agreeing isn’t the last step

This was a big deal. Millions of dollars were spent to get to this point. On the call were resources in Hong Kong, S. Korea, and China. Not on the call were a team of other resources spanning from Florida to Hyderabad. The whole team would be waiting on the outcome of the discussion.

The topic, the first scheduled system outage. We needed to agree on a time and method for dealing with the interruption at a manufacturing facility. Mandarin was the primary language on the call. We let each section leader discuss the impact and their plans to overcome the disruptions of the outage.

I don’t speak Mandarin, but it was clear after about 20 minutes that we had an agreement that would work for everyone. Successful collaboration had occurred. We almost ended the call.

But agreeing wasn’t the last step.

Once we reached our consensus we needed to make sure that our plan to communicate and coordinate was smooth after all we just spent 20 minutes discussion what we’d do and when. How would we know when the when was happening?

How many times have you had a good plan go awry because we didn’t build in the communications plan?

Just as important as any agreement is the plan to execute that agreement. It may come across as tedious to talk about, but reminding your group that agreeing isn’t the last step should help them see the value in the effort.

Fascinated

In less than 15 minutes I have another meeting for work. My youngest juts asked me why I have a meeting on Sunday? The answer is pretty easy to understand. My project has team members in Seoul (S. Korea) and Hyderabad (India). Sunday afternoon is their Monday morning.

To conduct the meetings we use one of several apps that allow teams to communicate across the globe in real time, with video, and chat features.

I grew up in an era with rotary phones and long-distance charges.

I remember when we had a touch tone phone and one of my brothers accidentally called Japan. There as no forgiveness of the charges. The call was going to added to the bill and there was nothing we could do about it.

What we do on the calls is important, but sometimes I’m distracted from the work we have to do and I’m just fascinated that we can have the conversations.

Beethoven’s 9th was about uniting the world. Today we’re living as part of that when we use the technology we have to communicate around the globe.

I’m fascinated by the fact that we are communicating. What I’m doing was part of science fiction only a few years ago. Remember when we thought iPods were cool?

When we communicate we’re sharing information about cultures, shared understanding, and working towards a common goal.

While what we’re doing is really important, some days I find how we do it to be the most fascinating.

Everyone’s Right

Youve been there before. You’re in a meeting and someone is very passionate about how they see a situation. They escalate their volume. Soon there’s a misunderstanding and someone else matches passion for passion, but they don’t share the same perspective.

Two people may walk on a path but their destinations aren’t always the same.

It’s entirely possible to pause a conversation that is going badly. During the pause I remarked how both people were right and encouraged them to see it from the others perspective.

It worked.

I only hope someone is around to pause the next meeting where I become passionate.

Managing Left Field Commentary

Good stakeholder management involves understanding the perspectives of every stakeholder involved in the project.  In person I often tell people about one of the ways I personally do this.  It’s not elegant, but it’s just writing the people I meet as characters in my own cognitive process.  Once I’ve made them a part of the story of my life I assign them motivations and a pseudo-history.  As I get to know the person further I refine the character to more closely match the person in front of me.  It’s not a perfect technique, but for me it works well.  Until it doesn’t.

What happens though when you get a perspective that seems to come out of left field?

I know you’ve been there before.  You’re in a meeting the group is making good progress towards the meeting’s goal and then someone throws a verbal hand grenade on the process with a perspective that seems to come out of left field.  If it’s a meeting your just attending it could lead to some fun-to-watch drama, but if you’re even remotely invested in moving things forward, or you’re the person hosting the meeting, this sort of event can be terribly disruptive.

Here’s a few steps to overcome the disruption if you’re the facilitator:

  1.  Treat the input as legitimate.  Most people are good and think they’re being good even when their actions are disruptive.  Directly challenging someone’s world view generally encourages their defense mechanism not productive discussion.
  2. Keep the other person talking.  Don’t let them shut down right away.  Their withdrawal shifts the effort back to the group and if the comment was meant as a power play enabling the person to shut down represents submissiveness.  One quick response is to have them restate their input.  “Can you say that again?  I want to make sure I understand.”
  3. Describe the circumstances.  This next step requires some group investment–but remember the group was already disrupted, so they’re already invested–it’s OK to spend time on this.
    • Lower your ego
    • Ask for input
    • transitioning from step 2 to step 3 can be done with the phrase “I’m trying, but I don’t see it.  Can you help me understand how and why you came to this conclusion?”
  4. Stay in control of the process.  As the facilitator it’s your job to continue directing the conversation.  From this point forward your follow-up questions will be key and the goal is to help everyone in the room understand the reality where the person’s input isn’t just valid, but the best choice.  That reality is a possibility and considering multiple possibilities (even those that are unlikely) can add a lot of value.

According to Eric Ries deviants can add significant value to an organization by encouraging different perspectives that often lead to seeing value in other areas.  By following the steps identified here, you’re able to move from an environment of conflict to one of collaboration where the group learns to see things from a different perspective.

What’s the most left field situation you’ve ever come across?  What’s your technique for group perspective shifting.