Unplugging so your team can as well

 

Photo by Cindy Leavitt – Lake Michigan at sunset near Grand Haven

This last holiday weekend was the first time in months that I unplugged from work and relaxed. I really needed it and felt that my team needed the downtime as well. I even took Friday afternoon off to get a head start.  

Just before I signed off on Friday, I got what seemed like an urgent email, which I should have planned on because it so consistently happens on Friday afternoons. Instead of forwarding the message to my team, I asked when a response was needed. When the answer was the day after the holiday, I arranged with the requestor and my boss to communicate the request to the team after the holiday.

Then I threw myself into the weekend, like I normally throw myself into work. I read three books, cleaned the deck, baked cookies, hiked with the family and listened to albums picked by family members. 

I have to explain about the albums. In an effort to connect with my family through this pandemic, we have started a quarantine family night. We meet every other week over Zoom to talk about a shared experience. We decide on what the shared experience will be and have two weeks to complete whatever we decide to do before we meet to talk about it.  So far, we have read a book, watched a series of movies and listened to albums that each family member selected. The music albums were the most fun. The variety was vast, ranging from rap to country to classical. Yesterday, we met to talk about the albums. Each person chose their favorite song from their selected album and explained why they loved it so much. After we listened to the favorite song, everyone talked about their reaction to the album. We had great discussions and all did not like all of the music but were able to disagree, have a ton of fun, and create shared experiences.

The long weekend gave me a chance to recharge and deeply connect with my family. I am grateful that I got it and that my boss supported me taking the time. Because of that, I was able to pass on that gift to my team.

My question for you to think about this week is: How good are you at unplugging so that your team can as well?  

Communicating when leaders make poor decisions

As a cost cutting measure, I made the decision to eliminate Slack. It seemed like Microsoft Teams had the same functionality and I was hearing from several people that we had too many tools and needed to simplify. After making the decision, there was a groundswell of concern from the teams that were using Slack. 

After hearing the concern, I turned to my culture committee. This is a group of thought leaders from across the organization that I have been meeting with weekly. They have been helping to shape our culture and I know them very well and trust them explicitly. Every single one of the committee members expressed why they thought my decision was a poor one and how the tool was helping coordination and communication across teams. Based on that discussion, I reversed my decision.  

After talking about my decision and subsequent reversal at our all staff meeting, I got the following email from Michele Schinzel, which I am sharing with permission.

===========================

Hi Cindy, 

First off, thanks for hosting the All Staff meetings, which allow us to talk together, and voice as much (or little) as we wish. 

Hearing that there were discussions to do away with Slack, I wanted to give another cheer of support for the product.  So, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my Slack story with you. 

I joined Slack on January 10, 2019.  Immediately, I received a silly animated gif from someone, welcoming me.  Rolling my eyes I thought, “Just what I don’t need.  A Facebook for work!”  Many months later….  I still felt that way.  I did not see the benefit, and it seemed like another thing to have to remember to keep up with. 

Time rolled on.  The channels became organized, and more people joined.  My team made a group to use for communication.  I checked in to see what was new on the “Random” channel.   Then I found myself wanting to see a new article, or a picture, or a quiz.  Gradually, other benefits became evident.  Such as….

    • Some teams built workflows into their channels.  These Slack workflows allow for quick requests of a team, with clear communication throughout.  The Portal team, for example, has a short form we can fill out when we need them to move code from DEV to the PRE portal.  I can see every request by anyone.  Fantastic!
    • Throughout the COVID experience, I’ve been reading the Helpdesk Slack channel.  They post questions and solutions quite regularly.  There are useful stats and notifications when calls are higher than usual on a certain service.  Impressive.   
    • Recently, when a certain database went down, several groups chimed in on the DBA Slack channel to confirm the finding.  It was addressed.  Now that we’ve had the correspondence, the history is all searchable.   A quick search showed a similar conversation just one week prior.  Hmmm.
    • I’m learning a little about teammates that I never had a reason to meet. 

MS Teams has its use.  I’m a member of 20 teams in Teams, and many of those Teams contain sub-channels.  When I want to work on a project, I look at Teams.  I don’t usually seek out updates, and I tend to only post information following a meeting.  The good part is, it’s all in one place, and we can tag one another with tasks. 

