Today’s far-flung workforce teams have a wealth of tools for sharing information around the globe. But does the virtual experience promote optimum collaboration? Writing in the Harvard Business Review Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, points out that, beyond data exchange, “Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another.”
Such meaning can be eroded by “virtual distance”, says Sobel-Lojeski—by which she means “physical distance, operational distance, and affinity distance.” When she and her colleagues measured virtual distance around the world they found that when it was high, innovation fell by 90%, and cooperative behaviors and trust fell by 80%.
To restore true collaboration, she says, leaders must offer shared context. Even a simple thing like making sure team members know what local time it is for everyone else can help people feel respected. Of course, virtual distance can occur even among workers on different floors of the same building. It is up to leaders to be deliberate about facilitating communication to and among team members so that bonds can be built and maintained. The power of our PRES system and our model for Collaborative Problem Solving can help create greater “presence” and interaction even in remote settings. Remember: Behind every keystroke is a human being.
We want to hear: What has your experience been with virtual distance and how could it be improved? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Teams can make great decisions – or truly awful ones. What differentiates smarter teams? In two groundbreaking studies, Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Woolley, M.I.T’s Thomas Malone, and Union College’s Christopher Chabris attempted to find out.
In one study, the researchers grouped nearly 700 subjects into teams of two to five members, assigning each team a diverse array of tasks. In the next study, 68 teams were assigned tasks – the difference being that half collaborated face-to-face and half online. In both studies, the more successful teams shared certain attributes: 1) team members communicated a large amount with each other; 2) they contributed more equally to discussions, and 3) team members possessed strong emotion reading skills*.
Teams with more women tended to do better, which researchers believe is because women score higher on tests of emotion reading, such as “ReadIng the Mind in the Eyes”. But emotional intelligence played just as strong a role online. What makes teams smart, they say, is not reading facial expressions, but rather a more general ability known as “Theory of Mind,” the ability to consider what others feel, know, and believe.
We have been researching and consulting with teams for decades and are thrilled to see so much of what we teach validated here. As teams—including remote teams—become increasingly crucial, the ongoing science of teamwork can help teams form and perform at optimal levels.
We want to hear: Are you part of a smart team? What qualities does your team possess that make it successful? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
*For more on contributing effectively in team meetings, see our previous Communication Capsule.
“Like Barbie’s Dreamhouse and Hot Wheels, meetings at Mattel Inc. now come with instructions,” says the Wall Street Journal. The recent article refers to the toymaker’s new policy to streamline creativity and overhaul its meeting-heavy culture by limiting the number of people who may attend meetings (10, except for training) and decreeing: “There should be no more than a TOTAL of three meetings to make any decision.”
We agree that endless meetings can be a drain on productivity. Rather than setting strict limits on the number of meetings and participants allowed, we believe leaders should strive to make meetings smarter.
We’ve long recommended our PRES (Point, Reason, Example, Summary) model as a powerful way for meeting participants to get to the heart of any matter. We also recommend the “80/20 principle.” Identify the 20 percent of the discussion that captures 80 percent of the results. Empower participants to call “80/20” when they feel the discussion has reached a point of diminishing returns -- when people are repeating themselves without adding new information. We also urge leaders to ask every meeting participant to be searching for agreements that all group members support.
We want to hear! What do you think should be done to prevent “meeting creep” and make meetings more effective? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
A recent study by the research group Flurry found that mobile consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes daily on mobile devices—continually stimulated by information. Yet studies also suggest we get our most original ideas when we stop being stimulated and let ourselves get bored.
A recent NPR story cited a study by U.K. psychologist Sandi Mann, who asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task. Participants came up with their most novel ideas when performing the most boring task of all—reading the phone book. Mann says when we're bored, we're searching for something to stimulate us, noting, "We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation…and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious, which allows different connections to take place.” Studies also show that smartphones impinge on our ability to do "autobiographical planning" or goal setting, which may keep us stuck in a rut.
Mann is now on a mission to “bring back boredom." As longtime advocates of the power of the pause and the benefits of silence, we endorse his vision. Visit this NPR link to learn how to track your Smartphone use.
We want to hear! When do you get your most creative ideas? If you’ve tried cutting back on cell phone use, did your creativity grow? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace finds that only 13% of people around the world feel engaged at work. Silicon Valley high-flyers may lure and retain talent with perks like free massages and gourmet buffets. But according to a recent SHRM survey “the opportunity to use skills and abilities” is now the top driver of satisfaction,
Researcher Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts, Why Leaning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work takes this finding one step further, saying, “Employees don’t just want their skills used; they want them stretched.”(http://bit.ly/workchallenge)
When Wiseman’s organization asked 1,000 people across industries to indicate their current level of on-the-job challenge and their current level of satisfaction, they found a near-linear correlation. In other words, “As challenge level goes up, so does satisfaction.” Further investigation revealed that people who received a challenging assignment, in general, mastered it within three months and were ready for the next one.
