Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goal Play: Leadership Lessons from the Soccer Field

We had a great virtual conversation with Paul Levy, former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, talking about leadership lessons that he has learned from many years' experience coaching a girls' soccer team.  We all reflected on our experiences with teams and coaches, highlighting constructive feedback and interventions from coaches which are supportive of our growth, as well as unhelpful feedback.  It was a first for the BFR (Boston Facilitators Roundtable), in having a fully interactive virtual session - fun!
Key learning: it is possible to have a fun, interactive event in the virtual space :)
Check out Paul's blog about the event:

Can't wait to set up our next author event!

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Learning from Mistakes"

OD consultants like myself are very interested in organizational learning, building the capacity of teams and staff to learn from their experience in order to improve future performance.  We help organizations create the practices of ongoing reflection and learning, gleaning lessons from what worked and what didn’t work.  Learning from mistakes in high stakes situations is of paramount importance and interest, for example, in health care.

You’ve have probably heard stories about wrong-side surgeries, where patients wake up and wonder why the bandage is on the wrong side ;)  I was very interested in how Beth Israel Deaconess handled this 5 years ago, when then-CEO Paul Levy wrote about it in his blog, Running a Hospital.  Now I’m enjoying his new book, Goal Play, in which he connects leadership to lessons from the soccer field!  Levy talks about creating organizational cultures that “learn from mistakes”, which I think was a highlight of his tenure at Beth Israel.  There was a highly-publicized surgery mistake in his hospital, and the administration was very open about what happened.  They did not fire or punish the surgeon.  When challenged about that, Levy maintained that if you want people to disclose errors in the future, you can’t respond in a punitive manner.  Hence a learning organization – they were creating the conditions for people to be able to disclose and learn from their errors.  There were also other measures and tools that they implemented to improve the way people worked together.

One popular tool is a checklist, which was highlighted in Atul Gawande’s book, Checklist Manifesto.  I’ve been a fan of his since before he became famous. :)  He urges OR doctors to go over checklist of questions before every surgery in order to reduce errors.  Health care borrowed this from the aviation industry, which also uses checklists. The characteristics that both industries share is a hierarchy with a chief at the top – the pilot or the doctor, wherein the rest of the team defers to the chief, who may lead them down the wrong path – to a wrong-side surgery or to fly into a mountain.  The airline industry created CRM, crew resource management, to help crews have conversations that will help them prevent errors.   CRM includes 3 steps:  state the facts; verbally challenge the captain; take an action that impedes the ability of the captain to make a fatal error.  

The problem with CRM is that staff who are used to deferring to the chief, who is seen to have the ultimate power, are reluctant to raise questions or to provide negative information that would question a leader’s decision.  What teams need is time to practice the skills of speaking up, to break their habit of keeping silent, and to get over their fear, well in advance of stepping into an Operating room or a cockpit.  There is an  important role here for us to play:  to coach leaders on the need to be open to receiving this feedback and to not punish people for giving feedback – as well as coaching the team and the leader on how to give feedback to one another, in a respectful way that isn’t blaming or humiliating.  The ideal would be for us to help leaders create working cultures where people invite feedback.  As facilitators we are used to asking for feedback when we facilitate groups, and hopefully it’s a skill we practice with our clients.  When we ask for feedback we are modeling that which we’re asking leaders to do – which makes our ability to ask for feedback a real gift to our clients!
Do you have a story of helping a team to give one another feedback?  How did it go?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Coaching and Compassion

As a coach I try to be compassionate, to stand with my client in the confusion or lack of clarity of the situation that they find themselves in.  To witness with them.  Not to judge.  To understand what it feels like to be in that position.  I know that that compassion has to start with myself, which is a lifelong journey.

I was thinking of that when I heard about 3 principles for "Living an unfettered life": Don't judge; don't compare; let go of the need to know why.*    I know that I often judge people, and frequently compare my situation to others, which doesn't really get me anywhere, so I try to remember this saying and to aspire to this ideal.  I have ample opportunity to practice this in my personal and my professional life :-)  I don't always get what I want (who does?) and I don't always understand why - which leads to my attempt to "let go".  My endeavor to live up to these 3 principles brings me to the need to have compassion, for myself, for my clients and for the human condition.  Hopefully that makes me a better coach!

