Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

I’ve often witnessed an amazing power in collaboration around brainstorming and great ideas; it is amazing when it happens and has led to some of the best work in which I’ve participated.  At times, though, managers will need to nudge their teams along when it comes to brainstorming. We’ve all been in a position where we don’t want to be the one to share the dumb idea or to be the one to suggest something that has been tried before.

This talk by Adam Grant about the Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers and the accompanying discussion guide may help you to appreciate how your team may process their ideas, come up with creative ideas, and communicate about those ideas.

In global health, we strive to be innovative and come up with creative approaches to solving complex health issues.  It is a task with significant weight–truly lives are on the line.

Might you be up for leading your team in a discussion about creativity and original thinking?  Hopefully we can help to support the creativity of our teams and help to grow comfort in thinking about the same old problems in new sorts of ways.

PS: The Lean In website has lots of great resources that you can use. I am a fan of the discussion guides that can be used to guide our teams through difficult conversations or to help set team norms.

 

Effective Meetings

A great resource for running effective meetings can be find in this aptly titled article: How to Run a Meeting.

I’d like to draw your attention to the part regarding the functions of a meeting. In the meeting agenda, I encourage being specific about your agenda items in terms of what you wish to accomplish. The functions of a meeting can help you with that. Do you want to decide? Brainstorm? Review? Reflect? Spell it out. In doing so, your meeting purpose will be clearer and you’ll help your attendees better prepare for the meeting.
I particularly like that this article emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a sense of the team in each meeting. 
 
The article also gives tips on how to seat people for meetings, how to draw out those who may not be contributing fully, and reign in those who may be dominating. All in all, it gives great suggestions and tips!
What are some suggestions you have for running effective meetings? I just read about how the Dropbox IT team deleted nearly all meetings from Dropbox employees’ calendars (except for those that were with customers). It gave their team a moment to pause and decide if a meeting was needed or the best means of solving a problem, communicating, or brainstorming. Interesting and very bold idea!

What it Takes to be a Good Leader

I’d like to share some  ideas about what it takes to be a good leader.

Take a listen to this talk by Roselinde Torres.

She distills the best qualities of leaders into three elements:
1. The ability to see changes that may be on the horizon and prepare for them
2. Networking skills that bring various perspectives to the work
3. The willingness to take some risks and abandon practices that may have been successful in the past but no longer serve the team

The reflection questions below may give you insight into your own practices and habits (and maybe encourage a change or two!):

  • What are your skill levels as they pertain to those three qualities?
  • Take a moment to think about, as she suggests, how you spend your time–do you allow yourself the opportunities to develop in these three ways?
  • Are you cultivating your team to be leaders?

What do you think about her distillation of leadership qualities? I would add skills around trusting and transparent communication to her very valuable list. To me, trusting and transparent communication is critical to giving and receiving feedback and to ensuring that your team is helping you to see what is on the horizon.

Have you considered watching TED talks like this one with your own teams? I have always appreciated leaders and managers who ensure that I keep learning and developing. Plus, they are short enough to fit into team meetings or over a lunch break. How do you help to foster growth and development in your team and in yourself?

Nine Events of Instruction

Have you ever been in a training where you feel a little bit like Charlie Brown when he is in his classroom? Where your attention everywhere BUT on the topic at hand? 

Maybe what the presenter said was disconnected with your own reality (a la The Office)?

Or, maybe, just maybe, you jumped into a lecture that was above your head, your pay grade, or understanding? (this video has always been a favorite–glad I have the chance to throw it in here!)

You have been in those situations. We all have been. As a trainer, I like to cue up a lesson to make sure that the stage is set, learners are ready, and that they know what the point of the instruction is. In order to cue up a lesson, I remind myself of the first three, of nine, events of instruction. 

Robert Gagne famously (ok, “famously” in certain circles) outlined nine events that codify learning and instruction. The events simplified and explained what was thought to be “good instruction”.  

Let’s look at the first three:

  1. Gain attention to ground the lesson and to motivate learners
  2. Describe the learning goal and what will be accomplished by the lesson and how it relates to work/tasks/desired outcomes
  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge

It should only take a few minutes to move through all three of the primers. For example, by asking about a problem and how the participants view that problem, you can easily accomplish number one and three. By drawing on the past experiences of participants you can touch on point number three.