The lesson for managers? While pausing to appreciate success is important, employees are not happy resting for long. If employees seem restless, allow them to apply their skills to a new problem and invite them to collaborate with co-workers to increase their expertise.
We want to hear: Are you more engaged and satisfied at work when your abilities are being stretched? Can you give us an example? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: David Kracht https://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_kr8/
The art of storytelling in business has been getting quite the buzz lately. For decades we have introduced this skill in our Persuasion and Influence course. But as storytelling consultant Shawn Callahan, who works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, and Microsoft, says, “We see lots of people talking about stories but very few telling them.”
Callahan says understanding the simple framework of a story will help.
How do you know if you’ve got a viable story?
*A story begins with a time or place marker (when/where did it happen?).
*It recounts an event, with feeling.
*It includes dialogue (“And then he said…”).
*It has a business point (the reason for telling the story is…).
People pay attention when you tell a story – and stories are remembered. So mining your experience for stories is time well spent. We want to hear! Have you told or heard a good story recently? What was its impact? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: AZ https://www.flickr.com/photos/azrasta/
If you say, “Let’s go around the room” in a meeting, you've failed, according to Seth Godin, author of the books Linchpin and Purple Cow. Says Godin, “You've abdicated responsibility and just multiplied the time wasted by the number of people in the room.” (http://bit.ly/bestmeetings)
We agree that this approach to meetings can be counterproductive, because many of us stop listening. We become completely caught up in our own heads, rehearsing what we are going to say in order to sound impressive--or drifting away to something more entertaining.
As we’ve long said, meeting facilitators should find ways to invite quieter people into the conversation, but a better way to do this is to give each person 45 seconds to offer a PRES (Point, Reason, Example, Summary) statement (check out our 7/29/2014 Capsule). Also encourage active listening and interaction. If you find yourself in a “go around the room” scenario, you can make the best of it by paying attention, asking open-ended questions, and paraphrasing. Resist the temptation to tune out or plan your “moment in the sun.” Deeply listening to what others are saying and staying plugged in allows you to be an emergent leader.
We want to hear. What ideas do you have for getting group members connected and updated without the boredom and wasted time of long “go around the room” scenarios? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Acumen https://www.flickr.com/photos/acumenfund/
We have previously blogged about expansive body language as an expression of power and confidence. But what should your body convey when you want to encourage engagement and inspire and express confidence in your team? In Forbes (http://onforb.es/1peKVES) Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. discusses the link between body language and leadership.
To encourage collaboration, she says, it’s critical to pay attention when others are speaking. Leaders should adopt open body postures (no crossed arms or legs), lean forward, align their bodies with and mirror the stance of the person with whom they are speaking. She also acknowledges the importance of nodding—noting that research shows people will talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods in clusters of three.
We endorse these suggestions—and contend that they will also make you more persuasive. Be especially mindful to pay attention. Giving in to the temptation to sneak a peek at your phone (or let your mind drift away from the conversation) will result in broken eye contact and broken rapport.
What body language cues do you look for to tell whether someone values and respects what you say? What body language tip would you give your boss if you could? Join the conversation: click "comments" below.
Image Credit: Kevin Dooley https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/
In our last Communication Capsule, we mentioned the benefits of kicking off brainstorming sessions with two minutes of silent writing before sharing ideas with the group, round-robin style, with no evaluation. This can lead to fresher, more creative ideas—but that won’t help your group if you or your colleagues tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the new.
As Judith Glaser, who studies “conversational intelligence” notes—and as history has shown repeatedly—truly original ideas are often met with spontaneous rejection, precisely because they are alien to our current culture. (The founder of FedEx got a “C” for an academic paper outlining his idea for an overnight delivery service.) And rejection may mean that the idea’s creator feels rejected, and unlikely to contribute another new idea soon.
Step 3 of our brainstorming protocol is key: Instead of attacking and rejecting, all team members (again, silently and in writing) prioritize their top three actions— those they believe are most significant and doable. When each team member advocates for their top choices in round robin, input is shared by all—not just the first and the loudest. And the group focus remains on selecting the most positive solution—not rejecting the weirdest.
Please share your experience. Have you ever had an idea rejected because it was “too original?” How do you encourage colleagues to be more creative? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum
Brainstorming meetings are a widespread practice, but brainstorming may actually be counterproductive when it turns into a blurt-fest, with early—and often least creative ideas—given an inordinate amount of attention.
"Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation," says Loran Nordgren, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, in a recent Fast Company article. Her studies show that groups in which individuals write first and share ideas in an organized manner afterward generate 20 percent more ideas than “shout it out” forums.
We are not surprised! For years we have taught a collaborative protocol for brainstorming in which the first step is silence. For two minutes, team participants reflect on the question in writing, unconstrained by convention. Phase 2 involves round robin input where each group member shares one idea at a time until all ideas are recorded in the group memory (on flip chart paper). The key in this step: No evaluation! Initiating brainstorming with these two phases eliminates disproportionate influence of early ideas—and brings the quietest voices into the meeting.
We want to hear: What have been your brainstorming experiences? Were the meetings more or less productive when speaking or writing came first? Please share your responses here.
Are team-building exercises fun, or something many employees feel “subjected to?” A recent NPR story chronicled some true—and truly disastrous—“weekend warrior” tales reminiscent of scenes from the classic NBC sitcom, The Office. Employees recounted everything from paintballing mishaps (don’t splatter your supervisor in a “sensitive area”) to being pelted with ricocheting Sacagawea gold dollar coins flying out of a demolished donkey piñata.
What interested us as much as the story were the 100-plus comments posted in response, the majority of which seemed to be by listeners who could certainly relate. Some cited corporate “narcissism” as underlying such debacles, and many lamented the large amount of money spent on the Rambo-esque functions.
We believe that real team-building should be a result of learning and using creative, cooperative ways to solve problems and make decisions. Then the team is able to build its “teamness” by doing great work—no safety goggles or helmets required.
Share your experience. Have you engaged in team-building exercises? How did it go? How do you think teams come to do great work? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Employee engagement (i.e. enthusiastic involvement) correlates highly with increased individual and organizational productivity. Yet only 30 percent of Americans feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 Gallup report.
To understand what influences engagement, consultant Tony Schwarz and Georgetown business professor Christine Porath partnered with the Harvard Business Review to survey over 20,000 employees across a range of industries. The result: Engagement rises when four core needs are met: physical (via opportunities to renew and recharge at work); emotional, (by feeling valued and appreciated); mental (being enabled to focus on their most important tasks); and spiritual (by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work).
Here’s our thought on one way to immediately raise that low 30% engagement metric: Everyone within an organization—whether or not in a formal leadership role—can have an impact on corporate culture by communicating appreciation to those around them. It only takes a moment to sincerely let others know they are valued, and the rewards will be immense, not just on a company-wide level but also on a personal one.
We want to hear. Are you in the habit of letting co-workers know they are appreciated and valued? What happens when you do this? What has been your experience when someone at work directly recognizes something you have done? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, and Mary Davis Holt, partners at a consulting firm focused on women’s leadership development and authors of Break Your Own Rules offer evidence that female executives, “report feeling alone, unsupported, outside their comfort zones, and unable to advocate forcefully for their perspectives in many high-level meetings.” This is particularly troubling in light of research offered by social psychologist and Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld that the more one speaks in a group the more status one is perceived to have.
Of course, not all women feel disenfranchised in meetings and many men can feel that way too. We contend it’s easier for anyone to speak up when they have a game plan for doing so. That’s why we suggest P.R.E.S.:
· Begin your statement with your main POINT.
· Substantiate the point with a REASON.
· Offer an EXAMPLE.
· Now SUMMARIZE.
Keep our P.R.E.S. model in mind as a way to contribute articulately and persuasively at meetings.
We want to hear: Do you ever feel reluctant to speak up in meetings, and if so, why? How does our PRES model work for you? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In his TED talk, Jason Fried, software executive and author of Rework, lambasts meetings as “toxic, terrible, poisonous things” that stifle productivity. He recommends finding ways to eliminate meetings, including more instant messaging and emailing.
Our take: Yes: Too many meetings are dysfunctional time bandits. But rather than abolishing meetings, make meetings great! Meetings should become places where differences of opinion yield better decisions and where the end product is far richer than any single contributor could have conceived.
Some keys to facilitating better meetings: Make the goals of the meeting clear. Tap the synergy of a group through rituals that invite quieter people into the conversation. Listen actively to whomever is speaking, including asking clarifying questions and paraphrasing before disagreeing. When you hear a good idea, acknowledge it. When group members realize they are influencing each other, energy, momentum and morale soar.
Please share your experience: What do you do to make meetings productive, inclusive and energized? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We hope this week’s Communication Capsule gives you a boost. Your feedback on our Forum is welcomed and valued.
Here’s looking at you! When someone makes eye contact, they are perceived as more connected, as well as more trustworthy and likeable. We’ve long discussed the value of eye contact, and now it turns out that this basic mode of communication is so powerful it even has an impact on our relationship with “brand mascots.”
In a study published last month in the journal Environment and Behavior, researchers at Cornell manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adults were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away. Researchers also found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward—to meet the upturned gaze of little tykes in grocery aisles.
If marketers know how to invoke the power of eye contact, we should all be conscious of its impact. Eye contact activates the parts of the brain that help us to more acutely and accurately process another person’s feelings and intentions. It gives us, as The New York Times put it, “a cognitive jump start.”
So, look up from those mobile devices and connect! You will not only be perceived as more aware and empathic—you actually will be.
Please share your experience: When you consciously make an effort to increase eye contact, what do you notice about the outcome? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.