Groupthink…

Groupthink is an irrational desire for members in a group to seek conformity and cohesiveness with each other, to the degree of suppressing any dissenting views or opinions from other members. This desire for group cohesiveness  causes decisions to be ratified without any critical analysis/debate, so key to ensure decisions are critiqued and debated before they are approved.
I disagree with some who would suggest that Groupthink is caused by bad leadership? Groupthink is the result of a group of people who yearn to conform with the larger group’s thinking, even if it is detrimental to the group at large.

Read Irving Janis’s ‘Victims of Group Think.’

Here is a pithy quote from Janis that I rather like: “The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by Groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups.”

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In discussing Groupthink, some like to point towards a leader who is happy with all around agreement to his/her decisions, and generally accepting of silence as consensus. In actuality Groupthink is not about an individual exercising his/her will over the team, but more a team so cohesive and conformity driven that they view any form of dissent as dangerous to the team’s general ‘joie de vi·vre.’ A danger that is rapidly snuffed out – which means the team acts against the individual dissenters and closes ranks to effectively shut them out. The opposite of group think is more difficult to obtain – the willingness on the part of individuals to hold their ground and uphold their values, beliefs and critical opinions, regardless of the rest of the groups thinking. But such a stand is taken not just against the leader – but indeed against all of the team, to defend one’s opinion. Like the individual Juror’s dissent that can often cause a ‘Hung Jury.’

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The most damaging outcome of groupthink is often the waste of time and resources that go into a team going into a retreat/closed-door meeting to thrash out some jugular corporate issues, only to come away with a sub-standard quality output as a result of groupthink.
If the team is so fortunate, they can rally their forces and rework the outcome, with a better result, if they recognize that their initial outcomes came out of groupthink’ing. The damage could be vastly more far-reaching if they remain ignorant of the groupthink driven outcomes and go ahead with their actions and decisions based on it.

Public Speaking & Presentation Tips

Nothing strikes one with a greater sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), quite like being called upon to address an audience in a public setting. It is irrelevant whether you are required to address a social or a business audience. The FUD factor hits you all the same, and before you know it you are breaking out in a sweat, fumbling for last minute ideas and jokes, and generally anticipating how much of an ‘Ass’ you are going to look like up there on stage, under the harsh white lights, alone and unprepared.In many ways we are already in the process of creating a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ for failure, even before we have uttered the first word in our speech or presentation.

Well let’s talk a little about this very rational sense of foreboding that almost always accompanies any suggestion of ‘Public Speaking’ or ‘Presentation.’ (I will use the term ‘Presentation’ to include Public Speaking and Presentations going forward).

I am going to break it down into 5 parts and for ease of memorizing this approach, I will use the Alphabet ‘P’ (yes inspired from the word Presentation) to categorize each step in the process of getting you to a better state of mind, the next time you are called upon to perform any Presentation honours.

The Five steps are:

  1. Plan
  2. Prepare
  3. Practice
  4. Perform
  5. Process (for Improvement Actions)
  1. Plan:
  • Who is your audience (Demographic, Psychographic) – who are the key ‘Decision makers’ present?
  • What is the occasion?
  • What is the subject you will be Presenting?
  • What is your single point objective (what is the single, most critical point you would like your speech/presentation to deliver?)
  • Do you have sufficient time to prepare – or have you been called to speak or present without prior notification? (See ‘Skating backwards at the speed of light.’)
  • How much time do you have – is there any expectation that you will take questions at the end of your speech/presentation?

Any information and answers you are able to gather for the above questions can only help you to better prepare your Presentation

  1. Prepare:

Consider dress code and the venue – do you need to dress formal, informal or Business casual (dress appropriately and remember; it is better to err on the side of caution and dress formal). You don’t want to show up in Bermudas and Flip Flops and find everyone else in Business Suits?

Prepare for your Presentation.

  • Will you be using a computer with projector, Overhead projector, Flip charts, TV monitor or cue cards/Notes?
  • Include an Introduction, Agenda, Objectives, Main content (Body of your presentation) and Conclusions/ Recommendations.
  • Clarify if you are prepared to take questions after your Presentation.
  • Factor in the questions/answers from Step 1 (Plan) above.
  • Consider an interesting way to kick off your presentation so that you capture the Audience attention and interest right from the start (remember AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).
    • What is it about your presentation topic that will motivate your audience to stay tuned and listen?

