Tag Archives: team leadership

The Agile Meeting Manifesto

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  1. Is the meeting necessary?
    Occasionally meetings are the lazy way to move a project along the process. If you don’t need a meeting, don’t schedule it.
  2. Is there an agenda?
    Without a solid agenda, please refer back to question 1. Agendas should cover what the goal of the meeting is and the brief topics to be covered.
  3. Timekeeper and Scribes in the meeting
    Nothing worse than waiting for someone to get their notes down, or a meeting that runs over because someone wasn’t watching the clock.
  4. Clamshells down.
    If you’re in the meeting, be in the meeting. Unless you are presenting your computer should be shut and you should be paying attention. If you’re checking email, please check items #1 and #2 and make sure you are the appropriate member of the team you represent.
  5. Take Derailing Questions or Discussions to Sidebars
    “Can we table that issue for a discussion after the meeting? I’d like to stay with the agenda for now.”
  6. Good post-meeting notes within an hour of the conclusion of the meeting: action items and dates recorded.
  7. Do you need the next meeting? Can you take the previous discussion notes and turn them into the next agenda? If you don’t need the meeting, cancel it and give your colleagues time back in their day.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

Antibodies & Positrons: Leadership by Consensus and Project Management

Project Management Leadership - Antibodies and PositronsAn antibody can tag a microbe or an infected cell for attack by other parts of the immune system, or can neutralize its target directly (for example, by blocking a part of a microbe that is essential for its invasion and survival). – wikipedia Antibody

The positron has an electric charge of +1e, a spin of ½, and has the same mass as an electron. When a low-energy positron collides with a low-energy electron, annihilation occurs. – wikipedia Positron


In a big company like Dell you have all kinds of people. People who have learned how to carve out their place and remain steadfastly loyal, even within massive industry changes and layoffs. They are still there.

And you have people, a bit more like myself: fiercely creative, passionate, and perhaps not cut out for the long haul within the huge corporate structure of a company like Dell.

Along the way, you will be asked to lead a project. To take the responsibility for delivery on your shoulders and ask for the support and efforts of others, perhaps less loyal to your objective or business unit. At Dell we referred to this nay sayers as ANTIBODIES. As a project lead you found ways around them. And if you were efficient and fortunate at the same time, these antibodies would either stop coming to your meetings or at least stop impeding your progress. Because within any organization it is often the momentum that carries a project forward. As the success and progress of the initiative grows people are more likely to give their support and perhaps efforts to see the work through to competition.

Also in the mix are the supporters, the POSITRONS who encourage you, follow with energy, and help build the momentum of your project. And you do everything you can to support these people. Even asking, “What else can I help YOU on?” Because finding positrons in your career is a lifelong effort. And once you have connected with a positron you will want them on you team from then out. If you move to a new company, these are the people you will want to recruit to your new effort.

Antibodies, not so much. They are the ones you don’t add on LinkedIN. It’s best to move on without setting fire to any bridges, but there is no need to sugar coat a bad egg.

So in the path of successful project completion you will face hurdles (can you show me the numbers again?), ambiguities (what exactly is the purpose of this project?), and antibodies (i’m not sure this is the best way to go about this). The quicker you accelerate past the antibodies and align yourself with the positrons the easier time you are going to have delivering on your promises and deadlines.

In life there are positrons and antibodies as well. Stay on the shining path, focus on your goals, and let the antibodies fall where they may.

John McElhenney
creating passionate users still has the best ideas

Creating Passionate Teams – Encouraging Smart People to Want to Contribute or NOT.

creating passionate users“What do you need from me in order to kick ass on this project?” Kathy Sierra, author of the defunct Creating Passionate Users, had a way of empowering her team and thus empowering those of us that need to empower our teams.

If you do not ask your people on a regular basis, “How can I help you kick ass,” you are missing a big opportunity for growth. Growth in the relationship between you and the team member. And potentially, if the process is followed through with focused and deliberate action, you can inspire people to do great work.

