Archives for 29 Apr,2016

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70 20 10 Further Research

702010 TotemWhat could 70:20:10 mean in practice if we pushed the boundaries?

As more organisations look to review their learning strategies according to the principles behind the model, there has been a corresponding push from some parts of the L&D community for further evidence to support the principles of 70:20:10 in practice.

In response, Towards Maturity have produced new data which claims to look at the actions behind the numbers and the resulting impact on performance.  We’ll review their work in a little more detail below.


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Mediation in the Workplace

Totem-in-the-middleUnfortunately, it’s not just world leaders who need to know this…

From time to time there may be disharmony and discord within your team.  Managing at these times can be taxing, to say the least. But with a few techniques and practical tools for handling conflict, you will be equipped to confidently deal with these difficult situations and find a positive outcome.

Research suggests that managers spend around 25% of their time managing and handling conflict in their teams. Conflict isn’t always necessarily a negative thing – it can often mean that people are passionate about their work and it can encourage creative thinking. Conflict can, however, mean that teams become ‘stuck’ when an impasse is reached, so finding ways to resolve conflict is important.

You might be asked to mediate when a conflict has reached that impasse, or you might find it helpful in your own conflicts to have the tools and tips to address it effectively.  So let’s take a quick look at some the theories and models that might help.

Academic researcher and mediation expert Joseph Stulberg*, identified a pattern common to all controversies. He termed them the Five Ps of Conflict Management:

Perceptions: Our negative perceptions of conflict impact our approach in resolving conflict as we strive to eliminate the source of these negative feelings.

Problems: Anyone can be involved in a conflict, and the amount of time, money, and equipment needed for resolution will vary according to its complexity.

Processes: There are different ways to go about resolving disputes: Suppress the conflict, give in, fight, litigate, mediate, etc.

Principles: We determine the priorities of all resolution processes on the basis of an analysis of our fundamental values regarding efficiency, participation, fairness, compliance, etc.

Practices: Power, self-interest, and unique situations are all factors relating to why people resolve disputes the way they do.

With this in mind, mediation is essentially a dialogue or negotiation which involves a third party. Mediation should be a voluntary process for all. Unlike a judge, the mediator cannot unilaterally force parties to resolve their differences and enforce a decision.

Totem Gummi Bears

HR expert and academic Glenn Varney* suggests that to resolve differences between individuals it can be valuable bringing the parties together and, with the assistance of a third party, asking the following questions:

  • What is the problem, as you perceive it?
  • What does the other person do that contributes to the problem?
  • What do you want or need from the other person?
  • What do you do that contributes to the problem?
  • What first step can you take to resolve the problem?

Many people use the talking stick idea here.  This means when one person holds the talking stick, everyone else listens.  Interruptions are simply not allowed.  You don’t of course need an actual stick for this, you can just set the ground rules at the start of the meeting.

Varney emphasises that the context is important – each individual should be questioned while the other listens then asks questions for further clarifications. They should be allowed to express their feelings and get hostility out of their systems at this stage, but key to this is that both must be willing to admit partial responsibility for the problem.

It’s also critical that the first objective is for each person to understand the other’s perspective and not to get across their own view.  As Stephen Covey puts it – “seek first to understand, then to be understood”

Both individuals then discuss a mutual definition and understanding of the problem. Agreement should be reached on what steps will be taken to resolve the problem and should be put in writing in order to prevent later misunderstandings.

This requires good listening, low defensiveness, and an ability to stay in a problem-solving mode. The key to Varney’s process is exposing the different positions as early as possible.  Which is where the facilitator or mediator can help in pulling out what’s really going on.

If you’re looking for tips on encouraging good debate and positive conflict, you might find our simple approach to Six Thinking Hats useful.


*Stulberg, J. B. (1987). Taking charge / managing conflict. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

*Varney, G. H. (1989). Building productive teams: An action guide and resource book. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, Inc.

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Lost in Translation

Totem TranslationTechnical Specialists and Business Managers.  Finding a Common Language.

It’s a classic story – we have great technical experts, but business managers cannot understand the data analysis or subsequent recommendations.  Surely we can find a way to make the relationship between business management and technical specialists a fruitful one.

Here we explore the classic story in detail and recommend five steps to make life easier and break the language barrier.  This story is not limited to IT professionals.  We have had exactly the same experience with financial experts, data analysts and HR professionals.