Here are some common ‘Introduction’ ideas you may consider:

  • Humorous comment or joke (keep it relevant to the theme of your Presentation)
  • Dramatic announcement (something unusual, factual and relevant)
  • Shocking Statement of fact (Historical, Empirical data/fact)
  • Relevant Analogy
  • Personal anecdote that allows you to segue into your Presentation content (Beware personal ‘war stories’)
  • Relevant quotation

 Three ‘T’s’ of Presenting/Public Speaking:

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you just told them

It is a proven fact that using the above technique makes it easier for the presenter to underscore critical parts of the presentation or speech, while also ensuring that the audience has sufficient opportunity to memorize key points.

Skating backwards at the speed of Light

For the times that you are called upon to speak or present ‘ad lib’ or without any opportunity for preparation, get used to skating backwards at the speed of light. What do we mean?

We mean the ability to internalize the process of Public Speaking or Presentation to a degree that we can perform it at a level of ‘Unconscious Competence.’

In other words, regardless of the Subject matter, Audience, Time available or Venue, we are always totally in control of the Speaking and/ or the Presentation process.

So how does one go about performing on the spur of the moment without any time to prepare?

The answer is to think in terms of ‘Three.’

Almost any subject is better articulated when broken down into smaller, manageable components and three just seems to be a great balance of economy and completeness.

Here is an example of a potential random topic (Sales Trends) to illustrate the point of thinking in terms of ‘Three.’ This will give you some ideas on how you may consider breaking this subject down into three parts in order to speak or present it   ‘off the cuff’ so to speak:

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by product configuration: Mainframe, Midrange, Desktop.

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Geography: North, South, East (you could add West – doesn’t have to be Three?)

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Chronological factors: Q1, Q2, Q3 (you could add Q4, or breakdown by year – 2011, 2012 and 2013 for a different option).

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Strategic intent: By existing markets, Growth markets and ‘White space’ (untapped markets)

The above examples should give you an idea of how you can address those tricky situations when you are expected to speak/present on the fly…or in other words to skate backwards at the speed of light!

Feel free to make your own ‘Three’ breakdown categories. The opportunities are limitless.

  1. Practice

Practice your Presentation in the same position you will be delivering it. If standing, then practice standing up.

If using a microphone, try to practice with a microphone so you become familiar with your tone, volume, and distance to be maintained away from the microphone.

If you will be using a collar mike, get used to using it just the same as a podium microphone. If you will be walking abut while Presenting, by all means practice in the same setting. Remember the more familiar you become with your subject matter, your physical self and your presentation Venue or environment, the less stressful the Presenting task becomes.

Where possible, perform a ‘dry run’ with an audience of peers to get their feedback and guidance so you can iron out any last minute wrinkles from your speech/presentation content.

Enlist a colleague to help you with your delivery so you can become familiar with areas of your Presentation that may require additional elaboration or explanation.

Get to know the venue, Equipment and layout of the environment in advance if possible. Visit the venue prior to your presentation if that is possible.

There is no such thing as too much practice so make use of every opportunity you can to practice, practice, practice.

  1. Perform

You have completed all the Plan, Prepare and Practice steps.

You have practiced your Presentation several times now, and you have also had a ‘dry run’ with your peer team members and refined your Presentation accordingly.

You have become familiar with the Venue and the Equipment you will be using (If you have been fortunate, you would have also had an opportunity to visit the Venue and become familiar with the layout plan)

So you are now ready to ‘Perform.’

Dress appropriately, make sure you have your Presentation material, with any back-up material you may need to consider (What-If the Laptop or projector does not work?)

Eat light and stay hydrated. Use the Wash- room faccilities if you can prior to your Presentation cue.

Arrive at the venue at least an hour ahead of your Presentation. Make sure everything is working as per plan.

When you are ready to present do remember to thank the Sponsors for inviting you to present at the event. Thank anyone else who may require to be acknowledged in the Audience, or who may have helped with your Presentation.

Remember the Three ‘T’s’ of Presenting/Public Speaking:

  • Tell them what you are going to say
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you just said

Go ahead – knock them out!!!

Notice that all the ‘Perform’ steps outlined above assumes that you are presenting to a pre-prepared agenda.

So what do we do for those ‘Skating backwards at the speed of Light’ situations?

We don’t need to do anything at all because we are confident that we have completely internalized the Process of Presenting and are now Masters of the concept of thinking in terms of ‘Three.’

We are now able to think on our feet and rapidly navigate and select the most appropriate ‘Three’ breakdown for almost any random subject we may be called upon to Speak/Present to.

