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.

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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
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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?

Instilling Hope for Deep Change

I have been asked to co-lead the strategic planning for the university. This is both exciting and daunting. In trying to get clarity about the assignment, I had my first one-on-one conversation with Temple’s Chairman of the Board, Mitch Morgan. I came away from the conversation filled with hope. I have been playing back the conversation in my mind trying to understand what he did that left me with such positive feelings.

The first thing he did was introduce himself. He described his journey sharing personal details that clearly communicated his values and management philosophy. He talked about how much of his success was being a great people-picker.

Next, he invited me to share my personal journey and deeply listened to my answer asking questions in a caring way that made me feel comfortable.

He emphasized how great he thought Temple was and also why we needed to change. He articulated the urgency for a clear strategy for the university because of the increasingly competitive educational landscape that has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic.  

He honored every person he talked about. His first sentence about every person was that he loved them and I believed that he did. 

He indicated what he was not good at and what he needed help doing.

He clearly articulated the type of leadership he needed to make the change he was seeking at the university. Then he asked me if I would be willing to help and told me why he picked me for the assignment.  

After I said yes, we talked candidly about the challenges and the ways that he would support me as I did the assignment.

In a nutshell, he demonstrated the positive leadership traits that I have been trying to develop for many years and validated my decision to come to Temple. 

My challenge for you this week is to examine how you are interacting with others, especially when you are trying to activate deep change. 

Supporting team members who have ideas for improvement

“Dreaming and Doing” by Sam Howzit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the foundational practices in DevOps and Agile is to support team members who have ideas for improvement. This is difficult to do because we have a lot of work to get done and trying out new ideas creates more work. When the idea crosses organizational lines and normal job duties, it is even more difficult to take action. We have implemented Wonderful Wednesdays as a way to give time to explore ideas and practice creating self-organizing teams. A recent example reaffirmed to me why this practice is so important, especially when you are trying to transform the way that your team works.

Like most organizations, we have a help desk with software that we use to track all of the requests for support. This software is managed by the help desk team. One of our new help desk team members, Dominic (Dom) Malfara, was looking for ways to be more efficient in updating the software. He wanted to be able to upgrade the software in the middle of the day and be able to quickly recover if any part of the system went down. He reached out to our infrastructure engineering team, who were investigating how to use Kubernetes containers to automate and modernize our server environment.

That team embraced Dom, recognizing that if they could containerize our Remedy environment, which consisted of many servers with a vendor that didn’t support containers, it would be an ideal environment to learn for the entire team. The team leader invited Dom to the team’s daily stand-ups, Trello board, and Teams channel. Throughout the project the entire team was inclusive and accommodating. Despite org chart lines, Dom felt like he was part of their team and it was exciting working towards a goal with them. The infrastructure team reprioritized their work and helped Dom identify all of the layers of systems and management tools needed to fully automate and containerize the Remedy servers. 

This took several months and required full support from the leaders on the help desk and the infrastructure engineering team. Doing this required more time and more people than a traditional upgrade of the Remedy servers. It required making the time to experiment. 

Dom was successful in containerizing the Remedy environment. It did not go perfectly.  We had a bit of user interruption throughout the day as we made the transition. Through the problems, the help desk leadership team didn’t yell or blame anyone, but instead asked what they could do to help. Various team members posted screenshots or descriptions of things that were broken, allowing Dom space to focus on calmly fixing things so they would not happen again.

The results have been everything that we hoped for and worth the investment of time. We halved the needed hardware. Upgrades are now done by building parallel environments which mean we can fully test the new production environment and roll over and back between the old and new environments in seconds. All the hard work now occurs up front, and not during a maintenance window where people are prone to rush/make mistakes. Because the work is now automated and reproducible, bringing up a new test environment takes minutes instead of days. We can monitor the system load and scale instantly when needed. 

A couple of weeks after the transition was done, Dom did a presentation during Wonderful Wednesday teaching others across ITS. I went to the presentation and was in awe of the amount of learning and technical knowledge that was required to make the transition. It was one of the highlights of my year.

Thanks to Dom raising his hand and the infrastructure team fully supporting him, we have a roadmap on how to make the rest of our infrastructure more efficient, modern, and scalable. As a leader, it reinforced to me how important it is to support those individuals and teams who raise their hand and give them the time and resources to learn and make your organization better.

Here are my questions for you this week.

  • How do you support individuals who raise their hands with an idea? 
  • How do you treat others who come to you with an idea that requires you to change what you are doing? 
  • Is there a project you are working on currently that someone could collaborate with you for mutual benefits if they only had some way of knowing about it?

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Epilogue: As part of the process of writing these blogs, I always ask for feedback from the people who are mentioned in the blog. I wanted to include this email from Dominic to me about his view of the experience.

