Monday, September 14, 2015

Just For Fun

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The Art Of Team Building Part III


Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process

In Part I of The Art of Team Building, I discussed the process behind, and the importance of, understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Gathering this information is the crucial first step towards building a high-performance work team.  Part II discussed establishing a culture of transparency to bond your team. Both articles utilize components of Six Sigma that gradually propagate to your team as you go through this process.

Now that you have your heat map and have established a culture of transparency, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get the team operating at maximum performance by fostering functional knowledge workers through the development of Knowledge Cubes.

What is a Knowledge Cube?

Think of a knowledge cube as visually similar to a Rubix Cube.  Each small cube is a function within a department, and the operations provided by the department equal a completed colored  side, or aggregate of a whole department.   When the cube is assembled, it will clearly define the functions for each of the departments and create paths for associates to have autonomous movement inside each other’s organization. These cubes are designed to foster self-determination and build their skills sets to become self-directed knowledge workers. The concept of object-oriented coding is analogous to how one uses knowledge cubes to develop an organization.  They serve to free up “brain space” by normalizing everyday processes to be more innovative.

The Art of Foundational Process - The Basis of the Knowledge Cube

A Technology organization must standardize the Art of Foundational Process. Whether making a sandwich, or negotiating a multi-billion dollar business deal, there is a process involved that must be documented for continuous improvement.

An assembly line is a classic example of a foundational process. Henry Ford’s system for building a vehicle is a step by step, repeatable process. As the vehicle moves along the line, another component is installed.  His foundational process laid the groundwork for the successful development of a multi-billion-dollar industry, promoting innovation and proper training of personnel.

This design promotes associate growth and organizational development.  It will create a path to master every aspect of IT, including software development, Operations, Security, QA, Process, and Desktop Services.  CEOs and COOs can apply this organizational behavior from the top down in all functional areas of business, such as Human Resources, PMO, Supply Chain, and Finance.  Utilizing this approach can structure your organization to achieve Malcolm Baldrige levels, renowned for the highest tier of performance excellence.  Foundational process lays the groundwork for creation of knowledge cubes that will standardize operational agility.

Organizational Evolution Through Knowledge Cubes

disassembled cube.jpg
Illustration 0 - Chaos in pieces
The organization has no form, and nothing but chaos exists.  You will have disparate teams that do not operate as one.  There is no sharing of knowledge, and everyone is stuck in their areas of expertise, causing single points of failure.  Morale is low, while frustration is high.  Team members are in a groundhog day state, and are looking for a better way.

Illustration 1 - Organized Chaos
A leader assembles his team, and begins to take the chaos of dispersed  workflow and knowledge and structure it.  Teams start to get excited when they see the information, but may not understand how or why it’s coming together.  

Article Zero represents the least common denominator.  It establishes the foundation for your team to build effective knowledge cube articles.  Create your Article Zero, and it will serve as your template that any person on your team can use to execute.  An effective knowledge cube is accompanied with a flowchart on the exact way to execute the action.


Illustration 2 - Introduction of KC Process (baby steps) - lowest hanging fruit
Each individual square represents an activity area a group provides to an organization. The visual representation of the process is designed with simple polygons that transcend technical language barriers.  Accompanying the flow chart is the writer’s step by step directions that lay out the article in its most basic form.  

Each square is self-policing.  Since each article is a repeatable process, when the steps cease to work, one can go back to revise the process.  This keeps each article relevant through continuous improvement.

Illustration 3 - Tracking & Metrics
Create and place a knowledge cube training matrix in public view for everyone to see.  This will create an air of friendly competition, empowerment, and autonomy.  The cubes actually became a vehicle to drive accountability and competition . It innately makes people elevate because their peers are doing it. Everyone will take on a “leave no man behind” mentality. These transfers of knowledge can lead to increased associate morale, and will benefit work-life balance.

Illustration 4 - Assemble the groupRubix_complete.jpg
An assembled cube for the group can represent a subset of a department.  For example, in a Supply-Chain organization, this assembled cube would can consist of squares from Logistics, Procurement, and Vendor Management.  The cube, or subsets of the cube can then be shared outside of the department to align on corporate-wide initiatives that require collaboration.  

Your knowledge cube program will never end, as the organization is constantly changing.  Executive leadership must drive a culture of continuous improvement, while the managers work to propel the program forward.

Illustration 5 - Assemble the Organization
As the program propagates across the company, the cubes develop a form.  Teams begin to communicate and collaborate as knowledge is shared.  Single points of failure are eradicated from your environment.

Morale increases as team members become functional knowledge workers, and the organization evolves to an autonomous state.

