Thursday 2 August 2012

Virtual Team Coaching in Action

This is a case study of team coaching in a 'virtual team' environment - where the coach and the team members are scattered around the globe and all calling in to a teleconference line.

Some new skills are needed to work effectively in 'virtual teams.' We need to learn to work with people we never get to meet in the same room, build good relationships with them, and get the job done even though we are linked by little more than email, the internet and some form of phone or video connection.

In addition to entirely new skills, working effectively in teams via Skype, teleconferences and the virtual online world challenges us to get better at some fundamental task and relationship skills needed for all work - ramped up a few notches for the sometimes unforgiving nature of long distance communication.

Virtual Team Skills can be learned

I’ve been struck by the contribution to meeting these needs offered by the Organisation and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) approach pioneered by CRR Global, Inc. (Disclaimer: as a consequence of this, I am the southern African partner for CRR Global in taking the work to South Africa in 2012)

To get a better feel for the ORSC approach, I asked one of the top CRR Global faculty members, Lori Shook, to conduct a brief demo team coaching session for a global virtual team that I chair as part of my volunteer work in the Mankind Project, an international men’s development organisation operating in eight regions around the world including Europe, Africa, Australasia and North America. With the permission of the team, we are publishing the recording of a demo session held in 2012 via teleconference spanning the UK, Belgium, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Most of the team members have never met each other “in the flesh” and are drawn together as volunteers to coordinate multicultural and diversity awareness and action in the organisation.

I invite you to listen to the demo coaching session, notice what Lori does to get into meaningful conversation with a team she had never met prior to the beginning of this call. Notice how she uses tools like
  • High dreams and low dreams for the team
  • Sharing our assessments of how the team is doing
  • Exploring the team learning edges  around change
  • Getting team members to explore their roles on the team and what works/what doesn’t work
  • Shared design of how we want the team to be.

Listen to the demo

Please click the "play" arrow above to listen online. Alternatively, Download podcast here or get it on iTunes

If you are a coach or consultant, you may also notice some of the ways Lori forged a connection across this tenuous phone link spanning three continents, with people she had never met before:
  • Mirroring back what she heard
  • Reading the emotional field
  • Education around some of the Relationship Systems Intelligence competencies - in this case the "voice of the system"

The team's feedback on their experience was positive and is included in the recording. In the team's next regular monthly Skype meeting after the coaching session, members commented that the impact of the team coaching sessions was to:
  • Open up different perspectives on what we need for success
  • Make clearer the different skill sets and visions contained in the team
  • Raise the sense of care for each other (by spending time focusing on our team rather than directly on tasks and outcomes)
  • Identify a surprising level of risk aversion in the team, and willingness to change this
  • Encourage us to go further in recognising and celebrating our not inconsiderable achievements.

Inviting your feedback

What is the impact of the coaching session recording on you? If you're a coach - what did you think of the way Lori tackled this session? She was "parachuting in" in the sense that she had just 15 minutes of briefing from me and had never met the team before - and did the entire session including briefing by phone. If you're involved as a leader or member of a virtual team - what struck you about the way this team operates and the impact of a team coach?

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Balancing task and relationship in Business

This is a combined text/audio posting based on a fascinating live interview with Faith Fuller, President and co-founder of CRR Global, Inc on the topic of Relationship Systems and South African Business.

In keeping with our recent focus on global virtual teams, we held the interview via teleconference from Johannesburg to San Francisco, with interested colleagues and potential clients joining the conversation from around South Africa and France. We also used a shared whiteboard (click on the image to the right to see it full size) to keep the focus of the conversation in front of the dispersed participants.

Faith Fuller has been working with teams and relationships at work for the last 18 years. During this time she has created a powerful ICF-accredited training system in Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI) and taken it all around the world, as well as consulting to top global businesses and nonprofits, together with her SA-born partner Marita Fridjhon.

The resonance I feel with their work is the linking and balancing between task and relationship. This is where I see the generative opportunities arising from the mixing of our cultural heritages in South Africa. We want ubuntu and we want prosperity!

I asked Faith what got her into this work, and here is what she said (click the play arrow below, 5 min):

In the clip above, Faith Fuller outlines the key strands of systems knowledge and understanding woven together into the model and programme known as "ORSC" for "Organisation and Relationship Systems Coaching," and how they apply to business and private partnerships, teams and whole organisations. Together in conversation, we explore the way their work helps leaders and coaches shift their focus from the individuals making up a partnership or team - to the entire connected entity, the partnership or team itself.

