Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on personal, team, and organizational effectiveness. Bookmark this page. Or browse the Point Lookout archive by date. Subscribe now.
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
Other topical archives:
May 24, 2023
- Ten-Minute Training
- Despite decades of evolution of technology-assisted workplace learning, instructor-led classroom formats remain the most popular and effective. Now perhaps videoconferencing can help to achieve that effectiveness at lower cost.
May 10, 2023
- On Schedule Conflicts
- Schedule conflicts happen from time to time, even when the organization is healthy and all is well. But when schedule conflicts are common, they might indicate that the organization is trying to do too much with too few people.
May 3, 2023
- Personal Feasibility Decisions
- When considering whether to exploit a rare but desirable opportunity, there is a risk that desire can overcome good sense. Having at hand a predefined framework for making such decisions reduces the risk of blundering by acting in haste.
March 29, 2023
- Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks.
March 8, 2023
- Goodhart's Law and Gaming the Metrics
- Goodhart's Law is an observation about managing by metrics. When we make known the metrics' goals, we risk collapse of the metrics, in part because people try to "game" the metrics by shading or manufacturing the data to produce the goal result.
March 1, 2023
- Goodhart's Law and Reification
- Goodhart's Law, applied to organizations, is an observation about managing by metrics. When we make known the goals for our metrics, we risk having the metrics lose their ability to measure. The risk is elevated when we try to "measure" abstractions.
February 22, 2023
- The McNamara Fallacy
- The McNamara Fallacy is the idea that measuring properly chosen attributes of inputs and outputs provides all we need for decisions about organizational and human performance. And we can safely ignore anything that can't be measured. It doesn't work.
February 8, 2023
- Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist?
February 1, 2023
- The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go.
November 16, 2022
- Collaborations That Need to Be Cooperations
- Modern products and services are so complex that many people cooperate and collaborate to produce them. When people are collaborating but the work actually requires merely cooperating, risks arise that can threaten the success of the group's efforts.
November 9, 2022
- Cooperations That Need to Be Collaborations
- Modern products and services are so complex that many people cooperate and collaborate to produce them. When people are cooperating but the work actually requires collaborating, risks arise that can threaten the success of the effort.
November 2, 2022
- Collaborations or Cooperations?
- Modern products and services are so complex that many people cooperate and collaborate to produce them. Strangely, few of us have given much thought to the difference between cooperating and collaborating. The two do differ, and the differences matter.
June 8, 2022
- Flexible Queue Management
- In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management.
February 9, 2022
- Defect Streams and Their Sources
- Regarding defects as elements of a stream provides a perspective that aids in identifying causes other than negligence. Examples of root causes are unfunded mandates, misallocation of the cost of procedure competence, and frequent changes in procedures.
December 29, 2021
- Monday Morning Minute Message Madness
- As a leader of a large organization, if you publish a "Monday Minute Message" to help employees identify with the organization as a whole, there are some practices that might limit the effectiveness of the program. Six suggestions can be helpful.
December 22, 2021
- Internal Audits Without Pain
- If adhering to established procedures is part of your job, you probably experience occasional audits. You can manage the pain of the experience by regarding audit preparation as part of the job. Because it is. Here are some tips for navigating audits.
November 10, 2021
- Should We Do This?
- Answering the question, "Should we do this?" is among the more difficult decisions organizational leaders must make. Weinberger's Six Tests provide a framework for making these decisions. Careful application of the framework can prevent disasters.
October 27, 2021
- Five Guidelines for Choices
- Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices.
July 28, 2021
- Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
- An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure.
July 21, 2021
- Be Choosier About Job Offers: I
- A serious error some job seekers make is accepting an offer that isn't actually a good fit. We make this mistake for a variety of reasons, including hating the job-search process, desperation, and wishful thinking. How can we avoid the error?
April 28, 2021
- The Self-Explanation Effect
- In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon.
March 31, 2021
- Way Too Much to Do
- You're good at your job — when you have enough time to do it. The problem is that so much comes your way that you can't possibly attend to it all. Some things inevitably are missed or get short shrift. If you don't change something soon, trouble is sure to arrive.
January 20, 2021
- Anticipating Absence: Quarantine and Isolation
- When the pandemic compels some knowledge workers to quarantine or isolate, we tend to treat them as if they were totally unavailable. But if they're willing and able to work, even part-time, they might be able to continue to contribute. To make this happen, work out conditions in advance.
January 13, 2021
- Virtual Interviews: II
- The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. And so we must now also master virtual interviews, and that requires understanding the effects of the attendance list, video presence, and the technologies of staging, lighting, and makeup.
January 6, 2021
- Virtual Interviews: I
- The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. Although understanding the psychology of virtual interviews helps both interviewers and candidates, candidates would do well to use the virtual interview to demonstrate video presence.
December 30, 2020
- Anticipating Absence: Passings
- In times more normal than ours, co-workers who pass on tend to do so one at a time. Disease or accidents rarely strike many co-workers in the same week, month, or year. There are exceptions — 9/11 was one such. This pandemic is another.
December 23, 2020
- Anticipating Absence: Internal Consulting
- Most consultants are advisors from outside the organization. But when many employees are unavailable because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we need to find ways to access the knowledge that remains inside the organization. Internal consulting can help.
December 16, 2020
- Flattery and Its Perils
- Flattery is a tool of manipulation. When skillfully employed, it's difficult to distinguish from praise or admiration. When we confuse flattery with praise, we are in peril.