So we are now armed for both – the Speaking/presentation eventualities where we have adequate preparation time, as well as for those ‘Elevator Pitch’ opportunities that may come our way.

  1. Process (for Improvement Actions)

Every Good process needs to have what the Japanese Quality Management experts refer to as a ‘PDCA’ cycle built into it.

(PDCA: ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act – or take corrective action)’

Step 5 (Process for Improvement Actions) focuses on the ‘Act’ step in the PDCA cycle.

Having executed the Presentation we had Planned, Prepared and Practiced for, we are now at the stage where we can review:

How we performed, what were the areas that went well and what are the potential areas for future improvements.

How did we do in terms of getting through the presentation, answering queries and questions and closing on time (Time Management?)

Do we believe that our Audience was satisfied with our Presentation?

This is the ultimate measure of Presentation success and not an easy indicator to fathom, unless a post-presentation survey is administered

Did all the Equipment function as planned, did we have adequate back-up and redundancy available – did the back-up plan perform seamlessly if such a contingency did arise during the Presentation?

Make sure that you learn from each presentation and take the corrective actions required to Improve the process so that your next presentation is always better than the last one.

Author: Richard Francis, March 18, 2014

Do you have any special ‘Leadership’ questions?

My Leadership Questions are Rudyard Kipling’s 6 Honest Serving Men

“I keep six honest serving-men
they taught me all I know
their names are What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who:

So how do I use these questions – let’s imagine we are seeing a dramatic drop in sales in a specific specific Quarter.

Question 1.
My first question is usually ‘What’ is the problem – this gives me an idea as what the problem is that is causing the drop in Sales at XYZ location. Remember the expression : a problem well defined is a problem half-solved!
In this stage I am working the problems that keep getting described until I am confident that I I have a fair idea about what the true problem is, and am able to define it in a few words such that anyone can understand it.
I typically introduce the concept of ‘SMART’ for defining the problem statement that I derive from the ‘What’ question (SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)

Question 2.
The next question I would ask would be ‘Where’ is the problem.
If I know which part of the country has the problem I am again eliminating other areas that are not contributors to the problem.
The Where question pinpoints specific regions, branches that are contributing the Sales problem. (Another approach is to ask where do we not have this problem?)

Question 3.
I usually Ask ‘Who’ has the problem as the third question – this helps in zeroing down to the Location head, Branch manager, or Sales Director at the specific location(s) where the problem exists. Again we are in the process of eliminating the teams that are not a part of the problem

Question 4.
My fourth question is typically the ‘When’ question – I like to ask since when have we had the problem – in other words, if sales are dropping since when did we first notice the trend? This is critical to any analysis or problem solving because we can also determine what significant changes did we have in the environment  that could have triggered the problem?
I also like to ask ‘When’ did we not have this problem – again it allows me to map out what was different when we did not have the problem?

Question 5.
My fifth question is usually around the ‘How’ – as in ‘How’ much of the drop in sales is really the problem. What I mean by this is if we typical operate within defined upper and lower control limit when it comes to sales revenues, and if our standard is that < 5% volume or revenue drop is an acceptable loss in any given Qtr, we can determine by how much we are off target. So if sales are down by 8.5%, we have a 3.5% problem in our hands.

Question 6.
My sixth and last question is typically the ‘Why’ question – and probably where I spend most of my time. I ask Why  over and over until I am satisfied that I have the root cause – here is something I heard the great Masaaki Imai (Kaizen author) articulate in a seminar I once attended:
Supervisor observes man throwing sand on shop floor and asks:
Supervisor: Why are you throwing sand on the shop floor
Operator: Because it is slippery
Supervisor: Why is it slippery?
Operator: Because there is oil on the floor
Supervisor why is there oil on the floor?
Operator: Because it keeps dripping from the Engine head
Supervisor: Why is it dripping from the Engine Head?
Operator: because the Gasket is worn out
Supervisor: Then change the Gasket!
(Root cause was the gasket being worn)

The Why questions help me determine the true cause for the problem. Once the root cause is determined the effort required to address it and get back on track is so much easier to accomplish than if you simply keep throwing sand on the shop floor!