The next audio clip tackles the question of "so all this relationship systems intelligence sounds nice and warm and fuzzy, but what's the business benefit?" In essence, Faith Fuller lays out the business case for developing social intelligence and relationship systems intelligence (RSI).

In the 4-minute clip above, Faith details what it costs business not to tackle relationship issues, and the benefits to businesses of getting really good at working in differentiated, interconnected teams - specially in diverse societies like South Africa .

Next, we explore the mixed heritages of South Africa - individualism and ubuntu - and how we can lead the way in bringing a balance between the two, that is needed by business worldwide. Faith draws on her experience working around the globe in its most individualist and most collectivist cultures and concludes that in more community-oriented cultures people often "...don't have a voice ... often don't take much of a stand, rather wait and see what the group will do." She notes that people with this cultural preference often ending up for example with unpopular governments, and sees on the other hand that "in highly individualistic cultures ... everybody's got their voice and nobody's listening".

She ends with a powerful systems vision for business to find a balance between these extremes - and an important role for South Africa at the forefront of tackling the tensions arising: click the Play button below to listen (3 min).

"South Africa is a beacon for the world" - Acknowledging our painful past and present struggles, Faith appreciates our work with our own diversity and sees ways in which our efforts can inspire others. "How to have a collective dialogue, how to tolerate an opposing narrative and still respect one another" are struggles the ORSC tools can support and CRR Global is keen to bring them into the mix.

It's a two way street as Faith explores how South Africa's experience and its struggles can benefit the rest of the world:

Some of the practical skills taught on the ORSC Fundamentals and ORS@Work courses include "Alignment Coaching". In this excerpt the conversation broadens to include coaches and consultants in South Africa and Europe, and Gail Wrogemann explores tools for large group mediation work with Faith.

Some of what I took from the conversation as a whole was:
  • Paying attention to the systems perspective reaps huge benefits
  • We can use relationship skills at work without sacrificing delivery on business tasks
  • It's a two-way learning street between South Africa and the most developed countries of the world - we have a lot to offer
  • Teleconference tools outlined in the previous post can really enhance virtual team conversations
Your comments are welcome - please click the orange "comments" link below to activate.

Monday 16 April 2012

Leadership skills for global virtual teams

Effective connection without being in the same building, city or continent

The era of the global virtual team is upon us. Whether we like it or not, more and more work teams are going to be global and virtual – i.e. made up of geographically separated members who still want to work together – because money and ecology say so (just look at what has happened to the oil price!), and the social networking generation assumes so.

It is not easy working by phone, web and videoconference with people around the world you seldom if ever meet face to face in the same room.
  • There is little or no body language to go on.
  • It’s hard to create the kind of “social glue” generated when one is in the same building – no easy shared coffee breaks, nor can you go for a walk or play sport together, and there is less “small talk” than usual.
  • Being in different time zones can play havoc with energies on a team – those in the east might be just waking up, while those in the west are already yawning and ready to go to bed, or vice versa.
  • You can't rely on common culture, or performance assumptions, or subtle office signals to get things done the way you want them done.
Yet there is a lot that virtual team leaders and members can do to make things work better.

Conscious virtual team building

Start every call with some kind of check-in, where every voice is heard. Remember, this has to make up for the fact that you didn’t all walk into the room together, make tea or coffee together, and chat about last weekend’s events or your plans for the next holidays.

Make sure you explicitly design a team alliance together – how you will work together, both when things are going well and when tensions rise.

What Gillian Dore of Cisco Systems (HR Manager UK&Ireland sales) recommends is that virtual teams use online whiteboard tools (such as in Cisco's Webex software - now also in a free version) to map out where each of them are at relative to the project as a whole - a kind of metaphorical mapping exercise known as organisational constellation.

Alternatives to "body language"

You can’t rely on visual body language, so when you find yourself guessing how the others on the team are feeling, practice asking each other "what is going on for you?" – and listening to both the tone and content of people’s voices. Listen to what is not being said as much as what is being said. Each person on the call has to build a sense of the whole team in their imagination, and listen to the voice of the team as a whole in spite of all the noise and static in the "virtual meeting room".

Help people see and feel each other’s location. For example, let the order of checking in to the call be from east to west, or south to north, so that the geography becomes palpable and team members get conscious about each other’s real physical time and space. I've found it often works to bring in the wonder of the whole situation - that people on opposite sides of the world are actually working together as well as we are.

