Most teams solve problems, and that means working together in meetings. We meet in conference rooms, in hallways, at copiers, in cafeterias, at vending machines, by telephone, in virtual meeting spaces, on airplanes, and even washrooms (though washroom meetings are vastly over-rated). Working together, we can sometimes forget that we're all people, and that we have a common objective — solving the problem.
Here are nine guidelines that might help us all to remember that when we work together to solve problems, we are all still people.
- Assume that you still don't understand the problem
- You're more likely to be open to new ideas if you accept that your understanding is incomplete. At any point, it's safest to assume that some subtleties have escaped you. See "Problem Defining and Problem Solving," Point Lookout for August 3, 2005, for more.
- Nobody measures status accurately — including you
- How you look to others doesn't matter much, because the few who do keep score are mostly counting their own chips, not yours. They do compare themselves to how they see you, but you can't control how they see you. And your perception of your own status is probably way off, too.
- Waiting for permission or space to participate doesn't work. If you have a worthwhile contribution, make it available. But remember — no elbows. See "What to Do About Organizational Procrastination" for more.
- Make space for everyone
- When teams engage, and some people tend to dominate, they deprive the team of access to the contributions of others. Take responsibility for making space for everyone. See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003, for more.
- Balance task and relationship
- Solving You're more likely to be open
to new ideas if you accept
that your understanding
is incompletethe problem by trashing relationships is failure. Preserving relationships at the expense of solving the problem is also failure. See "If You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You," Point Lookout for May 8, 2002, for more.
- Give it a rest
- When we work too hard, we tire. We can lose our creative edge. We can hurt one another. To recover creativity and humanity, refresh yourselves. Take breaks. Work in a variety of formats. See "The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights," Point Lookout for January 25, 2006, for more.
- Increasing pressure eventually causes turbulence
- A calm river can handle only so much water. Beyond that, you get white water. A little pressure does help the team, but more leads to conflict, errors, turnover, stress diseases, divorces, and other bad stuff.
- Have special procedures for emergencies
- Usually, we have time for research, detailed discussion, and consensus decision-making. In emergencies, we don't. Time works against us. Have special procedures for "condition red." See "Declaring Condition Red," Point Lookout for August 22, 2001, for more.
- Appreciate differences
- We're all different. We approach problems differently. We see things differently. Our differences ensure that we take all relevant factors into account, and that we try a variety of approaches to solving problems. Those differences are a source of great strength. See "Appreciate Differences," Point Lookout for March 14, 2001, for more.
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the
latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how
to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
- How We Waste Time: I
- Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share,
but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
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- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.