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.

 

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?

Creating Momentum for Organizational Transformation

The IT world has been shifting drastically. Everyone knows about cloud computing, but most people do not understand that the way software needs to be developed to be truly cloud-based, is substantially different than how software has been built for decades. Quick development cycles and continuous updates to software are now required. To make this shift, some organizations are transferring the LEAN operational principles that propelled Toyota to produce high quality and reliable cars to software delivery. In software development, the LEAN principles are referred to as Agile Development or DevOps.

LEAN principles can be effectively applied to almost any process to make it better. The main idea is that for work to happen in the fastest possible way, it needs to flow through the system continuously without stopping and not come back into the flow of work because of poor quality.  To integrate these principles requires a transformation in how an organization acquires and builds software and the infrastructure to support it.

The challenge is how to create enough energy and momentum within your organization for this transformation.

To introduce Agile and DevOps practices within ITS at Temple, we have done several things to increase the awareness, understanding, and support for this transformation.

We looked for experts. My leadership team went to visit Pivotal, a company that trains organizations on how to make this shift. After that visit, we sent several team members from different parts of the organization to the SpringOne conference, where Fortune 25 companies who have adopted the Pivotal methodology and tools converged. The team came back energized and awed by what they saw and excited about what we could do. The conference also helped them understand that this shift is not about technology, but about people.

We spread the word. After these evangelists started talking to their teams about what a difference DevOps could make at Temple, we sent 27 attendees to a local one-day DevOps conference. The participants came back with a better understanding of the principles of DevOps. They were also encouraged that other organizations were struggling with how to apply these changes as well, understanding that we weren’t as far behind as we feared.

We started experimenting with the principles. My leadership team made a Kanban board of our work across the organization to try to get an understanding of our work in progress. The visual display of our work traffic jam was powerful. Although I have been studying these principles for years, this exercise drove home to me that I had not done my job of focusing our teams on the most impactful work for our organization.

We invited everyone to participate. We announced a retreat to develop the strategic vision for how ITS could adopt Agile/DevOps principles. Everyone was invited. The only requirement to attend was to read “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win.” Several people commented that although it was fiction, it accurately described how we feel overwhelmed as we juggle the unending stream of requests and the unplanned work that happens when things break.

Over eighty people came to the retreat and it was an energizing and productive day. We created a shared vision for Agile and DevOps at Temple, learned about the principles together and brainstormed ideas about how to move the culture and operational change along. This is the shared vision for Temple ITS that the attendees created at our retreat.

Culture
We are educators, who support an inclusive environment that is respectful, people-focused, and fun!

We encourage learning and recognize people’s positive intent. With trust, we grow from our mistakes by continually supporting a quality improvement mindset (LEAN principles).

Innovation
We strive to be innovative in technology, cost efficiency and creativity. We advance our mission by creating opportunities to explore improvements and expand our personal development. We lead by supporting a rapid development environment.

Optimization
We optimize our time by identifying and automating repeatable processes to efficiently utilize our technical resources. We seek to minimize redundancies, rework, and defects to strengthen our resolve to follow LEAN principles. We use agile processes and choice architecture to present different alternatives in process and user experience to our customers.

Collaboration and Communication
We operate everyday with clear communication, collaboration and information sharing. We build and foster all of our relationships by inviting internal/external stakeholders to be a member of our team and encouraging feedback with authenticity in our discussions.

We have already instituted changes with daily leadership stand-ups, created Wonderful Wednesdays to encourage innovation and experimentation and started to visually track our work. As we head into a new year, we have so much energy about the possibilities, and the really wonderful thing is that the transformation is being championed by the group and not just me.

I can’t wait to see what the new year brings!

Playing together builds teams


Annual Temple Tech Olympics – Photograph by Michele Schinzel

We just held our second annual Olympics for Temple Tech. It is a time for our team to step away from normal work and play with each other in a relaxed setting. The day is organized by volunteers and is funded by my office. What a great investment in building our team. It was such a fun day!

This year we had better weather and more people came out to spend time playing games, eating, and socializing. Last year was our first time holding the event and many people did not attend because they said they did not have time. The fact that more people came was an indicator to me that it was more acceptable to attend this kind of event and step away from our normal work.

I spent the entire day at the event signally how important I believe playing together is in building relationships and teams. It was wonderful! I personally participated in the cornhole tournament and played volleyball, scrabble, and bananagrams. I was able to catch up with team members from across the organization and heard about family vacations and adventures outside of work.

