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You're Looking for Help in All the Wrong Places

Several decades ago, a team of experts built the world's most expensive mirror. It was for the Hubble Space Telescope, and the mirror was the key to focusing light that predated the stars, capturing images that had never been seen by human eyes. The precision was measured in millionths of an inch. If the mirror's surface were the size of the Atlantic Ocean, the surface would need to be so smooth that no wave would be taller than 3 inches.

When the telescope launched in 1990, the images came back blurry. The mirror was the wrong shape by 2 percent of the width of a human hair. It couldn't focus light with the required precision. The telescope was only able to do about half of the work that it was launched to do, and in 1993, NASA burned several hundred million dollars on a repair mission.

What went wrong? When journalists Robert Capers and Eric Lipton investigated, they discovered that the team of designers, engineers and technicians at Perkin-Elmer resisted help from experts. When initial tests of the mirror pointed to potential problems, the engineers refused an independent test. To safeguard against errors, the company appointed a ...

Why Alignment of Staff and Manager Satisfaction Scores Matter

I write often about the importance of employee satisfaction and commitment as a way to understand what is really happening in your organization. Paying attention to employee survey data will give you insights into where your employees are experiencing stumbling blocks and can help you learn things about your organizational processes that you may otherwise not have known.

Another data element to consider is how aligned your management is with front-line employees. Considerable disparities in the viewpoints of these two groups could mean they don’t agree on key issues the organization faces—and if they don’t agree on what needs to be addressed, it will be harder to drive change.

While it is common for managers to view their organizations more positively than staff because managers typically have more information and influence on the decisions that impact their work, extreme differences should get the attention of your agency leadership and rouse them into taking a closer look.

That begs the question: How big a disparity is too big?

The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte examined this issue as part of its Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis. We created staff/manager alignment scores for ...

Technologies Designed to Save Time Are Helping Us Waste It

Technologies like email and videoconferencing, designed to save time, end up helping people waste more of it. A new study by Bain & Company published at the Harvard Business Review finds that the way we order our lives and structure our business operations, and particularly our meetings, wastes a spectacular amount of time.

Organizations account for how money is used. But time, for the most part, is barely tracked and sucked up by meetings and preparing for them. Things like email, conference calls, and online calendars make scheduling and attending things so easy people don’t stop to think before they do it.

The statistics from the study are pretty incredible:

  • A study of Outlook schedules at one company found that a weekly meeting of an executive committee created a total of 300,000 hours of additional work and meetings over the course a year for the participants and their teams. That included meeting time, as well as preparation and followup.
  • 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a percentage that’s gone up yearly since 2008
  • On average, senior executives spend more than two days a week in meetings with more than three people
  • Senior executives ...

Leaders, Are You Betraying Your People?

If you are a leader in the federal government, and doing your job, at some point you will likely betray the people in your organization in pursuing the higher purpose required of a public servant (and being a leader in general). 

Your larger responsibility is to sustain the governmental organization, which serves the public interest. In a world driven by constant change, you must adapt and lead your organization in adapting. To adapt you may disrupt the status quo, and when you disrupt the status quo individuals in your organization may feel betrayed.  It sucks, and you’ll likely have to do it at some point— if (and that’s a big if) you accept the responsibilities that come with being a leader. 

The word betrayal sends chills up my spine and creates a general sense of “ick.”  I suspect it’s the same for many people.  As with many things in life, without context it’s nearly impossible to understand how leadership betrayal could possibly be considered appropriate in modern organizational life.  However, in researching theories around complex adaptive systems for a client leadership development program, I ran across a stirring article written by James Krantz and associated with ...

8 Reasons Small Teams Work Better

Your organization is forming a new task force, cross-functional team, focus group—whatever you want to call it. And as usual, it’s time for the never-ending quest to “loop people in.” The more brains, the better, reason the powers that be. So they include as many high performers and thought leaders as possible. Soon, more volunteers trickle in because they want to be visible, to hitch their wagons to this particular star. And before you know it, the team is completely out of control.

The results aren’t pretty. It’s impossible to come to a consensus. You constantly get off track. You have to wade through piles of unhelpful input while refereeing between people with conflicting agendas. There’s entirely too much self-aggrandizing *bleep* flying around the table, while truly helpful ideas seem to have fled the building.

If you’ve been a part of one of these blundering behemoths (and most of us have), you’ll probably cheer my suggestion that, generally speaking, we all need to trim the fat. As organizations strive to stay agile and innovative, they’ve discovered that units of eight to 12 people work best as the natural size of high-performance teams ...