Category Archives: Time Span

Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your last post, Easy Now, Hard Later, you talked about the addiction curve, the procrastination curve and the busy curve. More, in depth, please.

Response:
The addiction curve, easy now, hard later works in several scenarios. It’s a simple principle to understand addiction recovery, but applicable to any situation where you need to kick the habit, replace a habit, or kick-start a new habit. The first step is hard, but what is hard now, is easy (easier) later.

The procrastination curve is identical. It’s easy now, to put off something difficult. Wimpy used to say he would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Easy now is the first step to procrastination.

But the busy curve is harder to get our arms around. Easy to spend our time responding to email (looking busy), checking off random items on the to-do list (thinking we are busy), when we are stalling on the most important projects that are hard now. Projects that require thinking, sharpening a skill, acquiring rare materials, enlisting the aid of others. A project is any task with more than one step. Get started. Next Tuesday, the hamburger will be gone, but the bill comes due.

Habits Determine Success

In a previous post, A Level of Competence, I ended with an unspoken question. What habits do you have that support your success? Here are the responses, manicured and edited. If you want to see the original responses with attribution (who posted it), follow this link.

  • Read a book a month, a few minutes first thing in the morning, or over lunch.
  • Learn from experts that share their wisdom. Seek them out, pay attention.
  • Look down the road and ask, “Where do we see ourselves as a company in 10 years? 3 years? 1 year?”
  • Break the year down into quarters (quarterly leadership meetings). Break the quarter into weeks (weekly leadership meetings).
  • Given a task, don’t think what or how, think “who?” Delegation.
  • This year I picked a Word of the Year – PROACTIVE. Then I made a word cloud of all the words that came to mind in association with this word (e.g. take charge, adaptive, considerate, effective, willing, doing) and I posted this word cloud by my desk at work and mirror at home. I also had a bracelet made with the word on it, plus dog tags to pin on my purse or keys. I incorporated it into password phrases that I have to type daily. It has been a huge help to remind me to stop procrastinating and just do it – everything from Gantt charts to putting away laundry! I’m actually amazed at how motivating it turned out to be.
  • I use my calendar. As soon as I wake up, I take a quick peek as I prepare for the day/week ahead. My thoughts follow me through my morning routine and my drive to work. This helps me to prioritize my daily plan right down to how I dress. This is also a great opportunity to inspire others as I try to lead by example. I’m a firm believer in the old adage.. “An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure”!
  • My day starts with a cup of coffee (or more). While drinking (my coffee), I write in my journal by asking this question – “What will I do today to use my gifts to make a positive difference in someone’s life?” At the end of the day I journal by answering this question. “What is the actual positive difference I made today in someone else’s life?” On occasion, I shake things up by asking and answering a couple of additional questions: “What is the one question if asked and answered that would make it impossible for me to remain as I am?” or “What would a person who truly loved themselves and others be doing right now?” or “What would I be doing today if I truly believed that my life mattered and that I could have anything that I want?”
  • I remain curious and I don’t quit.
  • I awake at 4:45am every morning. 4 out of 5 week days I go to the Orange Theory fitness at 6am where the thought train stops and I purely focus on what I’m doing and the energy of the people I work out with. It’s the 1 hour a day that my brain can take a break! I walk out spent, and focus on how I feel post workout in the car, stop and get my coffee on the way to work. While I’m still cooling down I check my calendar for the day, and then hit the shower; where my brain shifts gears. Yep, its convenient to have a shower at work. This is when I feel the uptick in energy and it feeds the energy throughout the rest of the day. Shower and a breakfast; I spend that time focusing on what I want to accomplish through the day. Most of the time that’s in coaching the team and development. I create that mental list that I can check off as I go through the day. For me, starting every morning I can with a clear mind and an intense workout feeds that energy and helps set up the day.

The Goal is Not the Next Project

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

How do you determine the time frame that a manager should be thinking into the future? Given your garden-variety project, do you figure “lead time” for the group? Example: team has to prepare documents for an audit in two weeks, we have an existing pool of docs to update. You’ve discussed this in the past, however your thoughts would be appreciated.

Response:

This question sets the perfect trap for the manager with short term thinking. Of course, this short term project has to be completed prior to the two week deadline. But here is what a manager needs to be thinking about.

