Unwritten Rules?

“What are the unwritten rules that guide your work?” 

I came across this question recently, and it struck a chord.   Are the people in my life – my family, colleagues, clients, friends, etc. – aware of the various rules that influence how stuff gets done in my life? Would it make parts of my day more successful or less stressful if they were?

Think about the various parts of your day – work, commuting, family time, workout time, down time, etc.  Are there unwritten rules (you might call them norms, expectations, assumptions) that guide how you work, engage with others or simply get stuff done?  Is everyone involved in the activities aware of your unwritten rules?

Every organization I’ve worked in has had rules – written and unwritten – that guide how work gets done, who is involved, priorities and what gets taken on.  Being aware of all the rules could truly have made many of the experiences more engaging, productive, and successful.

So, how do we do this at work?

I often ask groups “what assumptions are guiding your thinking about X?”  This discussion raises the beliefs people have about work, what is going on and what they think they are trying to accomplish.

But, taking it one step further and asking people to share the unwritten rules that they believe influence their work or the organization could help teams to discover a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for their team.  This kind of dialogue can inspire teams to set aside old habits, “we’ve always done it that way” thinking, or preconceived notions about teammates, and foster engagement, excitement and discovery that incites new levels of thinking and performance.

Have you ever asked your team about the unwritten rules that influence their work or the group’s work?  Try it.  You might be surprised by what people are thinking and how the differences impact your opportunity for success.

What’s Your Purpose?

What is your purpose?  Why does your organization exist?

This is a critical question.  To bring people along, to get them excited and motivated to advance your organization they need to understand what you are striving for and why.  They need to understand your purpose.

No one can do the work associations strive to do alone. You can’t be everywhere, solve every problem and lead every team. So you need to ensure that your team (be they staff or volunteers) understand your purpose and can make informed smart choices to support the purpose.

Don’t assume that everyone knows your organization purpose.  Each of us interpret goals, activities and expectations based on the information we have, where we sit and the work we do.

So, what can you do? Ask Q box purpose - cropped

Help your team understand your purpose.  Discuss why you exist, hear people’s perspectives, listen to their questions, understand their concerns, their ideas and gaps in information. This will help you frame a plan to bring everyone along and help align everyone on one team where they can see past their role and help you to build the organization forward.

“Creating the condition in which the best work is most easily achieved is the job of any leader of any group of any size. ~ Margaret Herrferman, Beyond Measure

Have a favorite question?  Please share it below to be featured in a future post.


Does your team inspire a following?

Service, innovative programs, community, comfort, ease…the reasons why people engage with your organization vary from person to person. So how do you keep up?

Creating products, services and ultimately a culture that inspire people to engage with your organization takes effort and perseverance.  How do you keep building, serving and facilitating in ways that inspire people to return to your organization?

This type of sustained effort requires teams that get it. You need teams that understand your organization’s purpose, what you are striving to achieve and who you are trying to serve. It requires people who are motivated and enthusiastic about building your success.

Motivated, engaged and enthusiastic teams don’t just happen. The good teams you’ve been a part of, the ones where people share their honest perspectives and “crazy” ideas, disagree respectfully, support each other, and genuinely collaborate. Those teams were fostered.

With the hectic pace of association life we can be tempted to invite people to a conference room or a conference call or assign them a desk in a “collaboratively designed” space and expect teamwork to happen. This rarely results in engaged and successful teams.

If you want a team that: strives to create the best opportunities and resources, provides stellar service and genuinely cares for your members you need to invest in building your team.

As Hank Fortener explains “the people are the work” (How to Build Teams That Won’t Fail Each Other).  Investing time and energy in building your team will reap benefits for you, your team and your organization.

So how do you start or build up your current efforts? Here are a few key things to consider.

Engage with your team
There is a lot of talk about engaged employees. But strong teams also require engaged leaders. Your people need to see you. They need to hear from you, they need to know that you care and understand, they need to know that you get it.

A simple way to build engagement is asking questions that encourage staff to share their ideas, perspectives and concerns with you.
• How do you think we could …?
• What do you need to make this a success?
• Why is this important to you?

Stephen Covey said it best, “listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.”  Listen to what people are telling you. Be open to what they are saying. Ask questions. Listen to what is going on around you – in your organization, in your member’s organizations in the broader community. Make time to listen and take in what is being said and not said.

To focus your attention on listening, I recommend keeping a list of questions in your notebook or electronic device that you can pose to build discussions.
• Why do you think this did or did not work the way we expected?
• What do you think we could do to make ___ better?
• What might slow down our efforts?

Communicate with your team
Communication is a tool for building understanding and engagement – yours and your teams. Good communication requires asking questions, listening and ensuring that your people understand the message you are trying to share. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Good communication is a form of engagement.

Try asking simple questions to gauge your team’s comfort, interest and understanding • How could we improve this plan/idea?
• If you were leading the group, what two things would you do next?
• Can you help me to understand…(your concern, the challenge, the opportunity, etc)?

Good teams require engagement yours and your colleagues. Show that you care and your colleagues will be more likely to invest their time and effort.

Here are a few resources to help you develop your team focus.
HBR Blog: Three Ways To Encourage Smarter Teamwork

Talking Point: Four Ways To Demonstrate Genuine Care

Four Ways to Instill and Promote Transparency at Work

The Question Project

Think before you Plan!

Planning for the future, whether personal retirement, professional advancement or organizational planning, is one of those topics many people prefer to avoid.  I get it, knowing what you need to know, what to consider and who to talk to can be daunting.

So, when I came across this education planning perspective while researching schools I nearly fell in love!

“At School X, even as we create a dynamic daily learning environment for our students, we are also thinking far into the future. At the beginning of each school year, we take note of the year that our Pre-Kindergartners will graduate from college and enter the adult world. For next year’s youngest students, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2033. 2033 feels very far away. And yet for School X, it represents something important. What do we know about 2033? How does a great school prepare children for an uncertain future? Should we be offering courses in interstellar travel or piloting hovercraft?”

Imagine the amazing experiences associations could offer members, volunteers and staff if more organizations thought about and prepared for the future in an informed and inspired way.

It would be great if organizations approached planning in an organized and deliberate manner, reflecting on what happened in the past year(s), looking ahead at what the trends and forecasts envision and mapping this perspective with their strategic plan.  Sadly, my personal experience has been quite the contrary.

Planning for 20 years from now may seem unnecessary or even frivolous for an organization. Yes, focusing only on the future would be short sighted (the school above does teach reading, writing and math). But, being aware of what is or might impact the community/market you serve is smart leadership.

Being mindful of where trends and developments may lead and how these might impact your community/market is wise planning. Looking forward can help you recognize and leverage opportunities that arise and make informed choices. Being caught unaware of developments in your community/market can leave you in a vulnerable position.

You don’t have to jump into a full-scale futures research project to start considering how future developments might impact your community/market. You can start small with a simple discussion exploring what your team knows or can access about potential trends and developments in your community/market. Some people may enjoy this and some may find it painful, but it is a perspective you need to consider. Here are a few questions to help you start a discussion.

  • What is shaping our market/community?
  • What is shaping our view of the future? (Where is our information coming from? What assumptions do we have?)
  • Are our decisions based on what we have always done or on the relevant information and insights?

“If you start planning before thinking, you can end up with the wrong solution to the right problem.”  ~ Max McKeon, The Strategy Book, p. 10