In the end, my view is that Slack stands out as a collaborative communication tool, and Teams is a project organizer.  Could our favorite Slacky features be fit into Teams?  Maybe. 

Slack seemed like a ‘Facebook for Work’, but silly gifs aside, it keeps us connected in a fun interactive way that we are naturally drawn to.  I WAS a doubter of Slack at first, but now I love it.   I wouldn’t have written this otherwise. 

Thanks.  

-Michele

Michele Schinzel | Assistant Director Systems | Banner Document Management | Temple University
==========================

When I received Michele’s email, it confirmed to me that the reversal of the decision was the right thing to do. However, it made me pause to reflect on why I didn’t reach out for feedback before making the original decision. There were several reasons why I didn’t. 

    • The decision was made in a budgeting meeting with the upper management team under extreme pressure to cut our budget. 
    • I had gotten feedback at our all staff meeting that we had too many communication tools and should reduce the number. 
    • I had a bias against Slack because the couple of times I attempted to use it, I found little value and had stopped using it.

The bottom line is that as a leader, every decision you make is with partial information. Recognizing that and being open to adjusting decisions when you get more information helps you avoid analysis paralysis on one end of the spectrum and obstinate defense of decisions on the other end.

I am very grateful when individual team members openly share their experiences and concerns with me. Receiving this kind of feedback as a leader is like gold. 

A couple of questions to ponder this week:
Is there information that your leaders need from you that could help them make or alter their decisions? 

As a leader, how do you react when people give you this kind of feedback?

Establishing New Rituals

Image credit: https://tinycards.duolingo.com/decks/QDWqXrB8/daily-routines

 

One of the reasons that we have habits and rituals is because they are efficient and save energy. COVID disrupted most of our routines and reestablishing new habits takes active thinking and effort. Luckily, we humans are quite resilient and adaptive, and we quickly establish new routines and rituals. We have now been working remotely for seven weeks which is enough time for us to feel more comfortable with the new normal. At the end of last week, we met as an IT team to examine our new rituals and explore what we would like to continue.  

Here is a list of the top six things the group came up with:

Take mental/physical breaks during the day.  Whether it is walking, exercising or just taking a break or lunch. This was identified by over half of the group as the most important ritual they would like to continue. We have tried to establish a rule for 25 or 50 minute meetings to insert time to stand up between Zoom meetings. Many people are taking individual or family walks a couple of times each day.

Meet virtually instead of in person. We have found that holding virtual meetings in some cases is more productive than face-to-face meetings. Surprisingly, this is especially true of really large meetings, like our all staff meeting with more than 200 people that we have been holding via Zoom. The casual and interactive nature of the gathering and online break-out rooms provide more meaningful connections. Not having to travel also means that more people are able to attend.

Have daily stand-ups with your team. This Agile and DevOps practice was already being done in several groups, but it was quickly adopted by many as the most efficient way to coordinate and feel connected with the team. Our leadership daily stand-up is scheduled for 15 minutes every day and I find the connection and coordination at the beginning of the day is invaluable.

Continue to work remotely some of the time. Many jobs that we previously thought of as requiring us to be on campus can be done very effectively from off campus. Our help desk, desktop support and classroom support teams are an example. We have integrated all of these teams into the virtual workflow and are able to resolve user issues more quickly. Last week, our customer satisfaction score was a perfect 100%, up from the average of around 95% pre-COVID. This was even more remarkable because students were in the middle of final projects and exams.

Take time for family and friends. The line between professional and personal life has disappeared in this COVID world. We are regularly seeing children, spouses and pets pop into our virtual meetings. The downside of this is that we can never get away from work. Setting boundaries around work and prioritizing family and friend time was very important to our team.

Insert fun into work. Virtual happy hours, gaming sessions, dance parties or just adding humor into our work life has helped our teams and made everything better. I have a colleague that sends me a COVID Cartoon of the Day. It helps to start your work day with a solid belly laugh.

Although we are apart, we are united in a global experience that is allowing us to rethink how we did things in the past. What rituals have you and your teams established that are helping you get through this pandemic?