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Cultural Differences?

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You say tom-ay-toe, we say…

Are cultural differences across the globe a problem?  Do they stop global Learning or Organisation Development programmes from working?

We often get asked about training for people working across cultures: “Can you give me guidance on how to work with our teams in Latin America?  I’m going to China for work, what advice can you give me?

And having been asked these questions for so many years, even though we’re not experts on cultural differences – we’ve tried to be as helpful as possible.  We’ve always said “that’s not our area of expertise, but here’s a suggestion you could try…”  But does our advice work?

So having spent the past few weeks working with people from the UK, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, China, The Philippines, The US and Australia, we’re pretty chuffed to report back – yes, it works!

Totem Gummi Bears

The key learning point for us (with this and in most of life) is simply… to not make assumptions

Or rather to question the assumptions we immediately make.  When a delegate highlights that “this approach won’t work in x location”, we have simply asked what makes them think that and what might make it work better.

And when we introduce an idea that we know works well in the UK, we ask, “how might that work for you?  What challenges might you face with this in your workplace?  How could you make this work better for you?”

These are the same questions we ask regardless of cultural differences, and they work because they put the ownership on the individual to explain the cultural challenges and importantly, explore how to overcome them.

Why does this approach work? 

It is worth remembering that our brains crave control: we do not like uncertainty or a feeling that we are not controlling a situation.  So going to work in a different culture, where our usual patterns of working and set expectations of how conversations go are challenged, can be very uncomfortable.

So we try to control the situation by coming up with theories and ideas on how to adapt and fit.  The problem is that our theories will be based on our culture and assumptions, so can often miss the mark.  Asking another person, “how do you think this could work here?” Or “how can we adapt this idea so it works?” Brings multiple benefits.

– you gain insight from someone who knows the culture better than you

– that person feels valued and appreciates that you want their opinion

– you make the process collaborative, building trust and helping you better understand the culture

– you avoid making inappropriate assumptions that backfire

So here’s our suggestion, stop worrying about what difference culture might make and simply ask the question.

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Survey done. Engagement over.

It’s a classic situation employees the world over experience…

Why do we do an engagement survey but then never do anything with the results?  What’s the point?

The sad thing is that there is almost always a great intention to do far more.  Managers and HR teams have most likely planned to do follow up sessions, but then busyness and new priorities have taken over.

Or maybe you’re in the position of doing some follow up but wondering how much difference it’s really making.  This article suggests a few ideas on how you can make the most of your engagement survey follow up.

  • Ask for more
  • We as well as they
  • Champions and accountability
  • Book the review now

Ask for more

The data from your survey gives you an indication of what’s working well and what needs to be better, but numbers can be hard to bring to life.  Run focus groups / think tanks to ask for more insight.  “The data tells us that X is seen as not working well right now.  Tell us more about that.  What is working there and what could be better?  Do you have any examples you can share?”

We as well as they

The tendency in these focus groups is for the magical “they” to be blamed for everything and tasked with fixing everything.  “This company should…” And “senior management need to…” Are common comments.  The challenge with this is that it can remove any personal accountability for change.  You could add in questions like, “ok that’s what senior management need to do in your mind, and what could you do as well to make things better?”

This is where you can combine some personal development into your focus groups, teaching people a few tools for resilience and dealing with uncertainty.  You’re giving them immediate ideas on how they could react differently to what they find frustrating whilst also helping them clarify what needs changing within the company structures and ways of working.

Champions and accountability

It’s always great to have people within each team or function taking the lead on follow up with specific actions, as it highlights it is not HR’s job to fix everything.  Ask who will take the lead, what that means they need to do and what support they might like.  Then hold that person to account by agreeing milestone dates, what follow up there will be etc.

Book the review now

Even after all this good work it can be easy for the follow up to get lost.  So book in a review date or ideally a series of review dates right at the first meeting when champions and actions are agreed.

These small steps can make all the difference to your people, feeling that the time they have put into the engagement survey has been well spent and seeing that things are improving in the business.

And tying everything together, you’ll often find that the themes coming out of those focus groups tell you the highest priority areas that need covering in your management and leadership development.  If you’d like more information on engaging engagement, you can follow me.

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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.

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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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Effective Meetings

meetingWe all love meetings right?  Er, that’ll be a no then.

According to a Barco survey in 2013, more than 60% of all meetings we go to don’t have a defined agenda, and even more incredibly – more than 50% don’t have the right people attending!

