A collaboration parable and 8 “C”s of teamwork

March 11, 2007

Reading Akhil Sharari, author of The Smart Entrepreneur, is entertaining and thought-provoking. First read this parable found on his About page.

There was a Saint who had a vision about what it was like in Hell & Heaven.

In Hell he saw a huge table laden with food in the centre. Surrounding the table were starving people who all had very long forks attached to the ends of their arms. They could stab the food, but the forks were too long for them to put the food in their mouths. They were all screaming in frustration as they tried to eat the food that they longed for.

In Heaven, the saint saw the exact same table laden with food & people with the long forks at the ends of their arms. However, here he people were all smiling & enjoying the food. What they were doing was stabbing the food & putting it in EACH OTHER’s mouths!

You don’t have to contemplate an afterlife to get the message of that story. We can all accomplish more by working together!

Elsewhere, Akhil identifies 5 key characteristics of effective teamwork – all beginning with the letter “C”.

  • Clear expectations: Each team member knows their role and expected contribution.
  • Channels of communication: Team members share openly with one another and the team fosters communication within the organization.
  • Conflict resolution: Team members work to resolve differences directly, with mutual respect.
  • Consequences: Team members are responsible for, and accountable to, one another.
  • Celebrating achievements: Team members jointly share in the team’s success.

I would add three more Cs to the list.

  • Coaching: Team members share insights and knowledge with one another to boost individual development.
  • Collaboration: Team members build on the efforts of one another to achieve objectives that would be unattainable alone.
  • Community: Team members develop bonds that lead to supporting each other both professionally and personally.

Visits Akhil’s website!

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Finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens

March 8, 2007

My professional career began at the age of 10 when I joined my older brother in delivering daily newspapers. We would rush home each day after school, wrap about 150 papers in rubber bands or plastic bags , and set off into the neighbor racing to be home in time for dinner at 6:00. Each Sunday morning we would take turns pushing a full shopping cart down the street while the other one “porched” each bulky paper within a step of the door. I seemed to always end up covered in print ink by the time we made it home for hot chocolate and donuts.

And so it went; the Collins boys had jobs (and a jingle in our pockets) throughout our teens.

A new report finds that fewer U.S. teens have such jobs these days, especially since the economic downturn of 2001. In Why Teens Aren’t Finding Jobs, and Why Employers Are Paying the Price, Knowledge@Wharton explains that only 37% of teens had jobs in the Summer of 2006, down from 50% in 1990. The report cites a number of possible reasons for this trend, such as employers finding that immigrant workers can fill the positions that would have traditionally gone to teens and preferences by parents that their teens concentrate on academics rather than diverting time and attention to teen employment.

I don’t find it particularly worrisome that 10-15 percent fewer teens are working these days. With life-expectancy increases and later retirement ages, today’s teens will have plenty years of employment.

Still, I recognize that teens who do not work may miss out on some of the growth and development experiences that come along with early employment. From the report:

“Working as a team, completing tasks and taking responsibility. Kids learn these skills through employment,” says Ian Charner, director of the National Institute for Work and Learning, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit concerned with workforce development. “Can you learn those skills by playing a sport or volunteering at church? Yes, but if you are a volunteer, you don’t necessarily have to show up. A lot of kids don’t or can’t play sports. Employment provides an important opportunity for kids to learn from adults other than their teachers or parents.”

This last point seems like the most critical aspect. With some variety depending on the job, teens who work have a chance to interact with working adults in a business or professional setting. They have a supervisor who (hopefully) gives them feedback on their performance and possibly becomes a mentor. Teen workers can become involved in collaborating with full time workers, laying the foundation for teamwork skills and emotional intelligence that will be so necessary for their future success.

If the forces described in the report remain aligned as they have been in recent years, it’s possible that even fewer teens will be working in the future. That makes me wonder what options society has for giving teens opportunities to learn and practice softer skills that are not found in text books or through standardized testing.