Hello Cindy,

Thanks for sharing, I just wanted to share some quick notes on the overall experience because it was really special to me. Our self-formed team was definitely influenced by all of the changes made to the culture and how ITS members are reacting to that: 

  • Wonderful Wednesday allowed me the freedom and time to invest in pursuing something innovative instead of doing things how we always have, WW got me quick buy-in from Jim and Paul because instead of battling with scheduling time to prove value in something and how it prioritized with our other work, I was able to use that reserved WW time to learn skills and proof of concept this project. I was excited to work on new technologies and make life better for us and that energy didn’t go to waste having to meet and debate and formalize things. Natural experimentation took its course and we got to follow an informal guideline of what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it
  • Slack/Teams promotes open communication across the organization so it is now commonplace to talk to others in ITS, I get to interact with members of IT that I might not even meet otherwise. Help or knowledge with something is a message away, and with group chats I get visibility into what people are working on, instead of knowledge being hidden in email chains that I wasn’t CCed on or meetings I wasn’t a part of (the all-staff meetings, summits, and What’s New newsletter all influence this as well). I heard that Infrastructure Engineering was already exploring Kubernetes and we got to learn that together.
  • Leaders like Jorj, who doesn’t have a reporting relationship with me, but acted as a strong mentor and helped break down any barriers I faced along the way anyway. People like him that are genuinely interested in the technology and making Temple a better place are really inspiring and I hope I can pay that forward and influence those around me

Thanks again to Jorj for all his help and mentorship, and to you for the culture you are creating in Temple ITS! This project wouldn’t have been possible without it. I have learned a lot of valuable career skills and the failures/mishaps along the way that gave me real world lessons and I honestly had fun doing it! 😄

Thanks again, 

Dominic Malfara

Reframing Frustrations to Facilitate Difficult Conversations 

Last week at our planning retreat, I wanted to make sure that the leadership team was able to talk openly and constructively about some chronic problems across the teams. I found an exercise from Mark Gorkin that helped do this in an amazingly effective way.

Before we started the exercise, I wanted to shift the way that people thought about frustration. In The Enemy of Engagement, Mark Royal and Tom Agnew assert, “The more loyal and engaged employees are, the deeper their frustration will run in the face of obstacles.” So instead of labeling frustration as bad, we labeled it as a sign of the most engaged and loyal team members. That made it okay to express the frustrations because it meant that you cared deeply and wanted to make things better.

With that framing, each person took a few minutes to identify sources of everyday workplace stress and conflict or to list barriers to more effective and creative team coordination. At each table, we spent ten minutes sharing our frustrations. Then came the creative and team building part of the exercise. We asked each table to draw their frustrations. They could make as many posters as they wanted in ten minutes.

Everyone jumped in with both feet. The teams were working together intently around their posters and there was a lot of positive energy as the teams brainstormed about how to communicate their frustrations in a visual way.

After everyone was done, we created a gallery and everyone looked at all of the posters. Then each group got a chance to explain their drawings. After the explanations, we took some time together to dive into the problem and talk about possible ways to make it better. 

It was intense and uncomfortable.

And very productive and necessary. 

We had conversations about frustrations that spanned years. Information and background was provided that gave the individuals and teams perspective and insight they didn’t have before coming into the room. 

After talking with several different participants immediately after the exercise ended, I discovered that several people thought that getting into the specifics in a group setting felt like blame and was inappropriate. After discovering this, I immediately facilitated a discussion with the entire group about how we could have these difficult conversations with details without blame. Many people indicated that without specifics, the problem was theoretical and not clear. Through the exercise and discussion, we established norms about how we would talk about difficulties that allowed us to get to the specifics.

We still have room for improvement, but this exercise was a good way to prompt and practice having difficult conversations.

What have you done in your teams to hold difficult conversations that are healing and helpful?

Creating a safe learning community

“What does respect mean to you?” by retrokatz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I am teaching a leadership class at Temple for the first time. Since I agreed to teach the class, I have been vacillating between anxiety and excitement. It is definitely outside of my comfort zone and I have been worried about whether I am good enough. Since overcoming feelings of inadequacy and stretching has been at the heart of my leadership journey, I realize that I am not only the teacher, but this is an incredible opportunity for me to learn how to be a better leader.

The first class was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After a quick summary of the structure of the class, I asked the entire class how we could create a safe learning community. Using the 1-2-4-All Liberating Structures, we established as a group how we would act and support each other on our growth journey. The list that the class created together was more comprehensive and better than the list that I would have created. They wanted to be able to be open and vulnerable and know that others would listen without judgment, as we practiced living the leadership principles that we would be learning.

Then we spent the rest of the class getting to know each other by telling our core stories. We arranged our chairs in a circle and each of us shared three core stories from our life and what we had learned from those experiences. 

