Tag Archives: Capacity

Tough collaboration!

barbed_wireIt is pretty easy to collaborate with close colleagues, it gets much trickier when we need to collaborate across boundaries. It can even get downright painful!

Today, I am excited to share an example of collaboration across boundaries to ensure future success. The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities announced at today’s Board of Trustee meeting that we will guarantee admission to students who students who complete the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and earn a minimum 2.0 GPA* in an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from any Minnesota State college to every one of our seven Minnesota State universities with junior year status.

This required collaboration across multiple boundaries, including; community and technical colleges, state universities, administrators, faculty, labor organizations, local admissions offices, system office leaders and just a whole bunch of individuals with strong opinions.

As Dan Sanker highlights in his book, Collaborate! The Art of We, collaboration like this is required for success in the complex and competitive world we face in higher education (and all fields.)

I was not a part of the work to develop the admissions guarantee collaboration but I imagine it contained most of the elements that Sanker describes as essential for successful collaboration:

  • Ongoing communication – even when it gets tough
  • Willing participation – not up front agreement but a willingness to explore
  • Brainstorming – open to alternative ideas
  • Teamwork – all must participate
  • A common purpose – the crucial starting point that requires clarification and alignment
  • Trust – requires both time and demonstrated behavior
  • A plan – turn ideas to action
  • A diverse group – provides the unique perspectives to develop innovative ideas and action
  • Mutual respect – foundation for work
  • A written agreement – creates a shared understanding
  • Effective leadership – not just a single title but actions to keep the group focused and help when the process goes off-track

Each of us are responsible for creating the conditions that will support collaborative efforts on our teams and across work groups on our campuses. Sanker’s list can help our teams avoid getting stuck on the barbed wire fences that pop up at work.

Todd Thorsgaard



Risks and leadership

riskOne way and another, risk-taking has been on my mind a lot recently. As we’re looking at building organizational capacity, part of the definition is “engaging and supporting appropriate risk-taking.” Here are a couple examples of what that might mean for day-to-day leadership.

From a project management perspective, leaders need to identify potential risks, decide how likely they are and how much impact they’d have, and then decide what to do about them. Avoiding all risks isn’t practical, or even possible. Appropriate risk taking means deciding on the right approach:

  • Avoid – take intentional action to ensure the situation does not occur
  • Transfer – hire someone else to manage the risk (for example, ask a third party vendor to complete the project)
  • Accept – acknowledge there is nothing to be done and deal with the situation if it occurs
  • Mitigate – take steps to minimize the likelihood and/or severity of the situation

Another way to look at risk-taking is part of the hiring process. The human tendency toward a zero-risk bias means that leaders might not be willing to take an appropriate risk on a candidate who could bring new viewpoints, background and perspectives to the role. There can be a tendency to look for a candidate who is similar to the previous successful incumbent, or to others on the work team.

Where have you encountered risk-taking in your leadership, and how did you decide what was appropriate?

Dee Anne Bonebright



High diving requires a deep pool

CNI nw_mf_danny_cox_0719.jpgIn one month high divers from around the world will be competing at the summer Olympics in Rio. If I was one of those divers I would hope that the leaders in Rio have done the work needed to build deep pools, even though these Olympics are facing budget, political, economic, environmental and workplace challenges.

Our organizations also need deep pools of talent to be successful when facing a future of changing demographics, fluid governmental demands, volatile customer expectations and a diminishing workforce. Creating individual development plans (IDPs) and continually developing your own people helps leaders fill their talent pools and keep their people engaged with the organization.

Paula Asinof, a leadership consultant, provides tips on how to use IDPs to fill your talent pool in her article, IDPs: Talent Development’s Superglue, in the January 2016 TD magazine.

  1. Start with a gap analysis and ask each employee:
    • where are your talents now?
    • what talents need to be developed or do you want to develop?
  2. Craft only one to three goals based on the answers (see previous post on SIMple Goals)
  3. Utilize a wide range of development opportunities:
    • on-the-job experience
    • coaching/mentoring
    • development-focused work assignmnets
    • training
    • education
    • interim assignments
    • temporary assignmnets
  4. Focus on outcomes and provide regular check-ins

Overall the IDPs you develop with your people need to be simple, clear and realistic. It isn’t the Olympics but a deep talent pool can help you win during challenging times.

Todd Thorsgaard



Are you losing air?

Best of 2015, first published on January, 2015
The holiday season can be exhilarating and fulfilling as we take time to connect with family and friends. On the other hand we can also end up feeling drained and overextended. This post reminds me of the importance of assessing where I am and where I want to be as we wrap up 2015. –Todd Thorsgaard

It is one of the most depressing feelings while biking. I can be riding along; happy, outdoors, feeling strong and having fun. Everything is in synch and flowing until I feel myself slowing down and I can tell I am riding on a flat tire. I may hear a loud pop and a fast “whoosh” as all the air escapes at once or a soft, almost evil, hiss as my tire gradually goes flat. Or I may hear nothing at all and just have a soft tire. Either way it means I need to stop what I am doing, assess the situation, and take the appropriate action to refill my tire so I can get back to riding.

