Shake up those meta meetings!

What’s the single biggest organisational problem post pandemic?  Well, many would say online meeting behaviour.  So many people are struggling to chair effective meetings in this new world order.  There are the obvious challenges like people choosing to be invisible, but there are the bigger issues like low contribution, selective mute, utter disengagement and ultimately switching to observer mode.  

Add to this the hybrid challenge of facilitating meetings when some are online and others are colocated in the same room, it all adds up to frustration, inefficiency, waste and let’s be honest boredom!  Inclusivity is also a growing issue, as individuals become increasing marginalised lacking any influence at all in their team meetings.  Slido published some scary statistics (we speak about here) that suggest around 50% of people are woefully disengaged in online meetings.  

In our opinion, part of the challenge is that we have tried to replicate the face to face meeting online, when in truth we need to totally discard those old practices, shake things up and create a new paradigm for online meetings.

Shake it up

We’ve been doing a lot of work to understand what we need to do differently in meta meetings, and we want to share some of this thinking here with you.  However, you need to be warned, this is not going to be an easy ride.  If you want to transform the quality of your teams online meetings, it will take a shed load of extra effort from you!  Especially as you begin this journey. There’s a lot of unlearning to do, and there will be a lot of extra planning ahead of the meetings.  But that investment will pay dividends later in the effectiveness of what you are doing.  I also believe that over time you will need less preparation as you get more acquainted with the new practices and approaches.  

If your meetings are not delivering for you currently, the good news is that you can turn this around and create dynamic, engaging, inclusive meetings that everyone will appreciate and value in the future.  So let’s share the big idea and think through what this means.

The big idea; SPINCycles© 

The new meta meeting paradigm needs to shift towards fast paced, dynamic meeting cycles.  We are calling this SPINCycles and will use SPIN as a helpful acronym to facilitate meeting your preparation.  Each meeting will become an individual or series of SPINCycles; each cycle having a distinct purpose, process and defined deliverable.  

The pace of the cycle will be at a whole new level to what you may have experienced before.  Here’s what I mean.  Twenty years ago I began my personal journey into motorsport.  I started with something known as sprinting.  Sprinting is a form of motorsport that must comply with Motorsport UK regulation and safety requirements, but is a low cost entry discipline.  Simply, you can use any car, which you take to an event and compete, one car at a time, for the fastest lap in your cars assigned class.  It’s effectively like qualifying on your own, with no race.  The speeds involved are a whole different league to normal road driving, and you have to work your way up to a competitive position.  The same is true of becoming a full racing licence holder competing in wheel to wheel competition.  I went into that thinking my sprint experience would serve me well.  It probably did, but the truth is I was way off the pace, the standards, skill and speed was a whole different league once again.  SPINCycles are a whole league of difference when it comes to pace.  Forget the hours spent in traditional meetings, the prolonged discussion and meandering explorations, this is focus on a new level.  

Here are the four elements of setting up a meeting SPINCycle.  

S is for Shaping

In a SPINCycle the open two or three minutes are critical.  It is the moments when you will shape what’s about to happen.  The NLP recency and primacy idea helps us understand just how influential opening (and closing) sequences are.  As meeting chair you must set the scene and condition expectations from the very first moment.  In fact even before that, because shaping can start before the first minute of the meeting via clear and concise pre meeting instructions to the group.  There are a multitude of little nudges that you can play to edge the meeting into a completely different place, and nudge is exactly what you must do.  

Shaping has three key constituent parts we call patterns, purpose and process.  

Patterns

Patterns are where you condition the behaviours that you want to encourage.  This is in part you role modelling what you expect from others.  A simple example of this is you being the first person to arrive in the meeting and you having your camera and mic on before anyone else arrives.  But behavioural patterns can be instructed too.  Your pre meeting communication needs to spell out exactly what you are expecting from every attendee in polite, but clear unambiguous terms.  This will include detailing the purpose and processes that will inform each SPINCycle.

