Building Team Agility and Releasing Creativity Through the Thoughtful Leadership of Language #PMOSym

http://www.pmosymposium.org/
PMO Symposium, 11-14 November 2018, Washington D.C. USA

Session Description:

It is easy to agree with the theory that soft skills are the key to effective teams. In practice, soft skills are the hard skills for many people. When team members collectively understand and embrace the techniques and tools, the interpersonal relationships and team productivity often improve dramatically. This interactive workshop will provide you with an introduction to a project-proven communications model—complete with skills and techniques—that has been successfully deployed across a broad spectrum of projects, including civil construction, information technology, and leading-edge, first-of-a-kind technologies.

At the conclusion of this workshop, participants will be able to:
1) Develop a detailed awareness and understanding of the dynamics of total communication that drive relationships and outcomes.
2) Improve your ability to understand more clearly what others are saying verbally and discern the meanings of nonverbal communication cues.
3) Acquire the beginnings of the knowledge and tools needed to facilitate and grow strong communication-based relationships within your project teams.

For more information: See greenlanguage.com and John Tompkins book on Amazon

Speakers:

  • John Post is a senior advisor and member of technical staff at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). He is a member of the 2010 PMI Project of the Year team, and an advisor/reviewer for several large and complex projects within the U.S. Department of Energy portfolio.
  • John Tompkins (President, Team EdServe) is an executive coach and therapist in private practice in Pleasanton, CA, and has over 30 years of experience with project teams in complex environments with high consequence of error, much of it in a national security environment. He is the author of Not Crazy Yet? Then…Start Talking To Yourself Differently.

