How to Stifle Teamwork – Part 3

The news reports that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfled had an opportunity to inspire, motivate the US troops during a recent question and answer session in Kuwait.

Based on this exchange, I can’t say he succeeded in addressing the troops concerns let alone inspire them to go back into battle. That is unfortunate.

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?” – Army Spc. Thomas Wilson

Rumsfeld replies, “You go to war with the Army you have.”

More at: [MSN] Troops put tough questions to Rumsfeld

The White Collar Revolt, Part 1

Related to my earlier post about saying ‘No’ (Some of the Passengers, Some of the Time) fed up computer programmers at Electronic Arts are suing their employer over “extreme job stress and health problems”.

NPR had the story this past weekend on Weekend Edition.

Employees are gaining more control over their work conditions with each passing day. And if a specific employer doesn’t allow employees to have control over their schedule, environment, and work – they should prepare to see a similar suit against themselves shortly.

Ricardo Semler outlines how to structure a supportive and profitable organization in, Maverick. I can’t say enough good things about his book.

Get more details at the Social Customer Manifesto.

Job Security is the Ability to Get a Job


My sister and I recently shared a phone conversation on the state of work. While she finishes her undergrad, she’s working for a temp agency. She’s continually negotiating with the agency on work; she calls the temp agency with her schedule, they call her with jobs. When there’s a match, there’s a match. If not, no harm, no foul.

She was forecasting life after school and lamenting the schedule flexibility with a full-time job. I offered that my near-decade “real world” work experience proved to be extremely similar to her relationship with the temp agency.

My mom has worked for the same organization for more than a quarter century. 25 years in the same building. Not something possible today. Today, employer-employee relationships is more akin to the Dread Pirate Roberts and Westley in the Princess Bride:

“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” – Dread Pirate Roberts

What is job security in this new world?
Having an active network of people to help you get the next project.

With that, all the benefits of traditional fulltime employment take care of themselves.

I want to thank Evelyn Rodriguez at Crossroads Dispatches for her recent Accidental Entrepreneurs post which inspired this post.

Six Step Process to Motivate Others

In a highly collaborative working environment, the traditional hierarchical relationship between employees doesn’t exist. The result is peers making requests to one another to move their respective projects forward. More akin to a volunteer organization than a button-down for-profit business.

The best volunteer organizations use a 6-step process to motivate peers in assisting. This is a time-proven process for both getting things done and clearly identifying those individuals that are not at all interested in your project. Use it whenever you need to make a request of someone’s time.

  1. Introduce Yourself.
    It’s so easy yet so frequently ignored. If you’re making the request over the phone, it is doubly important that you introduce yourself, the organizations you’re representing, the person you wish to speak with, and why you’re calling.

    “Hi, this is Garrick Van Buren from Working Pathways. I’m calling for Darrel Austin regarding the AcmeCo Accessibility Audit. Is now a good time to talk?”

    This is very similar to my earlier Get Your Email Read post. Notice the “is now a good time…” question. Always provide an out at this point. It’s most polite to do all this upfront. Otherwise you’re wasting your peer’s valuable time and reducing the chance they’ll help you now or in the future.

  2. Provide an Update.
    This is where you provide a quick, 2-sentence background on the project you’re working on who referred you to them. For example:

    “I’m working with Darrel Austin on redesigning the AcmeCo.com shopping cart process. We’re about to evaluate the new model with AcmeCo’s best customers.”

  3. Define the Problem.
    This is why you need their assistance. Again, make it brief – 1 sentence is ideal.

    “We have evaluations scheduled for early next week and we do not have all the timeslots booked.”

  4. Define the Solution.
    One sentence describing how you want to solve the previously stated problem.

    “The good news is store managers like yourself are helping out.”

  5. State the Urgency.

    “It’s going great, and we have one last remaining timeslot to fill before the end of business today.”

  6. Ask Them.
    This is where you formally request something from them. At this point, they have a clear understanding of the situation you’re in and how they can help. They’re thinking 1 of 3 things at this point.

    1. “I’ll help by filling in that last timeslot.”
    2. “How can I help?”
    3. “I’m not interested in helping.”

    This is your opportunity to make a clear, formal request to them:

    “Can I put you down for the Wednesday 4pm timeslot?”

    If there are multiple ways the person can assist you, start with the option requiring the greatest commitment and wait for a ‘No’ before offering the next option.
    If they decline all options – I recommend re-evaluating them as a future resource.

One Sheet Wonders

I’ve been reading Ricardo Semler’s fantastic book, Maverick on how he turned around SemCo in the 1980’s. Each chapter ends with a nugget of organizational wisdom concisely delivered in a sentence or two. This is exactly what I was talking about in my earlier post, Once More, In Half the Time.

