Teaming

Last week I had the chance to participate a day of panel interviews for the 11th class of Acumen Global Fellows. It’s always a great day, a chance to meet exceptional people who are devoting their lives to social change. (It is strange, though, how they seem to get younger every year….)

It’s an intense process, with pitches, a panel interview, case studies and a group activity. The group activity stood out for me this year as a chance to see six super-productive people try to become an effective team quickly. Some groups do this incredibly well, others crash and burn, most are somewhere in the middle.

It strikes me that in professional contexts we naturally focus on two areas: the skills, capabilities and leadership qualities of individuals; and these same folks’ capacity and effectiveness as managers. This is the stuff that appears in the goals we set and the content we write up in annual performance reviews.

“Teaming” is notably absent. It appears in peripheral ways, in conversations about how people interact with one another and how they manage, but what it takes to be a great team member feels like it lurks in the background when, really, it’s probably the most important thing we do.

(If you don’t believe me, take a few groups of your top people, give them a 20 minute task to perform, and watch the divergence in their results.)

In an effort to take this head on, recently I spent some time with the Acumen team in Nairobi and we took 90 minutes to discuss three pieces that I shared with them a few days before the meeting:

The Google articles focus on the notion of “psychological safety” in teams and what it takes to build it, and shares their data that one characteristic of highly effective teams is that members of these teams tend to contribute equally to most conversations. And Seth, as usual, finds a way to share these and many other powerful ideas in one-tenth the words of everyone else.

I’d encourage you to share these articles with your teams and hold similar conversations. I’d also appreciate suggestions – in the comments – on additional articles on teaming that you’ve found particularly helpful.

Seth Godin’s Manifesto for Small Teams Doing Important Work

File under: Things I wish I had written & Things to print and have up on the wall.

The question this makes me ask is: is there ever a time that I’m not part of a small team? Is there ever a time when I’m not working on a tight deadline? Is there ever a time when the work isn’t important?

And, if no, then here are the rules of the road around communication, making and keeping promises, having a real Plan B, and keeping it personal, all while remembering not to question goodwill, effort or intent.

Thanks Seth.

A Manifesto for Small Teams Doing Important Work, by Seth Godin

We are always under tight deadlines, because time is our most valuable asset.

If you make a promise, set a date. No date, no promise.

If you set a date, meet it.

If you can’t make a date, tell us early and often. Plan B well prepared is a better strategy than hope.

Clean up your own mess.

Clean up other people’s messes.

Overcommunicate.

Question premises and strategy.

Don’t question goodwill, effort or intent.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is not a professional thing to say. Describing and discussing in the abstract is what we do.

Big projects are not nearly as important as scary commitments.

If what you’re working on right now doesn’t matter to the mission, help someone else with their work.

Make mistakes, own them, fix them, share the learning.

Cheap, reliable, public software might be boring, but it’s usually better. Because it’s cheap and reliable.

Yesterday’s hierarchy is not nearly as important as today’s project structure.

Lock in the things that must be locked in, leave the implementation loose until you figure out how it can get done.

Mostly, we do things that haven’t been done before, so don’t be surprised when you’re surprised.

Care more.

If an outsider can do it faster and cheaper than we can, don’t hesitate.

Always be seeking outside resources. A better rolodex is better, even if we don’t have rolodexes any more.

Talk to everyone as if they were your boss, your customer, the founder, your employee. It’s all the same.

It works because it’s personal.

People like us

A few years into my job as a fundraiser, one of the things I grew to hate was being sent lists of rich people. What, exactly, was I supposed to do with them? Of course, by definition the people who can give a lot of money are the people who have a lot of money, but that qualifier alone means next to nothing.

As Seth keeps reminding us, our work is to find our tribe, people who share a worldview, and to communicate to them that “people like us do things like this.”

WSJ_people like us

This Wall Street Journal ad nails it for me. While the WSJ no doubt has all the obvious data you’d hope they have – about income levels and geography and demographics and and and – about their readers, the ad boils everything down to:

People who don’t have time to read the Wall Street Journal make time to read the Wall Street Journal.

