Kookaburra: 2nd anniversary of blog

Posted by jlubans on March 29, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

I started this blog two years ago in March 2010, ahead of the June 2010 publication of my book, Leading from the Middle. In the event current readers missed this first entry, "Envy and Other Deadly Workplace Sins," I offer it again. The film clip at the end of the piece is worth the effort of reading my fable:
Kookaburra and Crow - A Fable
20120329-images.jpeg A long time ago Kookaburra and Crow were friends. They lived in a land of perpetual night with little to eat. At Kookaburra’s inspiration, they invited Sun to their dark and desolate land. Under Sun’s warm rays, the land soon flourished. Crow and Kookaburra and the other animals learned new ways to grow and harvest food with plenty left over. No one was hungry and all were grateful to Kookaburra and Crow.

But Crow, a master of detail and cultivation, soon grew jealous of Kookaburra’s greeting Sun each morning with his raucous laugh and basking in the glory of the dawn. One day while Kookaburra was away, Crow persuaded the animals to shun Kookaburra, saying that Kookaburra played all day and did nothing but laugh at Sun; anyone could bring the sunshine to their land. The animals turned against Kookaburra.

Soon the land became dark and joyless – Sun no longer dawned, try as Crow would to Caw! Caw! a morning greeting. The animals began to fight among themselves. The few remaining crops dwindled in the pale light of the stars. Crow had secretly stored food, but would only share it with those who called him King.

Sun saw through Crow’s treachery and followed Kookaburra to a new land, the land down under, where Kookaburra greets her every morning with hilarious and joyful laughter. In Crow’s land, only a few animals remember the days of sunshine and plenty for all – it was like a dream, or so it seemed.

And we know why Sun never rises to Crow’s, Caw! Caw!(1)

Like Aesop’s fables of old, my introductory story has a moral, one that applies to the real world. It touches on how petty behavior, like Crow’s jealousy, can lead us to lose something we value. To our chagrin, we can slip backwards away from the progress we have made. Crow’s jealousy (and treachery) turns a sunshine filled world back into a dismal place.

My fable comes from my experience in the library workplace. I have seen libraries give up solid and positive gains because of conflict among leaders; or, if we did not surrender our gains, I have seen libraries grow idle after achieving a plateau and incrementally slip back into the old ways.
1. My fable is inspired by the many Australian tribal stories. One enjoyable-to-read collection is Aboriginal Myths, Legends and Fables, by A. W. Reed. Sydney: Reed New Holland, 1999.

Listen to Kookaburra greet the sun:

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:
Berrett, Dan. “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.”

Hanford, Emily. 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

“…of the people, by the people, for the people …." (Revised March 20, 2012)

Posted by jlubans on March 18, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

(NEW: See a video excerpt from the March 6 Bradford town meeting).
On the way from North Carolina to Bradford, Vermont, for its March 6, 2012 town meting, my wife and I detoured to Gettysburg, a sacred place in America’s history. Standing near where President Lincoln spoke, his words, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" evoked new meaning. I was about to witness in Bradford some part of what Lincoln meant by “of the people, by the people, for the people” – self-government.

A large sign on the door to the Bradford Academy urged people to vote – It is Super Tuesday.
20120318-frontdoor.jpeg Caption: Entry to the Bradford Academy building. Its attractively renovated auditorium hosted the town meeting.

Larry Coffin, the about-to-retire Moderator, introduced my wife and me to the assemblage, about 150 people, mentioning by way of explanation, that the Bradford town meeting has now been described in two books, “both about bees”, and that I was there to do some research on organizational dynamics.
This, the 239th meeting, started promptly at 9AM. As has been the custom for many years, all rose for the Salute to the flag, hands over hearts. Quoting from last year’s minutes: “(The Moderator) asked for a moment of silence in memory of those in our community who passed away last year and in honor of those who serve our Community, State and Nation by placing themselves in harm’s way and to acknowledge the exercise in Democracy we are about to undertake. The Girl Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance.”

In Larry’s 40th year as Moderator (1971 – 2012), he passed the gavel to a newly elected Moderator, Mark Johnson, a retired elementary school principal and until recently the manager of the Village Store.
The Moderator receives a stipend of $100 for the year, so this is more in the volunteer spirit than with making a profit. (I observed an ethos in this community of doing for oneself and others rather than expecting someone else to do it. One annual report cites a neighbor who takes in or puts up at a motel, at his own expense, the few homeless in Bradford).
The moderator is elected annually. Here is what Larry says about town meetings and the role of the Moderator:
“Town meetings remain one of the best examples of participatory democracy in the world. It is within the confines of public debate that voters get to thrash out, face to face, issues facing the town’s government.” The town meeting “operates under a combination of Roberts, Vermont state law and our own traditional rules of procedure. As moderator I have always felt it is my responsibility to help a voter who is unsure of the proper way to bring a motion before the assembly. If there are any decisions of the moderator that a voter wishes to appeal, the right to do so exists.“
I had been under the assumption that the moderator has no vote. To the contrary, I quote Larry again: "It is not correct to say that the moderator has no vote, for, as with most presiding officers, he may vote only when his vote makes a difference in a divison of the house (hand, or standing). In that case he can vote to break or make a tie. He can also vote in a ballot vote."

During breaks in the meeting, several people introduced themselves, curious about us flatlanders and obviously proud of their town and way of life. In response to my wife's question about whether the town meeting concept could work in a diverse community, say like Durham with its split black and white populations, a Bradford citizen observed: “Each town is different.”( In other words, the concept can work if people are willing to subordinate individual agendas to the greater good.) I noted a pithiness of speech time and again during the meeting as people offered comments, asked questions and made motions. The orotund would not fare well in Bradford.
Robert Miller (Larry's former student) and Chair of the Selectboard) recognized, with a plaque, Larry's historic years of service and contributions to “participatory democracy.” Mr. Miller told the assembly that Larry as moderator was just the way he was as a teacher: “fair and respectful”. (Larry taught Social Studies in Bradford for 42 years.)
Following several questions about the annual reports – questions that revealed a close reading and understanding of what may be missing or in error – the group moved on to the business of the day.
Election: Two candidates are running for a Selectman’s seat, Randy Moore and Bob Wing. Each candidate gave a brief statement on why he is interested in the job and his qualifications. Randy minced no words. Speaking from the back of the auditorium he indicated the selectmen in the front and said: “There isn’t anyone up there I can’t get along with!”
The election proceeded and all got in line. Each voter has a paper ballot, marks his or her choice of name on paper; checks in at registry desk and then drops paper slip in a ballot box.
20120318-middle line.jpeg Caption: Voters line up to cast their ballot for the selectman of their choice. The Ballot box is on the far right. Two monitors stand by the box. Behind, on the stage, is where the selectmen sit during the meeting.

Article 4: “To see what sum of money the town will vote for General Fund purposes for the year 2012, and to vote to determine the time and manner of collecting monies for General Fund and Town Highway purposes.” $854, 993.00 is approved for the General Fund. Discussion reveals frustration with the auditors because the size of the expected surplus remains nebulous; 2011’s audit is not complete. One voice calls out: “Fire ‘em!” “We did”, responds a selectman.
In the course of the meeting, each of the articles was read out and discussed, fielding pointed questions from various corners. Most questions get good answers; usually someone rises and explains, with specifics, why the money should be distributed to a service and what it does for Bradford. Voice votes pass most of the articles, The Ayes have it. Good humor prevails.
Article 9: Shall the town appropriate $5,000 for the Bradford Conservation Fund? got a different response. One person asked matter-of-factly, “Why are we giving this group money; they’ll use it to take property off our tax rolls!" Murmurs of assent. One or two spoke in defense of this appropriation. The voice vote was too close to call. Larry offered to count.
20120318-conservoteLarry.jpegCaption: Larry Coffin in the distant background in black sweater counts the hands.

