Sunday, November 29, 2009

Me? Have fun? You're not serious!

Imagine that! It's possible to learn while having fun.

In 1940 a fellow by the name of John Gallo was fired from his job at Ford because he was "caught in the act of smiling." This was his second offence. He had slowed down the production line by half a minute while he was laughing with his colleagues a few weeks earlier. Poor guy: two strikes (not even three) and he was kicked out! Henry Ford, the owner of the Ford car manufacturing company believed that "When we are at work we ought to be at work. When we are at play we ought to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two."

We have come a long way since then right? Well, it depends... This Friday I had a call from a client from a federal government department asking that I help them design and lead a two-days team-building retreat. There had been a lot of folks coming and going in the last six months and they needed to spend some time solidifying their team. I suggested that we start off by exploring personality types as a way to build stronger relationships. "No! That won't do!" Said my client. "We are scientists and we have no patience for frivolous activities. We are serious people with serious jobs to do." I replied, "I must have misunderstood your objectives for your retreat. I thought that the focus of this retreat was team-building so that is why I suggested that we start the session with an activity that would help people better understand themselves and their colleagues in a work setting. How do you define team-building then?" She said: "It is really straight-forward. There is a lot of work to do and some employees are not doing their fair share. What we need to do is make a list of all the work that has to be done and decide who will do what." Hum... I thought. I beg to differ. Making a list of responsibilities and dividing it up amongst all the employees will not necessarily resolve the underlying human issue of people not feeling engaged and committed to their work... How do you explain that to a scientist? It is not black or white. It is a complex shade of gray.

But sometimes I do get to work in true partnership with a client who has the courage to do things differently, a client who recognizes that work can be fun and fun can lead to positive learning experiences (thanks Mary!)

Earlier this week, I had a wonderful time facilitating a session on leadership and effective team-work in Bathurst, New Brunswick. My client asked me to design a day of play, filled with interactive activities that would help participants explore the themes of leadership and teamwork. I was very happy to oblige. It was such a nice break from the usual requests I get from clients such as strategic planning sessions and national consultations on science priorities.

So I put my creative hat on and designed a fun-filled day of learning. In the morning, we did some storytelling to share personal stories of leadership and identify the key attributes of a good leader. In the afternoon, I created a half Survivor half Amazing Race challenge in which five teams competed. There were mental challenges like "Name That Tune" and "Word puzzles". There were physical challenges like a hockey competition and an odd (read yucky) food challenge. There were also creativity challenges like a treasure hunt with a twist.

In between activities, I would quiz participants on what they were learning about leadership. They were learning a lot as it turns out:

In the treasure hunt activity how did you go about finding the 30 items? Did you have a strategy? Did someone take the lead to organize sub-teams or did you all look for all 30 items at the same time? What worked best? What were some of the tricky's? What would you do differently next time? How would you translate what you have learned from this experience to a real life team situation in your workplace?

Daniel Pink, author of the book A Whole New Mind claims that the "right-brainers" will rule the future. The right-brainers are the creative thinkers. Pink outlines six fundamental human abilities that are essential for professional success and personal fulfillment. They are design, story, symphony, empathy, meaning and PLAY.

The importance of play in work, business and personal well-being manifests itself in three ways: games, humor and joyfulness.

Games, particularly computer and video games, are used to teach whole-minded lessons to customers. For example, in the late 1990's the US army was struggling to boost recruitment. After observing the new cadets' obsession with video games, the Army decided that the best way to reach young people was through their leisure activities on Sony Play Stations, Xboxes and personal c0mputers. The US army developed a video game called America's Army and released it for free on their Web site in the summer of 2002. The first weekend the demand was so great, that it crashed the Army's servers.

For those of us who have kids (and husbands) who spend countless hours exercising their fingers on computer keyboards playing video games, we should not despair. Research has demonstrated that playing video games can sharpen many skills such as an individual's visual perception, his or her ability to detect changes in the environment, concentration, problem-solving and even enchances productivity and job satisfaction.

Fabio Sala wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review stating that "Humor, used skill-fully greases the management wheels. It reduces hostility, deflects criticism, relieves tension, improves morale, and helps communicate difficult messages. A natural facility with humor is intertwined with, and appears to be, a marker for a much broader managerial trait: high emotional intelligence." (p.198-199, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink).

Humor can be used positively or negatively in the workplace. Humor can be a cohesive force in a organization. As a facilitator, I am always encouraged when a group of people can laugh together because it usually means that team members have enough trust in each other to delve into difficult topics as well. However, humor, the black humor kind, can have the opposite effect. Rather than diffuse conflicts, black humor can reinforce workplace divisions and tensions and highlight workplace conflicts.

