Category Archives: Organizational Design

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Professional Development: Little Time, Lotta Value

skt4gsyzmjI had a good chat today with someone about taking the time out of one’s personal life to do personal/professional development. The outcome of our conversation was that it really doesn’t take that much time to do a decent amount. In fact, I suggest it is often the feeling of being overwhelmed or not knowing where to begin coupled with generally poor time management that keep us from achieving this goal.

Now, this individual’s life situation isn’t that uncommon for those who feel strapped for time. He is married, and they are a younger couple with a small child. Family time is important, as is quality grown-up alone time, as well as some individual relaxation time for personal/individual hobbies or interests.

Here was my “challenge”:

1) Read 4 books a year
2) Subscribe to a dozen blogs and keep up with them
3) Start writing a blog or keeping a professional journal

To some, this may not seem like a whole lot, to others it may seem like an insurmountable objective. In either case, it’s a whole lot more than I see most folks doing in most organizations. I equate the above activities to understanding theory, keeping up with current events, and critically thinking and applying what you’ve been learning. There are of course other things folks could do, and ways people can get more engaged with their careers or the community in general, but I set this rung as the minimum. Also, the above activities are all cheap or free, have low barriers to entry and are fully within the control of the individual.

Here is how the time involved broke down:

  • One 300 page book: 10 hours; 100 minutes every other week
  • Keep up with blogs: 1 hours a week; 10 minutes of skimming/grooming, 50 minutes reading
  • One blog post/journal entry a month: 3 hours; brainstorming (30min), outlining (30min), writing (90min), reviewing (30min).

Now your times may vary if you are a slower/faster reader, writer, etc… and you may prefer to follow different formats or techniques when creating or consuming information. The details aren’t really important, just more of a guide for anyone who wants it.

The totals from above are: 31 hours per quarter or approximately 2.6 hours per week.

I’m going to assume you get about 8 hours of sleep a day (which is a lot for me) and that your work week is about 40 hours. This should mean 5 (workdays) * 8 (hours of free time) = 40 hours + 2 (weekend days) * (16 hours of free time) = 72 free time hours per week!

For most people, the numbers should work out. Even for a young spouse with a few little ankle-biters running around, 2.5 hours out of 72 seems easily doable. I mean 2.5/72 is less than 3.5% of your free time. Even if you are only 25% efficient with your time usage (you waste 75% of your free time) it is only 14% of your total weekly free time!

So where does the time go?!

I’m not overly interested in writing an article on time management, but here are a few ideas:

  • Lots of people I know seem to sink a wasteful amount of time into tv, video games, surfing the web, etc… A little is good for relaxing, a lot is wasteful.
  • Plan a little bit. Set an appointment or reminder for yourself. Talk to your family about what you are wanting to do and get them to help you too.
  • Set some small measurable goals. Track those goals if it helps. Set daily or weekly goals to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Make the first book you read a time management book 😉

Why should I do this on my own time?

I’ve had conversations, similar to the one above, with others in the past. Sometimes I got feedback along the lines of “I shouldn’t have to do this in my free time”. Well, maybe, maybe not. I do agree that more organizations should encourage learning and professional growth during work hours as part of the organizational culture. Unfortunately, this is just not the case and you need to choose what to do. It’s your career. What is working for you today may not work tomorrow, or worse in 10 years when your skill set has completely atrophied. My personal opinion is that continuous learning is just a good habit to form, and spending at least a little of your own time to develop yourself is not a waste. If you dislike your work so much, the thought of doing more or anything related to it in your free time disgusts you, perhaps it’s time to find a new career or at least a new employer.

What if I need more/other development?

So, my conversation above was with a manager and the goals all boiled down to just reading or writing. Hopefully this new knowledge would eventually be applied and reflected on at work. It can be challenging to practice skills like these outside of work, but perhaps you belong to some social group or organization where you can try them.