We once worked with an IT team who were always keen to do interesting work and see that their work made a positive impact on the business.  At least, that’s what we learned when we spent time trying to understand where they were coming from.  This was not evident to the rest of the business.  The team were well-respected experts, but there was a perception that the team did not understand the needs of the business and often did not deliver the best outcome.

The business wanted experts to do some great analysis, present the analysis in a way that made sense, then make sound recommendations and explain why.  The IT team considered that they were doing all of that, but the business was not satisfied.  Something was getting lost in translation.

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

After a series of workshops, and the design and implementation of some structured work plans, we all started to see a difference.

The workshops had explored what was important to the IT team, what they wanted to deliver for the business and the perception they wanted others to have about this team.  It became clear that this team wanted the same reputation as the business was desperate for them to live up to.

Through questions, listening and recommendations we found ways to connect what the IT team wanted to deliver with what business leaders needed to see.

The relationship improved and both teams got what they needed, by all parties following these simple steps:

Ask Questions – make sure you know what each other need, the end outcome and key information required.

Listen and Clarify Understanding – listen to responses and play back what you understand about the other person’s needs.  Check your understanding is the same as theirs.

Agree Outcomes, Success Criteria and Timelines – make sure everyone is on the same page about what will be produced and when.

Clarify Style – we all have different approaches to receiving information.  Some people like to see visuals – graphs and bar charts, others just need the detailed spreadsheets and many would prefer very little data, just top level trends and recommendations.  Find out who needs what and deliver against those needs.

Keep Reviewing – keep asking what is working well and what needs to be improved.

Sound too simple and good to be true?  We find time and again that the simplest solution is often the best.  If things are getting lost in translation then we might simply need to communicate more & focus on understanding each other.

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Mentoring – The Basics

totem-mentoringLet’s go over more of the do’s than the dont’s…

Many of us have been mentoring for years without ever receiving training on how to do it. In a sense, that’s no bad thing – you don’t need training in order to give good advice. And yet for that advice to be taken on board and applied, there are some things we can do to be even more effective mentors.

What is mentoring?

If you’ve ever been asked to advise or counsel a colleague, you’ve been a mentor. Essentially the passing on of advice, stories from experience, lessons learned etc. is mentoring. Through years of both mentoring and advising mentors, we have found that the most effective mentors do more than just give advice.

What makes an effective mentor?

The following features have repeatedly come up in feedback from mentors and mentees in what makes a great mentor:

Really be there – It’s so easy in our world of being busy, checking the phone, rushing from meeting to meeting, to not really be present in a mentoring session. There are just too many other things to be done. The best mentors really focus their time and energy in the moment to offer their greatest advice.

Be yourself – There is no other person you need to imitate or attempt to act like when mentoring. It is your personal experience and learning that your mentee wants to benefit from, so be honest, share learning and be yourself.  This includes being vulnerable, sharing what has not gone well and exploring how you both learn from that.

Listen – For you to offer great advice, you need to have truly listened. Make sure you are really paying attention to what the mentee is saying, how they’re saying it, their tone of voice and facial expressions – what are they not saying? This will enable you to offer far more support and advice.

Totem Gummi Bears

Stay on topic – The main criticism of mentoring sessions is that they can become nice chats. Avoid that by finding out what’s on the mind of your mentee and what they want to achieve – then stay on that. Avoid conversations that go nowhere by listening to their concerns and ideas, sharing your experience and advice, then asking them what they will do now.

Don’t let them off the hook with statements like “it’s difficult” – push them by asking “what could you do then?”

Support & challenge – A lot of us think we have to do one or the other, yet both is best. Be supportive through your understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing. Be challenging by encouraging them to think beyond the barriers, try new things, focus on the positive and learn from experience. Joining these together enables you to demonstrate understanding whilst pushing for progress.

Give credit where it’s due – Often we get carried away in the mentoring itself, so that we miss the opportunity to celebrate success and acknowledge progress made. Constantly review what has worked well, where learning and real progress has occurred – and celebrate!

How will I know I’m doing a good job?

This is a great question to ask your mentee.

We each define success differently and it is a great conversation to both define what is success generally for the individual, i.e. how do they know they have achieved something great, and also how they will judge whether the mentoring has been successful.  So don’t forget to continue reviewing the usefulness of your meetings by checking back against the mentee’s success criteria.

You will also find that asking this question early on builds a great deal of trust and openness between you, as you have shown that you are not assuming superiority.

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