In complex business environments, leadership cannot be off-boarded or outsourced. As leaders and executives, sometimes we blame the bad things happening around us on others, or the market, or circumstance.
Things like ineffective meetings, staff turnover, teams not hitting their goals, people holding back, lack of work/life balance, and not sticking to the strategy. These have nothing to do with other people and everything to do with the way you show up as a leader.
It’s been said that “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.” The opposite is also true. People don’t follow ideas, they follow other people. Is your mission confusing and convoluted? Are there too many initiatives to remember? Have you made your vision of the future (and their role in it) crystal clear for the team? If not, chances are they will burn out. If they stop believing in your capacity to lead, you will no longer be their leader. No amount of bonuses or self-care days will undo it.
Executives and leaders experiencing complexity and overwhelm can do two things to establish leadership in complex environments:
This alignment will look more like group storytelling than strategy. It will involve all of your people and involve them in visualizing things like retrospectives, journey maps, and cones of plausibility.
Consider how the diversity of voices, perspectives and competencies you convene and empower today will impact, amplify, drive, or disrupt your work in the future. Visionary leaders prepare for this long tail and are able to manage the business along multiple horizons.
The emotional benefits for leaders who can do this include:
Some measurable results we have seen in leaders and businesses that can enable this kind of thinking and behavior in those around them include:
As mentioned in our book, Visionary Leadership, these types of leaders are able to do three things well:
Raise more visual leaders. Celebrate them. Watch them shine.
At Illustrious, we pride ourselves on a commitment to quality outcomes. We've been doing visual consulting and facilitation for nearly a decade and have seen first-hand the negative effects of a poorly-designed and executed meeting, session, or client engagement.
As external facilitators, here are the top four reasons our clients give for using our facilitation services rather than facilitating themselves:
Our clients want to participate in the process. We’ve found that OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) in particular are difficult to facilitate if you want to also participate in the session. It’s not easy to consider your team’s interdependencies, listen to your fellow participants’ 90-day needs and goals, determine how it will affect your department, and come to a consensus on how to measure progress while also sorting and organizing stickies, summarizing and reflecting the group inputs, and keeping an eye on the clock.
Over time, our team has developed a mastery of visual collaboration tools like MURAL and facilitation methods, ranging from The Grove’s Strategic Visioning process to Liberating Structures and Strategyzer to StoryBrand. Our clients rely on us to know which tool to use to help them solve their complex problems.
Deciding on the theme for a session; coordinating everyone’s calendars; sourcing artwork, illustrations, and photography; coding and deploying the surveys for the pre-work; designing the MURAL (or setting up the room); writing up the agenda, facilitator guide, and other necessary copy; collecting all of the deliverables from the session (survey results, recordings, graphic records) – these things take time. Most of our clients have roles that impact their business directly and know that time spent designing and prepping the session will be time spent not leading their team or fulfilling their role.
Sometimes when a team chooses to facilitate themselves, they may neglect to ask challenging questions in order to protect their strategic plan (or someone’s job). Or they will design a session to reinforce a currently-held belief. This is called confirmation bias. Sometimes authority and esteem (see The Fundamentals below) hasn’t been established by the head of HR. Sometimes the VP of Sales has too many inside jokes or treats the women in the room differently than the men. Sometimes the Chief Innovation Officer talks too fast or over everyone’s head. Sometimes the CEO or President takes herself too seriously and elicits snickering when her back is turned. We are constantly told that people behave better and create the desired results when an external facilitator is leading the group.
For those of you leading organizations in growth mode, you are continually having to balance efforts between the business you are and the business you are becoming. As your team expands, you’ll need to consider new and exciting (yes, they can be!) iterations of your org chart.
I recently worked with a corporate team coaching client. We were tasked with building an interdependency journey in Mural that would allow leadership to measure where interdependencies were happening on their global finance team. Interdependency is not only a function of a team, it’s also a quality that emerges at the higher stages of team development (think storming, norming, performing, etc.).
If you’re familiar with McKinsey’s innovation horizons, you know that each level of product or portfolio planning requires new or different team members, leadership styles, mindsets, language, business systems, experimentation frameworks, and management methods.
Just as in innovation, interdependency has a similar way of scaling. According to the 1967 book Organizations in Action by sociologist James D. Thompson, for each level of team interdependence (pooled, sequential, or reciprocal), there are different levels of coordination required (standardization, planning, or mutual adjustment).
