Workforce Learning
Navigation Home About Clients Contact Testimonials Workshops

AUGUST 2009: Workforce Learning News

Workforce Learning
Workforce LearningWorkforce Learning: Collaboration

Inspirational is a word I reserve for truly spectacular experiences. So I’m pleased to be able to apply it to the June Breakfast of Leaders meeting I attended, which featured Wade Tetsuka, president and CEO of AirInSpace — an international company that develops, manufactures and distributes purifiers and air cleaner devices for the healthcare market and aerospace industry.

After briefly describing his company’s mission, Mr. Tetsuka switched gears to talk about his role as a trustee for the Loudoun Education Foundation. He stressed that a core value for him is giving back, which is why he said he chose to donate his time and talents to this important education organization.

“The Loudoun Education Foundation is a group of business and community leaders who seek funds to support programs in the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) that are not funded by the school budget,” he told the crowd. “Teachers seek private funding and resources to strengthen the quality of the schools beyond what public funds can accomplish. Quite simply, this organization has a profound impact on our communities, which is why I feel compelled to participate.

Wade’s dedication is an example of what I constantly preach to my clients, colleagues and friends — for when you volunteer to help a well-run nonprofit organization you’ll not only give back, you’ll help hone their management skills, and perfect your own ability to collaborate with others who see the world differently. Below you’ll find an article about the power of collaboration, with suggestions on how to embrace it.

You’ll also find below a Q&A with my friend Margarita Rozenfeld, CEO of Incite International and Chief Visionary of YES!Circle — and chairman of the 2009 “Kismet for Kidsave” fundraiser. She talks about how she was able to raise $140,000 for the nonprofit organization, and shares the lessons she learned about managing others and about herself. I was blown away by her honesty, and know you will be equally impressed.

On this beautiful summer day, I encourage everyone to embrace the beauty of collaboration and giving back. I’ll look forward to talking to you again in September.

Best regards, Alice

Alice Waagen, president, Workforce Learning /

COLLABORATION: How to get work done well — while managing othersLondon Symphony

Just as the London Symphony Orchestra works in harmony to play a beautiful concerto, any successful collaboration can be one of the most satisfying experiences we have as professionals. That’s because when collaborative efforts click, everyone understands and values each other’s role on the project and the unique contribution each person is making. In fact, successful collaborative efforts can often be the height of a person’s professional career.

So, why is it often so hard to collaborate? That’s a great question, especially given the fact that nearly every project in today’s workforce requires an element of collaboration. First, I’ll assess the problem, then I’ll offer some suggestions for how you can be more effective in your collaborative efforts.

The problem with collaboration
In my experience, the biggest obstacle to successful collaboration is that egos are often vying for dominance. It’s natural, given the competitive environment of the workplace. The challenge, then, is to understand it and find ways to tackle the problem from the start.

Of course, there are other issues at play as well. Some common complaints I hear include:

  • Not everyone is working equal amounts of time or putting in equal levels of effort
  • Meetings are dull and unproductive
  • One or more players dominate the team
  • Project goals are unclear or ever-changing

I’ve discovered certain factors that, when defined early in a collaborative relationship, can go a long way to reduce the negative experiences. I encourage all teams to establish ground rules for interaction around these three factors early on in the team formation.

Three steps to satisfying and productive collaboration

1. Communication

Questions to ask: How will we communicate as a team? What formal communication will we support? Informal?

A sample ground rule for effective communication might look like this: We will email brief project status updates each Friday by 3:00 PM. We will meet face-to-face to discuss progress to date and upcoming deliverables every other Monday at 10:00. We will handle informal, ad hoc communications in email so that we have a log of issues and decisions. The distribution list for emails and reports includes …

Here’s why this approach works: This may sound overly prescriptive, but it’s better to be more rigorous at the start. A team can always loosen up on communication requirements later if they seem unnecessary. It is much more difficult to establish more stringent agreements once things start to fall through the cracks.

2. Decisions

Questions to ask: Who will make critical decisions? Who is empowered to change project plans and agreements mid-cycle?

A sample ground rule for decision-making might look like: Changes to project scope or goals will be made by the project sponsor. All scope changes will be recorded in a decision log and communicated to key stakeholders. Every project participant is empowered to change tasks and methodology as long as the changes do not impact milestone dates. All changes must be included in weekly status updates.

Here’s why this approach works: Defining decision-making authority early on gives everyone clarity on the span of control and reduces the opportunity for conflicts about who can make changes during the project.

3. Meeting management

Questions to ask: What is the structure and protocol we will use for face-to-face meetings?

Sample agreements may include: We will start and end meetings on time, have a pre-published agenda, and use a timekeeper and facilitator to keep the meeting focused. We will circulate meeting decisions, assignments and follow-ups within one day after the meeting.

Here’s why this approach works: Poor meeting management is a constant source of irritation to collaborative efforts. It has little to do with a lack of skills and a lot to do with egos and the need to have power. Often, the person who is chronically late or who disrupts the meeting is seeking a lever of control or dominance in the team. If tackled early in the team’s development, such behavior can be curbed — especially when consequences are established for any violations.

The bottom line

Successful collaboration is not easy. Good team members need to check their ego at the door and focus relentlessly on the goals of the project. I find that negotiating and establishing agreements early in the process — agreements that specify how members will interact with each other — can reduce and possibly eliminate future sources of tension.

Good luck with your next collaboration. Please write to tell me your collaboration challenges and success stories:

BOOKS FOR LEADERS: 5 Great Summer Reads

Consultants CallingThe Consultant's Calling: Bringing Who You Are to What You Do, New and Revised
by Geoffrey M. Bellman

This is a great book for anyone who is an independent consultant. Bellman shares his lifetime of consulting best practices. His slant: consulting is a calling, a vocation, something you are drawn to as the best way to integrate your personal and professional lives. I've been consulting for more than 12 years and found a lot to learn (and laugh with) in this book. I would compare it to the works of Alan Weiss and Peter Block, as the foundation library for a professional services consultant.

InfluencerInfluencer: The Power to Change Anything
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

For years I’ve struggled to find sound research on influence and motivation to use in the workplace with managers frustrated by counterproductive behaviors on their teams. Patterson et al. (the authors of Crucial Conversation) have produced a great volume for any bookshelf on influence and change. Using numerous real-life examples, they present an influence strategy that is based on identifying vital behaviors that drive change, then using compelling stories to illustrate the positive replacement behaviors. Influencer is the best kind of business book: good research presented in clear language and of practical use in the workplace.

Levity EffectThe Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up
By Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher

I have to confess that at first glance I did not like this book. The writing style appeared too glib for my taste, and the research behind the authors’ premise — in a nutshell, that lightening up and using humor can effectively diffuse the tension and stress of everyday work — seemed superficial and painfully obvious. But there is value in this book: namely, in the examples of workplace levity they cite and the effects it has on the overall atmosphere and culture of an organization. Best of all, the authors conclude with 142 suggested ways to have fun at work. Not all of these activities will work for every organization, but reading it does open the mind to ways to make the workplace a little more humane and engaging.

His ExcellencyHis Excellency: George Washington
By Joseph J. Ellis

Ellis explores Washington, the myth and the man and paints a wonderfully personal portrait of the person he calls the most Founding-est Father of them all. This is not a huge tome that is meant to describe every aspect of Washington's life. Rather it is a modest, well-researched and immensely readable portrait of Washington as a highly ambitious and determined leader. If you are like me, an armchair historian, you’ll enjoy reading this and all of Ellis’ books.

Stones FallStone's Fall: A Novel
By Iain Pears

No summer reading list is complete without a little fiction. Personally, I think Iain Pears is one of the best historical/mystery writers out there today. Stone's Fall is a panoramic novel set between 1867 and 1953 that tells the story of John Stone, a wealthy financier and arms dealer who dies mysteriously in 1909. The story unfolds backwards, telling each character's view of the events from 1909 back to 1867. This is a great summer read — engrossing and difficult to put down.

Philly Jobs

IN THE NEWS: Alice Waagen quoted in Philadelphia Inquirer article, "Are you coming on too strong?"

In an article published in the July 28 edition on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website, reporter Dawn Klingensmith interviewed Workforce Learning president Alice Waagen for an article entitled, “Are you coming on too strong?” Alice said, yes, you might be seen as overly aggressive if:

You send more than a succinct thank-you note after an interview. “Some applicants send flowers or candy,” Alice explained. “This is not a date — it’s a job.”