Ask a manager their greatest challenge and you tend to hear different things.  Ask them what gets in their way and there is almost unanimous agreement on time: Specifically, having too much time wasted in meetings.

It has become perfectly acceptable to have a whole day of meetings and never question the value gained or even worse, the cost of that time.  Based on our conversations with clients, global research on meeting inefficiency and experience using various best practices, we have found that decisions can be made in a fraction of the time and meetings can be extremely effective.

One of the great ways of doing this is by using Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, you can find out more by following me.

It’s hard to train an approach unless you have seen it in practice.  We so we highly recommend you pull in an expert, naturally we can help but there are plenty of alternative providers you could choose.

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Isn’t this just common sense?  Why do we need training?

The simple answer is yes, this is common sense.  That doesn’t mean though that we don’t need reminding how to put common sense into practice.

Over the years of using these techniques, we have found two key themes emerging about managers’ experience of learning meeting efficiency approaches.

Firstly, many people have been taught the principles in theory.  For example, many people have read De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats or have been trained to write better agenda items and clear minutes.  We find that hearing or reading about such things tends to switch people off – they cannot see it working and therefore doubt the effectiveness of the approach.

This is why we always combine the training workshop with a live meeting to demonstrate the techniques and the impact they have.

Secondly, just because something is common sense, it doesn’t mean we’re already doing it.  Seeing the approach work in your context and learning how you can apply it simply as a team or business enables you to move past what makes sense as a concept to real practical benefit.  We find that when clients tell us these approaches don’t work, it is simply because they have not seen it executed well and with benefit.

This is why we recommend that we stay with you after the training – to coach and develop your facilitators after their training and ensure they are gaining maximum benefit from the approach.

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Five Drivers

steering-wheel-smallWhat are Drivers?

Way back in 1975 Taibi Kahler identified five common drivers that motivate us, these drivers are born in our unconsciousness and can lead to some very positive, as well as destructive behaviours.

By identifying which drivers an individual exhibits most, it becomes possible to recognise and develop the potential of these positive behaviours and how to respond constructively to the negative.

These drivers result in the behaviour that we exhibit to the wider world and find their roots in our unconscious. We’ve put together a guide to the 5 drivers and a questionnaire to help you identify which of the five driver types you naturally have a preference for.  Or more likely, which blend of drivers you have.

For more information on the five drivers download this:



Or to take the test, download this:





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ConcentrateHow can we encourage concentration?

How many times has someone been asked a question in a lecture but wasn’t paying attention?

We have all been there, and at times, been the one that wasn’t listening.  Humans are not naturally good at paying attention and concentrating for long periods of time, particularly in settings such as education.

This inevitably presents a huge problem to anyone trying to teach, deliver training or even just a speech; how do you get people to actually listen to more than the first couple of minutes?  Ideally, we want our participants or audience to listen, engage, absorb and reflect on the content we are discussing.  Otherwise, if you’ve invested time and resource in developing a training programme, having a room full of day dreamers is going to be incredibly costly.

And online teaching is no different to traditional face to face methods.  If anything, maintaining attention can be harder as there are more distractions and it’s easy to click away to a flashing advert in a sidebar.  So how do we ensure people watch, pay attention, engage and reflect on material?

Here are some top tips that should help your audience stay with you throughout the presentation.

We all know that targets and goals help keep people focused in many areas of life.  Delivering material online or in a training environment should be no different; not only does it help to break a large topic of section into smaller, more manageable sections, it can provide the audience with a sense of achievement when they get there.  Having something to aim for is definitely an incentive to stay tuned in.

Another useful way to maintain an audience’s attention, is by giving them something they want to pay attention to! Jelly baby anyone?

Totem Lollipops

If this is in a scenario where they may not have chosen to take part, for example at an employment training session, it can be harder to keep them interested.  By using a variety of techniques, colour, images and other varying methods of presentation, you are ensuring it is as interesting as possible.  If the audience is simply presented with pages and pages of text to read or click through they will switch off almost instantly.

One of the simplest ways to maintain an audiences attention is to engage with your audience and make the presentation interactive.  This will ensure they are paying attention as they will want to know the answers.  Moreover, it also provides an excellent opportunity for reflection and a chance to fill in any gaps in participants’ knowledge.