I recently wrote training materials for health care workers who were being asked to switch up the treatments that their patients were taking. The activity below was meant to build empathy for the patients, describe a bit of what we’d be learning, and help the participants to consider how medications were currently being prescribed and the challenges patients face…

Activity

·      This activity is intended to inspire an empathetic response among participants to the challenges that their patients may face with adherence to their medications.

Say:

·      As we mentioned in the beginning, we are going to give you opportunities to try to put yourselves in the shoes of your patients.

·      Let us do a short demonstration now to start our discussion on adherence. This demonstration will help us to start thinking about some of the reasons for poor adherence.

Do:

·      Ask for three participants to volunteer for this demonstration.

·      Each of the three demonstrations will be slightly different. Please read the instructions before facilitating the activity.

·      Demonstration One:

·      Hand the first participant volunteer two bowls. One bowl should be empty. The second bowl should have 50 or so small candies in it.

·      Tell the participant that he or she has exactly 30 seconds to transfer exactly 30 candies, one-by-one, from the full bowl to the empty bowl. The participant should aim to put the 30th candy in the bowl at the 30-second mark.

·      Do not count down the time or indicate in any way that time is passing.

·      At the end of the 30 seconds, stop the participant and ask the participant to count how many candies were transferred to the empty bowl.

·      Ask the participant:

·      How might this demonstration be like taking ARVs?

Answer:

·      ARVs are taken at specific intervals

·      A specific number

·      Regulated, etc.

·      How did it feel to not understand why you were doing this task? Did you think that this activity might be pointless?

·      How might patients feel about taking ARVs when they feel perfectly healthy?

·      Demonstration Two:

·      Hand the second participant volunteer the same two bowls. One bowl should be empty. This time, the second bowl should only have 20 or so candies in it.

·      Tell the participant that he or she has exactly 30 seconds to transfer exactly 30 candies, one-by-one, from the full bowl to the empty bowl.

·      Do not count down the time or indicate in any way that time is passing.

·      At the end of the 30 seconds, ask the participant to count how many candies were transferred to the empty bowl.

·      Ask the participant:

·      How did it feel to be unsuccessful with such a simple task?

·      How did it feel when you knew you did not have the 30 candies that I asked you to move?

·      How might this demonstration relate to patient challenges with ARVs?

·      Demonstration Three:

·      Hand the third participant volunteer one empty bowl. This time, you, the facilitator, should hold the second bowl with 50 or so candies in it.

·      Tell the participant that he or she has exactly 30 seconds to transfer exactly 30 candies from the full bowl to the empty bowl.

·      This time, though, the participant must ask you for three candies at a time. You must hand the participant three candies and he or she will deposit them one-by-one into the empty bowl. Feel free to delay the hand off, give two instead of three, and otherwise make the activity more challenging.

·      Do not count down the time or indicate in any way that time is passing.

·      At the end of the 30 seconds, ask the participant to count how many candies were transferred to the empty bowl.

·      Ask the participant:

·      How might this demonstration be like taking ARVs?

·      How did it feel to know that you had to ask for candies often enough that it kept you from reaching your objective?

·      How might this demonstration relate to how clinics and patients interact?

Answer:

·      Clinics do not always work according to the schedule or needs of the patient.

Ask:

·      Why do you think we did this activity?

·      Do you think that we, as providers, are aware of all of the challenges that patients have with adherence?

·      What are some of the challenges we highlighted in this activity?

Answer:

·      Keeping to a schedule

·      Stock-outs

·      Conflicts between clinic and patient need, etc.

Say:

·      In many cases, patients may not understand why they are taking their medications, just as in the first demonstration. Plus, the idea of taking drugs while still well is a new idea that many people do not understand.

·      We also know that health systems are not always in sync with what a patient may need in terms of clinic hours or amounts of medication that they can be prescribed at a time, and so on.

As you can see, this brief activity, designed to take no more than five minutes or so, accomplishes the first three principles of good instruction. The participants are grounded, ready to learn, captivated by the exercise and they are linking what they are seeing to past experiences with patient adherence and, finally, they get a sense of what the lesson will be about. 

I often write curricula that other people will deliver. I often get push back around activities and cue-up questions as trainers sometimes want to rush to “get to the point”. These segues and lead-ins cannot be viewed as simply nice-to-have or superfluous. When learners can’t connect to new or unfamiliar content, the new concepts will become “slippery” and not stick. The next thing you know, you are Charlie Browns teacher. 

What are some of your favorite cue-up activities or questions?

