Warning! Construction Ahead, Team-Building in Progress!

One of the hardest things about the development of a strong team is finding people that you work together to bring out the best in each other. A team, based on the old team development framework by Tuckman is not easy! The concept of Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform takes patience. It takes people who are willing to go beyond self-focus and seek out the best in others.

under-construction-clipart-Under-constructionIn our culture this rarely happens. We don’t often see teams that withstand change. Whether we are talking about the turnover of professional sports, or the new environment found in the organization of today – rare is the team that has any real sense of continuity.

So, if we are unlikely to see teams stay together for more than a short period of time, what can be done to encourage teams to flourish? Three things stick out as key components for successful teamwork in this environment:

1) Set constraints – researchers on creativity are pointing more and more to the reality that rather than hampering our abilities to create, constraints actually encourage our ability. If constraints are placed on the process (e.g. the purpose of the group is to formulate a new haircare product for our consumer line), then the group is likely to reach better results.

2) Set deadlines – ok, so deadlines really are just more constraints, but from a specific perspective when we are given deadlines we have a goal that needs to be reached. Groups that have a time-sensitive factor to their work understand that an outcome needs to be reached and are more likely to iterate than to get stuck forever in the brainstorming and discussion stages.

3) Encourage humility (not meekness) – not often talked about, but groups that show humility have a significant advantage. They know what they are good at and what they aren’t. Too often individuals overestimate their abilities, and groups (with a desire not to hurt feelings) place tasks in the hands of people who are not capable of flourishing in those roles. Teams that practice humility have a proper perspective of their abilities, yet still show care and concern.

So your team won’t be able to age like a fine wine or a tasteful cheese, but that doesn’t mean success can’t be the endpoint for your work.

Powers Of Two: Why Going It Alone Isn’t What It Is Cracked Up To Be!

Ok, I admit it.  I get pretty excited when I find a book that examines the way people work – together, afterall that is the tag of this website! Joshua Wolf Shenk’s work Powers of Two is a tremendous dive into the way that creative partnerships work, struggle, and ultimately end.9780544031593_hres

Shenk’s is just one of a growing number of texts that have busted the myth of the lone creator, as he points to examples of individuals whose previous position as the lone creator is actually a misreading of history and context (read the book and you will quickly recognize how Jobs wasn’t alone in his work, nor was George Lucas, Vincent Van Gogh or most of the people we look up to).

One of the things that I loved in this book is the classification of pairs that Shenk enumerates. Not all creative partnerships are the same, some favor one who is out in front and the other who stands in the shadows, others present a structure-giver and a content-filler, still others are directors who bring out the best in their stars. Each of these, and likely other models, gives us insight into the need that we have for others as we work (Shenk’s epilogue even points to his own partnership with his editor in making this book a reality).

For many of us, the challenge we have faced in pursuing that great idea, work of art, or new career direction, stems from the isolation we believe we will feel by going it alone. Yet, the reality is we need not seek the lone inventor/creator/designer paradigm. The truth is we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The greatest pairs often account for the balancing out of the weaknesses of the other. Why go it alone and lay your weaknesses out bear as you scratch and claw for success, when working to align with a partner can alleviate some of your major concerns?

What would it look like if instead of one, there were two?

Don’t just take my word for it, take a read of this deep, insightful book and examine what a new form of chemistry and partnership might look like in your own work or play!

“Change the World” or “Bring Impact to One Person”

leverBigCornersLately I have been thinking a lot about the struggle many of us have because we want to “change the world.” For us we keep looking for that really long lever that Archimedes was talking about so that we can move the world. We have tried it all, social media, blogging, webinars, and the like. But what if we stopped and reflected on how change actually occurs?

What if your job isn’t to change the world, but to impact one person? What if the impact of that one person was so deep that their life influenced someone else, and that person influenced someone else, and (well you get the picture).

Too often we go in to an engagement, organization, program thinking we are going to bring about some massive shift, and leave disgruntled because we haven’t seen the outcomes we desired.

What would happen if you stepped back and recognized the impact on one single person? Would you be happy knowing that your influence has made things better for that one person?


Why so cryptic? A hashtag for a title? Ughhhh!