[These are my notes from the PMO Symposium 2018 . I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Our Brains and Language.
    • The cerebral cortex and the amygdala operate differently in the brain.
      • the cerebral cortex manages our higher order thinking, our executive function
      • the amygdala is geared to protect our survival by triggering our fight or flight mechanism when it believes it is necessary. It handles threat assessment and response.
      • The cerebral cortex focuses on
        • observation
        • feelings
        • thoughts
        • wants
      • The amygdala focuses on the roles of
        • persecutor
        • victim
        • rescuer
    • We use language to toggle between the cerebral cortex and the amygdala.
      • The more we can use our cerebral cortex, the better our teamwork.
      • Tompkins describes language that triggers the cortex as “Green language” and language that triggers the amygdala as “Red language.”
      • Tompkins estimates that 80% of language in the US is Red language rather than Green language.
        • it is encoded, confronting, triggering, and anxiety-provoking. (Just consider how the cable news stations treat the news they report and the people they interview.)
  • Green Language versus Red Language.
    • Green language enables “Owning.”
      • Owning = taking responsibility for what is mine.
      • Green language is clear and unambiguous
    • Red language enables “Disowning.”
      • Disowning = attributing to someone else responsibility for what is actually mine (i.e., ducking responsibility)
      • Red language is encoded, labeling, shorthand, slang/jargon
      • Red language creates a sense of inadequacy, wrongdoing, depression
    • Green language
      • Observation = what we can see, what a camera or tape record could record.
        • Green language focuses on what IS happening
        • Not-Inferences: not-inferences are statements about what is NOT happening, coupled with an inference as to why. The better choice is to make objective statements rather than inferring state of mind based on observable facts.
          • Observe: “Your socks are on the floor.” Because it is a neutral observation and there is no judgment attached, it leaves the sock-dropper free to admit a mistake and pick up the socks without rancor.
            • the judgment-laden, Red language version of this is: “You’re a slob!”
      • Feelings = emotions and sensations
        • Describes the feelings that exist rather than feelings that do not exist.
        • Example: “I feel relieved” rather than “I am not angry.”
      • Thoughts
        • Describes your think about what is rather than about what may or may not happen.
        • Eaxmple: “I think he is home” rather than “I don’t think he will come.”
      • Wants = needs and wants flow into our consciousness in the form of emotions and sensations. Our job is to make choices about how we are thinking and how we should make choices that meet our legitimate needs. This means understanding what we really want/need and then addressing that. So, for example, if you are feeling the emotion of loneliness, the appropriate response would be to seek companionship rather than to seek food.
        • Express what you want rather than what you don’t want.
        • Example, “I want you to stay here” rather than “I don’t want you to leave.”
    • Red Language
      • Not-Observation:
        • Focuses on what is NOT happening — it implies SHOULD and failure. “NOT” fires up the threat assessment and triggers the amygdala.
        • Red language attaches itself to our pain memories and thereby has increased impact
        • Focuses on Inferences: takes an observation and makes/communicates a judgment based on that observation.
          • Observe: socks on the floor. Infer: “You are a slob. You don’t follow directions.”
      • Not-Feelings:
        • Describes what you are NOT feeling. “No-one offered me a seat but I’m NOT angry about that.” This language seems encoded, it makes the listener think that maybe the speaker really is angry after all. This, in turn, triggers a response by the amygdala, which senses trouble.
      • Not-Thoughts
        • Thought expressed in a negative form.
      • Not-Wants
        • Wants expressed in a negative form.
        • Red language version: “I don’t want you to leave.” [includes not-want in the sentence.]
        • Green language version: “I want you to stay.”
  • How to Rewrite from Red Language to Green Language.
    • Example 1:
      • Red: “Ed works too hard and needs to take more time off.”
        • Analysis: “too hard”  and “needs to take more time off” = inferences
      • Rewrite to Green: “Ed worked 20 hours per day each week last month.”
        • Analysis: this is observable and capable of being recorded. It does not contain any judgment, just facts.
    • Example 2:
      • Red: “You cause others unnecessary work by not signing out.”
        • Analysis: “unnecessary work” = a judgment-laden inference
      • Rewrite to Green: “When you remain signed in, others try to reach you here without success.”
    • Example 3:
      • Red: “I’d like you to tell me what you mean.”
        • Analysis: this could be heard as a confronting command.
      • Green: “Please tell me more.”
        • Analysis: this is a more open-ended request for information.
    • Example 4:
      • Red: “I feel like the deal isn’t going to make it, but I don’t know why.”
        • Analysis:
          • “I feel like” is a dead giveaway that someone is using Red language.
          • They may be worried about the deal, but they are not providing any specifics to back up their concern.
          • According to John Tompkins, “‘But’ is a verbal eraser that wipes out everything that came before it.”
          • The whole statement appears to be a collection of unsubstantiated worry.
      • Green: “X, Y, and Z are problems for the deal.”
    • Example 5:
      • Red: “I feel shut out.”
        • Analysis: “shut out” is a judgment-laden inference that suggests that others are acting badly.
      • Green: “I feel lonely.”
        • Analysis: this is an accurate description of feeling — without any inference regarding the actions of others.
  • Ten Ways of Using Language that Encourage Failure.
    • Say what didn’t happen or what isn’t happening now.
    • Say what should be, use judging labels or mixed tenses.
    • Say what shouldn’t be or use not-labeling that passes judgment.
    • Say what you didn’t feel or what you’re not feeling now.
    • Say what you didn’t think or what you’re not thinking now.
    • Call a thought a feeling.
    • Call a not-thought a feeling.
    • Say what you didn’t want or what you don’t want now.
    • Say in encoded judgments what you did want or do want now.
    • Say in encoded judgments what you didn’t want or don’t want now.
  • To improve communication, focus on decoding and paraphasing.
    • this helps you understand someone more clearly
    • it helps you convey the desire to understand
    • it helps someone clarify their feelings and/or wants
    • it encourages the development of “owning” (green language) dialogues
    • it helps you maintain self control
    • it redirects a discussion that could be an attack or attempt to manipulate
  • These principles apply to organizations as well.
    • Responsibitiy & Values-Clarifying Language:
      • I observe (facts)
      • I feel (emotions)
      • I think (analysis)
      • I want (actions)
    • Scripted Values-Confusing Language:
      • “Have to”
      • “Should”
      • “Must”
      • “Can’t”
      • “Didn’t”
      • “Won’t”
  • This is challenging stuff that takes a lot of practice to master.
    • Use this post and John Tompkin’s book and website (links above) to raise your awareness about the differences between Red and Green language.
    • Next, notice how they appear in your conversations and in the communications around you.
    • Then, practice replacing your Red language with Green language.
    • Finally, share this with others.
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Remembering the Great War

https://armistice100.org.uk/November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That war was called the Great War, the war to end all wars. Tragically, it was misnamed.

Margaret Macmillan, one of the foremost historians of the First World War, reminds us in her recent Reith Lectures that war does not happen out of the blue. It happens because we choose not to act on the warning signs:

History is not much help when it comes to predicting the future, but it can remind us of the warning signals that always come before wars – the heightened rhetoric, for example, or the inability to understand the other side. What both sides learned in the cold war, sometimes nearly too late, is that they needed to grasp how the other side was thinking and feeling and how it might read or misread signals. In 1983, the Soviet Union became convinced, wrongly, that the United States and its allies were planning a sneak nuclear attack in retaliation for the Soviet shooting down of the Korean airliner KAL 007. Luckily, the west realised this in time and called off a planned military exercise.

The work of listening to and understanding the other is the work of every person, every team, every organization, every community, and every country. This 100th anniversary of Armistice Day reminds us that we ignore this critical work at our peril.

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Over the last four years, I have written several posts relating to lessons from World War 1. If you are interested in learning more, please see the following posts:

Finally, here is the latest installment of the incredible video series on the Great War:

[Photo Credit: https://armistice100.org.uk/]

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A Lesson for the Modern Workplace and School: Connection Before Content

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a discussion led by Clayton Christensen on the future of education. As you may know, Christensen is a professor at the Harvard Business School who became famous for his work on disruptive innovation. So it was likely that this discussion would leave us feeling uncomfortable.