If you ask the question, however, and don’t follow through on your part of the commitment, you will expose yourself as a leader without a clue.

I once had such a leader. When inheriting a new team this seasoned executive failed to meet the expectations of any of his team. How do I know this. Because when he would leave our staff meetings early for some “other” important meeting, we would talk about him. After a few months, when we needed to turn in our annual work plan on the next day and he still had not met with any of us to give his guidance, we ALL sensed a moment of WTF as we sat around the conference room table and he scooted out early, again. I was not alone in this assessment. Even the person who had been on this person’s team for 2.5 years was complaining and worried with the rest of us.

One activity we suggested in the first few months was doing an off-site as a group, for “team building.” A long-standing tradition, the off-site is usually an afternoon spent playing laser tag or air hockey, or simply pulling a few pints at a local fish’n chips. Several ideas were floated for our “off-site.” And that’s all that happened.

Now I was pushing hard at the beginning of this relationship to my new manager to help him take charge of the group. [I’m sure he would say he was in charge and did not need help, but…] And after the first “agenda-less” meeting I wrote up a proposed agenda for topics to cover and sent it to him two days before the next meeting. His response. Nada. The next meeting, agenda-less, was as meandering as the first meeting. I tried one more time to suggest an agenda to no avail. For the next year, we never once had an agenda.

I also worked to get the time and room on our shared calendars for this standing team meeting. Weeks later, after asking several times for our manager to set up an ongoing meeting time, with no response, I put a meeting in Outlook and invited the team. What I got back was a swift response from the manager that HE would set the time and place of the meetings. Which he then did. I canceled my meeting. And, as you might imagine, didn’t offer any further suggestions about agendas or scheduling.

Jump forward nine months to the final week of this teams existence. The manager suggested we could all go to lunch as a team. When one of the team members responded with a no thanks, for the “one and only off-site,” as he would be attending lunch with other friends before his departure, this same manager came to me personally and asked, “What is he mad about?” He did not understand the underlying message at all.

I made the decision to keep the “teachable moment” to myself.

John McElhenney

And here are some quotes from Kathy Sierra’s blog that were inspiring to me before AND after I worked for the above manager.

…managers have many undocumented, unsaid, but incredibly important, functions. They have more to do with enabling the happiness and productivity of the people that work for them than anyone else in the organization. — CPU

…he created an environment where good ideas rose to the top, further encouraging smart people to want to contribute. The bossman made working for him feel like a proper relationship: he got something from us, and we got something from him. I think that this kind of management style requires more skill and savvy than a more hierarchical drill sergeant type of manager. — CPU

More than anything else talented people want to be in environments that both appreciate and cultivate their talents. Any successful manager of talented people has to come in every day, in every meeting, and directly work towards making this happen. This doesn’t
mean coddling people, or denying the team’s goals in favor of making someone feel good. Instead it’s about making actions and decisions that both clarify how people’s talents apply to the team goals, and working to keep the team happy, motivated, and focused in that application. — CPU

One practical way to overcome this [lack openness] starts with a meeting. The manager sets up a meeting with the employee and opens a discussion about how they like to be managed. The manager should explain the purpose of the meeting, and asking clarifying questions about what the other person says. Generally, the manager should say little about their own opinions. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Instead, their job is to listen, help clarify the other persons thoughts and then go away and think about what they said. — CPU

First acknowledge that you have weaknesses, both in skills and in knowledge. Second, admit that you’re ignorance hurts not only the product or website, but the team itself. Third, get help in hiring experts for roles you are not familiar with, and go out of your way to involve them, and their perspective, in your decision making process. Deliberately hire first rate strong willed people to represent disciplines that you tend to undervalue. Force yourself to be on the top of your own game, and to make sure it’s not bias and ignorance that drive you, but good judgment refined by divergent perspectives. — CPU

The archives of Creating Passionate Users is still up, but Kathy Sierra spends her time elsewhere.