PS: You can find the entire OPTIMIZE curriculum on the ICAP website. 

Authentic Leadership

I keep a running list of topics that I want to write about and reflect about for this blog. According to my plan, I was going to write about the book Lean In today.  But, with all of the controversy circling about Facebook and Sheryl Sandburg, the author of Lean In, I just didn’t want to.  I have been thinking a lot about authenticity in the workplace and so, perhaps, my schedule was the best prompt to put some of my thoughts into words.

Authentic leadership is still being researched and formulated into a practice base–which to me seems, well, inauthentic. Authentic leadership is about building relationships based on honesty and ethics.  Are we still in a place in our humanity that we need to build an evidence base around the benefits of honesty and ethics at work? Apparently so.

I have always been drawn to work at mission-focused and -driven organizations.  Perhaps such organizations cultivate natural, authentic leaders. Perhaps that shows my bias, too, towards thinking that achieving a lofty mission while doing right by people is more important than the bottom line, profit, or reputation.

Why do we have to pit profit or self-interest against doing right by people, ethics, and authenticity?  I have had the good fortune of working with and for truly authentic leaders and certainly hope that I emulate and model that style. My question today is how we can teach it and cultivate future leaders who put ethics first? Any ideas?

Laughter makes us better workers!

Did you catch this great news? Laughter is not only the best medicine, but it makes us better workers, too!  Great news for those of you who (normally) enjoy the water cooler banter with colleagues and organizing the office parties–all of your efforts are justified!

I love tips about increasing productivity, but this one is extra special. Now, how does this news relate, say, to training efforts?

Well, I’ve facilitated lots of training of trainers (TOTs) and I’ve written lots of curricula that other people deliver. One of my great challenges is in convincing novice facilitators that the fun activities are written into the training to, yes, be fun breaks and to allow opportunities for team building, practical application of learning, and to create lasting impressions of the materials. Those memories, especially when laughter is involved, can be the most lasting impression of a training and, thus, can help learners to recall other elements of the training.  If you are a novice trainer, challenge yourself to pace your trainings to allow for the active components of the training. If time is running out, consider restructuring your training to limit the PowerPoint or the lectures before you ax the activities. 

So, the moral of this story is…don’t skip the ice breakers, the energizers, and the activities.  Your team will be more productive because of it.

Feedback

Not to toot my own horn, but I tend to be quite good at accepting feedback and and incorporating it into my work.  I value feedback as an essential tool of collaborative work and as a means of ensuring that multiple voices and perspectives are heard and incorporated.

Of course, I’m sure we’ve all had those painful moments when we’ve gotten unsolicited feedback so late in the game that we end up facing a sleepless night on the eve of a big event or before a deadline.  Oh, the wound is still fresh!

In any case, we can always try to be proactive about getting feedback.  I like the AWARE model for asking for feedback that is highlighted in this talk:

Ask for feedback, 
Watch your emotions, 
Ask questions to clarify, 
Reach out for perspectives, and 
Engage your potential.
 

I particularly liked the description of why feedback can be difficult–as it lives in that tense spot between the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way we are. Yet, becoming comfortable asking for and giving feedback helps to hone our growth mindset and helps us see feedback as a gift. 

Consider watching this video with your team and leading them in a discussion about how they like to get feedback from you and how you can solicit feedback from them.  A sign of a healthy team is one where 
 
Can you shift your mindset to one of growth and see feedback as a gift? Your challenge for the week? Ask for feedback from one of your colleagues by using the AWARE model.  

The Happy Secret to Better Work

Here is one of my favorite TEDTalks—The Happy Secret to Better Work.
 
 
 

In his very humorous talk, Shawn Archor talks about how we view the world and how that affects our happiness. Seems obvious.

He also says, though, “75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”  

So what do you, as a manager, do to build that optimism and resiliency among your team? I’ve written about the need for feedback, both constructive and positive, in the past. How can we link that to building that ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat?

I’ve incorporated several of the lessons that Shawn talks about here (and elsewhere) in my life, including keeping a running list of what I am grateful for. Even on the most craptastic days, there is always something out there that can add beauty to our lives. And if I am really struggling to find something, I create something by reconnecting with a friend, setting a (virtual!) coffee date, or even planning a trip (one of my favorite activities! We can hope, right?). I usually write my list before I even get out of bed in the morning as a way of framing the day in the most positive sense possible.  

