Tag Archives: collaboration

Dance with your customers

A critical step in customer service is to actually invite the customer to the table and include them in your problem-solving work. While this makes theoretical sense it can be challenging to do and takes leadership to ensure its success. Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, describes it as “dancing with customers in the act of co-creation” in a blog on customer service. It involves:

  • clearly inviting customers to work with you
  • focusing on engagement – not perfection
  • over communicating
  • speaking and listening to customers with respect
  • not making assumptions

Most leaders and employees are not used to working together with their customers. When I was working in the health care industry we decided to include patients in our work meetings as we designed the electronic visit follow-up document and communication process. At first that was very threatening to the doctors, physician assistants, nurses and intake staff. They were worried about “unreasonable” demands that patients would make. Surprisingly, everyone discovered that they enjoyed working together, both sides learned more about each other and the ideas shared ended up being practical and doable.

If you choose to include customers it is important to make the invitation clear and describe the work you will be doing together. Customers are also not used to being asked to work with you! The project team for the design of our new Enterprise Resource Planning data system at Minnesota State has done that well (NextGen). They have invited all students, faculty and staff have to participate in envisioning the future NextGen experience. Through emails, in-person presentations and an intranet site they have clearly described the work to date and what opportunities we have, as customers, to work with the vendor to help design and build the system. In addition, given the geographic spread of our system and the variation in availability, they provided three different options to work together; an online review process, virtual Q & A sessions or onsite regional review sessions.

What opportunities can you find for you and your team to dance with your customers?

Todd Thorsgaard

Joining, judging and trust

I recently had achart about joining behaviors chance to attend a Talent Development conference and came away with lots of good ideas. It reminded me that professional development helps people stay engaged and excited about their work.

One session highlighted the importance of trust in the workplace. Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller talked about the difference between a “judging” mindset and a “joining” mindset.

A judging culture includes win/lose and problem-finding behaviors. People hold onto the past, act defensive, and withhold trust. They tend to think small and contribute less. A joining culture is accepting, exploring, and focuses on problem-solving. People can let go of the past and extend trust. They are able to think big and contribute more.

The presenters said that judging is our individual and organizational default, especially in times of stress, fear, and conflict. When we feel uncertain, our cognitive biases are more likely to kick in, which can lead to making judgments about others.

Here are four strategies we can use to generate a joining culture:

  1. Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
  2. Listen as an ally.
  3. State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
  4. Accept that others’ thoughts and experiences are true for them.

Years ago when I was a new supervisor I learned a good lesson about joining. One of my employees had performance issues, and looking back I think my coaching style made her feel judged. It was going down a bad path until life circumstances caused us to listen to each other as allies around a shared experience we were both going through. Making that personal connection helped the work conversations go more smoothly, and I think it was about building trust.

You can view the presentation slide deck here. What ideas strike you about creating a culture of joining instead of judging?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Extending your leadership presence on Twitter

By guest blogger Kirsten Jensen

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of reasons why leaders don’t have a professional social media presence. From being unsure about what they would post to simply not having time, there are plenty of reasons why we don’t get started. But, when done with intention, social media can be a powerful tool in service of some of our most important leadership priorities.

The real magic happens when we use social media to connect. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” Stephen M.R. Covey describes a similar energy in The Speed of Trust, comparing relationships to bank accounts where we deposit and withdraw trust. The more abundant the trust in our accounts, the more connected we are, the better we work together and the faster we get things done.  As leaders, so many of our priorities center around building trust. And, while in-person connections will always be our biggest deposits, I believe social media can create small but important moments where our students and staff know they are seen, heard and valued.

So, don’t spend time on social media. Spend time building connections and trust, using social media as a tool. The leadership team at Minnesota State University Moorhead has done an exceptional job of extending their leadership presence on Twitter. Here are four ways you can extend your leadership influence with Twitter, with examples from MSUM.

Why Twitter?

It’s often said that Facebook is for the people you know personally,  LinkedIn is for the people you know professionally and Twitter is for the people you want to know. That is to say, the fact that you don’t have to mutually follow one another and privacy settings are often open, makes Twitter an ideal place to connect with folks who care about similar ideas, organizations or people. Because we aren’t always sure who we want to meet, it can take a little longer to get started on Twitter. But, once you begin to listen for mentions of your organization or your hashtags, you’ll find lots of amazing conversations to join.

Get inspired.

