Sep 202016

Leaders of 21st-century enterprises can learn a few things from Captain James A. Kirk’s brand-new stealth destroyer and her crew. Consider the similarities. Technology can raise everyone’s game and provide more information, faster. Automation can free humans from rote, mechanical work to do human, thinking work. There’s less room — less time — for overhead and waste.

More than ever, performance of the enterprise depends on individual people working together. And that means looking at individual skill-sets differently.

Lesson 4. Diversity, Teamwork, and Cross-functional Abilities are the New Superpowers


Zumwalt‘s technology means high awareness – but its up to the crew to act on it in time. (AviationIntel)

Whatever your organization is up against — battlefield, marketplace, research goal, or social cause — the environment in which you navigate is more volatile today.  The web and social media means everything is connected to everything else. What you “know” to be true can shift more rapidly and unpredictably now than in the past 300 years.

Traditional teams and organizations are at a disadvantage in this kind of environment. Teams whose every move is subordinate to a supervisor. Teams tiptoeing around the brilliant-but-difficult “superstar.” Teams in the dark about potential problems because their diligent-but-silent “hard worker” never asks for help.

It’s not the teams’ fault — these are the traits we usually hire for. “Takes direction well.” High GPA, high individual achievement. Most solo papers published. “Strong technical skills.” Independent “self-starters.” But today’s fast, chaotic environment needs High-Performing Teams more than high-performing individuals. And the science shows that what we usually look for in individuals needs an update.

The Zumwalt's crew (U.S. Navy)

The Zumwalt’s crew (U.S. Navy)

Teams in the 21st-century enterprise need to be composed of diverse people who mesh well together. People with not just good IQ, but good emotional intelligence — EQ. People who communicate openly and effectively. Who cross-train and appreciate each others’ jobs. Who put the overall mission above their egos. These teams perform well under fire because they cross-monitor, offer mutual support, and allow situational leadership to flow from person to person as needed.

Captain Kirk was asked how his reduced team was going to provide “force protection,” the military term for preventing hostile action against the crew. His answer is “we’re going to do it very well.

Our philosophy is going to be akin to the Marines Corps’ philosophy that every Marine is a rifleman in that every sailor on board must be a force protection expert.

They are also going to have to have a firm grasp of damage control, medical response, evacuation and care. If you get those three things in everybody’s ‘job jar,’ then you have the bench you need in an emergency while still having sailors trained and ready to execute their in-rate skills at different conditions of readiness.

Like Captain James A. Kirk, leaders of 21st-century enterprises will shift away from identifying candidates with the best skills for the job tasks. Instead, they’ll need to start screening for those who can perform the job tasks — and selecting the ones with the diversity, responsibility, communication skills, and sense of mission above self to best fit the mission of the team.

These were the first four lessons that popped to mind when I first read of the Zumwalt and her crew. What others do you see?

All articles in this series:

  1. “Raise the Game” — Automation is Required
  2. “Same Sheet, Different Data” — Tech Is Not Enough
  3. Management Overhead — Reduce the Waste
  4. Team Skills Needed — Diversity, Communication, Mutual Support (this page)
 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Apr 242015

2013-03-04 20.13.41Googling, I discovered that the folks over at XCeleratePartners blogged about an Innovation Games for Product Development course I taught in Houston. That was gratifying.

But what was truly gratifying was their write-up about the course (and here’s part 2). Go check it out. You’ll see some excellent details on how the games are played, which one to use for what purpose. And there are nice pictures, too.

Every teacher wants to know that they have made a difference, that their learners “get it.” That’s the true test of training. Not Net Promoter Score. Not standardized tests. The measure of the teacher shows in the real-life performance of their students.

“Educate” comes from the Latin educare, meaning “to lead out that which lies within.” The best learning is centered in the learner — not on the teacher — allowing the student to connect new concepts and techniques to those understandings which they already possess.

ProdBoxThe depth of the XCelerate students’ understanding is demonstrated in their ability to write about the games in a clear and comprehensive way. As an organizational coach, I couldn’t be more glad for the existence of another Innovation Games practitioner.

As an educator, I couldn’t ask for a better compliment.

 Posted by at 5:46 pm
Feb 102012

I love this Google+ post from Dave Gray. He talks about the operation of an aircraft carrier, a complex system with high personnel turnover but no comprehensive operations manual. There is no manual because it would have to be as complex as the carrier itself. Instead, the “manual” for the carrier is the sum of ongoing expertise and learning that is occurring all the time:

When the situation is stable, predictable, and well-understood, traditional hierarchy prevails. But when decisions need to be made quickly, decisions will migrate to the edge, where people can sense and respond to situations in real time.

At the end of the post Dave invites us to use this story as a metaphor for other large complex systems. One such large complex system is the so-called “software development process.” A documented process presupposes a simplistic ecosystem, but the ecosystem of enterprise software development — like the ecosystem of an aircraft carrier — is enormously complex. Beyond one person, a small team, or even a team of teams, enterprise software development is of the same order of complexity as the enterprise itself.