Joyfulness and laughter are social activities. There is strong evidence to show that people who have regular, satisfying connections to other people are healthier and happier.

People who can laugh together can work together. Laughter has more to do with relationships than jokes so don't fret if you are like me and often do not get the joke's punch line (It may be lost in translation: somehow when my French brain has finished translating the words from English, the funny part got lost along the way). If I feel comfortable with you, I am more likely to be myself and laugh along with you.

If you need more reasons to unbutton your starchy shirt collar and loosen up your tie (so to speak), research shows that laughing people are more creative and productive people. So what have you got to lose?

What do you say? Are you game (pardon the pun)? Can you find ways to inject a bit of fun and laughter in your workplace this week?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am running out of time

Time. I don't have enough of it. I always seem to be running out of time no matter how much planning and multi-tasking I do...

I pride myself on being creative. And I have used this creativity many times to get a crazy list of responsibilities and errands done in one day. The internal conversation goes something like this: "On the way to dropping off my daughter to her part time job at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning (yep - no lazy mornings in this house, ever, it seems), I will drop off the overdue letters in the mailbox. On the way back, I will pick up some Tim Horton's for the rest of the family to speed up the breakfast routine. With the time I saved not cooking breakfast, I will sit at the computer and write my weekly blog. I should be finished writing the blog by 9:30 am and will go do my weekly 10 km run. On my run, I will take a detour to the video store to drop off the DVD's. When I'm back from my run, I will do a quick vacuum and clean up of the house before I leave to go clean up my mother-in-law's house who is too ill from the chemo treatments for her two forms of cancer to do it herself. On the way back from my in-law's, I will drop by the bank, return that item at the store and pick up my daughter who would have finished her shift at the cantine. That should leave me enough time to pack my suitcase and prepare my materials for my business trip tomorrow: I will be delivering three workshops back to back in three different cities in two different provinces." That is going to be my day today. Gosh. I'm exhausted just writing this down!

Yesterday, I had a booth at a Christmas Bazaar in a local senior's home. I make jewelery and Christmas decorations and I thought it may be a fun way to make a bit of pocket money for the Holidays. I was there from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm (a good chunk of time considering how hectic my life is these days) and I made a grand total of $34.00!!!! Not worth it at all. The bazaar was supposed to be open to the public and set up in the large commons room on the street level of the senior's home, but was relocated in the basement at the last minute. The only people that came, were the residents of the home. The only things that sold well were the hand knitted slippers, woolen shawls and the fruit cakes! It is almost funny isn't it?

I tried to see the positive side of things as I felt the anger (at myself) and disappointment rising inside of me while I was packing up all the unsold merchandise at the end of the day. "Well, it wasn't a complete waste of time. I met some nice people who do crafts like me. I did get to sit down and relax for a while..."

In the end, I think what that experience taught me was how our relationship with time changes with age. At the booth next to me, the lady who knitted all those slippers and shawls, (and made a small fortune selling them) kept saying to folks that knitting was a good way to pass the time. On the other side of me, there was a newly retired couple. The husband was there as moral support to his wife. He had nothing special planned for the day so he thought he might as well give her a hand. His wife said that making jewelery made the long days of February and March go by faster. She missed the hustle and bustle of her previous "life" as a decorator and designer for a big chain store so she found another way of expressing herself creatively through jewelery making. The elderly residents from the home came to the bazaar to pass the time. They said visiting the booths was a nice way to spend time on what would have been another long and boring Saturday.

All these folks seem to have too much time on their hands. Part of me was envious... I started wondering how I would feel when the kids have left home and I am retired. Given the speed at which I live my life now, would I be relieved and grateful for the extra time on my hands or bored out of my mind? One thing I know for sure is that I can't see myself being happy when buying a pair of woolen slippers is the highlight of my weekend!

So what do I take away from this experience? I really need to change to my attitude towards time.

When I was working full-time for government, I was crazy busy. In that environment, being busy often means that you are important and makes you feel indispensable. After some introspection, I had to admit to myself that being highly solicited flattered my ego. But my physical and mental health was suffering. I wanted more time. And more flexibility in my time. So I left government and started my own business. I have more flexibility now but I am just as busy, if not more. Why do I do this to myself? I just moved the problem around. I did not resolve it.

