Posts Tagged business

The Open Plan Office Failure

Open plan offices offer a lot if your team communicates openly with each other share conversations with customers and offering information or advice between a small group of staff. The challenge comes when you expect the team to work without distractions (planning – on the phone with customers etc.)

Ok so what was the big deal with going for open plan in the first place? Cost? Having the chance to break down barriers? More open communication? Other…

Let’s go the other way, what’s the deal with a ‘closed’ office? Greater privacy – Easier to concentrate – Cut down on noise – More wall space (for planning charts and so on…) – Your computer can be oriented so only you see what’s on the screen (ok not the best reason but surely quiet important!)

Perhaps the best way is to go halfway (is that possible?) creating spaces which offer users the ability to have privacy, a sense of security, still have some degree of communication openness, not have the cost of a full office, and provide the user with that sense of ownership or personalisation without having everyone look at your personal items etc

Maybe we could go for the cocoon, or pod, I seem to recollect back in the 70’s the Illustrator Roger Dean (Did lots of futuristic and fantasy album covers) created a whole bunch of futuristic spacey spaces and one of them included a ‘Learning Pod’ and individual cocoon shaped like a giant seed pod. Is that a way to go…

I believe the answer probably lies in clearly looking at what the business, your business, is all about and exploring the ideal way to make what needs to happen, happen, in the most effective way possible.

If your team really work as a team, then maybe a team space is required with separate areas to compile info for the team.

If your team are working directly with customers, then perhaps they just need a space where they can do that with minimal fuss.

If your team are a bunch of slackers and serve no real purpose to your amazingly big conglomerate then perhaps a bunch of hotel rooms with Wi Fi connectivity might be the go…

I guess what I am really saying is to ‘go deep’ and look at the specific reasons your team need the space they need and how they will interact (or not). I guess I am also thinking make the space adaptable so things can be altered when the need arises.

Oh and let’s not forget the concept of status, where the ‘boss’ gets the ‘closed office and privacy’ and the others get ‘open space and prying eyes’ surely we can think beyond that and come up with spaces which cause people to believe they are highly valued contributors without any loss of status.

Perhaps open plan failure is just a starting point to creating office space success.

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Helping staff to get what they want

When it comes to dealing with staffing issues it seems as though there are always going to be those who want to help themselves and then there’s the rest.

What to do when you are staring down the barrel of staffing challenges and this is just one of your starting points?

In a previous article I looked at What Staff Want. It gives some interesting insights, but how do you figure out how to deliver the things they want or need and get to that point effectively.

Let’s go for the easy option, Brainstorm…

If you already know what they want and or need to do their job effectively, then facilitating a session with them will assist them to at least understand you want to assist them, and give  you an idea of if they want to be assisted.

The real aim is to use the “Collective Intelligence” to get information happening and ideas explored.

You could start out with the list of what people want, then jot down some ideas in advance  of things you believe might match to the job, tasks, attitudes and beliefs. Then you have a chance of connecting with them when the discussion starts and they are scrambling to find ideas. You would probably use your information to enhance their thinking processes if they get stuck, you might add in a pointer relating to an obvious task to spur them on.

Brainstorming can be easy – Set some guidelines and go from there.

  • All ideas are good ideas – We can focus on the good ideas later
  • Feel free to share – Let people freely add in and occasionally encourage the stragglers to also put in. Invite them to help make things better
  • Our aim – To explore ideas on improving this business unit – “We have challenges what will improve things?”
  • Work to a time frame so they don’t just lounge about for ages, aim to get ideas on to paper fast.
  • Pose some questions to be answered – Perhaps this is the initial brainstorming, getting the issues out as THEY see them, then getting them to provide ideas to answer them
  • Write fast, and prod for more ideas – Actively explore concepts as they arise
  • Consider a mind map – Do an internet search on the basics of this, it can be a very visual way of getting the thought processes working.
  • Collate the main ideas and share them once they are typed up – This can then lead to a plan of action or an attitude shift to some degree.

A brainstorming session should be positive and free flowing. The team should not feel like they are working under duress to come up with ideas. Hopefully after doing this session you will be able to find some excellent starting points to work from. Chances are the team had all the ideas and answers and you were able to positively, openly and honestly listen to them work through the challenges.

Now notice how all of this leads to you being the coach… working with people to get the best from them, without having to hit them over the head and force them to do things. Trust me it’s better that way. Want to be a better workplace coach, try this


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Dealing with challenging staff 2

Leading on from the other post on this topic. You want to deal with the staff member who is causing some grief (or could be about to) how do you go about intervening to find out what you need to know. The big thing is to get them onside so they will want to chat to you about the issue with ease, the last thing you want is for them to later on suggest they were under some form of duress, caused by you in the questioning phase!

The aim is to have a staff member who is relaxed about you chatting with them, so you can keep them onside and willing to discuss issues rather than some adversarial situation they can get annoyed about.

