Posts Tagged productivity

Getting the most from your team

Let’s say you have embraced inclusion as a core business practice and created an environment that embraces the full spectrum of diversity. How do you get the most from this powerful asset?

An article in Harvard Business Review entitled Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work, available for purchase HERE, provides some guidelines for getting the most from a diverse team:

  • Understand your own profile first so that you approach issues and problem solving objectively.
  • Develop teams that represent different cognitive processes and perspectives.
  • Create environments and guidelines that capture the full value of the team’s diversity.
  • Participate in and lead the process with this full set of objectives in mind.

Great advice.  And it just goes to show that a lot of what we’re doing today builds on skills developed in the past.  This article is from 1997, but much of the advice was as relevant in our parents’ and grandparents’ business endeavors.

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What if you held a productivity revolution and nobody came?

We had a lengthy discussion about this a couple of years ago when the collaboration banner first got run up the flagpole as the emblem of the corporate new world order.  At the time I was pretty adamant that the actual term we were searching for wasn’t collaboration.  I felt that collaboration was too restrictive in it’s context.

I admit the term collaboration translates well to the corporate world.  I mean, you want people working towards something when they’re on the clock, and if it’s a common goal that benefits the company, more the better; however, I think that you leave a lot on the table when you restrict your view to the co-labor perspective of group activity.  Clearly progress is important, but some of the most interesting ideas, innovations and relationships occur spontaneously — not when someone is diligently pursuing a collaborative goal, but rather when they are participating in a socially active environment.

The trend towards work/life integration further marginalised the term collaboration in my opinion.  Most of the social networking that normal people do outside of their offices isn’t classic collaboration, it’s a manifestation of their participation in the human drama.  I mean Wikipedia and YouTube are great examples of the power of the group to accomplish interesting things, but isn’t the creation of value mostly an accident in these kind of mashups?

The term participation, to my way of thinking, casts a wider net.  First, the concept of participation is more inclusive of not only business, but personal and social endeavours, and secondly it captures the added benefits of serendipitous and spontaneous value creation.

Alas, collaboration had already become too sexy to ignore, so the horses were hitched to that wagon and off we went in a cloud of dust.  Still, I often stop to wonder where collaboration would be without participation.  What if you held a productivity revolution and nobody came?

I was just looking over a new report by some folks I have a lot of respect for at McKinsey entitled Six ways to make Web 2.0 work, when I noticed something interesting.  The word collaboration is practically absent in this report, and instead it looks to have been blasted with a shotgun loaded with participation pellets.  Nice.

Well, maybe participation doesn’t have the cachet that collaboration does in the current buzzword bingo halls, but I still think it more accurately captures the ultimate value of the social networking movement in business.

What do you think?  Do you wake up each morning thinking about how you can use collaboration to be more productive?

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The power of a simple list

One thing I’ve observed is that people who habitually use simple to-do lists are generally more effective than those who don’t.  I think that’s probably because a simple list serves as a strong foundation that helps you keep objectives in perspective and forget fewer details, plus it provides a good basis for efficient time management.  Generally speaking this tends to make those with lists more organised, more reliable, and more productive.

My dad has made a simple to-do list a part of his life since I have been old enough to notice, and he gets more useful work done than anyone else I know.

I’m not talking about detailed, task-oriented project management here; that’s a discussion for another time.  I’m referring to a simple check list of personal tasks.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up or forgetting little things, give list keeping a try.  Keep a notepad nearby and don’t be afraid to use it.

Here are a few tips for the effective use of to-do lists:

  1. Make it a habit.  Start each day with a look at the previous day’s list and copy over the things that still need doing.
  2. Keep lists short.  A long, unmanageable list is an invitation to procrastination.
  3. Be specific.  Break tasks up into clear, definitive actions.  Doing this avoids ambiguity and helps keep you focused.
  4. Keep tasks achievable.  In addition to the above advice to be specific, setting realistic mileposts reduces frustration.  “Boil the ocean” would be a bad entry, for example.
  5. Prioritise, but be flexible.  Use common sense when arranging your tasks.  Take advantage of your mood, energy, and momentum to get things done, and don’t be afraid to improvise.
  6. Recognise small successes.  Take advantage of your progress to replenish your self-esteem.
  7. Keep the list up to date.  Maybe updating your list once a day isn’t enough.  Nothing invites inefficiency like an outdated set of priorities.

Do you use a list to organise your day?  Please help us out and share one of your favorite tips here.

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Are we raising our children to be prosperous?

For fun, I just did an image search for the term prosperity.  80% of the pictures that were returned depicted cash, gold or other symbols of wealth.  But, as I noted before, wealth is only one dimension of overall well-being.

There is a ton of advice out there for teaching children the value of money.  How do we teach our children how to value the importance of being happy and productive?

It starts by fostering creativity. And I fear that in many cases we may be short-changing our youth in in that regard through the quest for competitive advantage in academia.

An education system that focuses on results rather than process, as might develop in an environment where standardised testing is the primary measure of success, for example, can overlook the fundamental skills of critical thinking and analysis in favor of repetition and memorisation.  While the short term effect might be adequate scores for the institution, long term we may unintentionally teach the children to focus on arbitrary goals at the expense of original thought.

Aileen Journey muses about this in a recent guest article on the Slow Leadership site.

In content-based, traditional education, the use to be made of the information is not as important as the fact that it gets into the child’s head and stays in long enough to take a test or write a paper. Process is learning how to think, how to approach an issue, how to analyze a problem and come up with a solution. Given the way the world works today, the process of being able to find information is likely to be more important than having that information already sitting in your head. That’s as true of management learning as it is of grade-school classes.

That’s certainly relevant, but I don’t think it goes deep enough.  Traditional content-based education doesn’t stimulate enough introspection either.  Children are taught by syllabus, by outline, by deadline and test.  In the rush to get to the result, a passing grade, they aren’t given enough time to evaluate the context of the quest.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a definite need to teach basic skills.  But successful education should go beyond that to teach reasoning, contextual awareness and, increasingly, collaborative methodology.

Leading a productive and satisfying life requires maintaining a delicate balance between insistent forces.  If you are taught, however unintentionally, that success means the tireless pursuit of an unquestioned goal, or individual performance, then the critical skills necessary to maintain that balance in life might never properly develop.

Educators have a difficult challenge.  Developing curriculum that encourages not only process development but introspection and creativity is only part of the problem.  Coming up with ways to validate the process and demonstrate its value in a way that satisfies the government, taxpayers and parents is even more challenging.

Roger Farnsworth

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Another vote for global prosperity

In line with an earlier observation here, Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation got the attention of the financiers and government officials gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum when he talked about the need to shift our priorities away from traditional measures of economic well being.  According to an article by Reuters, Wallis believes “the macro-economic text-books are works of fiction”.

(Wallis) addressed the assembled money-makers on the importance of “gross domestic happiness”, as opposed to gross domestic product.  His new economics aspire to demonstrate “real economic well-being” through sustainable living, a focus on the local, not the global, and a more equal distribution of wealth.

The explosive growth of global personal communication fosters a new, more holistic, perspective on life’s ultimate potential and allows people unprecedented visibility and access to the information necessary to integrate personal, social and business desires.

While this may initially be perceived by some as a rant against greed, in reality it is a measured argument for the world to aspire to the promise of universal achievement.

Bravo, sir.

Roger Farnsworth

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