What audit projects do I anticipate receiving during the next twelve months? What is the scope of those projects, how long will they take and what technical work is necessary? If I chart out a timeline of the number of projects over the next twelve months, how many overlap, or are there quiet periods in between?

Who will I need on my team to do the technical work, the research, the preparation and the review? Who will I need to perform the administrative work of tracking all of the elements and packaging the audit when the work is completed?

Who do I have on my staff now and who do I need to recruit? What impact will that have on my budget, in terms of expense to the anticipated revenue? When do I place the ads, when do I interview and when do I make the hires?

How long will training take to get these people up to speed to perform this audit work? Who will do the training?

All of these questions require way more than two weeks. These are the issues for the successful manager. The typical timespan (working into the future) for any working manager is 12-24 months.

The Future in Today

“But, what about today?” asked Kristen. “It’s great to think about the future, but I have to get stuff done today.”

“The anchor for the manager has to be some specific time point in the future. Every action we take only has meaning related to that future point in time. Call it planning, call it a milestone, call it a goal.

“You are right. You have to get stuff done today. Action occurs today. The role of the manager is to inspect that future time point and create today’s effective action. Here is the question. What is the destination, and what is the most effective action we can take, today, to get there?

The Difference From Team Leader to Supervisor

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted from team leader to supervisor. My boss told me not to worry, things wouldn’t be that different. With all due respect, I think things will be different, I just don’t know in what way?

Response:
The biggest difference is the time span of your goals and objectives. As a supervisor, your focus will shift to the future.

As the team leader of your crew, you thought about what needed to be produced this week. As a new supervisor, you have to think about the schedule for two weeks, three weeks or more, depending on the variables in your system. It’s not just people, also, materials (with lead times), equipment, preventive maintenance, consumables, logistics, raw material specs, system constraints, first piece inspections. Your job will require more prep and staging time.

All of this requires you to think further into the future, using your own discretionary judgment to make decisions and solve problems.

Critical, But Never Taught

Phillip didn’t have to be briefed on the difference between meetings that were important and meetings that were a waste of time.

At the same time, he was uncomfortable. “You know, we do a pretty good job of training people on the technical stuff we do, how we make things, how we deliver our services, but we don’t train on how to run a meeting.”

“I know. Interesting, isn’t it? One of the most important things a supervisor does and your company doesn’t spend any time teaching it.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What do we need to do first?” asked Phillip.

Most Teams are Functional, Few are Accountable

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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What’s the difference between a group of people, a team (functional team) and an accountable team? Give any group of people a problem to solve, a decision to make, a goal or objective and a dramatic transformation begins from a group to a team.

Think about any high performing team you were ever a member of, and think about these defining characteristics.

Characteristics of a Team (Functional)

  • Clear and agreed upon purpose.
  • Key measures that indicate if team is on track.
  • Competent system.
  • Competent people.
  • Shared fate (what happens to one happens to all).

Functional teams are found everywhere. What is the difference between a functional team and that rare accountable team?

An accountable team is a functional team that manages its own accountability.

Could this be the team dynamic that Laloux describes at Buurtzorg? My intuition tells me that Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams are one and the same as Jaques‘ accountable team. The dynamics in the design of Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams become clear in the light of Jaques’ accountability schema.

If we can temporarily set aside “who?” is accountable and focus only on how accountability is managed, we find alignment between Buurtzorg’s self-managed team and Jaques’ accountable team. And if there is alignment at the team level, could there also be alignment at the manager level, though Buurtzorg would declare there is no manager. I think I can put those two pieces together in my next post.
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Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.

Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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If the purpose of hierarchy is not a power-grab, then why does hierarchy naturally exist as organizations form?

I recently ran into this issue in an organization with nine levels of managers. Without a guidepost to levels of work, people got promoted by reason of longevity, title instead of pay-raise, geography, too many people under a current manager, favoritism, nepotism. Totally out of control. The solution to organizational complexity was to add more people, more titles, more layers.

When hierarchy is grounded in levels of work (not power and not in nonsense), those layers naturally appear in the context of problem solving and decision making. AND, when we can see the distinction in the level of problem solving and the level of decision making, who-becomes-whose-manager is now a matter of organization sustenance.

We have explored the structure at Buurtzorg over the past couple of weeks. As an example of Teal, captured in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, the who-becomes-whose-manager is left to circumstance, not clearly defined and when it happens, designed to be temporary.

