Too Much Fun (Books2Eat, Riga, Latvia).

Posted by jlubans on March 27, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

As the Trace Adkins song goes, “I Ain't Never Had Too Much Fun” and that applies to the good work by my students on their team projects, Books2Eat (B2E)*.
When we diagnosed how the four team projects went, it did cross my mind that when groups are having this much fun, it might get in the way of fully understanding the team theory, dynamics and development. It’s like you have to suffer a bit to really grasp the concept. Well, I’ll take fun over suffering. It is possible to learn while enjoying what you and your team are doing.

20130327-+joka song.jpeg
Caption: About to break into song after producing the torta! (Taken from their team's video production.)

The team plus/deltas (What worked? What Could Have Gone Better?) were highly positive, with only a few suggestions for improvement. Along with the fun, it seems that extensive team building took place and that most, if not all, were well satisfied with their role and the result of the team effort. (I should note that on the B2E day, I kept the teams together on another, unrelated assignment. Their behavior was close knit, leaning in, everyone contributing, no one holding back. I would suggest that these dynamics were a carry-over from the B2E experience.)
This is my second time using the B2E process to teach team concepts in Latvia.**

20130327-+plus:delta postprandial.jpeg
Caption: Students doing a post-prandial plus/delta
This year I added a personal plus/delta. These were somewhat more introspective than the team plus/deltas. I found the individual plus/delta valuable in helping the student diagnose just how she contributed and what she would do differently:
Most were quite pleased, even proud, with their contribution and accomplishemnt, e.g.. “Singing, what I rarely do.”
Here are some quotes from the What I would do differently side:
“Worry less.”
“Listen more to my team members.”
“I would maybe choose another team, because person needs to be able to work with different people and that is experience. “
“Speak up (more) in meeting.”
“Don’t speak when it isn’t necessary.”
“Don’t rely always on improvisation.”
“I would tell more about what I am going to do (to my team mates before doing it)”.

* The selected books and the B2E production:
20130327-+Ringla cover best.jpeg
Ēriks Ādamsons. Čigānmeitēns Ringla (Gypsy girl Ringla)
The product:
20130327-+Ringla kukas close.jpeg

Caption: Thematic analysis of the Gypsy Girl Ringla.

20130327-joka cover.jpeg
Joka pēc alfabēts (just for fun alphabet)
The product:

20130327-+scared cover.jpeg
Dzidra Rinkule-Zemzare, "No kā visi izbijās" (Who Scared All?)
The product (A marzipan yellow balloon!):
20130327-+scared balloon.jpeg
20130329-scared cutting.jpeg
Caption. No longer scary. About to be consumed!

20130327-+Ezis un kuka.jpeg
Hedgehog's Wand

20130329-zane un laura o. cutting up.jpeg
Caption: Like I said, there's no such thing as too much fun.

**The Assignment: Books2Eat Team Project
(A global bibliophilic and gustatory celebration of literature!)

Teams of 3 or 4 students will plan, produce, and present a Books2Eat entry representing a Latvian children’s book, folk tale or folk song.

Besides the creation of the baked and decorated item, the team will select the title, describe the chosen book or folk song – with a full English description of book/song and author – gather ideas from previous entries displayed on the Books2Eat “The Annual April 1 International Edible Book Festival”) website, design the cake or cookie, test the ingredients –– and, prepare the product. And, present the entry at our class on Day 6.

Each Books2Eat entry must display one or more of these qualities:
Cleverness in overcoming adversity.
Leadership by a least-likely follower.
The Golden Rule applied.
Collaboration, working with others to succeed.
Speaking up when others are too afraid to say anything.
Using resources wisely.

Mediocre Teams

Posted by jlubans on April 08, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

An obituary set me thinking about work teams I’ve known and why some thrived while some dithered.
The death notice was for Psychologist Susan Wheelan who studied work teams and extended Tuckman’s research on the evolutionary phases of teamwork, form, storm, norm, perform.
Feudin’, fussin’ and a-fightin’
In my experience,” storming” is the most problematic phase for any team. Wheelan offered ways to get through this fevered state into something healthful and productive.
Her guidance was pragmatic. She said in a 2000 interview: “When I go into a company I’m often asked, ’You’re not one of those touchy-feely types, are you?’”
“‘No,’ I say. ‘Here’s my data. This is how it works.’”
She knew well that all too many teams never get past the storming or trust building phase, forever stuck in a purgatory of pretending to be effective when all their work and effort show otherwise.
Yet, it seems few can break through the chronic impasse.
Unlike most of us who prefer to avoid conflict, Dr. Wheelan saw it as necessary for working through differences and establishing a climate in which members feel free to express disagreements.
Patience, she espoused, is a must.
Unless one is lucky, no team hits the road running. As I learned over several decades of team management - and Wheelan confirms - a team will need at least six months to become highly effective and then only if it can break through the storming phase.
Of course, if it never gets past storming, the team will be forever mediocre.
There is help out there for those of us who do not want to settle for mediocre. Several techniques offer ways for teams to get to good performance.
And, instead of pushing, I’d be more patient. Most important, I’d call more timeouts to check in with the team and how it is doing: What’s working? What’s not?
Quorum response.
Choose the right team players!
Red, Yellow or Green? Stop, Idle, or Go?
AAR, “After Action Review”.
Team Wellbeing Test
Our friend the honey bee suggests techniques for reaching agreement without wasting time: As I wrote, “a quorum response is an antidote to endless debate. Once a threshold number is reached among bees for where to nest, that is a quorum and those bees that have yet to be persuaded, now stop advertising and sign on to the chosen nest. In faculty decisions, ones requiring a unanimous vote like for granting tenure, Dr. Seeley - the bee researcher and a department head - takes periodic anonymous straw polls. He finds that once 80% of the professors agree with a decision, the others concede.”
When choosing team players, include women, experts, and expert generalists. All should share interests and provide mutual respect. Let no one individual dominate the team discussion and abide by explicit team norms. (What does it mean to be a team participant?)
Here are a few variations on ye olde Plus/Delta (a rapid listing of what’s working? and what is not?)
The plus/delta is helpful in my teaching; I do one early in each class and then one after the in-class final - the anonymouss "Slam/Dunk" version - to find useful information for the next semester.
Also, I ask each student project team to do a plus/delta and to hand it in to me. I've been impresses with the team's honesty and candour about team dynamics.
A team leader could do a rapid-fire plus/delta after every meeting to get at things unsaid and needing to be said.
In the plus/delta genre there’s the traffic light approach to taking team mood. Are members overly cautious, hesitant (yellow), fiercely opposed (red) or feeling groovy (green)? What are the underlying issues for those team members who choose yellow or red lights? How will you find out?
Then there’s the AAR, “After Action Review”, a process for group assessment of how things are going, what learnings there might be, and what is missing/needed.
The AAR – if guided well - may be better for novice teams seeking openness and honesty.
I once used my one page Team Well Being Test with a Nascar racing team’s three pit crews, each in competition with the other.
Here are several of the questions I asked each pit crew member to rate on a five point scale from weak to strong:
Inclusion (Am I in or am I out?)
Elbow room (I’m easy or I’m crowded)
Discussion (Is it free or is it guarded?)
Level of conflict (Is it low and tolerable or high?)
Handling of conflict (Do we work on it or avoid it?)
Support (Each to all or self only?)
Not a single member responded! They were not about to reveal personal and team weaknesses.
Two decades later the team remains mired in mediocrity and down to one pit crew and driver and seemingly satisfied with finishing anywhere from 15th-25th place in a 40 car field.
I’d venture they are still stuck in the “storming” phase of team development. The stock car team owner should have sent a SOS to Dr. Wheelan!

