The importance (or not) of affirmation

Culture, etiquette, manners, rituals call it what you want. Functioning society thrives when people know and abide by a set of norms in the way they behave and interact with others.

I’ve previously suggested that the English thrive on ambiguity, a character trait that can prove hugely challenging to expatriates trying to comprehend what has (or has not) been agreed.

In an excellent comment, as part of my “A Collaborative Valedictory” reflection page, Maria Ana Botelho Neves who is Portuguese reminded me that, when she was CEO of the UK Charity I was a Trustee of, I gave her a book. The Culture Map became the backstop for many conversations with the English ex Army Chairman.

The author, Erin Meyer, poses business leaders these challenging questions:

Why does your Swedish colleague have so many problems leading his Chinese team? How do you foster a good relationship with your Brazilian suppliers while sitting at your desk in Europe?

How do you navigate the tricky task of performance reviews when your American employees precede negative feedback with three nice comments, while the French, Dutch, Israelis, and Germans skip the positives and get straight to the point?

What is the best method for getting your team based on four continents to work together effectively?

Face to Face collaboration can be tricky too: how do you intepret where people sit if you are in Asia; at what point in a meeting in the Middle East do you start talking business; if you are invited to the house of a client or colleague, what’s the appropriate gift to take; or is the taking of a gift seen as insulting? All have the propensity to cause unintended offence!

I’ve seen near misses in Italy where English drivers enter the Autostrada anticipate the car on the inside line will move over to accommodate them. They do not! It’s about custom.

As we move into a hybrid working environment and communicate mostly via social media tools (and email), the above challenges are amplified and the impact on business and relationships potentially damaging.

Bridging the cultural chasm in global wealth management

Many years ago, when I was Managing Partner of Sparknow, we undertook an assignment for a client who had recently rolled out a global administration system. Their challenge: to get people collaborating across timezones, cultures and language.

Virtual communications were at the core of the problem. There was a lack of understanding of the style and customs of others. Working with their learning & transformation team we asked each team member to keep a journal. Here’s an extract from our invitation to participate:

Following a set of interviews we created a booklet “Tick” (what makes us tick) to highlight their different cultures and customs and how to best work with each other.

Here’s a page from the section: “How not to write a confusing email”.

The success of this initiative was in embracing and affirming the positive contributions and unique aspects of different cultures. The global team had input into the booklet (we deliberately avoided the word ‘Guide’) and a sense of ownership. It was written in their words with their examples.

And finally

In the online world we inhabit today, where virtual presenteeism is becoming the norm, it is easy to feel isolated and misinterpret what is or is not being said.

Silence is a powerful tool. I’ve seen it used effectively by HMRC’s enforcement teams, I’ve used it when interviewing people about a sensitive subject or recollection such as an Oral History. It’s particularly effective when giving an address to pause and let an important point ‘land’,

However, a non response can be equally damaging to a working relationship. There is nothing more demotivating than sending a message to a colleague who you know has received it and get no response.

The thumbs up emoji is a wonderful tool to at least acknowledge and affirm a request.

What Does 👍 Mean. The thumbs up sign emoji 👍, also known as the “yes” emoji, is used to express general contentment. It can also be used to show approval and support for someone’s actions or ideas. It can also mean “great job” or “keep it up,” depending on the context.

Fired up but not yet ready to go: Legal KIM response to 2015 challenges

A month back Martin White and I ran a breakfast breakout event for professionals in Legal Knowledge & Information Management. Those who follow mine and Martin’s musings might recall the event ‘The Future for Legal KIM: an outside in perspective’. Our aim was to present our thoughts to a group of Legal KIM’ers and seek their views.

These were the topics we foresaw as being important in 2015:

  • Lawyers come and go – capturing knowledge at speed
  • Collaboration and KM beyond the firewall
  • Getting the best from virtual teams
  • Bringing it all together – legal project management

ALegal KIMs it turned out we were not far off the mark as the feedback from the postcards we invited the delegates to write on indicated.

Once we consolidated all the replies on the day an interesting picture emerged.Scores on the doors (Click on the picture below to make it more visible)

In law firms of more than 250 partners the biggest issues were around virtual teams and project management. Yet all acknowledged they were not yet in a state of readiness to tackle them. Among the smaller players the biggest worry was around loss of knowledge.

other priorities

Not unsurprisingly the comments provided a valuable insight into their thinking.  Smaller firms (at the start of their KIM journey) were looking for basic KM:

  • Basic entry level km – completely new to it / evolving information research service & integrating with K activities
  • Provision of rapid and easy access to previously captured knowledge / Technology to simplify the process of intergration

Larger firms wanted something different (note the reptition of collaboration):

  • Collaboration inside the firewall / Expertise locating
  • Combining & improving KM systems / Organising our know how in a better way across the whole organisation
  • Support dept personalities working together (Marketing collaborating with IS, KM)  / Improve collaboration generally
  • Content clutter and records management / Risk & Security / Knowledge & UT goals & Strategy

So much to ponder on – watch this space for answers!

and finally

Grateful thanks to the four people who made contributions to Plan Zheroes (the event’s nominated charity).  For those who forgot and anyone else who feels moved to contribute, they can do so here.