Ok, I feel you, I would probably be saying the same thing, except I really want to get this message out and to make sure that you know that hashtag as it could win you a pretty cool experience.

In my daily work as the Executive Director of SynerVision Leadership Foundation I get to meet some amazing people and regularly come across really awesome material. A few months back in reading a blog, I came across Maddie Grant and then later her co-author, Jamie Notter. Not only are they authors, but this dynamic duo serves as the co-founders of Culture that Works, on top of amazing work that they do as consultants, convention speakers, and general authorities on topics as exciting and varied as leadership, nonprofits, social media, new work, and the like.

Why should you care? Because I want you to join me in learning more about what they have found will occur in our organizations “When Millennials Take Over” (which just happens to be the title of their newest book). They will be appearing on an episode of The Nonprofit Exchange, the weekly nonprofit series that I host, on Tuesday, February 17th. During that episode we will be announcing the winners of a contest that they are co-sponsoring with SynerVision Leadership Foundation (you can read the details here).

Don’t miss out on your opportunity to engage with these wonderful authors and a chance to win an autographed copy of their new book, a hangout with the authors, a free copy of the upcoming magazine issue by SynerVision Leadership Foundation on Millennials in the Nonprofit World, and a 3-month premium membership to the SynerVision website.

So start tweeting – what do you think will happen when millennials take over? Be sure to use the hashtag #WMTOonTNE so that you can win!

The Nonprofit Exchange (4)

Thank you, Dr. King

As a white, suburban-born, 33 year-old whose roots were established in the upper Midwest, my perspective is not in hot demand when it typically comes to race issues. Yet forged by new relationships, new environments, and the blessings of a growing sense of discussion, I have grown in understanding and appreciation for the life and impact of Dr. King.

An African-American History class during my Sophomore year of college introduced me deeply to the realities of the lives of African-Americans throughout the years. As a sports fan, I was drawn to the work of Arthur Ashe in his 3-volume work, A Hard Road to Glory, and became enthralled with the Negro Leagues and its stars. I learned from their stories that “us” is more important than “I”. I learned my country’s history, its blemishes and outright failures to uphold justice.

Through the intervening years, I have been challenged to grow more aware and more engaged. I have been blessed to experience more of the vibrancy of African-American culture through my work in churches, schools, neighborhoods, and organizations. I have been honored to voice the spirituals of the plantation openly in choral arrangements, been blessed to engage the cadence of the pulpit that stems from black preachers of yesteryear, and been privileged to learn from professors, walk with colleagues, and teach students whose skin color would have been a separation only a half-century ago.

I, too, like Dr. King find power in the message of the Minor Prophets of Old Testament scripture. I long for justice to roll down, for eyes to be opened, and for humanity to regard one another with love and respect. But, unlike, Dr. King, I have never had to demonstrate, hold meetings, or protest in order to find my rights. I find relief that we have come so far since his horrific death, but recognize that we still have so far to go.

As a people it is important for us to respect all people. We certainly can disagree with others and still show them honor. We can live different faiths (or none at all) and still embrace our common humanity. We can wave the flags of many nations and still live in peace. If we are to truly honor the legacy of Dr. King, we must both learn and teach.

This morning, my wife and I sat down with our 5 year old to help explain to her that today wasn’t just a day off of school. Much more it was a day by which we can be thankful that courageous leaders in our nation’s history have fought against prejudice based on our outward appearance. We shared with her part of Dr. King’s iconic speech, which is 18 minutes well spent as we remember today.

I am not there yet, but I am on the journey.

Let us continue to be part of the dream…

Bringing back the human element.

I have come across multiple posts recently on Facebook and in actual media outlets (Check out Adam Grant‘s take) decrying how the social media context has caused us to lose sight of what friendship. Too often in our over-saturated, noisy world we allow an electronically mediated message to get in the way of the actual human element of relationship – and I admit I am a huge offender.

I often refer to people as friends even when I admittedly haven’t talked to them for years, or rarely ever. I have lived in 4 different states in the last 11 years, including 9 different cities, and I am really bad about working on true unfiltered continued relationships (except with my wife and daughter). I am the guy who would rather email, text, message, or post something to you than pick up the phone and call you – if we are at a distance (I will say I would much rather grab coffee with you than those other things, but I think you get the point). To make matters worse, I for most of my adult life have worked in small organizations where my actual human interactions with people on a daily basis are quite limited. Yet at my core, I am a developer, coach, teammate, and community member. In the words immortalized in the show Lost in Space, “this does not compute.”