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Red, Yellow or Green? Making the Most of the Plus/Delta

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2017  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Patagonia Crucible Team.

I’ve found the plus/delta – the quick debrief of a group’s work - to be quite helpful in my teaching. I’ve blogged on it several times, most recently here.
Were I in charge of work teams again, I would do some things differently. One of those would be to do a plus/delta after every meeting to help get at things unsaid needing to be said. I’d want to find ways to assess the health of the team. Are we on target? Are we together?
Red, Yellow or Green? Stop, Idle, or Go?
And, I would try to find out team member commitment to the group’s goal and what we are doing to achieve it. Now, in group development theory, all this “buy-in” is to happen in the “Storming “ phase. Yes, in theory; in practice, hardly ever, at least in the workplace where we select teams based on expertise or turf or agenda; genuine Storming is dodged.
My son-in-law, Clay, recently of the US Army’s Special Forces, is active in veteran activities. Some of those are about helping vets adjust to civilian life. An event of a different kind, in which he was a participant, was a mix of military and business leaders, the “Patagonia Crucible”, a several day trek across a glacier in Patagonia.
The expedition had several objectives, including providing raw insights into teamwork, leading and following.
Whenever I used adventure learning - “days in the woods” - to build teams and self-reliance among team members, I would get considerable static. It rarely came from the volunteer participants, but almost always from those who chose not to participate.
Imagine the yowl if I announced to a department: “Listen up, everyone. We’re going to Patagonia. Bring crampons. We’ll have a great time on the glacier!”
Well, moving beyond that fantasy, you can see Clay and his team in a 25-minute documentary. Beautifully filmed, I can recommend it to you for far more than its production values.
No, they were not met at day’s end with martinis and steak dinners. Every item: clothing, food, bedding, was carried by the team, each member with an equal load. (Remember one of the principles of highly effective teams: Every one does an equal amount of real work? Here it’s for all to see.)
The Patagonia group took daily turns at leading. The leader for the day was in charge of the daily debrief – the group assessment of how the day went, what issues there might be, what was needed. Akin to the plus/delta, this process is termed the AAR, “After Action Review”.
I am thinking of using a modified version of this for the individual project teams in my Democratic Workplace class; the AAR offers more guidance to the debrief than does the plus/delta and it may be better at guiding novice teams to more openness and honesty.
The Patagonia team made use of another quick go-around to assess everyone’s commitment level: Red, Yellow or Green? The day this was asked was probably the hardest one of the trek on the glacier’s ice, a day of being tethered together at 15-foot intervals, on crampons, in windy and cold conditions.
While everyone was fatigued, some nursing injuries, all in need of Aleve - each responded, one by one, “Green”. The explicit individual commitment made by being there was maintained.
Clay told me, had a “Red” come up, there’d be an immediate exploration as to the obstacle and then a determination, by the team, of what needed doing.
Redistribute the load among the team? Maybe. Or, maybe just recognition of someone’s distress. That alone – admitting “weakness” – would be a major concession and expansion of boundaries for some leaders.
As for the all green response, unlike the workplace, everyone knew what he had signed on for. The Patagonia team was screened (no toxic trekkers) and selected for wanting success (positivity not negativity) with the understanding that there would be real hardship.
That’s the plus of adventure learning – even if your team does not develop, you as an individual certainly can. It became for me the real reason to offer those Days in the Woods, to help individuals challenge his or her limits. The metaphor of hardships met and overcome outdoors was not lost on participants on their return to the workplace.
One of the major obstacles in effective group work occurs when the group goes silent; when individuals begin to look inward, and despair seeps in. Challenges loom, false ridges multiply. That applies to the workplace just as much as it may on an icy, sleepless, windy trek.
The learning is in what team members do to help each other. Being self-reliant is not just looking out for number 1. Being self-reliant includes looking out for team members. You keep your head up so you can see how others are doing. It is what good leaders and followers do. It is not what bad leaders and followers do.
In one instance in Patagonia, the day’s leader was faltering; it was probably the hardest day of the expedition and this leader was the least physically fit. Clay told me, “his head was down, his steps were slowing – he was withdrawing into himself.” At a break, one of the team stood by him and recited the Ranger Creed, rallying the leader
back to his individual commitment to the quest. After hearing a few phrases, his head came up. He later said: “That poured so much energy into (me) — just what (I) needed to hear at that exact moment.”
What’s your Ranger Creed? For me it’s often been the 23rd Psalm. Does your organization/profession have core values that inspire you to keep on undaunted? Can you recite them?

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Changes, Changes!

Posted by jlubans on September 02, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A farewell photo.

And "Changes, Changes!" could well have been a better title for my Leading Change (Pārmaiņu vadība), August 25-28, 2014 seminar in Latvia. (See below* for the Summary Abstract from the agenda.)
First, there was a last minute change in the venue site. Our new venue, “Laimes Ligzda” (Happy Nest) was not far from the original venue and, as change sometimes turns out, a change for the better: smaller, more intimate, an equally beautiful terrain of forest, ponds and fields and – a bit of karma here – only 8 kilometers away from where I was born!
Another change agent was the weather, surprise!
I’d planned the agenda to be spent outdoors about a third of the 3.5 days, but the autumnal mists, chilly drizzles, sporadic downpours and gusting winds made staying inside a better option.

Caption: The “Happy Nest”, our venue near Cēsis, Latvia.

Of course, some of the events – e.g., a 60 minute paired “walk and talk” into the forest – would not work indoors. As change sometimes requires, we had to improvise, juggle the agenda, extrapolate on the planned activities, and to keep an eye out for sunshine to get a few outside moments.
We managed. By we I mostly mean the participants whose engaged involvement never faltered, unaffected by changes, changes!
My seminars depend on this – engagement and involvement and focus by participants. Otherwise, we don’t accomplish half of what we set out to achieve. I saw numerous examples of creative resourcefulness, insightful transfers from theory to problem solving tasks, and relationship building.
Here are a few pictures that might get across some of what I am trying to say:
Caption: Scoring and changing, applying Deming's PDSA change concept.
Caption: Throwers strategizing.
Caption: Teamwork.

Finally, as an indicator of how the seminar went, here’s the plus/delta, an ending exercise in which participants get to tell me what worked and what could have been better:

Plus/Delta (BTW, the word for Change)
Variety of method
Presentations by students at end of seminar
Rasma (translator)
Books/Reports/Drawings by students
Organization of seminar
All motion games
Not too much theory
Theory and practice
Film (Dream Team 1935) “Sapņu komanda 1935”
Food, Fire, Rooms, & Pirts (sauna).
Personal contact among participants
Beautiful setting
Weather (rain, cloudy, cool, windy). This one delta was also acknowledged as a plus.

Sponsored by the University of Latvia, its Library and the Department of Information and Library Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences under the leadership of Dr. Iveta Gudakovska and Dr. Baiba Holma.

Together, we will consider theories of change, leadership, followership, team development, conflict, staff empowerment, and motivation. We will examine these topics from both internal and external perspectives, using our expertise from inside the library profession and pursuing ideas from outside our profession. Topics will be explored through readings, lectures, small group guided discussions, interspersed with films. Our venue, “Laimes Ligzda”, provides a unique setting in which to take time for self-reflection and team projects as we learn how we lead/follow and want to lead/follow to achieve organizational goals, to bring about changes for the better.

