Pre-Qualifying Volunteers

Smart homebuyers know it pays to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage.  It can fast track the purchase process.

Employers often "pre-qualify" full-time hires by involving them first as interns or part-time employees.

The time has come for any organization using volunteers to pre-qualify them with self-guided virtual tutorials they can take to amass the basic information required for effective involvement.  After successfully completing a simple online self-assessment their knowledge and readiness can be officially certified; their names added to the pool of available talent; and their skills, interests, and availability captured in a searchable database to facilitate matching them with current and future opportunities..

In addition, organizations would be wise to assess whether the existing pathways to officer positions or board service are necessary prerequisites or simply time-honored traditions that have hardened into "the way it has to be done."  Committee service may or may not be an effective training ground for a board member.  Great vice-presidents don't always have the right skills for serving as president.

The bottom line? 
Organizations should build the systems and infrastructure that accelerate the identification, orientation, and engagement of as many volunteers as possible.

5 Shifts to Recharge Creative Conversations

The past two weeks have found me held hostage in more poorly organized, under-managed, and enthusiasm-draining meetings than any human being should have to endure. In this day and age it is simply unacceptable to ask volunteers and our staff colleagues to share their valuable time and to then misuse it in such a manner.

If your meetings are plagued by underwhelming results and lack the spirit needed to promote creativity and innovation, the following five practical pointers might help.

Change the players.
Creativity is often enhanced by involving a pool of individuals other than the usual suspects in your meetings. Bring in “wild cards,” individuals not tied to your department or organization, but who are known to be good thinkers. During the meeting use social media and other online channels to cast a wider net for input and feedback. Involve people who will bring different perspectives without any of the preconceived assumptions that the regular attendees might have. So long as you have unity of purpose you can honor and tap into a diversity of perspectives.

Change the place.
Behavior is a function of how people interact with their environment (Kurt Lewin), so you can elicit different behavior by changing the environment or changing the people. Use different settings to send messages about what a meeting is designed to accomplish. Quick stand-up meetings in an open area suggest fast idea generation and getting back to business. On-line meetings suggest tapping into talents of people geographically dispersed. A meeting outside the office often suggests an attempt to free yourself from regular work constraints.

Change the process.
Though meetings occur for different reasons, many organizations use a “one size fits all” approach to managing the process for all their meetings. Sessions specifically designed to elicit creativity and innovation need to be intentionally structured to do so using appropriate creative and collaborative thinking techniques and facilitation styles. Similarly you should adjust your discussion process for those agenda items that are part of a longer meeting agenda if they are meant to foster new thinking.

Change the power.
Power ripples throughout organizations and meetings in a variety of ways affecting who says what … to whom … and how it gets said. A creative and innovative mindset in meetings requires a more dispersed power structure that spreads the wealth and reduced fear of intimidation or retribution by either personal or positional power. Pay attention to room settings, normal group participant distribution, reporting out mechanisms, idea collection techniques, who’s facilitating, and much more as you examine and try to adjust the power quotient in your meetings.

Change the pace.
We can foster greater creativity and innovation in meetings both by speeding up and slowing down the thinking process. We can speed it up by interjecting short bursts of creative thinking techniques that challenge us to maximize our idea generation in a compressed period of time (i.e., 5-10 minutes). We can speed up the thinking by having on-line discussions (or individually completed worksheets) prior to ever coming together in person to make a decision or react to the advance thinking. We can slow the process down by separating the idea generation process from the decision-making process, allowing ample time to reflect and incubate between the two. 

What other shifts have you found helpful to refresh the creative conversations in your meetings?

15 Questions to Inspire Conference Learning and Action

This fall I will serve as a Learning Catalyst for a national associations annual conference. It is one of my favorite roles: leading opening and closing segments, creating informal learning activities for breaks and meals, designing a tool to help participants capture their learning and plan future actions, and more.

Throughout the event, I will engage participants in conversations with themselves and with each other to deepen their connections to the content, the community, and their commitment to leading their organizations and profession.

