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Posts Tagged ‘teams’

Do you wear your stripes with pride?

Posted by Louise Barnfield on April 30, 2009

school-uniformMy UK school days have receded into the far too dim-and-distant past, but I still remember our uniform.

Through 9th grade, the winter uniform at our all-girls school (junior high and high combined) was a traditional gray pinafore (skirt and bib), with striped shirt. 10th graders, however, were allowed to ditch the bib and wear a plain gray skirt. (The ultimate was in the final two years at senior and prefect level, when dress-code was further extended to any style of black skirt and solid color shirt.)

A typical ruse of the 9th graders (and later even 8th graders) was to unstitch the bib from the skirt, and replace with some kind of temporary fastening (velcro, poppers, or even just safety pins)! During the day, the bib was dutifully attached, with no outward signs of tampering. However, as soon as they left school premises in the afternoon, to head off into town or meet a group of boyfriends, they ripped off the bibs thereby achieving the appearance and status of those a year senior.

Of course, if they got caught by a teacher ‘sans bib’ there was hell to pay, but that just added to their sense of bravado – sounds pretty tame in comparison to what many teens get up to these days, doesn’t it! 🙂

On the other hand, 10th graders were not amused. They felt they’d earned the right to wear their senior uniform with pride, and that that right was undermined and devalued by the rules not being observed. (…and ‘they’, of course, included those who had themselves played the popper-game a year previously!)

In the military, uniform and rank are strictly observed. Each rank is immediately recognized for exactly what it signifies, by anyone with knowledge of the hierarchy. Officers wear their insignia proudly on their sleeves. There’s no opportunity to hide or misrepresent one’s position.

Not so in the corporate world.

Decades ago, the title of Secretary was a respected position. A true secretary had excellent typing and shorthand skills, as well as a great deal of responsibility for the smooth running of their bosses’ calendars and lives. Then, mere typists started calling themselves secretaries to inflate their resumes. Firms started advertising for personal secretaries, hoping to attract the cream of the crop, then personal secretaries became executive secretaries, until the word fell into such disrepute that the alternative terms Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant were spawned.

In 2007, Wharton School’s Knowledge@Wharton published an excellent article: Chief Receptionist Officer? Title Inflation Hits the C-Suite, discussing the cheapening of titles, and the reasons behind inflation infatuation! But it’s not just C-level; the same issue pervades every level of the corporate chain.

While companies have figured out that “many times it is cheaper to give people a title increase than a raise increase”, I believe they have created a rod for their own backs, not only by devaluing the titles, but more significantly by demeaning and alienating the employees who have genuinely earned their ‘stripes’.

As the article above notes: “Firms should be deliberate about how they give these title awards out to employees, because each additional person who gets a C-level title dilutes the currency of the title structure.”

How meaningful are titles where you work, and does your HR department care? Have you earned your stripes, or are you one of the unjustifiably bib-less? Do you see over-inflated titles as a necessity to represent your company effectively, or just an ego-trip at the expense of others?

Yours sincerely,

Chief Senior Principal Vice Managing Dogsbody and Bottlewasher

Posted in hr, management, teams, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Managing a global workforce

Posted by Meg Bear on December 18, 2008


When I hear talk about hand wringing about flex hours and how do you keep people focused when working from home I must admit I don’t get it.  That’s not to say I don’t understand the comments, I do, it’s just that I have been working with a remote/global workforce so long I’m not sure I really remember what it was like to wonder how to make it work.  My first India + US HQ + Random other location work team was in 1995.  Back in the good old days when connectivity between India and the US was dicey at best.  We did, however, have email. 

Of all the companies that I’ve worked for I have to say that Oracle has this mastered better than anywhere I’ve seen.  Global workforce is not the exception, it’s the only rule (at least in development).  My own situation is having a boss in the UK and staff in several US locations, 2 India locations and Australia.  My peers teams are even more distributed.  If you are new to a global workforce here are some tips I’ve gathered over the years you might find helpful.

  1. Communication skills are a competency that you can no longer consider optional or nice to have.  This is especially impactful for engineering teams where personalities might find this challenging and education often downplays the need.
  2. Webconference tools are used every day.  At Oracle we are lucky to have our own tools for this, but if you don’t, you need to get favorable pricing for usage, since rarely do I attend a meeting where a webconference is not used.
  3. Technology helps a lot.  VoIP, record/playback, Forums, Wikis, Microblogging, Social Networking.  You name it, we need it.  Making it possible for interactions that happen via technology can be used (and reused) is critical to spanning the globe.
  4. Flexibility is critical.  Every team has to share the load of precious “real time” communication.  Supporting split shifts and shifting work schedules for early morning and/or late evening meetings is a part of life.  This is not just working from home, it’s starting meetings from home at 9pm.  A full scale cultural norm shift of what it means to be working is required.
  5. Timezone awareness is not optional.  Knowing that Friday afternoon is the weekend in Australia is something you just have to know.  Having a good tool to keep you in sync (I’ve been using iGoogle’s widget these days) and having someone on your team to remind you when daylight savings gets everyone off for a few weeks, can make or break critical deadlines.
  6. Nothing is more critical than relationships.  Using travel wisely and focusing on relationship building will make all the difference when times are tough.  If you are just a random name or email account you are easily ignored.  If you are a known person you will have a hope of rising above the noise when you need help from a teammate in a different part of the world
  7. Surprisingly a photoshop competency on the team is useful.  How else would you ever get a full team photo?