Purpose

Purpose requires laser like precision for each SPINCycle.  This is a clear purpose statement for each agenda item (cycle).  This purpose must be action orientated, for example; ‘to evaluate and agree the next three actions steps for the “X” project’.  Or ‘to select the preferred supplier for X assignment’.  

All agenda items should be detailed this purposeful way.  A golden rule is that ‘to inform’ or ‘to update’ is not an acceptable SPINCycle purpose.  If that’s what you want to do, then find another way that’s not a meeting at all.  

A golden rule is that ‘to inform’ or ‘to update’ is not an acceptable SPINCycle purpose

Process

The final part of ‘shaping’ is in defining the specific approach for each cycle.  Very simply, what is the process that we will use to reach the desired purpose outcomes.  This is covered within the ‘I’ of SPIN – Inputs.  But within the shaping phase I must communicate the process for each cycle within the meeting.  This conditions the attendees expectations of how they will be expected to contribute to the meeting.  

P is for Players

The SPIN P is for Players.  Who are the people, and what are they going to be doing during the meeting?  Every single attendee should have a role to play, if not we should question their presence at the meeting. 

Player roles also fall into three camps.  Process, Content and Technology.  

Each cycle has a process, this process needs a player who is responsible for facilitating it.  Now this may be you if you are the chairperson, but it can equally be assigned to others in the meeting.  In fact assigning this to others might be highly appropriate if for example the cycle is dealing with a topic that they are closely connected with or responsible for.  Charge them with the management of that cycle process during the meeting.  

Content is the player role for those that will be adding something needed to reach the cycle purpose.  Effectively content players are contributors to the outcome.  They may bring insights, information, opinions, facts and data, but the point is, this is a predetermined role so the expectation is that they will be required to contribute.  Shaping allows us to condition that expectation.  i.e. “This is what you will be required to bring to this specific cycle”.   

Because you are chairing the meeting, online and (if hybrid) potentially also face to face, you will have more than enough to cope with.  This means you must assign players to take the lead for the technology that is being used.  This obviously includes the conferencing tool of choice (Zoom, Google Meets, MSTeams etc), but also any additional technology tool that you are using.  Commonly this might be breakouts and or decision tools, polls, Onenotes, video etc.  Having a technology player allows you to concentrate on engagement and ensuring inclusivity, instead of splitting your brain power across too many elements.  

You may find that you need to assign some other roles in addition to these, but note, an ‘observer’ is not an allowable role in SPINCycles.  Everyone should come with a pre-shaped expectation of the way they will be contributing.    

It’s also worth noting that some people in the meeting may have more than one role!  Just be careful about assigning content and process roles together – There is a potential for conflict and bias if this is the case.  It’s very hard to be objective if I have a strong content contribution position, and I am facilitating the process at the same time.    

I is for Inputs

‘Inputs’ is the element that requires most from you in pre meeting preparation.  Remember each agenda item is now it’s own individual SPINcycle, each with a clear purpose.  In addition to this each cycle now needs a clearly defined process.  How is this cycle going to run?  

Consider the purpose of the cycle and predetermine how you will achieve that purpose.  The process is likely to be different for each cycle in the meeting.  This is a good thing, in fact even when the purpose of each cycle could potentially be achieved via the same process, you still need to make it different.  This will massively assist the level of participant engagement throughout the meeting.  You want to avoid repetition as much as possible, constantly making small but noticeable differences to each cycle process.  Here are a couple of simple examples.  

Example 1

SPINCycle 1:  To agree which creative supplier we select for the marketing campaign. 

Process:

  1. Prework – Everyone reads the three supplier proposals. 
  2. Sarah presents a summary comparison of the three suppliers proposals with a supplier recommendation. 
  3. Each participant has an individual two minute opportunity to verbally counter the recommendation. 
  4. We use a voting poll (like Slido or similar) to make the final selection. 
  5. Chair has casting vote rights if the poll result is tied. 

Example 2

SPINCycle 2:  To reduce the X project time slip risk. 

Process:

  1. Chair to present the risk details, consequences and rectification target.  
  2. Breakout into pairs, for 5 minutes to uncover two creative ways we can reduce the risk.  
  3. Each breakout pair presents their one preferred / best idea. 
  4. All participants use the chat facility to indicate their preferred ideas from the group. 
  5. Chair makes decision on chosen steps.  
  6. Assign owners for each step. 

Every cycle will have its own predetermined approach, so this is going to take some planning and in many cases set up in advance.  For example you may need to organise which tools you are going to use ahead of the meeting, you may need to create poll questions etc.  This investment is at the heart of shaking up your meta meetings, it will surprise you just how much this will transform the session.  

N is for Nimble

The finale prompt in the SPIN acronym is ‘Nimble’  This is where you determine the pace.  This is very easy to set, but needs good facilitation skills to implement.  

Each SPINCycle requires a set duration, and that duration needs to be as short as possible.  If you are going to stop losing participants to observer mode, you have to take it impossible for them to duck out of the processes that are in flow.  Typically each cycle should last between 5 and 15 minutes in duration.  As commented above, a totally different order of pace compared to what normally happens.  So taking the example above we get very specific and detail the times for the process steps:

SPINCycle 1:  To agree which creative supplier we select for the marketing campaign. 

Process: (Total 15 Minutes)

  1. Pre-work – Everyone reads the three supplier proposals. 
  2. (4 Minutes) Sarah presents a summary comparison of the three suppliers proposals with a supplier recommendation. 
  3. (8 minutes)Each part participant has an individual two minute opportunity to verbally counter the recommendation. 
  4. (2 Minutes) We use a voting poll (like slido or similar) to make the final selection. 
  5. (1 Minute) Chair has casting vote rights if the poll result is tied.

The best way to manage the meetings timing, is to run an onscreen timer.  At the start of each cycle, Show the clock running in a shared screen way so that everyone can see the minutes ticking away.  It’s amazing how this drives focus, process and outcome.  

Keep the cycle shorter than 15 minutes if you can, and don’t round it up.  If your process needs 9 minutes, assign and stick to 9 minutes, if it needs 12, then 12 it is.  

Nimble means that you will never have less than four SPINCycles in a one hour meeting, ideally more than this.  But don’t get caught by the one hour paradigm either.  If you have two SPINCycles one of 8 and another 11 minutes long, then your really only need a meeting length of 19 minutes not more!  Practically it makes sense to allow yourself some opening and closing sequence time, but workout how long it is, don’t just default too obvious tidy units of time.  

Conclusion

We find that the main challenge you will have is your ability to break the status quo and reposition your team meetings in a totally new light.  It will help to talk with your team about this change, explain it, detail how it will work and propose a meeting where you will all give it a try.  Remember your preparation is vital in this, you cannot successfully wing it!  Start small with just one or two SPINCycles at a time, gain familiarity and confidence in the approach before you jump in with longer meetings and multiple cycles.  

This is a transformational change, so be prepared for failure and then review and go again.  In our experience it takes around three weeks of new meeting practice for everyone to start to get it, warm to it and buy into it.  The difference though will be amazing.  

At iManage we can fast track your teams adoption through some quick online training meetings that not only teach you how to approach SPINCycles, but also model the approach throughout.  It’s a great way to kick start your meeting transformation, so get in touch to see how we can assist you and your people make the journey.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

What’s the big trend in remote / hybrid working?

So what happened to Covid?  At least here in the UK, it’s as though someone just suddenly switched it off!  Practically the very large majority of people are now behaving socially just as they would have pre pandemic.  It always amazes me how huge problems in life can suddenly disappear, often just as quickly as they manifested themselves!  For me it’s another example of that very phenomena, one I first came across when reading ‘Who moved my cheese’. 

However, whilst social norms have predominantly returned to pre pandemic practices, the same cannot be said of office working.  Yesterday I took the commute into London at peak hours for a day with one of our clients.  The training journey was most enjoyable!  I had a seat in both directions and most of the time I had a spare seat next to me.  Pre pandemic I would have always had to stand for the 45 minute journey, in a carriage that was increasingly packed like sardines the closer we got to London Bridge.  The reality is, whilst some ‘return to the office’ is taking place the new norm is definitely some form of hybrid arrangement.  Certainly in the city there seems to be a lot more traffic Tuesday to Thursday, much less Mondays and Fridays, but even the busy days seem to be somewhere between 30 and 50% less than it used to be.  

In my post ‘Hybrid working, the new remote working!’ we talked about some of the emerging hybrid models.  Here we can with increasing certainty talk about the main trends that are emerging.  

Controlled or free to choose?

There are two clear camps emerging within the organisations we work with.  One is to structure, define and control the levels of office attendance, the other is to provide complete freedom for managers and teams to work it out for themselves.  Both approaches have merits but we believe the majority of organisations are favouring a defined model over total freedom.  Interestingly, in those freedom of choice organisations there is an undercurrent dialogue that questions the level of parity between different functions or teams that are making different choices on this front.  

Weekly Pattern models

Another growing trend we’ve spotted is what we might call a weekly pattern model.  This may have many different variations, but effectively define a standard week.  An example of this might be:

  • Everyone in: Tuesday & Wednesday.
  • No one in: Friday.
  • Select one day to be in from Monday and Thursday. 

Retain or downsize the facilities?

It’s still early days to make a call on this but we are finding most organisations we work with have (for the time being) kept their entire office space available.  This of course may have more to do with leasing commitments than long term intention!  Our observation is that many buildings we are now visiting are being significantly under utilised.  We are also finding that some organisations are reducing office space very significantly.  One of our client has already reduced a city centre space catering for hundreds of people, down to an out of town space with 10 seats!  That’s an astonishingly large reduction, which may speak of their real commitment to hybrid (or even more) remote working intentions.  I guess you could argue if you are going to capitalise of reduced office costs, you might as well go for it in a major way?  It will be very interesting to observe if this grows and a trend over the coming months and years.  

Hybrid model choice questions

Clearly the impact of the pandemic is having a lasting effect on the way we view and carry out our work.  

Here are some of the questions that seem to be informing hybrid model choices:

  • What space do we / will we have?
  • What is our purpose in attending the office?
  • What do our customers require of us?
  • How practical is it to carry out our role remotely?
  • What do our people prefer?
  • What’s do we want to retain that’s been really good over the past couple of years?
  • What’s the best way to get the outcomes we need?
  • How much social connection do we want to facilitate?
  • What’s our view of parity across different teams?
  • What’s the cost impact?
  • Whats the environmental impact?
  • How flexible to we need to remain?
  • How complex is what we do?

Without doubt the experiment continues, but it’s useful to keep our ear to the ground on the emerging trends so that this can inform our preferences and positions.  

Keep tuned into us here at iManage to keep on top of what’s happening in the world of the digital nomad. 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Supporting your executives through coaching

Let’s face it, if you’ve reached any kind of executive level within an organisation, you can’t be too bad at what you do!   It’s also probably true to say that over the years you’ve had your fair share of management training.  You’ve seen the different models come and go, you’ve adopted some, adapted others and thrown out those that haven’t worked, and finally you’ve settled into the stylistic groove that has worked best for you.  

That’s all good, but it can leave a bit of an unknown concerning the next step of learning, what I might call the next ‘development frontier’.  What can you teach the person who’s been there, done it, delivered it, and all with a modicum of genuine success?  

Well, step forward coaching!  Coaching is the frequent intervention of choice for executives, because it is so utterly suited too scenarios where the individual is already very competent at what they do.  Coaching is the tool that can help your executives understand the next development frontier, and then aid them on the journey towards achieving it.  The gains are very real and utterly tangible. See our blog post ‘How coaching can help your organisation thrive’ for some amazing statistics on how coaching benefits people and organisations. 

In this world where execs have to constantly navigated change, their ongoing development is just as crucial as the least experienced member of your organisation.  Really!  If your top team members are stagnating, then the organisation will soon follow.  There are constant forces for change at work in the world that mean standing still will always result in going backwards!  Rather like the leaning tower of Pisa that had to have years of expensive work to underpin its foundations in order stop if becoming the Pisa pile of rubble, exec’s that stand still find the forces at work around them results in them getting left behind.  Staying developmentally fit is up there with staying physically fit, it tones capability for the ever changing demands of the world we operate in.  

As learning professionals we need to remove the barriers to exec development.  I’ve often seen senior managers and leaders criticised by their workforce for being stuck in the ways, being ‘old school’ or not listening to their direct reports.  That will not always be the case, but some execs really do need some developmental support and they are not getting it!  I’ve been running an extensive management development programme with a client recently that’s targeted supervisory, middle management and senior management groups, yet one of the senior execs hasn’t attended.  I think for some experienced seniors, the prospect of attending ‘training’ with the team simply doesn’t ring their bell.  In these situations we find that coaching is a much more acceptable route.  Of course the coachee needs to understand what coaching is and be receptive to the intervention, but often they become strong advocates once they’ve got their heads around it and experienced the benefits it brings them.  

Our post ‘How to prepare to be coached’ takes you through a simple the journey that will get the most out of coaching if followed.  

How many of your organisations executives have coaches?  It’s a good challenge to ask yourself this.  Are you ensuring exec growth in the same way that you are working at growing the skills and competencies of the team below?  These senior individuals are arguably amongst the most influential in the way the organisation will progress.  Finding great coaches for them should be a real priority for us all.  

How coaching can help your organisation thrive

Engaging in a coaching for your organisation can seem a little daunting, if not a little expensive. Most organisations development budget needs to deliver some level of volume, you’ve got a significant population to reach out too, so the obvious route is to focus on approaches that maximises the cohort size per pound or dollar spent. This means taking the leap into one to one coaching sessions can be a difficult sell, that is until you begin to get your mind around the wealth of evidence that supports coaching as one of the most impactful learning intervention mechanisms available.

72% Gain in goal achievement!

Almost any body can get through their career without coaching, but the potential for lost opportunity can be very large indeed. The university of Sydney is amongst many that advocate extreme value is achievable through coaching. Using short term executive coaching, defined as 4 sessions over 8 to 10 weeks, they found a massive 72% increase in goal achievement. Their control groups only achieved a 10% increase in goal achievement over the same periods. This is incredible! It’s a huge difference, brought about by the interventions of a coach. Imagine the difference that kind of goal focused gain can make to your organisation. It’s transformational, it’s a whole different league of performance.

But the evident benefits don’t stop there. In the same research they found that whilst the focus of the coaching was on goal achievement, there was also clear evidence of psychological benefits. Pre and post coaching analysis suggested that:

  • Depression reduced by 60%,
  • anxiety reduced by 66%,
  • stress reduced by 39% and
  • quality of life increased by 45%.

Add these amazing wins to the 72% increase in goal achievement and you have to ask, ‘why wouldn’t you using coaching within your organisation’.

If we want our organisations to thrive both in performance and wellbeing, then coaching is likely to deliver more than any other development intervention. It really is a no brainer! Couple this with some innovative coaching approaches and you suddenly find the fear of ‘costs being too high’ evaporates very quickly. In our experience there are many ways to ensure value in coaching. Even something simple like using group coaching sessions for intact teams can deliver astonishing returns on investment from your Development budget. Gone are the days when we might have said “Coaching, nah, that’s too expensive” the question today is where you can afford not to be supporting your organisations with coaching?

A quick conversation can help clarify which innovative coaching approaches would suit your situations and enable you to provide coaching as a significant contribution towards making your organisation truly thrive.

 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Hybrid (is not) working

On January the 7th 2022 Camilla Cavendish wrote an article in the UK Financial Times entitled ‘It’s time to admit that hybrid is not working.’  It makes the case that CEO’s maybe tiptoeing around the return to work question, while the balance of focus on staff wellbeing has overcome the imperative for organisation or even customer wellbeing.  It also references a number of more recent studies that propose the early gains seen in productivity during various lockdowns, has now been replaced with evidence suggesting a decline.  A range between 5% and 30% reduction in productivity is suggested.  

Other commentators are also starting to emerge, raising their heads above the parapet and challenging the value of hybrid working.  Sir John Timpson of the Timpson high street retailer is on record as suggesting firms that embrace hybrid working will be at a ‘competitive disadvantage’.  This for me will become the final arbiter.  It’s feasible that we may in the future find colocated organisations beginning to outperform hybrid or remote working organisations.  If that’s the case then I suspect competitive pressure will start to facilitate a new discussion as to hybrid working efficacy.  No one likes the idea that we pamper to presenteeism, but if clear performance differentiators start to be realised between colocated and geographically spread teams then that is likely to become a strong case for reverting back to traditional ways.  

I’m missing Wilson!

Another factor worth considering is the reality that we are social beings.  Even Tom Hanks in Castaway needed a friend; in the film this role was skilfully played by Wilson the basket ball!  This is a classic Maslovian phenomena, one of our base needs is social interaction with others.  There is therefore a strong argument that proposes the longer we are working in isolation, the more co-location may appeal.  Despite the challenges of a commute, many of us enjoyed the cut and thrust of a day interacting with others.  People at the station, the receptionist on arrival, colleagues during meetings, the shop assistant at the sandwich shop etc.  There is already a growing level of discontent being voiced around constant Zooms that eat up your time and fail to deliver on the human interaction that (for many) we actually enjoy.  For many there is something pleasurable about the work community.  

The best emerging hybrid working model

So is it time we accept hybrid is not working?  Well, I would suggest not just yet.  

We are still in our infancy, we are still working out what models best fit our organisational needs and some good ideas are already rising to the top.  In this post we talk about some of the emerging hybrid models, but a new one being rolled out by the clever people at San Jose State University is a very well thought through solution which deals with at least some of the challenges we’ve discussed.  

They have implemented a weekly pattern model that looks like this:

  • Everyone is in on Tuesday & Wednesday.
  • No one is in on Friday.
  • Then everyone selects one day to be in the office from Monday and Thursday.

I like this.  It’s clever approach.  Specifically by having set ‘in days’ you eliminate the potential of commuting in, to find you spend the day on zoom / teams calls, plus you get to interact with the whole organisation face to face.  There’s some flexibility and some structure, I could see variations of this approach becoming a good solution that prolongs the life of hybrid.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

How big is your romi?

How big is your what?  Your Romi – that’s your ‘return on meeting investment’ of course!  Yes, that really is a thing.  It’s a value indicator of the combined salaries of the meeting attendees for the meeting duration, less an estimation of the value generated via that meeting.  

The concept is good in theory, problematic in practice; because attendees are unlikely to be happy about sharing salary information with their colleagues.  That aside, it’s not a bad thing to have in mind when planning, inviting and holding any meeting.  Especially in the light of a recent survey published by the meeting collaboration people at Slido.  

In this 2021 survey people were asked about what they got up to during online meetings.  The results were quite alarming!  Here are the headlines:

  • 57% of people actively multitask during the meeting. 
  • 49% spend their time daydreaming! 
  • 48% said that they lose track, 
  • 44% suggested that they became demotivated, and
  • 42% confessed that they take a look at the news or social media.

That’s an astonishingly large level of disengagement!  

We really need to deal with this as managers, especially as we move into the continued world of hybrid working.  These findings correlate with our research published in the blog post ‘So would you turn up at a meeting with a paper bag over your head?’.  We discovered that people ‘off cam’ voluntarily contribute a massive 84% less than those on cam in our training workshops.  

All these factors add up to the probability that ROMI is currently very inefficient.  So what should you do about this?  Here are four simple ideas that can transform ROMI:

  • Review, and review again who is attending the meeting; ensure that you only include those who have a tangible purpose to be there.  
  • We’ve said it before, but we really do have to get people on camera for the entire duration of the meeting.  If there are technical barriers to this then sort them as a priority.  
  • Use online tools to aid decision making, bringing voting mechanisms into your meeting on a regular basis.  
  • Keep the conversation super focused.  I’m actually a fan of having single meeting purpose and assigning a duration to that.  ie. ‘Today we are looking to agree the next two project steps, and we have 40 minutes to achieve this’. 

As an aside, the same study suggested that 62% of home workers think their manager needs training to get the best out of remote team meetings.  So let’s pick up the challenge guys.  Waste is waste, so we need to focus on making meetings in the virtual world count for something.  In the final analysis I’d suggest that both your team members and your boss, will be thanking you for your efforts in make meetings deliver on the investment.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.  

What are the two big differences between ‘hybrid’ and ‘remote’ working?

Much of the narrative around digital working seems to have taken a shift away from ‘Remote’ towards the term ‘Hybrid’.  Many clients we are speaking with are expecting, even planning, to continue their post covid experiment by having some kind of mixed working arrangement in the future.  The buzz has definitely shifted from talking about remote to the idea of Hybrid working.  Lots of people are using this language, but there is often a good bit of confusion about the practical operational and management differences.  

So here are the two big differences between fully remote working and a mixed hybrid arrangement.  

  1. Ensuring parity of communication

Hybrid working is more akin to remote working BC (before covid).  Think back; it used to be the case that many remote workers were part of teams that also had a workplace presence.  In essence this was a hybrid model.  There might be more subtle differences depending on the new model that is being adopted, but the lessons of BC remote working still apply.  Namely, that it is very easy to create a two tiered communication experience where those in the workplace get a different quality of connection to the manager (and org) compared to the dispersed team members.  A practical example of this would be ‘a meeting called in the office involving a number of the located team, plus a series of online team members connecting via the tool of choice’.  The reality is that these two interfaces are considerably different, and the mix of face to face plus online doesn’t work nearly as well as when compared to everyone at their own laptops online.

Managers and teams need to work out these operational differences and decide how they are going to compensate for them.  

2.  Ensuring parity of experience

The second big difference has more to do with managing the inherent culture of a team.  When we co locate we are much more readily able to define our culture.  That’s because culture arises from a number of elements brought about by working in a specific environment together.  Johnson and Scholes cultural web tool suggest that culture is the accumulation of; team folklore or stories, power structures, symbols, organisational structures, control systems, alongside the daily routines and rituals.  

Many of these elements are much more difficult to develop when the team members are in a constant state of changing interconnections and geographic location.  Managers and teams will need to work much harder at facilitating their culture and in particular creating a consistent cultural experience across the whole population.  

In my opinion the move to hybrid working is one of the great plus sides of the pandemic era.  It will take a while for everyone to get used to it and factor in the necessary changes of approach needed.  However there is no reason not to believe that coupled with new future technical innovation, having a mixed spread of office and field working will become the happy norm. 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

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 occurred 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 home maker.  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

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I'm Bob Bannister, owner, and trainer at iManage Performance, the specialists in training for remote workers and managers with over 20 years of experience in this sector.

As the UK has rapidly shifted towards working from home, this challenges the norms in which we work and manage We can help to fast track your remote management or team skills. Speak to us about our training options today.

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