Check out a live feed from MSUM’s social media team, at this Twitter list: https://twitter.com/MSUMoorhead/lists/msum-social-media-team Or, for examples that cross multiple industries, see this Twitter list of people who have been featured as examples in my training: https://twitter.com/NextKirsten/lists/nextinspiration1

I hope this inspires you to overcome the excuses and try your hand at Twitter. Connect with me @NextKirsten – I’d love to get to know you.

 

Kirsten Jensen (@NextKirsten) is a social media coach, trainer and consultant at Next Action Digital.

https://twitter.com/NextKirsten

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

 

The future is now!

the-future-is-nowWell, by definition that may not be true – (Merriam-Webster definition of future\ˈfyü-chər\: coming after the present time) –  but leaders need to take action now to ensure that their people and their organizations are successful both tomorrow and further down the road.

The leadership competency we will be discussing in November is Builds Organizational Capacity to Meet Future Challenges. Specifically what actions do you need to take now to understand the challenges you and your people will be facing in the future and how to take action now to tackle those challenges.

The colleges and universities of Minnesota State define this leadership competency as:

  • engaging and supporting appropriate risk-taking
  • identifying and removing barriers to innovation
  • rewarding and supporting innovations advancing excellence and effeciency
  • promoting accountability for self and others
  • collaborating across educational and governmental boundaries in the system, nation and world
  • networking with innovative thinkers, developers and donors

We will use that definition as a starting point for our conversations with you.

The future is full of opportunity and uncertainty but one thing we know – it will be here soon!

Todd Thorsgaard

Are you my customer?

are you you my motherDo you remember the children’s book, Are You My Mother?  The story of the young bird asking, over and over, the critical question, are you my mother? I believe that leaders in higher education need to push their organizations, and their people, to ask a similar question over and over. Are you my customer? And we can learn from the young bird to not restrict who we consider a customer, even internal customers!

The traditional structure and hierarchy in higher education often identifies groups as faculty or staff or administrators. And even further, we tend to divide ourselves into colleges, departments, bargaining units and divisions. Then you can add in shared governance. All of these push us to not view fellow employees as customers who have legitimate needs that we can serve. Over time this approach makes it harder for each group of employees to actually do the job we are all here to do, deliver a high quality education to our students in higher education, or in general, to provide a high quality product or service to our external customers.

As Martinez, Smith and Humphrys highlight in their book, Creating a Service Culture in Higher Education Administration,excellent external customer service is achieved through a team of people who deliver excellent internal customer service.”  The starting point is to ask the following three questions about our own colleagues and co-workers, even if they are in a different bargaining unit or on the opposite side of campus!

  1. Who are they?
    • do you rely on their work to do your job?
    • do they rely on your work to do their job?
  2. What do they want?
    • what information, resources, data, documents, materials, or support do they need from you to do their job?
    • what do you have that can help them serve the students they work with?
  3. How have they changed?
    • are you meeting their current needs?
    • how have their customers changed?
    • what is different in their work?

Asking these questions, and truly listening to the responses, will build the foundation for collaboration and enhance our institutions ability to provide the high quality education we all want to deliver to our students.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

The never ending debate?

Best of 2015, first published on March 4, 2015
As the title suggests this dilemma cannot be vanquished but only revisited and managed – not solved!
–Todd Thorsgaard

disagreeEver since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.

The Selfish GeneI first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking.” Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?

While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?

What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities,  Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.

Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

Conflict or collegiality?

conflict signWhere would you prefer to work? A workplace rife with conflict or an institution that reeks of collegiality? Easy answer, right? Yet we seem to have built cultures, particularly in higher education, that encourage conflict!

Robert Cipriano, Ed.D., professor and department chair at Southern Connecticut State University, has been researching, writing and consulting on collegiality for over a decade.  He reminds us that higher education is founded on bringing together people with divergent and conflicting ideas. No wonder there is dissent!

However, to succeed and tackle the challenges facing higher education today, Anita highlighted the importance of collaboration in her recent post. Or as Cipriano puts it, “we all can agree to disagree without being disagreeable” -what he calls “positive dissent.”

In his recent book, Facilitating a Collegial Department in Higher Education: Strategies for Success, Cipriano lists a set of key activities that leaders can take to build a collegial culture:

  • Help people achieve their goals
  • Develop a genuine interest in each team member
  • Treat people with respect and dignity – always
  • Remember that relationships built on trust and fed by personal integrity are the foundation
  • Recognize that poor behavior by others does not require you to respond in kind (but you do need to respond)
  • Model characteristics you wish to see in your team members
  • Acknowledge that leadership is more a function of people’s relationships than the position
  • Recognize people publicly for their achievements

When I read this list it all makes sense, yet as an old saying goes, common sense is not always common practice! Where do you have an opportunity to practice building a culture of collegiality?

