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!

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.

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?

Book Report: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: a Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni uses a fictional tale to impart some serious leadership and management lessons.

The five dysfunction are….drumroll….absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

My biggest complaint/annoyance with this book and with MANY other leadership/management books is that any research base that informs this book is completely obscured. Sure, we learn from doing and we learn from the experience of others, but without any proof that these five, dysfunctions are THE five dysfunctions, this book is too reductive for me.  Plus, the presentation of the dysfunctions in a fable further obscures any research or evidence. The last few pages describe, fable-free, each dysfunction and offers suggestions to remedy each dysfunction. I found those last few pages more useful than the rest of the book.

There are positive elements….

In the fable, the CEO of the company brings together her senior leadership team.  They do not see themselves as a team but as heads of separate departments and we are led to believe that their lack of cohesion is the reason for the company’s floundering.

The CEO begins by asking these critical questions about her team:

  • Do your team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  • Are your team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does your team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do your team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  • Do your team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

Once she ascertained the answers to those questions she was able to build their sense of team work, as a senior management team. The positive changes trickled down into their respective departments.

Of course, books like this are only helpful if we put them into practice. Do you think you could have an open conversation with your direct reports and use the questions above as a way to garner more information about how they see their team? Have you identified any key dysfunctions in your team? Could they be tied to any one of the five dysfunctions that Lencioni highlights? If so, that can be a great place for a diagnosis and thoughtful action.

This is an easy read, it only took me a few hours to read it all.  Again, the suggestions for what to as a manager if your team is struggling are useful but aren’t particularly novel.

All in all, I’d suggest passing on this one in favor of some good online research…like this resource on building trust or this one on fostering healthy conflict. Better yet, I can give you and your organization an engaging presentation about the dysfunctions and offer you tools to help build your team!

Book Report: Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Robert Fisher is a classic. It was first published in 1981 and reissued ten years later.  Here is a PDF of the book for easy reading (and sharing!).

If you are about to ask for a raise, promotion, or buy a used car, this book is for you!

Getting to Yes offers a framework for “principled negotiation” for two or more parties to work together to best address their mutual interests with creative, objectively fair solutions.

In many ways, the method of “getting to yes” is similar to the practice of nonviolent communication.  The goal is to remain neutral and objective while negotiating; Fisher uses the expression “separating the people from the problem” to describe it.  Another element of the models encourages a focusing the negotiation on interests at hand.  Unlike typical visions of hard-headed negotiations, this element encourages thoughtful questioning of the rationale behind positions instead of a quick response which may be presumptuous or charged.

The stand-out element, for me, in this model is the process by which the parties are encouraged to brainstorm possible options for mutual gain.  The book offers suggestions for how to encourage looking a problems from varied perspectives and even suggesting outlandish options to encourage generation of more logical ones.

Fishers partner, William Ury, has a (well done) 30-video that covers the basics of the model.  Check it out!

Book Report-Eat the Frog

 

If you are anything like me, you constantly fight the bad habit of scrolling through social media and emails first thing in the morning.  I like starting my workday with a sense of feeling up-to-date; the downside, of course, is that my email can dictate what I accomplish for the day as opposed to my prioritized to-do list….and there is a hack for that!

I recently did a training for a group of senior leaders who wanted to generate some ideas and brainstorming about how they, as a group, could set some norms around productivity.  They have the mindset that if everyone followed some of the same guidelines, it would be a whole lot easier for everyone. For example, they were considering having so called “quiet periods” where emailing each other and setting meetings were off limits so that they could all chip away at their to-do lists and accomplish some of their bigger projects.

Before the training, I did some more reading to help them along with their brainstorming. I landed on the book Eat That Frog!: Twenty-one Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey.  

The title comes from the brilliant Mark Twain who (may or may not have) said “If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first.”

Tracey encourages readers to stop multi-tasking and stop spending time on fruitless tasks (even if they are ticks off of a to-do list). What he encourages is a mindfulness, although he doesn’t call it that, about how we spend our time, what we wish to accomplish, and why.

The main premise is built on the Eisenhower method, which is also similar to a favorite from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Consider all that you have to get done and then put each item into one of the following categories:

Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
Things you want to do and actually need to do.
Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.

