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Personal, Team and Organizational Effectiveness

Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on personal, team and organizational effectiveness. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by date. Subscribe now.

Head of the philosopher Carneades (215-129 BCE)Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
.
An egg sandwichAnd on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part 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. Available here and by RSS on December 31
.

Other topics:

September 24, 2014

Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic 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

Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: Part 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

A view from the false summit of the Manitou incline in ColoradoFalse Summits: Part 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

Three simple carabinersTeam Risks
Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are some risks worth mitigating.

August 20, 2014

A rescue puppyYou 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

A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageUnnecessary Boring Work: Part 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

Industrial robots assembling automobilesUnnecessary Boring Work: Part 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

Two components of the U.S. Consumer Price Index for 1994-2010Constancy Assumptions
We necessarily make assumptions about our lives, including our work, because assumptions simplify things. And usually, our assumptions are valid. But not always.

July 2, 2014

Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingSeventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember in the moment.

June 25, 2014

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleDeciding 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

Lake Chaubunagungamaug signDeciding 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

A metaphorical depiction of the creation of artificial intelligenceOffice 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

Eastern Redcedar in crossection, with white sapwood on the outside edges, and red to deep reddish-brown heartwoodThe 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

A tire reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaManaging 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

A black kite, a species of hawkEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: Part 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

Fugu Rubripes, the Fugu fishEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: Part 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

An adult male mountain lion captured by biologistsThe 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

A pyramidal silk teabag of spiced black teaPatching 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 26, 2012

An FBI SWAT team assists local law enforcement in New Orleans in August 2005The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.

December 12, 2012

The impeachment managers for the impeachment of U.S. President Andrew JohnsonProblem-Solving Preferences
When people solve problems together, differences in preferred approaches can surface. Some prefer to emphasize the goal or objective, whole others focus on the obstacles. This difference is at once an asset and annoyance.

September 19, 2012

Mohandas GhandiNo 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

Still Life with Chair-Caning, by PicassoSolutions 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

A map of the Internet ca. January 2005Intentionally 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

Dunes in Death Valley, CaliforniaHill 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

The Challenge vs. Skill diagram, showing the "Flow" regionTop 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

Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis CarrollHow 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

The business end of a spark plugWacky Words of Wisdom: Part 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

Arrival of Cortés in Vera CruzWacky Words of Wisdom: Part 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

Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordCommunication 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

U.S. Army troops wade ashore during the Normandy landingsReactance 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

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United StatesSpeak 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

Henri Laurence Gantt, inventor of the Gantt ChartThe 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

The Messerschmitt Me 262, which was the first jet fighter to fly in combatHow 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

Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986How 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

A portrait of Matthew Lyon, printer, farmer, soldier, politicianHow 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

The field of vision of a horseA 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 mantis shrimp, recently discovered to have the ability to detect the circular polarization state of lightA 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

Space Shuttle Columbia during the launch of its final missionHow to Reject Expert Opinion: Part 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

Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: Part 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

Computer-generated image of the third stage ignition for Mars Climate OrbiterConfirmation 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

World global temperature departuresConfirmation 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

A glass of red wineI'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

A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaDecisions: 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

Perceptual illusions resulting from reificationThe 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

Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'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

Symptoms of Stage 5 heat stress in cattleYou 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

Portrait of Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary WarThe 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

An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft AA-1 undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth, TexasThe 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

An actual deck chair recovered from the sunken liner <i>Titanic</i>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

Turbulence in the wake of a low-flying aircraftGuidelines 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

Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Indicators of Lock-In: Part 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

Governor Scott Walker of WisconsinIndicators of Lock-In: Part 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

Heiltskuk Icefield, British ColumbiaFinding 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 Japanese battleship <i>Yamato</i> during machinery trials 20 October 1941The 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

A fancy diagram of the kind that often accompanies management fadsWhy 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

Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselSome 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

Silly BandzBusiness 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

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christa Quam holds her puppyBe 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

A spider plant, <i>chlorophytum comosum</i>.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

Post-War Lionel TrainsWhen 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

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow 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

The Bay of Whales off the Ross Ice Shelf, AntarcticaHow 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

A centrifugal governorSixteen 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

Eggs Sardou at Lucile's: poached eggs, creamed spinach, gulf shrimp, gritsManagement Debt: Part 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

Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: Part 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

A 1928 Ford Model A Business CoupeClueless 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

The Stevens Memorial Library in Ashburnham, MassachusettsTake 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

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthologyWhy 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

A dwarf apple tree typical of modern commercial varietiesWacky 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