Perhaps you are a programmer or a tester and you need to stay abreast of various technical practices, tools or techniques. I will admit that these things are more time intensive, but perhaps in this case some of the reading and the writing can be lessened or forgone in favor of technical learning and practice. Go more deep and less broad.

In any case, in most situations the time commitment involved above is fairly small. If you have chosen a career path that requires double or even triple the time investment, it still is fairly reasonable, and all the same concepts still apply.

 

This article was originally posted on odbox.co as has been reposted with permission from the author.

Are Your Teams Unmotivated or Demotivated?

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I’ve worked with a few unmotivated teams in the past. Folks on unmotivated teams lack energy. They see things as just the way they are; the status quo. They come in, do their job and go home. Things are normal…good enough.

I find it a fun challenge to motivate unmotivated teams. Getting to know folks a bit, finding out their interests or passions and helping them map those back to their job or career is quite rewarding, but I recently ran across a problem.

I began working with a team that had been working together on a project for a while. They were displaying all the signs of an unmotivated team. I had heard tell of some negative stories about “management” but nothing I wouldn’t have tacked up to normal enterprise candor and so I set out down my usual path to motivation…and met with failure. Everyone listened, asked some questions and generally interacted appropriately. Nobody was overly negative, they simply lacked energy.

After trying a few more tricks with no real traction, I started poking around at the negative stories I had heard before. After some digging it became apparent that some pretty heinous treatment was given and the team just took it on the chin…a few times. This completely demotivated them.
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“I just…can’t.”

Not having been present for these acts, and only joining the team months later, what I was seeing was the exact same outward signs as unmotivated people, but really they were demotivated…which runs much deeper.

As I stated earlier, unmotivated teams simply lack energy. When something is lacking, you just need to replace it. However, with demotivated teams, something isn’t missing, something has been torn down, and must now be rebuilt. That is a much harder task.

Demotivation is a trust violation. Rebuilding trust is hard in any relationship but I think especially so between an organization and a team.

When one party violates another’s trust, the violating party needs to admit to some wrong doing. This is hard because an org needs to send a consistent message here. That means that those folks need to agree they did something wrong in the first place. It also means they can’t take the same or similar actions again in the future.

Orgs also can’t buy their way out of this. No third party can be brought in to do the actual rebuilding. A consultant may be able to identify the problem and advise on how to handle it, but the people in the org that enacted the trust violation need to be the same people to take action to resolve it (or even removed).

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What they wrote on his farewell cake was…less than kind.

So where is this all this going?

Well, if you are a consultant; beware! If you think you’re working with an unmotivated team, the problem could be worse. If you identify a trust violation, you’ll want to change gears to facilitate rebuilding if possible.

If you are in a leadership position and think you have an unmotivated team on your hands; beware! If motivating the team doesn’t seem to be working, they may be demotivated and perhaps some trust needs to be rebuilt instead.

If you think there is a chance you may be the person who demotivated the team; beware! Don’t just go in and try to motivate people, especially in a “ra-ra go-team” sorta way. In my experience that just adds insult to injury. Maybe get some help from a coworker or an external source.

One side note. A fun fact about rebuilding trust is that many of the actions are a lot like building trust. An interesting side effect of teams within orgs that are actively trying to build trust, is that sometimes those teams get motivated that their org is showing interest and taking action.

So…be aware of de vs. un motivation and work to build trust no matter what!

This article originally appeared on odbox.co and was reused with permission from the author.

Building Teams of T-Shaped people

Are your teams made up of T-shaped or I-shaped people? If that question causes you to cock an eyebrow, let’s ask it another way: If one person calls in sick tomorrow, does their job still get done, or does the office collapse into a state of violent anarchy? (Note: Other options may lie somewhere in the middle…)

 

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“Hey guys, are we thinking this through?”