December 9, 2020
- Anticipating Absence: How
- Knowledge workers are professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable because of the pandemic, we consider substituting someone else. But substitutes need much more than skills and experience to succeed.
December 2, 2020
- Anticipating Absence: Why
- Knowledge workers are scientists, engineers, physicians, attorneys, and any other professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, substituting someone else to carry on for them can be problematic, because skills and experience are not enough.
October 28, 2020
- Notes to Self
- Many of us jot important reminders to ourselves on sticky notes, used envelopes, scraps of paper, and whatnot. Often we misplace these notes, or later find them too late to serve their purposes. Here's a low-tech alternative that works better for some.
August 5, 2020
- Red Flags: III
- 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.
July 29, 2020
- Red Flags: II
- When we find clear evidence of serious problems in a project or other collaboration, we sometimes realize that we had overlooked several "red flags" that had foretold trouble. In this Part II of our review of red flags, we consider communication patterns that are useful indicators of future problems.
July 22, 2020
- Red Flags: I
- When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary turnover are two examples.
March 4, 2020
- Workplace Remorse
- Remorse is an unpleasant emotion. But it need not be something we suppress or avoid. It can provide a path to a positive learning experience that adds meaning to life.
January 22, 2020
- Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations.
January 15, 2020
- Disjoint Awareness: Systematics
- Organizations use some policies and processes that can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Performance management, politics, and resource allocation processes can all contribute to disjoint awareness.
January 8, 2020
- Disjoint Awareness: Analysis
- Breaking large problems into smaller parts can sometimes create a set of risks that make solving the problem in pieces more difficult than solving it as a whole. But we can still profit from breaking the problem into parts if we manage those risks.
January 1, 2020
- Disjoint Awareness: Assessment
- When collaborators misunderstand each other's work and intentions, they're at risk of inadvertently interfering with each other. Three causes of misunderstandings are complexity, specialization, and rapid change.
December 25, 2019
- Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk.
November 20, 2019
- Paid-Time-Off Risks
- Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important.
October 16, 2019
- Performance Mismanagement Systems: II
- One of the more counter-effective strategies incorporated into performance management systems is the enterprise-wide uniform quota, known as a vitality curve. Its fundamental injustice breeds cynicism, performance fraud, and toxic conflict. It produces performance assessments that are unrelated to enterprise objectives.
October 9, 2019
- Performance Mismanagement Systems: I
- Some well-intentioned performance management programs do more harm than good, possibly because of mistaken fundamental beliefs. Specifically: the fallacy of composition, the reification error, the myth of identifiable contributions, and the myth of omniscient supervision.
September 25, 2019
- Planning Disappointments
- When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments. Why is this?
May 15, 2019
- Entry Intimidation
- Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion, bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage.
May 8, 2019
- Brain Clutter
- The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…
March 6, 2019
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
January 2, 2019
- Issues-Only Team Meetings
- Time spent in regular meetings is productive to the extent that it moves the team closer to its objectives. Because uncovering and clarifying issues is more productive than distributing information or listening to status reports, issues-only team meetings focus energy where it will help most.
November 28, 2018
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work.
November 14, 2018
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
October 3, 2018
- Congruent Decision Making: II
- Decision makers who rely on incomplete or biased information are more likely to make decisions that don't fit the reality of their organizations. Here's Part II of a framework for making decisions that fit.
September 26, 2018
- Congruent Decision Making: I
- Decision makers who rely on incomplete or biased information are more likely to make faulty decisions. Congruent decision making can limit the incidence of bad decisions.
August 15, 2018
- Getting Value from Involuntary Seminars
- Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter.
February 14, 2018
- How to Get Overwhelmed
- Here's a field manual for those who want to get overwhelmed by all the work they have to do. If you're already overwhelmed, it might explain how things got that way.
February 7, 2018
- Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: II
- Brainstorming sessions produce output of notoriously variable quality, but understanding what compromises quality can help elevate it. Here's Part II of a set of nine phenomena that can limit the quality of contributions to brainstorming sessions.
January 24, 2018
- Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers.
January 17, 2018
- High Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
- Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid.
November 8, 2017
- Risk Creep: II
- When risk events occur, and they're of a kind we never considered before, it's possible that we've somehow invited those risks without realizing we have. This is one way for risk to creep into our efforts. Here's Part II of an exploration of risk creep.
November 1, 2017
- Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
October 25, 2017
- Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are four examples.
October 4, 2017
- Meeting Troubles: Culture
- Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples.
September 27, 2017
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern.
September 13, 2017
- Paradoxical Policies: II
- Because projects are inherently unique, constructing general organizational policies affecting projects is difficult. The urge to treat projects as if they were operations compounds the difficulty. Here's a collection of policies for projects that would be funny if they weren't real.
September 6, 2017
- Paradoxical Policies: I
- Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
July 12, 2017
- Performance Issues for Nonsupervisors
- If, in part of your job, you're a nonsupervisory leader, such as a team lead or a project manager, you face special challenges when dealing with performance issues. Here are some guidelines for nonsupervisors.
April 5, 2017
- Listening to Ramblers
- Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum?
February 22, 2017
- Heart with Mind
- We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?
February 1, 2017
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem, and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
January 25, 2017
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting." We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
January 11, 2017
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing. Why?
October 12, 2016
- How We Waste Time: II
- We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.
October 5, 2016
- 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.
