What are you assuming?


Assumptions. They’re dangerous, and yet we make them all the time. When meeting someone new, for example, we may make assumptions about the person’s thoughts, actions, behaviors, or beliefs, simply based on external factors such as: age, appearance, clothing, skin color, or the type of work the person does. Our perceptions are filtered by our own self worldview, usually without us even being aware of it. Our previous experiences and personal histories influence the way we interpret new experiences, interactions, or information.

New situations are fertile ground for assumptions. Here’s an example: It’s your first day on a new job. Most likely you are making dozens of assumptions without even realizing it. Assumptions about how to dress, how to communicate, schedules, supplies, chain-of-command, the meaning of co-workers’ behavior, and on and on and on. As the day progresses you may find that some of your assumptions were correct, while others were not. Perhaps you assumed that you’d be welcome to walk into the boss’s office any time, since that’s what you did at your last job… But when you tried it you found that your new boss doesn’t welcome unplanned visits.

Sometimes our false assumptions are never corrected. Unlike the new boss who will probably let you know you’ve done something based on a faulty assumption, in many other situations inaccurate assumptions may never be surfaced or corrected. And that’s what can get us into trouble. While it may be a common human trait to fill in the gaps when we don’t have all the information we’d like, when our assumptions go unchecked, we make decisions or act based on “facts” which may be completely inaccurate. Think about the story of Romeo and Juliet.  How many false assumptions were made on the way to that play’s tragic ending?

Many ways to connect the dots

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I once thought I was quite good at “connecting the dots”  when I had incomplete information, just by using logic and imagination. What I learned, though, when I started to test my assumptions for accuracy, was that the dots didn’t actually connect nearly as well as I’d thought. My assumptions were often flawed! And there are usually many different options for connecting the dots that I hadn’t even considered.

In a group setting, hidden assumptions can wreak havoc on the group’s ability to perform. They erode trust, inhibit effective communication, hinder problem-solving, and stifle creativity. What can you do to reverse this? Team development activities can help. By taking a group outside of its normal environment and engaging the members in purposeful team activities, hidden assumptions are surfaced so that they can be addressed. Check out Tom Wujec’s TED Talk on this topic for a great example.

Here’s an exercise you can do to start testing your assumptions right away. Select an activity that you’ll be participating in later today. It can be anything – an office meeting, an errand you need to run, a visit with a good friend. Between now and the start of the activity, see if you can come up with at least 10 unchecked assumptions you have about the location, the people involved, or the activity itself. Now think about how you might test those assumptions for accuracy. Are there questions you can ask for a better understanding? Different perspectives you might take to see things in a new light? What new insights do you get when you explore your assumptions further?

Managing Change – Puppy Lessons


IMG_0990Yesterday we brought home a new puppy. Exciting and wonderful – yes! Absolutely. And also, perhaps, just a little bit scary. Any change, whether perceived to be positive or negative, holds unpredictability. Is this experience going to be as wonderful as we think? How will this change our lives?  Change means risk.

In her podcast Creativity and Risk TakingAmy Climer talks about how we experience a sense of risk when the outcome of what we are doing is uncertain. So even when engaging in something we think will have a favorable outcome, it can feel risky. Any change can be stressful.

As individuals and as members of groups, we encounter change constantly. Some changes are small, others more significant; some work in our favor, others may work against us. Sometimes we cope with change better than other times. Think about a recent change that you’ve experienced. What are the things that helped you to be most successful at managing that change?

Here are some of the things my new puppy is teaching me about successfully managing change:

  • Learn as much as you can about the upcoming change. Read books, talk to people who’ve had similar experiences, talk to others who have expertise in situations like yours, use technology to broaden your understanding.
  • Prepare! In addition to learning all that you can, prepare your environment in advance. Consider the supplies you need and have them ready. Make a plan for how you will integrate this change into your daily life. Who is going to be responsible for what? How might your schedule or activities need to be modified? What support will you need from others?
  • Trust your own instincts. Listen to the experts, and at the same time, remember that every situation is different and yours may not fit neatly into the examples provided by experts.
  • Be ready to adapt when something unexpected happens. It always does!
  • Pay attention to what your experiences are teaching you and apply those lessons going forward.
  • Forgive yourself when things don’t go exactly as planned. There are almost always setbacks and mistakes along the way. Learn from them and move on.
  • Stay positive!

I’ve learned a lot in just one day. Imagine how much more I’ll be learning from this puppy in the years to come!


When should you abandon a goal?


Abandoning a goal. Ouch! For achievement-oriented folks, that’s a tough idea to swallow. But are there times when it might be the right thing to do? I’d say yes, actually. Here’s why.

I love audacious goals. And aiming high can often take you much farther than you might otherwise hasetting goalsve reached. So it’s hard to reconcile a basic philosophy that “if you can dream it, you can achieve it” with giving up on a goal. And yet…sometimes that’s the right decision.

Circumstances may have changed since you initially set your goal. Life events, market conditions, new laws, environmental changes all could impact your ability to achieve a goal. Or perhaps the goal was not as well thought out as it might have been. right from the start.