PZ Virtual PresenceThis Thursday the Plan Zheores team are at London’s GLA for the launch of their new virtual presence which has the potential to make PZ the ‘Uber of surplus food’. Here’s a snapshot of what it will look like and why the team is so excited.


How to begin a project in a new business: collaboration, communication and a dash of KM

A week back someone asked me for a bit of advice about getting projects off the ground so I thought I’d share this with her (and you). At the request of the Executive Chairman I’m doing a really interesting piece of work at the moment with a new management team. If we pull it off it will be a great example of how to embed Knowledge Management principles into a business with the aim of speeding up development and learning as we go.

theoretical and practical underpinnings
Successful project management is dependent in no small part on collaborative team working. Learning Before, Learning During and Learning After (core foundations of what is often called Knowledge Management) can transform the way project and management teams work and how they collaborate. Simple techniques associated with each step will ensure that what we learn as we progress is fed back into the way we work in the future. The techniques associated with each step are tried and tested across a variety of industries and cultures. We are going to begin by creating an environment and way of working that encourages collaboration and openness: where we all share in success and are able to identify and rectify potential failure.

the brief

The funding clock is ticking and ‘product’ (a prototype) has to be at an advanced
stage if not already delivered for Q3 2015.
In short, the new team has to ‘hit the ground running’ from January and rapidly
establish a modus operandi in the first 90 days to ensure:

  • all issues around obstacles to delivery are capable of being surfaced in an open
    and supportive manner;
  • a set of core behavioural norms including communication and a technical
    collaborative infrastructure are established by the team for the team;
  • everyone understands their responsibilities, role and deliverables and is aware
    of the strengths of the rest of the team; and
  • everyone celebrates successes and takes ownership of potential failure

My initial brief was along these lines:

…help create a collaborative team environment with a shared understanding of what needs to be done and by whom…

the backdrop

Without naming the client (I will call them Polyglot)) I can tell you:

  • it’s space age stuff involving energy retention (so green and renewable)
  • it’s a multicultural environment and none of the 6 ‘man’ team has English as a first language
  • none of the team have worked on a project together
  • they have ambitious targets to develop a working prototype

Each was chosen because of a specialism – PhD’s abound – and an ability to go beyond what’s conventional.  But they have different backgrounds, cultures, outlooks and personal value sets. They are hungry and excited about the prospect of creating a product that can change the way we look at energy retention.

Ahead of the meeting I sent them an outline of the session and opened as follows:

You face a tremendously exciting and challenging 2015. A
new company, a new multinational team and a project that
has the potential to change the way energy is consumed,
stored and saved. Few organizations and the people who
work for them can look forward to the coming year with
such anticipation.

Project Mobilisation Meeting #1

Its Day Four and most of the team arrived on Day One. We’ve assembled at their new offices which is appropriately housed on a reseach park. In advance I asked each of the team to be thinking about a proud moment when they had enjoyed working in a team.

The aims of the half day session were:

  1. Begin building a Polyglot culture based on collaborative team working.
  2. Understand the respective strengths of the team members and Polyglot.
  3. Help kick off the ‘project’ with a shared understanding of the obstacles, deliverables and timing.

The agenda I worked up for the half day kick off session is below. What I can share is how the opening went (taken from the write up I produced):

Everyone had a really interesting story to tell about him or herself and an astonishing array of experiences. Perhaps the most revealing was that nobody had English as his or her first language. We adopted this mantra as a way of overcoming potential misunderstanding:
‘I heard you to say…. and I understood you to mean….’
Further we agreed that whenever anyone did not understand a phrase or word they would seek clarification and record it on a white board along with a glossary of terms.

item who comments
Introductions Ask people to introduce themselves with their name and an interesting/unusual fact. Scene setting: why are we here, what the session is all about.give some examples of good (and bad) experiences
Hopes & Fears Exercise In 2 parts. Each person to write down on Postit notes:Why I joined? To plenary and call out.Then 3 hope and 3 fears and put up on the wall.
‘when you look at things differently’ An exercise designed to get people thinking about different perspectives.Split into 3 teams and give each a paper with one of 3 ‘professions’. Ask them to jot down notes about the room through that ‘lens’. Back to plenary for call out and learning’s.
My proudest team moment PC to ask each person to tell his or her story. JM to note down words for each person that sum up emotions, skills & knowledge, outcomes, behaviours.
How can we ensure the project fails? This exercise (a Reverse Brainstorm) will surface barriers/obstacles and solutions. Split into two teams; ask them what can they do to make sure we fail to meet the deadlines and quality standards.
What would you tell your Dad? Ask each person to write down a response to this ‘over dinner question’: So tell me what is it you are doing?Then get everyone to come and put his or her ‘offerings’ onto the wall. In plenary for discussion and agreement.
And finally: ‘Homework’ set the task: present an outline project plan on Friday 16th January. NB We will decide the composition of the teams in advance. There will be no guidance.