Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mini-Challenges (not resolutions - because resolutions are made to be broken)

This year, instead of setting a new year's resolution, I decided to try a 30-day challenge. Inspired by a TED talk suggesting that I "Try Something New for 30 Days," and an article about how writing 3 pages a day can change your life, I pulled out one of my old journals on January 1 and committed to writing a little each day for the whole month.

First, let's talk about the 3 pages (in case you didn't read the article). They have to be hand-written. So I did cheat a bit by using a smallish journal.  But the good news is the words you write DON'T MATTER. You can even write the same word over and over for 3 pages and still get the benefit.  The more I did it, the more it became a stream of consciousness - starting with a "dear diary" format, then ending up with grocery lists and reminders throughout.

It definitely made me realize how very little I sit still and think. I mean, I can sit for a LONG time and view Instagram stories or other social updates. But having to do something with my hands and brain that was not connected in any way to a screen was FOREIGN.  When is the last time you hand-wrote anything longer than a post-it?  I can tell you, before this month, for me, it had been a very long time.

In case you are wondering, it takes about 15 minutes to write 3 pages worth of words on average journal-size paper.  And also, in case you are wondering, I did not end up doing it every day.

What did happen: After writing, I had a clearer head and a sense of accomplishment. On the days when I wrote in the morning, it gave the day a good start, and on the days when I wrote in the afternoon, it seemed to give my afternoon a kick, so I could re-focus on the work at hand.  It became a little ritual, where I would leave my desk, pick up my journal, and find a quiet place where I knew I wouldn't be interrupted. I looked forward to escaping to this mini-retreat every day!

So, will I keep it up? Yes, I think so! First, I'm farther along in a journal than I ever have been in my life. Second, I'm not beating myself up about missing a few days.

And what's up for the next month? I'm planning to join See Jane Write for 28 Days of Grace. Basically, taking a little time for yourself each day. Check out the link for ideas of ways to "take a moment" if you need one!

What's your favorite go-to "me time" activity? And if you want to report in on your resolutions, feel free - but also feel free to turn them into mini-challenges that you only planned to test out for a month!  :-)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Quest for Happiness - in life and at work

The Quest for Happiness - in life and at work. That's a pretty lofty title to an article, huh?

One of my favorite speakers/authors/people to follow on social media is Jane McGonigal. The first time I ever heard her speak was in 2011 at an ISTE conference in Austin, TX, where she talked about her latest book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  She then asked the entire audience (20,000+) to play a game of thumb wars. Side note, I think we set a Guinness World Record that day for largest number of people playing thumb wars at one time.

Since that conference, I have been an active follower of McGonigal on twitter (her handle is @avantgame if you want to check it out), and I keep an eye out for new material. Last year, I stumbled across her TED talk, The game that can give you 10 extra years of life. It's about 20 minutes long, and if you take time to watch it (and play along during the talk), you can add about 7 minutes to your life span!

I decided to take Jane's talk and turn it into an interactive workshop for managers and employees. The first step was to get people interested, so I had to come up with a catchy name, and "The Quest for Happiness - in Life and at Work" was created.  Within about 10 minutes of posting the session, the registration maxed out, and I started hearing from people asking how they could get on the waiting list.  "The Quest for Happiness" was a very popular theme!

Here's a breakdown of the workshop:
Introduction: Spoiler alert: there is no magic pill for happiness. We are not giving away the secrets of life in this session.
Warning: we are going to make references to science and math, so be prepared.
Let's Get Started:  We led our audience in the same activities Jane did during her TED talk. A roomful of about 60 people did exercises in Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Social Resilience, and we talked about how doing things from each of these categories each day help make for a happier and healthier life.
Let's Talk About It:  Finally, we broke into groups and got people talking with each other and thinking about ways to incorporate those things into their daily routine at work.

The ideas people came up with were simple - and most of them were inexpensive.  Walking meetings and regular recognition - these are ways you can get people out of their same old work routine and add a few brain cells and synapses while you are at it.

If you have time, I recommend watching McGonigal's TED talk this week. And if you would like more information about the interactive workshop, send me a note or a comment, and I will be happy to share!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Virtual Teams & Communication

One of the biggest challenges when working with virtual teams is simply having enough communication. Even when teams are in the same geographic location, it can be a challenge to get a clear message out to everyone. When your team is spread out, it adds even more complexity to that challenge. If the communication is via email, some people might only skim the high points, some may try to read “between the lines” and see words that aren’t there, and others may not read it at all! 
Personal connections between leaders and between co-workers are very important. Many times, when a team is in multiple locations, the informal bond and communications between co-workers are lost. A leader should recognize this aspect of team-interaction and make sure that the team understands that it’s “ok” and even “encouraged” to chat with team members.

Getting and giving virtual feedback presents another challenge for managers. If an employee is in the same building as you, it’s easy to pick up on non-verbal cues – coming in late, changes in work behavior, interaction with team members, etc. If that same employee is in another location, you aren’t able to “see” these changes and may not be able to address them in a timely manner. In addition, many managers rely on phone calls and emails to interact with virtual employees. In this day and age of multi-tasking, true “connections” via phone are almost impossible. If you are limited to a phone call, be sure that you AND your employee are in a place where you can hear and be heard – reserve a conference room or office for the call, and limit your focus to the phone call.  Emails are good for “quick” communications – but keep the message short and simple to avoid misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

Whenever possible, leaders should use available technology to connect with their teams regularly:
-          Chat: Most email systems have a form of “instant chat” available. Managers and team members can use this feature to engage in “chats” about work, but also can chat about non-work things throughout the day. This informal interaction is a great way to have the same types of conversations you’d have with people in the office when you pass them in the hall or are getting a cup of coffee.
-          Video: Video is a great way to connect your team for regular meetings – it can be a good way for people to put faces with names and “see” each other! A word of caution – when arranging a video meeting, be sure ALL team members can be on video. If some are only listening in, it can make them feel even more isolated.  One of the videos we watched last week recommended setting up a permanent video connect between two offices. If you have multiple locations, it would be neat to set up a rotating live webcam to show what’s going on at each location throughout the day.