Bike flat largeSometimes I have just gone too long without pumping up my tires and I  need to use my CO2 cartridge and add air, other times I have hit an unexpected bump in the road or run over a small sharp object and need to patch a hole before adding air. Occasionally my inner-tube has been neglected and ruptured in multiple places and I need to completely replace it with a new one before I can add air.

We go flat in our lives when we lose our work and life balance. How you refill yourself depends on the type of leak you are experiencing. Paul Blatz, founder and president of Good Leadership Enterprises, encourages leaders to utilize his 7Fs Wheel to understand where they may be leaking energy or if they have a major rupture to repair! The seven Fs that help us stay positive and moving forward as leaders are:

  • Future
  • Fun
  • Friends
  • Fitness
  • Finances
  • Family
  • Faith (spiritual)

Over time we can get distracted by the regular demands at work and lose track of our daily choices that keep us fulfilled in all seven areas. Then we may just need to take some small actions that “refill” all seven. Other times we hit a major bump and need to focus on one area that is losing air fast. When I travel for work I tend to ignore my extended family relationships and I need to remind myself to take the time to call my mom and check-in with her.

The Seven Fs Wheel (Seven Fs Tool) is an easy tool to carry with you and use to keep yourself “pumped up” and rolling along as a leader. TT and Ellie bike

Todd Thorsgaard

The wheels on the bus go round and round….

“We think too linear…” linear-thinkingA senior leader I respect made this comment during a session on leading change that I was facilitating a few weeks ago. It led to a lively discussion on cultural thinking styles, western vs. eastern models, project management, philosophy, and ultimately an acknowledgement that change never endbus wheelss. The wheels of change keep going round and round!  We don’t get to stop and stand still but need to assess where we are, what our results look like and what we need to do to continue moving forward – or get run over!

Keller and Price highlight the on-going and never-ending nature of change in their book, Beyond Performance. Their 5th frame of successful change is Advance. It focuses on how to keep moving forward by building an infrastructure of continuous improvement that  sustains the change and supports the actions required to successfully meet the new challenges around the next corner.

By developing and putting in place the following four elements you can “hard-wire” your ability to successfully deal with changes that never stop:

  1. Systems for sharing knowledge and best practices – make it easy to share improvements and encourage collaboration between distinct units.
  2. Processes to identify and capture opportunities for improvement –  enable anyone at anytime to take action to solve a problem or make an improvement. Or as a speaker at a conference I attended years ago said, “Don’t ever let a good crisis go to waste.”
  3. Methods that facilitate continuous learning – adopt a learning process that encourages review and reflection of actions and results.
  4. Dedicated expertise – identify, support and hold accountable a core team of skilled individuals responsible for directing and coordinating change and improvement.

Building an infrastructure of continuous improvement around the never-ending wheels of change will help keep your bus on the road to success.

Todd Thorsgaard


Summertime and the living is easy……

Do you know the next line? If so leave a comment and also share what you are doing to enjoy your summer.

Similar to many of my favorite podcasts, I am offering a “best-of” summer repeat post today. First a quick set-up for you.

In Anita’s last post she highlighted the importance of Building a Change Engine to ensure you have the capacity for a successful change. Improving decision-making capabilities is a crucial aspect of the change engine structure.  The quality of decisions during all phases of change impacts the success of any change initiative.

At MnSCU we are focused on providing an opportunity for all Minnesotans to create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities through our Charting the Future work. Leaders, faculty, staff, implementation team members, and stakeholders will all need to make many on-going decisions during the next few years. As in any organization working on transformational change, we will be searching for new ideas, exploring alternatives and examining current policies, procedures and processes and deciding what is the best mix for a successful future. Change demands making hard choices among many options.

Last December I wrote about a conversation McKinsey & Company had with Chip Heath that focused on how to increase the effectiveness of decision-making in organizations and individuals and make better decisions. Here is a link to that blog which includes some practical ideas for developing decision-making capacity in your organization – It’s a WRAP!

I hope you find this “repeat” blog valuable. In case you couldn’t answer my opening question, here is a hint. fish-graphics-catfish-931568

We would love to hear what you are doing to enjoy your summer.

Todd Thorsgaard

Who’s the decider?

pointing in different directionsChange is easy when everyone has the exact same vision and ideas. Ok, now that you have finished chuckling at the absurdity of that comment, let’s talk about reality. Scott Keller and Colin Price, consultants at McKinsey & Company and authors of Beyond Performancedescribe a common pitfall most organizations face during large change initiatives – “Apparent consensus fades when challenged.” Or, how I often hear it in my work, “that’s not what I thought we agreed to do.”