Here are a few points to consider;

  • You are aiming to make an assessment not a judgement – There is a difference, assessing the situation means researching and working the facts, judging may well mean you could start off on an accusatory footing. Aim to get solid facts first.
  • Avoid cornering or accusing them – They may deny anything, then you will be in a harder place trying to get information as they withdraw and may start to lay blame or justify their position – Think about if you would like to be cornered and how you might respond
  • Keep things open and honest – You want them to feel as though they can readily and easily relate the information you want with no pressure, lies or any form of creative avoidance
  • Ask “Is it okay if we have a chat about work…” – This way you will have a good chance of getting their permission to chat about the issue/s. Avoid asking “So how’s work going” this can set them up to say “Ok… why” and then be on the defensive
  • Try the research method – “I’m chatting to a range of staff about things to do with the business, ideas for improvements, how people are going, that sort of thing. Can I do some research with you?” – This can give you permission to ask questions about the business and related info
  • Spend some time with them – This may not be suitable in every situation, but perhaps you can spend some time with them “on the road”, meet them on site, or perhaps sit with them for a while in their workspace (maybe chatting about a specific task to begin with.)
  • Make it happen fast – Once you have suggested you want to catch up, make sure you avoid dragging things on, this can cause unnecessary worry all round.
  • Take good notes – Leaving this part until later can be a trail fraught with danger, collect facts, not hearsay and allegations. Feel free to read back the details and see if they agree with what you jotted down. Consider asking them if they want a copy.

Now that you have set up the chance to have a chat, what will you say? Well it’s going to depend a bit on the angle you take I guess, personally I favour the research method.

  • Give them the chance to say nothing! – Somewhere in the opening questions if you can throw this in it can be very useful, “Feel free not to say anything if you wish, it’s up to you” this takes the pressure off straight away and allows them the option to avoid things, chances are they will actually switch on internally and answer practically any question you pose to them.
  • Begin with some easy things – “if they have a new vehicle, “So how’s the new vehicle going, one of the other guys is not sure about his…” or “This last six months has been really busy/quiet   how has that been for you?”
  • Look for lead ins – They answer one question and it leads on to another that fits well to you finding out more, or causing them to open up more.
  • Stack questions – Putting together a bunch of questions in one hit can cause the person to start talking and not stop for a long while – basically you set their brain firing on a range of questions and they just start to respond. It could start like this…”We have been busy this past month don’t you think, It has been for me, and then the summer kicked in and we had those orders come from the retailers, do  you think the upgrade to the computer helped with at or was it just me that thought it struggled, anyway… That’s not what I wanted to ask really… any how, what’s been happening in your area?” – With practice you can stack questions with ease and sit back for a while and get more than just yes’s or no’s to your key question/s
  • Work from their viewpoint – How do you see things… how do things feel for you… what do you believe is happening… Do things sound ok from your end? This works from an old American Indian saying of “Walk for a while in the other person’s Moccassions” this can then allow you to get their perspective and may lead you into more of the right questions and or give you some empathy for their viewpoint. It may also give you the real reason they are doing what they do, rather than some smoke screen cover up.
  • Small talk can be useful but… – For some people using small talk to lead in to a conversation is normal, easy and very useful, for others however it can be a slippery slide to disaster, with the other person smelling a rat very fast, putting them on the defensive. Know your people, so you can craft your approach to fit to their needs and situation, use small talk for those that do and avoid it for those that don’t use it.
  • What’s your biggest challenge and why? – Sit and listen carefully after you ask this one, and ask it only when you are sure you have a measure of trust with them. If they ask for clarification about the question “Personal or professional challenges?” then you are getting closer to the real question, it can get more specific after that as well and perhaps you can use that to your advantage to clarify more questions with details.
  • Feed it back to them – Sometimes you can read info back to people to clarify what was said, any points they disagree with you can modify to suit. This is the best time to clarify things while things are still fresh in both parties heads.
  • Ask them for answers – “Our chat has identified a bunch of things, if you could solve these challenges, what would you do?” Then sit and listen carefully, you may get some great answers to some big issues, but let them have the chance to respond. Often people will start out by saying “I don’t know…” Then launch into “Well what I would do is…” then take great notes as they unload.

Now you have some solid starting points for  your intervention, hopefully you will get some great information to work with, their views, their reasons why or why not and the chance to provide some answers, hopefully all of which was done with minimal hassle and discomfort. Your next step will probably be to act on your findings, that could raise a whole bunch of other issues for us to explore another time.

Has all of this caught your interest? Well it should and to really get a handle on things consider this, what do your staff really want? find out in the next article, what staff want.

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The problem with customers is…

They want to be loved – Yes you read that right, loved.  Think about it there are few who don’t want to be loved. So to make sure your customers are going to be great fans of your business and come back to buy time and time again, love them.

Here are some ways to give it.