Course objectives and Individual goals are three-fold:
1. New ideas and strategies in leading, following and introducing and managing change will be compared and contrasted to traditional management principles. What do I keep, what will I add to my management style? How can I manage successful change and how can I avoid failing at change efforts.
2. Networking will allow me to share my own expertise and enhance my repertoire as I engage in peer discussion and guidance. This seminar will be a chance to meet new people; make the most of that opportunity. Through shared experiences I can learn what worked, what didn’t. What are causes for difficult or failed change; what promotes successful change?
3. Experience teaching and learning strategies that I may transfer to my home institution, influencing my role as change agent and innovator.

Knowledge: We hope to deepen our understanding of organizational change and the elements necessary for successful change and innovation. We expect to heighten our understanding of motivation, leadership and followership.
Skills: We will seek to improve communication skills, teamwork and to consider the advantages of a genuine participatory style of management, which can lead to a more welcoming culture for change.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Teaching Self-management.

Posted by jlubans on September 14, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Can the concept of self-management in the workplace be taught successfully?
That was my question, during my Fulbright semester, when building the class agenda for a graduate level introduction to management at the University of Latvia. My conceptual model was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s musicians coaching a student orchestra to perform a musical concert without a conductor.
Another question, once underway, could I leave the teams alone or would I need to intervene in conductorly ways, like I saw some Orpheus musician/coaches doing?
Besides a strong curricular emphasis on teamwork, I designed three projects over the semester for three different student teams. In other words, each student was part of three different teams. The third project was to be these students’ concert performance in which they put together all they had learned about teamwork and collaboration.

1. “Books2Eat” team
2. “Women as leaders” interview team
3. “Self-managing team” working on a team-selected topic.

In team project number 3, the self-managing teams (5 or 6 students each) presented their findings and recommendations on the last day of class in Riga on June 3. 20110914-picpresent1.jpegHere are their topics:

Team A. ”One library – equal possibilities for everybody.” They developed a submission ready grant proposal to create a “socially accessible environment for every inhabitant of our city.”
Team A’s product was a “funding ready” proposal for improving access for disabled library users.

Team B. (The “Garden of Eden” team!) Women in the profession – A look at economic and prestige aspects of librarianship. The team hypothesized that the “field’s feminization (female predominance in the sector), the traditional treatment of librarian as a secondary profession” result in low salaries for librarians and inordinate salary reductions during economic downturns.

Team C developed ways to make the library more relevant to students and to draw them into the library building. Team C has these goals in mind:
- Draw more young people into public libraries
- Make students more excited about using the public library
- Become more appealing overall to the students and to get them to use the library as a resource more often
- Entertain students while familiarizing them with the library for their future use
To return to my question about teaching self-management. Each team’s plus/delta (what went well, what could have gone better) gives us insights into the stresses each team endured and survived and the pluses show each team’s success.

As you can see in the attached plus/deltas, each team has many things they would change and shortcomings they would like to improve upon. Their candid listings suggest to me an elevated understanding by each team of what is desirable behavior and what is required for a successful group project, for a team to be highly effective. The deltas show an understanding of not only what to improve but how to improve - literally, what they would do differently if they were again in a team situation.

These students learned a great deal about teamwork dynamics and what it means to be self-managing. When I contrast my students’ work with the conductor-less student orchestras I find similarities. The student musicians, like the Riga students, delivered a high quality product and yet have a long list of what could have gone better!
Just like the student musicians, some would prefer a boss, a conductor to direct and to demand. Most, if I look at the pluses, see the value of working in teams and derive satisfaction from that process. No team asked me to intervene, either in the plus/deltas or during the semester. Perhaps I could have done more as a coach, but as a first effort, I am very pleased with and proud of the students

My own delta: give each team one hour to present and respond to comments and questions. Twenty minutes was sufficient for the report, but left little time for questions and discussion. There were numerous questions we could have discussed not the least of which would have been about the plus/deltas and their meaning.

Appendix: Team Plus/Deltas

Team A Plus/Delta
• Good teamwork.
• New knowledge acquired.
• Clear distribution of assignments and roles.
• Equal contribution to the work.
• Possibility to cooperate and to get acquainted with new people.
• Topical theme (there are very few libraries, which disabled people can visit freely and get in easily).

Concern in the beginning, how successful will be our cooperation with the previously unknown people.
• Small lack of motivation to begin the work out of the project earlier.
• The lack of the leader who will motivate us to aim higher and to perform even better.
• Difficulties to get together.
• Need more teamwork.
• Need to change strategy to get better teamwork.

Team B Plus/Delta
• Team is made of various profiles of people belonging to different levels of knowledge and experience;
• Everyone were informed about the progress of the task activity;
• Actively conducted questionnaire distribution;
• Since the project’s theme was made up, all team members were clear about what to do, about responsibilities;
• The team’s ability to agree on a goal, theme and actions to reach the goal;
• Good ideas;
• Team members’ responsibility taking;
• Responsive members of the team;
• Respondents were also very responsive. We received back a great quantity of questionnaires;
• Duty sharing (distributing among members of the team);
• Collaboration / also had Yes people on the team;
• Good organization using e-mail – communication;
• Constant progress discuss;
• Mistake correcting (each member had an opportunity to correct mistakes);
• Everyone had an opportunity to express ideas, participate in questionnaire analyzing;
• Taking the self-managing team project problem (assignment) very seriously;
• Great planning and time distribution;
• Two bright leaders on the team, who took initiative;
• Each member of the team chose a task (part of the project) for himself, without pressure, independently;
• Everyone has completed his task successfully (according to their capabilities);
• The team had an informal leader, who took initiative in bringing the team together, organization of work and activities;
• Presentation will be very good!

• Before starting working, precise and objective tasks and roles of each member of the team should have been determined;
• Endeavor to listen to each other;
• Limited opportunity to work as a team on a project for every member of the team. The communication was within the groups of two or three people. At the beginning of the project, there were only two or three people involved in a discussion by e-mail;
• A leader was needed for decision making;
• Bad circumstances;
• The form (questionnaire) could have been developed better;
• The team’s spirit appeared in the end of the project’s making;
• Communication could be better;
• Hard to work with people from different institutions;
• Hard to find time to meet;
• Could have met more often with the team;
• Too much focus on details sometimes;
• No clarity about the problem formulating at the beginning;
• Very limited direct-acting communication possibilities;
• Different teamwork building activities weren’t … used („intellectual parties”, collective discussions at the cafes or at someone’s home etc.);
• The more quiet, more restrained team members weren’t fully engaged in teamwork in the beginning (their potential wasn’t fully unlocked and used).

Team C Plus Delta

Teaching the Democratic Workplace: Student Comments

Posted by jlubans on April 10, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: After the 90 minute final exam the class reconvened for the Egg Drop activity and the Plus/Delta. Here one team explains why its design is the best. Their egg did survive the launch from a “perilous height” – for about ten minutes until stress fractures became apparent.

