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.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2009/08/creating-passionate-teams/ ‎

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.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2009/08/creating-passionate-teams/

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

  1. jmacofearth says:

    Tracy, you are one of those "kick ass individuals" who empowers people at every opportunity. I've seen you in action. And I see your kids and know they are being given good leadership and attention.

  2. jmacofearth says:

    Thanks T. I'll get the disqus people to look into that.

  3. tracyshaun says:

    (FYI: I couldn't connect with either Facebook, Twitter or MyOpenID… I had to use the Disqus login to post here)

  4. tracyshaun says:

    The "how can I help you kick ass" question is valid in *every* aspect of life. Try it with your kids – try it with your friend in a tight spot – try it with your parents – try it with your representative. Try it with your significant other!

    Thanks for the reminder JMac!

  5. jmacofearth says:

    Tracy, you are one of those "kick ass individuals" who empowers people at every opportunity. I've seen you in action. And I see your kids and know they are being given good leadership and attention.

  6. jmacofearth says:

    Thanks T. I'll get the disqus people to look into that.

  7. tracyshaun says:

    (FYI: I couldn't connect with either Facebook, Twitter or MyOpenID… I had to use the Disqus login to post here)

  8. tracyshaun says:

    The "how can I help you kick ass" question is valid in *every* aspect of life. Try it with your kids – try it with your friend in a tight spot – try it with your parents – try it with your representative. Try it with your significant other!

    Thanks for the reminder JMac!

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