June 23, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we cover chartering your teams, respecting client time, choosing best vs. safe decisions, reflecting on what might go wrong, how to deal with multi-party negotiations, and dark forests of the internet. Enjoy!


1. Devising A Team Charter

Your team probably doesn’t have a charter:  a written list of rules and expectations that the team all agrees to and guides the way they work together. Most teams don’t. And consultant John Spence contends that’s a mistake.

“I believe this is an essential document to help people clearly understand their role on the team, what behaviour is appropriate and what things will not be tolerated,” he writes on his blog.

“Without a charter, members of the group are simply guessing at how they are supposed to act and behave together as a team, leading to assumptions, politics, rumormongering, conflict, lack of accountability and ultimately lack of results.”

He shares some core behavioural elements of a team charter taken from an article in Harvard Business Review:

  • I agree to be on time, realizing everyone’s time is limited and extremely valuable.
  • I agree to show respect to every other member of the team and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I agree to give my best effort in accomplishing every task, the team’s mission, and our shared purpose.
  • I agree not to engage in any gossip about my team members and to put a stop to it if I encounter it.
  • I agree to communicate early and often pertaining to any time off needed for my personal life.
  • I agree to handle disputes, perceived offenses, or conflicts with dignity and professionalism.

A charter won’t guarantee good behaviour in your team. But it may be a step towards better behaviour.


2. Managing Client Expectations On Time

An idea at the core of customer service is that each customer must feel you genuinely care about them. One of the ways we send that message, consultant Shaun Belding notes on his web site, is by respecting their time.

Here are five bits of advice he offers:

  • Avoid saying things like “right away”, “shortly”, or “ASAP”. Give someone a specific time or time frame.
  • If you have to leave a client, or put them on hold while you are trying to sort something out, make a point to apologize for the delay when you come back — even if you don’t believe it had been a long time.
  • If customers or colleagues contact you by email and you won’t be able to give them the answer they need right away, don’t keep them waiting and wondering. Respond immediately, acknowledging their question, and giving a sense of when you will be able to respond more fully.
  • For internal customers looking for something, ask when they need it by. This allows you to find a mutually acceptable time.
  • If you are a manager, and you want to have a meeting with one or more employees, consider whether you need to tell them to drop what they are doing. Say something like, “I want to get together for a half-hour meeting today. When is the best time for you?”

“Our perceptions of time will be different than [those of] our customers. We need to understand and manage their expectations, then make sure that we meet those expectations,” he says.


3. The Best Versus The Safest Decision

One of Shane Parrish’s bosses once said, “It wasn’t the best decision we could make but it was the most defensible.”

That points to a dilemma we can face in decisions: What’s best vs. what looks best?

In particular, Parrish notes that safe wins out when decisions are perceived as offering little upside and massive downside.

“It can seem like great outcomes carry a one per cent upside, good outcomes are neutral, and poor outcomes carry at least 20 per cent downside — if they don’t get you fired,” he notes on his blog.

He says that asymmetry may explain why your boss, who praises challenging norms and thinking outside the box, continues with the status quo. It’s easier to protect himself.

“Doing the safe thing is not the same as doing the right thing. Often, the problem with the safe thing is that there is no growth, no innovation. It’s churning out more of the same,” he writes.

“If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there for one per cent gain, how do you grow?”

It’s a tough dilemma — one to think about for your future decisions.


4. Take Time To Ask What Might Go Wrong?

We’re usually told not to be paranoid.

But Good To Great author Jim Collins has said that “high-performing leaders are ‘paranoid performers.’ They’re always asking, ‘What if?’ and then preparing for it. They anticipate the day of ‘bad things.’”

Building on that, leadership coach Dan Rockwell on his Leadership Freak blog urges you to “practice paranoid curiosity with forward-facing optimism. Begin by asking, ‘What might go wrong?’ Always focus on reasonable preparation.”


