Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Phil LeNir of CoachingOurselves.com. As many of you noticed I’ve been writing more from a personal view of careers and personal development. I published this piece on organizational development because anyone can apply these concepts to their business and life.
There are a lot of management development training programs out there. They help managers and employees to improve their skill sets and become better at what they do.
But what if there was a way to apply self-help concepts to the corporate world? What if managers could train each other, learn through discussions, and be inspired by stimulating material?
Keep reading to find out how we found ourselves doing exactly that.
Let’s go back to the beginning…
We had just hit rock bottom. After three rounds of layoffs, the company off-shored our software development to Eastern Europe, and our competitor acquired us.
That sounds pretty dire doesn’t it? We knew we needed to do something to boost morale and we needed a solution that didn’t cost much. We literally had no time, no money, and we were expected to change quickly.
Luckily when I approached professor Henry Mintzberg, the author of several management development books, he had an idea. He suggested I read his book “Managers not MBAs” and one sentence from this book still sticks with me today:
“Thoughtful reflection on natural experience, in the light of conceptual ideas, is the most powerful tool we have for management learning.”
So instead of having more crisis meetings, planning meetings, and status meetings… my team and I got together for a learning meeting with the goal of making things better.
During that first meeting we made the objective to learn something new about management, and to reflect on our own experience in light of conceptual ideas. If it worked, then we’d do it again.
There was one caveat: I didn’t want people to come to these meetings to talk about grand ideas on how to change things, but leave without intending to put anything into practice.
I didn’t want to fall into the self-help trap of talking about our feelings but not doing anything about them.
During the weekends I worked on the content of the sessions, by editing and crafting the material that Henry Mintzberg and his colleagues had put together for their Masters level management courses. It included lots of provocative questions and exercises to get the meetings to stimulate change.
Amazingly, it worked.
These meetings created a space where our team could come together to make important management decisions, to bond, and to help each other grow.
Suddenly, we weren’t the head of engineering talking to the head of QA anymore. We were simply human beings doing their best to get on with the job of managing, solving problems, and making things happen.
We started coming up with new initiatives on both small and large scales that we actually following through on. You can probably relate to meetings where lots of ideas are discussed but nothing ever comes of them.
This was different because we came up with simple changes in a safe environment that fostered collaboration between managers.
Once we started taking action, we saw the time we spent in these meetings differently. This is how I marketed the meetings to my team (because really, who wants to attend more meetings when there is so little time to begin with):
“We all spend some 50+ hours a week running around making things happen, and doing things. Imagine if we spent 1 hour a week talking about what’s going on, reflecting on experiences around our current management challenges, and discussing what we could do to make things better, all stimulated by some really cool management topics developed by some of the best thinkers in the world? Then we could run around making things happen for the other 49 hours. Do you think we might get more done during the 49 hours than the original 50 hours?”
We had stumbled upon management development that really works. And it was just a matter of opening up to each other, putting our heads together, and then taking action. This was like reading a great self-help book, doing all of the exercises, and actually living differently. Wow!
The Three Step Formula
Now it’s time for you to take action with these ideas in your own organization.
Here’s the simple 3-step formula:
Step 1. Schedule a meeting with fellow managers and team members to discuss the issues that are most pressing. If we’re talking about case studies, or potential situations it’s not application and no one will get anything out of it. Make it relevant, make it actionable.
Step 2. Find some materials that relate to the issues at hand: strategic theories, advice for office politics, models of communication between silos and slabs. Once you’ve got some stimulating material, tease some questions out of it to act as starting points during your meeting.
Step 3. During the meeting allow everyone a chance to voice their opinions, and take notes on the interesting ideas that bubble up. Make the meeting a safe place for people to share their experience as managers, to come together to explore new ways of solving problems together. Then after the meeting, follow up by taking action on the new ideas.
What will this three-step process do that a self-help book won’t? It will get you talking to other people who share a similar background; it will boost morale, and make your entire operation run much smoother.
This works because companies are made up of people, not cogs. Unless we take the time to talk about things, we’re going to keep running around inefficiently.
How You Can Apply This to Your Work
It’s simple, put together a few questions to help you and some team members mastermind together.
Then set aside some uninterrupted time to discuss. It might take a few minutes before everyone warms up to each other and begins to share the deep stuff within. The first few meetings might be focused more on surface issues.
Over time you will see that having these types of candid conversations, and knowing that everyone else is in the same boat together, can really transform the way you live your life and lead your team.
So go ahead, I challenge you to give this “self-help for managers” idea a try. It may seem overly simple, but why complicate things when there’s an inexpensive solution at hand that works?
Let us know what you think in the comments! I’d love to see what kinds of results people get from this!
Phil LeNir developed CoachingOurselves following a new approach to management education implemented in the International Masters Program in Practicing Management. As Executive Director at CoachingOurselves, Phil is working to bring this approach to management development to organizations worldwide. Follow Phil and CoachingOurselves on twitter.
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