Choose technology that works for you

Keep the technology simple. Good audio is better than bad video. Unless the whole team have good internet connections, it can still be best to use telephone rather than computer based systems. And where you do have good internet, use the cool tools available – see technology tips for global teleconferences.

Virtual team leaders have to be good leaders - and learn new skills

A delicious challenge for the leader is the paradox of giving direction and holding space – an old problem in a new guise.

Virtual team leaders have to be much more directive in some situations (as stressed by Erin Meyer of Insead). For example when you want to do a whip-round of the views of all members: in a face to face meeting, we just go clockwise or anticlockwise. Virtually, the leader has to do a roll call, or (see above) get smart with running the “virtual circle” according to actual geographic locations, say from East to West around the globe.

On the other hand, high performance teams don’t want to be bossed about any more in a virtual situation than a face to face team meeting. Smart people need space to express themselves, and room to create their own direction in their work. This inevitably scatters some of the firm direction advocated by Meyer, with the payoff of liberating the team's creativity.

What this looks like in virtual team meetings is chaos! Virtual teams need to get used to living with both silences, and chaos as several people speak at once – just like in face to face meetings – even though this gets more difficult when we are all on the phone or Skype. Ghislaine Caulat of Ashridge Consulting has excellent advice on holding this paradox in her article on Virtual Leadership and this Economist Intelligence Unit webcast.

What the experts agree on is that leaders of effective virtual teams need both
  • The best team leadership skills from the existing face to face world, including multicultural skills and awareness, and
  • New skills for the virtual world.

Coaches, consultants and trainers around the world are waking up

If you are leading virtual teams, it is worth getting some help from specialists in this field. Three agencies with interesting training and other services to help virtual team leaders are Insead and Ashridge, and CRR Global, Inc.

I've chosen to work with CRR Global because I like the way they bring in systems awareness, as well as practical skills for designing team alliances, and paying attention to relationship systems and fields, including developing what you might call "sixth sense" skills any good leader needs. Enterprisecoach is putting on their Organisation and Relationship Systems at Work course in Johannesburg on 15 and 16 May, 2012.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Cost effective global teleconferencing

Technology tips for global virtual teams

Updated 30 June 2012

Whether your team purpose is business or pleasure, social activism or intellectual debate, you need to get technology working for you so you don’t have to be isolated, or fly half way round the world every time you want to engage.

I find myself engaging with global virtual teams amongst my corporate and academic clients, in my volunteer work as a diversity and men’s development activist (sitting on an international board and chairing a global diversity committee), and in staying in touch with family and friends worldwide.

Here are five tips for easy and cost-effective global virtual conferences based on my experience.

Pick your teleconference company carefully

You don’t have to use expensive and complex pre-booked systems – nowadays all you do is create your own (free) unique PIN, give all participants the dial-in number and PIN, and they are billed separately for the call along with their regular phone bill, at a price well below that of a local cell phone call. And you should also get free call recording and screen sharing thown into the bargain.

While there are easy national free teleconference options in the United States, these are not free in many other countries and costs vary widely.

In South Africa, our national telephone company charges extraordinarily high fees for its otherwise-excellent teleconference facility. Did you know that each participant pays R1.50 +VAT per minute for Telkom teleconferences? I’ve found PowWowNow to deliver the same quality for little more than half the price, and they include valuable free extras, like recording the conference and online screen sharing.

Use global providers at local rates

International teleconferences work beautifully nowadays – from the best providers users get a list of local access numbers, and people around the world can dial into the same call, each paying essentially local rates for the global call – for example via or Billing, call recording and screen sharing can be done just as described above.

Free internet screen sharing complements teleconferences beautifully

There are excellent tools for screen sharing, improving all the time, provided all callers have access to the internet. Essentially, at no extra cost, you can show a live presentation, spreadsheet, or virtual white board and let all participants view the same thing on their own computer or smartphone screens. For example, Skype offers easy screen sharing (just click the “+” button in the middle of the call control panel and choose "screen sharing").

Shared control: The dance of many mice on one screen

The Web Conferencing software that comes free with PowWowNow allows us all to share control of the screen as well – so you can update my spreadsheet while we are discussing it.

Cisco's Webex brings professional quality to small groups for free

"With an eye on small and midsize business users, Cisco adds mobile tools, a persistent free account, and collaboration features to its online meetings suite." - says Enterprise 2.0.

