Thinking about collaboration

Today I was asked by Bev Holden to be part of the series she’s been doing on Google+ Hangouts called Collaborate Live. It was a fab 25 mins, and I am surprised how quick the time went.

Anyway, head over to the Google+ page to have a gander and let me know what you thought resonated for you, what didn’t, and what you’d like to hear more about.

Or you can watch it here, and do the same in the comments below.


The Science of Happiness part 2 – appreciation and collaboration

This is the second post in a short series on a talk I went to see last week by Tal Ben-Shahar, courtesy of Action for Happiness.

In the first, I wrote about Tal’s emphasis on reality. He lives in Israel, and in the Q&A, someone asked him the big question of how to deal with the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’ll come back to that a bit later.

Reality drives our existence. What we perceive is the truth we live. If we perceive there to be injustice, we will find it. If we perceive there to be beauty, we will find it. If we perceive there to be human misery, we will find it. If we perceive there to be love, we will find it.

Ben-Shahar made an observation that identifying this reality means we experience a range of emotions, and we have to understand those emotions and how they affect us. If it is true that reality drives existence, then it is also true that emotions drive behaviour. As a species, we have a real depth of understanding of how different emotions prepare the body and mind for action, or not.

He went on to say that it’s in experiencing painful emotions that we experience what it is to be human. Our painful emotions provide us the platform from which we can be human. As a quick, he said the only two types of people who do not experience painful emotions are psychopaths and the dead.

The resilience we build from having painful emotions is what supports our ability to experience positive emotions and positive living. We know what the bad feels like, and will try not to let that happen again. Through positive psychology techniques we support ourselves to build our psychological immune system. I loved that as an analogy.

Tal spoke about the importance of appreciation too. In marriages, once the honeymoon period is over, we start to recognise the imperfections in our partners. We start to let those imperfections become more important than their positive attributes. Reality drives existence. If we focus on the imperfections we see only imperfections.

One of the things that helps is to make efforts to appreciate your partner. Verbally this is important as you are recognising them openly. Our actions also show this, and gestures like small gifts or in kind are important. When we appreciate the good, the good appreciates. Nice, no?

We need to appreciate our imperfect selves better, and in doing so we can appreciate others better. It can be challenging to live well, if we don’t practise appreciation.

Finally he spoke about conflict. In conflict, often the focus is on two differing opinions and the debate nearly always comes back to that. He described, though, a potential way of reconciliation. Imagine if the two parties collaborated on a task which was for the greater good. The collaboration would allow the two parties to start to focus on something other than their conflict. The conflict could and should still be addressed. But the collaboration would mean you are cultivating optimism and hope through an activity for the better good.

He was open and modest enough to recognise there is no easy answer to the Israel/Palestine conflict. However, two people from either side have collaborated in such a way as to focus on the greater good, and this does lay down the path for hope in this situation, even though it may be a long way to come.

It was all kinds of awesome to listen to Tal Ben-Shahar.

Content Marketing and L&D

In the digital marketing world, much is touted about content marketing, and how it is driving consumer behaviour in different ways.

What is content marketing? It’s content a brand produces that helps consumers connect with it in different ways. It’s about Old Spice producing the Old Spice guy set of You Tube videos.

With it?

One of the most taxing things about collaborating with L&D professionals is that a lot of practitioners (both internal and external) want to make money from their content. I understand it – they’re being commercial.

Currently this is as far as L&D suppliers go to create content – the odd You Tube video, maybe a white paper, and blogging. If they’re feeling creative, there will be an infographic hiding somewhere too.

That’s fine if you want to be doing what average Joe is doing.

What is great content?

You know what I’d love to see? Things like this being produced in a collaborative effort by L&Ders coming together.

Volkswagen produced that, and I love it. Volkswagen. One of the biggest manufacturers of cars in the world.

And you have L&Ders protesting they need to keep their content to maintain a commercial advantage.

I tell you what, I doubt Volkswagen lost any intellectual property by producing that content.

Which is the point. Content is content. It helps people to learn something. Or to experiment with something. Or to innovate.