Christensen did not disappoint. He asked lots of challenging questions about the true value of higher education as currently constructed. What were residential colleges delivering that so exceeded the educational value of a free MOOC that those colleges could justify charging over $60 thousand or even over $70 thousand per year? And what about graduate schools? In this era of back-breaking student debt, what were they offering that the school of hard knocks could not?

I have been thinking a great deal about these questions since I started teaching in the M.S. in Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia University. And those questions became even more pressing when I became Academic Director on July 1. How do we justify the time, effort, and expense required by our program?

It would take me a while to enumerate all the ways in which the IKNS program provides value so let me focus on one thing that became very clear this past weekend: we provide a laboratory in which our students can learn proven concepts and practices that equip them for effective leadership.

On Wednesday, August 22, our new cohort of students arrived at Columbia University’s Morningside campus for four days of Intensive study (the Intensive). Our original impulse was to stuff them as full of learning as was humanly possible in such a short time. As a practical matter, this would have required lectures from 9:00am – 6:00pm daily. We could do that. But was it the right approach?

Early in our planning, we realized that we needed to rethink our approach. Given that our program is demanding and very hard to complete without collaboration, the key was to spend the Intensive building the capacity of the cohort to collaborate. So we rethought everything. Rather than making them sit through hours and hours of lectures, we first had them develop their own self-awareness and then their knowledge of their teammates. Through a series of carefully designed individual and group exercises, they built an extraordinary level of trust and empathy. Then we could focus on learning collaboratively.

Our bet paid off. Within hours, these new students moved from being strangers to being friends. And, in that capacity, were more than willing to share their own knowledge and experience to help a classmate integrate new concepts and practices. In the process, they all learned an astonishing amount remarkably quickly. Arguably, more than they could have learned sitting passively through a series of well-intended lectures.

Don’t get me wrong. We had formal teaching sessions. But only after they were ready to learn together.

This experience is a timely reminder of an insight Nancy Dixon has shared with several prior IKNS cohorts: Connection before Content.” Building on the work of Peter Block, Dixon observed that in the workplace, we all work better when we know each other and trust each other. But that knowledge and trust should not be left to happenstance. A thoughtful manager can help speed the development of professional relationship and trust through some intentional practices such as ensuring that team members connect (and later reconnect) with each other before diving into the agenda. This creates a foundation of goodwill and understanding that can act as a shock absorber for the necessary creative friction of teamwork.

If “Connection before Content” is true in the physical workplace, it is doubly true in the virtual workplace and in a virtual learning environment such as ours. The capacity to connect enables the capacity to collaborate and the capacity to share knowledge.

Thankfully, our newest cohort demonstrated this past weekend that they are well on their way to developing their capacity to collaborate with their classmates. NOW they are ready to learn in our program and share that learning with their colleagues at work.

All of us will be the better for it.

 

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Calculating the Cost of Collaboration — A World War I Lesson

All too often, we rush headlong into collaboration in the firm belief that all collaboration is good and must, therefore, have primarily an upside. We become excited by the anticipated benefits of collaboration: better innovation, better sales, greater client satisfaction, and better operations. The truth, however, can be quite different. Most of us have seen well-intentioned collaborations founder on the rocks of ignorance, insularity, and inexperience. Many of us carry the battle scars of failed collaboration efforts.

Professor Morten Hansen has studied scores of collaborations. As a result, he offers some sage advice in his book, Collaboration: Be disciplined. In particular, do not undertake any collaboration until you have investigated the proposed collaboration sufficiently to establish that “the net value of collaboration is greater than the return minus both opportunity costs and collaboration costs.” He calls this net value, the “collaboration premium.”

World War I and the Collaboration Premium

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The presenting issue was the German sinking of several American merchant ships. Given that tensions had been rising for months, there had been ample time for US political and military leaders to undertake the collaboration test: to determine beforehand if the net value of participating outweighed the foregoing of other projects (opportunity cost) and the extensive costs of getting involved in a war that was not universally popular at home.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to say that because the US and its allies won, it was worth the price the country paid to participate in the war. But is that fair? Yet, even if they had attempted a proper collaboration cost calculation, could US leaders ever have contemplated the true and horrifying scope of events like those that took place at Meuse-Argonne?

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In his article, Killing Machines at Meuse-Argonne, 1918, Alfred S. Bradford, Jr. describes the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the following way:

In late September 1918, some 600,000 American troops massed in a valley in northeastern France as part of the final major campaign of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne offensive. A newcomer to the Allied effort, the United States had begun sending large numbers of soldiers to Europe only months before. Many of these men were raw recruits who knew nothing of the horrors of machine guns, poison gas, combat aircraft, and other weapons born of the Industrial Revolution. More than a million U.S. soldiers would eventually join the assault of the well-entrenched Germans; American forces would suffer more than 120,000 casualties, including 26,277 dead.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Many of these dead found their final resting place in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, this cemetery “is the largest American military cemetery in Europe. Within these 130 acres are the remains of more than 14,200 American men and women who died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.”

