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Problem Solving Leadership – Day 2

p1220030The second day began with an introduction to the MOI model (Motivation, Organization, Information), familiar from Becoming a Technical Leader.  We analyzed our actions from the previous day’s activity in terms of this model, which triggered a series of discussions about the actions we take as leaders and how they impact the team.  In particular, I remember talking about “organic” information flow in organizations (coffee breaks, lunchroom, smoke breaks, etc.) and how new members of a team assimilate the team culture.

One simple example of the latter is the difference between two ways of trying to spread a strong team’s culture to others: bringing an individual from elsewhere into the team, and separating members of the strong team to become part of other teams.  The former tends to result in the individual acquiring the knowledge and culture of the strong team (good), while the latter results in the loss of a strong team (bad).

We also discussed the Satir change model, and how it plays out in familiar scenarios, like adopting a new software development methodology.  A good tip for introducing a change was to start small, with the team most likely to succeed, and build on that success to spread the change further in the organization.  We talked about what managers need to do to support teams which are going through a change (for example, reduce pressure by adding more time to the schedule the first time through).  There was also a great deal of interesting discussion about technical reviews and retrospectives: how (not) to conduct them, how to decide what to review, and so on.

In my experience, the biggest obstacle to solving most problems is getting that first grip on it: if I can manage to define the problem well, and hold it consistently in mind for a period of time, solution ideas start to flow.  We are our own worst enemies where this challenge is concerned, and will invent ways to avoid accepting the problem and getting close to it.  Getting control over our own reactions is often the key, which Jerry encapsulated with an aphorism: “The problem is not the problem.  Coping with the problem is the problem.”

Later the same day, we took turns observing a group as they solved a problem: what they said, how they moved, the different actions taken by different people.  We then presented and interpreted this data as a group, which led to a rich discussion about how to assess what is going on in a team through observation.  Doing this well is difficult and requires much practice, but some techniques I found useful were:

  • Watch the people who are not speaking, to see how they are reacting to the speaker
  • Notice when questions are asked, and how the group responds (do they answer?)
  • What happens when someone makes a joke?
  • Focus on observing one type of behavior at a time (this is hard enough!)

We worked late into the evening, discussing problems faced by the group in their work and generating ideas for how to approach them.  I felt very curious, and was recording a steady stream of thoughts in my journal regarding my own work.

Read more: Day 3

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

February 24, 2009 at 17:00

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