Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Thinking back over the last twelve weeks and facilitating the team for the ROTOR project.

Thinking again about the work I've been doing over the last twelve weeks, I've recalled some of the areas that have helped to keep the group happy and focussed, and some of the techniques that I used in my own industry over the last 30 or so years.

To maintain individual's happiness when working in teams, I have found that a key component to keeping those who 'want' to be motivated, (and those who's talents lie elsewhere), is to provide the critical element of autonomy; - the freedom to choose; to decide, to get involved, to produce something of their own.
(or not, as the case may be for some...)!

In the role of facilitator, one might view this very differently from a traditional role of being, say, a 'Manager'.  In older models of behaviour, a professional manager was expected to motivate people and constantly push them towards higher and higher achievements.  This works to a point. - But at what cost?

By driving people too hard, productivity actually falls, - it goes down in line with self-motivation, and I know this result from my own experience when pushing individuals in business to achieve KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) and sales targets too much; especially when working in an environment without the resources necessary to achieve what they have been committed to provide. (This also includes putting too much pressure on myself!)

A report that I read some time ago defined autonomy as: "the feeling that your life, its activities and habits, are self-chosen and self-endorsed." (Mautz, S. 2015, p126). Self-motivation and autonomy go hand in hand, each work in tandem with the other.  Without self-motivation, autonomy on its own doesn't create anything; but without autonomy to make many of your own decisions (within a good 'framework' of governance of course), then self-motivation on its own, without a level of empowerment, can become frustration and bitterness, both of which lead to a reduced creative output.

In his book, "Make It Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning", the author Scott Mautz quotes Gretchen Spreitzer, a University of Michigan professor.  Her study found "that empowered employees report a high level of job satisfaction and organisational commitment, lower turnover, increased performance effectiveness, and increased motivation. Likewise, supervisors who reported higher levels of empowerment were seen by their subordinates as more innovative, upward influencing, and inspirational". (Mautz, S. 2016).

Mautz provided a framework in his report of eight methods to give people autonomy 'intelligently'.

Interestingly, I seemed to have followed this structure virtually autonomously! (What irony!)...
Mautz says: (I have Italicised his suggestions for readability in the following);

"1. Fulfil the foundational requirements
Ensure a baseline of trust, a practice of information sharing, and a willingness to delegate growth work,"  (Mautz, S. 2016).
This is the 'Framework of Governance'.  In week 2 of the project, after the team had voted for me to become their 'facilitator', I provided a structure to work within. This took the form of stated roles and responsibilities for each team member; a rough time plan; formalised & recorded meeting minutes and other devices, as a foundation for the team to move forwards with, through getting their 'group witnessed' commitment to operating within these loose, yet defined boundaries and expectations.

"2. Create an agreement for autonomy."
In week three, I created a signup sheet for each team member to agree to their roles and responsibilities, now that they had been established.  Everyone was given the opportunity to make their own 'choice' of contribution. Whilst I didn't feel the need to make the formal requirement for each team member to sign their names on a form (as with consideration, this was a voluntary group, - by tying people down too rigidly would probably have had an adverse affect.  In a commercial or salaried environment, such written commitments are, however, the norm). The simple fact that I had created such formalised sheet, and distributed all 12 copies of it so that each individual had a copy and knowledge of what each other's roles were, was felt to be sufficient.  This provided a level of committed 'buy-in'.  In other words, the individuals were not only making a commitment to themselves, but also to the wider group.



Example of Team Roles & Responsibilities documents,

with initial meeting minutes beginning to form.
 


"3. Facilitate recipient readiness."
"Provide training and resources and discuss the benefits of their newfound autonomy. Ease the fears of accountability that can come with empowerment by ensuring they're set up to win--and confident that they will." (Mautz, S. 2016).

The first few weeks of activity within the rotor team was very purposefully very "gentle", and I took a great deal of time to help to explain to each of the members what they had agreed to do, and what was required of each of them, but just as importantly, what the team should expect from me. Patience is happily, one of my better virtues, and I helped each person create a valuable contribution to the team wherever they had the appetite and capacity to do so.