“Damn it man, there’s no time! Steve is out sick and no one else knows Javascript!“

 

A T-Shaped person is an individual who has deep knowledge of a specialized skill set in addition to a range of acquired tangential, related skills. They are also known as generalizing-specialists or “Renaissance” workers. In comparison with the “T” shaped individual, “I” shaped individuals focus mainly on their own specialized skill-sets, often view the workplace as a competitive environment, and tend to work within disciplinary silos. When a team is comprised of highly specialized I-shaped people, there is little room for any kind of structural change. For example, what would happen if Baracus suddenly quit the A-Team? Who else could pull off that look? Face? Murdock?

 

THE A-TEAM -- Pictured: Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank

“Girl, please.”

Benefits of Teams of T-Shaped People

A team of T-shaped people (aka. cross-functional team) complements one another with both their specialized knowledge and overlapping skills to form a high performing unit.

Cross-functional teams experience less internal bottlenecks and contention for one person’s time.

T-shaped people can view situations from different perspectives, bringing not only their specialized knowledge to the table, but wide-ranging experience in other areas as well.

T-shaped people help fill skills gaps and take on new skill sets quickly. This then leads to higher overall team productivity and greater flexibility.

Such teams are not limited by a single point of failure (SPOF). Should Steve leave the team, Amy has sufficient knowledge to keep the project going.

Building Cross-functional Teams

Step 1: Understand

Start by mapping all of the disciplines or functional areas necessary for your team to complete projects as columns on a graph.  Then, work with each team member to assess their capabilities or expertise from one through ten in rows going vertically. Be sure to understand ahead of time what it means to be a 1 or a 10 in each area to avoid arbitrarily assigning numbers. Once complete, you will have a big picture view of your team’s capabilities as a whole.

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Originally posted on Scrumtalks

Step 2: Plan

At this point, you can begin discussing strategies to help fill in the empty spaces. Be sure to create a clear process for closing skill gaps, enlisting the help of designated “experts” in specific fields to design collaboration procedures. When done in a positive manner, from a position of support (not judgment or blame), this can drive some great discussion and re-energize employees.  With a solid plan, time, and consistent effort, teams will eventually grow into cross-functional units.

 

c08819dc22526597e1e9673e55fd3716“I love it when a plan comes together…”

“Ugh, God George, we know.

 

Step 3: Implement

With the skill gaps identified, and strategies in place to fill those gaps, it is now time to work with management, team leads, and your experts to execute.

Provide ongoing training for all employees on topics relevant to your business’ core functions, to standardize the horizontal portion of the “T”. As skilled as Dwight might be in competitive helicopter aerobatics, unless your organization plans on expanding into the airshow market, it doesn’t make sense to invest time into turning the rest of the team into amateur stunt pilots. It does however, make sense to have Dwight pair with other team members on Ruby so that the next time he ends up in the hospital due to a helicopter-related accident, his co-workers are able to carry on his portion of the project without him.

 

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Rest in Peace, Dwight

Make sure you have a solid workflow in place. Increasing employees’ skill levels won’t do much to boost performance if there are inherent problems in the processes they use to work together. Creating a value stream and identifying areas of consistent churn to streamline will help mitigate frustration and can even help uncover additional skill gaps that need closing.

Set clear expectations. This may seem obvious, but simply saying to your teams “improve yourselves!” will not yield positive results. You’ll have to clearly define what success looks like on an individual level, a team level, department level, etc.

Work with employees on an ongoing basis to understand their core competencies, evolving skill sets, and emerging interests. Things change. Staying informed means you can adapt the strategy as needed.

Create focused learning activities around bottlenecks.

Build cross-team communities of practice around technical specialties, domain knowledge areas, or any other areas of interest.        

Work with team leaders to establish an environment that encourages continual learning activities such as pairing, job shadowing, lunch-n-learns, book clubs, and open discussions. Empower employees to be honest with their T-skills and discover solutions for the areas in which they are not experts. Build continual improvement into the culture by encouraging collaboration and support from all levels. The goal is to make employees feel comfortable asking for help and running experiments so that they can grow their expertise.