*= unknown source

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How do you make group norms more effective?

Rick Lent raised a great question about the challenges we face in facilitating meetings. I think it's not enough to set ground rules/norms. I like to ask a group: How will you/we hold each other to these norms? What I'm aiming for is shared leadership and shared facilitation, to build their capacity to monitor themselves - and I love it when someone else makes a process comment, like "I don't think we're clear about how this decision is going to be made", or whatever.  
There are surely other factors that influence whether or not we/ participants, wish to follow the norms - such as, "Am I on board with the purpose of this meeting?" "Do I trust the leader or the group?" "Do I believe that people will carry out the decisions that are made?" As facilitators, we need to address these questions as well, to make this transparent to the group. These are usually unstated thoughts, and part of our gift is to surface the unstated and the undiscussables!

We are the answer!

“Remember, all the answers you need are inside of you; you only have to become quiet enough to hear them.” Debbie Ford. Thanks to Elaine Starling for posting this.
You know how interesting it is when something you say as the professor has a great impact on your students - something said casually or as an aside?   In my course on Organizational Change a student asked me a question about "how do you know", like, how do you know you're choosing the right thing?   The context wasn't critical for this purpose.
I remember saying, "I used to think that the answer resided in other people, so I used to ask them "What would you do?" until I figured out that they didn't have "the answer" that would be right for me; I had to find the answer inside myself." - and that statement hit the spot for some of the students.
What I forgot to tell them is that it's a lesson that I need to keep re-learning!

How Can I Help You?

Has this ever happened to you? A peer asks you for advice or suggestions, and when you respond, s/he gets upset that you didn’t deliver what they were asking for. Darn! Is it me or is it them? My new learning is that it’s on me.
I have a colleague who, every time I ask for assistance to think through a problem, stops me before I get very far to ask: What is it that you’d like from me? What are you asking me for? Aha! That’s what I need to remember to ask.  And, for example: Are you asking me to brainstorm solutions, or not? Are you asking for my opinion?   
OK, anyone want to help me test this?!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Start a Movement - Followers, stand up!

Turns out that tribes, and movements, need followers, not just leaders :)  Having just posted that tribes need leaders (people without role power to step up and promote an idea or a change), I just came across this - that movements need followers!  Of course we know that, but the way that this is presented is excellent (video link below).

Derek Sivers maintains that while the leader is over-glorified, the guy who should get the credit is the first follower, because s/he's the one who transformed that "lone nut", the initiator, into a leader, by standing up and joining in, or joining the cause.

"When we’re told we should all be leaders, that would be ineffective.  If you care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow.  When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in."

Check out this TED video.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tribes - They Need Us to Lead Them!

I'm loving this book: Tribes: We Need You to Lead US, by Seth Godin.  The premise is that tribes are groups of people waiting for a leader, someone to identify a compelling goal, to promote it and to convene people interested in that goal.  The leader also has to create avenues for communication between the group members, so that they're talking to each other - and the group takes on a life of its own!  Godin captures the mood exactly, recounting that the Greatful Dead  held concerts "not just for fans to hear their music - but to hear it together."   Brilliant.  There's even a restaurant in New York that only opens once in a while, and you sign up in advance to go there;  people are going not just for the food, but to be with their tribe members!

Godin proposes that anybody can be a leader; it's not about your position - it's about creating something that people believe in, generating exciting ideas - and that can come from any level of a company or organization.  Leaders are people who question the status quo, he says.  How nice to find validation for those of us questioners!

Strategic Plans - collecting dust?

How many times have you heard that a company’s strategic plan is collecting dust on the shelf?   I just heard it again – thankfully this time, the senior staff know that they don’t want to produce another place-holder on the shelf.  They know that they need to focus on implementation, and they need to develop a workplan for ongoing check-ins on their progress.  They understood their mistake in not focusing on implementation - and they needed someone to explain that to them.