And as such, as Dave says, “there ain’t no manual.”

Sure, we need some abstractions (like UML) to help us quickly get our minds around general concepts. And we need some procedural checklists (like automated code-management tools). But mistaking these for “how to do software development” guides reminds me of Martin Fowler’s warning against mistaking software design docs for the software itself: “the code is the best source of comprehensive information, as the code is the easiest thing to keep in sync with the code.” Martin is reminding us that abstractions of complex systems are useful, but they are not the thing itself. Guidelines are useful, but manuals are useless.

So what do you do when your manual for the system will be as complex as the system itself? You don’t try to foster compliance — you foster learning.

And I have seen that scare the pee out of many people. They don’t want to learn. They don’t ever want to be the “new recruit” who has to learn how to best fit their own talents into that of the organization. They went to school, they have a degree, they have 10 years of experience, they want to prove to their organization that they “follow all the right processes and procedures.”

No wonder something like Scrum — three roles, three artifacts, three meetings, and 1 big rule: “adapt your work to best realize the needs of the product” — can be unsettling.

So, why are we learning to be afraid of learning?

 Posted by at 1:41 pm
Oct 162011

I recently spent a day helping the leadership of an organization make the leap from “can we become Agile?” to “now we’re becoming Agile!”  The problem was one of mindset: getting people to think less about barriers and more about what actions are possible.  My solution involved hands-on experiential learning and structured group debriefing.

I’ve written about it below, but I’m a visual person so I’ve added a lot of captioned pictures if you want the gist, and the how-to “recipe” for doing this mindset-shift yourself is at the end.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:59 pm
Sep 302011

At Agile Coach Camp I conducted a small session on balancing advocacy with inquiry when debriefing or trying to defuse tense situations.  Olaf Lewitz gave a very kind write up of the session (with pictures!) in his blog post Test-Driven Conversations and explains the learning he took away from the session.  Thanks, Olaf — and I love the title!

I did have a tweaks to the explanation, having to do with the example of Joe seeing Jim throw a plate on the floor, where Jim says “…if I was doing that I’d have been crazy.”

That’s an example of a judgmental statement couched in advocacy/enquiry language.  The judgement there is “you are crazy” and the interaction is tending toward the implication that there is some fault on the part of Jim.

If Joe were truly approaching the situation with desire to find out Jim’s internal motivation and wished to balance advocacy with enquiry, Joe might have said something like:

“I saw you throw that plate on the floor (fact), and I was frightened because to me throwing things is a sign of anger (advocacy).  Can you help me understand what was happening? (enquiry)

Advocacy requires that you expose your own internal frame/motivation, which doesn’t necessarily mean keeping your emotions to yourself — it just means that you expose them directly by stating what they are, rather than indirectly through tone of voice, gesticulating, etc.

Of course, being able to do this requires that you know what’s going on inside your own head too… not always easy to be aware of when emotions are high. :)

 Posted by at 5:28 am
Jul 172011

What is luxury?
Fine food, fine wine
Different lands, different people, different tongues
Water, sand, sun, sky:
Nature in all Her splendour.

Servants and service, our ev’ry whim
Fulfilled –
Singers, dancers, masseurs, chefs
A multitude of choices arrayed
To delight and dazzle us
Confounding our inner judge
Drowning out its strident
Admonitions: “You may not. You must not. There is not enough.”
“You just haven’t earned it yet.”

Freedom from want, freedom from duty
“Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”
Freedom from normalcy, free refills
“You’ve been upgraded.”
Freedom from lack, freedom from fear
“You’ve earned it.”

But Nature is in the world, if you see Her
The songs are in your heart, if you hear them
The wine is from your soul, if you taste it
The food is with your friends, if you share it
The dance is in your work, if you dance it.
Stand up, relax, and enjoy the walk.
You need no upgrade.
“You may. You must. There is enough.”

Is yours
And has been —
From the very start.


 Posted by at 3:36 pm
Oct 162010

Regina Holliday, a muralist and advocate for health care improvement, talks about her painting “Bridging the Great Divide” between L-mode and R-mode thought as applied to Healthcare 2.0.

The talk and painting depend a bit on the context of the conference where Regina is speaking, however I really liked this bit at at 3m50s about Gorilla Glass:

“Gorilla Glass… was sitting in a vault in Corningware since 1962, waiting for technology to catch up. And that’s what you guys are doing right now, you’re the catch-up. All these amazing things are out there that you need to embrace and teach us how to use correctly…

…Can you walk on glass? Can you take a step forward when you don’t know what’s supporting you? Do you have faith in the technology that you are speaking about, even if you cannot see it, nor prove it, nor say that its currently effective, can you convince others about how it’s going to change absolutely everything?”

I think there’s a message here for the #sgphx folks. I know I certainly am taking it to heart.

Amplify’d from

Click to see the video