When you find yourself faced with the difficult decision about whether to continue pursuing a goal or not, here are some things to consider:

  • Is it realistic?  I might set a goal to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, but if I’ve done nothing up to this point to prepare, it’s not remotely realistic that I’d achieve that goal.
  • What will it cost to achieve? Not only financially, but physically and emotionally as well. History is filled with examples from the military, where one side or the other “wins the battle, but loses the war,” because too much was sacrificed in order to win the battle. And how many businesses can you think of that expanded too quickly or too broadly, only to have to pull back and then struggle to regain their pre-expansion levels?
  • Can the goal be modified?  Are there changes that would make the goal more realistic, and still worthy of achieving? For example, while my goal of competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics is completely unreasonable, the goal of running a marathon might be more realistic.

Make it a habit to think through these questions when first setting a goal and you’ll be far less likely to face a decision to abandon that goal later on.

Teams succeed when everyone contributes


I watched the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony the other day and was repeatedly struck by how often inductees brought up the roles others had played in their success.


Whether it was family, coaches, or teammates, the theme running through all of the speeches was that the inductee would not have achieved the level of success that he had without these others who played critical roles in that success. Whether it was a leadership philosophy that it takes the whole organization to win, a player’s gratitude for the coach who believed in him, or appreciation for the teammates that put these inductees in a position to shine, the message was clear – a team can achieve great things when everyone contributes.


everyone contributes

The value of teamwork is more easily recognized in sports than in other arenas. We understand the need for every member of an athletic team to be working together, leveraging each person’s strengths, to achieve a common goal. Win the game, score the most goals, get more points, go faster than the other team. Outside of sports, the value of teamwork is often overlooked, and yet it matters just as much. Organizations may say it’s important, and even call their work groups “teams,” but the need for purposeful team development is frequently unrecognized or low on the priority list.


I’ve recently been a customer at a local business where teamwork is not evident. The particular individual I’ve been working with is fairly new on the job. No harm there – we’ve all been in that position at one time or another! But in this case there is no evidence that co-workers provide any support or assistance to each other, and the quality of work along with customer service suffers because of it.  In contrast, I am a frequent customer at a local restaurant where all of the employees are clearly part of a cohesive and engaged team. It’s apparent in the way they interact with each other, with everyone focused on the same goal of making everything about the customer experience exceptional – from the food to the service to the entertainment.

I’m sure that you can think of positive and negative examples from your own experience, from sports or other areas. What did you notice about the way team members interacted? How did those interactions impact outcomes and the ability of the team to achieve its goals? What about teams that you are part of – are you on your way to the Hall of Fame, or helping someone else get there?


Improve your thinking


An innovator's guide to productive thinkingHave you ever thought about your brain’s remarkable capacity to solve problems?  How does it do that??  And how can you develop habits that make the most of your creative capacity?

Tim Hurson answers those questions and more in Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking. Hurson offers a six-step process to improve the way we think about problems and how to solve them.  Using practical tools and techniques within each step, you’ll discover how to gain clarity about what the actual problem is, generate a wide range of solutions, and take effective action to solve the problem.

Start thinking better today!

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Five steps to meaningful teambuilding


What do you think of when you see or hear that word? In my experience, the idea of teambuilding generates mixed responses: some people dread it, some are elated, and others fall everywhere in-between these extremes. Why such varied responses? When I ask people about their experiences with teambuilding I find that while most have extremely positive experiences, some unfortunately do not. What makes the difference?

Here are five ways to make your next teambuilding event both memorable and meaningful:

Teambuilding goals

  1. Set goals. Be clear about what you are intending to achieve through teambuilding activities. Is this event just about getting to know each other and build camaraderie? Or do you want something more? Goals such as improved communication or decision-making can be effectively addressed with teambuilding activities using experiential learning methods.
  2. Sequence teambuilding activities appropriately for the group. A new team that is just beginning to work together will need a different sequence, and perhaps different activities altogether, than a cohesive team that has been working together for awhile.
  3. Challenge by choice. Growth and learning happen when we are outside of our comfort zones – up to a point! If participants are pushed too far out of their comfort zones they are likely to withdraw completely. Be clear that participants always have a choice in how they participate. Ensure that activities are designed to accommodate a wide range of comfort levels among participants.
  4. Don’t skip the debrief! Effective debriefing following an activity allows participants to make meaning from their experience. This is when they are most likely to make connections between the lessons learned during the activity and their real-world situations. Without this step, a teambuilding activity may be enjoyable and memorable, but lack meaning.Teambuilding reflection
  5. Incorporate individual reflection. Set aside time for quiet reflection and journaling. Add focus to reflection by posing a thoughtful question that encourages participants to think about their experiences at a deeper level.


In your own experience with teambuilding events, what has made them meaningful for you?

Expand Your Comfort Zone


“Comfort zones are often expanded through discomfort.” – Mimi Solaire

Why would you want to expand your comfort zone? The comfort zone. It’s a safe place, probably one in which you feel confident. You know what to expect, how to behave. One might conclude that this is a good place, one to hang out in all the time.