Pooled - This type of task interdependence combines separate parts. Business units perform separate functions, not necessarily interacting or overlapping. Like a gymnastics team, however, their individual performance can negatively impact the rest of the organization.
Sequential - Like an assembly line, this type of interdependence means that one unit depends on the output of another before they can do their part. Planning and scheduling become vital to avoid bottlenecks in production.
Reciprocal - These units are highly interactive and reflexive. It’s sequential, but with the addition of multiple rounds or cycles. Teams or departments may adjust as the situation changes (think sales, marketing, product development, R&D, etc.) and if one department underperforms, the house of cards could come crashing down.
A lack of agreement between the types of interdependence and levels of coordination can reduce results, bruise relationships, diminish well-being, or shutter businesses.
For now, consider these questions:
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Do you sometimes feel like the people in your business are speaking different languages or reading from different playbooks?
Do you fear that, if asked, your team wouldn’t be able to tell you what your top priorities for this year (or this quarter) are?
You are not alone.
64% of leaders believe their team can tell them the top priorities from memory. Unfortunately, only 2% can do it.
Why the disparity?
Your business goals need to be kept simple. They need to be reduced to the fewest possible metrics, the fewest goals, the fewest steps, the fewest moving parts.
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a goal-setting framework used by individuals, teams, and organizations to define measurable goals and track their outcomes.
It all began in 1954 when Peter Drucker published his book The Practice of Management, which introduced the concept of “Management by Objectives.”
In 1975, John Doerr, at the time a salesperson working for Intel, attended a course taught by Andrew Grove where he was introduced to the theory of OKRs, then called "iMBOs" ("Intel Management by Objectives").
The development of OKRs is generally attributed to Grove who introduced this approach at Intel. Grove later documented OKRs in his 1983 book High Output Management.
Then, as fate would have it, in 1999, Doerr introduced the idea of OKRs to Google. The idea took hold and OKRs quickly became central to Google's culture as a "management methodology that helps to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization."
Doerr published Measure What Matters, his definitive book about the OKRs framework, in 2017.
Christina Wodtke, who worked at Zynga with John Doerr, published her shorter (and arguably superior) book, Radical Focus in 2016.
WHAT OKRs ARE (AND AREN’T)
OKRs are not a strategic planning, project planning, or performance evaluation framework. They are an alignment framework and are intended to get your team facing in the right direction and reading from the same page over the next 90 days.
Imagine a construction company - let’s call them ABC, the Amazing Building Company - with no foreman, no plan, no deadline, and no meetings. The workers may feel pulled in many different directions, working on many things at once, and never have a sense of what anyone else is doing. You may actually feel like that now in your business.
If half of the workers at ABC are digging holes over the next few months, and the other half are filling them, the company makes no progress on their plans to break ground. However, if they decide that there is plenty of time to move earth later and that for the next 90 days they need all hands on deck to dig, dig, dig, then they will make significant progress on the plan. The workers will expend the same amount of energy, but now instead of feeling like they are in a swirl of inefficiency, they will feel oriented toward a common goal and be working toward something together.
OKRs are an ideal solution for businesses needing to achieve a specific goal or finish a certain project, prove or disprove a hypothesis, or get everyone on the team leaning into a specific process or change (a.k.a. “steering the elephant”) over the next 90 days.
An aligned team is an efficient team. And an efficient team is a powerful team.
WHY USE OKRs?
In practice, using OKRs is different from other goal-setting techniques (KPIs, SMART Goals, OGSM, Balanced Scorecards) because of the aim to set very ambitious goals. When used this way, OKRs can enable teams to focus on the big bets and accomplish more than the team thought was possible, even if they don’t fully attain the stated goal. OKRs can help teams and individuals get outside of their comfort zones, prioritize work, and learn from both success and failure.
Plenty of leaders do not put in the time to do their OKRs well. They are busy hiring, dealing with emergencies and top priorities, or chunking their time in an attempt to leverage and maximize their activity to output ratio.
The best leadership doesn’t break when it comes to setting strategy and key initiatives. They put in the time to discuss important ideas with their top executives because they know that an extra day spent planning will reap rewards down the line if executed properly.
Taking the time to plan OKRs and adequately assess them after each time period is a sign of respect for your colleagues and employees. It means you respect the placement of their time and efforts.
OKRs are only as effective as your commitment to using them and your efforts in creating them.
If you need help implementing OKRs in your business, let’s set up a call to see if we can help.
You can also download our free e-book, OKRs 1.0: A Beginners Guide to Measuring What Matters in Your Organization, to learn more about the anatomy of OKRs and when to use them.
In a post-pandemic world, we are starting to see the effects of disruptive change take hold in organizations.
We are starting to hear things like the following:
All of these (and more) are signs you are entering into the season of renewal. Getting past the roadblocks, obstacles or disasters is only the beginning of the challenge.
According to the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance model, the renewal stage brings closure to the cycle of work done by teams and usually includes things like adding new members, harvesting what you’ve learned, and celebrating endings.
Individuals and organizations need to pause and create time to assess, adjust, process, and recalibrate, before moving forward to the next stage. Looking at the Investment Portfolio canvas designed by The Grove, we see that in the bottom left quadrant (labeled “Plow”) the focus turns to things that are in decline, being displaced, underutilized or need to be repurposed.
As David Sibbet explains in his book, Visual Consulting, these elements of the business don’t need to go away completely, though some might. When we think about the process organically or agriculturally, these are the parts of the business that can be composted or tilled into something new. They are stretches of field that need to be replanted, possibly with new seeds. They are crops that may need to be scaled down or moved to a different plot. This requires strategy and your best thinkers using the data that’s been harvested throughout the other seasons.
You should use your season of renewal to reconnect with your vision, mission, and purpose. Reflect on what kind of leader you’ve been and whether that style of leadership is still required or whether there needs to be some adjustment (or inner work) on your part.
Here are some things you can do as a team to invest in (and celebrate) the season of renewal.
If you need help leading a renewal session, re-casting your vision, or facilitating or capturing a town hall or retrospective, reach out to us to schedule a 30-minute discovery call.
In my executive coaching groups, I’ve proposed the question, “What is a Visionary Leader?”
The responses vary. Some describe leadership in terms of spatial orientation (“first through the door,” “stand with,” or “servant leader”) while others describe a leadership that is visceral and relational, having more to do with presence than position.
Below are some examples of each. It’s possible that, as a leader, you feel more than one of these, or some combination. Regardless, it’s clear that when people describe Visionary Leadership, they think of something greater than themselves -- something that is expansive, inclusive and multi-dimensional.
What makes a leader visionary may be their ability to switch between these styles depending on the situation, organization or project.
1. Leading from above
You may be tempted to think of “leading from above” as implying hierarchy (or worse yet, patriarchy). You may think of the traditional, top-down, “command and control” leadership roles of corporations past. However, what I hear when people describe this orientation is that the leader is put on a platform or pedestal by the team. This gives them someone to look up to and also gives the leader line of sight across organizational divides (see Vision below).
2. Leading from below
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. This “servant leader” knows their role is to clear blocks and obstacles for the team in order to keep them motivated and productive.
3. I go first
Some leaders want to be the first through the door. They are willing to take the bullet or the hit to prove something to the team. These kinds of leaders might be described as pioneers or trailblazers. They might be the kind of leader who will show the team instead of tell them. These executives -- those leading from the front -- need to occasionally look behind them and make sure the team is still there.
4. Leading from behind
The rarest of these is someone who leads from behind. This is the pack-leader wolf who leads her group from the rear, monitoring those at the front, watching for attack from all sides. This type of leader makes sure they have a clear line of sight into the team, its interdependencies, weaknesses and threats. They make it a priority to have the right people in the right seats.
5. Standing with (or alongside)
This kind of leadership looks more like advocacy or mentorship. It may be described by others as “handholding” or “propping up” but this orientation puts the leader and team member on equal footing. Don’t confuse this type of leadership with the manager who would rather be your friend than your boss. These leaders show up as a thinking partner, collaborator or a coach. They bring a coaching mindset to bear on each problem, asking the right questions and allowing the team member to be responsible and accountable.
This type of leadership looks like a circle (or a dance) where the spatial dynamics shift and change with the phases of growth of the group. Traditionally, a circle or council is considered to be a more “feminine” (read: marginalized) model, though movements like Holacracy are attempting to bring these models into the mainstream -- and make the old new again.
1. Vision (Seeing)
These leaders are the eyes of the organization, seeing what others can’t. They have an ability to perceive and process large amounts of information, which gives them a birds-eye-view of the business and insight into team dynamics. (See “Leading from above”)
2. Heart (Hearing)
These leaders are said to have their “finger on the pulse” of the business. They spend time listening and responding intuitively to subtle changes. They are also said to be the “heartbeat” at the center of the organization that keeps the blood (energy) pumping.