My students did an anonymous plus/delta on the last day of class (Day 8 on April 4). Overall, the written comments were positive. Many are brief paragraphs on what they are taking away from this class and what they liked. I am heartened and encouraged by the feedback. Here are a couple brief, unedited, examples. (Please bear in mind English is a second or third language for these students):
“Group discussions; learning many new things and having fun at the same time; many examples from real life; different sources (books, articles, film); B2E. (Books2Eat)”

“I liked the reading texts; one reading text would be useful for my Master work; excellent lecturers; thank you for wonderful time, what we spend together! John Lubans blog; nice pictures from the class exercises; new experience.”

DELTAS (What to improve):
There are several deltas but often these are more about the student’s role in discussion than the course’s content and rationale. Regardless, the students have given me many insights. Below are several that have me thinking already!

Little less home reading.

More examples about libraries.
Discussions in class (not so active of asking of questions)

I would like to work in such democratic library. I would like to try more my library (my workplace) democratic. It depends on people, who will work with me. Democracy would have to be everybody’s necessity, if they want to work in democratic library.

Some more reading texts was hard to understand because in English. We (students) could be more active in class (discussion).

Maybe more theory (from HR or psychology perspective).

It would be nice for the future, one lecture devoted to library experience abroad and in Latvia. It would be very interesting to compare.

I think the group was a little bit passive (no discussion after basketball film); amount of text-some weeks it was OK, some weeks we had to read too much = 80 pages; more reading from your book, it was very interesting.

Sharing ideas and listening to other people are very useful skills. I should train the skill to speak aloud. I noticed that after these classes I do it much (more) often.

Maybe was need some example about how work? How he manage his work members.

We were too passive and didn’t use all possible options to discuss matters we should discuss; some issues are possible only theoretically … there should be more time devoted to ways how to manage changes to happen; I’d like if there were more role games for real situations to find better solutions….

There are no changes only plusses. Only – for exam. It was too difficult.
Only it is sad that there are not many workplaces, where we can find a real democratic workplaces. It would be very, very good, if Latvia’s workplaces would be so democratic, how this interesting course.

The are no deltas -; some texts were very difficult, I did not understand them; the film about basketball I like it, but there is one But: I don’t like basketball. But the film was very good! I like very much the basketball coach. (This could have been Gail Goestenkors or the Coach Gene Hackman played in Hoosiers.)

The students’ and my wish for more democratic workplaces in libraries is, of course, beyond our control. I will try to make more use of the annual list produced by the World Blu “Freedom at Work” organization: You can find its 2013 List of Democratic Workplaces here.
And, I will build on my recent blog about the scarcity of libraries as democratic examples by being more diligent in finding and listing those libraries that are applying democratic concepts. For example, libraries that make extensive use of teams should be mentioned. So would those that make use of rotating leaders. And, I’d count those that have a commitment to being egalitarian and applying the Golden Rule to relationships. While outcomes are important, I think good faith democratic efforts and experiments should be recognized.
If you know of a notable one, please let me know.

A Group Final

Posted by jlubans on June 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: My students doing the end-of-class anonymous plus/delta .

One of the oft-heard hesitations about working in groups is that an individual’s brilliance may shine less, over-shaded by the group result.
That’s a fair objection. Our culture may talk team, but it venerates the individual. We tend to compensate individual effort more than that of a team. Other organizational structures, like performance appraisal, promotion and salary setting, perpetuate the notion of individual achievement over team achievement. After all, independence (critical thought and action orientation) is a valuable asset, is it not? So, becoming one of a faceless team may not be the best career move. Understandably, there may be reluctance among top performers to subordinate themselves to a team assessment.
A constant complaint about group work, certainly in school, and probably just as often on the job, is that the “slackers”, or the less able, are rewarded the same as those who do all the work.
In my own way, I perpetuate this dual perspective: my class is about teamwork and freedom at work, yet the final is an individual exam.
Now, I do give a lot of credit when it comes to participation – 30% of the grade*. But, participation is difficult to grade. It can be observed to some extent, e.g. does the student show up, does the student have something to say during small group discussion, does the student lean into the group or sit back silently?
But, still, my final exam is all about the individual’s ability to understand and to identify class concepts.
This latest group taking my 8-week Democratic Workplace class struck me as more together; there seemed to be fewer differences among the students than what I had seen in the three previous classes. This group worked well together, always including everyone in discussion – helping each other with translation and clarification of concepts - and they all seemed to be making genuine efforts to contribute in positive ways to the class. While a few students were better at English and had a bit more to offer, they were not that far superior to the group. And, for those weaker in language, that did not seem to affect their performance in group work in which they could speak Latvian.
So, on the day of the final, I surprised them with a choice:
Take the exam individually or in small groups. They opted – unanimously - for small groups even after I said, “No, you cannot choose your group.” I’d assign them randomly.
There were three groups, of 3, 3, and 4 students. If these groups asked to collaborate with each other – something they had done in class activities – I would have let them.
The results – the scores - were excellent - and should serve to drive home a central class notion that group work – when everyone is prepared to do their best – can often be superior to individual effort, to going it alone. These scores (on a scale of 10) seem to confirm this: 10.0, 9.5, and 9.3.
The previous three classes used a similar exam, with much greater variation among individual scores, ranging from lows in the 6’s to high 9’s.
And, I saw that the students learned from each other in coming up with answers. There was much animated discussion during the 50 questions final. And, given the course content and class objectives, the students saw for themselves that group work can be more effective than individual – on average - if everyone is prepared to bring their best.
Caption: Students Klinta Kalnēja, Linda Voropajeva, and Evija Lapsa after their group final.

One student later observed in the anonymous plus/delta review:
“We as a class/group are a better team.”
Yet, another did comment, in summing up the class:
“Not so much opportunity to show our individual skills and knowledge.”
So, the tension between group and individual goes on, but I do recommend experimenting with group examinations. And, on the job, if you really must do performance appraisal (it really is best not to do it), try group assessment. Let the team “product” – however it is to be assessed - be the basis of the evaluation. Perhaps there can be ways to identify the “stars” – the MVPs – and to reward them above the team reward.
Once you make team assessment clear at the start of a year, that may encourage a team’s addressing its common problems. Often teams go through the motions rather than openly discuss individual effort toward teamwork.
If someone is a slacker, why should not the team confront that person and find out why and what can be done? Currently, it appears that team members are too intimidated and fear being labeled “not a team player” for calling out a team mate’s shortcomings. Instead avoidance and accommodation are practiced rather than talking through performance issues.
Frankly, I like this group exam approach and given another group with similar abilities and interests, I’ll do it again.

*REQUIREMENTS FOR GRADE in my Democratic Workplace class at the University of Latvia, Department of Information and Library Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences:
30% - Attendance and participation in class
30% - Assessment of individual work and participation in team assignments, including the “Books2Eat” project
20% - Solo paper
20% - Final examination

© John Lubans 2015

Edible Books, 2016

Posted by jlubans on April 24, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

The B2E team project in my class gives each team the opportunity to try out the several democracy-at-work concepts: developing into a productive team, collaborating, leading, following, supporting each other in getting something done, delivering a product; in this case a “book to eat”. It’s action-learning about group effort.
After lectures and assigned readings and after case-studies and experiential activities, each team now gets hands-on experience in rehearsing democratic concepts. And each team, like a musical group, gets to deliver a public performance of its metaphoric interpretation of the chosen story or song; its music, if you will.
Following their performances, I ask each team to gather for a plus/delta on how they worked together, what went well, what could have gone better? As in previous years, each of the 2016 groups stressed the value of getting to know each other:
“Good reason for bonding, getting to know our team members.”
“We would like to see each other again”
“Relationships go through stomach”
“(Meeting) Different people”

The three group presentations:
1. "Rabbit Meets New Friends", Latvian folk tale “Zakis Satiek Jaunus Draugus
Caption: Puppet show of story.