L&D could be at its best when it co-produces content. When it comes together and says we can achieve more as a profession when we collaborate.

Imagine the likes of Reed Learning, Power Hour 60, the Mind Gym and etc. venues all coming together to produce content which went out into the world.

Imagine Hemsley Fraser, What Goes Around Limited, OPP Ltd and the Trainers Kitbag collaborating together on a project which produced some content which was unexpected.

Imagine the Learning Performance Institute, weelearning, mylearningworx and Roffey Park coming together to produce content which helps people do something amazing.

Here’s what I’d love to see L&Ders produce:
– a series of learning video podcasts that take people on a journey – not about products, but about a persons learning journey through their daily life
– an art project where pieces of art are produced that evoke personal insight and raise awareness
– a piece of live event content like this

– a set of music sets which lights the heart, sets the soul soaring and lifts the veils
– a short video which inspires meaning and speaks to your inner being

Earlier this year I put out the call for people to produce Learning Stories. I still maintain telling stories is the primary way learning professionals can best help people be their best self.

This call to action is not an easy one.

No-one needs to lose their USP.

Everyone gains by achieving something exciting.

Lasting Positive Affect

In recent weeks I’ve been involved in various activities which have created a space for me to do some solid reflection and time to think about who I am, and how I identify myself. Navel gazing is something we all do at some point, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve come to appreciate.

In positive psychology the range of activities that are involved are designed to help create lasting positive affect. That is, the desired response is to maintain a long lasting effect of feeling good beyond immediate gratification. This has been of interest to me in recent months as I want to know how to make this more applicable. How can we be engaged in activities that help us to uncover what it means to have lasting positive affect?

There is a pertinent point to mention, that living in the Western developed world, we are afforded the luxury of this type of thinking, and this type of activity. I’d argue this isn’t actually restricted to the Western developed world, but we certainly have more opportunity to engage in this type of thinking due to the circumstances that enable it.

In my life I can recall some events where the experience is such a fond one that it creates warmth in my heart and raises an internal smile. I now reflect and realise that it is the way I reflect on these that create a long sense of feeling good. Two of those experiences are the births of all three of my children. I can also reflect and recall that certain achievements I thought should have created lasting positive affect did not happen as I might have expected. For example, passing my masters degree.

So some weeks back I was involved in using my skills and knowledge to deliver some work which has directly benefited an organisation and created for them an opportunity to think differently about the way they work. This was such an awesome experience that I am delighted to have been part of it.

Last week in particular I was with a group of people who helped me to realise an idea and make it a reality. The affirmation this has given me in myself is immense. I have a firm belief that I can achieve (my own sense of) greatness, and this is incredibly valuable to me. More so, this has affirmed to me that I am at heart a collaborator. I write about it often enough, and advocate it enough to know this, and recent times have given me the strength to know this.

I attended a conference last week, and was involved in several discussions where I ended up connecting with different people, and connecting people with others. I’ve had conversations where I’ve realised that I may not know the thing being asked, but someone I know does. I’m a connector. I have built a strong network of people with whom I have built trust, rapport, and professional credibility. Because of them, I know things. I know things which I didn’t know I wanted to know, and didn’t know would be important to me or to others.

These two things are not things I want to go forth and exploit, they are just important for me to know. It’s taken a range of experience to help me know these two things, and taking the time to reflect has been key to this. Where this leads me is unknown. But I have a strong sense of self which I will trust to guide my path.

Don’t believe the hype, teams are awesome

Yesterday I read an interesting piece about how ineffective teams can be. It was interesting because I don’t think there was a proper appreciation of what teamwork enables, achieves and why it either does or not work.

The article claims very little research has been done about the actual effectiveness of teams. Work carried out by Dr Belbin and his colleagues some 40 years ago shows this not to be the case. We have long known how to help teams be effective – the problem has been only some are tasked with actually building and developing effective teams. When you have a start up company growing and adding numbers to their headcount, their priority for effective teams only becomes a priority when someone introduces the need for it. We can say the same is true of big businesses. There may be a need for effective teams but no one knows what this looks like until a facilitator is brought in (internal or external).

