Saturday, February 25, 2012

Opening Gambit - Creating, not Criticizing, Together

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer."
- Henry David Thoreau

Toucan Pinata
Of course, sometimes people attend to your answer in ways you wouldn't necessarily like. ;-)

Note: This is one in a series of blog entries exploring the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Director of Technology. Please be sure toread the whole series! 

About 12 years ago, I found myself facing a tough audience. The Chief Technology Officer for the District had invited me in as a consultant to introduce the design of a web-based system. At the time, he and I both knew that I didn't have the design skills for what he imagined, however, I did have enough to create a mock-up. The mock-up would be an opening gambit in a conversation he wanted to have but held a lot of potential for negativity. . .relationships matter.

When I unveiled the initial design of the web-based system to the packed room of 10 people--it felt like more, haven't we all had those meetings--all of whom had their own agenda as to what they wanted to accomplish--often in disagreement with the  CTO who had brought me in--I felt like a fiesta pinata that everyone would get a whack at!

About 10 minutes into the whacking of the design (which was starting to feel stressful, even though I have low blood pressure), it occurred to me, as I stood in front of the group watching the meeting going sour, that there was a simple way to turn the situation around. "Folks, thank you so much for your feedback about this mock-up design. It's clear that it's not what you had hoped to see, but it does gives us the opportunity to re-start the conversation. What I'd like you to do is take the sheet of paper in front of you and, with the person sitting next to you, make a paper design of what you would like to see in this web-based system."

Even now, when the CTO and I chuckle over that meeting, he'll look over at me and say, "You know, Miguel, that was the best thing you could have done, getting them to make their own design. That act changed the whole dynamic." The reason it worked so well is that it helped focus us all on what they wanted to see, helped them recognize how difficult reaching consensus was, and enabled them to contribute to the design...the process of designing what they wanted to see together broke up the individual groups or cliques they had fallen into.
Creating something together can be an excellent way of building relationships between groups. This is especially true when the activity requires talents, organisational ability, social skills and contacts, which you cannot predict from group membership.
--Nick Heap, Effective Relationships at work

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Erica Roush said...

Hi, my name is Erica Roush and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. This post, entertaining as it is, I feel is great advice for anyone but especially those like myself, just starting out as a professional. Learning to collaborate instead of criticize could save the next toucan pinata from an otherwise stressful whacking session.
I will be continuing to follow your blog and post a summary on my own about it by March 10,2012. Here is a link to my blog Erica's Blog, and a link to my class blog EDM310

Heather Rigby said...

My name is Heather Rigby and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I find your post very interesting and would love to hear more on your "iHub". I want to thank you for sharing your story. This shows that criticisim can be taken in many ways. I really enjoyed reading on how you turned it into positive feedback. I believe that your advice could come in handy in the future for a future educator like myself.
I will continue reading your blog and summarizing what I ahve read on my own by March 10, 2012. Here is a link to my blog Heather's blog and my email address is if you could think of any more advice for a future educator please feel free to write!

Genuine Leadership #4: Gratitude