2. “The Sea Needs a Fine Net” " A plaintively sweet, traditional prenuptial song: Jūriņ' prasa smalku tīklu”.

Caption: Singing of nets and boats and unrequited love.

3. Mouse and rats, Latvian folktale, “Pelēns un žurkas” by Jānis Dailis.
Caption: Planning steps.

Prevalent in each team’s deltas was that time management could have been improved:
“Our performance could have been better, because of the lack of time.”
“We should have more rehearsals”
Each team appeared to come to an easy agreement on their choice of topic; two of the three mentioned voting to decide.
I was most impressed this year by how each team’s members fully participated in their projects and how each played a real role:
“Like in the story, everyone in our team did what they can do best.”
“We are creative, trust each other; no boss.”
“No one (was) left out.)
“We divided tasks equally.”
There is of course a tangible and immediate payoff for creating and working together: first, there’s the satisfaction of having gotten through the B2E project and the savoring by all of each team’s best effort.

©Copyright John Lubans 2016

Letting Go.

Posted by jlubans on April 07, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The perception; the reality is far less harrowing.

Not long ago I gave a talk to a large group of department heads about Leading from the Middle. It went fairly well, but one participant, seated as far from me as possible, never let up scowling. Was it me, something I said, or something she ate? I suspect it was my topic. Some managers are diametrically opposed to the notion of relinquishing any power – they skipped the sandbox lesson about sharing. They are convinced, genetically and viscerally, if not for him or her, the organization would fall apart. So, when someone like me prattles on, the dudgeon (and insecurity) gets high, they mutter, “Why am I here listening to this foolishness?”

I always do an end-of-semester assessment in my classes, the plus/delta. It seeks, anonymously, what went well and what did not. The results are consistently helpful – lots of positive feedback and some ideas for improvement.
Most students enjoy the 8-week Democratic Workplace class and learn a great deal – they like democracy, the concept of freedom at work for themselves. A few do wonder about the practical side of introducing democratic elements. “Is it not utopian, a fairy tale?” One student offered this delta: “Tell us more about the downside of the Democratic Workplace. We’ve heard (and liked) the benefits.”

That, along with preparing for teaching a webinar* on the topic, has triggered my thinking about a new class segment; one on the tradeoffs, the “costs” of democracy. What exactly do you give up when you – the leader – let go? What’s anxiety inducing about the idea?

Here’s my initial listing of what can be lost, reduced, made less of, along with a few (I can’t help it) offsetting counterpoints:

Loss of control (Anarchy!). Ricardo Semler – a renowned leader of a highly successful democratic company – who writes books for and talks regularly to other CEOs about trusting workers to run things, says 80% won’t ever give up control regardless of improving the bottom line and 20% simply do not trust anyone enough to turn over decision making. Yes, you do lose control, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
My peers, when I was an administrator in research libraries, had an over-riding ambition – to be in the executive suite, and most of all, they wanted to be “the boss”. Besides, the pay and view were better. I suspect even the suggestion of giving up “absolute” control over a decision, would be frightening for those peers. If you no longer have the final word, has your status declined? Or, are you a better leader (and decision maker) for sharing the tough decisions?

Loss of status/respect. External perceptions about who is in charge matter. Any suspicion the “inmates are running the asylum” gets a leader in hot water.
But, if you are sincere in your letting go – to improve the organization in real and quantitative ways – you should gain respect and not lose face (or your job!) It’s your courage, leadership and innovative spirit inspiring the organization forward. Now, if your organization is not supportive of what you are doing, consider yourself gone, regardless of results.
If you are a unit in a large organization – as most libraries are - then you may need to limit just how much democracy you can implement before someone external casts baleful looks your way and unsupportive staff, sensing the lack of support, may begin to undercut – with impunity - freedom initiatives.

Loss of management mystique. When you let staff see the books (the budgets) a lot of the mystery of managing an organization dissipates. Staff can run the numbers and check the monthly summaries. This transparency has always been a plus for me because everyone has access and sees how the organization is spending its money – no secret stashes. Everyone sees the finances and has a better understanding of what can and cannot be done. Open ledgers enable trust.
While I have not heard of drop-offs in executive salaries, the more open the books, the more decision-making shared, the less likely a boss can sustain a claim of being worth many multiples of the organization’s average salary.

Loss of power. Yes, the boss of a democratic organization will lose some of her “legitimate” power. Since leadership is shared, others now intrude on the power that comes with the title on the door and the rug on the floor. If your power is based exclusively on your job description, then yes, you may experience a drop off in your leverage as a boss. But, if your power is based on what you do and how you lead and how you accomplish things – such as sharing power – then you’ll have a more than offsetting increase in “referent” power.

Loss of staff support. True, some staff will resist the transition, even a small one, toward democratic practices for the same reasons the boss does. However, most will relish the increased opportunity and responsibility. No more, “Check your mind at the door, all ye who enter here.” If the research is to be believed about the quantifiable benefits of freeing up the workplace – staff motivation increases and improves. The power they gain is used to maximize resources and services. In my experience with self-managing teams and that of Ricardo Semler of SEMCO and Colleen Barrett of SWA, workers (and the business) thrive in democratic environments.

All you have to do is let go.

* Webinar: “Freedom at Work: New & Old Concepts”
Special Libraries Association
Leadership and Management Division
Webinar by John Lubans.
April 23, 2014 14.00 EST

The book, Leading from the Middle, is available at

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Teaching Management for non-Managers – The Flipped Classroom

Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

A couple weeks ago, I completed a long piece about my teaching experiences in Riga. This was for Del Williams, the editor of Advances in Library Administration and Organization.

The essay gave me an opportunity to reflect and philosophize about how I teach, and whether mine is a good approach; do the positives pile higher than the negatives?

The traditional approach to teaching management of libraries, and most any other type of graduate class, is lecture/textbook. I took a different approach in the mid-80s when my wife and I first team taught our class – no textbook. Our assigned readings included a few of my essays and dozens of the classics in the field of management and leadership theory including two or three by librarians. We lectured about the usual management topics (personnel work, systems analysis, organizational culture, the political process, budgets, and administration) but only enough to lay a basic foundation of understanding. We emphasized case studies, experiential activities (group work – even a “day in the woods”,) conflict resolution, and we made use of several self-tests including ones for conflict, teamwork, management style, and organizational culture.

Also, we asked for student feedback through the plus/delta (what’s working, what needs change?) Always, at semester’s end we used an anonymous version plus/delta to get student input in time to make changes for the next semester.
Every class session included at least one or more small group discussions of course content. (Retrospectively, one could say that we “flipped” – an unfortunate term - the classroom, the peer teaching innovation now used increasingly to help students master concepts (with statistical evidence that it far surpasses the lecture in learning by students – see my notes below about flipping).

We never did a department-by-department analysis of “the library.” Instead we kept a wide focus and drew from all of the organizational literature; after all, both my wife were graduates of a rigorous master’s program in public administration at the University of Houston. This program required statistical analysis, microeconomics, political theory and organizational development. We found all these to be highly relevant to our library careers and we adapted what we learned to fit our teaching.