Several people in the group got emotional, including me. We were sharing deeply about our struggles and our ability to overcome those struggles. We talked about health challenges, close relationships, death of loved ones, physical injuries and having to give up our identities of who we thought we were when unexpected challenges arrived. 

It was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had. There was so much wisdom and leadership in that room that had already been developed. I was reminded again that leadership is not about telling others what to do, but about creating an environment where the best ideas can surface and be shared.

At the end of the exercise, we talked about how differently we felt about the people in the room and the implications for leadership and life. As I was leaving the room, I realized that I don’t necessarily know the core stories of the people that I work with on a daily basis, and I am not sure how to do that in a safe and non-invasive way. 

I would love to hear about how you have created safe learning communities.

 

Encouraging Words

“creative-writing-prompts-high-school Atlanta GA” by agilemktg1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the last several months, I have found it difficult to write my blog. There were a number of reasons for this. It started when I spent quite a bit of time on a blog that I decided was not appropriate to publish. This led to me to being discouraged and putting pressure on myself to come up with ‘better’ ideas that were worth publishing. So writing the blog became an obligation rather than a joyful expression of my learning journey. 

The inspiration to restart the blog came from a completely unexpected place. When I was riding with the Temple Police in their annual biking fundraiser, the head of the department, Charlie Leone, told me that he really enjoyed reading my blogs and noticed that I wasn’t publishing them very often. My explanation to him and my excuse to myself was that I had gotten out of the habit. That was part of it, but I was also worried that my ideas were not worth publishing.

That small interaction was enough to push me out of my head and into action. I knew that I wanted to start writing again because it helps me clarify and organize my thoughts. So, I needed to figure out how to reestablish the habit, but do it in a way that increased my joy and decreased the pressure on myself at the same time.

So I have started to experiment with what will do that for me. 

First, I decided that I would designate the time in the morning between when I get into my office and our daily standup as my writing time. This could mean that I have as little as 10 minutes or up to 45 minutes depending on what happens with my commute.

Second, I decided to allow myself to write about whatever was on my mind each morning. This meant that this writing is not devoted to publishing a blog, but to learning. Last week, one morning I wrote about my impressions from my recent trip to China. Another morning, I wrote about a high stress interaction with a colleague that will never be published, but helped me understand my reaction and formulate a strategy moving forward. To reinforce this idea, I created a private folder that holds my musings and is a safe holding place for all of my writing. If I decide a piece might work as a blog, I will move it to the blogs folder for further editing and sharing.

Third, I published a blog about books that I love that felt very safe and easy to write. As I passed Charlie a few days after it was published, he let me know that he saw and appreciated my blog. That small bit of encouragement meant so much to me and makes me emotional as I write about it. This reinforces to me how much positive interactions matter.

These small steps have made me look forward to writing again. 

Is there something in your life that you used to love and now dread? Is so, take some time this week to examine some small steps you can take to make it joyful again for you. 

 

Best books about creating transformational organizational change

“Inspire Change” by Brian Solis by The Brian Solis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I love to read and am always looking for an engaging book. One of the ways that I deal with my daily commute is to listen to audiobooks, which has augmented and somewhat replaced reading physical books, which is my first preference, or ebooks, which I do for convenience, especially when traveling. My friends and colleagues know about my insatiable appetite for good books and so regularly send me recommendations. 

At work, I have been on a quest to create a high performing culture and have used books to help make that transition. Recently, Primed to Perform was recommended to me and it is my new favorite organizational change book. I have been recommending it to anyone who will listen and even gave it as a birthday gift last week. 

The premise of the book is that you need to promote both tactical and adaptive performance to excel. Most organizations focus almost exclusively on tactical performance. What I love about this book is that it combines a whole bunch of research about personal and organizational change management, and puts it into an easy-to-understand and measurable model. 

The model is called Total Motivation (ToMO) which assigns weights to the reasons why people do their work. Higher ToMo scores are directly correlated with the success of an organization. It is an elegant theory that incorporates many of the positive business principles and gives a way to measure how your organization is doing in creating a culture that is high-performing and fun. There is a great talk by the authors at Microsoft Research that you can view here.

We will be using this book this year as we continue our change in the Temple Information Technology Services team. We have already taken the group ToMo test as a baseline so that we can measure whether we are making progress in creating a more higher performing group.

Here is a list of some other books that have been very impactful as I have studied how to make deep change in organizations and myself.

I would love to hear your recommendations to add to my reading list. What books have been impactful to you on your leadership and organizational change journey?

Education as a gateway

Photo by Regina CC2.0 license. https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/b174d3cd-0949-4e43-8e96-2fa9535d8dbd

Recently, I was able to watch a live interview with Tara Westover, the author of Educated: A Memoir. Educated is a mesmerizing autobiography of Tara’s journey from childhood in Idaho, where she never had any formal schooling, to obtaining her PhD from Cambridge. The first time Tara went to school was when she started college at Brigham Young University. She got in by self-studying for the ACT and lying on her application saying that she had been given a rigorous home schooling education.