In addition to also using Twain’s quote, Semler took the principle one step further.

All the documents at SemCo are kept to 1 page. Everything – memos, proposals, market surveys – one page. If you read my Once More, In Half the Time post, I’m sure you’re wondering the benefit of continued revisions when you could just finish it. Here’s Semler’s response.

This has not only reduced unnecessary paperwork, but has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos…The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.

Boiling down important messages to as little as needed guarantees the message will be received. I’m reminded of an example I heard about during a conversation with Caterpillar. Originally, they had a multi-page print-out describing the classification of a given document on a scale of confidentiality. It was never used or misused. Obviously, this is dangerous for all involved. They were able to boil the print-out down to one sheet. One sheet – posted at every desk I walked past.

Concision is something we’re comfortable and familiar with here at Working Pathways. All our proposals are one page. Our research reports are boiled down to just the important bits. As an example, the findings from a recent, 2-week-long intensive customer research project were delivered in an easy-to-read 5-page PowerPoint deck.

The level of concision both Semler and I are talking about requires a deep understanding of what is to be communicated and the most effective means of communicating it.

Want Better Collaboration – Improvise

The earlier collaboration techniques post (Stop Asking Questions) was based a key to successful improvisation. This post digs further into the relationship between improv and collaboration.

Good improvisational comedy teams believe a group of individuals working together can start with nothing and quickly create something engaging, desireable, useful, and valuable. From this perspective, the keys for successful Improv apply to any collaborative effort.

As such, there are 7 keys to successful improvisational collaboration:

  1. Acceptance of a new idea from the standpoint of exploring its possibilities; An attitude of “Yes, and” rather than the destructive “but” .
  2. Attentive listening to all the partners on the team.
  3. Temporary suspension of critical judgment.
  4. An attitude of relaxed openness to new ideas. Exploring the far reaches of “What if ___?”
  5. Reframing situations to explore creative possibilities.
  6. A willingness to take chances, to risk appearing foolish, i.e. Stop Asking Questions.
  7. An understanding that no choice is absolutely right or wrong, though each may turn out to be more or less productive in a given situation.

Thanks to the Applied Improvisational Network.

Want Better Collaboration – Stop Asking Questions

The first step to a collaborative environment is to banish questions. Yes, banish the question mark from all conversation.

Questions reinforce heirarchial relationships rather than build the peer-to-peer relationships necessary for innovative, effective collaboration.

Step #1. Everyone is smart and everyone’s knowledge is of equal value.

A question forces someone else to make something for you.

Step #2. You can create things others find valuable.

A French Hour Sprint

Your new project is scary – though isolated and contained, the timeline ridiculous, the deadline immediate. The team is understandably nervous. What’s the easiest way to success?

Institute French Hours – or what we’ve (until now) called a Sprint.

Here are the 4 rules of French Hours:

  1. You can’t do it all the time.
  2. Every person must want to do it, and there must be an alternative job if anyone chooses not to.
  3. Everyone on the team has to be reminded of the uniqueness of the situation (and the team) on a regular basis.
  4. You have to stop.  All at once.

These rules are carved in stone. If you’ve been through one – you know that. If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it – the speed, the straight-forward deadline – they’re refreshing projects. Just keep the 4 rules in mind.

Go pick up the August 2004 Fast Company and get the full story.

Usability Not Usable? – Part 2

“People are usually not receptive to a newcomer waltzing in and telling them they’ve been doing their jobs wrong.”

Usability departments exist in a number of our client organizations. Unfortunately, their organizational structural frequently instills an adversarial relationship between the project teams and usability group. The usability group is considered an outside agency – ony evaluating ‘ready for prime time’ work.

This relationship places the usability professional in the lose-lose position of telling the project team their baby is ugly.

Here are 3 tips for making this process more valuable for everyone:

  1. Invite everyone in all the project meetings from the start. This includes developers, usability professionals, project sponsors, clients, and even a customer or two. (and make the meetings working meetings)
  2. Evaluate early and often. The earlier in the project customer insight is captured, the more valuable is it to the project (and the customer). The project is less malleable as time progresses, more decisions (good & bad) have been made, more constraints exist. Everyone learns from early evaluation.
  3. Create, don’t just destroy. Usability evalutions are most valuable and insightful when participants are offered alternatives to compare. Perhaps alternatives don’t exist for the initial evaluation session, but they surely exist for each additional. To make the most of the evaluations the learnings from each session to the next participant in the form of a rough prototype.

The quote beginning this post is from from Ester Derby’s article Change that Fits. Her story describes a recently-fired software development quality engineer. Usability professionals should heed warning.