Admittedly, these numbers are large: one million soldiers, 120,000 casualties, 26,277 dead, over 14,200 graves, 130 acres. But it is hard to really wrap your mind around them without a visual.

Thanks to The Great War video series, we have a compelling visual. Take a look at the following video. It brings home the vast scale of suffering — all embodied in neat rows of crosses and stars that stretch across those 130 acres.

Calculating Your Collaboration Premium or Penalty

Would US political and military leaders have made a different choice on April 6, 1917, if they had known the true costs of collaboration in World War I? We will never know. Nonetheless, we should not ignore the lessons of their experience. It is vitally important that we think hard about true costs before we leap headlong into collaboration. This means honestly facing the possibility of a collaboration penalty rather than the desired collaboration premium.

After all, no decent organization wants its people to end up in a corporate version of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

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For a video overview of this week in World War I, see:

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]

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Using Lenses to Right Fit Social & Collaboration #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Title and Description: Using Lenses to Right Fit Social & Collaboration

Organizations have been deploying new digital work platforms and services the past few years. Quite often we hear that the tools don’t matter that much, just get one and use it. Adding a community manager and digital transformation specialists helps, but the tools don’t seem to do what is needed. The question is constantly, “Do the tools fit our needs?” and also “We see value but it seems like it isn’t quite right.” Well, not only is getting the right help important, it is important to right fit the tools to the needs and uses. The uses and needs can be complex and diverse. This session helps break down the diversity, enabling the dimensions and their elements to be viewed properly so what is relevant for your organization can be seen through the use of social lenses. Using the lenses as a diagnostic tool to understand what works and fits and where there are gaps and needs helps bring clarity. But, greater clarity is provided when pairing the lenses to view different perspectives clearly.

This is particularly helpful for improving use and knowledge flows through the organization’s understanding of the right fit of tool(s) and services. Using the lenses to see the relevant dimensions and how they intersect not only helps organizations understand the needs for today, but works as a valuable method for framing an adaptive road map for the coming years. Having clarity to see the smaller actual pieces enables sensing their changes in order to adjust and adapt with more clarity of understanding.

Speaker: Thomas Vander Wal, Sr. Consultant, Adjuvi, LLC

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Don’t Start with a Tool or Service First.  Most organizations end up with an enterprise-wide platform because it was bundled “free” with another tool. Often, the free tools and services do not quite fit the need. 
  • Start by Understanding Your Needs First.
    • Common, shared working spaces
    • Increasing knowledge sharing
  • Don’t Default to Closed Node System.
    • Top down
    • Approval-centric
    • Slow to spread
    • Slow to change
    • Knowledge is buried — it is hard to search, it is hard to find knowledge. Therefore, the focus is on training to help spread the knowledge
    • Email is the “poster child” of the closed node network
  • Open-Node Systems.
    • Emergent
    • Sharing-centric
    • Nimble and adaptive
    • Understand that things are constantly changing — this is both accepted and accommodated by the way we work
    • Knowledge is searchable and linked — even among disparate services or repositories. By having things in an open-node environment, the links among knowledge “light up the dark web inside your organization.”
    • Focus on helping rather than on training
    • Open digital conversation
    • Supports collaborative and collective living documents — they change to reflect current realities
    • All history and transitions are viewable and available
    • Conversations around objects occur with those objects in clear sight –e.g.,  connecting comments to the object that is being discussed
  • What’s the most valuable? While the final decision is good to know, it can be even more helpful to have access to the thinking that led to the decision. This allows a later pivot, without having to redo the entire decisionmaking process.
  • Social Progressions. This is how to develop and scale new ideas
    • Sparks — individual ideas that arise in disparate places and seem to be pointing to a useful pattern or direction.
    • Campfire — bring together the various disconnected items into a central place where a a group can discuss it “around the campfire”
    • Bonfire — add more fuel, bring in more people, widen the discussion in an open environment
    • Torch — safe, reliable, repeatable in different environments. This is what you have to create in order to share the ideas that emerged from the sparks to campfire to bonfire process.
    • Organizations with 1 social platform have a high probability of having two or more platforms.
  • Differing Perspectives.
    • Personal — in a social environment, people need to know what they are working on, information regarding who and what they need to know to get my job done are within easy reach.
    • Collective — getting into the open the information from individual understanding that now needs to be made available to others.
    • Cooperative — once the information is the open, allowing people to draw connections between those materials and themselves. (Example: seeing that someone else has an understanding of an issue that is similar to mine. We have a connection that might be worth exploring.) This operates at several scales:
      • Individual
      • Team
      • Group
      • Community
      • Network
    • Collaborative — this involves moving a disparate group of individuals into a single whole.
    • Social Working Array — you need to be able to see all of these perspectives as they occur across the platform and across the organization: Collective, Cooperative, Collaborative
  • Social Scaling.
    • Humans are mostly social by nature but often are not social at scale.  (See Reed’s Law.) People move up and down the scale. This needs to be accommodated by social platforms.
    • Most people are most comfortable interacting with a small group of others they know; their comfort decreases as group size grows.
    • Humans naturally build groups and clusters to ease interacting with large groups
  • Team Needs. The most frequently occuring group is the Team. They interact at the 70% level. (By contrast, Communities online tend to interact at the 30% level.) You need to understand the needs of a team as it operates:
    • tasks
    • status
    • process
    • progress
    • calendars
    • decisionmaking
  • Social Groups and Walled Gardens.
    • Closed groups (closed node) tend to have high adoption and activity rates as compared to open groups. This relates to a lack of comfort with sharing in a more open environment.
    • We need to create comfortable spaces with permeable walls. See Donald Appleyard’s “Livable Streets” for a similar approach in a physical (rather than digital) environment. Having front porches helped people in their houses feel more comfortable coming outside and hanging out on the street. Having front windows helped people on the street understand the people in the houses better.
  • How to Improve your online groups? Have a team that includes the following:
    • Community manager
    • Social interaction designer
    • Social scientists — they see strengths and gaps in the social interactions within the group
    • Knowledge manager
    • UX/User Research
    • Change Manager
    • IT Dev/ Integrator
  • Typical Problems.
    • Services go away — so plan redundancy/failovers
    • Change is constant — so plan to be nimble
    • Plan for continued security, privacy/permissions and changes in scaling as they occur
    • Plan for the many pieces that exist in your system — you need integration/interoperation, umbrella services, community managers/navigation

