We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Problem Solving Leadership – Day 1

On the morning of the first day, we trickled into the classroom, which was laid out in parallel rows of desks facing the front.  One of the facilitators asked the group if this was how we would like to have the room laid out, and invited us to change it if not.  They seemed as interested as I was to see what how the group would behave in response.

After a quick ad hoc decision making process, the room was rearranged, and we all sat down again.  We were then guided through a discussion about what we had observed and how we responded to it: this pattern of experimentation and retrospective analysis set the tone for the remainder of the workshop, which was designed to provide opportunities for us to learn through shared experiences of working as a group.

Around this point, I began to notice the pace of the course.  We spent most of the first day getting organized: setting up the room, reviewing the schedule, self-organizing into teams, learning each other’s names, and so on. A particular question or observation in the class would remind Jerry of a lesson learned, and he would deliberately retell a story (or three) from his life and career. It seemed positively glacial at times compared to my day-to-day work at Canonical, which continually demands my attention for a vast array of tasks, information and problems, and seems to leave little time for analysis.

I realized, of course, that a more considered pace is much more conducive to learning and improvement because it permits reflection and organization of one’s thoughts and feelings—but I was not applying this very well in my work. Stepping outside of my established pattern of work made this easier to see, and this was to become one of a series of such insights, increasing in both depth and number throughout the week.

For our first small group exercise, we competed in teams of four to construct “houses of cards” which met various criteria. The analogies in this exercise were painfully clear to us from our software and consulting experience. Through the exercise, and reflections on it from myself and others, I learned a great deal about organizing teams in pursuit of a goal, such as:

  • adapting approaches to fit the team and circumstances
  • organization and prioritization (both in advance and in response to change)
  • testing assumptions and constraints
  • effective listening
  • the effects of stress on teams
  • gaining perspective on the work
  • supporting continuous improvement

Some of the lessons were entirely new. Others involved the transformation of abstract principles into practical habits. All of them were applicable to my life and work, tailored for me through my individual experience of the course. The most valuable lessons were those which came to me through observing what happened around me and to me, and which were therefore written in my internal language, rather than in a textbook. Few ways of learning “stick” quite as well as reaching your own conclusion.

Read more: Day 2

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

February 23, 2009 at 18:23

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