It’s also helpful to recognise that every learner or participant is completely different, and will find different areas interesting and challenging.  It is impossible to have an entirely unique course or presentation for every person but variety can be included.  Ensure there is a sufficient variation in the methods, levels of complexity and themes you use to communicate, to maintain interest from each person.

Different people will respond to different methods and somehow you need to incorporate a bit of each into the presentation, lecture, lesson or speech.

And one of the most powerful ways to keep learners engaged, is to simply ask people to reflect on the material.  What are they enjoying, not enjoying, finding difficult?  The only way to find out what is stopping people from paying attention throughout is to ask them.  You can then adapt the material as necessary to ensure maximum engagement and attention next time, or if you’re really good – during the training!

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Treading Your Own Path

own-pathTreading your own path – not easy, but you won’t regret it!

We’re continuing the trend of inviting guest writers to contribute to our site.

And this month we’ve got an absolute peach!  We’d like to introduce Jo Pursaill, formaly Director of Global Talent Development at American Express.  You can connect with Jo here!

But enough of our waffle.  Ladies and Gentlemen we proudly present Jo Pursaill…

‘Read something every day that inspires you’.  This was the advice given by leadership guru, Ken Blanchard, at a conference I attended a year or so ago.  This really resonated with me.  It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day ‘stuff’, and not always stand back and remember the things that are important

For a while now, I’ve been subscribing to ‘The Daily Guru’ – an email service which sends me [very] short inspirational emails each morning.  Many are quotes which take less than a minute to read.  Some naturally resonate more than others, but overall they are great and often help provide a sense of perspective and focus.  Here’s one on authenticity I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

“To be authentic is literally to be your own author…, to discover your own native energies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on them”
— Warren G Bennis

This one is on my mind, because whilst it seems obvious and easily said, it would appear not so easy in practice.  I’ve been talking to lots of people about their life, work and career – trying to get an understanding of what ‘career’ means to them and how they define meaningful work.

Interestingly a theme which has come through strongly is that many people don’t actually know what they want – and this finding doesn’t appear to be uncommon.  In an article featured in Forbes Magazine, Kathy Caprino – a Career and Executive Coach who has coached hundreds of professionals – highlights this is something she hears consistently. One of the top reasons people give for wanting to leave their job is due to a lack of meaning or purpose.

The topic of purpose is receiving a lot of attention at the moment.  It’s an essential ingredient for a fulfilled life and career, yet it can be hard for people to define.

Jelly Bean Diversity

It’s different for everyone and therefore needs to start with – as Warren Bennis puts it – ‘discovering your own native energies and desires’.

In Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the author shares her experiences/ learnings when working in palliative care and tending to the needs of people who were dying.   She spends intimate time with them at this difficult stage near the end of their life, and gets to know them, their life experiences, and their regrets.  The top regret?  ‘I wish I had lived a life true to myself and not what others expected of me’.  I was quite sad to read this….to get to the end of your life and feel this…

So how do you find and tread your own path?

There is clear value in taking some time to figure this out – for the individual, and also for organizations looking to support employees in their career development and provide opportunities to do meaningful work.  Research shows that employees who are optimally motivated and doing work matched to their strengths/passions are 10 times more engaged by their jobs, 31% more productive, and significantly more likely to stay (Optimal Motivation; Blanchard; 2015).

In terms of the ‘how’, conclusions from my research are that whilst this is articulated in different ways, it seems to boil down to 3 things:

Make a deliberate effort to get to know yourself better. There are various self-reflection questions and exercises that can help (organizations can provide toolkits, training and coaching to help employees in this exploration).  A few thought triggers: What have been your greatest achievements?  What can you do better than most?  What would others say?  What do you get ‘lost in’ and time just flies by?  This can take time to figure out – it can sometimes help to draw a ‘life map’ plotting key points in your life, to get you thinking.  Also just to ‘observe’ yourself over time and see what you’re noticing about what energizes you, what you’re drawn to, etc.

Spend time really figuring out what you want. There are unlikely to be straight-cut answers, and again it will take some exploration.  Questions to consider include: What is your personal definition of success? (it’s different for everyone). What do you value most in your work/life?  For what do you want to be known?  Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’ll enjoy something until you actually do it.  Some recent advice I received….write down all the things you think you might want, then create low risk ‘testing strategies’ for each so you can try them out, e.g. talk to someone already doing the job to learn about ‘a day in the life of’, do a short-term project assignment.  Then you can start crossing things off and/or get closer to what you want.