Our case studies, a library budget group assignment, and a solo building renovation project, did draw on library experiences and, in class discussion, we encouraged students to talk about their work experience (often in libraries) and to make the connections between library work and theories mentioned in the class. So, we did not exclude the library per se. We just assumed students would come to better understand “the library” through personal experience and through the eyes of their peers. And, they did.
We knew from our own experience as administrators in libraries and other not-for-profits that there was little unique about budgeting in the library, nor was there much difference in personnel work when compared to other not-for-profit bureaucracies, and in many cases, for-profit organizations.
My day-job added another dimension to my teaching as a Visiting Professor. I was in charge of a major reform initiative in a large library. We undertook to improve in dozens of ways what we did and how we did it, all within existing resources. My leadership approach was to turn to self-managing teams and to encourage participation by everyone - regardless of status - who wanted to be involved. (I discovered that the best ideas came from support staff who had been doing the work for ages; their input largely ignored by the professionals.)
We had good success, indeed remarkable success. My teams accomplished what we set out to do, something that previous change initiatives - led by the foremost experts - had failed to achieve. (For more on this surge in productivity and innovation see the “Teams That Were” chapter in the Leading from the Middle book.)

In the class, most students relished our approach. By the end of the course they understood many management concepts and, even if they would never be managers, they now understood what it meant to be managed. We had some excellent students and these students were among the ones that offered us the most encouraging feedback about the class and its design. For them, our bringing in the theory from outside the field and small group work were highly important for personal development. Also, our insights about organizational culture and the political process opened their eyes to a better understanding of why organizations behave the way they do.

Overtime, I have come to realize that if you have students who want to be challenged, who want fresh perspectives, who want to learn about themselves, and who want to work with other people in doing a good job, that the best thing we can do is to de-emphasize the lecture and increase opportunities which help hone their skills in getting along with others – either by leading or following - and in understanding why some groups reach their goals and why some groups drift aimlessly.
So, in Riga, a year ago, I built on my previous classroom experiences and then further de-emphasized the lecture. I believe my teaching in Latvia worked well because the students were very well prepared and engaged for each class. Their engagement, intelligence and my approach to teaching enabled them to make conceptual connections across the course.
David Hestenes, one of the pioneers in the anti-lecture (or “flipping the classroom”) movement, puts up a cautionary note: "Students have to be active in developing their knowledge. They can't passively assimilate it." Indeed, some students disagree about flipping. They prefer the lecture model because it is less demanding of them than peer teaching (another term for flipping). When peer-teaching students have to do the assigned work before class; a lectures-only approach can permit procrastination to reign until the night before the final.
Here are some notes about the anti-lecture for your own exploration:
. “How 'Flipping' the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture” The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 19, 2012
This article provides an example of the so-called “flipped” class – in this case, an evolutionary biology class at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Some students enjoy the "flipped" lectures that require them to help one another understand the material. Others resent being forced to work in groups.”

. Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool.
January 1, 2012 from American Public Media (APM) broadcast on National Public Radio.
Hanford’s study is notable because it uses test data to show that different approaches to teaching and learning (mostly small groups and peer discussion) are vastly superior to the lecture for learning concepts.
Also, from the NPR URL there is a
link to several other stories and research by Ms. Hanford for APM:
These include: “Rethinking the Way College Students Learn”; “Rethinking the Way College Students are Taught”; “The Problem with Lecturing”; and, “Inventing a New Kind of College”. Also, her “Reporter’s Notebook” has insights about alternatives to the lecture.
Washington Post “Some academics dismiss appeal, value of lectures.” Washington Post, February 17, 2012, online at

“3 Women in 1 Kitchen”: Books-to-Eat Teamwork, 2014

Posted by jlubans on March 18, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

20140318-kukas all*.jpeg
Caption: The outcome/result.

As readers of this blog know, I have the students in my Democratic Workplace class participate in the international Books to Eat (B2E) event. This spring, well ahead of the official April 1 celebration, five teams (of 4 people each) planned, shopped, baked and prepared their productions and 20-minute presentations. Our B2E deadline was March 13, during week 6.

The theme was a folk story or children’s book, chosen by each team, from Latvian literature.

Now, I know, some of you may be dismissing the concept: “I bet it was fun – and as a librarian I kind of like the literary link - but what on earth is Lubans thinking? Kids books and teamwork? Fairy tales and group development? Legends and leadership? Maybe fun, but what’s gained, what’s learned?”

Well, a bountiful plenty. For one thing the assignments are prefaced with lectures, readings, activities and discussion about groups, democracy, conflict, leadership, and teamwork theory. And, each group does a plus/delta debrief immediately following the presentations, just before we indulge in the baked goods.

20140318-team 3-1*.jpeg
This year, as part of its 20-minute presentation each team – spontaneously - included an assessment of how the process went. From what they said, I am convinced that the teams were keenly aware of the reasons behind the project, their own development as a team and their overall successes and failures.

The five titles selected by the teams:
1. "Trīs tēva dēli" (Father of three sons. Latvian folk tale with a not-so0happy ending - anonymous)

2. "Kaka un pavasaris" by Andrus Kivirähk. (“Poo and Spring”)
Illustrated by Heiki Ernits. Estonian. (A cleverly done and controversial kid’s book, just like it might be in the USA.)

3. “Zīļuks" by Margarita Stāraste.* (An egotistical acorn.)

20140318-Kas notiek.jpg
4. "Kas notiek Dižmežā?" by Margarita Stāraste. (What happens Dižmežs?)

5. “Zvēri rok upi” (God’s digging the river Daugava.) Latvian folk tale – anonymous)

20140318-team 5-3*.jpeg
From the teams’ own assessments (the + Δ) of what went well and what could have been better:

“3 women in 1 kitchen is explosion, but not in our case. ☺
(Note: team member #4 lived at a distance and aided the team in other ways)
“We saw ourselves in each other like in mirror and we could evaluate our leadership style.”

20140318-team 4-5*.jpeg
“The team was self-organizing.”
“We would choose different group, because it is complicated to have four leaders in four-member group. Too high competitiveness.”
“’Yes’ and ‘sheep’ followers could (improve and) become effective followers.”
“No leaders – the same; we all were on the same level.”

20140318-team 5.*JPG.jpeg
“Lots of smiles.”

Caption: One team included a chorus – the class! - as part of its presentation.

“The tasks we accomplished singing.”
“We could put to ourselves higher requirements.”

20140318-team 1 fairy food*.jpeg
Caption: Fairy food.
“We had some issues shopping for the right ingredients, since the shops don’t really cater for the needs of pixies and dwarfs.”

20140318-after allJ*PG.jpeg
Caption: Enjoyed by all!

*Margarita Stāraste, famed Latvian children’s book illustrator and writer, died on February 18 of this year at age 100. She was born February 2, 1914.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Trading Jobs

Posted by jlubans on February 17, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: One benefit of job swaps – fresh ideas.