3. Empathy (Feeling)
These leaders are described as highly empathetic. They occupy the interpersonal “we space.” They value language and human interaction. Their style is highly relational, emotionally intelligent and communicative. (See “Collaboration”)
I’d love to know what Visionary Leadership looks and feels like to you. Please leave your thoughts or insights in the comments.
From updating your strategy to scaling your team, growth is change and change is hard.
Visual Consulting (sometimes called Process Consulting)* is when a consultant is hired to visually “facilitate the organization to perceive, understand, and develop the organization’s business and human processes, in order for the client to improve the situation themselves, as they define it.”
This differs from “Expert Consulting,” where the client has a perceived and predetermined need and a consultant is brought in to share their expertise related to that specific need.
It is also different from “Pair-of-Hands Consulting” (or staff augmentation) where the consultant (or consulting team) is brought in to fulfill work that the client lacks the time or resources to deliver.
Visual Consulting is about teaching the client to fish, not fishing for them, or selling them fancy fishing equipment.
If you are experiencing the following, you may need someone to consult with on your vision, culture, story or strategy.
There are four things to look for when hiring a process consultant.
1. They are Process-Agnostic
If a consultant tells you they have an out-of-the-box solution, don’t believe them. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy. There is no killer app in consulting. It is dynamic, empathy-based work that requires deep listening and should include the wisdom (and the elements that work) from different maps, models and methods. A good consultant should have a belief in human potential and a passion for building capacity on your team, regardless of what book they’re reading.
2. They Understand the Process of Change
Look for a consultant that understands the positive and negative effects of change, what resistance to change looks like in individuals and groups, how to ease or work through that resistance, and ultimately, how to empower teams to lead themselves through change. If the change work (or creativity, or innovation) ends when the consultant leaves the room, they are not the right consultant for you. A good consultant strives to develop resilient, emotionally intelligent teams that are well-versed in the language of change and fire-tested in the crucible of transformation.
3. How They Do Anything is How They Do Everything
Take notes on the sales/discovery call and their approach to setting boundaries and expectations. Notice the way they organize information and their attention to detail. This is exactly how they will engage with you (and possibly your clients). If they are late, rushing, scattered, forgetting things, their tone is too negative (or jarringly upbeat and positive) this is not a good sign. A good consultant matches your energy, makes you feel at ease, asks great questions, and sometimes provides clarity and answers before you can form the questions.
4. The Proof is in the Artifact
They are a visual consultant, so look at their visuals. Are the final deliverables something that will be ready to share or distribute with your team/organization? Do they have visual impact? Will they be memorable or just another “dumb” report? The efforts and summary of your work should not only live on and easily shake hands with your implementation lead or strategic plan, but they should inform (or change) the way you tell your story -- internally and externally.
If you still have questions, let’s set up a Discovery Call to discuss what’s happening in your business.
* Source: Visual Consulting: Designing and Leading Change, David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling, PhD.
We use four key questions to create great meetings. They are called the OARRs (Objective, Agenda, Rules and Roles) and are inspired by our work with The Grove Consultants International.
The OARRs are a sure-fire way to identify your primary objective (“What do we hope to achieve?”), articulate your agenda (“What must we do today?”), get clear on team roles (“Who needs to be in the room and what are they doing?”) and establish some ground rules (“What behaviors do we need to set and reinforce so that we may follow the agenda and achieve our objective?”).
1. What is the Objective for the meeting?
Is the meeting to make a decision, share knowledge, explore ideas, or address a challenge? The objective will determine who needs to be there, the length of the meeting, and the right time of day for the meeting.
You don’t hold a brainstorming meeting directly after lunch, when the team is full and sluggish. Those meetings are best in the morning when (most) people are open-minded, fresh, and creative.
2. What is the Agenda?
To keep everyone focused and to determine the duration of the meeting, you’ll need an agenda. This is a list of all of the business you need to cover or all the decisions you need to make. Consider using a Visual Agenda — either a set of boxes sized according to how much time is spent on each or a Pie Chart Agenda.
There are always at least three components to every agenda:
3. What are Our Roles?
Based on the Objective and the Agenda, determine who needs to be in the meeting and what their roles are. Roles can be based on a participant’s job description, their expertise, their knowledge of the problem and the marketplace, or their position as a producer or stakeholder.
