5 things I learned – March ’07

March 28, 2007


Tim Milburn is host of this month’s Rapid Fire Learning at Joyful Jubilant Learning. Check out Tim’s item 4 and learn what he puts in front of his personal “greater than sign.”

Here are 5 things I learned this month.

Zac Crain for Dallas Mayor 2007. Paid for by the Crain for Mayor Campaign.1. Watching the unraveling of Zac Crain’s campaign to become the next mayor of Dallas, I (along with everyone else) learned that social networking alone is not enough to create a viable campaign. Despite having over 1500 “friends” on myspace, Crain was unable to secure the 473 valid voter signatures required to get on the ballot.

SXSW Interactive2. I learned that the next best thing to attending this month’s South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin is watching the videocasts or listening to the numerous podcasts offered online. [Just click on the image.]

jjl_lawb_banner.jpg3. I learned (from Dave) that if you “Cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one.” I also learned that JJL’s A Love Affair with Books introduced many outstanding books through a series of excellent reviews.

Social Media Club4. I learned that belonging to a particular generation (age) is only one of the determinates of whether individuals use social media to make online connections. I learned from Ann that curiosity and flexibility are factors, as well as how much utility one gains from online exchanges. Sunni adds that being generally comfortable with technology makes a huge difference when we start to use specific social media tools. Jason adds that the biggest factor may be how comfortable someone is with communicating personal messages in public, open forums.

go.jpg5. I learned practical techniques for identifying which professional activities make you feel strong and how to play to your strengths for the good of yourself, your team, and the organization. All of this courtesy of one book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham. I recently enjoyed hearing Marcus speak in person (a story for another post.) He speaks as well as he writes, with a pleasant British accent to boot!

Well that’s it for me. How about you? Why not share your Rapid Fire Learning by leaving a comment here or writing on your own blog with a trackback to Tim’s Post?

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How team members identify their strength activities

March 21, 2007

One of the chief objectives in forming a team is to find people with complimentary strengths, talents, and skills. The mix provides the team with the necessary breadth to cover a wide range of demands, and allows for more flexibility to adjust to the inevitable challenges that arise during projects.

Steven Covey puts it this way, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

To achieve this mixture in teams, it is first necessary for individuals to understand their own strengths. Most of us have plenty of thoughts about our own strengths. After all, we all had to answer the same standard interview question, didn’t we? “So [interviewee name], what are you greatest strengths?”

Answers that I have heard (and used) are typically fairly vague, in the vein of: attention to detail, team player, organized, self-motivated, etc.

GOIn his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham argues that our greatest opportunity for improvement lies in capitalizing on our strengths. To achieve real improvement, however, we need to get beyond vague descriptions of strengths by focusing on the activities that allow us to utilize our strengths.

Strength activities have 4 SIGNs

  1. Success – you are successful when playing to a strength
  2. Instinct – you are drawn to, and look forward to, strength activities
  3. Growth – strength activities feel natural (more on this below)
  4. Needs – strength activities seem to fill certain innate needs

Under the header of GROWTH, Buckingham writes engagingly about how strength activities make us feel.

It feels easy. It feels like you’re not trying very hard. It feels like an activity that for some reason, proved quite simple for you to pick up. You learned it quickly and now, when you are doing it, you don’t struggle to concentrate. Instead you naturally stay focused and time speeds up, and you still stay focused and time speeds up some more. You have to remind yourself to step and look up at the clock, and when you do, whole hours have flown by.

Sounds to me like being “in the zone.”

Identify your strength activities

Buckingham suggests a process of self-observation whereby you write down what you are doing when you catch yourself engaging in activities that have the 4 SIGNs described above. Continue the process for about 2 weeks, recording each activity on a separate card, along with how it makes you feel.

At the end of the time, review all the cards to reveal those with the highest SIGN rankings. These are the daily activities that most play to your strengths. You will want clarify whether the activity has caveats or special circumstances. For example, attending brainstorming meetings may be a strength activity for you, whereas attending other types of meetings may not.

Related Post: Playing to your strengths on teams

By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.

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Playing to your strengths on teams

March 19, 2007

You’ll recognize this scenario: The team understands its common objective, agrees upon a general strategy, and has identified the tasks to be completed.