One basketball coach has his players swap roles. He changes “player positions in practice so they can understand each other.” Swapping jobs “helps them appreciate each other's role.”
OKC Thunder's Scott Brooks shares this and other coaching insights in an interview.
This tip reminds me of my experience in doing something similar when I was a supervisor. It always seemed like a good idea for the same reasons that Mr. Brooks has. It’s putting a Native American adage into practice: “Walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins” (or Adidas!) before criticizing. As Mr. Brooks' players concluded: "It's not as easy as I thought."
Yes, a good idea but not always welcome in the workplace. Why?
Here are a few quotes from memory when workers objected:
“My work won’t get done.”
“Exchanging jobs is not in my job description.”
“My work, my desk, my computer.”
And, as interpreted through body language, “No one else can do what I do!”
When job exchanges worked, it was invariably within a smallish unit or a team. These groups valued helping others and learning how to help. Doing so was important to the success of the unit. And, importantly, learning the other person’s job was manageable, doable, within that team’s boundaries. Teams that work in close proximity - that touch the same “product” -probably are more able to share in jobs than can groups far apart in expertise and location.
When I proposed an organization-wide job sharing – at least in the 100-person division I supervised – as a means to gaining the “big picture”, I ran into a lack of support even among the teams who practiced job sharing! Looking back, I wonder if it is achievable at the macro level?
In a previous post I talked about basketball’s seemingly unique process of “switching” – one player taking over for another – under certain game conditions. That was something I saw happening in the units or departments that shared jobs when necessary. And, of course, the group norm of “helping each other out” resulted in good team dynamics; ones that led to outstanding production and achievement.
OKCs Scott Brooks offers another tip: “I tell the players all the time, "I don't have the answers, you don't have the answers, but let's figure them out together." That’s another positive result of swapping jobs – gaining new perspectives for problem-solving. And, studying film of the last game is an advantage sports teams have over the workplace – taking a close look at why they won or lost, reflecting on what might have been. In OKCs case, it is not just the coach or his assistants providing analysis; Mr. Brooks calls on key players to help with the review.
Caption: Thunder’s Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook.

He will stop the film at some point and say, "’Hey, Russell (Westbrook), what do you think about this right there? Is this guy in the right spot?’ And he'll say, ‘No.’ And I'll say, ‘Add to that. Tell him what he needs to do.’” (This is remarkable – a coach having the self-confidence to ask a player to coach!) Mr. Brooks goes on: “Our guys are pretty sharp that way (giving constructive feedback), … they'll say, ‘Come on, man, that's your man, quit trying to look for an out.’"
I’ve long advocated for brief reviews after any team effort, a quick reflection of how we did and how we can improve. I do this in my classes after team projects. The exercise helps cement key points about team work and group dynamics.
Sports require – to learn and to be competitive -a team's taking the time to review. In the workplace we appear to be reluctant to take the time and to display candor. If we did it’d be time well spent and the more honesty we brought, the greater our mutual respect and understanding.

@Copyright John Lubans 2015

Food Fight or Happy Meal?

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Culinary Committee. Always watch out for the guy with the bâtard!

Food fight or teamwork? That’s the unanswered question in a recent BBC Business story,“Recipe for success: The growth of team-building cookery classes”.
According to the BBC, and confirmed by an e-multitude of global purveyors, culinary team building is the latest rage in out-of-office fun and games.
For sure, team cooking improves on walking on hot coals – Stop press! Let’s combine the two: scorched feet and Sauté of Crawfish Vol-au-Vent on the side!
Well, kidding aside, is this but an expensive ($125 per head) escape from one’s cubicle or does team cooking accomplish something more: improved communication, camaraderie, and group dynamics? The vendors aver it is so.
But, I suspect even the corporate kitchen adventures get their share of negative feedback. Perhaps less than that when office mates are forced “to race your boss around an assault course, or pass a beach ball to a colleague without using your hands” during a company away-day.
When I was offering team building adventures like my “Days in the Woods” series for work teams I learned a few important concepts. Always, make the event voluntary. And, secondarily, count on the most vehement criticism to come from those who do not attend.
By working with only those who want to be there the individual participant has the opportunity to learn about himself and herself and their colleagues. Those insights did extend back to the workplace and did make for improvements.
A third operating rule was that there had to be an open discussion about what happened and what personal effect it had on the individual and how that insight might apply to work. It was less the need for a skilled psychologist than asking the right questions to start exploring and applying. The more voluntary the event, the more honest, less guarded the discussion.
Sure, like recess, team cooking can be fun. But since it’s on the corporate dollar, is there substance to the claim that all this fun does result in a more bonded team?
Or is it really just an advanced version of sanctioned time off that results in yummies like “twice-baked cheese soufflés, roulade of chicken in a Madeira jus, and apple tartlets with a salted caramel sauce”?
The article asks but does not answer: “Would you tell your boss that his or her cooking skills weren't very good?” How about your office mate? How about yourself?
I would think a simple plus/delta, like I do with my Books to Eat teams in my Democratic Workplace class, or a modified AAR (After Action Review):
What was supposed to happen?
What actually happened?
Why were there differences?
would be a quick way to assess what was good and what could have been better in dealing with the heat of the kitchen. And for further exploration, it would be good to confirm if the “C factor” applies in team cooking. You will recall that
“C” is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team.
Do the chef-leaders ask the teams to think about what they’ve just accomplished? Do they ask for some introspection on how each person contributed or did not contribute? What might the team have done better? If the “soufflé” fell, how to prevent that from happening the next time?
The article does not mention any kind of de-brief. So, once the goods are out of the oven, is the discussion only about pairing wines to the free eats?
Even then, with no attempt to assess team dynamics, the individual participant can do his/her own diagnosis. What would they do differently to be a better participant, a more effective team member? If one held back, why? If one felt left out, what might have changed that?

Caption: Honest feedback.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Avoiding Avoidance

Posted by jlubans on March 30, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)