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (<i>Lepidochelys kempi</i>), ashore, probably to lay eggsSeven 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

A Cliff Chipmunk in Saguaro National Park in ArizonaThis 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

"Taking an observation at the pole."Risk Management Risk: Part 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

Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Risk Management Risk: Part 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

Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, first Baron Mountevans of ChelseaGuidelines 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

Dwarf mistletoe in JuniperAction 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

Winslow Homer's painting, BlackboardFill 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

A view of the site known as the Rock Garden, on MarsHow 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

Flourless chocolate cakeTwenty-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

Well-wishers greet physicist Stephen Hawking (in wheelchair) at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing FacilityLogically 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

A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling 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

A single-strand knotTangled 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

Historic handshake in Porvoo Finland in 2007The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part 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

A Roman coin from the reign of Marcus Cocceius NervaThe Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part 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

Six kids on a PlayPumpThe 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 wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
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

The male red-capped manakinFinding 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

A pair of adult trumpeter swansFinding 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

A grove of quaking aspenFinding 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

U.S. Unemployment Rate in percentFinding 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

The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain ForestTeamwork 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

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleOne 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

Statue of Hermes with modern headTeamwork 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

The bark of the American SycamoreMitigating Outsourcing Risks: Part 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

Gut bacteriaMitigating Outsourcing Risks: Part 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

A man using a chainsawDiscussion Distractions: Part 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

Senator Susan Collins of MaineDiscussion Distractions: Part 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

The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare IslandCoping 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

A speakerphone of a type in common use for teleconferencesPet 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

A captive white rhinoFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part 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

Christ's Indian PaintbrushFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part 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

Bill Moyers — host of the PBS program Bill Moyers JournalAsking 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

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (left) with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan GreenspanThe 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

Albert Einstein playing his violin on his 50th birthday in 1929The 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

A wild turkeyIt'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

Three adult male chimpanzees during a grooming sessionFavors, 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

The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979Accepting 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

Dr. Jerri Nielsen at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999On 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

Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team at the South Pole in 1911Coping 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

One site auditing a virtual presentationVirtual 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

Artist's drawing of a pterosaurLearning
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

The Lincoln Memorial at sunriseOrganizational 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

The Samuel Morse Telegraph ReceiverRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part 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

Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part 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

An air traffic controller using a display system at an Air Route Traffic Control CenterRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part 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

The Marx brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and ZeppoTINOs: 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

A lunar eclipseMaking 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

Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards 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

The rabbit that went down the rabbit-holeOur 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

Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., (right) bids farewell to Gen. Bernard Montgomery (left) at the Palermo airportTactics for Asking for Volunteers: Part 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

Huskies along the trail during start day, March 1998, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceTactics for Asking for Volunteers: Part 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

A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance 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

The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command moduleHealthy 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

The George Foster Peabody AwardIllusory 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

Vincent's Bedroom in Arles, by Vincent Van GoghVirtual 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

William Ross Ashby, who discovered the Law of Requisite VarietyCompletism
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

A frost-covered spider webSome 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 giant sequoiaThe 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

A cup of coffeeHow 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

The piping plover, a threatened species of shore birdUsing 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

The Palermo StoneWhat 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

The Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River between Manhattan and BrooklynDealing 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

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeTen Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: Part 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

Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's The Execution of Emperor MaximilianHave 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

The Western Electric Plant at Hawthorne, IllinoisTen Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: Part 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

Secretary Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush, and Administrator Michael BrownWhen 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

The Mars Climate Orbiter, which was lost in 1999Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: Part 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

USS Lexington, an early aircraft carrierTroublesome 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

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6Trying 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

The Night Café, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888Changing the Subject: Part 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

A can of sardines — what many of us feel like on board a modern airlinerChanging the Subject: Part 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

US President John Kennedy set a goal of a trip to the moonAchieving 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

The Town of Wescott, Wisconsin is recognized as Tree City 2005Retention
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

Lewis and Clark on the Lower ColumbiaAstonishing 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

A calm seaAn 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

The US Capitol at nightExcuses, 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

Ancient stairs at ruins in CambodiaThe 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

The Edison light bulbAsking 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

Approaching the Emerald City from the Yellow Brick RoadLet'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

A hearing in the U.S. Senate, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is responding to questions about appropriations.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

The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: Part 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

The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: Part 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

Tenacious under full sailThe 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

A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentOrganizing 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

A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentWorkplace 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

A page from the Bradford JournalWorking 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