    • Selection & review — have a six-month tool review, understand the balance between change and stability and long-term assessments; keep your vendor assessments fresh
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When Clients and Law Firms ACTUALLY Collaborate #ILTACON

2016_ILTACON_logoSession Title: A New Approach to Aligning the Objectives of Outside Counsel, In-House Legal, and Corporate Business

Session Description: The past few years have brought a lot of discussion about how to better align the interests of law departments and their outside counsel through alternative fee arrangements, but the discussions generally end there. What if there was an approach that aligned outside counsel and legal departments in their pursuit of better business outcomes that extended beyond pricing? How can the strength of that relationship help demonstrate the value that the legal department brings to the organization as a whole? Come hear a case study exploring how one legal department and its panel of law firms have partnered differently and how their holistic approach to solving legal problems has the power to transform the way the department delivers value to the business.

Speakers:

  • Chris EmersonDirector, Practice Economics Bryan Cave, LLP
  • Bryon KoepkeSVP, Chief Securities Counsel Avis Budget Group, Inc.
  • David A. RueffShareholder and Legal Project Management Officer, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz

Session Slides: Available through the ILTACON website

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • The Avis Story.  They undertook a convergence effort to reduce their legal panel from 700 law firms to seven firms globally. The winning seven firms are guaranteed work, provided they maintain expected quality levels. In addition, these firms work within a “target” (or fixed) fee structure. This convergence provided several benefits for the Avis legal department and their related business clients:
    • reduced administrative burden
    • cost certainty
    • legal risk mitigation
    • increased efficiencies in legal services
    • improved business outcomes
  • The New Way in which Avis wanted to work with its panel firms:
    • focus Avis resources on tiers of work that were created based on business risk and complexity
    • foster collaboration between Avis and its panel firms, as well as among the panel firms themselves
    • provide incentives to panel firms to invest in innovations that result in better business outcomes for Avis
  • The Work. Avis did a wide-ranging risk assessment and then asked their panel firms to bid on the work. Avis identified 3 categories of work:
    • Cream — high-risk work that requires high levels of legal expertise
    • Core — moderate-risk work that requires moderate levels of legal expertise
    • Commodity — low-risk work that does not require much legal expertise
  • Activities in Preparation for RFP. Avis asked 130 law firms to complete a “pre-qualifer” (PQ) that was quite similar to a law school exam. The questions in the exam reflected the real issues Avis faces. Each question was multi-disciplinary.
    • Law firms had a tight timeframe (about 10 days) within which to respond. Plus Avis sent this challenge out during Spring Break, which put added pressure on the law firms. This was a way of gauging responsiveness.
    • Of the 130 firms invited, only 80 responded.
      • 50 firms did not respond. Some thought Avis was trying to get free legal advice. They were wrong; Avis already had the answers to the questions in the PQ.
      • Some of the firms that did not respond thought their relationship with Avis was so solid that they did not need to go through these hoops. They were wrong; they were eliminated from the Avis panel
    • Some of the firms provided responses that simply were wrong.
    • All firms were asked to tell Avis how they would staff these matters and what they would charge.
    • Avis also asked how they answered these questions, whom they involved?
  • The RFP. They invited 45 law firms to participate in the RFP. (This was 45 out of the 80 firms that responded to the PQ.) There were three areas of emphasis:
    • Legal expertise
    • Pricing
    • Universal Requirements (Operations) — focused on actual examples of innovations these firms had developed to better the firm or outside clients. According to Avis, they were looking for Jetsons firms (firms that were innovative on behalf of themselves and their clients), not Flintstones firms that are stuck in the Stone Age.
  • How did the Firms respond to the RFP?
    • They researched the business goals of Avis so they could align their responses better to Avis’ needs
    • They managed tight turnarounds on drafts of the RFP as they involved a wide range of firm personnel in the RFP process in a very short period of time
    • Bryan Cave took a divide-and-conquer approach. They put the legal questions in the hands of the lawyers and kept the Universal Requirements in the hands of the legal operations team. The Bryan Cave legal ops group had the expertise to discuss the range of technologies they had invested in (or were contemplating) to improve firm and client outcomes, as well as completed or contemplated process improvement efforts.
  • The Semi-finals. During the semi-finals, Avis invited 17 firms to meet with the company. Each firm was asked to bring four partners of their choice and their legal operations person. During the interviews, the partners expected to lead the conversation. Instead, Avis said they would review their slides later. Then Avis asked to begin the conversation with the most important person in the room — the legal operations person.  (Partner jaws dropped!) Avis started with legal ops because they were serious about understanding the technology and innovation potential of each firm.
  • The All-Star Team. Avis invited the final seven firms to a Summit at which they met with business and legal department leaders of Avis. At that meeting, Avis made it clear that the chosen firms were stars that now had to find ways to work together as if they were on an All-Stars Team. This meant not just solo excellence, but collaborative excellence as well.