July 27, 2016
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: II
- Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there. Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
July 20, 2016
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: I
- Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings, or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization and depress performance.
June 29, 2016
- How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a catalog of some of the worst practices.
June 22, 2016
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause: us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
June 15, 2016
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: II
- Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities, we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.
June 8, 2016
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
- Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders. Why does this happen?
June 1, 2016
- Workplace Anti-Patterns
- We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
May 25, 2016
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: V
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal. They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
May 18, 2016
- Ego Depletion and Priority Setting
- Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.
May 4, 2016
- Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
- Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.
April 6, 2016
- Irrational Deadlines
- Some deadlines are so unrealistic that from the outset we know we'll never meet them. Yet we keep setting (and accepting) irrational deadlines. Why does this happen?
March 30, 2016
- Still More Things I've Learned Along the Way
- When I have an important insight, or when I'm taught a lesson, I write it down. Here's another batch from my personal collection.
March 9, 2016
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to be learned? Here's one method.
January 27, 2016
- Virtual Clutter: II
- Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless nonphysical entities that make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
January 20, 2016
- Virtual Clutter: I
- With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
October 14, 2015
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: II
- Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie elsewhere.
October 7, 2015
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: I
- When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict.
September 30, 2015
- The Artful Shirker
- Most people who shirk work are fairly obvious about it, but some are so artful that the people around them don't realize what's happening. Here are a few of the more sophisticated shirking techniques.
September 23, 2015
- How to Deal with Holding Back
- When group members voluntarily restrict their contributions to group efforts, group success is threatened and high performance becomes impossible. How can we reduce the incidence of holding back?
September 16, 2015
- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams. Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort they could contribute.
September 9, 2015
- Holding Back: I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
August 5, 2015
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV
- Words of wisdom are pithy sayings that can be valuable so often that we believe them absolutely. Although these sayings are often valuable, they aren't universally valid. Here's Part IV of a growing collection.
July 29, 2015
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
July 22, 2015
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?
July 15, 2015
- Ethical Debate at Work: II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes.
July 1, 2015
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can we end sidebars quickly and politely?
June 24, 2015
- Preventing Sidebars
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How can we prevent them?
June 17, 2015
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
June 3, 2015
- Just Make It Happen
- Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both.
April 15, 2015
- Overconfidence at Work
- Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence — leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can be most useful.
April 8, 2015
- Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job.
April 1, 2015
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble.
March 25, 2015
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates. Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
February 11, 2015
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
February 4, 2015
- Bottlenecks: I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
January 28, 2015
- The Limits of Status Reports: II
- We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
January 21, 2015
- The Limits of Status Reports: I
- Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
January 14, 2015
- 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?
January 7, 2015
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
December 31, 2014
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
September 24, 2014
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
September 17, 2014
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.
September 10, 2014
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
September 3, 2014
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are some risks worth mitigating.
August 20, 2014
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
- Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think? Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
July 30, 2014
- Unnecessary Boring Work: II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
July 23, 2014
- Unnecessary Boring Work: I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
July 16, 2014
- Constancy Assumptions
- We necessarily make assumptions about our lives, including our work, because assumptions simplify things. And usually, our assumptions are valid. But not always.
June 25, 2014
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
June 18, 2014
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
April 30, 2014
- Office Automation
- Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
September 4, 2013
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this. What's stopping us?
May 29, 2013
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
May 22, 2013
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: II
- Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."
May 15, 2013
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: I
- When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia — without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can be damaging.
May 8, 2013
- The Myth of Difficult People
- Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.
January 9, 2013
- 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?
December 12, 2012
- Problem-Solving Preferences
- When people solve problems together, differences in preferred approaches can surface. Some prefer to emphasize the goal or objective, while others focus on the obstacles. This difference is at once an asset and annoyance.
September 19, 2012
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?
September 12, 2012
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
September 5, 2012
- Intentionally Unintentional Learning
- Intentional learning is learning we undertake by choice, usually with specific goals. When we're open to learning not only from those goals, but also from whatever we happen upon, what we learn can have far greater impact.
August 22, 2012
- Hill Climbing and Its Limitations
- Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea. The key word is "usually."
August 15, 2012
- Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
- Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.
July 25, 2012
- How to Avoid Getting What You Want
- Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.
July 11, 2012
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: III
- Adages are so elegantly stated that we have difficulty doubting them. Here's Part III of a collection of often-misapplied adages.
June 6, 2012
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: II
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
April 25, 2012
- Communication Refactoring in Organizations
- Inadequate communication between units of large organizations is one factor that maintains the dysfunction of "silo" structures in large organizations, limiting their ability to act coherently. Communication refactoring can help large organizations to see themselves as wholes.
April 18, 2012
- Reactance and Decision Making
- Some decisions are easy. Some are difficult. Some decisions that we think will be easy turn out to be very, very difficult. What makes decisions difficult?
March 7, 2012
- Speak for Influence
- Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
February 29, 2012
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept, such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
February 22, 2012
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences
- When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy. In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
February 15, 2012
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Focus on the Question
- When group decisions go awry, we sometimes feel that the failure could have been foreseen. Often, the cause of the failure was foreseen, but because the seer was a dissenter within the group, the issue was set aside. Improving how groups deal with dissent can enhance decision quality.
February 8, 2012
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste
- When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.
January 25, 2012
- A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
- Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
January 18, 2012
- A Review of Performance Reviews: The Checkoff
- As practiced in most organizations, performance reviews, especially annual performance reviews, are toxic both to the organization and its people. A commonly used tool, the checkoff, is especially deceptive.