The psychological benefits of teamwork are well documented too. Things such as having a social network that you can interact with. Building relationships with people who share similar goals to you. Sharing discussions, thoughts and feelings with a group who can listen and respond. A sense of belonging to something and having motivation to do good work. Recent research in positive psychology shows that working in a team can raise the overall sense of wellbeing a person experiences.

In an organisation, teamwork is the key way engagement happens. Certain factors like good communication channels need to be in place. An inclusive mindset is vital, and respecting differences comes as a core part of this. A team leader helps to give the group a vision and purpose for being. The way learning is shared and feedback given is important to continually develop and improve what the team does and how they do it.

In a different organisational context, teams need to have the authority and responsibility to do what they’re asked to without hinderance or barriers from senior management. The effectiveness of a team can only be realised if they’re actually allowed to achieve their objectives. Teams are very good at creating the culture you desire. They create self defining behaviours. By doing this, they reflect the wider organisation’s culture, as well as the mini culture they create themselves.

Collaboration happens best when the right people are put in the right team and given a clear direction on what they are meant to achieve. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, very few individuals have the ability/knowledge/vision to be able to achieve great things. In all other instances, collaborative efforts will achieve company goals and objectives.

Teams don’t fail because they are teams. They don’t fail because of single factors. There’s often a number of considerations that put together will either help or hinder the success of a team. What we can do is take the time to understand what are we doing to help these teams be a success. Be it a team you lead, a project team you are managing, or a disparate group tasked with working on an initiative, there will be someone who has the experience of what it means to make your team a success. Seek them out and use their knowledge.

Come on 2012, let’s have you.

This post was originally written for the Training Journal. I wanted to share it here too.

The news has been full of information lately about what businesses are likely to face in 2012. Doom and gloom is abound all round and it’s going to be a tough slog. There’s no doubting that business and organisations alike in the coming year will face possibly one of the hardest years in recent history. There is very little positive in this messaging. Unemployment is up, in particular youth unemployment has hit above 1 million of for the first time. Retail industries are facing less spending from customers. Borrowing and lending from banks is becoming more restrictive. Older generations are facing having to work longer to have a comfortable life in their later years. Charities and not-for-profits are facing squeezes on a number of fronts.

This is good news for learning and development. Wait, what? How did I get to that conclusion? Let’s consider what learning and development is about. It used to be the case that your internal trainer was there to develop training courses to give the workforce the skills they needed to do the job. Well 20 years later, and the trainer evolved into an L&Der. This L&D professional isn’t just focused on training. It’s about looking at all aspects of a person’s time with a company, when they need that learning, how they receive it, and what they’re able to do with it.

We know this, right? Well, I’m not so sure. I think we’ve got so used to using L&D suppliers to help deliver on our business objectives, that we’re at danger of doing ourselves out of a very important role. In times of hardship and austerity, one of the key motivating factors a business needs to cultivate and nurture is the learning and development they provide for their teams. By farming out various pieces of work and delivery to our training partners, we’ve forgotten that we are fully capable, in ourselves, of delivering the proposition. Yes this means a re-think of what L&D is meant to be achieving. And that’s not an easy change in mindset.

The key thing is we forget we can enable and make things happen. There are a number of experts right now sitting there with a mountain of knowledge in those marvellous brains of theirs. And they’re waiting to share it all. They just don’t know they’re waiting to do that. Not until an L&Der comes along, gets them together and starts giving them the forum to make it happen. And what needs to take place in those discussions? Well, remember those product innovations you’ve always said you needed to do? Or that new marketing strategy you need to look at? Or how you get the leadership team to work together? Or how to keep people engaged in the business? All these and more are the exact conversations that need to be happening right now.

I’m a believer in collaboration and achieving more in numbers. Only a few people have the drive, vision and ambition to achieve great results on their own. In every other case, collaboration comes trumps, and as L&Ders, we are the best placed people in an organisation to make it happen. We understand the culture of the business, we understand group dynamics, we understand how to use tools and techniques to get people thinking and we understand the business objectives. The opportunities in the coming year are plentiful, and we should be at the core of making them realities.