Make a plan and start taking action. Now you’re clearer on what you want, you can be more deliberate about the things you can focus on to get there.  Who do you need to speak with, what new skills/experiences will you need, what relationships do you need to build?  If it’s a big change it can be scary – in reality there’s no getting away from this as it’s a natural part of the process.  A coach can sometimes help to work through any fears or barriers.  It’s also a good idea to write down your career aspirations/plan to help you stay focused.  Amazingly, Ken Blanchard has written his obituary, personal mission and values and reads them every day!

What I’m learning is that treading your own path is not necessarily easy or straight-forward – it takes time, exploration, self-honesty and a deliberate effort.   But in the grand scheme of life and looking back on a good one…it’s got to be worth it!

To get in touch with Jo directly about this article you can follow this link,

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Transactional Analysis

TA-400x265Exploring Transactional Analysis in the workplace.

Transactional Analysis is one of the cornerstones of modern psychology.  It was developed by Eric Berne, and describes the infamous ‘parent adult child’ theory.  Transactional Analysis is of great importance in organisational and personal development, improving communications, management, relationships and behaviour.

A deeper understanding of Transactional Analysis is a great starting point for building your self awareness, and an awareness of others.  When two people communicate, each exchange is a transaction.  Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful.

Dr. Berne studied the complex interpersonal transactions between individuals and developed a model of how those individuals interact with one another.  This culminated in his three “ego-states”.

  • Parent
  • Adult
  • Child

Each one of these ego states is the method of communication we choose to use with other individuals, and the impact of that communication style can be quite dramatic.  But in summary, the language of the Parent is one of values, the Adult is of logic and the Child is a language of emotions.

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Dr. Berne’s book, Games People Play, is a wonderful insight for leaders who wish to develop their understanding of the potential impact their communications may have, intended or not.


We can adopt the role of two quite different Parents when addressing someone, the Nurturing Parent is caring and concerned and often appears as a mother-figure.  The Controlling Parent attempts to make the Child do as the parent wants them to do.


The Adult transaction is born from rationality and a deep sense of Logic.  This is expressed in the form of someone who talks reasonably but assertively, without a desire to control or show aggression.  This is the state that most of us aspire too.


The Child state can be broken down into three different types:

  • The Natural Child has remarkably little self awareness and can be identified by the non-speech comments they make, yippee, woohoo for example!
  • The Little Professor is the curious and exploring Child, someone who always wants to try out new stuff.
  • The Adaptive Child is reactionary, and seeks to change themselves in order to better fit in with the world around them.

We possess all three Ego States as our personality is a result of our combined life experiences. Who we are as a Parent, Adult, or Child is a product of these experiences, regardless of far we’d like to distance ourselves from those experiences.

Totem Gummi Bears

Depending on whom we’re talking to, we switch between these ego states.  And how and when we switch is largely driven by our own understanding of the social context we’re in, our perceived relationship with those we are interacting with, and our own inherent personality type.  See Khaler’s 5 Drivers for more on this.

We’ve developed many social rituals, from greetings to whole conversations where we take different approaches for different contexts. These are often ‘pre-recorded’ as scripts we just play out. They give us a sense of control and identity and reassure us that all is still well in the world.  Other games can be negative and destructive and we play them more out of sense of habit and addiction than constructive pleasure.

Identifying and Resolving Conflict

Complementary transactions occur when both people are at the same level – adult to adult for example. But problems occur in crossed transactions, where each is talking to a different level.

For example, by being a Controlling Parent we are inviting the other person to adopt a Child state where they may or may not conform to our demands. They adopt the ‘naughty child’ state to oppose the Parent or Adult states, simply for rebellions sake.

Be aware for crossed wires. This is the source of conflict between individuals.

By choosing carefully the state that you employ to communicate, you can engender a great deal of trust.  If you have recognised the Child in an individual, employ the Nurturing Parent or talk at the same level as the other person.

There are three things you can do when you want to get the most out of an interaction with someone and all three require you to notice what is happening:

Observe and challenge yourself – note what sort of state you are in, how you are responding and what your reactions are like.  Is this how you want to be?  What sort of interaction would be more appropriate?

Observe others and respond productively – not what sort of state they are adopting, how they are responding and what their reactions are like.  What sort of response would be most productive?

Observe the interaction – has it been successful? Does it set a precedent for the future?  What will you do differently in the future? 

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