January 4, 2012
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: II
- When groups of decision makers confront complex problems, and they receive opinions from recognized experts, those opinions sometimes conflict with the group's own preferences. What tactics do groups use to reject the opinions of people with relevant expertise?
December 28, 2011
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: I
- When groups of decision makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
November 30, 2011
- Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II
- We continue our exploration of confirmation bias. In this Part II, we explore its effects in management processes.
November 23, 2011
- Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part I
- We continue our exploration of confirmation bias, paying special attention to the consequences it causes in the workplace. In this part, we explore its effects on our thinking.
November 16, 2011
- I've Been Right All Along
- As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when this is happening?
October 26, 2011
- Decisions: How Looping Back Helps
- Group decision making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options, researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach yields disappointing results. Why?
September 28, 2011
- The Reification Error and Performance Management
- Just as real concrete objects have attributes, so do abstract concepts, or constructs. But attempting to measure the attributes of constructs as if they were the attributes of real objects is an example of the reification error. In performance management, committing this error leads to unexpected and unwanted results.
July 20, 2011
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
July 6, 2011
- You Might Be Stressed If…
- A little stress once in a while keeps us sharp, but chronic intense stress shortens lives. Stress can build gradually, out of our awareness. Here are some indicators of chronic intense stress.
June 29, 2011
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy
- Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors related to strategy.
June 22, 2011
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration
- Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend task duration.
June 15, 2011
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
May 11, 2011
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
March 30, 2011
- Indicators of Lock-In: II
- When a group of decision makers "locks in" on a choice, they can persist in that course even when others have concluded that the choice is folly. Here's Part II of a set of indicators of lock-in.
March 23, 2011
- Indicators of Lock-In: I
- In group decision making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?
February 16, 2011
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
January 19, 2011
- The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
- The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
January 12, 2011
- Why Do Business Fads Form?
- The rise of a business fad is due to the actions of both its advocates and adopters. Understanding the interplay between them is essential for successful resistance.
January 5, 2011
- Some Hidden Costs of Business Fads
- Adopting business fads is an expensive organizational pattern, with costs that extend beyond what can be measured by the chart of accounts most organizations use. Here are some examples of the hidden costs of business fads.
December 29, 2010
- Business Fads and Their Value
- Fads in business come and go, like fads anywhere. In business, though, their effects can be so expensive that they threaten the enterprise. Still, the ideas and methods that become fads can have intrinsic value. Where does that value come from? Where does it go?
December 22, 2010
- Be With the Real
- When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.
December 15, 2010
- What Enough to Do Is Like
- Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
December 8, 2010
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
November 10, 2010
- How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
- Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
November 3, 2010
- How to Make Good Guesses: Strategy
- Making good guesses — guessing right — is often regarded as a talent that cannot be taught. Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
October 27, 2010
- Sixteen Overload Haiku
- Most of us have some experience of being overloaded and overworked. Many of us have forgotten what it is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.
October 6, 2010
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring costs. How can we quantify management debt?
September 29, 2010
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
September 8, 2010
- Clueless on the Concept
- When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening" is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
August 11, 2010
- Take Charge of Your Learning
- Many of us let others set our learning agendas — peers, employers, or the mass media. But you can gain much both personally and professionally by setting your own learning agenda.
July 21, 2010
- Why Don't They Believe Me?
- When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor. How does this happen?
July 14, 2010
- Wacky Words of Wisdom
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. We do tend to over-generalize them, though, and when we do, trouble follows. Here are a few of the more dangerous ones.
July 7, 2010
- Seven Ways to Get Nowhere
- Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
June 23, 2010
- This Is the Only Job
- You have a job. Even though you liked it once, those days are long past, and a return is improbable. If you could, you'd hop to another job immediately, but economic conditions in your field make that unlikely. How can you deal with this misery?
March 24, 2010
- Risk Management Risk: II
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.
March 17, 2010
- Risk Management Risk: I
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
March 10, 2010
- Guidelines for Delegation
- Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
November 25, 2009
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
November 18, 2009
- Fill in the Blanks
- When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
November 11, 2009
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for doing something else altogether.
November 4, 2009
- Twenty-Three Thoughts
- Sometimes we get so focused on the immediate problem that we lose sight of the larger questions. Here are twenty-three thoughts to help you focus on what really counts.
October 14, 2009
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure. Here are just a few.
October 7, 2009
- Untangling Tangled Threads
- In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
September 30, 2009
- Tangled Thread Troubles
- Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
September 23, 2009
- The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: II
- Where the handshake is a customary business greeting, it's possible to offend accidentally. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for handshakes in the USA.
September 16, 2009
- The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: I
- In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.
September 9, 2009
- The Questions Not Asked
- Often, the path to forward progress is open and waiting, but we don't recognize it, or we convince ourselves it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.
August 5, 2009
- The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
July 29, 2009
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Communications
- Finding work in tough times entails presenting yourself to many people. You'll be conversing, interviewing, writing, presenting, and when you're finally successful, negotiating.
July 22, 2009
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Marketing
- We aren't accustomed to thinking of finding work in tough times as a marketing problem, but it helps. Here are some suggestions for applying marketing principles to finding work in tough times.
