Oliver was stunned. "Let me see if I understand — Dana, you're saying that the reason we can't get the emulator to run is that we need the 4.03 system upgrade? And Jan, you knew the emulator wouldn't run in 4.01, but you thought Dana wouldn't need the emulator before March? Do I have this right?"
"Yep," from Dana.
"Right," from Jan.
"Well," Oliver continued, "how come Jan didn't know we would need the emulator in January?"
"Easy," Jan replied. "The schedule said March."
Dana added, "Back when we were scheduling, the Ajax Phase 2 tests didn't need the emulator, so I didn't tell you I needed it."
Oliver, Dana, and Jan are caught in a trap that awaits many project teams. Together, they had all the information they needed to avoid the trap. They just didn't know they did. Each one of them thought everything was OK — until the problem arose. And it was only when the problem arose that they found out, together, that if they had only shared what they already knew, they could have avoided the problem altogether.
You've probably had this experience yourself, but you can reduce the chances of having it again by playing a game called "What Haven't I Told You?" It's similar to brainstorming.
are often emergent.
They're made of
each of which was
known to somebody.You play the game with a small group of about ten or fifteen people, and it helps if someone acts as a facilitator and scribe. In each round, the players think of something that they know but haven't talked about, and that they haven't heard anyone else talk about. Then in turn, the players describe their items to the group. The scribe records each item. As in brainstorming, there is no evaluation.
As a player, you try to think of something so detailed or arcane that other people probably don't know it or haven't thought of it. And it should be important enough that it has implications for at least some other people on the team.
After the ideas stop flowing, the group can rank them according to relevance, cluster them according to relationship criteria, or apply morphological analysis.
Here are some tips for finding good stuff for your next game of What Haven't I Told You? Ask yourself these questions:
- If I wanted to sabotage the team's effort in a subtle way, what information would I withhold? What would I change? What would I lie about?
- If someone else were trying to sabotage my efforts, what information would they want to withhold from me, or change, or lie to me about?
- Aside from my formal deliverables, what am I doing that anyone on the team could conceivably care about?
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
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- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
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Although the game of "What Haven't I told You" can be valuable for almost any group to play every once in a while, its value increases as the pace of unexpected events increases. My program, "Managing in Fluid Environments," explores how to apply this process to bring forth valuable but hidden information in situations where changes come along at such a rapid rate that the next change comes along before we reach the "New Status Quo" of the changes we're already dealing with. More about this program.
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- Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics. Available here and by RSS on August 5.
- And on August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.