Everything is just fine …

I’m teaching a teams workshop with the University of Alberta today, and inevitably someone talks about being on a team that goes sideways. What I find fascinating is that most times people know something has been brewing but thought it would just “blow over.” Trust me, it never does. It takes courage to surface issues and may feel uncomfortable but that is a whole lot better than dealing with the broken trust that happens after things blow up.


Being curious

Yesterday I blogged about an amazing group of people who are making great things happen in Victoria. The word that came up over and over throughout the day was curious, and I observed that this was a pretty curious group and that their curiosity led to some amazing results. The room also buzzed with excitement and energy. This doesn’t always happen when we work with groups. Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to chip away at the brick walls in people’s minds. What’s your curiosity quotient and how does that impact the teams you work on?


Observed in Hawaii

“What is that crazy woman doing?” I said to Dave, as we approached the coordinates for the cache. He didn’t answer, as he was preoccupied with reading the hints for the cache. The woman continued to look intently at the ground beneath the tree and then sat down and looked even more intently at the ground, picking something up and examining it every once in a while.

“She looks homeless, poor thing. Probably been out all night, strung out on something or other.” In a few minutes, she got up and wandered down the street.

“I think the cache is just over here,” Dave said and he started rummaging in the bushes. I went over to where the woman had been and started looking at the ground.

“You two look like you are wandering around looking for wiliwili seeds,” a man walked up to me and said.

“What in the heck are wiliwili seeds?” I asked cautiously, letting my paranoia get the best of me and thinking we had wandered into the middle of a tourist scam. I grabbed my purse tighter and was glad I had left my credit cards and precious technology in the hotel room.

“They are little seeds that fall off this big tree you’re under … only at certain times of the year. They are bright red and people collect them to make jewelry,” he replied. He bent down and picked one up. “Here’s one. They are becoming quite rare and jewelry makers are finding it harder and harder to find them.”

Hmmmm … mystery solved. I felt like an eejit (as Dave would say). How quickly I forget the things I teach about checking one’s assumptions!


Two Simple Words that Kill Team Creativity














In our creativity workshops, we ask people to participate in a simple exercise. They are to work in partners through 3 scenarios:

  1. Person A invites Person B to do a favorite activity and Person B keeps responding with No, I can’t.
  2. Person B invites Person A to do a favorite activity and Person A keeps responding with ‘yeah-but” that will never work, we tried that already, etc etc
  3. Person A invites Person B to do a favorite activity and Person B keeps responding with”yeah and we could”

We then ask people in which scenario did they feel the most energy and creativity. Not surprisingly, it’s scenario 3. The really interesting thing, however, is that people find the yeah-but response more demoralizing than the straight no.  There’s something about no being definitive but objective, whereas yeah-but feels more like a subjective put down of an idea.

Sometimes people really resist the idea of dropping yeah-but from their repertoire. They argue that we’re asking them to give up their logic or expert knowledge. I think yeah-but sometimes gives leaders the allusion that they are just looking after the best interests of the team and trying to save people from disappointment or hurt. But I think that masks the real issue of yeah-butting. I know mine kicks in when I am attached to my  way of doing things or feeling a bit insecure or tired and just not up to trying something different or risky.

So the next time you find yourself yeah-butting, take a minute to reflect on your true motives and the impact you’re having on your team’s ability to problem solve and come up with creative ideas.

Written by Tammy and based on the 5 of diamonds from our Teamwork Explorer.

10 Reasons We Use Email to Manage Conflict and How to Stop it!

I take a risk with this blog’s video.  I am new to using advanced features in powerpoint and new to converting powerpoint to a video format. I hope you enjoy it (more importantly I hope my point is clear!) and while I am open to feedback, please be gentle 🙂

More time and energy is wasted on escalating “email wars.” I have been both instigator and hapless recipient. Why do we do this? A few reasons come to mind:

  1. We misread the intent behind the email because so much of the visual and emotional context is missing.
  2. We are stressed and have lost perspective and don’t think we have time to deal with an issue.
  3. We work on a virtual team and so face to face immediate contact isn’t possible (there’s a bit of an excuse here but with technologies like Skype not so much.)
  4. We don’t have a whole lot of emotional intelligence, in particular self and relationship management.
  5. We’re better writers than talkers and there’s a fair bit of satisfaction to be gained from a brilliantly (albeit destructively) worded email.
  6. We’re procrastinators and it’s more interesting to engage in an email war than get on with a really difficult project.
  7. We read meaning into an email (whether real or imagined is not important) about our overall competence or identity and feel a need to come to our own defense.
  8. We’ve been avoiding a difficult conversation with someone for some time and seize the opportunity to be righteous.
  9. We poked at wasp’s nests as kids and the pattern is still alive and well and thriving.
  10. We’re cowards, willing to put something in an email, but not address an issue face to face.

Outside of #9, I think I’ve been guilty of all of these although in the last few years I have learned some skills. Here’s what I try to do:

BREATHE … Breathe, Resist (React), Explore, Alternatives, Time, Honest, Expression

Put together … Breathe, resist the urge to react, explore alternative interpretations, take time before responding, take an honest look at your motivations and come up with an authentic and positive expression … whether that is heading down the hallway and having a face to face chat or asking your colleague halfway across the world for a skype call the next convenient time.

Oh, and BTW, BREATHE works if you are instigator or hapless recipient 🙂

This blog is based on the 3 of Diamonds, Don’t Use Email to Manage Conflict, from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy

What Improv Everywhere Can Teach your Team about Having Fun

I have always believed that teams do their best work when they’re having fun and that’s why I have fallen in love with Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based collective that organizes fun and joyful pranks.  I was thinking about why their “acts” are so appealing and funny and how teams can use this insight to put more fun into their work. Here are my insights:

  1. They add something unusual to routines. That’s why seeing “no pants” people get onto a subway is so funny.  It breaks up a predictable, boring routine. Try something like organizing your next agenda as a treasure hunt or blow a horn whenever anyone says a commonly used term on your team.
  2. It’s easy to participate. Dressing like a Best Buy store clerk requires only khaki pants and a blue T-shirt. Have a “wear red” day to celebrate a milestone. Put out a unique and difficult jigsaw puzzle on a desk and whenever anyone on the team accomplishes a task they get to complete 15 minutes on the puzzle. Put a sign-in sheet beside it to record the accomplishments of the team.
  3. They are keen observers of human nature and turn a “rule” on its head. Evening wear is “supposed” to be worn for special, formal events. Taking it to a beach turns that rule on its head. Instead of doing a “lessons learned” after a project is complete, do a lessons not learned at the beginning of a project.
  4. There’s a harmless element of secrecy and curiosity. In their Mp3 Experiment, thousands of people downloaded an Mp3 and followed instructions, like choose an object in the store and dance with it or stand still wherever you are until further instruction. Choose a super hero and have everyone on your team act and talk like that superhero for a day but don’t tell anyone else what you are doing.
  5. They switch up communication channels. In The Mute Button, a group of people in a park square engage in all sorts of activities like break dancing to music, talking to one another, playing with a dog, and on a signal they all stop using sound and continue to participate in the activity.  Just imagine how you could inject fun into your team meeting by having people play charades to discuss an issue rather than talking!

How can you take these 5 insights and create a bit of fun on your team? I’d love to hear what you come up with!

This blog is based on the 4 of Hearts, Have Fun, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Image credit: Mira Hartford

An Acronym That Will Make your Day and Build your Team


The cartoon says it all … how would doing the opposite of your usual communication style make someone’s day and build your team?

Oh, and in case you didn’t catch the acronym, it’s WAIT (why am I talking/thinking?)

This blog is based on the 9 of Diamonds, WAIT, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Don’t Read This if You’re a Procrastinator!

I am a very skillful procrastinator and this video is a brilliant and funny study of it! Procrastination strikes all of us at times and strikes all the time for some of us 😉 I fall into the latter category and have spent many years discovering techniques to move from procrastination to execution! I was excited when my brilliant husband developed a 2 x 2 matrix to guide some of his coachees (and himself as I think he also falls into the latter category … how is it we ever get anything done????)

Procrastination Matrix

The idea is quite simple … we will do the things we enjoy and most likely procrastinate over the things we don’t enjoy or find difficult.  We will also use the things we enjoy doing in order to avoid doing the things we don’t!

Ideally a good portion of our work falls into the top left quadrant – urgent and enjoy doing – as we are most likely tapping into our strengths in that particular quadrant. I would put a majority of my work here – I love designing leadership programs, facilitating and coaching. I also love researching things on the Internet and, while occasionally related to my work, more often it’s not urgent.  I don’t like organizing files or paperwork (bottom right for me) and I also struggle to write blogs and do general marketing (top right).

The trick is to limit yourself from doing the bottom left (red X) while moving the top right over to the left. So, when I set aside a morning to blog, I don’t turn on my email program and reward myself when I do write a blog (like check my email, go to Amazon and check out some books, read my favorite book, watch my favorite TV program).  These are what I would call external or behavioral attempts to deal with my procrastination.

There are also internal ones which basically involve changing the way we think about things, so instead of fearing marketing or blogging, I need to think about them differently, addressing my fears and making them fun.  In the last few years, we have offered free half day seminars to our local clients and would be clients, sponsored meet and mingles, award ceremonies, and given away half day workshops at charity silent auctions. We love doing these things and they have helped us build our business.

I have also discovered one last insight … I procrastinate when I think a project is too big or too hard or beyond my skills. In those instances, I have started to ask myself one question, “What’s one step I can take right now to address my fears and move me closer to my goal?”

And with that last thought and for those of you who did watch John’s Kelly’s procrastination video … I think there’s a cup of tea I need to make!

This blog is based on the 4 of Spades, Procrastination, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

6 Ways to Develop your Creativity

Ordinarily, I don’t embed 20 minute videos into my blog posts, but this is one of my all time favorite videos, full stop. That it’s about how we lose our creativity as we age is profound and that Sir Ken Robinson is so funny makes it poignant and memorable.  That I stumbled across it after we had developed our own framework for creativity and that he so wonderfully reinforces our message is exciting. If you don’t have time to view his video but want tips now, here are our 6 ways to develop your creativity, based around the acronym CREATE.