5. Zingers

  • Improving Meetings:  Making meetings effective is one of the highest-return investments you can make, says office overload expert Nathan Zeldes. Consider providing every employee with full training of at least a day’s duration, delivered by a knowledgeable professional. (Source: NathanZeldes.com)
  • Swim Buddies:  Consultant Art Petty advises you to find swim buddies — a few people you trust, who will give you honest, warts-and-all feedback on your performance. (Source: ArtPetty.com)
  • Fight Complexity:  There is a trend to complexity. Fight it, says consultant Alan Weiss. For him, that starts with answering his own phone, without an intermediary. If questioned about the practice, he responds: “This is the simplicity you can expect if you choose to work with me.” (Source: AlanWeiss.com)
  • Dumb Yourself Down:  Innovation isn’t about what you know but what you don’t know, says consultant Greg Satell. That means you need to learn how to become the dumbest guy in the room. (Source: DigitalTonto)
  • Probe Emotional Insight:  Executive Kellie Brown offers these three questions for probing a job candidate’s emotional intelligence: Can you explain to me a conflict you had at work that left you feeling aggravated? Tell me about a time your boss or colleague criticized your work — how did it make you feel? What job skills do you feel you could use improvement on? (Source: Ere.net)


6. The Model:
    Building Sufficient Consensus  

James Sebenius, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, writes that highly promising deals in multiparty settings have many potential spoilers. He describes them in Seven Negotiation Lessons drawn from Amazon’s failed plan to establish its new headquarters in New York.

There are pitfalls to using a Decide-Announce-Defend approach, as Amazon found out, or in trying to build full consensus in a multiparty deal, which makes you hostage to the most extreme or reluctant party.

If your goal is more practical — to earn enough support among enough of the right parties to gain agreement on your proposal and ensure successful implementation — you might consider the model Sebenius calls a “negotiation campaign”.

Negotiation Strategies to Build Sufficient Consensus:

  • In a complex, multiparty setting, don’t take victory for granted, ever. A “movement” can spring up from nowhere.
  • Actively monitor local currents and cross-currents of opinion. Tracking polls or on-the-ground presence can provide invaluable local intelligence on fast-changing attitudes and positions.
  • Identify and nurture potential allies before you need them. And go beyond nurturing support from just the elite leaders or decision-makers.
  • Identify all likely and potential opponents at the outset of the process. Otherwise you may find yourself in reactive, defensive mode after opponents have seized the initiative.
  • Beware of  opponents with diverse concerns joining forces to form a “blocking coalition.”
  • From the beginning, actively listen to the concerns of skeptics, engage with potential opponents and address their issues to the extent possible.
  • Remember that negotiation does not end with a “yes”, but requires enough ongoing support for implementation and sustainability.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    The Internet’s Dark Forest

In late May, Yancey Strickler, writer and cofounder of Kickstarter, wrote a two-part post using a “dark forest theory” of the internet to interpret how we’re afraid to be public when online.

He was referencing the dark forest theory, presented by author Liu Cixin in his sci-fi trilogy The Three-Body Problem:

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is this is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest?

Strickler suggests it is — in response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviours, we’re retreating away from the internet and social media mainstream.

(For example, Strickler initially shared his post on a private channel sent only to 500 people he either knows or who have explicitly opted in. This is the online environment in which he felt most secure — where he could be his “most real self.”)

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity, as are Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and so on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups.

As Strickler says, these are all spaces where conversation is possible without so much pressure because their environments are not indexed, optimized, and gamified. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

In contrast, the mainstream internet of today is a battleground, reflecting a relentless competition for power.

Strickler suggests an increasing number of us have scurried into dark forests to avoid the fray. They grow because they provide psychological and reputational cover; they allow us to be ourselves because we know who else is there.

What are your thoughts on this idea?  We’d love to hear from you at watercooler@8020info.com .


 ● § ●

8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

“It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”

— Martin Van Buren