Todd Thorsgaard

Promoting a culture of collaboration

collaborate promote“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb

Leaders in public higher education face numerous challenges today. Just yesterday the headline in the Pioneer Press announced “MnSCU’s $12.7 million shortfall deeper than expected.” With declines in student enrollment and increases in negotiated compensation for several employee groups, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) leaders commented that colleges and universities will need to bolster their enrollment strategies and they will be looking to trim costs. This is a common scenario for many institutions across the nation.

Other challenges in public higher education today include, but are not limited to: new technologies, changing student and employee demographics, demand for innovation, competition from for-profit institutions. Not surprisingly, each of these challenges are complex and not easily solved. They require the collaboration of faculty, staff, and administrators working together to manage them effectively.

In a major effort dubbed “Charting the Future,” MnSCU has been encouraging increased collaboration in the last few years to ensure that our colleges and universities can deliver on its commitments to grow Minnesota’s economy and open the doors of educational opportunity to all Minnesotans. Teams of people worked together diligently to produce recommendations that could be implemented at the institutional level and system level.  And now, many of those recommendations are moving forward. Still, implementing those recommendations will take additional collaboration because most of the solutions are not simple and require creating something that did not exist before or generating ideas for new service delivery or know-how.

Given the need for increased need collaboration in all our workplaces, it begs the question, what can leaders do to promote a culture of collaboration? In an earlier blog, I cited Dan Sanker and his ideas for fostering collaboration. Additionally, in his book, Collaborate: The Art of We, Sanker gives sage advice on how to assemble a collaborative team. He advises looking for people who have the following key traits and characteristics:

  • A positive attitude, open-mindedness, curiosity, and enthusiasm
  • Good communication skills
  • Flexibility and the ability to tolerate ambiguity
  • A willingness to take risks
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • The ability to be self reflective
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • The ability to see the big picture

I recall when I was a graduate student in the 1980s and was hired for my first job in higher education administration. My boss at the time told me that the most important attribute needed for anyone to be successful in higher education was the ability to tolerate ambiguity. I’ve reflected on that conversation many times over the years and have found truth in it. Cultivating my ability to tolerate ambiguity sure has helped me to be a better collaborator.

What traits and characteristics do you look for in people as you assemble collaborative teams?

Anita Rios

Limits of collaboration

teamwork1 free to use“Hackman’s paradox: Groups have natural advantages: they have more resources than individuals; greater diversity of resources; more flexibility in deploying the resources; many opportunities for collective learning; and, the potential for synergy. Yet studies show that their actual performance often is subpar relative to “nominal” groups (i.e. individuals given the same task but their results are pooled.) The two most common reasons: groups are assigned work that is better done by individuals or are structured in ways that cap their full potential.”
~ Richard Hackman, Harvard professor and team expert

Wait a minute! Most of the business and leadership literature published in the last couple decades extolls the virtues of collaboration in our workplaces. And it seems that collaboration is the new mantra among leaders in higher education, with leaders admonishing staff and faculty to “move out of their silos” or “create cross-disciplinary or cross-campus partnerships.”  Yet, as Richard Hackman observed, collaboration does have its limitations.

The benefits of collaboration are great, and can include:

  • Diversity of Perspectives: bringing people from varying disciplines and backgrounds together to work on a project can generate greater creativity and problem-solving by looking at things from different angles
  • Increased Synergy: forming collaborative teams with members who have varied expertise and clear roles and responsibilities can bring new solutions to the table
  • Balanced Decision Making: including stakeholders in decisions can reduce the occurrence biased or partisan decisions as they look at the effect of their decisions on all stakeholder groups

However, collaboration does have its limits, and if overused in an organization, can result in:

  • Group Think:  groups that work together over time can sometimes be lulled into “going along” with a persuasive member
  • Mediocre Results: involving more people in a collaboration can water down the results due to the number of compromises in the project that are made to satisfy all stakeholders
  • Slow Progress: depending on the scope of the collaboration and the size of the group, including numerous stakeholders in multiple decisions can slow down the effort

Like other paradoxes or polarities that we manage in our workplaces, like change and continuity, collaboration is best seen as one part of a polarity between competition and collaboration. Both have its own benefits and limitations. As leaders, our role is often to determine where is it most advantageous to employ collaborative efforts and where might we employ competitive efforts.

How have you managed the collaboration vs. competition paradox in your work?

Anita Rios