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers. Mentoring comes to mind, and I know that much attention has been devoted to mentoring for at-risk teens. It could be that these programs hold promise for broader use.

How about you? Do you have some ideas for finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens? Are you aware of any potential solutions already being implemented?

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Learn, share, coach… repeat previous steps

February 23, 2007

Working in a collaborative environment offers a tremendous opportunity for personal development that goes well beyond accomplishing the objectives of the team. Managers, team leaders and other team members routinely share with each other what they have learned and coach colleagues on matters of knowledge, skills, process, and performance.

This pattern of learning, sharing and coaching allows us to recycle and recalibrate our own approaches for teamwork and productivity.

In the insightful post Learning Through Business Development, Ann Michael recognizes the presence of such a cycle in her consulting business.

Spending time getting to know the people, issues, and opportunities within a company is the only way I know to identify real needs and determine if the skills I offer (or represent through partners) can effectively address them.

I might talk with people in organizations several times before a potential engagement is even identified. I’ve always enjoyed this part of consulting.

But, it didn’t occur to me until recently just how valuable business development activities are as a learning experience. By building relationships and listening to leaders describe their companies and their aspirations, I become more knowledgeable and gain a broad and diverse view of my industry.

Similar to Ann’s experience as a consultant, team members must invest the time to get to know one another and to identify issues and opportunities for growth. Only then can we determine how best to support one another through knowledge sharing and coaching.

But it doesn’t end there!

By learning about other team members, we gain more information and insights to add to our resources for sharing and coaching. The experience of sharing and coaching, and the feedback we receive, adds even more to our learning.

And on it goes…

Related posts:

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Coaching to help others solve problems

October 20, 2006

During a recent conversation a few days ago, my friend Rosa Say made a comment that started me on a round of self-reflection. The simple comment was, “That is very coaching of you, Blaine.” Then yesterday, a colleague made almost the same statement! These comments are rewarding to me because in recent years I have made a conscious effort to enhance my coaching abilities, both personally and professionally.

Coaching is often identified as an essential skill for effective managers and leaders. But it has not always been that way.

During my early management experiences, my mentors (some very savvy businessmen) seldom mentioned coaching. The conventional wisdom for “dealing with” employees in those days focused on such things as providing clear instructions, communicating specific expectations, ensuring that employees had the necessary resources to complete their assignments, monitoring performance, and quickly correcting poor performance. While it is quite reasonable for managers to pay attention to each of these items, combined they exhibit an attitude that the manager knows best. They omit an important aspect of leadership, that of helping direct reports and team members to learn how to solve their own problems.

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia definition of coach hit the nail on the head:

A coach is a person who supports and directs another person or persons via encouragement and asking questions. It differs from a mentor in that a coach rarely offers advice. Instead, they help the client to find their own solutions, by asking questions that give them insight into their problem.

I even like this one sentence definition, “A coach is a person who supports and directs another person via encouragement and by asking questions to help them to find their own solutions.”

A key difference between the modern coaching approach to leadership and the 1980s vision of managers involves the source of solutions to problems. We now recognize that the best person to solve a problem is often the person closest to the problem- which is typically the team member, not the manager. Yet when someone is too close to problems, it is sometimes difficult for them to see all the angles or solution possibilities. Effective managers and team leaders engage in coaching to help broaden the viewpoint and grease the wheels to assist others in problem solving.
For me, learning to take a coaching approach required a shift in thinking. Tom Heck discusses making such a shift to become a “Coach Manager,” and posted this list of 31 specific changes in behavior and attitudes. Here are two examples:

OLD WAY: “You report to me”
NEW WAY: “Tell me how I can help”

OLD WAY: Solving all the problems
NEW WAY: Help others solve and prevent problems

While I appreciate comments from friends and colleagues about my own coaching, reading Tom’s list provides plenty ideas about continued opportunity for my personal development.

What about you? Are you coaching habits where you want them to be? Are you asking questions and encouraging others to help their problem solving?

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