Illustration 6 - Goal State
Once Foundational Process is implemented in an department, the knowledge cubes can then be shared inside and outside of the organization.  Standardization of processes across the company will reap countless benefits.  

Alignment, Camaraderie, and Standardization of YOUR Operations

Documentation of all processes for the individual cubes is critical for standardizing an operation.  Once knowledge articles and processes are documented, an organization gains many benefits:

  • It visually puts everyone on the same page as to how each process operates
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for a given task
  • The learning curve is reduced for new associates entering the department
  • Efficiency is gained from the analysis and streamlining of existing procedures
  • It standardizes the process with which your operations run

A great example of this: say your business is experiencing large amounts of down time due to  a persistent system outage.  A leader would assemble the team to draw info graphics, as-is process maps and the group image of the future state while discussing key areas of concentration.  They should focus on a reiterative process that concentrates on people and execution, followed by a technical approach, and finally change control mechanisms.   Knowledge cubes would be created and modified for continuous improvement throughout the exercise. Over multiple iterations, one can observe up to 95% reduction in outages and defects, saving the company millions in downtime.  All this is achievable through the application of a knowledge cube program.

There is a significant social factor within this process that is a key to its success.  Writing up a knowledge cube for the sake of doing so simply isn’t enough.  Leaders must encourage cross-department communication as well. If a team member who works in Department A cross-trains with a knowledge cube from Department B, merely completing the cube to gain a small piece of knowledge defeats the overall purpose.  The team member must make time to interact with the subject matter expert (SME).  This builds camaraderie, opens additional channels of communication, and allows both the mentor and mentee to learn more about each other both professionally and personally.  These interactions are a small part of the whole that builds high-performing teams.

When properly implemented, knowledge cubes cross-train teams on industry best practices.  It can also teach the particulars of how those standards are applied and customized inside your organization. Knowledge cubes benefit internally in that team members can move between departments with the ability to hit the ground running. The inherent organizational agility offered by this process can save companies thousands of dollars in third party training costs, as all the training material is being developed in-house.  

Implement the program - Knowledge Cubes In Action

Every successful integration requires key components that include executive sponsorship, proper communication, and change management.  Installing a knowledge cube program into your organization is no different.  Once the executive has communicated the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why) of the program and generated an air of excitement, the management team must rally their group to drive the program, and maintain its excitement and relevance.

Knowledge cubes are a push/pull.  At some point, a knowledge worker will be the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who contributes to the departmental and organizational cube (push), and at other times they, will be the ones acquiring the knowledge (pull).

Train the team on how to PUSH:

  1. Use the “Knowledge cube on how to create a knowledge cube” above to train your teams on how to build cubes.
  2. Create a standardized template for the documentation.  This will ensure that every document is created and looks/feels the same.  This will make the process repeatable.
  3. Implement a bounty program that rewards your top performers who create the most relevant articles
  4. Keep it simple!  If the process for creating the documentation, storing it, and accessing the articles is too difficult or cumbersome, your adoption rate will plummet.

Train the team on how to PULL:

  1. A person chooses an item on the cube training matrix. An associate may desire to expand their functional knowledge cube to master a specific subject matter. Or a leader may might want to grow someone to an area that might not have enough of a specific skillset.
  2. Contact the SME who created the article to establish initial contact for mentoring
  3. Execute and learn the article.  This is done by either observing the SME, or by the SME guiding the mentee through the process repeatedly.
  4. Take the associated quiz;  the passing grade is tracked in the cross training matrix.

Summing Up the Cube

In a world where companies are achieving more work with fewer employees, creating a culture of employees who can become multi-purpose or “Swiss army knives” will yield you positive results not only from a developmental psychology perspective, but from a performance perspective as well. When the process is used effectively, career progression occurs at a rapid pace, and the benefits reaped by the company are bountiful.

Some of the most gratifying moments in my personal career occur when witnessing the expedient growth and elevation of  numerous individuals who have mastered the cubes.  Seeing them now as Directors and Executives of Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries speaks volumes to the process and the impact it can have on an individual.

You can dance while your knowledge is growing”
The WHO - Another Tricky Day
(Conversely to the Lyrics -- You CAN always get it when really want it)

In the 1600’s Philosopher Francis Bacon said “knowledge is power”. Today I say knowledge cubes are powerful!

Just for fun… Here’s a Knowledge Cube on How to Create a Knowledge Cube!