"4. Provide intrinsic and extrinsic reward"
"More work without more reward is rarely welcome. And even if the work must be done, the motivation might not exist to do it. So ensure that there are intrinsic and extrinsic rewards..." (Mautz, S. 2016).

Bearing in mind that the rotor team had been asked to complete various activities on a voluntary basis, the need for continuous praise and the verbal reward was essential.  As the engagement was voluntary, extrinsic rewards of recognition must be sensitively delivered.  I have continually tried very hard to give recognition for all the good work that has been carried out, and I have tried to gently coach some members of the team who needed a little more encouragement.

There will always be people in a group who, for various reasons, may not be able to engage in either the way that they might want to or in a way which the rest of the group desires. Group dynamics, clashes of personalities; personal preferences to working relationships etc. are a complex sensitive human condition that we all fit somewhere into.  I've been careful not to let personalities or issues of motivation scupper the overall focus of the team.  My former management experience has been brought to bear on this through gentle guidance, individual counselling and sometimes direct persuasion.
Generally, I am very pleased that each member has performed well, at least to their own expectations, but mostly in excess of them!

"5. Facilitate by assisting success versus avoiding failure".
"Mistakes will be made when [people] are given autonomy--and then learning happens. So don't react poorly to their mistakes. Act as a facilitator, not a fixer, and allow delegated decisions.... 
shift to a mindset of assisting success. Help empowered people get past mistakes as needed, and then turn your energy back to finding ways to help them succeed." (Mautz, S. 2016).

While I find it reasonably easy to manage small teams like this one, of up to say, 15 people, much of my existing commercial experience in facilitating interpersonal relationships has been put to good use over the last 12 weeks.
I have seen a variety of management practices in my various vocational roles over the past 30+ years, (some good, some not so good, and some really awful!).  I've been able to recall those varied experiences and tried here, in this 'safe' environment, to practice the best elements.
I can remember a number of examples where individuals may have made genuine mistakes and I recall my late father's advice that "people who rarely ever make mistakes, rarely ever 'do anything' themselves!" It was good advice from him, - a company director who knew a great deal about the "humanness" of failure.

A failure is, in fact, a successful lesson, and any mistakes should be treated as such. I have witnessed too many managers in my own past, who were blaming everybody else and their employees for failures that arguably could be attributed back to them as managers. Unfortunately, by focusing on mistakes all the time, those managers were far less successful, and so their teams were equally less successful too.
Example of corrective 'Action Plan'
Thankfully, there have not been any 'failures' as such, as we have all been aware of our achievable objectives, and progress against plans has been carefully managed, applying corrective actions where issues were identified. (See week 7, mid-stage review, action plan for example).

The action plan was put in place to specifically address some observed concerns brought to the group through meeting our 'client' (Dr Devlin). This was extremely useful in helping to steer the team as they approached the 'implementation' phase of the project.
"6. Construct communication loops"
"Breakdowns in communication can mean a breakdown in trust between you and the empowered person. [Encourage] autonomous employees... to find ways to report back regularly on progress.
Checkpoints should be established to provide updates, encouragement, help, training in teachable moments, and to avoid operational drift whereby work migrates away from previously aligned objectives and parameters. 
"Those working autonomously can't forget to check in. You can't just delegate and check out, either. Communication needs to remain a two-way street." (Mautz, S. 2016).

We are social creatures. According to Robert Waldinger, a Harvard University Professor who has studied human motivation and 'happiness' over 3 decades, says that one of the critical things needed to keep people happy is to create healthy social relationships; strong 'networks' to use modern parlance. (Waldinger, R. 2015).