July 15, 2009
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
- Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
July 8, 2009
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Strategy
- If you're out of work and discouraged — or getting there — you're in great company. Better than ever before. Getting back to work starts with getting to work on finding work. Here's a collection of strategies for the job of finding work.
July 1, 2009
- Teamwork Myths: I vs. We
- In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
June 3, 2009
- One Cost of Split Assignments
- Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin, but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can lead to higher costs.
May 27, 2009
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths. In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
April 22, 2009
- Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: II
- Outsourcing internal processes exposes the organization to a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. Here is Part II of a discussion of what some of those risks are and what can we do about them.
April 15, 2009
- Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: I
- Outsourcing internal processes modifies the usual risk configuration of those processes, but it also creates a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. What are some of those risks and what can we do about them?
April 8, 2009
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
April 1, 2009
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
March 25, 2009
- Coping with Layoff Survival
- Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security. How can you cope with survival?
March 18, 2009
- Pet Peeves About Work
- Everybody has pet peeves about work. Here's a collection drawn from my own life, the lives of others, and my vivid imagination.
February 25, 2009
- Four Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: II
- Staff reduction is needed when expenses overtake revenue. But when layoffs are misused, or used too late, they can harm the organization more than they help. Here's Part II of an exploration of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.
February 18, 2009
- Four Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: I
- When layoffs are necessary, the problems they are meant to address are sometimes exacerbated by mismanagement of the layoff itself. Here is Part I of a discussion of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.
January 14, 2009
- Asking Clarifying Questions
- In a job interview, the interviewer asks you a question. You're unsure how to answer. You can blunder ahead, or you can ask a clarifying question. What is a clarifying question, and when is it helpful to ask one?
January 7, 2009
- The Paradox of Confidence
- Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated. If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
December 17, 2008
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
November 26, 2008
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem in itself — at work and in Life.
November 19, 2008
- Favors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness
- Someone at work who isn't particularly a friend or foe has asked you for a favor. What happens if you say no? Do you grant the favor? How do you decide what to do?
November 12, 2008
- Accepting Reality
- Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
November 5, 2008
- On Virtual Relationships
- Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
June 18, 2008
- Coping and Hard Lessons
- Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
June 4, 2008
- Virtual Presentations
- Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations, often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires an approach tailored to the medium.
May 21, 2008
- What have you learned today? What has enriched you, changed your understanding of the world, or given you a new view of history or the future? Learning something new every day is a worthy goal.
April 16, 2008
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
April 9, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
April 2, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 26, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 19, 2008
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
January 16, 2008
- Making Meaning
- When we see or hear the goings-on around us, we interpret them to make meaning and significance. Some interpretations are thoughtful, but most are almost instantaneous. Since the instantaneous ones are sometimes goofy or dangerous, here's a look at how we make interpretations.
January 9, 2008
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.
January 2, 2008
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
December 26, 2007
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
- When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
December 19, 2007
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I
- CEOs, board chairs, department heads and team leads of all kinds sometimes seek people to handle specific, time-limited tasks. Asking the group for volunteers works fine — usually. There are alternatives.
December 5, 2007
- Annoyance to Asset
- Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
November 14, 2007
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
October 31, 2007
- Illusory Incentives
- Although the theory of incentives at work is changing rapidly, its goal generally remains helping employers obtain more output at lower cost. Here are some neglected effects that tend to limit the chances of achieving that goal.
October 17, 2007
- Virtual Conflict
- Conflict, both constructive and destructive, is part of teamwork. As virtual teams become more common, we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive conflict is difficult enough face-to-face, but in virtual teams, it's especially tricky.
October 10, 2007
- Completism is the desire to create or acquire a complete set of something. In our personal lives, it drives collectors to pay high prices for rare items that "complete the set." In business it drives us to squander our resources in surprising ways.
October 3, 2007
- Some Limits of Root Cause Analysis
- Root Cause Analysis uses powerful tools for finding the sources of process problems. The approach has been so successful that it has become a way of thinking about organizational patterns. Yet, resolving organizational problems this way sometimes works — and sometimes fails. Why?
September 26, 2007
- The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated
- In fiction and movies, the world is often simple. There's a protagonist, a goal, and a series of obstacles. The protagonists and goals are good, and the obstacles are bad. Real life is more complicated.
September 19, 2007
- How to Procrastinate
- You probably know many techniques for procrastinating, and use them regularly, but vociferously deny doing so. That's what makes this such a delicate subject that I've been delaying writing this article. Well, those days are over.
September 12, 2007
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.
August 15, 2007
- What Measurements Work Well?
- To manage well, we need to know where we are, where we would like to be, and what we need to do to get there. Measurement can help us achieve our goals, by telling us where we are and how much progress we're making. But some things aren't measurable, and some measurement methods yield misleading results. How can we use measurement effectively?
June 27, 2007
- Dealing with Negative Progress
- Many project emergencies are actually the result of setbacks — negative progress. Sometimes these mishaps are unavoidable, but often they're the result of patterns of organizational culture. How can we reduce the incidence of setbacks?
May 23, 2007
- Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III
- The phrase "You get what you measure," has acquired the status of "truism." Yet many measurement-based initiatives have produced disappointing results. Here's Part III of an examination of the idea — a look at management's role in these surprises.
May 9, 2007
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
May 2, 2007
- Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: II
- Although many believe that "You get what you measure," metrics-based management systems sometimes produce disappointing results. In this Part II, we look at the effects of employee behavior.
April 25, 2007
- When Stress Strikes
- Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.