  • Make things to go smoothly – If there are hassles things can go bad fast.
  • Give them timely responses (not waiting) – Make sure you connect with them as fast as possible, they will appreciate it and you will stand out from the crowd.
  • Show great courtesy (the best service wins) – Manners matter.
  • Respect, their views values and ideals – That does not mean you have to change yours to meet theirs just respect them.
  • Give them clear explanations in their language style – Speak at their pace using their tone etc.
  • Keep them informed – We have ordered that for you, we will call when it comes in…
  • Acknowledge them – Hello – Someone will be with you soon.
  • Listen to them – Active listening means you pay full attention to what they are saying, be there (in the moment as they say) so they feel as though you are focused on them

If your organisation is doing this part of customer service  right, then you have a chance to impress people and provide them with what they want, solutions to their needs and wants. Now that’s another story…

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How team training can fail

As much as I love training people, I have to say most team based training seems to be an out and out fail. Here’s why…

  • Team exercises – Most people hate the ‘team building’ exercises, then they get into it and like it and then realise there was low ongoing value, but they had a break from work, they just tell the boss it was ok.
  • We are a team already – if there are challenges, forcing us to do something about it might just annoy us further. Perhaps HR should have hired decent new team members in the first place! It’s their fault. – Sometimes the way to change things is easier than having people out on a team building exercise, perhaps a series of chats from their ‘coach’ or team leader (same thing) is enough to find an elegant solution or raise awareness of issues.
  • Take me away – Taking me away for the weekend to a conference, seminar might seem nice and a big commitment from the company to show it cares, but if it’s my family time, forget it, I will probably just resent it for the first part of the event if not all of the event – Doing it in work time may look like I am getting out of work, but Most will figure that the work does not go away and it might just create more stress.
  • Spend the training $$ – I put down we need to do some team building exercises, because usually they are fun, and hey you’re the one allocating the training $$ and if we don’t spend it we lose it. If they are going to do training they want to have a good time and hey, if push comes to shove they might be able to justify it.
  • What team issues? – What else in the organisation might be causing the supposed ‘team issue’? Could it be a lack of Leadership, direction, adherence to Co guidelines etc… – There is an old saying that says “Resistance builds first, followed by resentment and finally retaliation” when things start to go astray start asking what’s causing people to become resistant to things in the first place? Then work on that, well before resentment leads to retaliation!
  • As a team leader, someone from ‘above’ says we need to do this, why wasn’t I consulted… – see resistance, resentment, and retaliation!
  • Does it pay? – A program scheduled over a number of sessions takes people out of a productive work environment and the $$ invested better come back in increased productivity fast. Chances are the $$ return will take a while no matter what the program time frame, even then there are no guarantees, so any benefit may fade over time, just in time for the next team building exercise!
  • Programs that create tight knit teams seem to adversely effect the productivity, what gives with that! – Simply put if people get on really well together they start to care on a deep level, before long they are a closely connected group, they worry together, laugh together, share lots of things together, how on earth do they find time to work!


Please understand I see training as a vital part of successful business operations, just that it needs to be relevant, useful and valued in general. If it annoys people and they can’t appreciate the value readily, you might do better to direct the training $$ into other areas.

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Who are you listening to?

In business you will get a wide range of input and information from all manner of sources. Your general staff, your supervisors, middle management, consultants, accountant, salespeople, your partners (biz and life), your self , oh and the customers…

So who are you listening to specifically?

I guess it depends on what is being said and who is saying it. If a general staff member is saying there is an OHS issue then you will probably be listening intently, but if it’s another issue which could waiver in direction how would you listen, intently, vaguely or other. If it had a positive impact on your bottom line you might listen closely, but if it looked like the opposite you might discard it, but what if it was the sort of thing which could have a long term positive effect but it was not obvious at the time.

If it is the latter then you might ll9isten intently if the person telling you is somehow influential and you take action at everything they say. however if the person isn’t influential a great idea might go by the wayside fast.

Then the trick comes down to your self evaluation of what’s being discussed, may I suggest you listen to everything as if it’s being told to you by a person who’s view you respect (or you are influenced by) and evaluate it from that view (do your due diligence).

You might be surprised at the information you get and the value of it if you do listen carefully as if everything matters. Chances are it will matter, it’s just a question of when.



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Connected people

You have staff, you have customers, how connected are they?

How connected are you to your team?
How connected are the individuals in the team…

Does it matter, yes… and here’s why.

Your people are your biggest asset, they do the things required to cause customers to pay for the products and or services you provide. No connection, means no communication, no communication no sale. Here’s the issue, its all about having a ‘suitable’ depth of communication.

The same thing applies to the internal customer communications, no communication, no connection, therefore there is probably a low care factor. (seems obvious now I spelt that out huh…)
Change it, discuss it, explore it, push it, use the term “Care Factor” and raise it to a suitable level (too much can push things over the edge).


Now take a look at your “Care Factor” for ALL your team. Here’s some pointers to consider.

  • How much do you know about your people?
  • Ask them about their day, weekend, issues, thoughts, perspectives etc.
  • Chat about their hobbies and interests.
  • Discuss work issues face to face every now and then (not just by email or a brief chat as you pass in the hall way).
  • Invite them (not literally) to ask you about your interests etc…

Some of you will find this easy, others will struggle and have probably stopped reading for fear of connecting with their staff! Think about all of this carefully, because at the end of the day no connection means no sales, and business needs sales! (one way or the other).Your next questions should be how do I/we connect better! 🙂

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