As of 30 June, I'm trying out Cisco's Webex Online Meeting software using one of their new free accounts. They limit your meetings to three people at a time - but it looks like we get access to a well-integrated suite of services not generally offered by other free services:
  • Web-based voice and video
  • Good online meeting scheduling integrated with your personal calendaring system
  • File storage and sharing - so you can meet with documentation at hand
  • Mobile access to all meetings
  • Shared whiteboard and/or presentation space
  • Automated recording and storage of recordings
  • Good meeting follow up systems
I'll report back further when I've tried it out more thoroughly. (Note for South African users: when you first visit their site, it seems to suggest you can't sign up unless you are from the US or a select list of mainly European countries. Do persist (pick any one to start with) and later you will be presented with a comprehensive list of countries to pick from.

Skype group audio conferencing is ready for the big time, but not video

I’ve found Skype to be a great free way of global teleconferencing. It’s just like telephone conferencing, except sometimes the quality dips, and one extra feature is that you see the profile icon for each speaker flashing when they actually talk – helps with tracking the geography of who is who on the call.

However, group video conferencing on Skype is not yet ready for the big time - at least globally. Typical internet connections are not yet fast and reliable enough, and my trials have ended in frustration and "broken telephones." I suggest you either invest in higher-end videoconferencing technology or stay with audio and screen sharing.

Cool tools for avoiding time zone errors

You have to be careful when organising global calls – not everybody can keep track of the time zones, not to mention the impact of different daylight savings time changes creating havoc with regular meeting times. Two easy ways to avoid ambiguity about the meeting time for each participant in their own time zone:
  • Announce meetings using’s free “Event Time Announcer” – you can easily set up a unique web address with the meeting name, and the system generates the meeting time in each of at least 100 cities around the world.
  • Use a good global online calendar to book the meetings, such as Google Calendar – it will send bookings and reminders to each participant in their own local time zone.

Getting virtual teams to work does require good, simple, cost-effective technology, but technology is not enough on its own. Read more about leadership skills for virtual teams and teleconferences.

Monday 13 February 2012

For a "yes" to be meaningful, "No" is also needed

Saying "No" can be hard. Yet without a good solid daily dose of "No", it becomes pretty meaningless to say "Yes." Too many yes's leave a person overloaded with so many promises that eventually they can't all be kept.

Most people know this intellectually, but not all of us are as clear as we might be about when we say "no" and how we say it. Today's post offers three tools to back you up in getting your "yes" to be more meaningful to others, and more aligned with your own true intentions.

Saying "No" doesn't mean I don't like you
Dr Angeles Arrien invites us to drop some emotional baggage from our language. In her remarkable book The Fourfold Way, she points out how often people often project all sorts of personal stuff onto words that are meant to give information and set clear boundaries without blame:
  • "yes" is often taken to mean "I like you and agree with you"
  • "no" is often taken to mean "I'm rejecting you or disagreeing with you"
 In contrast, we have the option to choose that
  • "yes" acknowledges a viewpoint or perspective and doesn't necessarily mean agreement
  • "no" simply honours a limit and a boundary and indicates the ability to respect what one is willing to do or not do at this point in time.
So the call is out for us to honour and respect our personal limits and boundaries (which includes saying "no" when we reach a personal limit) and respect the limits and boundaries of others (including taking their "no" as information rather than personal judgement of ourselves or our pet projects).

Easier said than done.

Daily disciplines to cut the clutter
I was impressed to read Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review network reminding us of some very practical tips for decluttering our lives:
  • Schedule and honour the time in your diary for the things that are important but not urgent.
  • Make time every day to set your priorities.
  • Do the most important thing in your day, first: when your brain and body are at their freshest. Leave the emails and admin till later!
  • Take at least one scheduled break each morning and afternoon, as well as getting away from your desk for lunch. Use this time to lift your head up and see beyond the immediate demands, reconnect with the big picture.
In essence, Schwartz reminds us to build ritual into our lives in a way that makes space for strategic thinking, connecting with your leadership team, time with family - whatever is really important. Under the catchy phrase "No is the new Yes", his steps summarised above can help you to stop those urgent demands for your "yes" from swamping your real priorities.

When all else fails, say "Yes" slowly
We live in a world where the expectations and projections of ourselves and others create very real pressures, including those of bosses, spouses, sponsors and others for us to say "yes" when we should be saying "no." So I was thrilled last week when Professor Margaret Orr, Director of the Wits University Centre for Learning and Teaching Development, told me about "saying yes slowly."