The time comes to assign various tasks to individuals. Each person secretly knows which tasks appeal to them; those they enjoy performing ; the ones they are good at; the tasks that motivate them; the assignments that will allow them to shine!

Team leader: What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?

Team member Bob: I’ll be glad to work on whatever the team needs.

In his new book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham identifies three myths that can prevent someone from capitalizing on their strengths. According to Buckingham, ninety-one percent of people believe the following:

Myth: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team.

At first glance, this statement sounds quite reasonable; an approach that could be taken by the quintessential “team player.” I mean, who doesn’t want a teammate who “does what it takes?

However, Buckingham convincingly argues that this approach is neither good for the individual nor the team, because it does not align teamwork tasks with an individual’s strengths. To create a win-win situation for the person and the team, Buckingham proposes the following:

Truth: A good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time.

When all team members are playing to their strengths, individuals are able to get even better in areas where they excel and the team gets the benefit of “consistently near-perfect performance” on tasks that naturally align with team member strengths. Team members are not being selfish by volunteering for strength activities. Rather, they are providing a valuable service to help the team maximize its effectiveness.

(Because team tasks are unlikely to align perfectly with team member strengths, Buckingham adds the obvious caveat, “…occasionally each team member will have to step outside of his strengths zone and ‘pinch-hit’ for the team.”)

So let’s try again..

Team leader: “What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?”

Team member Bob: “I really get a charge out of doing “x” and I’ve had a lot of success at it. I think the team would benefit if I took ownership of the “x” assignment. How does that sound to everyone else?”

By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.

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Books, and book reviews, worth reading

March 10, 2007

The book review carnival is well underway at Joyful Jubilant Learning, including some great reviews of books and authors that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Here are clips from two of the reviews that particularly caught my attention.

Lisa Haneberg, author of Two Weeks to a Breakthrough and Management Craft blogs, reviewed The Zen of Groups: The Handbook for People Meeting with a Purpose.

The book has two parts – The first 90 or so pages offer a good primer on how groups operate (purpose, roles, phases of team development, and meeting models). They offer a pretty good primer on group facilitation, too.

One of the distinctions the authors return to again and again is the importance of how we relate to baggage – ours and other people’s. I love this simple quote from page 7, “Baggage is not right or wrong, it just is.” I can relate to that! The authors talk about baggage a lot because its mismanagement is the cause of a lot of group dysfunction. I like this distinction (I call it Mucky Muck, but it’s still baggage) and think they use it in helpful ways.

Karen Wallace, author of The Clearing Space and Sanctuary, reviewed Do Less, Achieve More – Discovering the hidden power of giving in.

Do Less, Achieve More uses the parable of the rainmaker, made famous by Jung, in which a man ends a five-year drought through inner harmony with the divine. Chu weaves this parable through the book – and being in the middle of terrible drought here in Australia this had extra meaning for me.

I don’t know that it is feasible for me sit in a tent, alone, quiet and still for four days communing with the divine until my inner harmony causes the rain to fall… (although, then again… 🙂 but the richness of the analogy allows the lessons in this book to seep into our soul.

I am adding both of these books to my reading list, and expect the list to grow as the month-long Love Affair with Books continues. Check it Out!

[Oh, I almost forgot a shameless self promotion: I’ll be reviewing Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work on March 31.]

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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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Dan Ward on making a difference

February 24, 2007

I’ve known Dan Ward for awhile, exchanged emails, subscribed to his blog, pondered the Simplicity Cycle, and come to appreciate the Bloomer Sisters.

I have not, however, read his first book, The Radical Elements of Radical Success. That condition may soon change.

The following excerpt from the book, which Dan shared recently, shows that he takes the refreshing approach of judging success not from the perspective of the individual, but by how much of a difference someone makes.

The problem with most “success books” is their focus on success. Ultimately, that translates to a focus on the self. Too many books are all about what you can achieve, what you can do and what you can be. They are all about you, and that is off by exactly 180 degrees. No wonder most of them are so little help.

How can you make a difference in the world if your eyes are glued inward? How can you do meaningful things if you are your own most meaningful thing? We need to put down the mirror and look out at the world around us.

When you are trying to be a success, the emphasis is on you. When you try to make a difference, the emphasis is on the difference made, and that makes all the difference.

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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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