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New Lenses and a Sharper Vision

by Leadership Participant

Returning to work after our second session, I felt like I was coming back not just with new tools, but with new lenses and sharper vision.  But would that have an impact?  I think it has.  Here are three mini-reflections focused around new things that happened in my leadership because of lessons and tools I acquired through MOR:

Face-to-Face meetings – On my first Monday morning back from session two, I realized there were six or seven senior people with whom I was overdue for a face-to-face meeting.  So I reached out and scheduled ALL of them.  In a few cases I had updates to give, in a few I had specific information to gather, but in several, it was just about staying connected – hearing about what was on their mind and sharing what was on mine.  Unlike the simulation game where face-to-face meetings just helped get one project done, I realized that these meetings were creating a rich exchange with the folks who would likely be part of whatever I do next and whatever I do next after that.  Just as in the simulation, the meetings moved my current initiatives ahead, helped me evolve my thinking on some upcoming projects, and gave me valuable information about what is going on in other areas of my department and the university.  If you haven’t made or expanded a list of key people to meet with one-on-one, I cannot think of an easier and more impactful leadership change.

Culture eats Strategy for lunch – I have a team of about 20 employees, independent contractors and vendors working on a project together.  There was quite a bit of blame going on, we/they thinking, and a good measure of folks not getting and staying on the same page.  These cultural issues were there before I left for the workshop, but now, upon my return, I saw them as key issue to address.   I shifted my focus from monitoring and pushing on the quality of the project plan with its enumerated dependencies and hand-offs, to monitoring and pushing on the quality of interactions among the team.   Not that I hadn’t dealt with cultural issues before MOR, but the key shift was that I was seeing them in the context of a larger cultural landscape, not just as isolated issues to work around when they “got in the way” of a specific deliverable…

SWOT – It may not surprise anyone that my efforts above to change the culture by pushing on the team were like squeezing a balloon.  Now there were two cultures – the one that folks pretended at when I was in the room watching, and the one that happened when I was not in the room.  Fortunately, I had initiated 1:1 meetings with the team-leads, several of who told identical stories to me in confidence of how the “new” culture was not sticking when I was not in the room.  But what to do?  I didn’t know, but I knew I needed to engage the team in naming and changing the culture.  I might not know the answer, but the answer had to be in the room.  I didn’t want to pull the team away from their work for a long exercise, but I experienced for myself at MOR how Curtis used the four M’s to radically accelerate a SWOT exercise, so why not try that?  I told the project manager to get post-its and called the team together that afternoon to spend 30 minutes generating ideas, 15 minutes identifying common themes, and 15 minutes debriefing on the exercise.  One week later, the team is communicating and operating radically better.  I am very pleased and surprised by the rapidity of the improvement in the team, though I do not pretend to know exactly which parts of what we shared and changed put us over the top.  I hope this encourages you to give “rapid SWOT” a try.


Jon Sobel
Director, Systems and Data Integration
Yale University ITS