I decided it was time for another interview with myself.
Self-interviews are always tricky because the interviewer is usually reluctant to challenge the interviewee. But the main problem in this case was coordinating the schedules of two very busy people. (We had to conduct this interview by email.)
Q. So what’s the latest on your book? The last we heard, your agent was shopping it to publishers.
A. Well, one major publisher—my first choice—was quite interested but wants me to improve my “platform” first.
Q. Will you do that?
A. Absolutely. Once I figure out what that means. But I’ve got some carpenters coming over tomorrow to help me figure it out.
Q. In your book and in your talks, using rock bands as examples, you discuss the six “differentiators” of great teams. What are they?
A. Great teams and organizations are highly innovative, engaged, mission-driven, brand-focused, independent-thinking, and conflict competent.
Q. But aren’t many of those abilities widely discussed in business already?
A. Many of them. For instance, everybody TALKS about the importance of creativity/innovation and to a lesser extent inspiration/engagement, but that doesn’t mean most teams are walking the talk. How many businesses have you visited where people are so excited about what they’re doing that you can feel the buzz when you walk into the building? Or how many companies do you know that are really fun places to work? Fun is not a trivial pursuit in the Innovation Economy, as I've written about here.
Q. So why aren’t more organizations inspired places to work?
A. Because their leaders (1) don’t see the bottom-line benefits of having a fully engaged, turned on, self-expressed workforce and (2) don’t know how to bring it about. When I work with a business I first make the case that to be highly successful they should be running on all six of these cylinders. Usually a few of them are sputtering. Then I work with the company to get all of them firing.
Q. What does “conflict competent” mean?
A. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s knowing how to deal with conflict and then being able to capitalize on it. Some teams and organizations are conflict averse and don’t deal well with disagreement, so ideas don’t get challenged. Other teams revel in conflict, but can’t contain and manage it, so people feel beat up.
Q. So how is conflict actually useful?
A. Conflict provides the frictional sparks that can ignite inspiration and energy—and ultimately innovation. Jerry Hirshberg of Nissan Design used to talk about the “creative abrasion” of colliding viewpoints that generate new ideas and novel solutions. Hanging out for years with rock bands and watching a lot of famous ones up close—most of whom relished dissent and even discord—taught me the value of that. Many classic rock bands like the Kinks, Byrds, Cream, Who, and Eagles exemplified that.
Q. How do you help teams capitalize on conflict?
A. First, by working with them to encourage oppositional viewpoints. That may require a cultural shift. But sometimes just a smaller fix, like having meetings be facilitated differently so that everyone is encouraged to speak up and challenge what they’re hearing when it's needed. Secondly, I give everyone communication tools so they can express dissent productively and diplomatically, and not put others on the defensive. Finally, I show them a process in which they can create something new from the clash of ideas.
Q. You mean telling a team member, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life” isn’t recommended?
A. No. But that’s the dumbest question I've ever heard in my life.
Q. Do we worry too much about people's feelings being hurt? Shouldn't team members be able to handle it when others are direct and just "talk straight" to them?
A. In some businesses where team members know each other well, share a common background, have mutual respect for each other, etc. they can get away with a lot. Like some families where members routinely yell at each other and nobody seems to mind. But in 2015, in a multi-cultural, multi-generational, mixed-gender environment, with team members often communicating and meeting by remote, I’d be more thoughtful about how we communicate differences. Or else staff up your legal department.
Q. Anything else?
A. Yes. You should read my blog more often. You'd actually learn something.
Q. It’s difficult for me to keep up with your prolific, once-a-week pace.
A. Your sarcasm is duly noted.