The relaxed setting allowed several people to personally thank me for the impact that my style has had on the group, which I appreciated.

My favorite encounter was with Jay Holt, who shared his incredible experience skydiving, which he credited to the Wiser Way training that we did as a group last year. He talked about wanting to make stepping outside of his comfort zone a regular habit and that skydiving was his first big step toward doing that.

Our jobs in IT are stressful much of the time because we help people who are experiencing technical problems, have an inexhaustible demand for our services, and run the systems for the entire university that need to be available all of the time. We work in teams solving problems and getting projects done all of the time, so we are used to working together and enjoy solving problems and building solutions that serve our students, faculty and staff.

Playing together is such a delightful break from the normal interactions that will strengthen our ability to work together under stressful situations. It builds connections and stronger relationships, gives everyone a needed break, and promotes having fun at work. As we wrapped up the day, the planning group was already talking about what they will do next year to make it better and my leadership team was talking about how to encourage more team members to take a break and join us.

 

Changing Lives through Tech Training

Jamal receives his diploma upon graduating from the Temple Tech for Philly program.
Photography By: Marissa Weekes Mason

Earlier this month, I attended a graduation of 14 adults who completed the first step in the Project Home/Temple Tech for Philly joint program designed to give people, in the neighborhoods that surround Temple, marketable technical skills so they can change their lives for the better.

Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education. Temple University started as a night school in the Baptist Temple as a way to improve the economic situations of the laborers in the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood. That story is core to the purpose of Temple; to find and polish the “acres of diamonds” that are in our backyard. I came to Temple because that purpose resonates strongly with me.

The idea for the program sprouted over a year ago when we met with the Project HOME IT team to discuss whether there was any need for some of the refurbished computers from Temple for Project HOME residents. As we talked about their needs, it became clear that we couldn’t put computers into the neighborhood unless there were trained technicians who could service them. It also became clear that teaching marketable job skills would have a much larger impact than distributing computers.

Erich Smith from Project HOME and Jonathan Latko from Temple took the idea and ran with it. They designed the Tech for Philly program to give participants concrete technical skills and experience. The first step is 10 weeks of intensive study learning how to configure, support, and repair Windows computers. The second step is passing the CompTIA A+ certification exam. For participants who successfully complete the first two steps, the final step in the program is an internship at Temple to get hands-on experience and training. Project HOME provides the connection into the community, facilities, and funds to pay the participants for their time. Temple provides the equipment, instructors, and internship opportunities.

The first graduating class from the Temple Tech for Philly program. Photography By: Cindy Leavitt

A lot of thought and effort went into recruiting and selecting participants who had the aptitude and desire to learn. The program requires incredible commitment from the participants.

I volunteered to co-teach two classes on networking. My co-instructor and I struggled about how to cover all the concepts that the participants were expected to know in the few hours in class. Other instructors said that they had the same struggle. This meant that much of the learning was left to the participants outside of the class time. In addition to lots of reading, the participants got to practice what they learned on computers they built for themselves using refurbished parts from the Temple computer recycling program.

The sense of accomplishment and joy was inspiring to watch as the participants received their diplomas. They had worked so hard and were proud of themselves. An especially touching moment was when the graduates presented a computer they had built to the lab manager as a thank you for the many hours he spent helping them learn.

Without exception, everyone from Temple and Project HOME who had attended the first meeting came up to me at the graduation to marvel at the outcome of that initial outreach. And the instructors talked about how much they enjoyed seeing the intense desire to learn from the participants and how meaningful it was for them to be part of their journey.

When we are involved in transformational learning, whether as a student, teacher, or organizer, it changes our lives for the better. It gives me great satisfaction to be a small part of this program.

How can you be part of transformational learning in the coming year?

 

Getting others to join the ride

Biking in South Island New Zealand

Several weeks ago, I crashed on my bicycle when I slipped on a metal strip while crossing a bridge. I was rather lucky that I didn’t seriously hurt myself. I did earn a trip to the emergency room in an ambulance and got a single stitch in my elbow along with a bunch of bruises from my hip down to my ankle. But I could walk and was back on my bike the next weekend.

When others found out about my accident, many people shared stories about their accidents or near accidents on their bikes. However, the reaction to the accidents were very different. Many people talked about how they stopped biking because it was too dangerous and drivers were too distracted and rude. While others, like me, were back in the saddle as soon as we were able.