65 Ayes, 69 Nays, the motion fails.

Larry told me that sometimes an item’s passage depends on who is asking. For example, one less than popular person had a good idea for a different way of voting – it made sense, but it did not pass. Larry attributed that failure to an abrasive personality.
Another case, a youngish progressive man got a well-regarded businessman to make a motion against nuclear waste being trucked, on the Interstate, past the town. That motion passed. Had the young man offered it, it might not.
To me, many of the questioners were well informed. Also, those speaking for or against a motion said their well-reasoned piece with brevity and sat down. Had someone spoken up for the Conservation Fund – showing that in the long run its work was positive for the tax base, it might have passed. The Conservation Commission which, holds the Conservation Fund, appears to be a well-organized group, so the lack of an articulate response may have been atypical.
Two agencies indicated they were late with their requests – had failed to follow the rules - and asked for their allocation from the floor. While there was general sympathy for the groups, getting them the money was not easy within the confines of the town meeting. And, there was some grumbling about a group's failing to follow the process when others had.
It is invariably best for a local citizen to explain – in the bee world, to perform a “waggle dance” - how a cooperative, multi-town service benefits Bradford. For example: Article 11: Shall the town appropriate $2,000 for the Oxbow Senior Independence Project, Adult Day Services?
Caption: Dianne Smarro, Bradford citizen, explains how the project benefits Bradford, clarifying that 30% of those participating are from Bradford.

Well-informed comments help get the Ayes.

The Bradford Moderator aligns well with Seeley’s description of a democratic leader. Notably, the Moderator facilitated discussion and sought to make sure the process was followed. Not once did the Moderator suggest how the vote should go!
Here is what Seeley learned from his bee research and applied to his chairing of a departmental faculty. He says the democratic leader is limited – for the best results - to the following:
1. States group’s object
2. Defines group’s decision-making process
3. Keeps group on track
4. Fosters a balanced discussion
5. Identifies when decision is reached
It would be good to debate the merits of Seeley’s democratic leader, the town meeting process and the traditional boss/leader (“We’re not going to vote on it!”). Which approach produces the best decisions? The democratic bees select the best place for a new nest 80% of the time. Can humans do better? I'd put my money on the participatory model, one that is open and safe for well informed participants to speak their minds.
Reflecting about Bradford, I wish I had tried voting more often in my work meetings – Seeley’s quorum response (with anonymous ballots) suggests an effective and safe way of voting for professional groups. A vote (hand, voice, or quorum) in work situations might actually be easier than looking for the ever-elusive consensus. That consensus, in my experience, usually turned out to be a poor compromise, everyone getting a little of what they want, but far from the best solution. Larry 's comments about voting are germane: "(T)he results of a secret ballot vote are sometimes different from one in which a voter has to declare preference in front of others. Voice votes in a large group such as (a town meeting) are not very accurate, unless clearly one sided...different voices, different volumes. that is why the moderator says "The ayes appear to have it" to allow for a request for a counted vote."
Of course, democratic decision-making takes preparation and interest by all participants in what is happening. You have to do the homework. Like the Bradford townspeople, each participant has to read and examine critically the annual reports and budgets. Sometimes when we are not in charge we leave the details, even the general pros and cons, to someone else; the more absolute the boss, the less informed the subordinates. That is not what I observed in Bradford. Surely, Mr. Lincoln would have approved!