As part of my preparations, I have created 15 questions I can call on to stimulate participant reflection, learning, and action.  Feel free to use them for your own efforts or contact me if you desire a Learning Catalyst for your upcoming conference.
  1. What one thing, as a result of what you have heard here, might make the most difference in your organization if it was successfully implemented?
  2. What’s your elevator speech, a headline, or a possible Tweet you could share that would highlight your core learning from this session?
  3. What idea, practice, or thinking has provoked the strongest negative reaction from you so far? Why is that?  What learning might be waiting for you if you explore your strong reaction a bit more?
  4. Thinking about what was shared in this session, what’s a doable step forward you could take, one that would get you in action about a bigger idea or goal you want to pursue?
  5. How will you contribute/are you contributing to others’ learning during the sessions? What more might you be able to do?
  6. Great sessions often inspire questions you need to explore further with others. What’s a question this conference (or this session) has inspired for you so far?
  7. What is a common theme emerging from the sessions you’ve attended and the conversations you’re having? What might it mean for your efforts?
  8. What’s the most provocative perspective or idea you’ve heard so far at this conference? What do you make of it?
  9. How are others’ experiences you’ve heard similar/dissimilar to your own and those in/of your organization? What might that mean?
  10. What, if anything, might you be doing that is getting in the way of your own learning? How can you manage this so that it doesn’t happen?
  11. What’s the conversation you most came here to have with others?
  12. Just like a car needs major maintenance at certainly mileage thresholds, periodically so do our organizations need some major work.  Based on what you’re learning at this conference, what major maintenance might your organization most need to address?
  13. How are you capturing not only what you are learning, but also who you most need to share it with during (o after) this conference?
  14. Leaders leave legacies.  Based on what you are learning, what might you now want to add to your legacy as a leader for your organization?
  15. What do you still need to learn from this conference and how are you going to ensure you do so in the time remaining?
If you found this post useful, I would love for you to share it with others via your social networks.

Belief Systems as Bridge-Builders, Not Barriers

Our life experiences inform and coalesce into the belief systems that guide our choices.  Choices about organizational strategy, policy, and products or services are born out of beliefs that influence their creation. 

This is one of the reasons that teams with diverse perspectives often make better decisions (even though they may experience less comfort working with each other): they have a greater range of belief systems influencing their deliberations and decisions about what is possible, doable, or desirable. 

Without that diversity we fall prey to stereotypes or limiting narratives, a topic so eloquently explored by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TEDx Talk:  “The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” To do better we have to know better, and knowing better often requires having experienced better ... or at least different.

So what will this look like in action?

When we come together with others—at home, in neighborhoods, in volunteer groups, or at work—our respective belief systems come into contact with those that others' hold.  Those belief systems can be the catalyst for considerable conflict if they aren’t surfaced in deliberate and thoughtful ways.

As Joe Gerstandt notes in this post, "Our individual and collective stances toward difference are incredibly important because they inform how we interact with difference when it actually shows up."  If we can maintain an attitude of curiosity and inquiry into others’ belief systems, we can learn a great deal about them and ourselves.

More importantly, we hopefully can build bridges and pathways connecting any belief differences to enable respectful relationships and positive group dynamics, ones that support making better decisions.  As one of my favorite authors, Margaret Wheatley, observes in her wonderful book, Turning to One Another:We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes.”

Here is a series of questions I often use with groups to help support being curious and building bridges.  They can be used in a variety of ways, but I tend to use one of two approaches: (1) I have individuals pair off, interview each other, and then introduce each other to the group; or (2) I invite individuals to note their responses in writing and then have each person share highlights with the group.

  • What are a few of the core beliefs you have about _______?  Fill in the blank with the reason people have come together, either the issue of interest (i.e., mass transit, innovation, neighborhood development, budgeting, etc.) or the role they share (i.e., being a good board member, leader, community advocate, leadership educator, parent, etc.)
  • How have you come to these beliefs?  What experiences and/or individuals have most influenced them?  How and why?
  • Describe an experience that illustrate any of these beliefs in action and the impact it had.
  • When/how have these beliefs most served you well?
  • When/how have these beliefs caused you difficulty?
  • How are your beliefs likely to show up in the interactions we will have together?
  • How do you tend to react when others challenge any of your beliefs in this area or hold beliefs very different from yours?
In Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, William Isaacs notes that,“You have a dialogue when you explore the uncertainties and questions that no one has answers to. In this way you begin to think together— not simply report out old thoughts. In dialogue people learn to use the energy of their differences to enhance their collective wisdom.”  Using the energy of our differences involves:
  1. Speaking your true voice and encouraging others to do the same.
  2. Listening as a participant.
  3. Respecting the coherence of others’ views.
  4. Suspending your certainties.
Our true voice is tied to the belief systems we hold.  When individuals come together to do work, our belief systems are embodied in what we say and do, yet they haven’t been overtly surfaced. They are monologues in our mind influencing the dialogue we attempt to have with others.   Creating transparency about our beliefs can help us better understand where others are coming from, and in turn, where and how we might go forward together.