April 18, 2007
- Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: I
- One of the "truisms" floating around is that "You get what you measure." Belief in this assertion has led many to a metrics-based style of management, but the results have been uneven at best. Why?
April 11, 2007
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
March 14, 2007
- Trying to Do It Right the First Time Isn't Always Best
- You've probably heard the slogan, "Do it right the first time." It makes sense for some kinds of work, but not for all. For more and more of the work done in modern organizations, doing it right the first time — or even trying to — might be the wrong way to go.
February 28, 2007
- Changing the Subject: II
- Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
February 21, 2007
- Changing the Subject: I
- Whether in small group discussions, large meetings, or chats between friends, changing the subject of the conversation can be constructive, mischievous, frustrating, creative, tension relieving, necessary, devious, or outright malicious. What techniques do we use to change the subject, and how can we cope with them?
February 14, 2007
- Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
- Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.
February 7, 2007
- When the job market eases for job seekers, we often see increases in job shifting, as people who've been biding their time make the jump. Typically, they're the people we most want to keep. How can we reduce this source of turnover?
January 31, 2007
- Astonishing Successes
- When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
January 24, 2007
- An Emergency Toolkit
- You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
January 3, 2007
- Excuses, Excuses
- When a goal remains unaccomplished, we sometimes tell ourselves that we understand why. And sometimes we do. But at other times, we're just fooling ourselves.
November 29, 2006
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict. It can be an expensive practice.
November 22, 2006
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
November 1, 2006
- Let's Revise Our Rituals
- Throughout the workday, we interact with each other on many levels. Some exchanges are so common and ritualized that we're no longer aware of them. If we revise these rituals slightly, we can add some zing to our lives.
October 25, 2006
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
October 11, 2006
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: II
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool called the Johari window.
September 27, 2006
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: I
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Working out these differences is a lot easier when we know what everyone's assumptions are.
September 6, 2006
- The Solving Lamp Is Lit
- We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
August 9, 2006
- Organizing a Barn Raising
- Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning. Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
August 2, 2006
- Workplace Barn Raisings
- Until about 75 years ago, barn raising was a common custom in the rural United States. People came together from all parts of the community to help construct one family's barn. Although the custom has largely disappeared in rural communities, we can still benefit from the barn raising approach in problem-solving organizations.
July 26, 2006
- Working Journals
- Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did, and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw. And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
July 19, 2006
- Workplace Myths: Motivating People
- Up and down the org chart, you can find bits of business wisdom about motivating people. We generally believe these theories without question. How many of them are true? How many are myths? What are some of these myths and why do they persist?
July 12, 2006
- We Are All People
- When a team works to solve a problem, it is the people of that team who do the work. Remembering that we're all people — and all different people — is an important key to success.
June 7, 2006
- If Only I Had Known: II
- Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.
May 31, 2006
- If Only I Had Known: I
- Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.
May 24, 2006
- Inner Babble
- It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
May 17, 2006
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
May 10, 2006
- Social Distancing for Pandemic Flu
- It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
March 15, 2006
- Problem-Solving Ambassadors
- In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.
February 22, 2006
- How Not to Accumulate Junk
- Look around your office. Look around your home. Very likely, some of your belongings are useless and provide neither enjoyment nor cause for contemplation. Where does this stuff come from? Why can't we get rid of it?
January 25, 2006
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
November 16, 2005
- In the Groove
- Under stress, we sometimes make choices that we later regret. And we wonder, "Will I ever learn?" Fortunately, the problem usually isn't a failure to learn. Changing just takes practice.
October 26, 2005
- Dealing with Deadlock
- At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
October 5, 2005
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments, other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant, what can we do?
September 28, 2005
- Give Me the Bad News First
- I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that if you wait long enough, there will be some bad news. The good news is that the good news helps us deal with the bad news. And it helps a lot more if we get the bad news first.
September 21, 2005
- My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts
- When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry." These explanations are rarely legitimate.
September 14, 2005
- FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
- Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
August 10, 2005
- How we deal with adversity can make the difference between happiness and something else. And how we deal with adversity depends on how we see it.
August 3, 2005
- Problem Defining and Problem Solving
- Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
June 1, 2005
- Most of us follow paths through our careers, or through life. We get nervous when we're off the path. We feel better when we're doing what everyone else is doing. But is that sensible?
April 20, 2005
- 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.
March 16, 2005
- Recovering Time: II
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To find more time, focus on strategy.
March 2, 2005
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.
February 23, 2005
- Recovering Time: I
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring your working day in larger chunks.
February 9, 2005
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
February 2, 2005
- Virtual Communications: II
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part II of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
January 26, 2005
- Virtual Communications: I
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
January 19, 2005
- Obstacles to Compromise
- Compromise is the art of devising an approach acceptable to all parties. A talent for compromise is rare. What makes finding compromises so difficult?
December 1, 2004
- Decisions, Decisions: II
- Most of us have participated in group decision making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
November 17, 2004
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?
October 13, 2004
- Personal Trade Secrets
- Do you have some little secret tricks you use that make you and your team more effective? Do you wish you could know what secret tricks others have? Here's a way to share your secrets without risk.
August 18, 2004
- How to Make Meetings Worth Attending
- Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
August 11, 2004
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
July 28, 2004
- Films Not About Project Teams: I
- Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
June 30, 2004
- Selling Uphill: The Pitch
- Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision makers who have some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch? What does it take to Persuade Power?