Working globally is not something that every industry is going to embrace, at least not at the level that we have here.  I will tell you that the insight, value, collaboration, joy and experience that you have with a diverse and global workforce is the best of the best.   While the hype will tell you that around the clock productivity is the benefit, I would argue that around the world talent trumps that by a long shot.

Posted in community, engagement, global, teams | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

One for all, and all for one

Posted by Ken Klaus on July 1, 2008

I’m sure many of you will recognize the blog title as the rallying call in Alexandre Dumas’ story, The Three Musketeers.  One of the most memorable scenes for me occurs at the end of the story, at least in the movie version, when d’Artagnan is finally confronted by a man (and his posse) who has been pursuing him throughout the movie.  When the newly commissioned musketeer steps forward to face his enemy, the other musketeers Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 also advance and remind d’Artagnan, “we don’t just protect the king; we protect each other as well.”  At which point the four musketeers are joined by the entire regiment and d’Artagnan’s enemy drops his sword and runs for his life.

I’m fortunate to work on a team which has embraced the “one for all, and all for one” mind-set.  We have a shared set of values that define and guide our team: respect, honesty, collaboration, accountability, integrity, and sincerity.  We’ve learned the best way to ensure success is to cooperate with rather than to compete against one another.  We celebrate the accomplishments of individual team members and we support one another professionally as well as personally.  Most of the challenges we face as a team are project related – short deadlines, unexpected fire drills, software and hardware meltdowns, etc.  We rarely have people related problems, mainly because our management team takes quick and decisive action to address these issues, either by educating the worker on our shared values or, on rare occasions, managing them out of the organization.  Sadly, I know not all teams are as fortunate and interpersonal conflict can be a serious problem, especially when the team must deal with a bully.

Bullies are easy to spot.  They’re egocentric; they value their own ideas above the ideas of others; they take no pleasure in seeing others succeed; and they never say they’re sorry – even on those rare occasions when they admit to being wrong.  Dealing with a bully can be tough.  When confronted most bullies immediately assume the role of the victim.  They become defensive and often resort to empty threats, like quitting, or calling in a higher authority.  It takes courage to confront a bully and a manager must be prepared for the worst, because many bullies can’t be rehabilitated and must be managed out.

It’s difficult to understand why any manager would tolerate a bully for very long; but I think there may be a couple of reasons.  First, an inexperienced manager may not recognize or know how to address bully behavior when they see it.  Another possible explanation is that the manager wishes to avoid conflict at any cost and will often ask the employee who is being bullied to simply ignore the problem. They may even go as far as to ask the worker to censor themselves so as not to further aggravate the situation; but a manager who is unwilling to confront a bully only validates the bad behavior and undermines their role as team leader.

If you find yourself confronted by a bully, the best advice I can give you is to not play by their rules and to not go it alone. Bullies thrive on confrontation and expect a negative response. They want to see you get angry and frustrated. So do your best not to show them how you’re feeling. In the mean time, do talk with your manager and if necessary your HR rep. Also share your story with other team members in your organization, because the best defense against a bully is to maintain strong, supportive relationships: one for all, and all for one.

Posted in leadership, management, teams | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Is your workplace a better place with you in it?

Posted by Meg Bear on April 15, 2008

 Special thanks to Ken for getting me to read The Fred Factor which reminds us that each and every day we make an impact, the real question is what kind of impact do we make? 

This reminded me of something a good friend said once, I will attempt to paraphrase the story.

I was working for a company that was falling upon hard times.  The rule, not the exception really with Valley startups (although we always seem to forget that when we hear of the big winners but I digress).  I had the luxury of working with a great team at this company and we were all very sad to know that it had to end.  One of the team members asked the other if he was concerned that he might not have another team as fun to work for in his next job.  His answer was simple and profound to me, he said “no, I’m planning to bring it with me”.

Wow.  Powerful and humbling thing to think about.  So I ask you, is your workplace better for having you there? 

If not, why not?

Posted in engagement, teams | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The value of teams

Posted by Meg Bear on December 13, 2007

team.jpgBack in school (go cats), it was all the rage in the business program to have the majority of our work be team-based.  The thinking being, that in a work environment, it is really more about teams then individuals. 

Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking about teams and Talent Management.  Of course, this has taken me all over the place a bit but I’ll do my best to make a point vs. forcing you all to wonder all over the place like I have been. 

One place I ended up was this article on emotional intelligence of teams.   To summarize, its not just important for individuals to have emotional intelligence but its also useful for teams (duh!). 

This article points to the HBR study that gives three contributing factors to high functioning teams.

  • Trust among members

  • A sense of group identity

  • A sense of group efficacy

  • Ok, so teams need to trust each other, define themselves in terms of the group and they must feel, that as a team, they have the ability to actually get something done.  Again, duh!

    Turns out that for some cultures (and for some people) a team dynamic is not just a nice to have.  Thanks to Mark for pointing me to this article that suggests that in Asia the team might be the biggest factor in engagement (see, I told you I’d attempt to bring this to a point).

    In talking to customers about teams, there are several head scratching elements that HR groups face in trying to build teams that work well together.  Why do some teams work well and others not?  Is it one person?  How do we predict which teams will succeed? and so on. 

    In my mind, it is for teams that the value of the social network can be brought to real business benefit. I would like to predict that companies that learn to leverage their social networks as both a productivity tool for teams, and as a tool for proactively identifying team members, will find a new competitive advantage for their talent.  And, if the insight into Asia is accurate, there might be exponential benefit to this strategy as well.

    Posted in engagement, social network, teams | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »