The Grey Zone Process

Sometimes we all find ourselves in a grey fog. It’s that place where we think we don’t have control so we literally feel overwhelmed or even stuck, unable to move forward. With the pace of change these days it’s not surprising we find ourselves in the Grey Zone more often than we’d like.

Here’s a simple, yet effective process to help find your way through the Grey Zone!

Can there be Trust In Virtual Teams?

Who doesn’t know the importance of trust is in the workplace? Okay, so maybe we don’t all get the significance of it, but that’s a topic for another article. Let’s assume trust is the most critical element of the workplace and, in particular, teams.

With huge demands, competition and the pace of technology, the need to collaborate has never been more urgent. Collaboration means coming together formally on a team, structurally defined for the purposes of the organization or, informally (ad hoc) to respond quickly and efficiently to time-sensitive goals.

In both cases, the ability for teams to work effectively hinges on the level of trust the members develop. We know from the work of Patrick Lencioni in his The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, without trust and commitment, results are hard to achieve.

It starts with all team members agreeing and knowing the critical elements of trust. Each must practice fairness, honesty, openness, exceptional listening skills, respect toward others’ expertise, and candor without being competitive or passive. This creates the space for members to be vulnerable, test out ideas, be creative and influence each other toward optimum results.

But what if your team is virtual? You’ve never, if ever, met your teammates in person and you all live in different locations and time zones. How easy would it be to build trust? Is it even possible?

The short answer is: it can be.

Recently working with leaders in a global communications company, I was struck by how highly they spoke of their teams and company culture. They were fully engaged in their work and committed to high quality results. This really surprised me as the majority of them worked virtually with team members thousands of miles away.

However, in another fast-paced global company the employee experience is far from being engaged and connected within the company let alone their teams.

I became curious. Why is it virtual employees in one company thrive while in another they’re stressed, disengaged and looking for the door?

A leader at a global IT firm knows all about success for virtual teams. When asking her if trust is possible for virtual teams, she emphatically answered, “ABSOLUTELY! !”

She cautioned, however, that for companies (large or small) wanting to move from ‘traditional face-to-face’ to a ‘virtual’ work environment, it’s a cultural shift that doesn’t happen overnight. Like any successful change, leadership needs to lead it and provide communication tools necessary to make virtual meetings and collaboration easy and effective.

But it doesn’t end there. The shift actually ignites when the culture of trust transfers from members of small teams to large teams and cross-functional teams they participate within.

These are key leadership behaviors that contribute to building trust in teams:

Essentials for Leaders of Small Teams:

  1. Establish Rapport by scheduling regular (weekly) 1:1’s, assigning work that capitalizes on members’ strengths and providing regular feedback.
  2. Focus intently by listening and actively engaging with your members. Never multi task during 1:1’s or team meetings as it demonstrates you don’t care and that erodes trust.
  3. Set Expectations that your team members show up to meetings prepared, on time, and ready to deliver quality work. Expect participants to activate their computer camera so you can see each other. Making personal connections often is key.
  4. Meet in Person by getting together twice or quarterly a year. It’s the casual as well as formal gatherings that solidify strong relationships.

Essentials for Large Teams:

  1. Build Rapport as above, with the added benefit of the smaller team’s culture and expectations cascading upward as reinforcement.
  2. Span of control for the leader of a large team allows for regular 1:1’s with the next level of leadership to set tone, culture and expectations.
  3. Skip Level 1:1’s several levels below your Direct Reports, scheduled quarterly, establishes relationships at multiple levels. Make sure all team members and employees feel a connection with you and that you care about their success.
  4. Be fully present to focus, actively listen and look to the camera; your team members know when you aren’t and that kills trust.

This is consistent with the findings of Niki Panteli, leader in Information Systems and researcher in trust: it’s the quality and consistency of content and frequency that’s necessary to foster trust in the virtual workplace.

Mutually negotiated and jointly constructed trust relationships are “situated”. As a member of a team, small or large, you too have a responsibility to be part of building the trust:

  1. Collaboratively create team rules – figure out together what’s most important to this team (hint: these may look different from team to team).
  2. Stick to team rules as it aligns with or, despite the culture of the company or leadership behavior.
  3. Hold each other accountable and call out the team when it gets off track.
  4. Embrace each member’s high value and expertise.
  5. Have fun! Work is work, but infusing  time together with a lighthearted personal approach can go a long way to reinforcing trust.

Working from home, I’m keenly aware I’m not my own island. As the future of work continues to be more diffused, so does the need for virtual workers like me, and teams and companies that build foundations of trust. Without it, results can never be guaranteed.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your experience working virtually with a team.

Why we need to Shine light on the Shadow

My general rule when writing my posts is to not dip into political waters. And this post is no exception. But every time I read the news or open social media I’m bombarded with political updates that test my belief in political culture – or at least the culture behind it in many countries.

The current election season in America is a case in point. Although I don’t live in the US, my proximity means I’m not immune to the influence it assumes on North America. We share many, but not all values and viewpoints.

My nature is to look beyond rhetoric and mudslinging to what lies underneath as a way of understanding the values and behaviors of society, where we’re lacking and where there’s possibility. When there’s an earthquake of fear and distrust pushing then it is time to pay serious attention.

If there’s one potentially good thing that could come out of the American election, it is this: to shine a light on the shadow women continue to experience despite great gains towards equality.
out of the shadow

It’s a shadow of haziness where subtle sexual aggression that is often passed of as “it’s just him”, “he doesn’t mean it” or “it’s nothing” slam up against “it’s because you’re pretty”, “you encourage it” or “keep quiet”. And so we learn early on in our lives to keep such behaviors in the shadows out of fear, confusion and safety.

I’m talking about unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments by men toward women who still believe such behavior is perfectly okay. These are the behaviors that don’t leave a physical mark or make it into the courtroom. These are the everyday actions that women endure, put up with and perhaps pretend didn’t happen. And it still goes on.

I could write a page of examples I’ve experienced in school or workplace during my lifetime, not to mention times I’ve been heckled, groped or harassed socially. I could tell you how dis-empowering it feels being chased around a desk by a boss or be cornered at a family event by a male in-law relative with an unexpected and unwanted tongue kiss.

What I’d rather do is have an open conversation about how this kind of behavior still exists and what we can do about it going forward. The events and behaviors around the US election have given us a huge opportunity to take this can of worms and really examine it for what it truly is.

The truth is the oppression and objectification of women is alive and well and not relegated to a few men in a locker room. It exists in the boardroom, the lunchroom and down the hall by the water cooler.

So what if we all started by suspending judgment on whether or not it exists and start asking each other and ourselves simple questions to help create awareness and understanding of this critical issue:

1. What exists within the shadow of subtle sexual aggression, unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments by men toward women? What does it look like?

2. What do women feel when they experience the shadow?

3. Why do women not call out the perpetrator as an aggression occurs?

4. How have experiences of the shadow gone on to influence women’s lives?

5. What do men feel when they engage in subtle sexual aggression, unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments?

6. What do men feel and do when they witness another man engaging in this behavior?

7. How does the current culture of your workplace support, deny, ignore or disallow shadow behavior?

8. In what ways are we culturally enabling this behavior to perpetuate?

9. In what ways can we let go of blame and collaborate to educate each other of the danger and damage of shadow behavior?

10. What will it take for you to become part of the solution of shedding light on the shadow?

You may be thinking this is a simplistic way of addressing a complex issue of long-held beliefs and behaviors. And that is exactly the point.

Yes it’s shameful treatment of girls and women. Yes it’s unacceptable. And yes it has to end. But until we talk about it and try to understand all the perspectives involved, it will continue unchecked.

Whether it’s at the dinner table or at work, let’s use the opportunity of shedding light on the shadow of sometimes subtle and often upfront sexually intimidating or unwanted behavior that has too long been pervasive in our society.

Are you ready to start the conversation?

Is this the year for my Promotion?

My question is why do you need to ask such a question? Glib perhaps and we could end the blog right there, but let’s talk about this.

I heard this question from a friend in a large corporate company. Apparently it’s stuck with me.

The way this question is posed makes it seem like the asker is looking to someone else (or the universe) for the answer. If that’s the case, then I’d say you probably have less than 10% chance it is this year, or any year.

A while ago I wrote a blog, Your Career, Your Responsibility. If there’s one thing I learned as a senior manager, it’s that no one is going to hand you a promotion or dream job, nor does the company owe you a thing.

So let’s pretend I’m coaching a client and we’ll call her Clare. She asks, “Is this the year for my promotion?” I let the silence hang for a moment and I repeat the question back to her. Only this time I phrase it, “Is this the year of your promotion?” – with an emphasis on “is”.

Taken aback, she spews a laundry list of why it’s her turn, how she deserves this and that so-and-so got promoted last year. I let her rant for a moment. Silence again.

“What will it take YOU to be promoted?”

It was so quiet I heard the light bulb go on in Clare’s head. In that moment she realized if anyone was going to boost her on the career ladder, it could only be her.

Okay, by now you’re likely wondering where is this all going? We’re into the new fiscal by several months and chances are if you work in government or corporate, this is when the yearly planning happens. Performance plans are laid, budgets set and re-organizations planned.