It's a kind of strategic retreat when the demands for a "yes" feel overwhelming. You start with something open-ended like "I'd like to help, but I have a lot of other commitments," and don't actually say "yes" until you have asked three questions, designed at least to slow down the flood of demands, such as:
  • Have you considered who else can do this for you?
  • Why is it so urgent?
  • Is there another way you can achieve the result you want?
You get the drift. Be ready to say yes, but get the demander to consider alternatives. Often, this discipline can make the demand go away. If not, at least you have got the other party to think - and also to notice the impact of the demand on you.

I invite you to say "no" at least as often as you say "yes". Do it mindfully, compassionately and above all, without the energetic baggage Angeles Arrien warned us about - but don't miss your daily ration of saying "no." That way your "yes" will have real meaning and you will be more accountable to yourself and others.

Sunday 22 January 2012

2012: Where is business coaching going?

Market conditions demand us all to examine how to deliver greater value for less cost. The wonderful thing about recessions is that they offer us the stark choice: do what is most valuable, or perish. Coaching is no different – it must adapt to the times, or be crushed under the tightening belts of its clients.

I’m a leadership coach because I know how much value coaching can bring to leaders – both in developing strategy and in leading people, as well as strengthening their personal foundations. I also understand why it is costly – if you want to be coached by someone at a high enough level, you have to pay the price to make it worth the coach’s while. And there is enormous value in the deep, personal crucible of high-end one-on-one executive coaching which can’t be replicated in larger groups, lectures, reading or videos.

The big demand I see is for more direct routes to business impact. For business coaching to make it in 2012, clients can rightly expect it to:
  • Address both the needs of the individual and the organisation
  • Focus directly on the needs of the team and business relationships
  • Consciously address business strategy
  • Implement sustainable lower-cost, higher-value delivery methods.

Addressing the needs of the individual and the organisation is pretty much standard practice already. If you aren’t getting all of the following from your business coach, ask yourself and your coach why not:
  • Three-way meetings with coach, coachee, and coachee’s manager – near the beginning and  end of the process, at least – in which coaching goals, business relevance, and measures of success are directly addressed in an open and collaborative way.
  • Examination of each individual’s coaching goals in the light of explicit organisational strategy, with a search for alignment and mutual support.
  • Where several people in the organisation are being coached at the same time, the coaching team should regularly analyse, synthesise and report in depth on emerging themes that matter to the organisation as a whole. Your executive sponsor of coaching, your coach team leader and your top management team should get together and discuss these themes at least quarterly.
  • Of course all this organisational integration mustn't stop coaching from being a powerful source of personal transformation. This means the internal process and content of coaching remains firmly confidential.

Focusing directly on team development is often a weak point in standard business coaching. Typical coaching practice focuses on individuals –the coachee and his or her boss and direct reports usually get the most attention. But so often the issues are stake are actually the relationships between coachee and manager and direct reports, as well as the atmosphere and dynamics of the teams they comprise.

I see a need and an opportunity for coaches to work directly with what Marita Fridjohn and Faith Fuller call Relationship Systems Intelligence. For me it also hooks up with the African wisdom of ubuntu. After all, most of what is done in the world today is done in teams, and a huge proportion of any leader’s task is to motivate, align, support and guide the teams they lead.

How much do you discuss business strategy in and around your coaching work? How safe and supported do you feel in tackling the biggest picture of your work with your coach? Business leadership coaching is designed as the place for you to pause, reflect and grow. The process should challenge you to address the way your values align with those of your business, and the way your business strategy aligns with your best vision of the way the world in general - and your markets in particular - are moving.

Sustainable lower cost, higher value coaching
Where is the cost in the system of coaching? Clearly one key cost is in the individual coaches, and there is no question that more can be done to ensure quality and qualifications are commensurate with price. I see the growing trend towards formal international certification as one of the ways of systematically stacking up qualifications to help clients compare apples with apples.

Three places I see value boosting, cost cutting opportunities that also benefit the environment are
  • Sandwich large-group training between one-on-one coaching sessions. I’ve seen extraordinary value generated by adding a single coaching session onto the front and back of a well designed training programme.
  • Mix in phone or Skype with face to face sessions, or go virtual all the way. Mixing it up saves huge amounts of travel cost and time, preserves the environment. Perhaps surprisingly, in my experience it also often deepens the quality of the coaching work.
  • Cut costs by up to 40%, particularly in larger organisations, by booking coaches for a whole day at a time and then lining up several coachees one after the other in a block booking approach. By eliminating repeated to-and-fro travel time and unproductive gaps in the coach's day, you avoid having these built into a coach's session fees.