  • The Legal Ops Bounce. Crucially, the legal ops folks from the law firms met with the legal ops folks from Avis. This combined client/firm legal ops group has unleashed powerful tools and methodologies for the benefit of Avis (and the panel). Further, the emphasis that Avis has placed on legal ops gave the law firm legal ops teams greater confidence and enthusiasm in the work they do.
  • Avis Success Factors. Panels are graded on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are assessed on a matter-by-matter basis and, in the aggregate, feed quarterly and annual performance assessments. Here are the KPIs:
    • how well a Matter Assessment Form (MAF) was filled out. (The MAF helps the firm and Avis scope out a potential matter very quickly.)
    • submission of MAF in 3 days
    • the number of changes in scope requested per matter
    • the firm’s ability to accurately predict legal spend and outcome
    • the ability of the firm to avoid surprises to business units
    • how the firm uses technology to improve accountability and efficiency
    • value-adds the firm provides to the Avis engagement
  • How Baker Donelson revised its processes to meet the Avis KPIs:
    • They created an intranet Client Site that tracks the Avis engagement
    • They created workflow to ensure they can turn around an MAF within the required 3 days. This workflow is managed via their  Avis client site
    • They use budget and project monitoring tools internally so that they can notify Avis before something happens. This allows them to meet the critical KPI of avoiding surprises.
    • They created workflow to manage changes in scope and budget
    • They developed an external communication plan for the Avis engagement
      • monthly case management updates
      • quarterly reports to in-house counsel
      • annual reports
      • how to deal with emergency issues
    • They developed an internal communication plan for the Avis engagement
      • phase and task code requirements for matters
      • training regarding the initial budgeting, MAF and change processes
      • training regarding regular updates on budgets and contingent liability
      • training on and communication of Avis’s outside counsel guidelines
  • How Bryan Cave has invested to improve the Avis engagement:
    • they developed new internal processes and technologies
    • they trained attorney teams on this new way of working
    • they created and provided to the Avis legal department training on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs):
      • how law firms construct AFAs
      • the types of AFAs and their typical uses
      • how to frame AFA requests to obtain responses that support business objectives
    • they worked with the Avis legal department to build a dynamic technology platform that
      • facilitates the MAF process for Avis and for all panel firms
      • capture critical data points in structured format
      • leverage workflow tools to enforce operational standards
      • integrate with Avis’ e-billing system to automatically open matters
      • display actionable information to all users via flexible dashboards
      • provides dynamic authoring tools to create/update forms within minutes/hours rather than days/weeks
      • stores information in structured databases, but can generate documents in formats attorneys are used to reviewing (e.g, Word or PDF)
    • Who reviews, tests and suggests improvements to the technology?
      • Bryan Cave engineers, business analysts and other operational professionals do the initial work
      • Avis attorneys and legal ops professionals advise on integrating the panel’s technology with Avis’ e-billing, advanced workflow reporting and alerting, dashboard structure and key metrics
      • Baker Donelson (and other panel teams) provide recommendations on U/I enhancements and how to integrate the shared technology with the proprietary technology platforms of the panel firms — this eliminates duplication of effort and strengthens their shared common sources of record
  • The Collaboration is Growing.
    • Now panel firms share Avis work with each other if they believe this approach will benefit the client.
    • If Bryan Cave creates new technology, Baker Donelson  will do acceptance testing. When Baker needs automated data feeds, Bryan Cave provides it. Both firms confer with each other (and the other firms) to find solutions that benefit the client.
    • The collaboration among the panel firms has generated new ideas and approaches to matter intake and AFA construction
    • The technology used by the panel firms has improved because these firms now have a reason and the ability to share ideas as never before
  • Next Steps. Both Avis and its panel firms have ambitions for growing and improving their collaboration.
    • On Avis’ list of next steps: Creating metrics to measure and dashboards to communicate progress in key strategic areas of operations.
    • On the panel firms’ list of next steps: Creating metrics to measure and dashboards to communicate progress by the panel firms in helping Avis manage its legal issues.
  • Results. This collaboration has been an unqualified success for  Avis and for its panel firms.
    • Avis: Thanks to the collaboration, the Avis legal department has now established itself as a critical business partner of the larger organization. Through its pioneering work in this collaboration, the legal department has modeled better ways of managing liability and expenditures that can now be applied across the company. Further, the work of the legal department has become a source of competitive advantage for the company.
    • Panel firms: Their experience with Avis has demonstrated how non-attorney professionals can be critical to the selection of the firm for a legal panel, as well as the on-going relationships between the firm and its client. The panel firms now have clear confirmation that their investments in innovation, project management, and process improvement have enabled them to differentiate themselves in a competitive market. Finally, these firms now see the benefits of not only collaborating with the client but also with the other panel firms. The Avis collaboration has become a significant win-win situation for these firms.
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Frans Johansson Keynote #ILTA12