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Ineffectiveness occurs in a specific sort of environment. When the organization is too busy measuring activities (eg number of cold calls made, number of rings before the phone is picked up, etc) versus measuring and monitoring efficacy or efficiency gains (eg how many cold calls does it take to convert 1 single, qualified lead, or how many customers who were responded to within the required number of rings, will testify that they were satisfied overall with the way their call was handled.
Therefore, simply asking ‘tough questions’ or having a devil’s advocate to challenge the Status Quo may not always produce the desired result. We need to ask the tough questions about the ‘right’ things. Are we measuring efficiency gains or just counting activities (ticking boxes). The Japanese TQC Management Gurus had a simple system in the early 80’s – to measure a competitors process efficiency they would look at 3 factors QCD or Quality, Cost and Delivery where Quality= the error rate, Cost is the cost of rework and delivery is percent of delivery on time and in full. Think of asking the tough questions in a similar vein (yes these 3 factors will fit almost all business models). That will truly get your organization’s attention!

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Rudyard Kipling wrote a short poem that proposes a powerful set of questions:

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

While at Tokyo, several years ago, I was fortunate to visit several plants and manufacturing facilities, as well as gather, first hand, the Japanese self directed work groups and their supervisors/managers, as they performed extraordinary problem solving and quality improvement projects…not through asking ‘tough questions’ but more by following the basic framework laid out by Mr. Rudyard Kipling so many years ago.

Here is an example of how these ‘6 faithful serving men’ may be put to good use:
Problem – Sales are slipping in your Toronto location.

Ask: What do we know about the market? What could be causing us to lose sales? What are the competitors doing differently? and on and on…

Why: Why are we losing sales? Why are other branch offices not losing sales (London, Kitchener, Ajax, etc), Why did we lose that last deal? Why did our competitor win that last bid? and on and on…

When: When did we start losing business in Toronto? When did we lose our first big deal? When did our competitors start catching up on us? When were we not losing business in Toronto (these questions automatically trigger additional probing of ‘What’ were we doing differently when we were not losing business or when we were winning business? and on and on…

How: How can we stop the losses? How can we get back to a winning position in Toronto? How can we learn from our Competitors? How can we benchmark with other similar industries in our market that are doing better than us? and on and on…

Why: Why are our competitors doing better than us? Why did we lose that last bid/deal? Why are our competitors winning? Why do our customers seem to want to leave us now? Why did our customers not want to leave us in the past, why did we win that last big deal? (ask why 5 times at least for critical issues to get to the root cause) and on and on…

Who: Who are the members on our sale team who have still been winning business? Who are the members on our teams who have consistently been losing sales? Who were on the team that lost the last big deal? Who were on the team that won the last few big deals? Who are our top 3 competitors? Who are the clients who have stayed with us (re-use the Why question here – why did they stay?), and on and on…

So you can see that it is really not about tough questions but more a framework if questioning that will get you from point a to point b in better understanding almost any potential business or organizational roadblock you are trying to navigate through.

When someone interrupts or challenges you in a meeting, it’s important to know how to respond…

Good facilitators anticipates the obvious snafus that almost every meeting is bound to become victim to.
# The late start
# Late participant arrival
# Interruptive/disruptive participants
# Dysfunctional behaviours on the part of some participants
# Equipment and technology challenges
# Meeting /Venue limitations
and the list goes on…

It helps to get familiar with the venue ahead of time to make sure everything is functioning and the facilities are adequate. Where possible, it is also helps to learn what you can about the participants, the politics, the hierarchy, known ‘Hijackers’ or ‘troublemakers,’ the ‘coaches’ or participants who can guide and advise you on the finer nuances of the participants, subtle motivations, and hidden agendas, etc.

No meeting is quite compete without it’s share of self-opinionated individuals, interrupters, dysfunctional types and just plain angry, frustrated, impatient participants.
So how do you deal with this?
If you have ensured that your preparation has gone well and that all the extraneous items like the Venue, Technology requirements, Refreshments, Room ventilation and comfortable atmosphere controls, etc. are in place – you have already removed a lot of the common causes of frustration and annoyance.

Make sure that you introduce yourself or have someone do the honours. It is key that your credentials are adequately explained so as to underscore why you are uniquely qualified to lead or facilitate this meeting. (Your background, professional accomplishments, experience, skill set, qualification, success stories). This again, helps to add some gravitas to your role and the reason you were elected to play it – always a good deterrent to any wannabe’ meeting hijackers!
Make sure you brainstorm with the participants for the code of conduct you will all live by for the duration of the meeting. Post the chart with the code on the wall in plain sight so the team can point out when the code is not being honoured.