In preparing for another column on “What I Would Do Differently”, I listed out a baker’s dozen of instances in my career where I could have done better. These were conflicts; those times when someone seeks to frustrate something you want to do.
Looking at that sorry list, it dawned on me that while each of those snafus was a personal failure, my saying so and explaining how I would follow up did not address a more important question.
Could any of the dozen been averted?
What in general could I have done differently before the situation became a problem?
All too often, my silence or failure to follow up, may have escalated a small problem into something larger.
Were there not ways to anticipate and nip an incipient problem in the bud?
Was there a lack of clarity in my message, then how could I have changed that?
Did I not listen to my colleagues? How could I change that?
Were my colleagues not interested in or swayed by my intentions?
Did they not understand my purpose in making a change?
When I stated my belief that simplicity was preferable to complexity, did anyone understand what I meant?
I rarely explained; rather I assumed. And, as we know, there’s an adage for that. (When you take away the U and the ME that leaves ASS and a silly one at that).
No, we cannot know all eventualities nor do we need to, but we do want the key points well understood.
You should not leave it up to the staff to figure it out for themselves.
Some were already on my wavelength so they were not confused. Others – too many - tried to understand but, without clarity from the leader, failed to do so.
This latter outcome undercut my belief in and practice of the concept of subsidiarity; that ideas and processes are always best developed and tried out at the local level, not from above.
For that philosophy to succeed the people doing the work had to understand what I was hoping for.
At the start of any new initiative I should have made questions de rigueur, expected and wanted. Not just the abrupt “Any questions?” at the end of a meeting when everyone’s heading out the door.
Since it was not self-evident for everyone, I should have done far more follow up explaining about meanings and what was to be done. .
The Red Team technique would have been one way for those involved to really get at the pros and cons of a new way of doing something.
And, even if you can’t use a Red Team for every idea, you can do something similar, like worst-case scenarios, a plus delta, or a list of plusses and minuses and the major reasons for and against.
Any of these would help avoid the seemingly inevitable misunderstandings; they’d deter that predictable cycle I observed in those dozen miserable instances referred to at the top.
Lest ye misunderstand, I am not talking about the classical business bugbear, Communication about a made decision.
Rather, I speak of my explaining more and better of what I was trying to do and seeking feedback and advice prior to the decision. I would want to engage those working with me, both direct reports and my fellow executive leaders.
Anger was a response I underused.
For example, when one of my staff displayed an uncooperative attitude, I should have been far more explicit in why her response was unacceptable.
Instead, my tacit acceptance – like the dog in the elevator - allowed her to get away with it only to worsen matters between us.
A touch of controlled anger (a remonstrative bark or growl) would have helped get her attention and then I could have explained calmly what it was I was trying to do and what I expected from her.
After all, I was the top dog, was I not?
In another instance, I should have been furious when one of my peers grabbed me by the head, admonishing me to think.
He was offended by something I had said, perhaps jocularly, but he stepped way out of bounds when he touched me.
I ignored it, naturally, but my anger was clearly called for. I should have demanded an apology at the least and then find out what prompted that behavior.
These last few decades have given us a contrast in how leaders respond to criticism and insults. The Presidents Bush and Mr. Trump represent extremes. Mr. Trump, like a pro-wrestler, when slapped, slapped back.
That made for news and probably impeded some policy objectives but his disruptive, abrasive behavior (kick ass) also probably made some good things happen (vaccine development, for example) that never would have happened with a gentle prodding of an elephantine bureaucracy.
The Bushes, father and son, never took umbrage in public at insults hurled - like shoes - their way.
I had a mentor like that. He never sank to a backstabbing level. Indeed, I favored the Bush approach – never acknowledge an insult – over Trump’s never turn the other cheek, but perhaps there is a midpoint between the two?
Anger has its place and it can add clarity. There’s no question in my mind that I could have used it more and to better effect than I did. But, it takes practice and if you never use it, when you finally lose your temper, it won’t play out well.
Seeking clarity around conflict can be more difficult in some environments than others. I found that in ecclesiastical or academic conflict I was dealing with shadows. Innuendo, the perfumed dagger variety of intrigue was the preferred course of action. Unless you were born Byzantine, many pitfalls awaited.
It’s taken many years, but I have come to realize that frankness, sincerity, candor, honesty, all have to be made manifest. These qualities cannot be left to a guessing game. Nor can any be realized in silence.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

SkyMall & the Worker as Traveler.

Posted by jlubans on December 26, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: For the weary road warrior, heading for Hawaii, an inflatable pillow.

I’ve long wondered about the buyers of stuff from the SkyMall catalog found in every seat pocket on every commercial airplane in the country. It’s there, peeking out at you, dog-eared - from its elasticized seat pocket right there under the seat-back tray table - the poor man’s Neiman Marcus’ Christmas Book.
For the bored-to-tears traveler without a book, smart-phone, Kindle or iPad, SkyMall is the ultimate diversion when circling the airport for a long-delayed landing or when parked for hours in the no-man’s land between the terminal and the runway. Knowing a little bit about advertising – having been exposed to it all my life! – I have to wonder what the stuff offered up on SkyMall’s slick pages says about its targeted market, its audience of buyers? I assume advertisers look at the numbers for passenger age, income, gender, and other socio-economic indicators to justify spending huge sums on print runs in hopes of catching more than a few eyeballs with a credit card. One study claims that workers account for 36% of the travel market. So, I assume that is one of the top targeted groups.
I have a hypothesis that we can glimpse something about the traveler; at least we can tell what advertisers think about the traveler! I sampled a recent issue.* What did it tell me?
For one thing, life is tough out there, for the businessperson, while traveling, or at home or in the office.
Health-wise, one ad offers shoes that “defy gravity”. With these steel-spring-in-the-heel-shoes, the wearer will experience a “return of his energy” when running to catch a connecting flight after landing 30 minutes late at DFW.
A full-page ad for Lipidryl weight-loss offers a 200% guarantee and claims that there could be, according to their research, “a 933% increase in weight loss without any necessary change in eating habits!” Another page from my scientific sample suggest things might not be all that happy work or home: “Discreetly monitor home or office with this hidden video camera.” (Disguised as a motion detector).
Contiguous to that ad is one of several self-help books: “The Best Advice Ever” by Ari Neptunia, “sharp advice on how to avoid mistakes …become happy, wealthy, and healthy.” “(It) provides out of the box ideas.”
If the book does not work, then try the “Migraine Magic Plus” eye mask. “Massaging magnets increase blood circulation” Also "helps relieve sinus pain, double vision and dry eyes.” (Ailments acquired on that last trip to Fargo , maybe?)
Pets, especially cats and dogs, take up many SkyMall pages. My sample found “The Neater Feeder”, raised feeding bowls so there’s less slopover, maybe? And, there’s something for you to show your dog who’s boss: “Pull Stop and Jump Stop” harnesses for misbehaving dogs. And, if you have two dogs, you can walk both on a specially designed tangle-free leash. (Can you use the Pull Stop on one and the Jump Stop on the other?) Finally, for the guilty, absentee-pet-owner-road-warrior who is not there to let the pup out to do his business, “your dog (can have) a yard of his own. Great for apartments and condos:” The weather proof Porch Potty, a slab of astro-turf. Premium version includes sprinklers to rinse grass area clean. There’s even a scented (red plastic) fire hydrant!
Being prepared is an oft-repeated theme intrinsic to SkyMall:
“Fix a stopped toilet” (For when you come home, or maybe take it with you for your trips to less than four-star hotels? Not sure.) “No-mess plunger easily clears toilets…. it sits atop your toilet bowl and pushes compressed air through the water toward the clog to clear …The plunger (you may be thankful) never touches water, keeping germs in the toilet bow. “Folds easily for storage” (and travel?)
Along with the perennial collectible artififacts from the Hobbit and Harry Potter industrial complexes, SkyMall offers sports memorabilia, including paving bricks and seats from the old Yankee stadium and autographed jerseys and photographs from sports greats to adorn corporate or home office walls. Also on offer is the Brandon Steiner book: “You Gotta Have Balls” about how he, personally, “created a Sports-marketing Empire”.
Another full-page ad, with a dash of ambiguity, turns out to be something you might want to hide from your boss or co-workers: (The) “Great Gift Wrap Up!” in Las Vegas. Apparently this is for frequent habitués of Sin City who have earned “gift points” which can be “redeemed for fabulous gifts during two week-long shopping events.” Of course, we know you got all those “Gift Points” while entertaining corporate clients.
Now something for the stranded traveler who works from the airport waiting-lounge or hotel bed: A laptop “lap table” with (two US-powered cooling fans). Or, there’s a cooling and adjustable laptop cart or a multimedia cooling laptop stand (with a cooling fan) or an ergonomic white laptop stand with built in keyboard (no cooling fan included).
While we are on technology, there is a silver helmet with ear phones guaranteed for you to “Get thicker, fuller looking hair in weeks – guaranteed.” An “advanced laser hair rejuvenation system.” (Alas, no cooling fan included.)
Finally, there is the “Genuine Navy Seal” watch. For those boring meetings or tipping-point moments, when no one’s in charge, take a gander at what’s on your wrist and IMAGINE how you would handle it if only they would let you.
Marketing assumptions to follow.

*SkyMall Holiday 2012 184 pages. (Delta Airlines). I screened each 9th and 10th page for a total sample size of 17 pages, front and back.