You may assign some roles to people at the outset of the meeting. Who is transcribing or taking notes? Who is acting as a facilitator? Who is keeping track of time and making sure lunch gets ordered? Who is the designated “Devil’s Advocate” — acting as the wrangler of unicorns and asking tough questions about how we might fail? It helps to think about these roles metaphorically. Are you the person driving, coaching, cheerleading, building, etc.?
See also: The Five Vital Roles in Any Virtual Meeting
4. What are the Rules?
Rules help us cross the finish line as a team. Rules are the covenant and the contract that we abide by as a community. We establish affinity, trust and relationship by mutually agreeing on and following the rules.
If your meeting is being held to reach a decision, then your rules need to create a process of decision-making. You might have a rule about deferring new ideas, projects or business to a later date. You might have a rule about withholding judgment, instead asking specific questions that help you arrive at a decision.
If you’re establishing an environment of trust, respect, consensus and collaboration, you might have rules about always speaking for yourself (using “I” language), raising your hand, or speaking one-at-a-time.
If the meeting is exploratory — designed to share knowledge or brainstorm big, wild ideas — then the rules must support creativity and openness. We borrowed one of the most effective rules for generativity from improv comedy: “Yes, and …”
See also: The Power of "Yes, and ..."
By invoking the rule of “Yes, and …” we stay positive and build on each other’s thoughts, honoring what everyone has to say.
Problem-solving meetings may include the rules “All information is valuable” or “No idea is too small.”
You may invoke “Honesty” as a rule, reminding everyone that we will only achieve our goals if we trust one another and respect each other enough to tell the truth.
If you don’t want people on their phones or laptops, then invoke the rule of “Focus,” “Presence,” or “All In.” Kindly instruct them that if they need to handle business they can take it out of the room (or turn off their cameras) and return when they’re done.
If it’s to be a highly-visual meeting with lots of people sketching or scribing, you may add the rule, “Don’t make fun of others’ drawings.”
After reviewing the rules, you may ask, “Are there any rules we forgot?”
Allowing the participants to create rules together is a way to ensure commitment and engagement early in the process.
If you want to inspire the innovation spirit in your meeting, begin with one simple ground rule: “Yes, and...”
Here is why it’s important:
BONUS: It even works when used sarcastically.
To save time and maximize your collective intelligence, use the phrase “Yes, and...” instead of “no” or “yes, but …”
Here’s how to set this up for success:
1. At the beginning of your meeting, establish your objective by answering “At the end of this meeting, what will we have accomplished?” Make the outcome crystal clear. You don’t even have to use the word “innovation.”
2. Next, establish “Yes, and…” as one of the rules.
Here’s what you might tell your team: “Many times, when we are in team meetings, we use the words “no” or “yes, but ...” to make our points. Those powerful words can cut off the flow of ideas and solutions. They stop forward movement. “Yes, and” can eliminate negating words and attitudes. Think of volleyball, where the goal is to keep the ball in the air. Just as we would pass the ball to a teammate to get it over the net, we need to trust others with our ideas and know that they have the potential to improve.”
3. Encourage your team to try the sarcastic use. It breaks the ice and allows everyone to understand it really does work. (See “Yes, and…” in Action, below)
4. Proceed through your meeting as normal. And have fun.
A small shift in language (and attitude) can provide exponential impact in your team. These simple tools are ways to accelerate your innovation potential into a hard-wired reality.
“YES, AND …” IN ACTION
Facilitator: "Our vision for 2025 is bold."
Person 1: "Yes, and it will take all of us performing at our best."
Person 2: "Yes, and I know this team is capable."
Person 3: "Yes, and I'm glad we are discussing strategy today."
Person 4: "Yes, and I'm excited about my new role!"
Facilitator: “The weather is really bad today.”
Person 1: “Yes, and it’ll probably get better.”
Person 2: “Yes, and the sun always comes out.”
Person 3: “Yes, and when it does, maybe I’ll leave early and go to the beach.”
Person 4: “Yes, and maybe I’ll go with you.”
Person 5: “Yes, and I’ll bring the sandwiches!”
This conversation (or something like it) has been replicated many times by practicing “Yes, and …” as an ice breaker. Notice how it doesn’t take long to turn a complaint about the weather into a beach party.
It just takes two simple words.
This is an excerpt from The Visual Meetings Field Guide: How to Facilitate Great Meetings for Amazing Teams - the fully-illustrated master playbook for turning your meetings into engines of productivity and culture.
Get your copy on Amazon now.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.