  The HBR Idea Cast channel has titles like "Can Introverts Lead?," "What's Holding You Back?" and "Learn from Failure."  Another channel that looks interesting (but I haven't had time to explore) is The Look and Sound of Leadership.
  • www.mindtools.com  - MindTools (TM) provides a variety of resources to help you become exceptionally effective at management and leadership skills.  Although parts of the site are fee-based, the content offered for free is worth checking out.
  • YouTube has a variety of interesting channels to which you can subscribe.  When you subscribe, new videos for that channel are added to your YouTube home page, and you can elect to receive an email for new postings as well.  Harvard Business Review is a great channel, and a list of educational channels can be found here - click the "Most Subscribed" tab to see the most popular education channels.
  • EBSCHost - provides articles from a large database of magazines, journals and other resources, including Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management review.  EBSCO also provides Business Book Summaries - short overviews of current business books.  Oracle employees can access EBSCO here.  Outside of Oracle, you can likely access EBSCO through you public library.

So, how can you actually use this information?  Let's say that you are a new manager, and you have a development conversation with your manager.  Yes, I used the term "development conversation" because those are important, and you should have them if you want to improve you capabilities!  Anyway, you determine that you need to improve your decision-making skills.  Here's what I would recommend:

  • Review "decision-making" at the Free Management Library and at businessballs.com.  Use the information you find there to further define the aspects of decision-making that you need to improve.
  • Take the quiz "How Good is Your Decision-Making?"at MindTools (TM).  Use this information to further refine your goals for improvement and to brainstorm some specific examples of things you might do.
  • Browse YouTube and iTunes to see if there are any videos or podcasts that you can watch about decision-making (put the term in the search box).  As you watch, take notes on things that you might or might not do and determine what you might discuss with your manager or present to your teammates.  Some videos that might be of interest include:
    • The Future of Decision Making - presented by John Rymer, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, addressing business' need to make smarter, faster decisions to reduce risk and stay profitable.
    • How Companies Can Make Better Decisions - a Harvard Business Review interview with Marcia Blenko, leader of Bain & Company's Global Organization Practice, on integrating effective decision making into your business.
  • Search EBSCOHost to find relevant articles or book summaries on decision-making.  Remember, if your company doesn't subscribe to EBSCHost, you can probably access the database through your public library.
  • From your research, determine one or two things about your decision-making skills that you want to change.  On your development plan, record those things with specific expectations.  Review this with your manager.
  • Check in with yourself, your manager, your direct reports, or your peers on a regular basis to determine if your skills are improving.  You may decide to check in with a few people on a monthly basis, your staff on a quarterly basis, etc.  If you need a tool to track your progress, consider the Stop-Keep-Start concept.  Basically, define your role and area for improvement and then ask what behaviors your should stop, keep and start.  An example might look like this:

Role: Manager

Intended Change: Improve Decision Making Skills

Behaviors to Stop

Behaviors to Keep

Behaviors to Start

· Making decisions without team input

· Make decisions quickly

· Balance pros/cons of decisions

· Gain input from team on product release decisions

If you have others complete a Stop-Keep-Start analysis for you, ask them to be specific in their feedback, and you'll have a great mechanism for deciding specific actions you can take to improve your skills.

  • At your goal point, discuss with your manager your awareness of new decision-making skills, your implementation of those skills, and your next steps for improvement.

Remember, being a manager is different from being an individual contributor - you have more than one person to look out for, and your work in now focused on a bigger picture.  Transitioning into this role is a process, and, as such, it will take both time and effort on your part.  Your best approach is to work with your manager, be open to suggestions for improvement, and remember that you got to this position because you are successful.

If you have additional transition tips or helpful resources, please feel free to leave a comment so that others might learn from your experiences.

Happy managing!

Friday Aug 12, 2011

Dancing Around Development Plans

It’s no surprise that for most employees, creating a development plan ranks right up there with getting a root canal. Did you ever think about it from a manager’s perspective, though? A manager not only has to create their own development plan, but they have to help create meaningful plans for everyone working for them as well. So, if you’re a manager, how can you come up with meaningful development options for all of your employees? Maybe take a look at the ideas below!

Last year I wrote a blog entry called “30 Ways to Foil Development Plan Dread.” This year, I’m updating it with some different ideas and some hints for moving forward with these ideas.

Employee development isn’t just attending a class and checking that box at the end of the year. Employee development is a continual process in which a manager and employee both need to be actively involved. The list below provides some ideas for development opportunities beyond the “attend a class” option.

  1. Attend a local, regional or national conference. Be sure to bring your findings back to your team. MANAGERS: Make sure you provide the opportunity for your employee to share with the team.

  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference. Ask your manager, peers or mentor about opportunities that exist. Don’t forget about the possibility of presenting at virtual conferences.