(will.i.am – producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist)

People like us – busy, successful, top of the heap enough that we now wear multiple hats – believe that the WSJ helps keep us where we are, believe that it is our access to this kind of content allows us to continue to be the thing we are so proud to be.

It’s specific and aspirational for the group that people who identify with that worldview, people for whom that story resonates.

What is your group? What is their worldview? What story do they want to be a part of?

(Want to learn more?  Sign up here.)

Egg whites, scrambled eggs, and egg shells

I’m seeing eggs everywhere this week.

Seth Godin’s amazing new book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn – which you can still order and share here – has a great parable about his 8 egg white omelet. It is a story about the slippery slope of compromise and the taste of fresh herbs, and his omelet is fabulous enough to convince a skeptical food critic that there is, in fact, such a thing as a “delicious egg white omelet.”

Then I came across this video about how to make a scrambled egg without breaking the shell.

And Tim Ferris has a video that was seen more than six million times (six million!!) about how to peel an egg without really peeling it. The video is completely unremarkable and downright boring until 0:50 in, when Tim blows on the egg and it jumps out of its shell.

That one-second moment, and its contrast with how dull and under-produced the video is, encapsulates what makes stories and videos spread: a tiny instant of “wow” that gets someone to share it with a friend with a “you gotta see this” message.

If we can create “wow” around peeling an egg, surely we can create it around the important work that we do.

The first step is to stop sanding off the edges; the big leap is figuring out out how to create a moment that shows that the impossible is, indeed, possible.

Tim Ferris_egg

Skills for this century

The deadline for applying for Seth Godin’s summer internship is tomorrow, May 31st.  And the last 15 applications will be discarded, so today is effectively the last day to apply.  It’s a two-week internship from July 22nd to August 2nd.  All the details are here.

I thought the skills Seth is looking for were pretty indicative of must-have skills for the next century, no matter what line of business you think you’re in.  Everyone doesn’t need all of them (though why wouldn’t you learn all of them at at least a minimal level, since today you can, easily)?

Still, it’s impossible to argue that anyone is allowed, any more, to have none of them.

Seth_internship skills

Basically, the list boils down to:

  • Coding
  • Design
  • Writing good copy
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Selling stuff
  • Managing projects
  • Hustle

(I, too, give bonus points for Monty Python trivia but I’ll admit that feels a bit arbitrary.)

Not a bad list, though, sadly, it compares terribly to what we’re teaching in our schools (including business schools).

On this last point, if you have kids or you care about education, you really must watch Seth’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” talk at TEDxYouth.   And once the video inspires you, read and share Seth’s full manuscript with the parents and educators in your life.

Gifts – The Icarus Deception

The other day I received a massive, 40 pound box full of goodies from Seth Godin.

I was one of the 4,242 people who happily jumped in to support Seth’s Kickstarter project to fund his next book, The Icarus Deception.

Of course, for $111 I didn’t just get the book.  And I didn’t just get 8 copies of the hardcover book (to give away), which itself would have been a steal.  Those 8 books took up a tiny corner of this massive box, which also contained two copies of V is for Vulnerable, a alphabet book for grown-ups, with wild, wacky, beautiful illustrations by Hugh MacLeod, about leaning in, creating art, and having the courage to ship; a delicate, hand-made mug by Lori Koop, with a hand-written note from Lori that reads “Seth asked me to make this for you….this is my art. –Lori;”  an LP (yes, as in a record) whose contents I have yet to discover….I just need to get my hands on a record player; and a totally massive, 11 x 16 inch 800+ page full-color book that, impishly, has a bunch of rubber ducklings on the front cover.  It is a collection of Seth’s best online writing from 2006 to 2012, and it’s literally the heaviest book I’ve ever laid my hands on.