I want to take a long hard look at my relationship with time and make some real changes. My sense is that I will need to re-assess all the beliefs I have about time:
  • Time is money
  • I am getting older every day
  • You can play only when the work is done
  • Don't waste time doing "nothing"
  • How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives
  • No time like the present
  • You may delay, but time will not.
  • So little time and so much to do
It is 9:30 am. Time for my run. Got to go!

I think I could use a little coaching with this time obsession. Any suggestions?

Food for thought:

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Power of Words

I came across an interesting article in the October 2009 edition of the Oprah magazine. The author, Tim Jarvis, makes a case for the importance of the words we choose to convey our message. According to Jarvis, one little word can sometimes make the difference between action and inaction, between resentment and cooperation, between argument and understanding.

Giving Constructive Feedback:

"How do you give feedback without ruffling any feathers? I know it is important to let my staff, or my colleagues, know how they could improve their performance but I shy away from it. Giving feedback is awkward and it could get me into trouble." Many clients have asked me for advice on giving constructive feedback over the years.

Here are some of my pointers:
  • Ask first: Don't assume that your feedback will be welcomed. The right thing to do is ask the person first if they would like to get some feedback from you. Get their permission and only then, proceed, with care.
  • Use the "Like, Tricky and Do diff" model: Start by letting the other person empties his or her "cup" first. The person knows what they have done right and wrong so let them share with you their own perspective of how they did first. Once they have emptied their cup, they will be more receptive to what you have to offer as feedback. Start by saying what you liked about what they did. Then move on to the "trickys". A tricky does not necessarily mean something negative. A tricky can be something that was unclear, or misunderstood, or something that was missing. Finish by making some suggestions for improvement by giving tips on what could have been done differently (do diff's).
  • Stick to the facts: When giving feedback try to describe in an objective way what you saw and heard rather than giving your interpretation of what you saw and heard. It makes a huge difference. One approach is factual and can be verified by other observers, the other is personalizes the feedback and much more difficult to defend.
  • Do it with care: Ask yourself "How would I feel if I were standing in his or her shoes right now?" Do unto others, as you would like them to do unto you.
  • Ask yourself why you want to give feedback in the first place: The only good reason to give feedback is to help the other individuals improve their performance. If you feel the need to give feedback to someone, make sure that your motivation is not personal. In other words, make sure that your desire to give feedback is not a disguise for your need to unload negative feelings.
  • Choose the right time to give feedback: If someone has just finished a difficult presentation that went sour, giving them feedback as they exit the room will backfire. They will feel attacked rather than supported. Give them some time to process what just happened and approach them when they are in a more positive frame of mind.
Jarvis' one word trick for giving constructive feedback:

Rather that saying: "You did a nice job BUT the report needs to be finished."
Try: "you did a nice job AND the report needs to be finished."

The "but" negates the first part of the statement no matter how positive it is. When people hear the word "but" they are just waiting for the bad news.

Help change someone's behavior:

People believe that they can motivate others to change their behaviors. That is a myth. You can't motivate someone. Motivation needs to come from the inside. I can't motivate you. You have to motivate yourself. All you can do as a "change agent" is create the exterior conditions that could motivate a change.

According to Jarvis, one of the most common mistakes we make is to ask the other person to change for your sake: "If you really love me you will stop doing behavior "X" or "Can you fix this for "my" sake" please."

Jarvis' one word trick to encourage someone to change:

Rather than saying: "You will stop smoking for my sake"
Try: "Will you stop smoking for the sake our kids' health?"

Your loved one may resent your wanting to change his or her ways and refuse to change to prove a point. If you put the focus on a third party removes you from the equation and appeals to their "ideal" self - the one that does the right thing for the right reasons.

Presenting a problem to your boss:

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years in the federal government of "speaking truth to power." Excellent concept in theory... On the one hand, we all want to do the right thing and expose the truth for what it is. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

Somehow, it is much easier to talk about the irregularities and unfairness in our workplace around the coffee machine with colleagues. Complaining comes naturally to most of us. Blaming others is also a typical reflex. However it is quite another thing to actually tell the powers that be that something's got to change.

Jarvis' one word trick for speaking truth to power:

Rather than saying: "They have issues with the sales staff."
Try: "We have issues with the sales staff."

Replacing they with we can change your outlook and the viewpoint of others. Saying "we" suggests that we recognize that we are part of the solution to the problem.

Trying to make someone see your side:

Some words can be provocative. Once people hear certain words like "stupid", "dumb", or "un-professional" they stop listening to the intent of the comment. Instead, the emotions take over and their anger and resentment prevents them from understanding the intent of the message. Jarvis gives the example of a comment that President Obama made this summer when he was discussing the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr and said that the Cambridge police acted stupidly. That comment was inflammatory and created a lot of backlash.