This is also the time for the Clares of the business world to reset their career path. If a promotion is the desired objective, then here are the key things Clare and others must do for themselves:

  1. Take an environmental scan of the business and industry. Is it growing or stagnant? What are the corporate priorities? Where are the job growth opportunities? Understand the current and five year context.
  2. Ask for informal chat sessions with a senior leader and/or HR Director within your organization. Take an interviewing approach to mine their perspectives on current needs and culture of the organization. Focus on them, not you. It will give you good insights, and let them know you are committed and invested in the organization.
  3. Pull out your past performance reviews and any psychometric personality assessments you’ve done. Start doing research on yourself. Take a dispassionate look and ask: What are this person’s strengths? Do these and their skills match their current position? What would they need to do to develop gaps in their leadership? Are there potential new areas of work they could evolve into?
  4. Mind map all the information gathered so far. Grab an empty sheet of paper and get scribbling. See what comes up – a straight path upward, a lateral detour to get new insights and experience, or a run for the elevator?
  5. Decision time. Is there likely to be openings in your current organization that match your path? If so, then stay close to home and jump on job postings when they’re published. If opportunities are stagnant, the decision to look farther afield is obvious. So get networking and suss out where the lights in the cracks are. This means reaching out to friends, former colleagues and even cold calling people in organizations that just may be expanding.
  6. Don’t just dust off the old resume – re-craft it! Nothing smells like an old running shoe than a resume written for your current job. Let’s face it, with the onset of social media, how we write about who we are and what special talents we have has changed. Google resume writing and click only on blogs written since 2016. Follow the recipe.
  7. Like the running shoe says – just do it! The bottom line is (in case you haven’t figured this out yet) you are responsible for your next career move. Promotions don’t come to those who wait; promotions come to those who go after them. So what’s stopping you?

There you have my seven steps to getting your promotion. But wait, there’s one more. Be really honest with yourself; do you have what it takes for the next step? Not sure? Then go back to step two for feedback from those who see your current performance, and ask for what you need to develop to move ahead. Listen carefully and act upon what they tell you.

The paradox is that just because you want the promotion, doesn’t mean you’re ready for it. But if you know you are, it’s up to you to make it happen!

Your Silver Rule – Responsibility

We all know the golden rule, right? But do you know the Silver Rule?

I’ve written about responsibility before. How critical it is for each of us to take responsibility for our own career. Makes sense, right?

But what about responsibility for your self? I’m not talking about family, children, partner, close friends, bills etc. I’m talking your very own life. The one held together by your beautiful body and your mind that seeks to understand.

Since the dawn of time we women have borne responsibility for the health, safety and well being of others. Naturally we are wired to support and give first.

So who’s being responsible for you? And who should be responsible? Of course the answer is obvious – YOU.

But are you really taking it?

Last night at a professional meet-up, women were lamenting the trouble they have fitting in time for fitness, ridding extra Christmas season pounds and reading a good book. I noticed the husband/partner in their stories would come up as if somehow they’re responsible for these laments. And while the “guilt” word wasn’t spoken, how people spoke their stories was laced with tinges of shame – as if putting oneself first isn’t okay.

A small light bulb flashed in my mind (only small because there were no major
ah-a’s or solution discovered). I blurted out the question, “why is it that we as women give our energy to being responsible for others without being responsible and accountable to ourselves FIRST?”

Now I know I’m not the first person to think about this let alone talk about it, but I believe it bares bringing up yet again. This repeating pattern in each of us, as well as the long line of females before us, just seems so darn ironic.

What if we flipped this idea over, shook it up and tried looking at it from a different perspective?

What if this new perspective means starting from the place of your own personal responsibility and accountability? How might your world be different?

Let me tell you how it is for me. You may know I left my senior position with a large organization a couple of years ago. That was catalytic in forcing me to take charge of me. No one else could figure out what my next step would be. No one else could make me get up and dressed each morning that long winter. And no one else could peace.

The result was a brand new feeling of openness. I was ready to move ahead – my way. Fast-forward to last fall when I started feeling I just wasn’t my best; a few extra pounds, a few more glasses of wine, and a few too many sweets (I’m not perfect either). I know if I’m to take my business to the next level in 2016, I’ve got to take full responsibility for making some changes – changes that would open up space and energy to reach my goals.

The whole idea of making certain changes was scary and I felt a tad guilty for making it all about me (my ever-supporting family was waiting for the plank to hit my head once again). But, and here’s the big but, if I’m to serve others to the best of my ability then I must take 100% responsibility for putting myself first!

Hallelujah!

I threw out the sugar, poured out the wine and deep sixed the grains. To make it even easier, I reflected back on what it took for me to rise up from the ashes of gloom following my job loss. I knew from that experience the only way I would be successful in every way is to step up and own my life. And this means saying my mantra everyday “I have everything I need inside me. I am responsible”.