Of course, we are in trying times, indeed. When Shawn delivered this talk, we were not months into a global pandemic. I, like many, am managing an entirely remote team. One of the things that seems to be going well on my team is that we’ve built and constantly reinforce the expectation that we will change, evolve, and pivot as needed to address COVID. In some ways, knowing that more change will come, even if we don’t know what it will be, disallows the team to settle into complacency or routine. The routine IS change. That clear-as-can-be communication has been crutial.  What tricks do you have up your sleeve for keeping the optimism on your team?

How have you built up your own optimism and resiliency? How have those skills served you now, given that we are living through this pandemic? What new skills have you been able to tap into?

Managers as Coaches

“The single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching“. What do you think about that bold statement? In the past, I have held positions where many of direct reports were fairly new to the workforce. I spent a lot of my time coaching them on elements of their job– from the importance of record keeping to writing professional emails. In the end, they knew that they could always come to me for help which, for me, was the true sign of a strong team.
 
If you are looking to build your skills, here is a free online course on Managing as a Coach.  If that goes well for you, consider taking the entire specialization that it is a part of: Become a Better Manager.    Overwhelmed by the idea of taking the whole course? Feel free to pick and choose according to your needs. 
What have YOU done to become a better coach?

Ranomafana, Madagascar, 2016

Book Report: Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Instinctually, many of us may think that motivation at work is driven by money. Or maybe power. Or, in the case of some of us (ah hem) the mission of the organization for which we are working.

Daniel Pink, a smarty-pants lawyer-turned-motivation-researcher has spent four decades researching the idea of motivation. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he shares his findings about motivation which boils down to three main factors:

  • The ability to direct our own lives, which he calls “autonomy”
  • The ability, freedom, and space to learn and create new things, which he calls “purpose”
  • The ability to do better by ourselves and our world, which he calls “mastery”

So, what does this mean for you and the teams you manage? Mainly, I think it means making space for you and your teams to engage in your work in those three ways. How can you help your team members to build their autonomy, purpose, and mastery?

This book, and the third factor in the list above, inspired me to integrate one super simple practice into my every-day management style. When I delegate tasks or make an ask of my team, I gave them a compelling “why” that is linked to the bigger picture of our work–why what we were doing was going to make the world better.

Now, let’s say that I was asking my team to do something mundane, like, say submit their milage report. How in the world would I be able to link that to saving the world? I admit that at the start of my practice, I had difficulty linking tasks like this to our mission. With practice, I became a pro. So, for this example, I would tell my team that by submitting their milage reports we could assure our donors and funders that we were responsible stewards of their donation, that we actually were doing consistent and meaningful work in the community, and that our timely report submission was a sign of our respect for them.

Pink fights against theories that folks are motivated “extrinsically” with  short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes and the traditional carrot-stick motivation and punishment.  Pink writes that those extrinsic motivators “can deliver a short-term boost — just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off — and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.” That reduction in long-term motivation is partially due to the waining intrinsic motivation BECAUSE OF the extrinsic motivator–it is a vicious cycle once extrinsic motivators are introduced.

I found two of Pink’s illustrative examples particularly compelling. Swedish blood banks decided to change things up and pay people to donate blood. They anticipated that their blood bank would be filled to the brim. In fact, they saw blood donations plummet. Why? Well, you may have guessed…turns out we are motivated to donate blood out of the goodness of our hearts and not for literal blood money. The good Swedes are motivated intrinsically, not extrinsically. The second example that I found compelling was about Encarta. Remember Encarta? It was a pet project of Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It was a 1990’s CD-based encyclopedia that Microsoft paid big bucks to develop. Microsoft eventually threw in the towel and admitted defeat. While Microsoft never publicly stated it, it was presumed that their defeat was at the hands of Wikipedia–an online encyclopedia with content that is generated for free by people like you and me out of a desire to share knowledge. Those who contribute to Wikipedia are those who are motivated, again, intrinsically and not with the traditional carrot.

This book is most applicable to those who are managing people and teams. However, I think it is also tremendously useful to teachers and parents as they consider how to build motivation in children. I also find it particularly useful to consider as I develop trainings that are meant to change behaviors over the long term.

With this new knowledge, that we can and should build intrinsic motivation of our teams, I pose the question: How do you help to promote building purpose, mastery, and autonomy in your teams?

You can read the book, which I highly recommend. But, if you only have 18 minutes and 36 seconds, here is his TED Talk that describes some of the highlights of his theories.