  3. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.

  4. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university. Make sure the university is accredited if you’re planning to use your company’s tuition reimbursement program.

  5. If you want to “dip your toes” into virtual learning, Google free online course <insert topic> to see if anything is offered.

  6. Finish your undergraduate or Master’s degree.

  7. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!

  8. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar. If possible, serve in a leadership position at the local level.

  9. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company. These are often advertised through professional organizations. Oracle sponsors the Professional Business Womens Conference, and their webinars are free to Oracle employees as advertised in “In the Know.”

  10. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.

  11. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Oracle employees can use OTube, create podcast or a webcast)

  12. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCOHost - commonly available in public libraries with your library card. Oracle employees can access EBSCOHost here).

  13. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.

  14. Pick out a top business book - read it and discuss it with your manager.  This would be a great opportunity to take your manager out for a cup of coffee to get his or her undivided attention.

  15. MANAGERS: Provide a copy of your favorite business book to each member of your team. Use 15 minutes of your staff meeting to discuss a chapter, idea or something else about the book.

  16. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.

  17. Mentor another person.

  18. Ask someone to be your mentor.

  19. Volunteer on the board or a committee of a professional organization

  20. Google free webinar <insert topic> and see if there's a free webinar that interests you.  Attend and share what you learned with your team.

  21. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.

  22. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.

  23. For Oracle employees, participate in a Social Chat. This is a great tool for hearing grassroots ideas and sharing possibilities.

  24. Attend an instructor led class offered through your company.

  25. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.

  26. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.

  27. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help (if you’re an IT type of person). Many agencies need help in all sorts of areas outside of IT, so if you’re interested, ask if they need help in your area.

  28. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.

  29. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.

  30. If you have a Masters degree, check with a local university or college about becoming an adjunct professor (sometimes called a contract or network instructor).

  31. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.

  32. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.

  33. Coordinate an internal conference where best practices can be shared for a team within your company - a sales conference for sales people; an IT conference for your technical team, etc.

  34. Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.

  35. Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges). These programs sometimes don’t have the same instructor requirements as becoming an adjunct professor.

  36. For Oracle employees, use Oracle Alchemy to present a problem or idea and collaborate with others around the globe.

A word of warning about this list: this is just a list. It requires human input to determine how to effectively incorporate one of these ideas into a personal development plan. If one of these options looks intriguing, a manager and employee should work together to determine what, exactly, is expected from the activity and how, exactly, an employee will grow as a result of an activity. Any of the ideas on this list should be used simply as a seed to start a manager/employee discussion.

As you can see, there are many more options for "development" than just attending a class.  If you have other ideas that should be added to this list, please leave a comment in order to share with everyone else.  Hey, then you can add #22 to your plan!

Happy planning! 

Thursday May 28, 2009

Develop Your Career Resiliency for Free

In my job, I manage professional development programs for US employees.  Given current market conditions, I'm frequently asked about career development opportunities, and, as I was responding to the latest request, I decided to share with a wider audience some of my thoughts.

Most of the links in this post will be Sun internal links, so if you're reading this and you're not a Sun employee, I apologize up front for the inaccessibility of the links.  I hope you'll still get something out of the content though.

First thing's first - what do you mean by "career development" or "career resiliency?"  Dawn Mular posted about ITIL and Career Resiliency, and she outlined her strategy around career resiliency.  You need to do the same thing - defining career resiliency will help you decide what endeavors are most appropriate for your situation. 

If you need help doing that, check out the HR Career Services site - although the resource centers are no longer on campus (at least at Broomfield), the web site still has a great deal of information and usable worksheets.  Of particular value are the worksheets under Know Yourself, the PDF files under Know Your Environment, and the section called Create a Career Action PlanKnow Yourself and Know Your Environment can help you determine your priorities and identify your growth opportunities (some people call these your "weaknesses").

Once you know what career resiliency means, look for opportunities to grow your skills.  You're probably thinking "that's pretty obvious - can you help me out a little more than that?"  Sure!  There's a myriad of free learning opportunities if you look around.  Here are some that I found:

Obviously, if you have some money to work with, there are a ton of workshops, seminars, webinars, etc. that you might attend.  Free is good, though, and there are plenty of free resources out there.  So what other resources are out there?  What are you using to manage your career?  There's a whole list on this page that you can take advantage of, too!



Friday Sep 05, 2008

What Can You Do With a Virtual Team?

A colleague of mine asked me about ideas for teaming activities for virtual teams – that is, ways to reproduce the water cooler in a virtual environment. What I thought would be a quick Google search ended up being a bit more frustrating.

I found a lot of information on managing virtual teams. Not what I was looking for, but if you want the short version, it's:

  • Make sure your team has a common vision and goals. If possible try to have a kick-off meeting in person to establish vision, goals and group norms.