Finally, help create consistent boundaries for workloads and job functions. Being a T-shaped employee does not mean become a master in everything and employees with broad skills should not be driving initiatives outside of their core function, especially when there is an expert on the team. Just because accounting expert, Dirk, cross-trained Lawrence on processing payroll, does not make Lawrence the new accountant.

 

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Deal with it, Lawrence.

 

By following the above guidelines you can optimize your teams, leveraging their strengths and building their individual skill portfolios in the process. However, just because you may have have all capabilities necessary to do the work, it does not necessarily mean you have a high-performing team. To achieve high-performance, teams will need to have the right communication and collaboration processes in place. This area is often the most challenging for teams, but it is critical for sustainable success. Want to know if your teams are maximizing their performance potential? Take our 1-Minute Agility Self Assessment to find out!

Climbing Mountains With Agile Methods

Agile methods strive to break large goals into smaller achievable parts. In this post we will cover some high level concepts that have made it easy for us to achieve some big goals for our clients.

agile goalsBig goals, in many ways, are like mountains. They are daunting, arduous to climb (and well worth the view from the top). They capture our imagination and inspire bold action in ourselves and others just by being. Many gaze up at their peaks determined to reach the summit, but all too often, fall short for one reason or another.

Our struggles maintaining motivation when taking on large initiatives often stem from over-focusing our energy and attention on the end result, rather than the next step we must take to get there. We can get so overwhelmed by the sheer size of what lies ahead, frustrated by slow progress, and tripped up by unexpected pitfalls, we become demoralized long before we ever get close to the finish line. When this happens, it is because we have forgotten that big things are never accomplished with a single herculean effort; rather, they are overcome in progressive iterations – tackling a series of smaller tasks that bring us one step closer to the summit.

Agile Goals

When you break large objectives into small, measurable, achievable tasks, suddenly the mountain doesn’t seem so insurmountable. You start to think, okay, yeah…I can do this. Taking the journey step-by-step will will allow you to adapt when plans shift and celebrate milestones along the way. Side note: Seriously, don’t forget to celebrate the milestones – they are critical for maintaining morale and reinforcing positive change. This isn’t to say you should allow yourself to lose site of the big picture, just don’t let the magnitude kill your momentum.

This deliberate, iterative approach to “mountain” climbing is the same one we teach our clients and practice ourselves here at LeanDog. Here’s how it works: when someone comes in looking for help, whether for coaching or a development project, we always start by first assessing the situation. We explore every facet of their initiative to define where it is they are trying to go, the resources they have to get them there, and the struggles they may be facing. We also challenge assumptions and test hypotheses to uncover areas of risk hidden in their way. In doing so, we break their mountain down into a big pile of small, achievable objectives. We collaborate with them to prioritize those objectives and, through progressive iterations, we are able to carve out a path up the mountain together. The result is a clear direction, measurable progress, mitigated risk, and the overall feeling that yeah…we can do this.

By breaking down your large initiatives into smaller, achievable steps, challenging assumptions, celebrating milestones, and prioritizing tasks of highest value, you’ll find that what once seemed to be an impossible undertaking, is anything but. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying the view from the summit and gazing confidently toward your next mountain.

How do you and your team achieve your biggest agile goals and initiatives?

To learn more about how Agile processes can help you climb your mountains, download a free copy of the LeanDog Agile Discussion Guide.

Agile Across Oceans

Last Wednesday, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs brought business development and entrepreneurial leaders from Cameroon, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone to the LeanDog boat to see what we do. Nick Barendt, LeanDog’s Chief Development Officer, took the group on a tour of the office and studio, explaining how LeanDog makes use of Lean and Agile processes not only to build amazing software, but also run a dynamic, adaptable business in an environment that is constantly evolving and innovating.  While they were on board, they also got a lesson from Studio developer Gary on our how our 3D printer works, and the types of things we like to make with it. Katie Ferman, CCWA’s International Visitors Program Officer, remarked that “their visit to LeanDog was probably the single most interesting – and definitely the most visually engaging – session for our visitors during their time in Cleveland.”

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