Team Rituals

Posted by jlubans on March 11, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Since we are in basketball’s “March madness” I want to give you some of my observations about how real team members – albeit they are not on work teams – support and encourage each other.
20120311-TEAM b-ball.jpg
This picture, shot by Toni Tetterton, appears in Leading from the Middle in Chapter: 8: “More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team.” It depicts a common practice among men’s and women’s basketball teams – players circling up, arms around waists or draped over shoulders, faces close, fully attentive, with a few words spoken to plan, to calm, to encourage, to support. The coach is not in the huddle.
I could do a full day workshop on this picture alone. Really. It speaks to me with an eloquence that surpasses the circle’s symmetry.
Do you circle up like this at work?
We use sports analogies on the job because our bosses aspire to “WIN”. Unfortunately, for many reasons, our aspirations fall short. For example, there is an inherent superficiality in applying these team work adages in the work place: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “There’s no ‘I’ or ‘U’ in the word TEAM,” etc
But, instead of dismissing all team rituals because of our ineptness o-t-j, take a minute with me and see how basketball team members interact, encourage, and inspire
While observing two games – one a men’s and one a women’s - I picked up on several rituals. What qualities/transfers do these rituals offer? What is their provenance? Why are they done?
I encourage you to think about how these gestures and behaviors could apply to work teams. Do some what-iffing about how we treat ourselves off the court.
Cheering comes from the bench (from the “riders of the pine”); the non-playing substitutes pay attention to the game; there’s clapping, rising to feet, shouting. Absent, except among dysfunctional teams, is any staring off into space wanting to be somewhere else, resenting the loss of playing time.
Injured players sit on the bench, often in uniform, even if unable to play.
Bench players get up on feet, give up their seats to players during a time out with the coach.
The Bench rises and greets incoming players.
After a time out with coaches, all hands go up and touch in a spire, including coaches and other team members. (Surely not all these players like each other, yet they touch and aspire together.)
Hand taps by incoming players to entire bench – yes, the players runs the length of the bench hand-touching the team doctor, the strength coach, the assistant coaches, etc.
An assistant coach gives a word of advice, recognition, and encouragement as an aside to an incoming player.
At the start of the game, after the national anthem, starting teams are introduced. While only five players will be named, the bench players are up in a double line and the starters run through the lane and end with a low five or chest bump or other imaginative exclamation point. The entire team (players and staff) circles up before the tip-off.
On the COURT:
Hand taps between players, while passing up and down the court.
At the foul line, players touch hands, always, and give pats on back to shooter whether the first shot is an air ball or basket.
An incoming player (in women’s game) often brings a towel to the replaced player.
Teams circles up under basket after point made or missed or the shooter “charged” or was “blocked”. The circle provides a sense of celebrating and/or steadying, calming, focusing.
Players, but not all, talk. (Often talking or not – communicating - is cited by coaches as a contributing reason to why a team wins or loses.) Hand signals can be used for communication.
Sometimes, a quick burst of hand clapping is a non-verbal “let’s go!”
Hand touch or hand slap after basket. Good job!
Player gives finger point to the assisting player, for a pass in or a dish out that results in a score.
A player helps a downed player up off floor, offers a hand up and a smile or a concerned look. (On an occasion, an opponent offers a hand up to a downed player – sportsmanship of the finest kind!)
Scalp rub or tap: usually from a veteran to a rookie who does well.
Players set “screens” (this is a legal way to hinder a defender and to “open up” a shooter.
‘Tude or swagger is less about teamwork than it is about psyching the opponent. Still it can bind a team and intimidate an opponent. (I recall a women’s team that circled, pre-game, the opponent’s court with their hoodies up over their heads – thug-like, an image this team and coach cultivated. They won.) Chest bumps after a great play might qualify as ‘tude, possibly earning a technical foul.

Let me know if your workplace team emulates any of these behaviors. A few might be taboo in the no-touch corporate culture, although hardly any are really invasive or harassing. Hand taps, shoulder touches, talking, eye contact, encouraging words and gestures, and engagement, are all relevant and possible. Through them we strengthen our connections and heighten our trust and awareness of each other.
Watching Florida State University Seminoles battle the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for the ACC Championship, I saw FSU player Luke Louck advocating and encouraging several players on the court and at least once inside the coach’s huddle with seeming full support (Bravo!) from Seminoles coach, Leonard Hamilton. It was a scene right out of the classic team movie, Hoosiers! The Seminoles have had a hard season, but after losing 6 of 10 games from November to early January, the team has come back. How did that happen? Here I am citing from a March 10 an ESPN blog item by Edward Aschoff who explains that the team confronted itself after those embarrassing loses, “Players and coaches gathered … to speak candidly about how things weren't working. Slackers were called out and even coaches received constructive criticism from players.
Guards were told they were shooting too much and big men were called lazy in the ultimate open forum.
"Everybody knew what the other guy next to him was thinking," James (a FSU player) said. "We identified our problems and everybody worked toward fixing them. That's what brought us to the point we are now."
FSU won its first ever ACC championship on March 11, 2012
Sounds like the kind of conversation we need but all too often do NOT (cannot?) have in the work place!