Icarus Kickstarter goodies

My experience of this whole thing is joy.  I can see Seth smiling as I smile; I’m wowed by the beauty and the irreverence of each and every piece, as well as the chance that each of them gives someone else – not just Seth – to shine.   And the whole undertaking is, literally, delightful – my high expectations are blown out of the water; even with inklings of what might have been in the box I was surprised time and again.

It really is possible to delight our customers, to thank our greatest fans, to make them feel special not out of a sense of obligation but because you want to and you can.

And going back to the massive, 800+ page book, I also think back to my many experiences of sharing Seth’s advice with others – whether on publishing or on courage or on pushing through the resistance.  Yes, tons of people get it and live it.  And then there are the folks who  say something like, “Well yeah, that’s interesting and that probably works for Seth because he’s Seth.”

When I take this book, which physically holds just a small portion of what Seth has produced in the last six years, the only thing I can think is: he’s Seth because he produced all of this.  He’s Seth because any bit of advice he’s giving is something he’s already been doing for years; he’s Seth because he ships; he’s Seth because he’s not afraid to take risk, to show up, to fail, to shine, or even to look a little silly.

Finally, as homage to all of this (especially the silly part) here’s a little video that gives you a sense of the mega-tome.  Of course it’s not just heavy, it’s also beautiful and it will transform the conversations you have around your coffee table.  And it will remind you not of what Seth can do, but of what you can do if you show up fully every day.

Generosity partnership

Yesterday I had the pleasure to spend a few hours at one of Seth Godin’s seminars.  If you believe in making a ruckus, if you’d benefit from a day of real conversation (and inspiration, and stories, and plenty of laughs) about why it’s up to you to make a ruckus, then you have to find a way to get one of these seminars.  The day will challenge you AND give you tons of tools to speed you on your way (plus great giveaways!).  It costs as little as $300 a person if you bring a group which is an amazing deal.

One guy I met there, who will soon be running a school, told me that he couldn’t get his old school to pay for the seminar (“they felt like the couldn’t quantify the value of it”).  So a trustee who is a fan of Seth’s sponsored him instead.  I love the notion of not being able to quantify the value of day that could accelerate someone’s journey to becoming a transformational leader.  Kind of a “it’s warmer in the summer than it is in the country” analysis.  (Value of becoming a transformational leader = more or less infinite, right?)

Anyhow….

Seth did a session on nonprofit fundraising, which he led off with a riff that began “Fundraising is a generosity partnership for both people.”

Let’s pause get our heads around that for a minute.

A while ago I succeeded in creating a ruckus by writing a manifesto for nonprofit CEOs.  In it I argued that we have to reinvent fundraising, first and foremost by discarding the notion that what we do as fundraisers and nonprofit leaders doesn’t have value.  Of course it does, and when we realize that, when we really own that, we change everything – power dynamics, the sense of our own worth, our motivation and courage to get out there and tell our story, everything.

I still think this is all right, and nearly four years later I’ve also figured out that it’s not the whole story.

“Fundraising is a generosity partnership for both people.”

For both people?  That means we have the chance to be generous. Us.  The fundraisers  Wait, isn’t this about someone else giving?

If fundraising is a generosity partnership, that means we have something real to give, something of value.  That means it’s not just that we need the courage to get to the starting line and recognize that we’re doing something worth paying attention to.  We need to go a whole lot further and recognize the true value of what we are offering:  the chance to make a change in the world; the chance to be part of a group of like-minded people who won’t accept the status quo and who wake up every morning to fight for change; the chance to create meaning and healing and hope and possibility.

When you say it like that it becomes obvious that these things are worth the same or more than the philanthropist ends up giving – they have to be, or why would she give in the first place?  The philanthropists knows this, that’s why she cares and that’s why she gives.  We are the ones who forget it.

“Fundraising is a generosity partnership.”

So when you lack courage, when you’re hiding, when you’re doing everything but getting out there and telling your story, when you’re doing everything but building your tribe and raising the resources to do what you’re here to do, your mantra is:

I have something to give.  I have something to give.  I have something to give.

Something that’s really worth something.  Something that’s worth everything.