Thursday, 21 August 2014

Who goes there... Friend or Colleague?

I spent a very pleasant 15 minutes chatting to a colleague on the telephone this morning, entirely about business, but both sharing our feelings about some of the challenges we share and some of those that we are dealing with within our own 'specialist' functions. We concluded our conversation saying how much we were looking forward to spending some 'social' and business time together next week.

Having had a rotten commute into work (train broke down, delayed my arrival by an hour), and not being especially enthused by my task list for the day, I came off the 'phone smiling and energised to get on with my day. And that got me thinking. What was it about that conversation that 'gee'd' me up for the day? Why did that feel so unusual? And I concluded that it was because I viewed that individual as more than just a colleague, but as a friend. And then I started wondering what it is that turns a colleague into a friend, followed immediately by questioning how many 'friends' I actually have at work. 

Time is an element of course. We have worked together for several years now. But it's more than that. We recognise in each other a 'kindred spirit', an emotional exchange (intelligence?) that allows us to share our thoughts and feelings about our work, without fear that we will be judged or rated on what is said. We also have a deep respect for, and rely on, each other's knowledge and professionalism. 

Hence this tweet which I was then inspired to post and which got a lot of 'faves' and retweets...

Another tweeter, Ade Adtukasi (@ohcsolutions), commented "Maybe we need to rethink the traditional definition of work-life balance", whilst Michael Osborne (@MikeOzzy) reported "...I have a combination of both. :)" - the smiley face being a big clue here, I think. 
Believe me when I say I'm not looking for new friends here; I've got plenty, thanks. But, having friends at work, people that you can collaborate with, offer help to and ask for help from, seek counsel from and - critically, in my view - have a laugh with, should be cherished.

Now, in no way do I mean to 'diss' any of my other colleagues, with whom I have many very amiable and productive relationships, just as I have in the outside world; social media being one (several?) of them). But on how many fingers of how many hands can I count these people as my friends?

And if you were to do the same, what sort of numbers would you come up with? What value would you place on them? And does it matter?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Chains, Chiefs, Checks and Chokepoints

Recent events in both my personal and my work life have led me to some realisations and determination to do things differently in the future.

First the personal. Some of you will be aware that we are attempting to move house. In April, we found a new-build and paid our holding deposit, then took some time to confirm a new, smaller mortgage - ironically, with our existing provider - but were then further frustrated by our chain behind us collapsing when our buyers lost their buyer and had to go back onto the market. With a new, longer, chain in place just awaiting their mortgage offers, our developers have now pulled the plug on us and have put our intended purchase back onto the market, despite several attempts by our solicitor to get a stay of execution whilst our chain catches up.  All to no avail, and on Friday we lost our new house. So back onto the house hunt, starting this afternoon!

So what have I learned from this experience? In a complex legal environment, I made the mistake of assuming that the various players in our drama actually cared about us and were working for our personal best interests. Having made that assumption, I sat back and let them get on with it, assuming that all was progressing as it should. It wasn't until we were advised two weeks ago that the developers were intending to 'pull our papers' and put our purchase back on the market, that I was finally in the picture (e.g: we didn't even know that our chain behind us now had four players as opposed to the original three!). So, as we head off into the unknown house-hunting again, and our chain now has to wait for us, I am determined to keep on everyone's back and demand information and service from all; just as I will make sure that I keep everyone else informed of our progress. In other words, I have to actively manage the players and the process just as much as I have to manage things at work.

Which brings me to recent work realisations. I have recently been involved in some activities which required working in the middle of a mixed bag of internal and external stakeholders - line management, external consultant, external design teams, IT, peers, hotels and professional bodies - a dynamic and fluid grouping of co-dependency, tasks, deadlines, checks and outputs. Communication between those parties and critically, as an output to other stakeholders via assorted media, was/is the key here.

The need for clear, concise, well-written and accurate copy, supported by a robust underpinning infrastructure and delivery process, is critical. But how many people are needed to create, check, amend, finalise and publish this information - and how many iterations should it go through before the 'go' button gets pushed? Everyone involved is busy with their day job and/or other commitments. Attention is not always available when required. Things get forgotten. Proof-reading gets sloppy. A critical piece of information is not available because one individual in the chain is unexpectedly sidelined to other priorities, etc... Too many chiefs, checks and chokepoints for my liking...

A project plan might have been a good idea here, but as this work is emerging organically, it's been difficult to a) agree the tasks and outputs, and b) the milestones and delivery dates. It may well be the way forward, but for now, it's up to me to make sure I am fully integrated with the action, with all the stakeholders and can add value to the outcomes by assuming nothing, staying connected and demanding the same of others.

And as I await the feedback from my recent 360 degree assessment (line manager, four direct reports and nine peers across the organisation), I will be looking to apply the above personal and professional learnings to my development plan.

As always, I'd appreciate any thoughts, challenges or suggestions. Thanks.