Frans Johansson is an innovation expert and author of The Medici Effect. As CEO of The Medici Group, he leads a team which helps clients improve their innovation efforts through an approach they call Intersectional Thinking:

Your best chance to innovate is at The Intersection. Here, concepts from diverse disciplines, fields, and cultures collide to form an explosion of unexpected idea combinations. It is from this large number of possible new combinations that one or two can emerge as high potential innovations.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES: Act Collaborate to Drive Change

  • What Drives Innovation?. We innovate best when we connect with others and share new ideas/perspectives. The key is to connect across our differences.
  • Why is it necessary to innovate quickly?. If you want to keep your competitive advantage, you have to keep innovating because there has been a stunning drop in the amount of time it takes for your competitors to catch up with you.
  • Why is it so hard to innovate?. (1) As an organization gets larger, it moves more slowly. (How do you create a small firm for yourself? Buy a big company…and wait.) (2) We tend to use logic when planning innovation. However, since our competitors are doing the same thing, we’re likely to converge in the middle with eerily similar offerings, thus eliminating that which makes us distinctive. (3) Because change is hard (and threatening), we tend to settle for tweaking things around the edges rather than making a wholesale change. The impact of this is adding more widgets to a Yahoo portal page until the clutter is overcome by the spare and elegant design of a Google search page.
  • His Working Understanding. (1) Most truly stunning innovations result from combination two different ideas. (2) People that change the world try FAR more ideas. The greater the number of ideas that you generate and implement, the greater your chance of a breakthrough. You need to try many things because humans are very bad at predicting what will work. The key is to keep trying until you perfect your execution. When your first idea doesn’t work, you have to try again. (3) Diverse teams can unleash an explosion of new ideas. (He says this is a mathematical argument. He illustrates this by showing the number of combinations possible in rock music and classical music and then what happens when you start combining across these disciplines. You end up with an exponential increase in new ideas that leads to more opportunities for innovation. (e.g., He uses the example of “Tubular Bells,” which was huge crossover between rock and classical music.)
  • Create the Environment Necessary to Foster Innovation.. We can help organize our firms to foster innvation. This ranges from seating people within your department in such a way that they can’t help be exposed to new ideas and new ways of working. Individually, you also can ensure that you personally make connections with people within the firm who are in different disciplines or from different backgrounds or have different interests.
  • Use Technology to Drive (not just serve) New Business Models. Start by making it easier to collaborate internally and externally. Baker Donelson has a technology toolkit that made it possible for the client to work differently with its external counsel. The client liked it so well that they moved all their business to Baker Donelson. Goodwin Proctor collaborates with PBWorks to build wikis that help collaboration with clients and co-counsel.
  • The Pit StopTeam Exercise. Frans Johansson asked the audience members to team up with the person next to them to ask how they could apply example of the pit stop team to law firm life? Here are some suggestions that came from the audience: (1) have the IT team observe lawyers in their natural habitat and then ask what IT could do to help them. Rinse. Repeat. (2) Rather than having IT working in the background, waiting for instructions from the client-facing lawyers, find ways to put allow IT access to the lawyer team AND the clients so that you reduce the translation errors and give IT a better chance to sense the client needs.
  • What’s the Most Effecitve Way to Execute?. Start with a good idea. And then act on it. Johansson calls this the smallest executable step. It’s not about going directly to the desired Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Rather, execute the first step; adjust based on results; execute again. The key is to iterate your way to success.
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What’s the Right Question for a Better Answer?

