Tag Archives | Teams

Curiosity in Action: Employee Engagement

I was recently invited to a forum on Engaged Team Performance by one of the managing partners of Implementation Partners, Roland Cavanagh. I first met Roland two years ago, when I interviewed him for a research project.

The forum consisted of two presentations, one from a client and the other a company built from a similar vision,  about how they view employee engagement and how their efforts to apply Engaged Team Performance resulted in highly engaged, creative, even joyful, company cultures and enhanced the success of each company.

The two companies were, in some ways, very different. One was a relatively small, stand-alone company that was built from the beginning on its model of structure-supported creativity and interaction; this company’s story reinforced my belief that small companies have the potential to test theories and practices that can change the world.

The other company was a newer subsidiary of a much larger, older organization. As part of this larger, older organization, they had to overcome entrenched attitudes and habits: Speaking up and thinking creatively were not encouraged. Questioning was not encouraged.

For example, when looking for ways to streamline a particular process, they could have just automated it. Instead, they worked with the team members to investigate why things were done a certain way. Why do we do it this way? Does it have to be done this way?  How else might we accomplish this? What are the risks and benefits of making a change? Then they came up with a plan, one that was based on answers to questions, not generally accepted assumptions.

Within a larger culture of “Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die,” this took some getting used to. It required trust-building.

But as they became more comfortable with this questioning approach, and with the follow-through on the answers, they questioned more and became more creative in their proposals for how they might do things differently. They implemented changes to the process that resulted in time savings that benefited the customer and freed up resources. Rather than cut head-count, they applied those human resources to other projects and initiatives, giving people even more opportunities for creative problem solving. It was more fun for them, and both their customers and the organization enjoyed the benefits.

It struck me, as they were describing this, that what I was hearing was a perfect demonstration of the importance of developing and applying curiosity. By creating a safe space and encouraging team members to exercise their curiosity, they became more comfortable with it and it became part of their culture. They were then able – and eager – to apply that curiosity to additional projects and creative endeavors.

When I brought this up and commended the presenters from this client company during the Q&A period, I was reminded by their blank looks that Curiosity is taken for granted and overlooked in most situations as the integral secret sauce that makes such initiatives successful.

In fact, “secret sauce” probably isn’t the best term to use. Curiosity isn’t a process or a methodology that needs to be learned. Instead, it is a muscle that every person brings with them, and organizations with engaged members encourage, even expect, those members to exercise that muscle.

I don’t think it was an accident that the presenters described environments that encouraged curiosity as part of their successful efforts to build Engaged Team Performance, even if they never used that term. I also don’t think I am looking for something that wasn’t there. But I noticed it, because I pay attention to this subject.

I’m looking forward to reading Building Engaged Team Performance, the new book by Roland Cavanagh and Dodd Starbird of Implementation Partners. Based on the case studies presented at this forum, I expect it to be a very interesting read – even if they never use the word “curiosity.”

What do you think? What role does curiosity play in engaged organizations (large or small)? What is the impact of the absence of curiosity or, worse yet, its being stifled?

Management Lessons from My Cats – Part II

Note: This is the second of two posts I wrote last April and didn’t post until now. Don’t ask me why. Better late than never.

Everyone knows that cats are “low maintenance,” which is why some people prefer them over dogs.

Dogs are not low maintenance.

I have two cats (or they have me). Two cats are even lower maintenance than one cat, believe it or not, because they rely on each other for a lot of play, companionship and cleaning support.

Except for right now, when they are separated for twelve days during the convalescence of one. Abby, of course, requires more attention than usual while I learn how to administer medicine, look after her wounds, and scratch her ears, neck and chin inside the satellite dish.

But Rocket requires more attention right now, too. Not only does she not have Abby for company, but I am spending more time with Abby, so I have to be sure to spend more time with Rocket, too.

Both of their worlds have been rocked, and they are needier and more anxious than normal. Change Management for Cats 101.

And it occurred to me that while cats are Low Maintenance, they are not No Maintenance.

Just like team members. And teams.

Some people – and teams – require little supervision and management. But even they require attention at times. The challenge is knowing how much and when. If you can get that right, they purr.

What kind of attention do you appreciate from your management? What kind of attention do you give to your team members? How do you shift gears to help them cope with Change? What makes them – and you – purr?

PS – Abby is now fine. After what seemed like an eternity of keeping the cats separate, the vet pronounced her Healed and removed the satellite dish. (Which she gave to me, since I had paid for it, but really, if I can’t pill a cat, do you think I’ll be able to put a satellite dish on one single-handedly? Not. Very. Likely. But I’m adhering to Murphy’s Law for Packrats: It’s stowed away in the closet, because if I keep it I’ll never need it.)

What Spiders Can Teach Us About Building a Great Team

I know, you’re thinking, “But spiders are solitary creatures. What can they teach us about building a great team?”

About 15 years ago I rented an 18-foot truck, my sister and I loaded it up with the contents of my storage locker, and we set out to drive it from Seattle to Minneapolis. Yep, two chicks on cross-country trip. (In a truck, no less.) Although there were no guns and no convertibles, the comparisons to Thelma and Louise were endless.

Well, we had been on the road for a short while and I was behind the wheel, happily driving along, when one of us turned on the air conditioning.

And a bunch of spiders blew out at us.

I hate spiders. They are the only thing I know of that will make me scream. So you can imagine what happened: I immediately screamed and started brushing away spiders.

While I was driving.

Luckily for me, my sister is not afraid of spiders and never has been. In fact, she was My Protector growing up, as she was the one who would capture the wolf spiders that inhabited our old house and release them outside. (Of course, I think she’s also the reason I’m afraid of spiders, since she put a daddy-long-legs on my neck when we were playing Truth or Dare or something when I was very little.)

Anyway. My sister could have grabbed the wheel, but instead she very calmly (at least in comparison) said, “You drive, I’ll take care of the spiders.” And I did. And she did. We still laugh about that sometimes (and I get the heebie-jeebies).

“But what,” you might ask, “does that have to do with building a great team?”

Well, think about it. My sister and I are a great team, and we were an especially great team at that moment, because we had different strengths. I was able to remain (relatively) calm and keep driving even with the heebie-jeebies, and she was able to restrain what would have been a natural impulse to grab the wheel and instead dealt with the spiders. Imagine the consequences if neither one of us was able to deal with the spiders, or if I was not able to maintain my composure and keep driving, or if she had tried to grab control. Great teams are composed of people with complementary skills. Even members of teams that appear to all do the same thing, say, the Rockettes, have different responsibilities. After all, someone has to be the pivot person on the end, right? (Never having been a Rockette, I’m just guessing. But you get my point.)

The great challenge in building a team with complementary skills isn’t just that, however.

The First Great Challenge of Building a Great Team: Avoid the temptation to hire people just like you.

The Second Great Challenge of Building a Great Team: Anticipate the surprise scenarios and plan for them by putting in place the people who can handle them.

My sister and I didn’t plan to have a nest of spiders come blowing out into our laps, of course. (Seriously, I would have asked for a different truck, thank you very much.) You can’t plan for everything. But knowing you have people on your team with a variety of skills and personalities that can cover a lot of possibilities not only makes your team stronger, it also makes life a lot more interesting.

Do you agree?

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