Ok, so I know this is all pretty revealing stuff. But I’m open to telling you because from one woman to another, life is so much better when we learn once and for all to take responsibility for ourselves with compassion and joy – unfettered by guilt.

Just like me, you owe it to yourself and those around you to make yourself THE priority. Be it heading to the gym, daily meditation, weekly massages, or just saying no to the barrage of requests for your time, the responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Sure, you may have to boldly ask your partner or family member to take over one of “your” chores or drop your kids off with grandparents. But that’s okay. In fact it’s more than okay. How can you possibly be the best version of yourself for everyone else if you don’t get your own needs met (kind of like when the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on before putting one on your child)?

Just like me, I know for certain you can do this. So open the window and shoo away the guilt once and for all. I give you permission.

(But hey, responsibility is just the first step. Next up is accountability and staying with the changes you’ll make!)

Start by asking, “Am I living the Silver Rule?

What Do these 2 Phrases have in Common?

Bedazzled by Shiny Baubles?
Disheartened by Not Getting the Real Work Done?


Before I give you the answer, I want to tell you about my penchant for all things new.

I worked for a large organization and was lucky enough to lead some pretty innovative files. That should have been enough to keep my curiosity and creativity fulfilled. But it wasn’t.

You see, I was addicted to the next great thing. In fact, I loved generating new ideas, new programs, and cutting edge initiatives. My favorite pastime was brainstorming with like-minded out-of-the-box thinkers.

You can imagine how much fun I was having. The dopamine was frantically flowing through my brain. But like any habit, there was a price.

The shiny objects of my affection meant I had a really hard time focusing on the real work. I’m talking the work I was accountable for completing – the meat and potatoes of my job. The things I couldn’t simply delegate to my staff. And trust me, I was a good delegator.

If you’re like me and go after shiny baubles because they’re fun, creative and leave you feeling energized, then chances are you’re also disheartened. It’s really hard to have one without the other.

If you’re an entrepreneur this can be the death-knell for your business.

Luckily for you, I’ve learned how to break the habit, dial back the chemical release, do quality work, meet deadlines and still allow a little creative fun and games.

The answer can be found in 2 words: creativity and discipline.

In this case, neither word is more important than the other. In fact, you can’t successfully have one without the other.

Let me explain.

If you commit to a daily practice of discipline then you can carve out time within that practice to create or play with shiny baubles. Consciously limiting your creative, brainstorming or idea generation to specific chunks of time will leave you feeling responsible, useful and with time to meet your accountabilities. You’ll stop the never-ending chase for the high because you’ll get your needs met without the guilt, shame and pressure of not getting the real work done.
But here’s the hook – you must commit to taking that allotted time each day to be creative. Otherwise, you’ll not be disciplined. You’ll lose motivation, interest and end up completely disheartened with no energy for anything. It has to be a continuous cycle of creativity feeding discipline feeding creativity and so on.

People like us need to keep our juices flowing, but not overflowing. We need just enough to keep us engaged, motivated and yes, disciplined. And we need discipline to provide us with the right amount of time and focus to get our real work done and still make time for creative idea generation.

Here are ways to put this concept into practice:
• Protect space in your calendar each day just devoted to creativity.
• Ideally make creativity time at the end of morning or afternoon – don’t start your day with it or you’ll find yourself too high to focus on the real work.
• Think about who you most enjoy brainstorming and being creative with and meet with them at least every few weeks. The idea of riffing off each other will keep you anticipating and committing to the creative time.
• Adopt the Start ⇒ Do ⇒ Finish rule. Chunk your work into small pieces and do one chunk until it is complete. Only then can you move on to something else.
• Log off your email, web browser and anything else that’ll keep you from focusing on the chunk of work in front of you.
• Let others know what you need to be successful at this (like letting you know when they see you getting speedy etc.). You aren’t an island even if you might be a solopreneur.
• Commit to your disciplined plan with an accountability partner.
• Notice when you’re getting overly excited (high), speeding up and talking fast – sure signs you’re overflowing with dopamine. Give yourself a time and space to dial yourself back down.
• Remind yourself you’re on the path to new habits and this takes time – lots of it. Forget the 21 day rule – just another myth from the ‘70’s.

Sounds easy? It’s not.

Making this kind of shift takes a deep level of commitment. That’s why my final bullet point is this:
• Sometimes we just need more help. Hire a coach to be your champion. They’ll keep you accountable with the added bonus of helping you get underneath the bedazzle and on top of disheartened.

As for the two questions at the beginning of the blog? They’re critical questions to ask when you find yourself getting sidetracked and hunting for the next greatest