  • Gain commitment from team members. That in-person kick-off helps with that as everybody has a say in establishing the vision, goals and norms.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Did I mention communicate?

  • Inclusion. A virtual team will likely create diverse viewpoints. Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinions and provide input.

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities. This prevents people in four geographic areas from working the same problem, duplicating efforts and wasting resources.

Now that you have the highlights, back to my colleague's question. How do you create that “team environment” virtually? I am in no way pretending to be the expert here, but I did find some interesting ideas around tools and activities.

Productivity Tools

Make sure that you have good productivity tools. This is probably the number one rule for success of virtual teams. Remember that “good” is relative. What may work for one team won't necessarily work for another. Some common references to tools were:

  1. Instant Messaging: Most companies will have some form of IM tool in place. These tools allow team members to communicate in real time with one another. Kolabora has a great article called Instant Messaging Tools and Technology: A Mini-Guide that outlines a variety of tools – most of them free – including features and capabilities of each

  2. Web Conferencing capabilities: Web Conferencing allows you to have a conference room type of meeting over your computer. Most of these offer chat, whiteboards, application sharing, etc. to make your team feel more involved in the action. The Center for Learning & Performance Technology has a great list of Screen Sharing & Web Conferencing Tools.

  3. Skype: If you need to conduct video calls between team members, Skype is the way to go. Not only is it free, but the quality of calls is pretty good as well. Just remember that people on your virtual team need to have a video camera on their computer for this to work!

  4. Facebook: Create a group on Facebook for your team. I admit, I'm a new user to Facebook, so I don't have a lot of details on what you can or can't do with Facebook. I did see quite a few references to using Facebook to keep in touch with your team, however.

  5. Internal Wiki site or web site: Depending upon your company's internal tools, you may be able to set up a web site or wiki site for your team to share things like a calendar, to-do lists, documents, discussion strings, etc. Based upon some quick browsing on my part, wiki sites tend to be more popular as team members can add and update information without dealing with HTML.

Virtual Team Activities

So you've got some tools in place, but what can you actually do to ensure that your team feels a sense of camaraderie? How about some of these?

  1. Video Conference

Try to hold a video conference at least quarterly so people can “see” one another. If you have people based at home, they can use Skype (see Tools section above). People based on a corporate campus can use a video equipped conference room.

  1. Online Scavenger Hunt

Come up with a list of 15-20 things that people need to find online (related to the team's goal, a current project, or something else). Divide the team into small groups, making sure office and home based people are mixed. Have prizes for various things: fastest to complete hunt; most interesting presentation found; most interesting video found, etc.

  1. Host a Teleconference Lunch

Everyone dials in for a phone call during lunch where no “work” related talk is allowed. People could share one non-work related goal/interest. You do need to make sure that people on the phone have opportunities to talk. It sounds kind of crazy, but a group of my friends had to resort to this one for a baby shower when the mom was on bed rest in another state. It worked!

  1. Expertise Arena

On your team collaboration site (facebook, wiki, web page, etc), list each team member and his or her top 3 areas of expertise. Encourage other team members to use their co-workers' expertise when solving problems.

  1. Recipe Exchange/Holiday Report

To foster understanding of other team members' cultures, have each team member provide a recipe that their family enjoys at a particular holiday. Team members may also want to share the importance of that holiday.

  1. Idea Day

Give each team member a half day where they can explore something of interest. At your weekly team meeting (because you are having a weekly team meeting, right?), pick 2-3 people to share what they learned on their half-day.

  1. Getting to Know You

Prior to a team meeting, have everyone provide some piece of information about themselves. At the meeting, have a person read the description and allow team members to match the person to the description. Some ideas include a favorite hobby, a favorite superhero and why it's a favorite, the best book that you've ever read and why; your favorite job and why, etc.

  1. E-Cards

Send team members an e-card for reaching team milestones or personal milestones (e.g. projects completed; promotions; publications; patents granted; birthdays; anniversaries; birth of children, etc.)

  1. On-Line GeoCaching Game

Instead of using GSP positions, have each team member identify a cache location and provide clues (written or pictures). Other team members need to find the cache. Progress and results can be tracked on the team wiki (or other collaboration site). Check out the Official Geocaching Site or Wikipedia if you've never heard of geocaching.

  1. Online Gaming

Get team members together to play an online game – World of Warcraft, Fantasy Football, etc.


I also found a book that I think has potential - More Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Cole Miller. The reason I liked this book is because every activity has ideas for adapting the activity for virtual teams. I didn't read the book in its entirety, but, as I said, I think it has potential. By the way, if your company has access to Books24x7, this book may be available through that site.

I know that this is not anywhere close to comprehensive, so tell me – if you work with or manage a virtual team, what do you do to make sure the water cooler exists?

About

Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!

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