I hate puzzles.
Maybe it’s because I’ve always been frustrated by them.
I remember once, as a child, trying to finish the puzzle of a hot air balloon. It was beautiful: a brilliant blue sky and the balloon was distinguished with bright colors of the rainbow. But it took forever to complete. The puzzle sat on the dining room table and I heard my mom tell more than one guest that they needed to place a piece before they left.
I might have passed on my dislike of puzzles to my kids. One Christmas, I had a photo of the two of them turned into a puzzle. The pieces sat in a box for nearly two years before I made myself put it together. The puzzle wasn’t complicated; it was 25 pieces. But it wasn’t easy and certainly not fun. I threw it away.
During the pandemic, I watched friends on Facebook safely exchange puzzles as their families used time together to puzzle (is puzzle even a verb?!). Yuck. Not me. Not my family.
And yet, I solve puzzles at work all the time. Every time I piece together details of an event or a project, it’s a puzzle. Only recently did I figure out the difference.
If you feel overwhelmed by decision-making, you’re not alone.
Each adult makes nearly 35,000 conscious decisions each day, according to various researchers. Some decisions – like where to purchase your morning coffee – only impact us personally. Decisions in the workplace, however, can create a ripple effect for employees, teams, organizations, and others.
Knowing that, it’s tempting to assume that more people should be involved in making decisions. After all, more heads are better than one, right?
You’ve probably heard the Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Another way to think about it: all big and complex things start with a simple step forward.
In many situations, however, that first step might not be so simple.
You likely have your own personal list of to-dos that have been gnawing at you for what seems like forever. For whatever reason, you keep procrastinating and pushing them to the back burner.
That tendency is multiplied when you consider projects that require a team or collaborative approach. Maybe you have a list of projects that you want finished, but you never seem to have the time, energy, or organization to move them forward.
At Reach Partners we’ve seen projects fail to launch or stall because a successful start was an obstacle. Starting is harder than it looks.
The pandemic has taught us, over and over, that virtual meetings and gatherings can actually be productive, rich with human connection. We’ve also learned that meaningful virtual connections are not certain. Rather it takes intention for it to be possible.
If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you know our mantra: Intention starts with purpose. (I know. We say it all the time, (specifically here and here), but it’s true. Really.)
Do you want a meaningful virtual meeting? Start with these tips:
As we were working on conference details for a client, something didn’t feel quite right. I knew there was something that the client wanted to change from the previous year’s event. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. (In my defense, it had been over a year since we had planned that particular conference. That’s a long time to remember things!)
Thankfully, I knew exactly where I could find what I needed. The detail was included in our post activity report, also known as the PAR.
Whenever we plan an event, an in-depth meeting, a social gathering, or virtual experience Reach Partners will always argue for the same thing. Every time.
This thing is the most important detail for every planned interaction. It is the life blood of our work and what drives us to do better every day. Most importantly it’s the power, the energy that fuels the work at hand.
How do you tap into this energy? How do you make it work for you? Draw the right audience? Craft the right marketing activities? Align stakeholders? Create value?
You start by defining purpose.
Even in the best of times, work can be confusing. Efforts can be duplicated, messages mixed, and (wrong) assumptions made. Signals get crossed and, inevitably, something falls through the cracks.
When we’re adjusting to chaos, those challenges are amplified. Let’s face it, these recent days of working from home with new “coworkers” and in less-than-ideal settings can make everything feel difficult. It takes more coordination and communication to make sure good work happens. In short, it takes clarity.
We should seek clarity even when our projects and work world haven’t been turned upside down. Lack of clarity at any time often leads to confusion and, subsequently, disarray.
Every company gets to the point where it needs to hire an outside vendor or consultant.
Maybe you’ve hired someone to assist with marketing materials or accounting needs. Maybe you’ve contracted with someone to help you determine future staffing opportunities or to complete a one-off project.
At Reach Partners, we often step in when a business’s internal team is too busy to complete a job or an organization needs our expertise in planning and problem-solving.
We’ve been asked to determine the best way to move 18,000 people from numerous parking lots to an event site in less than three hours. Our clients have hired us to launch a seminar series in three states and to keep a coalition of experts on task.
With a 150th anniversary approaching, leaders in Otter Tail County knew they had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the region’s history and culture. People were excited and passionate about getting involved in the milestone event, but that enthusiasm came with a price tag.
“The more ideas there were, the more opportunities there were for things to get chaotic,” says Nick Leonard, communications and external relations director for the county.
Key stakeholders including the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the Otter Tail Lakes County Association established a planning committee for the sesquicentennial, but the group needed someone to serve as a single point person for communication and project management.
Reach Partners stepped in, helping with event strategy and support.
We believe we can do better together; it’s one of our values. But we also know that teams can struggle to get work done together.
Teamwork sounds good in theory. The more, the merrier, right? And yet, when it comes to accomplishing tasks, it often seems easier to do it alone.
The problem is that teams often neglect to clarify and define roles, ensuring that their work is an uphill (or circular!) battle. Without clear roles and communication, a project slows. A lack of clarity creates redundancies and conflict; it encourages passive-aggressive behavior and wastes time.
To set the stage for a successful project, you first need to be clear on roles. To do this, answer two basic questions: what and who. A team needs to understand what skills are needed and who brings them: Who needs to provide input or make recommendations? Who is authorized to make decisions? Who is responsible for carrying those decisions out?
Understanding the answers to these questions will eliminate unnecessary frustration, friction, and unproductive competition between members of a team. If your role or somebody else’s role isn’t clear to you, it’s not clear to others.
As global business consultant Tamara Erikson wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood.”
Here’s how to do it:
What Is a Role?
A role is the part or position a team member plays in a particular operation or process. Some roles are formal; many are not. Formal roles include those whose name or title describes “what” they’re responsible for. For example, a project manager or a writer may fall into this category.
Teams often have people who do not have formal titles but have skills, experience, or knowledge that contribute to the outcome of our projects. Naming these roles can become complex and yet, it’s necessary or people will fill default roles.
Unless they’re told otherwise, people will assume a role because of interests, skills, personality type, motivations, or attitude. An extrovert may become the team’s catalyst to propel a team with energy and positivity, while someone with high analytical skill will provide insights and check possibilities against realities.
These are the realities that make teams valuable. But be sure everyone understands “who” needs to do and know “what.”
Tools for Defining Roles
Our top tool for defining roles is a RACI chart.
While organizational charts show hierarchies and decision-makers, a RACI chart shows roles so much better. It’s a valuable tool when working with clients, vendors, in coalitions, or when volunteering on a board.
A RACI chart is a matrix that assigns roles and responsibilities in categories of tasks. This sets expectations for people working together.
To make a RACI chart, begin by creating a row of team members across the top. List all needed tasks, milestones, or decisions on the left side.
Now indicate who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed in the intersecting cells.
Many examples of this tool exist online. One of my favorites is this Lord of the Rings example (the article on RACI charts is great, too).
If you are striving to empower others to get their work done, it may be a very helpful tool to use at the beginning of a project at work or as a volunteer.
We find the best use is to create a RACI chart with the team. This allows the group to grow a deeper understanding of the project tasks. The more clearly understand who needs to complete a task, whose expertise is needed, and who has the final say on decisions.
Like any tool, use it, manipulate, or modify in the way that works for your team.