  1. C – Critic – Creativity cannot take hold in an environment of judging or criticizing. Many of us struggle with an inner critic, basically any internal message we send ourselves about what we can’t do — this includes messages that we aren’t creative! Similarly, we have external critics, judgments we place on others that create an environment where new ideas or risks are discouraged. Creativity needs a supportive, open environment where wild ideas and unconventional approaches flourish. Tame your critic by replacing judgment with curiosity.
  2. R – Risk – Our most important inventions come from someone who was willing to take a risk to be different. People’s openness to risk depends upon many factors — nature of the risk, who’s involved, impact of the risk and overall personality factors.  We also tend to overestimate what we have and underestimate what we might gain by taking a risk. The next time you want to do something different, write down everything you currently have in one column and what you might gain from the risk in a second column. What are you overestimating in the first column?  What might you be underestimating in the second column?
  3. E – Energy – Creative people have paid attention to their natural body rhythms and are deliberate about not only when they are most energetic, but also which environments most facilitate their creativity. Become more aware of the times and environments that are low energy for you and do something to shift that energy.  Take a walk, dance to disco music (works for me every time!), do something different from your usual routines (sit with a different person at lunch, read your newspaper at a different time) and declutter your desk or office.
  4. A – Alternatives – Much has been written about creativity and a majority of it focuses on different ways to generate alternatives. Creative people are great at brainstorming. They can think of different ways to approach a challenge and utilize a number of tools to stimulate ideas. An easy way to explore alternatives is to choose a random word or object and then apply the characteristics of that to whatever challenge/problem you are facing.  Try this nifty little online tool for inspiration.
  5. T – Time – Creative people devote regular time to developing their own creativity. Take an honest and fearless look at where you spend your time and trim out those activities that eat up your time but don’t challenge you creatively (like watching TV!). Take yourself on a monthly date and do something highly creative and outside your comfort zone like visiting an art gallery, taking a pottery or art class, going to the theatre, learning how to woodwork, etc.  Do this on your own so you don’t have to worry about your partner, but can explore your own creativity.
  6. E – Execute – Ensure that your good ideas don’t go wasted. Creative people who are good at executing experience success. A great way to move closer to execution rather than procrastination is to simply take one step at a time.  Many times we can be overwhelmed by a big project … just make a commitment to take one step a day towards it.

Here are a list of my favorite resources for creativity:

Happy creating!

This blog is based on the 6 of Spades, Get Creative, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Why Won’t We Call Time-Outs?

Bang Head Here

Graphic Calliope Learning - Original Source Unknown

No doubt you’ve seen this poster as it’s been around for years.  It’s a good chuckle as it seems ridiculous and exaggerated, but I caught myself doing the equivalent of banging my head against the wall just last Friday and while I didn’t lose consciousness literally, there certainly was no intelligence in my actions. I continued to spin my wheels, get even more upset,  ruin my day, and not get anything done … just move email messages around into different folders and write out a to do list in half a dozen different places.

I know better!  Had I taken myself on a time-out to my newly created workout room for a bit of wild dancing to disco music, I might have gotten a grip, gotten a perspective, renergized myself, found my groove, reclaimed my day, etc, etc.

When we work with teams in our one week leadership programs, we ask team members to choose the 5 cards from our Teamwork card deck that they think will help them be successful. A number of them choose this particular card, Call Time-Outs, the 2 of diamonds, which suggests:

Many a meeting has become unproductive because people mistakenly believe that all problems can be solved on a timetable and ticked off their list. If your team is spinning its wheels, calling a time-out can help break the tension and give people an opportunity to gather their thoughts. Shift your energy by calling the meeting, going for a walk, sleeping on it, or simply moving to another room.

The trick of course is to use the card!  In my role as a team coach, I observe teams who are spinning their wheels and will wait 20 – 30 minutes before I gently ask “Would you like some feedback?”

“YES” is the resounding answer from everyone on the team.  My first bit of feedback is  … get up out of your chairs, take a walk down the hallway and come back. I then ask people to stand away from their meeting table and “observe themselves as a team” and ask them “what was happening on this team?” and “what does this team need to do?” Inevitably, the team gets itself back on track and knows what it needs to do.

I find this phenomena fascinating. Why won’t we call time-outs? I think there are a number of factors

  1. Initially, our self-awareness skills … the ability to stand back and observe ourselves and others in the moment.
  2. Secondly, our belief system.  In particular, our belief about time and that we don’t have enough of it. Our deeply-rooted belief that we can continue to be effective after hours, days or years (yes years … how many of you have not taken a vacation in years???) of not taking a time-out. Our belief that we SHOULD be able to be totally effective and productive ALL the time, no matter what the circumstance (ok shortcut version … perfectionism).
  3. Finally, our courage to act.  To call a time-out on a team can mean rubbing up against other team member beliefs and anxieties about not having enough time or not being good enough.

And, one final thought, sometimes we just need an outsider to help us. Some of us are toddlers when it comes to recognizing when we are tired and need a time-out.

This blog is based on the 2 of Diamonds, Call Time-Outs, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.