Throughout the whole engagement, after the team had asked me to help facilitate the work, I have made sure that there are clear records of meeting minutes, critical action plans devised and documented as necessary, a clear understanding of each of our availability including individual holiday commitments, and regular weekly progress meetings with clear objectives.
Example of initial Gantt Chart, showing key 'milestone' dates, timescales/timelines, resources and tasks
I initially created a Gantt Chart to show a graphical representation of timelines / tasks to be achieved and resources available.  While such Gantt charts are frequently used in industry and have been for many years, some of the group were not sufficiently familiar with this method and so I was able to provide additional alternative documented methods (e.g. See the Action Plan above in point 5), to help to communicate key issues and time constraints.
Nevertheless, I continued to use the working Gantt chart model for my own cross-referencing of events and to build a single picture of progress ('Actual' versus 'Planned' progress and so on).  The use of Gantt charts allows for what is known as "critical path analysis", which if simply put, is a visual ability to see bottlenecks in a plan. (That is, where conflicts arise because of task timing, execution and 'effort', out-weigh the resource ability to achieve them (in terms of time scheduling, critical task predecessors, task subordinates, execution time, labour and materials resource availability)).

I have also adopted and encouraged the use of "SMART" objectives too. (- More on SMART objectives later in this blog.).  This approach is essential to help generate action plans that are executable. (e.g. See Action Plan example in point 5 above).

"7. Covet communication loops"
"Communicate with empowered [team members] in such a manner that they actually come to covet the communication loops in place over time, viewing them as helpful and rewarding. (Mautz, S. 2016).

By holding regular meetings, and my adopting and adapting the University of Huddersfield's internal Microsoft SharePoint 360 facilities, the publication and communications network has been particularly efficient and useful. We have been able to use the SharePoint 360 facilities as an overall repository, for all the management and collaboration artefacts, together with the practical outputs from each of the "Rotor events". I have been at great pains to make sure that the internal collaboration pages are regularly updated, at a minimum of weekly, but in practice much more frequently. Everybody, therefore, has a clear understanding of where to find information, as well as where to save it.  The meetings have been clearly structured, using an agenda based framework with a review of previous agreements and actions, progress to date and forthcoming actions/actions arising.
See example of meeting notes below;

Example of Meeting Minutes (Week 11), Showing "Traffic Light" status.
"8. [Create} a measurement tether"
Periodically review progress on success criteria. It will keep you informed and keep the empowered motivated since they have tangible evidence they're on track to hitting their goals" (Mautz, S. 2016).

Because I have been able to facilitate the team through an acronym of "SMART" objectives, that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound: each of the actions on our action plan have had clearly defined statements which outline precisely those smart criteria, together with 'due by' or 'action by' date for everybody to see. More recently over the last 3-4 weeks, I have adopted a traffic light, red amber and green notation on the Meeting Notes (See example in Point 7 above), to help to highlight a sense of urgency on some items, where required. This has worked exceedingly well and I'm glad to report that almost all the actions, some 60 or so specific action points, are either complete (at the time of writing 47) and a further 13 amber status actions require some remedial work over the next four weeks to complete, prior to the closing event for the rotor exhibition which will be held on Thursday, 5 May.

Conclusions;

  • While Mautz does provide a good framework to inculcate autonomy, I have generally been following his observations in any event.  It is interesting that his framework, having been found after I have already been facilitating the group for a number of weeks, fits with my approach methods too. 
  • I'm delighted that my management practices and facilitation skills are still effective, and current. 
  • Whether I continue to use these skills post MA study is hard for me to say, as I think much of the methods become baked in over time. 
  • I do, however, need to recognise when bad habits are drifting into my ability to facilitate teams, so this last twelve week period has been invaluable to me to bolster up innate skills.

References;

Waldinger, R. (2015): What makes a good life? Harvard Study of Adult Development; https://www.ted.com/playlists/4/what_makes_you_happy

Mautz, S. (2015). Make It Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning (pp127-129),
and
Mautz, S. (2016), Blog Article, http://switchandshift.com/intelligent-autonomy-give-employees-the-autonomy-they-crave   February 2016; Retrieved 2nd April 2017.

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