Who can make a decision and when a decision has been made are questions that need to be answered if an organization wants to successfully implement a change and keep it going. When the answers are murky or accountabilities are unclear confusion reigns and energy is sapped.

As George Bush so aptly highlighted in the title to my blog today, most of us want to be the decider or believe we should be the decider. This human tendency needs to be addressed by leaders during change efforts. In our Art of Supervision leadership program we identify six separate decision-making styles and work with leaders to highlight the importance of clearly identifying which style they are using and why. The same styles can be used by leaders of change and implementation teams. The six styles include:

  1. Executive decision – a single senior leader makes the decision on their own.
  2. Consultative decision – a single leader makes the decision after gathering input from others.
  3. Expert decision – decision-making accountability is designated to a subject-matter expert.
  4. Majority decision – the decision is made by the group based on a majority rules criteria.
  5. Participative decision – the decision is made by a subgroup that has been assigned the responsibility for the final decision.
  6. Consensus decision – the decision is made only after everyone involved agrees to the decision and commits to supporting it.

Each style has its advantages and disadvantages and there is no one right style of decision making, The important capacity for successful change is to purposely choose a style and clearly communicate which style is being used in which activities.


Don’t let this be the lasting image of your important change effort.

Todd Thorsgaard



Diversity trumps ability

diffjacketScott Page makes this claim in his book, The DifferenceSpecifically, he demonstrates that if organizations want to develop the capacity required to solve the challenging problems faced during transformational change efforts, leaders need to build and support diverse teams and develop diverse perspectives within individuals.

While his book is a challenging read with many fascinating ideas I want to share just a few concepts that can help leaders build the infrastructure and develop people with the capacity to successfully create and sustain transformational change.

Page’s theory and research focuses on a concept titled cognitive diversity, or the differing perspectives, heuristics, predictive models and interpretations that individuals in an organization bring with them as they solve problems. This diversity is shown to facilitate better solutions and outcomes when groups need to solve complex problems, even though it can also lead to conflict or initial resistance.

Specific project management and change infrastructure tactics include:

  • Seek out and include people with diverse experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and credentials on project teams
  • Expose individuals to new experiences and opportunities to develop multiple perspectives
  • Encourage fun and unusual ideas
  • Add external perspectives to your teams for true diversity
  • Develop interdisciplinary teams

Teams and individuals with diverse perspectives need support from sponsors and leaders to take risks and experiment. Initial ideas may not be predictable or familiar to decision-makers but with support they will lead to better solutions.

Encouraging curiosity and demonstrating a sense of wonder when new perspectives are shared will set the stage for solving the complex problems we face today.

Todd Thorsgaard



Hit it!

TT - Hit it  “Hit it!” is the universal water-skiing statement that says I am ready to start the transition from floating in the water to zipping across the waves behind the boat. I have the vision of the future, I have a strategy, I am engaged, I trust the driver of the boat, I am committed and ready to go. Yet, just like many change efforts, most people don’t make it up their first time. As Gary Hamel says in his forward for a new book by Scott Keller and Colin Price from  McKinsey, “Changing things at scale is never easy: the endeavor is always complex, perilous and gut-wrenching.”  Growing up it took me a full summer of being dragged across the water, choking and sputtering, to successfully get up on one ski. I had to develop the skills needed to actually have the ability to slalom ski.

Successful change in organizations requires new behaviors, new mind-sets, new skills and new abilities. Over the next month, Anita, Dee Anne and I will be sharing ideas and resources that focus on the topic of developing the capacity in yourself, your people and your organizations for achieving your vision. Keller and Price call this your “capability platform.”

As a leader, developing capacity for change will include a broad range of activities and responsibilities. One key issue is the resources and tools needed for the change, or the motor of the change. The motorDo you have enough horsepower  available in your organization? I learned to slalom with a 20 hp motor not the 85 hp I have now. That made it hard!

Other issues include: What skills are required for the change, how can they be developed and how will they be reinforced? What processes and infrastructure need to change and how does your culture support or interfere with successful change? Who can help, who needs to be involved and when can people take off on their own? It is a large list and takes many people.

Going back to water skiing as an example. Last summer, with my daughter in the water providing reassurance … Max’s mom in the boat holding the rope … a large motor … Max practicing … his older sister coaching … his dad taking pictures … his other sister on the dock cheering and me driving, we had the capacity for  Max  to become a water skier! Max up

We look forward during the summer month of July to sharing ideas and hearing your stories on how to develop the capacity needed for a successful change. Hopefully, in a way that isn’t too gut-wrenching and doesn’t require being dragged underwater!

Todd Thorsgaard