-        Social Networking/Chat: Technologies such as #slack and Google+ can provide a way for your team to interact on work and non-work topics throughout the day. #slack is a forum similar to a chatroom. Each team member has access to the chat window, so everyone can see a running conversation. A few of our teams use #slack in my organization, and it’s interesting to see the online collaboration – they have chats about everything from risk management topics to Star Wars.  Google+ is being used by some businesses as an internal social network – employees can share pictures and articles to interact and build an online “team” environment. Are you on a virtual team? What kind of communication tools work best for you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Creating a Shared Vision - hint: shared means working TOGETHER

A shared team vision is one that is developed and supported by leaders and team members. Before you can promote the shared vision, you have to create it. Many times, especially in top-down led organizations, leaders develop a vision or goal for a team and then expect the team members to get behind it and support it. When creating a “shared” vision, leaders have to “share” the creation and accountability with team members, so that everyone has a voice and contributes to the process. 

You need a combination of personalities and skills to create and implement a shared vision – whether it’s a large, organization-wide effort for a corporate team, or even on a smaller scale, when you’re trying to coordinate a fundraising team or a church cookout.  Once you’ve created the vision, a team leader coordinates and directs the team members to make the best use of individual strengths and promote that vision.

To promote the shared vision, a leader needs to:
  •           Make sure the right team members are engaged and assigned to the right roles. As the team completes different phases of a project or objective, you may need to make adjustments to assignments or recruit additional team members.
  •           Create visual reminders of the shared vision. In one organization I’ve visited, the shared vision and values are posted on the walls, in the taglines of emails, and even in the elevators! Having a visual reminder is a great way to keep the vision at the top of everyone’s mind.
Recognize team members who are “doing it right.” Many times, leaders only take notice when someone on their team is lagging behind or failing. One way to promote a shared vision is to recognize when team members are doing their part to support it. In one of our divisions at work, they have created a “Making it Happen” award – leaders or team members can recognize fellow employees and the recipients are honored in a monthly lunch. This gives a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, and lets other team members know that, if they do a good job, they might be recognized, too! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What I've Learned - Work and Grad-School

Earlier this year, I posted (on other social media) that I've started back to school! I'm taking classes online through Troy University (Go Trojans!), working on a Masters in Management, with concentration in leadership. 

The first course in the program was a doozy - A Survey of Business Concepts. Basically, this course was a review of everything you would study as a business undergrad crammed into 9 weeks! For me, as a former ENGLISH major, it was a big challenge. Most of the topics were new to me, but thankfully, after 20 years working in the business/corporate world, I had apparently soaked up some of the concepts via osmosis. I made it through the course, and decided, since I am still working full time, I'd be sticking to one course per term.

My second course was on Theories of Organizational Behavior. A fancy title, but the course focused on motivating and managing employees in an organization. We examined different types of behavior at work, and how to handle working with people with different attitudes and skills.

This term, I'm taking Leading and Developing High Performance Teams. So far, I'm really liking it. We're looking at how to structure your team, depending on the tasks and relationships involved. Looking at why it's important to have a mix of personalities and styles, instead of employee clones, so you can look at challenges from different perspectives.

NOTE: now that I'm taking classes that are more focused and related to topics that I'm comfortable with, I'm considering taking more than one class per term. But I'll keep you posted on that.

In general, I'm loving being back in school. Of course, the second-time around, I'm much more interested in the assignments -  AND it's forcing me to get back in the writing groove. I'm turning some of my discussion posts for class into blog posts, so you'll see these educational-themed posts sprinkled in among my usual topics. I want to share some of the videos and articles we're reading in class - I hope you'll find them interesting!

Question of the day: Have you taken any classes while working full time? What are some challenges you faced? Or if you have been putting it off, what's stopping you?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Building a Cohesive Team

team building

The concept of “cohesion” in groups or teams describes to what extent the individuals rely on each other for support and to achieve team goals.  In my assignment for class this week, the textbook explains that there are two types of cohesion: socio-emotional cohesion, which describes teams that genuinely like each other and enjoy working together; and instrumental cohesion, teams that rely on each team member to do their part to get the job done (Kreitner & Kinicki, pg. 314).  Typically, team leaders focus on managing each individual, and do not take into account how to create cohesion by managing at the team level.  With the right coaching and combination of skills, managers can guide individuals to work together and accomplish much more than they could on their own.

Who’s who?  Remember back in high school, when everyone cast their vote for “most likely to succeed,” and “biggest jock”?  You probably have some hidden talents on your team, and you never know when those talents might come in handy. Make an effort to look past the resume and the job history, and find out what else your team is up to. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I'm getting some feedback...

Feedback, Handicraft ...

Typically, if you say the word “feedback,” I immediately tense up and am taken back to any number of awkward interactions, usually scheduled around the time of an annual review, in which I had to list my biggest accomplishments for the previous year and talk about the things I wanted to work on in the upcoming year.  The feedback I then received from my manager usually ended up being a “keep up the good work,” and “same time next year.”
Of course, the idea of feedback has changed very much.  According to Krietner and Kinicki, the two main functions of feedback should be to instruct and to motivate.  Managers who take time to provide instructional and motivational feedback to their employees are influencing individuals and as a result, building stronger teams. 

Looking to up your feedback game? Try to make your feedback: