Monthly Archives

May 2018

Home / May 2018

Mind the gap

Several years ago a friend of mine visited London for the first time. He flew into Heathrow, the only London airport which is directly linked to the city centre by underground train – known locally as ‘the tube’. He bought his ticket, took a map of the tube system and arrived at his hotel mid evening without incident. The next day he decided to explore the streets of London using his tube map to guide him. He got seriously lost and became increasingly angry … with the map! This unfortunate episode highlights the fact that maps are designed for specific purposes in mind. They are effective tools when used in the right context – a tube map works well underground but if you expect it to be equally useful at surface level then you will inevitably be disappointed. In today’s dynamic environment where frequent change often makes people emotively yearn for the stability of their comfort zones, the tendency to find ourselves doing something similar is alluring, but ultimately counterproductive.

The art of human communication is not an exact science. There is always a difference between what the sender means to communicate and what is understood by the receiver (known in the jargon as the intention-impact gap). 

Human beings create their own, highly subjective, maps with the specific purpose of facilitating decision making. They are formed by priortising some aspects of their own context and filtering other features. What is key to remember is that an individual’s context is fundamental in how the map is formed. As the Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto says ‘Identity isn’t you, identity is how you are related to things. You’ve got to be located.’ When we use our maps in situations different from where we psychologically and geographically built them we are all too often expecting the external reality to conform to our version.  

Stella Ting-Toomey makes a distinction between two approaches to communicating, She defines ‘habitual ways of thinking and behaving without conscious awareness of our underlying intentions and/or emotions’ as mindless communication. This is our usual behaviour and is simply using our subjective map to filter the external situation. It is not bad but rather a lazy, automatic way which increases the possibility of misunderstanding and decreases effective and efficient communication.  Ting -Toomey suggests that a more successful approach is to be mindful which she describes as ‘being aware of our own and others’ behavior in the situation, and paying focussed attention to the process of communication taking place between us and dissimilar others’. Taking the complete equation into consideration makes sense – before communicating I assess my needs, your needs, timing and the specific situation. Without a doubt this is much easier during asynchronous communication such as e-mail where we can think before we send rather than in situations of real time feedback. Consciously targeting communication needs more time and effort than the reflex response our mindless approach uses. So, is that the end of the story? Mindful thumbs up, mindless thumbs down. Not quite! 

I believe we should look at mindful communication more closely. When someone takes into account the situation and attempts to reduce the intention-impact gap they are showing a positive mindful approach. They are working on both the task and the relationship (how can I make it easier for you to understand what I mean?). However, the best manipulators also use the mindful approach by studying the context (how can I get you to do what I want without you realising that I am using you?). This negative mindful behaviour usually results in a short-term gain for the sender but at a considerable medium to long term risk of endangering the relationship if the receiver discovers they are being used. In conclusion, there are three approaches each with their relative pros and cons:

  • Mindless is effortless but ineffective, 
  • Mindful negative usually provides a short-term return but potentially destroys trust
  • Mindful positive consciously works on both objective and relationship but requires sensitivity to context

Once we become self-aware of our mental maps as a potential source of dependency it becomes easier to understand how we can intentionally increase the impact we could have on the situation. To ensure your communication is always on track please always remember to mind the gap … positively!

To join the discussion on LinkedIn, please go to:

Key challenges for integrating top teams (1): a focus on decision-making

How can we support top teams to be more agile in the way they work together? Recently I was approached I was approached by the HR Director of a global manufacturer who had been tasked by the CEO to bring new impetus and energy to the Global Leadership Team on which she sat. She explained that this was a newly expanded team under pressure to increase sales and market share as well as keep costs down, and wanting to integrate regional sales directors to achieve this.

I have learnt with top teams that a team development workshop – with a focus on ‘piggy-backing’ a one or two day learning on to regular meetings of such a team – can bring the release in energy required by the HR Director. So I naturally took the opportunity to speak to each member of the team – including the CEO (and de-facto team leader).  At this critical re-beginning of the team, I wanted to understand how energy could be released in areas of concern to the team. In terms of energy I feel my work is similar to that of the acupuncturist looking into the eyes and examining the tongue of the patient before inserting the needle in the right point of the body.

My initial interviews revealed a common picture of a team where great progress had been made by the CEO – in his first 6 months in the role – of building a sense of trust in his ability to lead the team. However, by common consent, there were concerns about the future -and pain-points from the past -linked to 3 issues:

  1. What kind of team have we been in the past, and what do we need to be in the future to handle the biggest questions our organisation faces? There was a sense coming out of the interviews that the team had lost touch with the markets. It needed to take the opportunity of having regional sales people on board, to unite in serving the customer.  Reporting results was no longer enough. The team needed to work together to solve problems, and deliver results itself. A real team rather than a working group.
  2. How can we learn to trust each other in responding to these issues together?  There was a fear that there may be a trust gap between the competence of sales and other functions (such as marketing, finance and product management) in working together globally to serve the customer. The old team of functional experts were concerned that the sales directors would be able to extricate themselves from the details of their markets to serve the broader needs of the organisation. The new regional sales directors were concerned that would get the opportunity to communicate their experience of the customer to others
  3. How do we create value in the way we communicate and collaborate together in the grey zone? There were a mounting number of pressing strategic issues that needed greater clarity and direction for the organisation to move forward such as the impact of online sales, and the growth of talent. However, there was a perception that decision-making was a key bottleneck in the team. The CEO team leader himself admitted to liking to take time to make decisions, weighing up the various options.  Perhaps partly linked to his Scandinavian roots, he enjoyed working in a consensus-style where opening up discussion supported greater commitment to the decisions finally made. His team-members trusted his judgement, but wanted him to be more decisive in leadership style.

In my experience these 3 questions are the biggest challenges of top teams in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. How can a group of alpha-males and females pull together and build the repository of trust necessary to themselves create change, rather than depend on delegation to others? How can they get the best of speed with the best of commitment when making decisions?

One activity that we tried out in our opening two-day workshop – particularly linked to question 3 – was the testing of a decision-making process that could be incorporated in real team meetings.

Firstly, the team prioritised top two emerging issues that had implications for the success of the team moving forward, and could not be resolved by working within functional or geographical solos.

Secondly, two mixed groups of sales managers and functional heads were each given one of these issues to make a decision on using a 5-step discussion process and a time-limited meeting. Discussing in parallel in separate rooms, each then reported their ‘recommendations’ back to the team leader who took a decision in front of the whole team.

The 5-step process we agreed on was the following:

1. The team would together agree two ‘grey zones’ that most urgently needed discussing

2. For each grey zone chosen, the whole team would also need together to formulate a question to which the answer is the decision they need to make eg how do we handle differential pricing in the new world of online shopping?

3. The two whole leadership team of 12 people (minus the CEO) would be split into two groups, with each group discussing one of the issues. They would be allocated 45 minutes of real face-to-face problem-solving time to prepare a recommendation to the CEO. This meeting would involve the following steps:

  • Clarify the question – what are we helping our team to decide on?
  • Listen to each person, in turn expressing their ‘gut reactions’
  • Summarize the options we have
  • Listen to individual opinions about which option is best
  • Agree on our best possible recommendation to the CEO, based on consensus or split decision

4. Report recommendation back to the whole team  where the team leader makes the final decision, and it is recorded in a ‘decision log’

5. The team also agrees on how this decision is to be implemented and the results monitored.

The process proved a success. It seemed to help to create a sense of interdependence and draw on collective intelligence, but also supported the CEO and his colleagues in finding the faster speed of decision-making they required. 

People wanted to tweak the process slightly, but it was decided to keep going with it in future meetings.

TCO International specializes in accelerating the agility required to get higher performance in a VUCA world. In the next few blogs I would like to share other activities that I have applied to this and other top teams.

To join the discussion on LinkedIn, please go to:

Organisations needs more Kokopelli… and so do I!

Have you ever heard about the legend of Kokopelli?

Kokopelli is one of the most intriguing and widespread images surviving from ancient Anasazi Indian mythology. It is considered the spirit of music and the symbol of fertility who brought well-being to the people, assuring success in hunting, planting and growing crops, and human conception.

There are several legends around Kokopelli. But what I would like to do here is tell you how I discovered it.

Some weeks ago I was speaking about leadership with a client –  a relatively young leader who has always impressed me for his degree of unconventional thinking. He was commenting on the fact that ‘organisations need more dreamers’.

“Tell me more?” I asked

“Well, I have a tattoo which represents Kokopelli. You can read up all the legends and stories about Kokopelli. What has always intrigued me about this symbol is that whatever he does, wherever he goes, his effects stay. When he arrives in a new place his presence is never silent though it is never noisy.

 Through his songs and his rebellious spirit, he always makes himself heard.  More importantly, though, he doesn’t just ‘come and go’, he leaves something behind him. Nobody is ever the same after meeting Kokopelli. But nobody depends on Kokopelli for good.  It is as though his music stayed in the background and moulded with the people and landscape taking on a different rhythm”.

The words of this client and his story about Kokopelli accompanied me in the journey back home when I started writing this blog. Why did it make me think so much? Why did it resonate with me so much?

This is what I thought…

Organisations need more Kokopelli – they need people who want to shake things up not just for the sake of doing it but because they take full accountability of the effects.

Organisations need people that will raise their head and look around, that want to scan inside and outside of their context for a bigger impact.

Organisations need leaders that constantly work towards leaving a legacy.

More importantly, organisations need leaders who don’t feel indispensable because they know that if they have succeeded in having an impact, that impact will be much stronger when they leave.

What else?

I met this same client the other day – just after his top-level management role was confirmed. This is what he said:

 “Now I need to focus on growing the person who will replace me. My Kokopelli has to ensure that the echo of his music takes a new rhythm – the rhythm of its legacy”.

Personally I am in a fascinating moment of my professional life. Following years of believing that time was a relative concept for me because my face and my spirit don’t show my age, I have now started to notice a shift in the way I look at myself and those around me…and in the way people perceive me as a woman and as a leader.

An example? As the Head of the TCO Coaching Practice I find myself thinking everyday about the rhythm that I want my Kokopelli to leave behind.

Join the discussion on this post on Linkedin:

Recent Comments
    About Exponent

    Exponent is a modern business theme, that lets you build stunning high performance websites using a fully visual interface. Start with any of the demos below or build one on your own.

    Get Started