When faced with a challenging individual who is sidetracking the meeting consider the following steps:
# Remain calm and avoid taking the interruption personally.
# Maintain a measured tone of voice and reflect the question or statement back to the individual to demonstrate you are listening and not just shutting the individual out.
# If the position or question is valid and you do indeed have an answer, this would be a good time to express it. If you do not have an answer, you may want to relay the question or objection to another participant whom you feel may be in a position to respond better.
# I have sometimes reflected the question/objection back to the individual making it, and have been pleasantly surprised at the number of times I have heard a truly mature workable response or solution statement, coming back from the very individual who raised the objection in the first place.
# Make the point that everyone has a right to an opinion and that while the forum may not have the luxury to process every opinion that is raised, the intent is to allow everyone a fair hearing to express their opinion to the team.
# There will be times when you may not have the answer and do not feel it prudent to reflect or relay the objection – in such a situation be honest and suggest that you don’t have the answer but that you will get back – and please remember to positively get back with the answer even if it takes days or weeks to do so.
# Remember that every individual who appears interruptive and/or dysfunctional, may in fact be a committed and caring employee who is so frustrated that he/she does not mind going out on a limb and challenging the status quo, just to be heard.

Remember too, that in your role as a facilitator you need to take everything that is thrown at you as part of the issue you are being trusted to address and resolve – therefore you should not take anything personally…
It isn’t!

Happy facilitating!

On the subject of meetings and dealing with dysfunctional behaviours…

On the subject of meetings and dealing with dysfunctional behaviours – HBR
My own experience over several assignments in Leadership Training, Organization Transformation and Quality program implementation have allowed me to observe first hand some of my own facilitation pitfalls that I continuously strive to correct – some of which are listed here:
A relevant agenda sufficiently in advance of the meeting, objectives and what is the outcome or takeaway the attendees can expect to take out of the meeting. If there is pre-work ensure that the attendees have enough time to complete it before the meeting.

Adults learn and assimilate information at differing pace and speed – therefore do not assume that everyone in the meeting gets it at exactly the same time – some may be slower and may tend to get irritated/frustrated if they feel you are going too fast.

Those ‘Hijackers’ or dysfunctional team members who seem bent on disrupting the meeting at all costs usually come in a few flavours:
a. The Stand Up Comic – full of jokes and funny anecdotes
b. The renegade who resents authority
c. The self-opinionated interrupter
d. The shrinking violet (who shuts down and completely withdraws from the meeting)

What is your role as a facilitator in dealing with the dysfunctional behaviours that may be taking your meeting off track:
At the start of the meeting gain agreement from all participants on the ‘code of conduct’ everyone will live by for the duration of the meeting.
Scribe the code of conduct on a flip chart and pin it to the wall for all to see when any of the codes are being violated – this self policing is far better than any facilitation on your part. Facilitate the brainstorming of the codes to include statements like: No interruptions, no side discussions/arguments, respect for everyone’s time, avoid personal comments – keep everything focused on the issue and not on the individual, etc.

Use appropriate facilitation behaviours during the course of the meeting:
Bringing in – to encourage silent/quiet members to participate and get involved in the discussions by calling them out, seeking their opinions, thoughts, etc

Shutting out – to control the discussions you may need to use some shutting out behaviours from time to time to ensure the hijackers don’t wreck your momentum.

Use clarifying behaviours (seeking information, giving information, testing understanding and summarizing) with the team members to ensure everyone on the same page.

Remember the three C’s of good facilitation:
A. Condone – forgive initial disruptive behaviours as some individuals come in with a lot of personal emotional baggage that they need to divest before they can settle in

B. Correct – if you believe you have allowed enough time to settle in and the individual is still being disruptive, gently point out the disruptive behaviour and the effect it is having on the meeting.

C. Confront – when the initial condoning and correcting fail to arrest the dysfunctional behaviour, by all means confront the individual (preferably in a private setting, but if unavailable, whenever you believe the timing to be right).
Go ahead and confront. I have done my fair share of turning attendees out of meetings and training sessions if I felt they were being disruptive to the overall session and that the only alternative was to remove them from the mix.

Body language – there is a lot that can be read into this science, however the basic few behaviours never fail while facilitating:
Maintain eye contact – rotate across the team
Listen attentively with sincerity – use reflection/summarizing to demonstrate active listening
Maintain a measured tone of voice and avoid shouting
Use reflecting and relaying techniques to reflect questions back or relay them to another participant. This encourages participation as well.

All the best with your Meetings!