The Town of Wescott, Wisconsin is recognized as Tree City 2005Workplace 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

White water raftingWe 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

An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: Part 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

An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: Part 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

An anxious dogInner 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. Arrow indicates the location of the break.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

A broadcast-only sporting event during a pandemicSocial 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

Benjamin FranklinProblem-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

Computer monitors being recycled by the Nevada Division of Environmental ProtectionHow 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

A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaThe 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

The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, showing their guide wallsIn 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

DeadlockDealing 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

Thumbs downRecalcitrant 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

Apple PieGive 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

A cheeseburger with friesMy 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 logoFedEx, 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

Wheelchair basketballBonuses
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

Jersey barriers outside the US White HouseProblem 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

A hiker on a pathPaths
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

Two people using an information kioskKnowing 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

A time ManagerRecovering Time: Part 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

A sandwich piled highWorking 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

A dog taking a napRecovering Time: Part 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

What not to eat on the phone: Peanut butterVirtual Communications: Part 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

A mobile phoneVirtual Communications: Part 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

A mugful of pencilsVirtual Communications: Part 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

A checkerboard with a compromiseObstacles 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

VotingDecisions, Decisions: Part 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

Thumbs upDecisions, Decisions: Part 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

The main reading room of the US Library of CongressPersonal 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

A meetingHow 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

A phoenixFilms Not About Project Teams: Part II
Here's part two 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

Apollo 13 Shoulder PatchFilms Not About Project Teams: Part 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

A metronomeSelling 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

Uphill skierSelling 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

An excited teamTeam 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

An elephantTeam-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

An eyeTake Any Seat: Part 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

two different chairsTake Any Seat: Part 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

Chair clusterGive 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

Two dinosaurs fightingMudfights
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

Mars as seen by Hubble Space TelescopeWho 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

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Toto tooThe 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

A duckNames 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

Jack-in-the-boxNo 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

Spell checkerEmail Antics: Part 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

A pyramidEmail Antics: Part 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

A hawkAppreciate 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

A phoneEmail Antics: Part 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

Two cups of coffeeHelp 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

Helping each otherWhen 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

Henry David ThoreauEncourage 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

A time ManagerTime 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

A pattern that isn't a patternCoincidences 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

Two cups of coffeeShooting 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

Horns of a dilemmaChoices 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

A rocking chairPoverty 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

A stormEmailstorming
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

A rowboatFiguring 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

ClamsEnjoy 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

Pulling at each otherWhen 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

Sun doing a loop-de-loopA 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

PizzaCritical 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

Budget and ScheduleGames for Meetings: Part 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

A rumor millThere 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

A late rabbitGames for Meetings: Part 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

A toasterSome 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

A  forest fireOrganizational 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

A hot potatoGames for Meetings: Part 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

A forestGames for Meetings: Part 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

A spirited conversationDiscussus 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

A cliff interrupting a trailLet 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

Man sickPlease 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

Wooden shoesWhat 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

A mismatchMessage 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

Abilene,  Texas, USATrips 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

A prehistoric saleHigh 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

A holey grailHoley 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

A hiker in the La Primavera calderaCommitment 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

Measuring toolsGetting 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

Ice cream barMake 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

WildflowersRenewal
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

A bookshelfSmart 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

A sinking boatShould 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

Address fileSnapshots 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

Man chopping down a treeDouble 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

Delivering a doorknob disclosureDoorknob 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

Submitting a status reportStatus-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

Tyranny of the telephoneAt 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

An appealing mealFood 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

A Mastodon skeletonLearn 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

Why phones are noisyThe 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

Detour SignHow 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

Something from Abraham, from Mark and from HennyAbraham, 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

11:10 am is a good time to start a meetingMastering 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

Two weightlifters in suitsHeavy 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

View of Mt. St. HelensOwn 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

Tugboats workingBecome 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

US Medal of HonorExpress 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

A tea kettle boiling overWhen 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

The Thinker PowerPointingThink 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

Work loadKeep 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

BottlenecksWhen 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

FightingDangerous 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

Bowling a strikePygmalion 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

The blaming bossWhen 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

Working on a puzzleFirst 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

A squirrel running a cageRunning 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

Stepping into a trapThe 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

If only I were a florist…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

Getting a haircutCoaching 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

Hot and ColdTake 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

Commuting by balloonEnjoy 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

Horses in a mental corralCorrales 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

Time is moneyTaming 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

Two locksDiagonal 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

Out of the actionThe 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

Sleeping ducksAppreciate 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

A zebraThe 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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