Lessons from Three Months on the Road

I sent out my monthly (well, sometimes monthly) newsletter yesterday. This was the lead article.

I have moved frequently within and out of New Zealand to different countries around the world during the previous three months. In reflecting on the many conversations, presentations, and my observations during these three months, five major themes stand out:

1. People gathering together in a room or hotel facility for a conference, workshop, or short presentation have many opportunities to speak together, trade stories, deepen learning, and compare experiences. These events can become valuable reference points for encouraging effective action once the event has finished. One of the highlights for me in presenting a workshop is cultivating an awareness among the delegates that they are not alone in experiencing challenges when introducing new collaboration tools and approaches at work. I enjoy watching people get that eureka moment during one of my workshops, but it happens in other settings too. For the big ideas you are trying to get across in your work, how could you use an effectively designed conference, workshop, or presentation to aid in this process?

2. Getting new collaboration tools deployed quickly and into the hands of employees is a common desire, but I have heard several examples where organizations have taken a long time to undertake this process and have reaped various benefits. One recent example that stands out is an organization that deployed IBM Connections; they started with Connections 2.5, and then struggled for three years to get funding to move beyond the pilot phase. During the three years people across the business were able to use Connections, get to understand where and how it could be used, and begin to internalize the possibilities. When funding was finally given in a recent budget round to upgrade to the latest version and shift to production, people already knew what Connections was about and were able to start quickly with using the new version in their work. Sometimes taking a long time to get new tools deployed means you have the wrong people on the team and are just being slow; other times it provides a context for highly effective learning.

3. Two of the commonly used strategies during the adoption phase with new collaboration tools and approaches is Web-based training and Pages on the Intranet. They are commonly used because they are quick and inexpensive. However, they are often ineffective at shifting people from old ways of working to new ways. During my User Adoption Strategies workshop we talk about a whole range of strategies that can be used, including the two aforementioned strategies. I have recently started asking the delegates to reflect on their experiences with these two strategies, and to think about what does and doesn’t work with the strategies. When people struggle to elaborate how they personally have been positively affected by these strategies, I use it as a warning against merely jumping for the quick and inexpensive strategies during adoption.

4. Collaborating with people you don’t know very well requires an initial leap of faith to test the waters and see if they are receptive to a collaboration. For example, the leap may be a willingness to speaking frankly about a situation you observe, and then waiting to see if they are receptive to your input. If they are, you have gained an invitation to contribute your expertise and make something better than it would otherwise have been. But without the leap that won’t happen. What leap do you need to take today to lay the foundation for a collaboration?

5. There are some amazing people in this world, who are quietly doing amazing things in their spheres of influence and activity. While not limited to this situation, I am particularly thinking of those who open their homes to children and young people in need, providing a safe family environment and offering opportunities to learn, develop, and grow up well. For example, in Europe I spoke with a businessman who talked about the young man he and his wife took in some years previously, and how they offered a place to live, something to study, and job experiences to open his eyes to the opportunities in the world. You and I rub shoulders everyday with people who we know in their professional roles, but often when you develop trust and are able to see beyond the world of work, you find heroes doing great things in otherwise undeclared ways.

I welcome your feedback on any of the observations above.

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