At one point Tara said, “Education can be viewed as either a gate or a gateway.” She said that she would not have ever been able to study at Cambridge or Harvard without the gateway experience she had at BYU. She also pointed to specific people who saw her as an individual and took time and had patience to take interest and provide guidance to her through her journey. That mirrors my experience. It takes both an opportunity and others taking a personalized interest for education to be a gateway.

Like Tara, I went to Brigham Young University for my undergraduate degree and found it to be an incredible gateway. I grew up in a large family and my dad was a steel worker. However, unlike Tara, my parents were very pro-education and actively encouraged me to excel in school, read and develop my talents. With a full academic scholarship and working part-time at the university, I was able to earn my degree without going into debt or getting financial support from my parents, who did not have the resources to help.

It was also a gateway to very different ideas that opened my worldview in so many ways. My freshman year, I took a colloquium that spanned science, literature, history, psychology, and philosophy. It was my first glimpse at how much there was to learn and it exhilarated and humbled me at the same time.

As my graduation neared and I was desperately searching for a job, I applied and got an offer to be an administrative assistant at the university. But I had also interviewed for a job that I really wanted with Novell in their quality department. As I was mulling over what I should do before one of my final classes, the professor stopped to talk with me and I mentioned my dilemma. He admonished me to not take the job as an administrative assistant and to take a risk and actively pursue the job at Novell. That advice, given in a hallway before class, changed the trajectory of my life.

As I have taken the time to reflect on these experiences, I have been reminded that as we strive to educate others, how important it is to see others as individuals and take time to connect. One of the reasons that I love working at a university is being part of these types of interactions with students and colleagues. At the core, education is about encouraging growth and that takes focused attention, patience and care.

At the Temple graduation last week, Provost JoAnne Epps asked each person in attendance to take a moment to think of someone who made a difference for them and then challenged each of the graduates to go and be that person for someone else. This week, I will extend her challenge to you. If we can each do that, we can create gateways for others and change the world for the better, one interaction at a time.

Constructively Dealing with Doubt

Photo by Oleg Magni

The CIO conference, that I attended last week, was filled with memorable speakers and people. One of the themes that weaved its way through the conference was how to deal with doubt, both from others and from yourself.

My first day at the conference was not pleasant. To be fair, it had more to do with me than the event or the other attendees. I felt out of place, an introvert at an extroverted event. I was not alone. It was a technology conference with many other introverts. After striking up a very interesting conversation with another CIO in the lounge about the challenges and rewards of running a global business, he thanked me for starting the conversation, admitting that he was an introvert and not comfortable starting a conversation. That made me smile, considering how I had been feeling most of the day.

The next morning, I woke up and through meditation and yoga was able to reground myself in my purpose. I was attending to become a better leader and to help develop other positive leaders as well. That purpose and focus transformed the rest of the conference.

My renewed outlook was rewarded when Fletcher Previn, the IBM CIO, spoke at lunch. As he described the scale of what he was responsible for and how he revamped the organization of 12,000 IT professionals after being named the global CIO, I was impressed and inspired. He also looked incredibly young and the first question from the audience was how old he was, reflecting what most of us were wondering. He handled it with incredible ease, flipping the question and asking the man how old he thought Fletcher was. When the man replied under 30, he just said he was older than that and then joked, “I am surprised as you are that I am the CIO of IBM!” I was intrigued that his immediate reaction was that the person who asked the question doubted his capability and competence. My reaction, which grew as I heard him speak about his approach to the organization and people, was awe mixed with a bit of jealousy.

The final day was an exclusive day for Women CIOs and I was glad that I decided to stay. I met some incredible women and the highlight of the conference was listening to Nicole Malachowski talk about her journey as an Air Force pilot. She was the first woman Thunderbird pilot. She described several times when her self-doubt almost stopped her as she experienced both doubt and encouragement from her peers. She also talked about how it would make her feel bad when people put the qualifier of “woman” in front of her job title when introducing her. That changed when she joined the Thunderbirds and understood that being a woman in that role opened up possibilities for the girls and boys who lined up to get her autograph. Before one of her airshows, she was talking with four girls when an angry young man approached her and told her that she shouldn’t be talking to the girls and that he hoped she crashed. Remarkably, she was able to recognize that she was there for the girls, so was able to control her anger and focus on the girls. If you get a chance to hear Nicole speak, take the opportunity because she is a great story teller.

These experiences reaffirmed that doubt is universal and each of us often deals with doubts imposed by others or ourself. How we decide to act when that happens is a choice. So my challenge this week is to notice when you hear doubt from yourself or others so that you can consciously choose how you will act when it happens.