You can’t take the hint. “If you’ve left messages and e-mails and don’t get a response, that’s either a strong indication you’ve been rejected or that the hiring manager is “a poor manager lacking basic skills,” Waagen said.

Click to read the entire article.

Margarita Rozenfeld

ADVICE FOR EXPERTS: Insight into a successful collaboration

An interview with Margarita Rozenfeld, CEO of Incite International and Chief Visionary of YES!Circle and chairman of the 2009 “Kismet for Kidsave” fundraiser

Just weeks after she ran the successful “Kismet for Kidsave” fundraiser, I had the opportunity to interview Margarita Rozenfeld, CEO of Incite International and Chief Visionary of YES!Circle. She and her team of volunteers helped raise more than $140,000 for the DC-based nonprofit, which helps teenagers who have been orphaned and are living as foster children to find loving families.

This incredible feat required considerable coordination and collaboration amongst a very diverse group of people. Margarita also took the opportunity to lead the team, rather than facilitate a team-building process as she regularly does for the clients she coaches through Incite International.

Margarita admits the process wasn’t always a smooth one, but also in the end she not only accomplished her fundraising goals — she learned valuable leadership lessons that will last a lifetime.

Alice: Let’s cut right to the chase. What was the biggest lesson you learned by chairing the Kismet for Kidsave fundraiser?

Margarita: From the beginning I realized that the success of the project would depend on assembling a committee that shared a passion for the Kidsave cause and who were collaborative by nature. My personal goal was that every team member would have a purposeful and positive experience working with each other. Almost no one on the committee knew each other initially, and all of them brought different backgrounds and skills to the project. But they all had something in common: they were quick-thinking, socially conscious, inherently social, and very proactive. They were also fully engaged in the cause and liked one another as people, which helped draw them together.

Alice: Given what I know about the challenges of collaborative efforts, I’m guessing that it wasn’t all smooth sailing?

Margarita: No, especially not initially. Keep in mind that this was a team of talented, brilliant people — many of whom owned their own companies — with strong personalities and their own opinions. Fortunately, I learned early on that sometimes the bumpy experiences enabled everyone on the team to get clear about our unified message and their own role and responsibilities in the project. Otherwise, people stepped on each other’s toes and nothing really got accomplished. So we all worked hard to find a way to stay focused on our mission and goals.

Alice: How did you manage to accomplish that level of collaboration?

Margarita: I selected people who were good at seeing the big picture and were able to leave their ego at the door for the good of the project. We all were clear that the Kidsave children were counting on us to help them find families! I believe that sidestepping our own egos is a learned process because it’s not always easy for everyone, me included.

Alice: It sounds like staffing the project with the right people is half the battle.

Margarita: Probably more than half! This experience taught me that I love to lead, but I’m not an expert at managing people. As a result, I feel that my role should be the visionary, advocate, and salesperson for what I believe in. Then I’ll recruit others who are superb at project management. I think my biggest lesson learned was the importance of matching the job to the individual’s strength and passions. When people are doing what they love and excel at, they do more than you expect of them.

Alice: Did you have any times when morale lagged? If so, what did you do about it?

Margarita: At one point a few weeks before the fundraiser I felt like we had hit a wall. Money was coming in slowly and everyone was getting a bit discouraged because they were working so hard. I asked the committee member with considerable fundraising experience to step in and share his view on what was happening. He assured everyone that what we were facing was normal and that in his experience everything comes together “last minute.” Hearing encouragement from someone other than me definitely helped to assuage fears and to reenergize the team. Sometimes knowing when to step aside and ask others to take the lead makes all the difference. That is another big lesson learned.

Alice: It sounds like you learned a lot about yourself in this process.

Margarita: Without doubt. Chairing the Kismet for Kidsave fundraiser was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Leading a team of volunteers and partnering with the Kidsave staff was more challenging and rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I probably learned more about my leadership abilities and interests through Kismet than from all my years of facilitating teambuilding as a consultant to other companies. Knowing that this amazing experience actually exceeded our goals and will help change the lives of so many children makes it simply priceless.

And yes, I’ve already committed to work on next year’s Kismet for Kidsave — along with most of my incredible committee members from this year. Stay tuned!

Published by Inkandescent Public Relations, Hope Katz Gibbs: Editor, Jessica Dean: Graphic Designer

© 2009 Workforce Learning