I would argue “yes” and “no.” Yes, it can be a good place, one where you can restore your intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy. But no! Not a place to be all the time. Why not? Well, it would get boring for one thing. But more than that, learning isn’t happening in the comfort zone. It’s comfortable there because you’ve already learned what you need to know to get along there. Something else happens after too long in the comfort zone. You may have seen or experienced this yourself. Complacency, gradually affecting work, relationships, or health.Outside the comfort zone

What happens when you expand your comfort zone? Your capacity to learn and develop grows. And, each step you take along the path from beginner to expert expands your comfort zone that much more. As you think about all the things that come naturally to you now – perhaps things like walking, writing, driving, or typing – try to remember the awkwardness you felt when you were first learning, when these things took you out of your comfort zone. It took time, but the discomfort was worth it, right?

When you are developing a team, you are likely to push team members outside their comfort zones at times. This is good, because just as individuals experience growth outside their comfort zones, so do teams. The path to high performance is challenging and involves taking risks. It is anything but complacent. Purposeful team-building activities accelerate a team’s development and ability to perform at high levels by intentionally and persistently expanding comfort zones.

When I’m faced with something that takes me outside of my comfort zone, I find it helpful to focus on the things I’m going to learn from the experience, and how it will help me grow. What about you? What helps you get outside your comfort zone?


Photo courtesy of Tim Schultz

The Hamster Revolution for Meetings


Do you find yourself continuously attending meetings that don’t seem to accomplish anything?  Do meetings lack focus or stray off-topic? Do you ever find yourself saying, “I am spending so much time in meetings that I can’t get anything done!”?

hamster revolution

Authors Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, and Tim Burress offer solutions in The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done. They take a fun approach, while offering specific and practical steps you can take to make meetings productive and engaging. A case study and examples make it easy to see how the concepts can be applied in real-world settings.

Check it out, and let me know how the ideas work for you!



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Making learning context work for you


A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting for new members at my local Chamber of Commerce. One thing typically done at this meeting is an introduction of the Chamber’s staff. This is important because of the role the staff plays to ensure that members have access to all the resources offered by the Chamber. It’s an important part of a meeting jam-packed with valuable information for new members. I bet you’ve experienced something similar before. It can be difficult to keep your head from spinning!

But here’s what was different about this meeting – the meeting-planner recognized that without context the staff introductions would have little meaning to the new members. So instead of a random introduction, the staff members were presented to us in the way a new or potential member would encounter them. For example: “Hello, I’m Scott. I’m the first person you talk to when you call us or come into our building.”  “Hello, I’m Kathleen. Scott would transfer you to me to talk about becoming a member of the Chamber.” And so on. As the staff members were introduced in this way, I could see nods of recognition from meeting attendees, as they remembered their initial experiences interacting with these people. It was a brilliant strategy.

learning context


Experience and learning. They are inextricably linked. Providing context helps us make sense of new information. Incorporating the learner’s prior experience with purpose and intention always makes learning more impactful.

learning context
In Context


What does learning look like in your organization? When things change in your organization and your team members need to learn something new – how do you approach it? Are they flooded with information in one unrelenting torrent? Are they learning in a vacuum, or is the material framed in a way that provides context? How much detail are learners given, and when? What mechanisms are built into the training to allow team members to apply what they are learning? How is the new information connected to things they already know? How involved are team members in their own learning? Do they set learning goals for themselves or self-evaluate progress? Is time allowed for reflection and processing? Are different learning styles or preferences taken into consideration in the development of training materials and delivery planning?

apply learning context
Applying the Concept


It’s a lot to think about. And yet, when you find a solution that offers context and mirrors the learner’s experience, it feels right, and you know you are off to a great start!

How have you used experience to make learning meaningful?


High-performing team transformation


transformationTeams change. It will happen many times in your career. Team members come and go. It’s part of the team development process identified by Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s and 70s. Forming – storming – norming – performing, and at last, transforming.  After working so hard to reach and maintain the performing level, at some point things will inevitably change, and the team will transform to something else.

Perhaps you’ve been developing someone on your team to take on roles of greater responsibility, and that person has been an integral part of your high-performing team. And because of that individual’s efforts, your efforts, and the outstanding results of your team, the individual is offered a new position – one with even greater opportunities for development and impact. So the team transformation stage begins. The team loses a top contributor and you need to search for a quality replacement. The team is soon to find itself back in the forming stage as someone new joins the group, roles are re-evaluated, and the members of the new team get to know each other.

transformationIf this is your team, be glad! Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work. And there may be elements of sadness in losing a close working relationship. But teams need to continually evolve to maintain high-performance levels. New team members bring fresh perspectives and new skills to the team. Add these to an already strong team foundation, and performance can reach even higher levels than before.

It may feel discouraging to now feel like you are starting over at developing your team, after the high levels of performance you’ve achieved and become accustomed to. With focus and intentionality, you can help your new team develop through Tuckman’s stages more quickly. Over time, teams will naturally progress through the stages, but why not involve your team in purposeful activities to accelerate the process and improve their interactions? You might start with activities that build connection and trust among team members, and then progress to activities to improve communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. You’ll be back to working with a high-performing team that exceeds your expectations in no time!

Some great resources for team development activities are:



What kinds of things have you done to develop your team? I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges!





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