Sometimes companies don’t know what they don’t know – so they hire someone to facilitate the strategic planning process, without realizing that this generates a change management process, and that they might need ongoing assistance with change management.  At the same time, it’s incumbent on us consultants to make this clear – strategic planning is just one piece of a longer process, and the company really needs to pay attention to managing the change.  That includes project management, managing the people side of change, and a communications plan, that says who needs to be kept informed of our progress, what they need to know, and how often they need to be updated. 

If we help companies manage the change and implementation, they’ll have more room on their shelves – for the books that we recommend, or that we write!

Setting the Bar High for Organizational Learning

How many CEO’s do you know who keep a daily blog of the workings of the organization, or of a hospital? (see footnote) Can you imagine making public the reflection and problem-solving process in the organization?  What a great example of organizational learning Paul Levy is setting at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.    In a remarkable display of transparency, Levy writes:

Regular readers know that I believe in administrative, as well as clinical, transparency in our hospital. I have trouble understanding why this is unusual, but I know that it is. I just can't imagine trying to solve the problems of an organization and having a common sense of purpose and direction unless everybody is aware of what's going on.

What do surgery and flying airplanes have in common?

Answer: they’re complex systems, wherein no one person can manage all the multiple events, problems, component parts. And, the way to improve the chances of success – successful surgery and a successful flight – is to use a checklist.

In his book Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande once again astounds with cutting-edge thinking, making connections between unexpected domains, and presenting tools for improving organizational effectiveness. I’ve blogged about his previous books, Better and Complications – and his new book is a suspenseful page-turner. Did you ever wonder what’s in those black boxes on airplanes, which are used to reconstruct mishaps during flights? Ever wonder who listens to those things and what they learn from them? Gawande is your guide – and then he applies the concepts to medicine. It’s all about learning from mistakes: how can we glean the learnings and apply them to the future?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shared Leadership... and Balkan Dancing!

Obvious connection, right? ;0  So, I'm a Balkan dancer - these are usually line dances from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Albania, etc., with one person leading a line of dancers.  These range from the easy, Pravo Horo, to the more advanced, Jove Malah Mome.  Notice in Pravo Horo that the leader calls out a new step - and the dancers, who know the dance, know to change the steps.  These are choreographed dances, so there's a pattern to them - but not everyone knows the steps!  In some videos, you can see the dancers looking at the leader's feet, and they either know the step, or try to figure it out while they're dancing!  To see a lot of people who know what they're doing, check out the Folks Art Center of New England!  (Try this one: 4th Saturday Dance, February 2009, with the Pinewoods Band).

Why am I telling you this?  Because I saw a fascinating lesson in leadership in the dance group that I've been part of for over 10 years.  There used to be 1-2 people who knew all the dances, and the rest of us deferred to them to lead the dance.  That meant that we didn't need to learn them well enough to lead them - we relied on the 1-2 experts.  But if they didn't come one Thursday night, we were stuck! and didn't know when to start or how to lead the dance.  We weren't cross-functional!

Women are circular, Men are Linear :)

Have you noticed that a lot of developmental models are linear?  Erikson’s stages of human development are linear, and women researchers have pointed out that women’s lives, and probably many men's lives!, don’t follow those socially-predicated stages.  We don’t all follow the sequence of  go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, raise children,  and their associated skills : developing trust, autonomy, intimacy, etc.  Many academics who work on developmental theory, tend to think of human development as circular – we go through one stage and accumulate some knowledge and skill, and move on to another stage – and we often circle back through those stages, gaining new insight from the lens of our current level of maturity.  So it’s a lifelong revisiting of those stages, and a cumulative building of those skills.

In a nod to circularity, I was fascinated to come upon the book “The Female Advantage”, by Sally Hegelsen (1995).   From her research with male and female organizational leaders, it turns out that many of the men whom she interviewed structured their organizations in a hierarchical way, whereas many of the women structured web-like, circular structures.