Jarvis' one word trick for making people hear your message:

Rather than saying: "I know you wanted to surprise me, but changing our plans without warning me was stupid."
Try: "I know you wanted to surprise me, but changing our plans without warning me was not helpful."

Rather than labeling other's actions, convey the effect of those actions.

When I started studying coaching, my teacher recommended that I read the book by Dr. Matthew Budd entitled "You Are What You Say". Budd reminds us that the words we use create our reality. Words are like self-fulfilling prophecies. You get what you say you will get...

Have you ever noticed that?
  • When you tell yourself you are tired you feel even more tired and out of sorts.
  • When you repeat to yourself "I can do this", you usually can.
  • When you say to your teacher "I am shy", she calls on you less often to answer a question or do a presentation in front of the class so you become even shyer.
  • When you say to yourself "this will be a good day", it usually is.
This week I challenge you to pay attention to your words (often a reflection of your internal beliefs) and the impact they have on your everyday life.

I am curious. Please let me know what you found out

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Love Is All You Need

I tried to find an uplifting subject for my blog this week. I really did. But in the end, there was no way around it, I needed to express my sadness. This week my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer and his wife, my dear mother-in-law, had a surgical procedure to biopsy a cancerous tumor in her lung. She had to be hospitalized two days later for complications from that procedure. A good friend's father was hospitalized in Montreal and passed away three days later. The artistic director of my Community Theatre Troupe sent us an email this week to let us know that the Christmas play would not happen this year - she suffered a heart attack and is waiting for heart surgery. After having known for over two months, a very special friend decided to break the silence and let me in - he told me that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. That was my week. Lot's of sadness and worry. It sure makes you reflect on the things you take for granted like time for example...

How do you deal with all that bad news at once? How do you manage to keep your spirits up? How do you console your loved ones - those who are grappling with illness and those who love them and suffer along with them? What is it that I can learn from all this?

Yesterday there was a fund raising event at our local Shopper's Drug Mart. In exchange for a money donation to help families in need at Christmas, you got a free mini-facial and a makeup application. Lee, the lady who did my makeup was a beautiful woman in her sixties with a warm heart. I don't know why, but somehow the conversation shifted from what the new makeup colors were for this season to her life story.

She said she had a difficult week. Her 60 year old brother-in-law had suddenly collapsed on October 31 from an aneurism. He was at the peak of his career and had just signed an 11 years lease for a brand new office. Seventeen years ago, on the same date, his young brother had passed away. Their 91 year old mother had buried two sons in her life-time.

Lee had to travel to Montreal to help with the funeral arrangements and attend the ceremony. She was burnt out by all the emotions and activity and had collapsed in her bed at 8:00 pm the night before for a 12 hours sleep. I empathized with her. I was feeling burnt out too and had also tried to escape all this week's worries in a long fretful sleep. Then, before I could stop myself, all my grief tumbled out. I shared with this stranger all my sad news.

Lee held my hand and said: "Listen, in the space of 6 years my 18 year old hockey playing son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and required complicated surgeries. Two years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost my left breast. Two years later my husband, an executive with a federal government department, had a burn-out, sank into a serious depression and had psychotic episodes for which he had to hospitalized. There were many times when I did not think I could survive another day. But I kept going. Today it is all behind me and I am happy. God does not give you more than you can handle. The suffering makes you stronger. I believe that." Not only does it make you stronger but it makes you more attuned to others who are suffering. Lee is giving back. She volunteers her time as a makeup artist for the "Look Good, Feel Better" initiative for cancer patients.

Here we were in the middle of a busy store having a moment of privileged connection. We hugged and we cried. For that moment, we forgot where we were - all the bustling and the noise - and time stopped. Two strangers, fellow human beings, sharing sorrow and understanding. And then the moment was gone. We joked that we had to change the topic quickly or else all the hard work Lee had done to apply my makeup would go to waste. She retouched the makeup, I made my purchases and we hugged one last time. I probably will never see her again but that doesn't matter... I left the store feeling lighter.

I felt grateful that Lee had been on my path
that day to share her story. Human beings can be so incredibly resilient. We can get through the most difficult situations. It is a matter of persevering even when the going gets tough, believing that there is a bigger purpose, and most importantly staying hopeful. And of course, to quote the Beatles, "you get by with a little help from your friends"

When you really think about it "all you need is love" to get through those hard times . Even love from a stranger in a store can turn your world around. Thanks Lee!

The Beatles


From The Blue Album

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time - It's easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.