Monday, September 16, 2013

Flipcharts Don't Lie

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Two weeks ago, in Mental Rules for the Staff Retreat, Part 2, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

After surveying the staff on our current, mostly unstated values and those we needed to either jettison or adopt, and preparing myself with a set of mental rules for leading the discussion, I was ready to facilitate a day-long staff retreat we had scheduled to begin crafting our new values statement.

It was a very productive discussion. Not only did we start constructing a values statement everyone could support, more importantly, it provided a needed forum where staff could openly and honestly share their thoughts--in some cases, for the first time--on what was preventing us from achieving the success we desired.

The survey helped a lot with this process. The words from the anonymous responses were right there in front of all of us--both the good and the bad. What might have been difficult to bring up in person was suddenly easier to discuss because everyone had had time to read and reflect on the comments. No one knew who had written what, but we did all know that each comment represented the honest thoughts of one of our team members and, like the comments we ourselves had submitted, each one had been offered in the spirit of improvement, not sabotage.

In many ways, the conversation was cathartic, for individuals as well as the organization as a whole. As the discussion progressed, we began using a flipchart to record the concepts we felt were important to our future success. Some of them were clearly corrective--there to address some form of dysfunction we all perceived--while others were more purely aspirational--things we knew we needed and for which the barriers to adoption were not fully understood.

We weren't interested in wordsmithing at this first meeting. All we wanted to do was to record these thoughts with as much accuracy and honesty as possible. Here is that original list we came up with--each value supported by a flipchart paper full of bullet points seeking to tease out their deeper meaning.

· No micromanaging
· No yelling
· Listening – give the other person enough time and attention and acknowledgement
· Don’t lose your temper
· No Judgmental-ism
· Avoid defensiveness
· Be willing to apologize
· Be patient and generous with others
· Communicate what you need
· Whenever possible, talk instead of email
· Don’t talk behind people’s back – deal directly with the person

Service to Members
· Strive for excellence
· Seeks insight into needs
· Responsive
· Proactively offer solutions
· No favoritism
· Listen
· Develop long-term and new relationships
· Develop personal relationships

Conflict Resolution
· Address issue directly in timely manner
· Be receptive to constructive criticism
· Check yourself first
· Apologize and accept apologies
· Seeks to understand how decisions are made
· References values and project goals in decision making

Fun and Enthusiasm
· Water cooler conversation is OK
· Celebrate success
· Sharing success
· More camaraderie
· Schedule fun events and rotate the event planner
· Share and encourage others to share what motivates us
· Be excited and passionate
· Enjoy the journey, not just the result
· Be spontaneous – it’s OK!

Open Communications
· Face-to-face vs. email – use appropriately, don’t avoid face-to-face
· Honesty and respectful/directness
· Address issue, not the personality
· Keep those who need to know informed (in the loop) – when in doubt, share/ask
· Focus on the fix rather than the blame
· Hold productive meetings
· Take responsibility for open, two-way communication

Clarity of Intent
· Degree of clarity needed depends on nature of project
· Clarity of goal, expectations
· What are we trying to achieve?
· Seek clarity of intent
· Communicate clarity of intent
· Create clarity of intent (simplify)
· Know how your individual projects fit into overall strategy

Professional Growth
· Engage in continuing education
· Assist in identifying opportunities
· Identify knowledge gaps
· Volunteering in professional organizations
· Demonstrate a curiosity in learning about environment
· Shares knowledge freely
· Accepts and looks for new challenges

· Do what you say and say what you do
· Accept responsibility
· Ensure next actions are understood
· Respect for project leader
· Self-directed
· Demonstrate an understanding that your actions impact the team
· Willingness to be appropriately available

· Willingness to learn new tools and processes
· New ways of doing things
· Minimizing complexity
· Positive attitude
· Demonstrates comfort in talking about risk
· Thoughtful approach to members engagement and be decisive
· Sharing what you learn from failure
· Bias to action

These words were captured at our meeting in December 2012. What's interesting to me about re-examining them now is the degree to which they reflect a group of people struggling to understand how to work together in a changing environment, the way they speak to how far we have progressed since then, as well as the distance that we still have to travel.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: My interpretation of the key concepts behind this original list, and how we began working to turn it into a formal values statement.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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