If you found this essay useful, I would love for you to share it with others.

 Note: this is an update of an earlier post.

Every Day is Interdependence Day

Like many Americans you probably are excited for the upcoming Independence Day, more commonly referred to as July 4. While the independence associated with this holiday certainly merits celebrating, I’m not sure independence in and of itself is an entirely desirable goal today.

Too often we fail to acknowledge the impact our choices have on others' well-being.  If your immediate neighbors don't maintain reasonable care of their properties, it most definitely affects the price you can obtain for your home when you next put it on the market.  I don't have kids, but I need to be concerned about the quality of our inner-city schools or else I will live in a community that parents with school-age children find undesirable.

In our organizations, individuals and departments try to reduce what they perceive as “dependence” on others in order to get their work done. While independent mindsets can lead to greater initiative and speed-to-market, we might be better served in organizations if we acknowledged and embraced our interdependence.

Imagine right now if a portion of your salary was dependent on how well you contributed to the ability of your colleagues to complete their work successfully.  Actually, it's not necessary to imagine that's the case because it actually is.

But most of us have not really been schooled in what it means to be a true team player, to operate interdependently, or fully considered what it might mean for our individual choices.  Interdependence also seems to go against the grain of the rugged individualism that many associate with America and that they will celebrate on July 4.  If my success is somewhat dependent on what you do, what if you don’t come through? 

What indeed? That’s the beauty (or agony depending on your perspective) of interdependence: it asks us to be as concerned with the efforts of others as we are with our own.  It asks us to own the whole, not just our individual piece of the puzzle.

It asks us to readjust our priorities for any given day at work in order to support colleagues who may need our time and attention in order to complete their necessary assignments. It prompts us to be concerned with the welfare of those with whom we work and live. It requires us to acknowledge that some things do exist that we simply cannot do independently. It asks us to understand our self-interest is inexplicably tied to some community interests.

So by all means let's celebrate independence on July 4, but let's also acknowledge and celebrate the freedom we possess to intentionally act in and embrace more interdependent ways.

What does acting more interdependently look like in action to you?



You can learn more about a small, but growing interdependence movement and Interdependence Day, here. 

This is an
update of an earlier post. 

A Little Advice on Giving Advice

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"Here's what I would do ... "

Sounds like you are about to offer someone some advice.  Before you do, stop.

Stop and ask yourself if you're about to finish that sentence with advice based on your experiences, your interests, your values, your needs, and your aspirations.

If you are, it might be best if you say nothing.

Good advice isn't what would work for us.
Good advice is tied to the person being advised.

So proceed with caution unless you're about to start off your advice-giving with this:
If I understand you correctly, what matters most to you right now is ______________.  Based on that, I wonder if that you might want to ___________________.
Tie the content of your advice
to the context of the person being advised.

It's often easier said than done.

P.S. Sometimes the best advice is to offer none at all, but instead help surface more information so others can make a better decision.

Changing of the Guard

I facilitated a session a few weeks ago where some participants talked about the need to replace the "old guard" with some new faces and fresh thinking.

It's a common concern and a common expression.  No doubt for even the most dedicated of lifelong learners there is an expiration date on the value of their tenure in a particular role.

But remember, just because you're changing the guard doesn't mean you necessarily want to change what they were guarding.

People and programs will come and go.
Purpose and principles should be more permanent.

When recruiting new leadership be sure to explore their commitment to the purpose and principles you want to preserve, as well as their ideas for new ways to amplify them in the programs and practices they want to pursue.