I have been thinking a lot about what is motivating me to continue to bike even though I have been hurt and know I could get hurt again. I have posed the question to several of my biking friends. Their answers included seeking a challenge, being addicted to endorphins, biking being easier on joints than running, and loving it. They also talked about what scared them about biking and that it was a constant risk-benefit analysis about how much they push themselves.

For me, I am happy when I am on my bike. I love to be outside, feel my own power, push myself, and be with friends. So, for now, it is worth the risk.

However, I have a lot of things I do when I am biking to reduce the risk of being hurt and increase my enjoyment. I avoid heavily traveled roads, I ride where drivers are expecting and considerate of cyclists. I seek out newly paved and smooth roads. I cycle with friends who are experienced and passionate about cycling. I carry spare tires and tools for when equipment fails. I travel to beautiful and remote places to cycle.

In technology, we are constantly venturing out to implement projects or initiatives that have transformative impact. The journey to success often depends on asking people to manage change. Much of the change that needs to happen has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with how we work together and get along and whether we can get others to join the ride with us. Change is inherently risky.  Like biking, there are some people who enjoy the challenge and risk and are willing to jump right in. I know I am one of those people. However, most people want reassurance and support, because they have scars from previous change initiatives.

Over the last year, I have asked the Temple Tech team to take a change journey with me as we implemented “A Wiser Way” training to develop self-managed leaders at every level. It has been amazing to see the changes that individuals have made and the positive impact that it has had across the university. As individuals have examined their stories and shifted the way they interact with each other, our projects are being successful in unprecedented ways. We are getting things done and having fun.

As we plan our journeys, we can do many things to encourage others to come on the ride with us. Paint a picture of why a change will lead them to a better place ultimately. Make the change enjoyable. Be prepared for the accidents and setbacks that are going to happen. Give people choices. Realize that people have different abilities and speeds, so we need to accommodate training wheels and racing cycles in our plans. Make bike paths and ensure smooth roads on the transition. Develop empathy for others. Do not overwhelm individuals with too much change. My challenge for you this week is to consider how you can make the ride smoother for your colleagues as you work on projects together.

Powerful Insights from Walking the Gemba (Squats are optional)

Morning Squats at the Help Desk

There is no substitute for doing front-line work to understand what is going on in your organization. In lean manufacturing, this is called “Walking the Gemba” and it is powerful.

One of my favorite times each week is the hours I spend working on the front line of our computer help desk, which is the nerve center for our group. As the CIO of a large university, it is very difficult to understand what it is like for our students, staff, and faculty to use our systems. Working on the help desk has been invaluable in understanding, strengthening my relationship with the team, and improving the services we provide.

The beginning of each semester is crazy and I want to be able to help during these busy times. So I started spending two hours each week getting trained and working on the help desk a month ago to be ready when school starts in the fall. Because we need to cover large surges of demand, the Client Services team is launching the  “Ambassador” program this summer and asking staff from across Computer Services to volunteer to help during busy times. I am the first Ambassador in the program. The training materials that have been gathered to train me will be used for the other ambassadors. The entire network engineering group has signed up! It has been wonderful to watch the willingness of people to pitch in and help.

I have seen first-hand the pain of some of our processes and convoluted systems. I ask a lot of questions about why we are doing things a certain way. As a result, we have been able to have conversations across campus that have improved processes and systems.

As an example, we currently ask prospective students to login to our portal to see their decision about whether they have been accepted to the university or not. Many of these prospective students don’t remember their credentials and can’t get into their account, which is frustrating and time consuming. It is especially frustrating if the student is not accepted to the university and may have to spend 30 minutes logging in only to be disappointed. When we brought this up with the Admissions office, they agreed to change the process to notify the students in email rather than requiring them to login. My experience on the front line reinforces how critical it is to listen to staff at all levels for suggestions.

Another thing about working on the help desk is that it is very rewarding. When you help to solve a technical problem, most people are grateful and happy. Whether it is assisting  an employee print their tax documents on tax-day or helping a student get into their account and hearing the relief in their voice, it feels great knowing that you made someone’s day better.

The best part is the help desk team. They are amazing! They have been so welcoming and patient with me. When I wake up and see on my calendar that I have my help desk time, it makes me happy. I know I have become officially part of the team because I was invited to join the team squat session. I was quite impressed to find that there are several team members who do 100 squats each morning and afternoon. Ken Ward, the self-appointed squat leader, let me off easy my first time. We only did thirty. And I was sore for the rest of the week even though I exercise every day!