In Requisite Organization, based Elliott Jaques‘ levels of work, the who-becomes-whose-manager is based on accountability. Indeed, Elliott describes Requisite Organization as a Managerial Accountability Hierarchy, “a system of roles in which an individual in a higher role (manager) is held accountable of the outputs of persons in immediately lower roles (team members) and can be called ‘to account’ for their actions.”

Elliott would describe the accountability for each manager, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team. This is not a suggestion, this is a mandate, an accountability. Managers are required to bring value to the work of the team. This is not a power structure, but a value-stream.

I was reminded that Teal is not structure-less. While the nursing teams are well described by Laloux, the rest of the structure is not, so let me make some guesses.
S-II – nursing teams, accountable to deliver direct nursing services. (Longest goals and objectives 3-12 months.)
S-III – regional coaches and institutional facilitators, accountable to ensure nursing teams are working effectively in that delivery. (See prior post on Teal and Theory of Constraints. Longest goals and objectives 12-24 months.)
S-IV – integration executives accountable to ensure the output of nursing services works within the medical community and government ordinances for financial accommodation and payment. (Longest goals and objectives 2-5 years.)
S-V – would be Jos De Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg, accountable for enterprise design and value in the marketplace. (Longest goals and objectives 5-10 years.)

Each level of work is defined by context in its decision making and problem solving. When this hierarchy occurs (naturally), it creates organizational sustenance, intentionally, with purpose.
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Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.

BAMS and Teal

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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Buurtzorg works with self-managed teams at Level II (S-II). These teams of 10-12 nurses handle the intake, scheduling and administration of their own patient load of approximately 50 patients. There is no “visible” manager assigned to hold them “to account” for performance.

When things go well, things go well. When things go adequately, no one rocks the boat. But, when things don’t go well, the mettle of a team is tested. And, Buurtzorg expects the team to handle its own issues, without the oversight of a “visible” manager.

So, what is going on here? Let me introduce you to Wilfred Bion. Bion was a psychiatrist, working for the British Army during World War II. His mandate was to take shell-shocked soldiers (current day PTSD) and return them to the battlefield to re-engage in combat. His background and academic training were suited to the task, but Bion had a problem. There were too many soldiers in this condition, the numbers overwhelmed the hospital resources.

Bion made a decision. There were too many PTSD soldiers to deal with 1-1, so he invented something called group therapy. He did not invent group therapy because he thought it a good idea. He invented it, because he had no other choice.

Working with soldiers in groups, with the purpose of returning them to battle, Bion observed the way the group worked, their interactions, dependencies and behavior to face the issues that landed them in the psych ward in the first place. Bion noticed two distinct behavior patterns, when the group appeared to be in “work” mode and when the group avoided work, or appeared to be in “non-work” mode. The distinctions were quite clear –

Work Mode – Non-work Mode
Rational – Irrational
Scientific – Un-scientific
Cooperative – Collusive
Controlled – Uncontrolled
Conscious – Unconscious

Groups moved from one state to the other state at will. Bion described this state as the group’s Basic Assumption Mental State or BAMS. Groups would move from Work to BAMS and back again. The movement from Work to BAMS occurred easily (unconscious), but the move from BAMS to work required very specific conscious behavior.

Working at the hospital, Bion attended meetings with other staff physicians, nurses and administrative personnel. The purpose of the meetings was to work together to solve problems and make decisions. Bion thought it peculiar that the hospital doctors and nurses displayed the same group behavior as the patients.

As part of military rigor, Bion was also required to attend meetings with upper echelons of military rank, to discuss strategies of war and resources of personnel, those going into battle, those recovering to return to battle. In those meetings, Bion was awestruck to discover the same behavior in military ranks, as the behavior in hospital personnel, mirrored in the patients. If it weren’t for the uniforms, you could not tell the difference between the generals, the doctors and the patients.

These behaviors would be readily observable in the (S-II) manager-less nurse teams at Buurtzorg. Take this tough problem – a team member, who after many opportunities (chances) is simply not a fit for the team. The most important cultural issue for every team is “who gets to be a member of our team?” This is the classic (though contrived) premise of the tv series Survivor. Faced with this decision, the team will either go into work or non-work (BAMS). Remembering that BAMS is an unconscious process, most teams automatically go there, observable in Fight-Flight-Freeze-Appease. They fight about it, blame each other (and the computer system). They flee, avoid, talk about the problem only in private (gossip at the water cooler). They freeze, make no moves at all (which ratchets up the tension). They appease, make excuses and generally cover-up.