June 23, 2004
- Selling Uphill: Before and After
- Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading decision makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way for success now and in the future?
June 16, 2004
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
June 9, 2004
- Team-Building Travails
- Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend building teams?
June 2, 2004
- Take Any Seat: II
- In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
May 26, 2004
- Take Any Seat: I
- When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
May 19, 2004
- Give It Your All
- If you have the time and resources to read this, you probably have a pretty good situation, or you have what it takes to be looking for one. In many ways, you're one of the fortunate few. Are you making the most of the wonderful things you have? Are you giving it your all?
April 14, 2004
- When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical, and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
April 7, 2004
- 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.
March 31, 2004
- The Hypothetical Trap
- Politicians know that answering hypothetical questions is dangerous, but it's equally dangerous for managers and project managers to answer them in the project context. What's the problem? Why should you be careful of the "What If?"
March 3, 2004
- Names and Faces
- Most of us feel recognized, respected, and acknowledged when others use our names. And many of us have difficulty remembering the names of others, especially those we don't know well. How can we get better at connecting names and faces?
February 4, 2004
- No Surprises
- If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
January 14, 2004
- Email Antics: III
- Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
December 31, 2003
- Email Antics: II
- Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part II of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
December 24, 2003
- Appreciate the Moment
- Often, we focus our awareness where we aren't or when we aren't. Whether we're in a heated meeting, or blowing out the candles of a birthday cake, being fully present can make our experiences more positive and memorable. Why are we so often someplace else? When we are, how can we come back? Or better, how can we stay fully present when we want to?
December 17, 2003
- Email Antics: I
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas, in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
December 10, 2003
- Help for Asking for Help
- When we ask for help, from peers or from those with organizational power, we have some choices. How we go about it can determine whether we get the help we need, in time for the help to help.
December 3, 2003
- When We Need a Little Help
- Sometimes we get in over our heads — too much work, work we don't understand, or even complex politics. We can ask for help, but we often forget that we can. Even when we remember, we sometimes hold back. Why is asking for help, or remembering that we can ask, so difficult? How can we make it easier?
November 19, 2003
- Encourage Truth Telling
- Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
November 12, 2003
- Time Management in a Hurry
- Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
September 17, 2003
- Coincidences Do Happen
- When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
September 10, 2003
- Shooting Ourselves in the Feet
- When you give a demo to a small audience, there's a danger of overwhelming them in a behavior I call "swarming." Here are some tips for terrific demos to small audiences.
July 30, 2003
- Choices for Widening Choices
- Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
July 23, 2003
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
July 16, 2003
- Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?
June 4, 2003
- Figuring Out What to Do First
- Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
May 28, 2003
- Enjoy Every Part of the Clam
- Age discrimination runs deep, well beyond the hiring decision. When we value each other on the basis of age, we can deprive ourselves and our companies of the treasures we all have to offer.
May 21, 2003
- When You Think They've Made Up Their Minds
- In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
April 30, 2003
- A Message Is Only a Message
- When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.
April 23, 2003
- Critical Thinking and Midnight Pizza
- When we notice patterns or coincidences, we draw conclusions about things we can't or didn't directly observe. Sometimes the conclusions are right, and sometimes not. When they're not, organizations, careers, and people can suffer. To be right more often, we must master critical thinking.
April 16, 2003
- Games for Meetings: IV
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
March 26, 2003
- There Is No Rumor Mill
- Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
March 19, 2003
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
March 12, 2003
- Some Costs of COTS
- As a way of managing risk, we sometimes steer our organizations towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, methodologies, designs, and processes. But to gain a competitive edge, we need creative differentiation.
March 5, 2003
- Organizational Firefighting
- Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
February 19, 2003
- Games for Meetings: II
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
February 12, 2003
- Games for Meetings: I
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
January 29, 2003
- Discussus Interruptus
- You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
January 22, 2003
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
January 15, 2003
- Please Remove My Appendix
- When an organization is experiencing problems with conflict, "pushback," or "blowback," managers often hire trainers to present programs on helpful topics. But self-diagnosis can be risky. Often, there are more direct and focused options that can help more and cost less.
December 11, 2002
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.
December 4, 2002
- Message Mismatches
- Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message mismatches.
November 27, 2002
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question, we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
November 13, 2002
- High Falutin' Goofy Talk
- Business speech and business writing are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with pretentious, overused images and puff phrases of unknown meaning. Here are some phrases that are so common that we barely notice them.
October 23, 2002
- Holey Grails
- How much of the time and energy you spend in meetings goes to finding the best way? or a better way? It's of questionable value unless you first agree on what you mean by "better" or "best."
October 16, 2002
- Commitment Makes It Easier
- When you face obstacles, sometimes the path around or through them is difficult. Committing yourself to the path lets you focus all your energy on the path you've chosen.
October 2, 2002
- Getting Around Hawthorne
- The Hawthorne Effect appears when we measure employee attitudes or behavior — when people know they're being measured, they modify their behavior. How can we measure attitudes with a minimum of distortion from the Hawthorne Effect?
September 25, 2002
- Make Space for Serendipity
- Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it. If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
September 18, 2002
- Renewal is a time to step out of your usual routine and re-energize. We find renewal in weekends, vacations, days off, even in a special evening or hour in the midst of our usual pattern. Renewal provides perspective. It's a climb to the mountaintop to see if we're heading in the right direction.