QuestionsThey say that getting the right answer depends upon asking the right question. Perhaps that works in the courtroom, but lately I’ve begun to wonder how well it works in our networked world.

Here’s a case in point: I was puzzling through a technical problem and realized I needed the input of an expert. So I contacted an expert to set up a meeting. Mindful of the many demands on his time, I carefully thought through my problem and sent him before the meeting a list of the questions whose I answers I thought would solve my problem.

As soon as we sat down to discuss my questions I realized that I had made a critical mistake. By setting out the questions beforehand, I had limited the range of answers and set up false boundaries for our conversation. Now we could ultimately have reached the right answers, but he would be forced to first answer and dispose of my questions before we could progress past the limits of my knowledge to get to the heart of the problem. And he would have to clear this path through the undergrowth because I had insufficient expertise to frame the problem with sufficient precision.

Thankfully, I saved us both this slog through the undergrowth by changing course on the spot. Just as he pulled out my list of questions and prepared to answer the first one, I apologized to him and asked him to put the list away. I explained that while I had the best of intentions when I sent him the questions, it was the wrong approach. Instead, since I didn’t know enough to articulate the problem properly, I would explain what I wanted to accomplish (and why) and describe the roadblocks in my way.  Then I would leave it to my expert to draw on his knowledge appropriately to help me achieve my goal.

The fruitful conversation that followed proved my intuition correct. The right answer was within the expert’s range of knowledge, not mine. In fact, my careful questions would have led us down the garden path to a dead end. By throwing away the questions and focusing on my goal, I immediately tapped into the full range of my expert’s experience rather than restricting us to that part of his experience that seemed most directly applicable to my questions. I also got him invested in the ultimate goal rather than merely focused on answering a discrete set of questions.

Now, why does this matter in a networked world? Because limiting the conversation at the start limits the opportunities and insights available through your network. As much as I might dress it up in good intentions,the reality is that the questions I sent the expert were an attempt to control the conversation and the outcome. Granted, it was done in the name of efficiency, but ultimately would have resulted in inefficiency. The more efficient and effective method was to give up the command-and-control approach in favor of a more open and collaborative attitude that acknowledged the strengths of my colleague and the limits of my ability to control. For those of us raised in a command-and-control organization this open approach can seem risky, but it is the best way to tap the tacit knowledge of your network.

True collaboration results in something better than just my answer or yours. But to get to that better answer, you might need to throw away your questions and focus instead on a goal worth sharing.

[Photo Credit: Oberazzi]

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When Collaboration is For the Birds

Collaboration is key.  We’re told by social media mavens that it powers networks and unlocks the potential within individuals and the groups with which they associate.  However, collaboration is not always an unalloyed good. Sometimes it can go badly wrong.

Now, before you throw me out of the social media club, consider the following: collaboration isn’t just about working together; it’s about working together towards a shared goal.   However, sharing a goal is not enough it you are looking to optimize the situation for your group.  Merely accomplishing a shared goal doesn’t guarantee good if the goal itself is flawed.

If you aren’t convinced, watch these two brief videos in which groups of birds act together to achieve a common goal:

Here’s an example of great collaboration to achieve a worthy goal:

Now, here’s an example of a crowd realizing too late that the goal towards which it was working was the wrong goal:

So here’s the takeaway:  If you’re going to go to the trouble of collaborating, make very sure that the goal towards which you are working is worth the effort.  Otherwise, you might discover that your collaboration effort is for the birds.

 

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How Would You Handle “The Ask”?

James Bond Island No man is an island. And no single person can do everything that needs to be done to meet client needs. So why do so many of us operate at work like islands within an archipelago?

To be fair, not everyone is misanthropic.  Some work in solitary fashion because they have not yet developed the necessary network within their organization to get things done in a way that leverages all the assets of that organization. Meanwhile, others work by themselves because they have not been given (or have not learned to use) the latest tools that facilitate collaboration. Others may work largely on their own because their organization does not have a culture that fosters information sharing.

No matter what the cause of this lonely approach, it is useful to consider the alternative. While the video below is admittedly a marketing piece, it does provide a graphic example of the type of efficiency that is possible when you have the tools and culture to connect people and share information effectively:

Now, because I can’t help myself, I have to ask you this:  do you know of a law firm that operates like this?  If not, please tell me how your law firm would handle “The Ask” if your client needed something done quickly? How many emails and phone calls over what length of time would it take? How does your organization’s approach compare to the approach in the video?  And, please be honest — which approach do you prefer?

If you think this is all too much like science fiction and isn’t appropriate for your organization, don’t be misled. It could be the future for all of us. In fact, some lucky organizations may already be enjoying it today.  Don’t you wish you could too?

 

[hat tip to John Tropea for sharing this video.]

[Photo Credit: Joan Campderros-i-Canas]

 

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