The major BAMS move however is toward dependence. Dependence occurs when the tension in the group becomes so uncomfortable that the group deposits the discomfort on a designated leader. This dependence begins a subtle seduction on the leader of the team. At Buurtzorg, without a designated manager, this may be a moving target, but a leader will emerge. Or the team will self-select a leader. This is a slippery slope as an archetypal response in the dependence cycle. BAMS is collusive and most managers, given the opportunity (for new-found power) afforded by the group, can hardly resist.

Unfortunately, BAMS (non-work) never solves the problem, and neither will this dependent relationship. The ONLY solution is when the leader (manager, coach) puts the issue quite squarely back on the team, in the midst of discomfort. Without a doubt, when the leader-manager-coach puts the issue back on the table, the team will panic.

“The reason for this meeting today is to discuss Fred’s underperformance in relationship to the performance standards set by the team. The decision we make today is whether Fred continues as a member of the team or if Fred’s membership on the team should be terminated.”

The leader’s role is very simple – outlast the panic. Any issue that affects the team, the effectiveness of the team, must be dealt with by the team. Staying in “work” mode can only happen as a conscious decision to do so. That is the role of the leader. This has little to do with power, more to do with “work.”

At Buurtzorg, teams that recognize they are in BAMS can reach out for a coach. The structure at Buurtzorg defines this relationship with strict parameters to prevent group dependence. Laloux describes, “If teams get stuck, they can ask for external facilitation at any time, either from a regional coach or from the pool of facilitators of the institute.” Again, I think we found the manager.

In Requisite Organization, Elliott Jaques would describe this identical scenario, AND have a designated role of MANAGER. The manager would be in touch with the team sufficiently to recognize the team going into BAMS, to put real issues squarely on the table for the team to grapple with. High performing teams are those that are comfortable with discomfort and run toward (not away from) tough problems. The function of the manager is to keep the team in “work” mode.

It might be construed that Teal and Requisite Organization are identical, except for their terminology. I think not. The distinction is stark, has to do with hierarchy, which should be worthy of discussion in my next post.

Behaviorists Without Children

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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My last post on Accountability and Authority kicked up a question. Here’s the context. Buurtzorg works with self-managed teams at Level II (S-II). These teams of 10-12 nurses handle the intake, scheduling and administration of their own patient load of approximately 50 patients. There is no “visible” manager assigned to hold them accountable. Here is the question –
Can a person (or a role) hold themselves accountable?
Can a person (or a role) hold another person accountable?

Before I mince words, what is the purpose of accountability? Is it to give someone, with the authority of oversight, the power to scold an under-performer against the wall? Oh…so momentarily satisfying, but what’s the point?

The only people, who think that anger and yelling has an impact, are behaviorists who have no children. If you have children, you know it is futile to raise your voice, repeat your guidance (if I told you once, I told you a thousand times).

The point of accountability is to assess effectiveness toward the goal and re-direct new energy to get back on track.

In the face of under-performance, the point is to fix it.

The only person who can hold you accountable is YOU. Invite and give permission to others to examine and challenge your commitments, AND understand that you are the only one who can keep those commitments. The only accountability is self-accountability.

We cannot hold people accountable, we can only hold people “to account.”

This is not a nuance of language. Holding others accountable is a myth. We cannot hold others accountable. We can only examine and challenge commitments. We can only hold people “to account,” to themselves for the commitments they make with themselves.

This accountability conversation (constructive criticism, reprimand, coaching) about commitments is necessary because the easiest commitments to break are those we make with ourselves that no one knows about. Praise in public, coach in public. Any issue that impacts the team needs to be handled by the team.

Would Buurzorg call this self management?

The accountability conversation, by the team, with the team, is pure Wilfred Bion. With this post as a prelude, perhaps we should look at Bion’s Experiences in Groups next. It might give us an insight about the team accountability dynamics inside Buurtzog.
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Wilfred Bion was part of the collective clan around Elliott Jaques during his tenure with the Glacier Metals Company, London, England, circa 1950’s.