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Essential skills to work and collaborate in 21st century... part 3 (Behavior)

Assigning global labels to the people of a particular country is over stereotyping. But while it may be careless to overgeneralize about the people from a single place, it would be naive to deny the existence of significant, overall differences between places and cultures (source: Robert Levine).

Deep down each culture represents a set of values which “easily” can be translated into how we work together. Do we then need everyone to understand each culture they work together with?

No, it’s not crucial you know everything… but basic stuff is important no matter culture you come from - Openness and Readiness to explore outside your comfort zone. It is usually our own comfort zone and lack of understanding and not our culture history that prevent us to work efficiently together.

So what tools do project managers need to survive in the 21st century adding behavior (culture) to the plate and actually eliminate status meetings?

First at all - your project managers needs to think global. It can be difficult and challenging for some because they tend to
  • assume instead of asking (don't get others opinion)
  • be very protective about information so they become a bottleneck (no openness)
  • focus on what went wrong and how to fix it (not embracing success)
  • spend so much time to prepare presentation for steering group
  • show up late at a meeting they have invited people to (be more important than their team members)
So how can I translate this into my four step process? Lets look at Plan, Execute, Evaluate and Follow up with behavior in mind.

Plan (prepare to be wrong)
Most people tend to plan for meetings in order to avoid failures. I have learned all my life to be afraid of being wrong and I believe I’m not the only one.

I truly believe the basic foundation for inefficiency is we are too proud to be wrong. But what’s behind being wrong? It is easy to say - yeah I’m wrong but do we mean it? Sometimes we do but we tend not to - why? We are scared to lose face and/or it will jeopardize our “reputation”. We spent so much time building our reputation and if someone (especially younger or lower rank) challenge us we will fight to be right. The simple reason we believe we know better.

So when you plan for your meeting you need to be very clear on the “objective” of the meeting. Not a specific solution and then be prepare to be wrong and adjust.

Execute (prepare to change)
This is where your facilitation skills are crucial. You need to be able to steer the meeting in the “objective” and “outcome” direction. And if that means you need to change something during the meeting, you need to do that.

So when you execute your meeting - be ready to do following:
- capture expectations at the beginning
- rearrange your agenda based on your expectations
- call for action owners when needed

When you capture the expectations in the beginning you will get the sense whether or not people are on the same page. If their expectations are too far from the objective you should reschedule the meeting. The reason is that you either have the wrong people in the room or you have not done your homework to make the objective clear when planning for the meeting. Either way you won’t be able to solve your challenge.

During meeting (prepare to get out of your comfort zone)
I once heard this phrase “Understand to be understood”. Reason why I write "heard" is because I resonate with it at first but I did not understand the actual meaning.

We tend to box things we hear. This means that we hear something we believe we know and then we put it into a memory box to feel comfortable. Some might ask for clarification in a meeting but most people tend not to so they don't loose face.

People need to understand the objective of the meeting to provide good feedback. So if you can't make it “understood” how will they be able to help you?

So what can you do? You, as a facilitator of the meeting, need to sense when people understand what is said or when they don’t. This usually means you need to get out of your comfort zone to "play the uninformed person" and ask for clarification (even if you know what is meant).

Evaluate (prepare to assign tasks)
As I wrote in my post about facilitation, there are two very crucial moments in a meeting - first and last few minutes of a meeting. I covered the first few minutes above in the Execute section.

The last few minutes is where you will see if the objective for the meeting is met - did we solve the challenge? If the answer is yes, then it went well. But the meeting isn't done yet...

During the meeting there will come actions to be solved outside the meeting. You, as a facilitator, are responsible for the Scribe to write them down. So before closing the meeting these two things you need to do:
- run through the expectation list made in the beginning - are they met?
- run through the actions - are they assigned and with a deadline?

Follow up (prepare to be “Snowy”)
Snowy the dog in Tintin is famous to be persistent. That is exactly what you need to be after the meeting. When the meeting ends people are returning to their day-to-day assignments. You have the obligation to make sure that every assignee get their action(s) assigned within one workday.

Using technology you can make the action list visible to everyone. When you have assigned actions you also need to make sure that they are solved. So you need to follow up on assignee before the deadline.

A good advice is to contact people with a “friendly reminder” few days before the deadline so people are able act on them.

So in all - prepare your "behavior" to be wrong, change, get out of your comfort zone, assign tasks and to be "Snowy" and you will be able to navigate teamwork in a diverse environment...

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