With an ever-shrinking world, ever-increasing access to information, and the constant buzz that surrounds the everyday life of individuals from infancy to geriatrics, how do we put the human element back into relationships? I don’t believe that it is anything but a result of our lack of human interaction that vitriol is expelled on the comment sections of so many articles, that we are becoming more and more divided everyday, and that injustice seems to be on an uptick.

So how do we create person-to-person, person-to-group, and person-to-community connection back to our society? I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. My only thought is that we have to start by being intentional and aware of this reality. We all have a need for belonging, from political parties to sports teams, gangs to religious organizations, clubs to conferences, we need others and we need to be connected. In 2015, I am would like to embark on a journey of reconnecting to the human element of our society – through shared community, phone calls, coffee talks, and video chats.

Will you join me in seeking to bring back the human element to our lives again?

If only I had more time

I find myself thinking that so often. Right now I serve as the Executive Director of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I teach adjunct at Spring Hill College, and I am working with an amazing group of community leaders to bring innovation and entrepreneurship structure to my new hometown of Mobile, AL (not to mention other volunteer work that I do).IMG_20140508_073843

(Places like this do help the process. Taking time to reflect and enjoy your surroundings are helpful)

Still, it bothers me when I think about all of the other projects (including this website) that I just can’t seem to spend my emotional and mental capital in more places. The truth is, we all want to do more. The organization you work for wants to, the school that you attend desires to, and you wish you could – but the reality is, we all have to be strategic about what we choose to do, otherwise we will be spinning our wheels.

If you are like me, this is a really hard lesson, I mean REALLY! So rather than just whine about the problem, sit down and write out your list. Choose five things that you feel that you can really invest yourself in. No more than five. No cheating…and if you can’t come up with five – open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there. Why five, because that it just makes sense – trust me, or don’t (I mean you only have five fingers on a hand…it was just meant to be – and no, don’t tell me you have two hands…I know that but really when you start to go to the second hand for anything do you really remember it, no…I didn’t think so!)

Go forth and invest yourself wisely!

Your Organization Won’t Change Until These 2 Things Are Embraced

Recently, I had a conversation with an old colleague who was asking me about some strategy and culture issues. The conversation centered on how an organization can find re-birth, re-development, and/or new life.

Through our discussion, I landed on two primary questions that left unanswered hold organizations back from positive change (yes, I know there are probably countless more, but these are easily codified and create a framework that allows you to deal with the others). The two questions almost seem so obvious that we should all know them yet, based on the present reality of many organizations, it either isn’t obvious or the answers are a resounding – NO!

  • Do you know who you are at your core?

This is not what you want to be, this is not what you tell people you are, this is who you are in reality…deep-down inside. The strengths and weaknesses, blessings and potholes, the history, the lost dreams, the past failures and victories, along with the present collection of individuals.

If you don’t know this, you can’t move in a positive direction. You will always continue to relive problems of the past, fight battles that don’t exist, or go in directions that don’t connect to the people within or outside of your organization.

  • Are you really ready to change?

Are you thinking, of course we want to change, we wouldn’t be talking about this unless we were? Many people talk about changing, growing, adapting, like they talk about values – they espouse this…they want to have something happen, but only mentally. The reality is in order to change, you have to deal with discomfort, you have to do something new, something outside your norm. That is often painful.

The reality for many organizations is that living in the status quo, the known, the norm, the pattern, is so much easier. It takes a lot to break out of a pattern, albeit mental or physical. Many times we like the idea of growth, newness, or change, but we are unwilling to do what it takes to get there.

There is hope. Change can occur, it is uncomfortable, it is hard, but it often means growth. Movements like Christianity, ending Slavery, Unionization, Civil Rights, etc. were painful and challenging. Organizations that have redefined themselves like IBM, 3M, Apple, etc. transformed their businesses and changed the way that their customers engaged them – and you can too! Courage, humility, and forgiveness are key ingredients to lead you on that journey!