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Art of Team Building - Part II

Part II - Creating Collaboration, Trust, and Transparency
In Part I of The Art of Team Building (link to article), I discussed a component of the process behind, and the importance of, understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Gathering this information is the crucial first step towards building a high-performance work team. The second phase of the process is establishing building bonds between you and your team, and as well as with each other.
In order for a leader to foster collaboration, they must first galvanize a team through trust, transparency, and honesty.  
Leadership by Loyalty, Unification through Transparency
To establish loyalty, the leader must give it. Implicitly.  This absolute must exist,  because any deviation inverts the entire equation.  Loyalty is not necessarily reciprocal in nature, but it is hoped for and ultimately gained, as you will not be trusted out of the gate. You will have to produce results in order to attain their trust. To facilitate results, a leader must envision and forecast a series of events that will occur over the course of a project and the working relationship, and communicate those expectations to their team. From there, the leader must then establish a hierarchy of goals that vary in complexity. These goals will serve to deliver on the expectations and drive the team to succeed, inherently making the leaders’ “predictions” come true. The easier goals serve as low-hanging fruit and will establish the foundation of your credibility with the team. The more difficult goals will solidify the trust your team will gain in you as you continue to deliver at all levels. If you think of trust as a hub-and-spoke, the leader initially acts the hub of trust to the rest of the team. Over time, the trust organically spreads throughout the rest of the group, bringing them closer together to promote collaboration and high-performance.
Transparency is the paramount trait that will help strengthen and unite your team. Operating in this space ensures that your team sees and knows everything happening in your area. It unites everyone in that there are no secrets, no “favorites” between team members, and gives everyone an identical view of the playing field. Since your group can see the same field in very different ways, it is through transparency that you empower them to provide their intellectual interpretation of situations based on their unique view. The individual insights provided will come from your heat maps that you discovered from Part I of this blog series, are the ground floor for establishing a collaborative environment.  
The Transparent Team in Action - The Jam Session
Trust, loyalty and transparency together create a workspace that will be the breeding ground for a great team bonding experience: Visualize a room that has its own feel, where each team member can play his or her favorite musical artists while working on colorful, compelling process maps. There are process maps hanging on the walls of this room that are  used as “reusable code”, containing all the ingredients to reduce the cycle time needed to create present and future states. The collaborative brainstorming sessions that take place in this room become legendary for rapid deployment of ideas.
The group assembles, loads up a process or infograph work in progress, and someone plays their favorite musical genre while thought capital is exchanged. Each team member takes a turn selecting his or her favorite music. But the inclusion of music in this collaborative workspace goes beyond mere enjoyment. Music provides intimate insights about each team member, revealing additional depth to the personality.
Building this community of “jam sessions” with the team huddled around becomes the norm.  A “forget what you know” approach is established,  and the team works to create the vision for the organization through the architecture of its future state.  In this creative, open and collaborative think tank, born of transparency and trust,  ideas will seem to flow into a state of synchronicity.  Over time, alliances will form among your players, alliances so deep that you may notice the team begins to finish each other’s thoughts.
Trust = Safety = Advanced Collaboration
During these brainstorm sessions, the entire group has the security to safely observe and experience the full range of human interactions and  emotions, negative and positive behaviors (jealousy, blaming/accountability, sycophancy, etc.).  Your expertly crafted think-tank environment sets the stage for productive, organic discussions to bring these behaviors to the surface, and more importantly, to move interpersonal issues toward quick resolutions.  Within the realm of the team whose hierarchy is established on a foundation of trust and transparency, the “Alpha-dog” position rotates naturally and without conflict,  based on the subject matter at hand, creating a state of equality.  
The team must not remain on middle ground with each other or the team as a whole. They must get psychologically naked by revealing their strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities with each other.  Doing this sets a clean slate.  Creating opportunities to air differences, sometimes even forcing such airing to occur, is the foundation for relationship building. Placing the individuals in a game of choice with each other on an opposing matter or behavior trait will bring about the free will to choose the negative or positive outcome together.  This will produce the first team challenge, and will be the flash point where trust and loyalty are established.
”There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” -Ayn Rand
An example of this is an individual who constantly bickers with a teammate. Place them in a “safe” environment without fear of repercussions with leader moderation and let them go at it. The leader can study the manipulations of each side and assist in driving the anger or disagreement to the least common denominator. Once you uncover the heart of the matter you can usually decipher cause and effect. There is a less than one-percent chance that you will have a situation that is truly beyond repair. Even those, with time can be addressed through a similar exercise in a group setting. The individuals must choose where they stand; the diffusion creates an automatic bond, and the group gravitates toward a more definitive level of understanding.  
A group that can resolve differences “within the family” will reduce human resource-related issues by relying on their strong relationships.  This advanced conflict resolution process is one of the most valuable assets your organization will gain by laying the groundwork of trust and transparency, in your effort to cultivate a truly collaborative team.

