The old ways are the best ways! 

I’ve recently had the privilege of revisiting some tools and techniques that I first learnt way back in the 1980’s working for a Dupont manufacturing division.  

After world war II the USA sent a working party to Japan to assist in reconstruction following the devastating blows of the two atomic bombs that ended the war in the East.  Amongst that team was a gentleman by the name of Edward Deming.  Deming liked the numbers, he might well have been a blue analytical type of guy, so his focus was very logical, data driven as he worked with a host of Japanese manufacturers to improve quality.  What happened next is well know.  Japan took over the world of manufacturing to become the dominant world provider of everything from washing machines to cars, and they were good!  In fact much better than those products that the West were delivering.  Many old USA and English brands started to suffer and often died; names like Hillman, Triumph, Norton all lost out massively to the awesome quality of Honda, Yamaha and others.  While the West had become lackadaisical with quality, Japanese manufacturing was delivering incredible quality and reliability across sector after sector.

It was the mid 70’s before the West started to take some of it’s own medicine and by the 1980’s many of us within the sector were being trained in TQM (Total Quality Management), a range of tools and techniques that had been developed and refined in the East.  

This past year we’ve been working with a very exciting client (that is a high precision bespoke manufacturer) and we were asked to help develop skills with some of these traditional improvement tools.  Amongst them we included PDCA.  

PDCA is a very simple improvement process that can be used as a planning tool to smoothly implement what we’re doing, and to learn from what we originally set out to do.  Here are each of the stages:

Plan for improvement

At the start of this cycle we begin with some planning, but not only how are we going to do something, but also how could we improve it straight away?  

Some good questions at this stage might include:

  • How will we do what we need to do?  
  • What are the expected outcomes? 
  • What can improve our plan? 
  • How will we capture the good and bad things that happen along the way?  

Do Implement

Simply we follow the plan, but we also deliberately capture the good and bad things that happened along the way.  This is often missing as a proactive step, which limits any ability to review effectively afterwards.  

Check the result and review

Having completed one cycle we can check we might ask:

  • What worked well, what didn’t?
  • How did what actually happened differ from our plan?
  • What lessons can we learn and what actions should we take based on these lessons?

Act to improve

The final stage is to incorporate the lessons learned in what we do next, and the cycle can start over again and again.  

As simple as this process seems, it has stood the test of time and delivers improvement every time.  The beauty of PDCA is also that it can be applied in so many different situations.  Constant incremental improvement is a continuous requirement that stops us going backwards/loosing out to the competition and so it should be a key focus for us all  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Moving from remote to hybrid working – Using a 3rd space!

A phenomena of the covid remote working experiment has been the increasing tendency to cram the diary, removing all possibilities to take a break, process and refresh.  This is resulting in an increase in employee fatigue that needs to be dealt with as we now move into the hybrid working era.  

Back in the office we would have automatically created mini breaks in the day.  Often times they would have occured in conjunction with movement around the building that we work in.  Typically, one meeting would finish and you would take a walk; down a stairwell, across to another building, from the boardroom to the office etc.  These were necessary evils, but we now discover they served a very important purpose.  These little breaks gave us space to process.  Just a few minutes in-between spurts of activity, engagement and contribution, but moments in time that added to our personal wellbeing.  

In the new world we are in distinct danger of feeling increasingly stressed, overwhelmed and fatigued because we no longer have this processing time.  Injecting mini breaks into your hybrid working day are not a ‘nice to have’, but an important element of staying connected, alert, creative and energised.  

Find ways to put those 5 minutes of space back into your working day.  Try and avoid the possibility of going from one to another meeting, without even lifting your bum from your seat.  

Also consider how you might create a longer period of reflection at the end of each day.  

The 3rd Space

Many people have begun introduce a 3rd space into their day.  Typically this occurs at the end of the afternoon as you ‘leave’ work and switch to home.  Simply it’s a way to stop you moving directly from your laptop (professional) to your kitchen sink (domestic) without a pause.  

The 3rd space technique provides some process time in a way rather similar to the old commute used to do.  

To design your 3rd space, think about what you would have done when you used to commute.  Did you listen to the radio, read a book, listen to a podcast, day dream?  Now think about what you are going do, to introduce a third space between work and home life?  It could be as simple as taking 20 minutes to listen to the radio, or replicate your old commute unwind habit.  It may however need you to introduce something new to your routine.  Perhaps you might take a walk around the block, pick up a guitar, pull a few weeds in the garden or something else that you find helpful and enjoyable.  

We are discovering that this micro down time is in fact a substantial contributor to your sense of wellbeing.  Both during the day, but significantly as you transition from professional to homemaker.  It’s an easy thing to introduce and as we extend remote working into hybrid working we should consider the long game and introduce coping strategies like this to ensure our long term capability and health.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain. 

No Problem, No Development!

So, what was the last thing you learnt to do?  Chances are, whatever it was, you will have learnt it to solve a problem.  Even those things that are in the realm of hobby or interest, it’s likely you were still solving a problem.  Take for example ‘learning a new language’ there’s a problem, you cant speak that language yet and you want to for any number of reasons.  

I’ve been learning how to weld again, it was once (when I was 20) an embedded skill, but life’s journey moved me a long way from that environment and I’d forgotten the detail; exactly how to set the gas bottle pressures, create a weld pool, progress that pool and manage the addition of a filler rod.  But guess what, I came across a problem that needed solving with some welding.  I’m rebuilding and slightly reimagining an old 1973 motorcycle, I couldn’t do that myself without relearning how to weld.  It’s another example of the truth that is ‘if there’s no problem, there’s no learning’.  

This is an important thing for managers to understand.  Especially within the context of ‘people development’.  A good development check-in needs first to identify the problem that’s to be solved.  Vanilla training solutions that are providing learning ‘just in case you need it’ will never hit the spot and engender true development like a target learning solution that delivers against current evident problems.  

It’s the difference between the two words ‘learning and development’.  We can learn something (knowledge) but we won’t develop skill (action) and become skilful unless we have the experience that a real world problems facilitate.  

Here’s a great way to better understand the problem when discussing development needs with any of your team members.  Ask questions using the SPED framework below.  

Situation…

Open the discussion by talking about the current situation, what is the employee doing right now, what are the targets, goals, objectives tasks on their plate.  

Problem…

Then drop into questions that try to understand the associated difficulties they are facing with those goals.  Ask what the problems are!  

Effect…

The third step is to elevate the need to change and learn something new.  We move the discussion to the impact that those problems are having.  Look to articulate the pain!  How bad is the effect of that problem, how frequent, how significant etc. 

Desire…

Finally move the conversation to explore the desired solution.  What’s needed to correct this problem.  Look to articulate the competence that is lacking.  Be careful to identify if the root cause is indeed a competence deficit or perhaps is an organisational matter.  If it’s the later, it’s not a development need at all!  Once you’ve nailed the competence that they need to develop, explore the many ways that the person could build that skill and become skilful.  This is likely to be a product of experience.  So think about how you might deliver this in any or all of the following ways:

  1. Rich and challenging experiences. 
  2. Opportunities to practice.
  3. Conversations with others. 
  4. Reflection.  

Creating problem solving learning opportunities will escalate the employees adoption.  They will see, feel and understand the need for that new competence, and very often willingly approach the opportunity.  Linking development with a problem is a sure fire way of creating developmental change in your teams.  So do yourself a favour, and be the manager that creates skilful individuals that burst through difficulty to achieve new and greater things.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Function or performance which needs to come first?

Some things we assume or take for granted turn out to be incredibly complex.  Take the example of a formula one race.  We take it for granted that for 2 hours on a Sunday twenty plus cars will show up and compete for the podium.  Yet when we stop and think about it the amount of things that have got to coincide just to turn up, let alone win consistently, is enormous.  

Without the engine, a modern F1 car has over 30,000 components, you can easily push that towards 50,000 once the power plant is added.  The car alone is incredibly complex, a marriage of engineering, electronics, software, aerodynamics and much more.  

Add to that the significant team that makes it all happen.  We might be mistaken to think this adds up to a few tens of people, the reality (in 2021) is that the big teams will employee over 800 people to deliver and make this all happen!

That’s 800 people that have to come together effectively week after week to build a team that is not only consistent, but is always pushing the limits of possibility.  And then we have the drivers, top athletes that are constantly chased by adoring fans and hungry media presenters, all wanting their slice of the action.  

What then does it take to make all of this happen?  What is it that delivers on this challenge week after week after week?  The answer is high functioning teams.  

In F1 and in many other walks of life, we find that the highest performing teams have this one thing in common.  They are first high functioning.  

Chasing performance alone will never cut it, because (until everything is totally done by robots) we have to factor in humanity.  Those organisations that focus on performance alone, can win, they can achieve the top of their game, but the by-product of that situation is stress, pain, long hours, grief, hard work and often times burn out or exhaustion.  However, those teams that put high function at the heart of what they do, those that recognise the importance of interdependence between every single team member, there by-product becomes performance.  

That performance also comes without much of the pain and grief encountered by focusing on performance alone.  

Our high functioning teams model, developed by Will Karlsen and I, starts to unlock the dormant potential in teams by ensuring that function comes first.  Here are some simple assessment questions to ascertain whether your team is progressing towards high function.  A yes answer is always correct, but a ‘no’ gives you insight into what you may need to work on.  

High Functioning Team Barometer:

  1. The are no activities or areas of independence in the team. 
  2. Collaboration and transaction is held up as equal importance. 
  3. Peers request feedback from one another on a daily basis. 
  4. Peers disclose feelings and emotions to one another on a daily basis. 
  5. Everyone can articulate the collective vision and purpose with brevity and clarity.  
  6. Behavioural development is seen as equal to the development of domain expertise.  
  7. There is unquestionable support for each individual, from each individual. 
  8. There is unquestionable trust between all team members.  

 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Should we manage online meetings in the same way we once managed face to face meetings?

Have we got online meetings correct yet?  My guess is not!  Most of the time we have simply transferred our offline face to face meeting practice into a conferencing tool and ploughed ahead, without rethinking what works best when meeting remotely.  

1.  Create a clearer purpose statement for your meeting.

We advocate making a change to traditional meeting practice when online, introducing a new more virtual way of meeting.  At the heart of this change is the question of ‘meeting purpose clarity’.  When we are remote working we always do well to increase the clarity of what’s expected of each other.  This is always most effective when we simplify any meeting down to one single purpose.  Our research suggest that any meeting will have one or more of the ten following purposes, that fit into two categories:  

Things you want:

  • a decision?
  • to generate ideas?
  • to solve a problem?
  • to build relationship?
  • to learn from the past?

Things you are achieving:

  • getting an update?
  • communicating something?
  • making plans?
  • exploring options?
  • persuading others (including sales)?

Selecting one of these purposes and stating it clearly and singularly in the invite is the first step in creating a better online meeting.

2.  Define a short timescale to be enforced in order to reach your purpose.  

The second step is to define a duration for the meeting.  This needs to be as short as possible, sometimes even as short as 10 or 15 minutes!  Obviously this can be longer if a more complex purpose and when more participants are involved, but you should always aim for as tight a timescale as feasible.  Whatever duration you select, announce this clearly alongside the meeting purpose during your opening sequence.  It can also be helpful to have this displayed on screen to make sure any late arrivals understand even if they didn’t hear it at the beginning.  

To bring this to life, add a simple count down timer to your desktop and share it on screen throughout the meeting.   It’s amazing how this will focus the attention of the participants.  

3.  Use voting to make decisions.  

The third suggestion is to make decision making more definite by introducing voting to the meeting.  The easiest approach is to use the chat facility and have all team members state their preferences nice and clearly.  This however requires you to work out the answer options and articulate them very clearly before holding the vote.  A good way to step this up is to use an online tool that helps facilitate decisions.  If you search you will find many options, one we like a lot is Slido it’s free and straight forward to use (no we are not getting a kick back for mentioning them ;-).  The combined ideas of using a voting system alongside a timer for that decision, can really transform your meeting efficiency.  

Just because it can work, doesn’t mean an old school approach translates brilliantly into the world of virtual meetings.  This is a simple example of how we can change practice online for the better.  Think about other ways you should reinvent your meetings to fit the remote working environment and you will soon start to come up with many improved, more effective ways of working.  

Ships Captain

Bob

Hybrid Working – Creating the same experience for all.

As we move out of bulk remote working into a hybrid remote approach, there are a number of significant things to reconsider.  One of these issues is the potential of your hybrid groups to have very different work experiences.  Working at parity of team experience needs to take place on a number of different fronts, but here are three areas to start with. 

Ad-hoc impromptu meetings

When we are all together it the same space, it’s pretty easy to call an impromptu meeting.  We just wait until everyone is around and call people together for a huddle.  If this is a regular occurrence, then it’s super important to consider how you cover that meeting content with the rest of the team who are currently remote working.  

This doesn’t mean that you have to drop all impromptu get togethers (after all it would be a shame to remove some of the helpful spontaneity of working in the same place), but you do need to catch up with the others in a planned way.  

However it’s worth recognising that on some occasions you will need to make the meeting more formal and call a place and time so that everyone, wherever they are, can have chance to attend.  

Use of Cams

One best practice approach for hybrid teams is to continue use of remote conferencing even when some of the team are located in the same office.  Experience suggests that having half the group on a singe cam (for example in a meeting room) and all the remote workers on their own individual cams simply does not work well.  

It is much better to continue the practice of one person, one cam for everyone whether they are in the office or not.  This brings a far greater parity of experience, but also makes simple things like seeing and hearing much easier.  

Sharing of day to day information

Keeping everyone up to-date with activities and progress remains very similar to good remote working practice.  That is, you need a robust team reporting mechanism that is shared on a regular (probably weekly) basis.  We favour the longstanding ‘Quad Reporting’ technique, a 10 minute activity that everyone takes part in once a week; sharing the same agreed information to put everyone fully in the picture.  We recommend the following quad headings:

  • Achievements over last week 
  • Outlook for next week 
  • Issues and risks for escalation 
  • Team specifics

Taking care to make sure the whole team feels included and part of the group takes time and effort when working within a hybrid model.  This of course may change from one hybrid model to another (read here for more of the different hybrid models).  

Bob Bannister

Chips Captain

Hybrid working, the new remote working! 

As we start to rise again from the ‘covid remote working experiment’ it seems more and more likely that the world of work has changed and will never be the same again.  Many web surveys and our client discussions testify to the fact that the majority do not want to return to the one-hundred percent office based model.  To replace this three main hybrid working models are emerging, although others may yet transpire.  

Hybrid working is actually more akin to BC (before covid) remote working.  Back then it was often based around a hybrid approach, so although more of us will be involved this time, there is already a lot of understanding about some of the potential issues and best practices we can all learn from.  An example of this is the issue arising from a lack of parity; history shows it was harder to get a promotion as a remote worker compared to being office based.  This and other subjects can be dealt with easily so long as we share and understand what can go wrong and how we can solve it.  

The differing approaches to hybrid working bring their own unique challenges and opportunities.  Here are the three main approaches being talked about and explored for potential adoption:

The rotational model

The rotational model divides up the team and the working week, creating a rota for being on or off-site.  This can be a permanent or rotational split i.e Group A onsite when Group B is off, or a constantly changing rota so that the on-site team is always changing (allowing a greater mix of interaction over time).  This is the most complex of the three models, and needs good planning on a par with running a shift rota.  

The permanent split model

This model was more common BC, typically with specific roles being remote and others office based.  An obvious example of this would be a situation where the sales team were remote workers but the marketing team office based.  Going forward this approach seems to have less advocates, probably because it’s the BC office workers that are now calling for increased flexibility.  

The scheduled in-days model

The current front runner seems to be the ‘scheduled in-days’ model.  This is where whole teams agree specific days of the week to operate on-site together.  The number of days might vary, but could for example be, Monday off-site, Tuesday on-site, Wednesday Off-site etc.  

Of course there could be a mix of these models too, so going forward, a ‘rotational scheduled in-days’ arrangement might be popular?   

As hinted at earlier, each model has specific issues for workers and managers, these need to be understood, considered and factored into new ways of working once the dust starts to settle.  

Watch out for our blogs over the coming weeks, as we start to articulate some of the specific for you.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain. 

What would happen if you had the super power of self control?

I’ve recently been giving my attention to self control, or maybe the occasional lack of it in my life!  I guess I’ve always seen myself as somewhat impulsive, being quick to act and do.  I’m pretty comfortable with that most of the time, in fact I think it’s been a useful characteristic for making things happen and generating constant progress in my life and business.  However, sometimes it’s a real pain!  It’s true isn’t it, our greatest strengths are often our biggest weaknesses?  

What if self control was our super power.  So finally balanced that we knew exactly when to exercise it, but also when to go with instinct and impulse.  That would be mighty useful!  

So here’s my thought, if we develop a better understanding of when to exercise self control, in other words; we give our self-control a clear focus, then that would be a very practical aid throughout any day, week, month or year.  

Motivating target v depletion idea… 

Two ideas that often surface when you dive into the academic view of self control are that of setting a motivating target, but also the finite depleting nature of the resource.  

These two things work against each other, knowing this however can be really helpful.

It’s clear that giving our self control a singular focus can prove to be very powerful. By defining a clear goal we find it easier to stick to it.  The counter problem however is that by exercising our self control on that focused area, it depletes our ability to have self control elsewhere.  It seems self control really is a limited resource we have to manage.  

This is why many people can exercise significant self control in one area of their lives, but very much struggle in another.  A simple example of this would be when someone is very much in control of an exercise routine, but struggles with a lack of self control when it comes to food.  Of course, it could be that the two areas are totally unrelated, so I might have good control of my diet, yet really struggle to control spending etc.  

Developing greater self control

Whilst we can struggle, it is very much possible to develop our levels of self control to reduce the troublesome areas of depletion.  We still have to watch though, that we aren’t simply moving a struggle to another area lacking self control.  Here are four strategies for improving your self control:

1. Focus on one goal at a time

Work at developing your self control one area at a time.  Choose that area and make it a strong focus for change.  Trying to progress multiple areas is really difficult, so give yourself a chance and make small gains in an area that is valuable to you.  

2.  Plan for situations that might break your resolve

Try to identify your moments of weakness, what triggers the set back?  Then set a plan in place as to how to deal with that situation when it arises.  Make this a practical as possible, change your routine or disable that situation if at all possible.  

3. Practice

See the development of your self control as something to practice.  Practice requires understanding, repetition and failure.  A failure is part of the step, so don’t cave in when it happens.  Recognise that it’s part of the process, pick yourself up and go again.  

4. Avoid Temptation 

The last strategy requires us to remove the temptation.  It’s far easier to exercise self control when we don’t have to!  So can you extract yourself from the possibility of failing.  If that’s a possibility we should try and pursue it.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captian

Remote worker, are you an integrator or a segmentor?

Effective remote management phase 2 series.

Long before the pandemic threw the whole world into remote working, it was generally considered that those who preferred to work remotely had a very specific characteristic that was not shared with people preferring a hub based office working style.  

These two differences were labelled integrators or segmentors.  Very simply the individuals that preferred remote working tended to be integrators over their segmentor colleagues.  It’s clear that these differences still remain, but the current day challenge comes when die hard segmentors find themselves thrust into the integrators world.  

Let’s look at the key characteristics and then consider what it may mean to each of us.  

Segmentors

Segmentors have a real desire to preserve the boundaries between their home and work lives.  Typically they would be very targeted at ‘working’ during work time, and say ‘spending time with family’ outside of those work hours.  They are always happiest when these two worlds don’t collide.  Generally they would prefer to stay a little longer in the workspace to get the task done, compared to flirting with the possibility of taking that work home to complete it after the kids had gone to bed.  Segmentors are often fans of flexitime arrangements because it allows them to schedule home and work separately.  The over arching strong desire here is to keep home life and work life separated.  

Integrators

Integrators work entirely differently, they are very comfortable with the idea of blurring home and work life.  They wouldn’t think twice about popping to the shops in working time, but equally it would not concern them to carry out a work task in personal time.  This often results in working after normal hours.  They are totally comfortable blurring spatial boundaries, and love organisations that bridge that boundary, such as offering a childcare facility at work.  The overarching idea here is that they have a much easier job transitioning between their different roles.  

Acknowledging individuals preferences is a very useful step in developing better practices around remote working.  This is especially the case where a manager and team member may have very different preferences.  e.g. An integrator managers could easily have expectations of a segmentor team member that are likely to result in tensions.  Being aware of this difference is the start of being able to manage it better in either direction.  

It’s also worth stating that that both preferences can learn from each other.  For example, an integrator might do well to add a little segmentation into their daily routines, for example, setting a time curfew after which they will stop working.  Equally a segmentor might benefit from being able to flex the working day to suit a family or personal need from time to time

Given that so many previously workplace bound people are now having to work from home, coupled with the likelihood that hybrid working is now here to stay; this is a topic that teams and managers would do well to explore, discuss, and share opinions on.  This without doubt would be a helpful thing to work through as we move into phase 2 ‘long term / permanent’ remote working.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

The cost of not giving yourself a chance!

I wonder how much you value certainty? For many people this is a very strong value, it seems possible that most people are certainty driven. It’s like a built in survival instinct, uncertainty equals danger, risk, fear and so people chase after certainty because it means that they are in control.
But is that really the case? Is the belief that certainty means they are in control really true? What if the true cost of certainty is not being able to give yourself a chance?
The relentless pursuit for certainty may well result in given up hopes, goals and dreams. I question whether that is a worthy swap?
Even so I feel it; I too feel the need for certainty in almost any aspect of my life. However time has taught me that certainty is often stolen away in a moment, and if not its cost has been too high. Sometimes both of these things occur, It’s been costly to attain and at the same time it’s been super fragile and temporary.
There are many examples in my life even though I’ve always tried to practice being comfortable with ambiguity. Paying hundreds of pounds extra a month to have a fixed rate mortgage; spending thousands of pounds to insure white goods; failing to try something new because I don’t know how it’s going to work out, and so the list goes on.
I can’t imagine laying on my hospital bed at the end of my life, being grateful for all those things I didn’t do because of certainty!
Here’s the most interesting thing, when I look back at my fondest achievements, every single one of them lacked certainty of outcome! They were all situations where I could not be sure of the journey or finish point, but with thought, focus and effort I went for them. I wonder if the cost of valuing certainty can destroy a whole life, and stop people from having a chance to achieve?
One of the things I would like to tell my Grandchildren is “have a go”. There are few certainties in life, so moving away just a little from that value, towards just a little uncertainty, could be the most exciting thing you do to give yourself a chance. I’ve long loved that Spencer Johnson quote “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” It’s a question that could open the door to all kinds of excitement. Jokingly I’ve always said that I would put my pension on the dogs when trying to illustrate my willingness to embrace ambiguity. Of course I wouldn’t do that, but neither do I want to rely on the uncertainties of governments and personal pension plans alone for my retirement. I am willing to explore the possible and frankly unknown, simply because they might unlock a totally different retirement when (and if) that day comes. History shows this earth and the things of this earth are sadly temporal, unreliable and ultimately doomed to fail, so I prefer to put my certain hope in things to come. But whilst I am here on earth, I like the challenge of increasing my value for uncertainty and the excitement of seeing where that takes me.

Bob Bannister
Ships Captain

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