Monday, August 19, 2013

Eight Dimensions for Productive Working Relationships

I recently ran a workshop with a group of line managers who have been working together for varying amounts of time. Some had known each other for many years, other members of the team were quite new. The objective of the workshop was to offer them a ‘Model of Working Relationships’ so they could develop a heightened awareness of how to create productive working relationships to achieve business objectives.

Central to this model is that the quality of working relationships is a key variable in organisational performance. This claim links to some research from the University of NSW, which I have blogged about previously. Their research concluded that quality relationships represent the central pivot on which excellent workplaces are founded. In the workshop I invited the participants to discuss the following:

  • How do you know when you are working well and not working well?
  • What are the consequences of poor Working Relationships?
  • What are the consequences of very good Working Relationships?
  • What makes the difference between very good and not so good Working Relationships?

I then presented eight ‘Dimensions of Working Relationships’(Sieler) and we explored how the quality of working relationships is the overarching context that enables or does not enable workplace conversations to occur. These eight dimensions include:
  • Fundamental Respect – this means you accept each other and treat each other as legitimate.  Core issues at stake here are worth, respect and dignity
  • Trust – you are sincere/genuine, competent, reliable and involved 
  • Concern - you are prepared to understand what is important in the relationship and how well the concerns of each of you are being addressed 
  • Coordination (Cooperation and Commitments) – you are coordinating your efforts to produce satisfactory outcomes, and realising goals and objectives. When coordination breaks down, performance and productivity suffers, tension can increase and this can place strain on relationships      
  • Moods and Emotions – which ones are experienced in the relationship; how the moods and emotions enhance or detract from the quality of the conversations that occur (and influence those that do not occur) and the nature of relationship 
  • Conversations - the types of conversations that do and don’t happen. The quality of the conversations that occur – their effectiveness in the context of the working relationship. The conversations that are missing that could enhance the quality of the working relationship 
  • Appreciation - A sense of feeling valued and appreciated for work efforts as well as for the person you are. This includes the little “pats on the back” and the “thankyous”, as well as wider public recognition. One of our fundamental concerns as humans is to feel recognised, acknowledged, valued and appreciated 
  • Alignment – going in the same direction together (which implies agreement on the direction and what is being worked towards). This includes a commitment to being collaborative and coordinating action. Equally importantly, alignment is also about stating what is missing for you, as a reflection of your commitment to wanting to remain aligned
The workshop participants then worked in pairs and used these 8 factors to explore their working relationships. I invite you to think about a workplace relationship that needs some improvement and review the list. What stands out for you? What clues does the provide for maintaining and/or moving forward on this relationship?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Leading From the Roof

I was listening to James Taylor  the other day singing “Up on the Roof”  

As I listened I was touched by some of the lyrics
So when I come home feeling tired and beat, I'll go up where the air is fresh and sweet.
I'll get far away from the hustling crowd and all the rat-race noise down in the street.On the roof, that's the only place I know… 

I thought about how as leaders sometimes you need to go “Up on a Roof” to get away from the ‘rat race’ and reflect. You need time to consider what is actually going on, at both a professional and personal level. However for many of you, taking time out to go ‘Up on a Roof’ can seem like a very self indulgent exercise. So let me offer you some of the many benefits of taking time out to reflect:  
  •  Seminal work of Kolb (1984), Schön (1983) and Mezirow (1990) argue that it is only through experience, observation, reflection, conceptualisation, experimentation and integration that learning can occur.
  • Leaders who take opportunities to critically reflect on what transpires in the work environment, have far more occasions for  transformational learning to take place (Detrick 2002; Mintzberg 2004).
  • Reflection-in-action was popularised by Schön (1983), who suggests that significant learning occurs through problem-solving in the middle of real daily work, where problems may be poorly structured, outcomes vague and the context continuously changing. This is the reality of leadership and management. Problems that can be easily solved are delegated and the remaining complex problems are left for the manager to solve. Reflection provides a space to help you solve complex problems.
  • Kolb (1984), like many other theorists, suggested that while adults are exposed to a whole host of life experiences, many do not all learn from their experiences.  The argument is that experience alone does not teach. Learning occurs when there is reflective thought and internal processing which transforms the learner’s earlier understanding in some way.
  • Mezirow’s (1991) theory of transformative learning is based on the tri-level concept of critical reflection on experience, which means that the person reflects on the content of their experience, examines the premise of their thinking and then confronts and challenges their own thinking and assumptions. The critical reflection cycle facilitates transformative learning because it involves a shift in a leader/manager’s mind-set.
In today’s global environment, leaders must be able to shift their thinking patterns in order to adapt to the changing world. So grab a ladder on get up on the roof!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Have a Glass of Bubbly: Insights from our Leadership Journey

I recently had the great privilege of celebrating 10 years of rich conversations with a group of women who, like I, had been participants on the Catherine Mc Auley Leadership and Enrichment Programme back in 2003.  This award is an initiative of the Sisters of Mercy that provides women with a unique experience of being in community with other women to explore and develop their understanding of and potential for leadership through the spirit of service.  

The objectives of the programme included:
  • Deepening your understanding of a Christian vision of leadership and service illumined by: the witness of Catherine McAuley, the sisters of her institute, significant women role models and mentors including women in the programme.
  • Enhancing your sense of life, health and well–being through opportunities to explore and integrate the affective, intellectual, spiritual, political, social and vocational dimensions of your lives.
  • A broader understanding of the concept of leadership and greater confidence in your leadership abilities and potential.
  • Enhancing skills for leadership tasks including setting and implementing personal developmental goals.
  • Greater sensitivity to issues of commonality and diversity and improved competency in engaging with these.
So 10 years on we spent a weekend together exploring how the program had influenced us, how a deep rich friendship had developed between six of us, and how our collective 60 years of shared life experiences had meant shared stories and experiences of births, deaths, marriages, new jobs and the opportunity to contribute to society through family, church, community, our work and by contributing to our diverse passions. 

So what are some of our insights?  
  • Sister Anne Tormey, the Sister of Mercy RSM who lead us, is an excellent female role model of leadership and business, community and politicians can learn some lessons about collaboration in order to solve complex social problems from this model of leadership.
  • Relationships – developing them, committing to them and contributing to them is most important to having a ‘Good Life’
  • Listen twice and if at all possible say nothing
  • Some people can seriously challenge your grace
  • Developing your own set of values, whether they are drawn from your family, religion or work determine your priorities
  • Ensure the things you do and the way you behave match your values, because then your life is usually good and you are satisfied and content.  
  • Have a Glass of Bubbly – when reading trashy mags we discovered “Researchers at the University of Reading found that compounds in Champagne can stimulate signals in part of the brain that control memory and learning. A glass of bubbly can also prevent the decline of cognitive skills with age”. We’ll drink to all of the above!

Image courtesy of digitalart /