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Geese Don't Land on Twigs (and other observations about life at work)


Here's a collection of short articles that give tips, insights and new perspectives on life in the modern workplace. You can read each one in a few minutes, and quickly gain new insights that can transform how you experience life at work.

Have you ever Skip to the Details:
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found yourself sitting in a meeting, listening for the third time to drivel you just couldn't believe people would actually say out loud, and wondering how much longer this would go on until they finally agreed to what anyone with half a brain knew they'd have to do anyway? And then groaned to yourself when you realized that your next meeting would be more of the same?

Decision-making in sportsOr have you ever had the kind of "forehead-slapping moment" when you suddenly realized why the group didn't go for your last suggestion, and then wondered how you could possibly have been so naïve as to have proposed it in the first place?

Geese Don't Land on Twigs (and other observations about life at work) is filled with the insights you need to make sense of it all. It helps you avoid the traps and pitfalls that await you at work, and it guides you into new choices that can make life at work more enjoyable and rewarding.

Geese is a collection of articles from past issues of Point Lookout, my free, weekly email newsletter of tips, insights and perspectives that help people in dynamic problem-solving organizations find better ways to work with each other. It gives concrete, nuts-and-bolts methods for dealing with real-life situations.

Geese is a collection of articles from the 2001 and 2002 issues of Point Lookout, my weekly email newsletter of tips, insights and perspectives that help people in dynamic problem-solving organizations find better ways to work with each other. It gives concrete, nuts-and-bolts methods for dealing with real-life situations. You can also get the collection from 2003 and 2004, or the collection from 2005 and 2006, or the collection from 2001 through 2010.

Geese Don't Land on Twigs makes a wonderful and unique gift for a friend, a colleague, or a spouse who faces any of the ordinary — and many of the not-so-ordinary — challenges of working today.

Table of contents

Here's a chapter-by-chapter summary of what you'll find in this book.

Click the folder icons to reveal (or hide) individual chapter content summaries, or:

When someone asks you for information that they can use to attack a third party politically, beware. It's a dangerous role not to be undertaken lightly, and certainly not without insurance.
Some people use rhetorical tricks that push our buttons, which makes choosing wisely difficult. Implied accusations make us defensive, which is almost always a bad place to be. What other choices do we have?
When your boss asks you to look the other way, or to actively take part in unethical activity, you probably feel uncomfortable — with good reason. Can you find a way to live with yourself?
The term resistance, as used in the context of organizational change, describes our reluctance to abandon the status quo. But it's a loaded term, because it devalues that reluctance. When we approach change with this model of reluctance in mind, we sabotage our own efforts.
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.
When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by exposing embarrassing information.
When we plan projects, we estimate the duration and cost of something we've never done before. Since projects are inherently risky, our chances of estimating correctly are small. Quantum Management tells us how to think about cost and schedule in new ways.
When you celebrate — even minor successes — you change your outlook, you energize yourself, and you create new ways to achieve more successes. Too often we let others define what we will celebrate. Actually, we're in complete command of what we celebrate. When we take charge of our celebrations, we make life a lot more fun.
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
We often think about "playing the game" — either with relish or repugnance. You'll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.
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.
Cost reduction is so common that nearly every project plan today should include budget and schedule for several rounds of reductions. Whenever we cut costs, we risk cutting too much, so it pays to ask, "If we do cut too much, what are the consequences?"
"If we promote you, we'll have to promote all of them, too." This "slippery-slope" tactic for winning debates works by exploiting our fears.
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?
For some teams conflict seems to focus around one particular team member. The conflict might manifest itself as either organizational or interpersonal issues, or both, but whatever the problem seems to be, the problem is never the problem.
When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension — a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation Zone.
When a project gets off track, we sometimes cancel it. But since canceling projects takes a lot of courage, we look for ways to save them if we can. Often, things do turn out OK, and at other times they don't. There's a third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it. We can restart.
Like a traditional family album, a project family album has pictures of people, places and events. It builds connections, helps tie the team together, and it can be as much fun to look through as it is to create.
However perceptive we become about what can anger us, we still do get angry once in a while. Here are four steps to help you deal with your own anger.
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.
When we communicate, we can't control how other people interpret our communications. Accidental offense is inevitable, and email is especially likely to produce examples of this problem. What can we do as members of electronic communities when trouble erupts?
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?
At a dinner party I attended recently, Kris said to Suzanne, "You remind me of Helen Hunt." I looked at Suzanne, and sure enough, she did look like Helen Hunt. Later, I noticed that I was seeing Suzanne a little differently. These are the effects of hat hanging. At work, it can damage careers and even businesses.
Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?
To solve problems, we change existing policies or processes, or we create new ones. We try to make things better and sometimes we actually succeed. More often, we create new problems — typically, for someone else.
Do you tend to commit to too many tasks? Are you one who spends too much energy meeting the needs of others — so much that your own needs go unmet? Here's how a hula-hoop can help.
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.
Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.
When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts. One approach that works well is the simulation.
You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
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.
When we undertake change, we're usually surprised at the effort and cost required. Much of this effort and cost is necessary because of the nature of the processes we're changing. What can we do differently to make change easier in the future?
When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines to finding your way to a good outcome.
High-performance teams have customary ways of working together that suit them, their organizations, and their work. But when emergencies happen, operating in business-as-usual mode damages teams — and the relationships between their people — permanently. To avoid this, train for emergencies.
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.
Email is a wonderful medium for some communications, and extremely dangerous for others. What are its limitations? How can we use email safely?
Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model has been especially useful for me. It describes how people and systems respond to change, and handles well situations like the one that affected us all on September Eleventh.
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.
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.
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 ex-pressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can reach whatever con-clusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else, that's a recipe for trouble.
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?
The foundation of any 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.
In the project context, we need to know that whatever we're hearing from colleagues is the truth as they see it. Yet, sometimes we shade the truth, or omit important details. Here's a list of some of the advantages of telling the truth.
As a leader or manager, you need access to complete and accurate information about the people, relationships, processes and products of the organizations they manage. Leaders or managers who punish the bearers of bad news erect barriers to their own future access to the truth.
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?
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.
When I upgraded my email program recently, I encountered some problems with a new feature that monitors messages for offensive words. This got me thinking about everyday phrases that do tend to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
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.
It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity to participate in workplace politics?
When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
Since the items on your To-Do list can be 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.
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?
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?
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.
In a Project Nursery, professionals from across the entire organization collaborate to conceive of new projects. When all organizational elements help decide which projects to investigate, the menu they develop best suits organizational needs and capabilities.
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.
Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.
Have you had a major success lately? Have you become a celebrity in your organization? Are people showering you with accolades? When it happens, we feel great, and the elation does finally come to an end. What then?
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.
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 top of this a load of over-generalized rules of work life — a load too heavy for anyone to bear.
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.
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
Change is all around, and you're probably pretty skilled at it. You can become even more skilled if you change how you change. Here are some tips to help you improve your personal change skills.
We've all made mistakes, and we'll continue to do so for as long as we live. Making mistakes is part of being human. Still, we're often troubled by our mistakes, even when we remember that many mistakes turn out to be great gifts. Why do we have such a hard time acknowledging mistakes?
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?
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.
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.
Have you ever heard nasty rumors about yourself? When rumors are damaging, they can hurt our careers, our self-esteem, and even our health. Sadly, our response to rumors often compounds the serious damage they do.
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?
Diversity of perspectives is one of the great strengths of teams. Ideas contend and through contending they improve each other. In this process, criticism of ideas sometimes gets personal. How can we critique ideas safely, without hurting each other, while keeping focused on the work?
Humor is fun — that's why they call it "funny." If you add humor to your own work environment, you'll reduce your level of stress, increase your creativity, and drive your enemies nuts.
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.
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.
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.
Some of us are fortunate — we work for companies that make sure they have enough people to do all the work. Yet, we still work too many hours. We overwork ourselves by taking on too much, and then we work long hours to get it done. If you're an over-worker, what can you do about it?
When projects founder, we're often shocked — we thought everything was moving along smoothly. Sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we had — or could have had — enough information to determine that trouble was ahead. Somehow it was obscured by fog. How can we get better at seeing through the fog?
Feeling trapped, with no clear way out, often leads to anger. One way to defuse your anger is to notice false traps, particularly the false dichotomy. When you notice that you're the target of a false dichotomy, you can control your anger more easily — and then the trap often disappears.
When we make a difficult decision, we sometimes know we've made the wrong choice, even before the consequences become obvious. At other times, we can be absolutely certain that we've done right, even in the face of inadequate information. When we have these feelings, we're in touch with our inner wisdom. It's a powerful resource.
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?
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.
Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the non-specialists among us have developed considerable skill in anticipating troubles and preparing plans for dealing with them. When these habits of thought leak into our personal lives, we pay a high price.
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.
When problems arise faster than we can solve them, we need a strategy for dealing with them. Often, we use strategies that give too much emphasis to short-term effects. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
The demand for higher standards of ethical behavior for corporate officers is probably just the beginning. As a society, we're re-learning the value of honesty, and many more of us will have to come to a new understanding of ethics. Some professions have formal codes of ethics, but most don't. What ethical principles guide you?
How many books do you own? How many of those have you read? If you're like most of us, you own many books you've been meaning to read, but just haven't found a way to do it. Here are some tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
The past few years have been hard. Some of us have lost hope. What do you do when you're down so low the only place to go is up?
When we suddenly realize that our project's scope has expanded far beyond its initial boundaries — when we have that how-did-we-ever-get-here feeling — we're experiencing the downside of scope creep. Preventing scope creep starts with understanding how it happens.
Grief is usually a private matter, but for some, September Eleventh is different because our grief can be centered in the workplace. On September Eleventh, give yourself permission to do what you need for yourself, and give others permission to do what they need for themselves.
Renewal is a time to step out of your usual routine and re-energize. It provides perspective. Renewal is a climb to the mountaintop to see if we're heading in the right direction.
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.
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?
One of our great strengths as Humans is our ability to name things. Naming empowers us by helping us think about and communicate complex ideas. But naming has a dark side, too. We use naming to oversimplify, to denigrate, to disempower, and even to dehumanize. When we abuse this tool, we hurt our companies, our colleagues, and ourselves.
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.
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."
Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.
Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
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.
When we change organizational culture, we often stumble over unexpected obstacles. Sometimes the tangle can be so frustrating that we want to start the company over again. Here are some tips for managing large-scale cultural change.
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.
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.
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.
You lead a company, a department, or a team. When two of your reports get caught up in a feud, what do you do? Let them fight it out? Order them to stop? Fire them both? Here are some tips for making a peace.
Layoffs during the holiday period of November 15 through January 15 are far more common than you might think. Losing your job, or fearing that you might, is always difficult, but at that time of year it's especially helpful to keep in mind that the experience does have a bright side.

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