When Settling Cross-Functional Concerns — Lay the Cards on the Table

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When different functions within our own organizations aren’t seeing “eye to eye”, we tend to shy away from bringing them together. We don’t intend to prolong the conflict — but, in reality, that is what occurs. Our instincts are often to act as an intermediary and settle the issue calmly and quickly. But, that is likely not in the best interest of the organization.

Digging into the concerns is often the best route, especially if the conflict directly affects your clients or customers. Often it’s time for things to change — yet we’ve ignored the signs or haven’t had the opportunity to address the issues.

It’s best to lay the cards on the table and expose the root of the problems, even when this is an extreme challenge, as quickly as possible. Hopefully, exploring the developing issues wards off delivery problems related to products and services.

When I’m called in to sort out these types of situations (often at an off-site), my first instinct is to get everyone in the same room and lay the cards on the table. I often couple this with a process exercise that models work flow, that illustrates how their work crosses paths with other functions to deliver great products and services. Of course, I have the benefit of a lowered emotional investment. That’s often what is needed the vet the issues and move forward.

Here is an exercise to try on your own. (I suppose it is a modified “War Game” exercise.)

  • Start with your functional groups intact. Initially, place contributors in groups sorted by their source function (No more than 6-8 per group. Utilize round tables). Place index cards on the table. Each group will identify key cross-functional issues that are obstacles to delivering the best products or services to customers. (Include two colors of index cards, one for urgent and non-urgent issues. Have each team record 5 issues. One index card for each. Teams can identify 2 issues as urgent.)
  • Record the issues. Instruct the functional teams to discuss and record the toughest issues they face in relation to interfacing or coordinating, with the other functions. Instruct them to keep customer or product and service delivery in mind. Keep the description as brief as possible and include one example that occurs in practice.
  • Collect the recorded issues. After issue identification, offer a coffee break. Have leadership sort the issues by content area for distribution. Select a set of cards, with key topic areas represented, for consideration by the re-convened teams.
  • Mix-up the teams by functional area. Re-convene teams as multi-functional groups for the solution phase. Allow the “solution” teams to choose, then attack 2-3 of the problems, time allowing. They should develop solutions for each that will be presented to the larger group. Each team will work on the issues selected. (30-45 minutes or so.) Then break once again, there will be serendipitous conversation.
  • Present proposed solutions.  Re-convene. The teams should select two presenters. One presenter should be a member of a functional team that hasn’t sourced the issue being addressed.

I’ve never seen a group that didn’t learn something critical from the challenge. There will be more than a couple of heated exchanges, but it is all in the name of progress. Data can be added to the equation after issues are identified. If there is time, the group can identify metrics that can track progress, as time goes on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

The Power of 3

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In the design realm there is a well-known phenomenon named “The Power of 3”. It prescribes that when you desire to make an impact with color or pattern, it’s best to repeat them. The rule has been applied to other arenas as well — think of the “Rule of three” as applied to writing, the “Rule of thirds” in photography — or even the magical combination of the The 3 Tenors.

In work life, the power of 3 might help us to become better change agents. When contemplating change, we (as human beings) require multiple exposures to a new idea or path before it is finally woven into our work lives. (I believe this protects us on some level from charlatans and fads.) Time and time gain, I’ve seen worthy ideas posed, yet it  can take time and considerable energy for the bulk of the message to be absorbed. Often the moment for change is lost. (In fact, researchers who pose amazing theories often move on to new horizons, before we entirely catch up.)

Could we utilize the “Power of 3” to make those changes come to life in our own workplaces? When you do have an idea that warrants attention — let’s ensure that it has real impact. Here is one “tripod” of potential influence to consider:

  • Recognize the emotional response. You’ll know when this happens to you — the light bulb switches to the “on” position. You realize you are “on to something”. Inspiration has found you. You might think to yourself: “I do this and it works for me. Would this work for others?”, or “I used to do that, and I stopped. Now things are much, much worse. Is there a correlation?” Own those moments and offer them the deference they deserve.
  • Start the conversation. Express your idea (yes, out loud!) to someone else. Get feedback. Make improvements. Craft a meaningful conversation around the idea. Add a bit of research to round out your “platform”. (I think Nilofer Merchant’s TED Talk, about our penchant for sitting, represents this perfectly in less than 4 minutes! See it below.)
  • Capture the idea for others. Offer your idea a beautiful visual mechanism — so that your idea can continue, and be shared by others. Find the vehicle that best communicates your vision. You can explore great methods to grow its impact, such as Prezi, Ignite or Slideshare. You may even want to write a brief TED style talk.

Don’t rest until you’ve harnessed all 3 elements. Hopefully with this trio on your side, your ideas can take flight.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.


Photo: Don Bodio

Why negative information is so darn powerful

Unhapy employeeHave you ever heard of the “criticism sandwich”? This communication strategy purports that if you present negative information in the midst of positive information, it will cushion the impact of the “less than stellar” bits. Well – think again. Our brains seem to be hard-wired to pay much closer to attention to negative information – likely a product of evolution and the “survival of the fittest”. When we hear negative information, it carries more impact and seems to stick with us longer.

In my latest post on LinkedIn, How to hear what you don’t want to hear, I explore methods to cope with negative information, opinion or feedback. Managing the stress that comes with the territory is key. But take heart – you are not alone.

Do you have a strategy to cope with negative information that works for you? Please share it with us – we’ll all be grateful.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

When It’s Your Job to Present Bad News

fear4Many of us deal with numbers for a living — and this role poses unique challenges. As a corporate researcher, I’ve had the responsibility of analyzing customer/employee opinions and developing meaningful explanations. Sometimes, I would crunch a data set that would put me in quite a stressful predicament — as an explanation did not exist that would make the results more palatable. My heart would actually begin to race, as I saw the initial tabulations. There were big problems to address —  and I dreaded that I would be the one to initially deliver the news.

Strategy is key
Psychology can play a major role in these situations. Personally, it wasn’t the actual numbers that unnerved me — it was the uncomfortable “push back” that I anticipated when presenting the findings. I realized that someone in the audience would likely want to “kill, question, or at least injure the messenger” (which just happened to be me). I was fully aware, that the fallout from the data could hit like a hailstorm, if I didn’t properly map out a communication path.

Prepare for panic mode
Unfavorable numbers can throw any group into emotional chaos — so be prepared to lead the group to a safer ground. When presenting unfavorable results, many can quickly become very uncomfortable. (Often, you can almost feel the tension building in the room).  Key here, is keeping the group calm and and building on the information presented.  “I let my audience know that a rear view mirror is small for a reason.” says Marianne Rose Hines, Senior VP of Sales at Byram Heath. “Your windshield is larger, as it is a view of what lies ahead. If you focus too much upon the rear view, you can actually put the organization in jeopardy.”

Numbers are a snapshot in time as to where you stand. But, the information is only as helpful as the strategy that follows. Encourage your group to focus on what can be done to positively impact the future — as panic can quickly become a large reservoir of wasted energy.

Here are a few other techniques to consider:

  • Craft your opening statements carefully. Prepare your audience for what is to come. This includes helping them put the results in perspective and take a balanced view of the implications.
  • Engage you audience. Avoid a developing “you” vs. “them” scenario — and reinforce your role as role as communicator. Remind the audience often, that you are playing on the same team.
  • Don’t sugar coat results. Be direct and attempt to stay on message. The numbers are simply the numbers —and  staying true to them is the first step in improving future outcomes.
  • Remind the audience that information is power. What we do not know can hurt us. Information on our radar — is information that can be acted upon. Point out that what the group doesn’t know, can become increasingly problematical as time goes on.
  • Keep the group forward focused. Crying over spilled milk never, ever helps — so attempt to get beyond the initial shock and move into “strategy mode”. Always attempt to keep the group moving forward. If someone becomes “stuck” in negative mode, try to re-direct their efforts.
  • Present solution “starters”. Provide information to help the group begin to solve the issues. Guide the group to the areas that can be impacted.

Finally, always offer to meet privately with members of the group to take a closer look at their specific situation. Many may require  time to process the data and weigh the implications. This gesture is often appreciated, and can lead to an open discussion of  potential solutions.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You also can connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.