My challenge for you this week is to “Walk the Gemba” to get to know the people in your organization and understand how things really work.

 

Nurturing the Courage to Lead

Some of the feedback that I have received from my team is that my leadership style is so different than what they were used to that they were unsure about how to act. Someone told me that his experience was that every time he raised his head to present an idea, it was like “whack a mole” and so he learned to just keep his head down.

That is a powerful and painful story!

So, when I came in and said that I expected everyone to be a leader, I can understand why people were skeptical and hesitant to act.

To give individuals the skills and confidence to be effective and courageous leaders and shift their stories and the culture, I worked with Eric Brunner and Towanda Record in our HR Professional Development team to co-create a “A Wiser Way” leadership seminar series. The seven sessions cover the following topics.

  • Aligning to Purpose
  • Rewriting Our Stories
  • Understanding Self and Others – DISC
  • Crucial Conversations
  • Why to Reality – Power of Habits
  • Storytelling/Improv
  • Now What?

The first cohort of participants just completed the training.

The training wasn’t mandatory and a few people dropped out or didn’t attend all the sessions. Around 70 of the original 85 people were in the final sessions and gave us very direct feedback about what they appreciated and what they wanted to see changed in the training.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The most vocal promoters of “A Wiser Way” are the participants who were the most skeptical coming into the training. The change and growth has been amazing to watch.

I sat back with great appreciation as one of the participants went on for several minutes when I asked her to explain what she got from the training to a visitor. She talked about how she had learned to have positive crucial conversations in a different way after decades of being in a leadership position and how it wasn’t hard and much more effective. She realized that she had been avoiding interaction with several peers. After the training, she had the skills, an empowering story, and the confidence to engage in a different way. She collaboratively engaged her peers and reported that she felt great about the interactions that she had been avoiding for months.

That is a powerful and energizing story!

“A Wiser Way” is an experiment and the culture is shifting already. We will give 150 more people the opportunity to go through the training by the end of this year. I am very interested to see what happens as more and more individuals shift their story from expecting to be whacked down to being courageous and confident leaders.

Taking Flight – A Fun and Memorable Way to Learn DISC

Picture used with permission – Taking Flight Learning

There has been so much energy and fun around the “Wiser Way” training this week. We took the DISC Styles assessment that was administered and presented by Take Flight Learning. The DISC is similar to the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator in that it helps a person understand themselves and others better.

The twist and the thing that made the training so much fun and memorable is that instead of being assigned a personality style letter that we would forget, we were each told if we were mostly like an Eagle, Parrot, Dove, or Owl.

Like birds were seated together at the same table for the class. As we came into the room, we were asked to find our assessment and the instructor, who did not know anyone in the training, would direct individuals to different tables to start looking for their name. She could usually tell what kind of bird someone was by how they came into the room!

The first exercise was hilarious as the different tables were asked to discuss how they would go about buying a TV. The reports from each table were like caricatures and everyone was laughing at the extreme differences in approaches. And, of course, we were all analyzing our spouses, kids, and co-workers to try to guess what kind of bird they might be.

The training was practical, interesting, and fun. It demonstrated clearly why we need diversity of styles on a team to be successful and how important it is to understand the style of others if we want to clearly communicate and effectively work with them. The energy and excitement carried out across campus as everyone was talking about what kind of birds they were. Several participants told me how much they loved the session.

For me, I was quite surprised that I was a Parrot, with Dove tendencies. The only other time, I have formally taken DISC training was early in my career and I tested as an Eagle then. When I did my MBA, we did a couple of exercises that were like DISC and were asked to self-select which groups we belonged in. I distinctly remember not being comfortable in any of the groups. Because I could most relate to the Eagle or dominant group, I would eventually place myself in that group. But I never put myself with the gregarious Parrots. After all, I am an introvert.

The instructor indicated that most people don’t change drastically over time. So I talked with her after the class about my results. Most of my assessment rang true, but I was struck by some specific phrases. I know that earlier in my career, empathy and patience would not have shown up in a description of my style, but they did in this assessment. As I described my intense quest to find a better way to live and lead over the past ten years, she told me that there were many similarities between the parrot and the eagle and that it would be possible to change but would take a lot of effort. I can attest that it has taken a lot of effort as I have shifted to be others focused and that the journey has been amazing.

The challenge that I will give you all this week is the same one we gave to the Wiser Way participants. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who is a different kind of bird or has a different kind of style than you.