In future blog entries for this 4 part series the remaining topics will be covered:
Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process
Part IV - Autonomy - Fostering Self Determination - The Utopia of Team Building

The Art of Team Building - Part I

The Art of Team Building is a four part series that details my methodical approach to creating and building teams that operate at a high level.  This methodology uses Six Sigma at its foundation, and has served as a recipe for success to transcend all organizations regardless of business type or function.   I hope you enjoy the read as much as I’ve enjoyed documenting the process....

Part I - Precision Team Building Process - Identifying Your Key Players

Throughout my career as a technologist, I have developed and come to rely on a suite of processes that I execute in each new engagement with a company. The first of these processes, Precision Team Building (PTB), is key to the human capital component that helps to identify a team’s strengths and weaknesses.   While you can’t force chemistry, you can most assuredly foster an environment to increase the likelihood dramatically by using the Precision Team Building process.
Producing output similar to the Myers Briggs personality test,  the results of this process prove even more valuable to team leaders due to the specific tailoring to the task at hand. PTB involves asking team members to complete a two-part survey/questionnaire about their proficiencies and experiences across various functions of IT.  The first poll is fairly short, and takes approximately  15-30 minutes to complete.  The second version of the poll is longer, more granular and provides a holistic view into the core of your IT team.  This second series of questions can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
The motive of the surveys is multi-faceted.  The results provide psychological and sociological data that help develop the blueprint that will be used to build the team. The sum of the whole of any department reveals a distinct personality as a whole unto itself. The blueprint also allows for the handling of low-hanging fruit during the development and execution of the long-term plan and vision for the team. The psychographics created will serve as a general predictor, which forecasts future performance, loyalty, and operating effectiveness.
The goal of the human resource phase of the survey is to analyze the data generated and gauges the “state of the union” as it relates to the technological strengths and weaknesses of the team.  By heat mapping the results, technical areas can be identified that need strengthening through cross training or by purchasing the necessary education for the team to align with the business’ needs.  Heat mapping also provides insight to employees who have  specialized areas of expertise that do not exist within the rest of the team.  These subject matter experts are an organization’s single point of failure.  If something happens to them, the knowledge contained in their brain could be lost.  While some may consider this job security, it can also be seen as an inherent risk to both the employee and the organization they work for.  For the employee, there is a risk of work-life imbalance, burnout, and inhibiting their ability to grow due to the need for constant focus on the specific area of expertise.  For the organization, there is the obvious single point of failure problem, but more important is the fact that because no other team members are cross-trained, the rest of the team suffers.
It is a leader’s responsibility to identify the “tribal knowledge” and ensure its documentation and dissemination across the rest of the IT organization through cross training and knowledge cube creation.  
The output generated by the question and answer exercise can glean significant psychosocial  data from the group that will assist not only in helping you understand the current state of the team, but will also help you identify your top performers.  When executing the survey, ask your leaders to gather 100% participation from their team.  There are obviously extenuating circumstances that could delay the completion of a survey that must be taken into account, but as a general rule, the longer it takes to get 100% participation, the more challenges you will have in assembling your team.
There are several data points to consider here during this phase of the analysis:

The “When” is as important as the “What”

Timely participation can provide you with great insight into your team as a whole, as well as the individual contributors.  As the delta of time increases to gather the results, the amount of time required to prepare the team for the next phase grows in parallel.  Whether a team member completes the survey or not, you will be able to gather information on the current leader and the team as a collective  Some of the data includes:
  • work ethic
  • work load
  • level of respect for their manager
  • morale of the individual
  • morale of the team

Participation will only be as strong as your leaders.

This phase of the process also allows one to observe their leaders in action.  As they work to get their teams to participate and focus on the action to complete the questionnaire, you have an opportunity to observe your leader’s ability to:
  • communicate, both orally as well as written, with their team
  • produce results from a simple task
  • rally the team towards a common goal
  • garner the support of other leaders in the IT organization
At the end of this phase of the process, the information you gathered will reap many benefits.  This phase naturally encourages the cream to rise to the top; your top performers with the best attitudes and drive for success will present themselves plainly to you.  You will have a detailed map of each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of the organization as a whole.  Your natural leaders will rise as well; you will have an understanding of each leader’s span of influence and level of respect inside of the organization, and that influence will assist you in uniting the team under a common flag.
Now that you have your map, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get the team operating at maximum performance.

If the team understands the individual, the individual will also understand themselves as a team.
In future blog releases the following topics will be covered:
Part II - Collaboration, Trust, and Transparency
Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process
Part IV - Autonomy - Fostering Self Determination - The Utopia of Team Building