Your “frog” is in the first category. It is the challenging task, it is the one that can be hard to be motivated to do, it is the one that you desperately want to put off.

Once you know what your “frog” is…the next step is to take action. Like many other productivity experts, Tracey suggests breaking down the “frog” task into multiple small “chunks” of work. He suggests that the endorphin rush you get from ticking off your to-do list is a motivator in and of itself (he does not cite any evidence for his claim). I can’t fight that notion that once the big, ugly task is over, the rest of the day can feel like a cakewalk!

As a fun reminder to tackle their frogs, I got everyone in the training these little froggies to keep at their desk.

What are some of YOUR favorite productivity hacks?

 

Book Report: Feminist Fight Club

Not only did I read Feminist Fight Club, I was a founding member of a club! So, to say that I am a fan is an understatement.

This book is deemed the “Lean In for the Buzzfeed Generation”.  The aspects of Lean In that didn’t resonate for me (the assumed wealth, position, and even ability to organized one’s own schedule) are all absent from this book. It is part guidebook for establishing ourselves professionally, helping to raise up women around us, and a troubleshooting resource for pay negotiation, office politics, and the like.

It is cheeky. It is irreverent. And it is so unlike so many other career management books (ie: written for women and by a woman), it is focused on advice for those early in their careers.  It will likely not be the best advice for those of you who are even in your 30s.  I found the advice to be not-quite-fitting for me, but wished I read it when I was 22. For those of you who are well into your career, consider giving this as a gift to a younger woman. For those of you who are early in your career–get this book, talk about it with your friends, gift it to someone else, and in a few more years, read Lean In.

Leadership Training with the CDC in Haiti

I just wrapped up facilitating three great days of training for Senior Leaders at the CDC Haiti. They are doing tremendous work in support of the ministry of health. Our time together was spent in building their already-strong leadership and management skills.

Highlight:

I started the session by presenting Integrated Practices for High Performing Health Systems, developed by USAID and WHO, that highlights the key differences and overlaps between leading and managing. With such high performing professionals, like those at CDC, nesting their behaviors  within a larger framework (like health systems strengthening) emphasize the importance of building leadership and management skills.  We thought about their day-to-day work and where their tasks fell within the practices. It became immediately clear for some where they had strengths and areas in need of attention. We then linked the rest of the training to their work in health system strengthening in partnership with the government.

We spent three days together exploring their skills and working with tools to build their skills. If you or your organization would like a similar training, please reach out. I’d love to help! I am open to new contracts and to working together. Please let me know how I can help you to build effective, exciting, and practice-based trainings.

Book Report: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink is Malcolm Gladwell’s second book.  It was a provocative read in many ways.

It comes down to a nutshell. Blink is about split-second decision making and how decisions made quickly are often just as sound if not more so than decisions made after great deliberation. Gladwell calls this “thin-slicing”.

It’s why speed dating works. It’s also why racial profiling and stereotypes exist.

Gladwell is a journalist by trade so his writing takes a speedy clip. This book is filled with captivating examples from a wide-range of disciplines from the arts to marriage counseling.

So, what is the take away for global health work or trainings?

Let’s take “priming” for example.  In the book, Gladwell describes a study where participants are asked to play a game of Trivial Pursuit.  For several minutes beforehand, one group was asked to imagine what it would be like to be a university professor.  And another group was asked to spend several minutes imagining that they were soccer hooligans.  When they played the game, those who imagined themselves as the professors fared considerably better. Gladwell states that the only difference between the groups is that the professor group imagined themselves as smart.  What if we primed healthcare workers to think about the lives of their patients before taking a training? What if they could imagine that person engaging in an active, happy life? Would that be a motivator to help them return to that life?

Gladwell writes about how racism and stereotypes can often be based on this same “thin slicing”.  Take a look at the Project Implicit site from Harvard.  It doesn’t look legitimate, but give it a try.  The tests ask you, the user, to make snap judgements of pictures and phrases. You’ll be asked to pair words and phrases together.  The scoring can help to uncover biases that the test taker might not be aware of; implicit bias may exist without heartfelt bigotry.

Global health work is fought with issues around race, racism, sexism, paternalism, colonialism, and so many other -isms. What if as a global health community, we made efforts to examine our biases, implicit or otherwise, and framed our work around true equality. It could save lives.