August 21, 2002
- Smart Bookshelves
- If you like to browse in bookstores, you probably know the thrill of new ideas and new perspectives. When I find a book worth reading, I want to own it, and that's how it gets to my shelf. Here are some tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
August 7, 2002
- Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
- When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets, rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
July 31, 2002
- Snapshots of Squirming Subjects
- Today we use data as a management tool. We store, recall, and process data about our operations to help us manage resources and processes. But this kind of management data is often scattered, out of date, or just plain incorrect, and taking a snapshot doesn't work. There is a better way.
July 17, 2002
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing. If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance of your company's downsizers.
July 10, 2002
- Doorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
- A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
June 5, 2002
- Status-Report as a Second Language
- Sometimes, the clichés the losing team's players feed to sports reporters can have hidden meaning. So it is with Project Status Reports, especially for projects in trouble.
May 29, 2002
- At the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up
- When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
May 22, 2002
- Food for Thought
- Most companies have employee cafeterias, with the usual not-much-better-than-high-school food service. By upgrading — and subsidizing — food service, these companies can reduce turnover and improve productivity dramatically.
May 1, 2002
- Learn from the Mastodon
- Not long ago, Mastodons roamed North America in large numbers. Cousins to the elephant, they thrived in the cool, sub-glacial climate. But the climate warmed, and human hunters arrived. The Mastodon couldn't adapt, and now it's extinct. Change is now coming to your profession. Can you adapt?
April 17, 2002
- The True Costs of Cubicles
- Although cubicles do provide facility cost savings compared with walled offices, they do so at the price of product development delays and increased product development costs. Decisions of facilities planners can have dramatic project schedule impact.
April 10, 2002
- How We Avoid Making Decisions
- When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
April 3, 2002
- Abraham, Mark, and Henny
- Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make things so complicated?
March 6, 2002
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
February 27, 2002
- Heavy Burdens: Should, Always, Must, and Never
- As a leader you carry a heavy burden. You're accountable for everything from employee development to meeting organizational objectives, and many of these responsibilities conflict. Life is tough enough, but most of us pile on a load of over-generalized rules of work life — a load too heavy for anyone to bear.
February 20, 2002
- Own Your Space
- Since we spend so much of our waking lives in our offices, it's surprising how few of us take control of our immediate surroundings. If you do — if you make your space uniquely yours — you'll feel better about the time you spend at work.
January 30, 2002
- Become a Tugboat Captain
- If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
January 16, 2002
- Express Your Appreciation and Trust
- Some people in your organization have done really outstanding work. You want to recognize that work, but the budget is so small that anything you could do would be insulting. What can you do? Express your Appreciation and Trust.
January 9, 2002
- When Meetings Boil Over
- At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
January 2, 2002
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
December 26, 2001
- Keep a Not-To-Do List
- Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
December 5, 2001
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
- If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration. Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
November 28, 2001
- Dangerous Phrases
- I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text." It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
November 21, 2001
- Pygmalion Side Effects: Bowling a Strike
- Elise slowly walked back to her office, beaten. Her supervisor, Alton, had just given Elise her performance review — her third consecutive "meets expectations." No point now to her strategy of giving 120% to turn it all around. She is living a part of the Pygmalion Effect, and she's about to experience the Pygmalion Side Effects.
November 14, 2001
- When Your Boss Attacks Your Self-Esteem
- Your boss's comments about your work can make your day — or break it. When you experience a comment as negative or hurtful, you might become angry, defensive, withdrawn, or even shut down. When that happens, you're not at your best. What can you do if your boss seems intent on making every day a misery?
October 24, 2001
- First Aid for Painful Meetings
- The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.
October 17, 2001
- Running Your Personal Squirrel Cage
- As Glen rounded the corner behind the old oak, entering the last mile of his morning run, he suddenly realized that he was thinking about picking up the dry cleaning tomorrow and changing his medical appointment. Physically, he was jogging in a park, but mentally, he was running in a squirrel cage. How does this happen? What can we do about it?
October 10, 2001
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else, that's a recipe for trouble.
October 3, 2001
- Don't Worry, Anticipate!
- Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle, you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
September 26, 2001
- Coaching and Haircuts
- Lifelong learners use a variety of approaches, usually relying heavily on reading. Reading works well for some ideas and techniques, especially for those with limited emotional content. For adding other skills and perceptions, consider a personal coach.
August 29, 2001
- Take Regular Temperature Readings
- Team interactions are unimaginably complex. To avoid misunderstandings, offenses, omissions, and mistaken suppositions, teams need open communications. But no one has a full picture of everything that's happening. The Temperature Reading is a tool for surfacing hidden and invisible information, puzzles, appreciations, frustrations, and feelings.
August 1, 2001
- Enjoy Your Commute
- You probably commute to work. On a good day, you spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or two — each way — commuting. What kind of experience are you having? Taking control of this part of your life can make a real difference.
July 4, 2001
- Corrales Mentales
- Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
May 30, 2001
- Taming the Time Card
- Filling out time cards may seem maddeningly trivial, but the data they collect can be critically important to project managers. Why is it so important? And what does an effective, yet minimally intrusive time reporting system look like?
May 16, 2001
- Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
- Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.
April 4, 2001
- The Shape of the Table
- Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
March 14, 2001
- Appreciate Differences
- In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
January 31, 2001
- The Zebra Effect
- If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the items on your To-Do list, and if you start on one only to realize that you have to tackle three more you didn't know about before you can finish that one, you could be experiencing the Zebra Effect.
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