Toolbox: The Satir Interaction Model

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High touch vs the System

Maybe all systems with human beings are like this to some degree, but there are tangles that can be unraveled with either a billion emails OR five minutes on the phone. There are times when all the databases and trouble tickets and email confirmations in the world can’t provide the visceral satisfaction that yes, your problem was heard and you are a person deserving of time and attention.

We’re a very distributed team, we really only come together for one big weekend a year. It’s amazing that, with so little face to face time, we don’t have even more miscommunications and upsets than we do.

Thinking about the Debrief

Every year the convention has a debrief for staff after the convention in which we attempt to talk about what has happened in the organizational year  and  find out the lessons learned. I don’t know if I could possibly have resisted posting about it before.  It’s pure candy for those of us who are totally fascinated with how the wheels work behind the scenes.

I say “attempt” because while we do collect a large amount of valuable information, it’s a very formal meeting without a lot of give and take.  Sort of “debrief theater”  rather than the real work of figuring out how to change.  (There are reasons not to do that work in a group of 100 people, for one thing the meeting has to end before midnight,  but I do wonder if there are other ways to make that meeting actually productive.)

But that’s not what I want to write about today.   I have been in the part of the project where I’m severely self-critical of everything that is going askew in the planning, and as there are too many details for any one person to possibly know about and there are lots of people trying to work together with incomplete information and not enough time,  well…   things go awry. Askew. In error.  Pear-shaped.  Less than optimally.   Dead wrong, even.  All the time.  Every day.   And so I am thinking, often, of the retrospective prime directive as found in the  Agile programming community:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand. 

As useful as these words are in guiding my interactions with others,  it’s grace to be able to believe that they apply to me as well.


Silent resignations

Somewhere out there is Schroedinger’s Volunteer.  Maybe she’s  doing the job and maybe she isn’t, who knows because there’s been total silence.  No bad news but no good news either.

When you ask this volunteer for a status update and then find out that, in fact, nothing is happening — “too much life” is the usual excuse — not only are you down one on the team, but precious weeks have gone by and problems are harder to fix.

Silent resignations of this type are the worst, because for me they damage my trust in the team as a whole and leave me wondering “What else don’t I know?” .

Seriously folks, if you’re not going to do a job or you can’t do a job, just tell someone.  That may be damaging to your pride in the moment, but it’s far less damaging to the team than not doing something and letting people discover the fact later on.  Specifically, waiting until someone asks you for an update and then letting them know that, in your mind you quit the project 2 weeks ago?  Not cool.



Communicating about Communicating

I am wishing we could add to our “HI My Name is:” labels, some critical additional information.

“Hi, my name is Rachel, I read my email about a dozen times a day on an ordinary day, but sometimes more and sometimes much less.  I try to answer anything to me in about 48 hours, at least for the first pass.  But I get a lot of mail that is FYI and some pieces of mail that need a lot of thought and consideration.  If you haven’t gotten a response from me that you need in a week, I may have miscategorized your mail.   Please resend the email, and be specific about what question you’re asking.   That phone number you have for me is my cell phone, it’s always in my pocket, and almost always on, please don’t call after 11 pm unless it’s an emergency. Texts are fine. ”

If I had this information for everyone on the convention staff (hello my name is E who answers email between 1 am and 3 am reliably and can’t really be reached any other time of day, and isn’t reachable at all on Shabbat or Jewish holidays … for example) I’m sure it would help a lot.  No, I mean, if we ALL had this information about each other, as easily available as a name on a name tag.  That would  really help.




Language alert

I use the word “Let’s”  too much.  “Let’s arrange things such a way.”  “Let’s work on this project.”  And so on.

Mostly “Let’s” comes up in situations when I should delegate and I’m not delegating clearly.   It reflects my own discomfort with delegating, not something from outside.  For example,  I’m trying to please someone or trying to not be perceived as too demanding or trying to remain involved with details that I get invested in but should let go of.

It’s not clear who winds up owning the task when I say “let’s”.  It’s a bad habit that I’m going to try to banish from my speech, and even more, my emails.

Whose Job Is This?

There are lots of details about ThatCon I’d enjoy getting deeply involved with, but it turns out that, as con chair, most of those details are not my job. It’s more important to make sure that someone’s on top of them and get myself out of the way of the process, thereby leaving myself free for the few things that no one else can do.

This turns out to be easier to say than to put into practice. For all kinds of reasons, I’ll resist delegating a task.

I’m guessing that overall the two biggest obstacles to delegating are “no volunteer for a job” and “lack of trust in someone who’s volunteered but with whom I don’t have a track record of success”.   Close behind this is “I don’t understand the thing that needs delegating well enough to make a job description.”  But yesterday’s delegation difficulties were more subtle. I found myself being the go-to person in a bunch of small decisions when really any of a number of solutions would have sufficed.   Why me, I wondered, how did I get here?

  • It was something I was interested in and actually have strong opinions about though not necessarily expertly informed ones.  So, when asked, it was gratifying to put in my two cents and see the ideas put into practice.
  • Relatedly, it was something where I could see the ideas in practice.  There was a direct result between decision and result, whereas many of the things I am doing for the con are more about influencing the shape of events and setting up processes where people can work.
  • At first I wasn’t sure that there really was someone in place to delegate this topic to in the future.  After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there was a person, P,  nominally in charge of this area but not engaged in the conversation.  That’s interesting!

That last point led to a whole other set of questions.

  • How did P get left out of the discussion?  Well, theyd originally been included but never responded, and eventually wound up dropped from the cc list.
  • Is P interested in this conversation?  Does P think that the outcome of this decision is part of his job?  I realized that I was assuming that the answers to both of these were “no” but that  I didn’t know that for sure.

It’s hard to ask those kinds of questions in email.  So I picked up the phone and, luckily, reached P right away so that I could ask for what I wanted, support in getting myself out of the loop  of future decision making on this topic.  Confirmation that we agreed about the scope of the job responsibilities, and that we agreed P should follow up in the future.

And so after the phone call,  I answered the pending question, having my own little bit of fun in molding the universe to the Whim of the Con Chair,  but made it clear I’d defer to P for future decisions in the same area.

Totally Like Whatever, You Know?

Just a pointer to Taylor Mali’s poetry today:

A good reminder to me not to be too tentative when I speak.

It’s a beautiful Saturday and I’m going to get out there and enjoy it.

Meeting Planning

Still working on that project of meetings that don’t waste people’s time.  I’d like to do better than that —  meetings that are fun, meetings that get things done, meetings that inspire or build teamwork for the future — but there are still a lot of stuck patterns that get in the way of making even the low bar.

For one thing, we’re still struggling to get remote people able to participate in a meeting.  At our last meeting, we planned ahead to run Skype,  but had last minute problems both human and technical.  And Skype is not an ideal solution when a handful of people are remote and the vast majority are in the room.  It’s just not what it’s for.   We’re going to try Skype again but I’m also interested in investigating other conferencing solutions.

For another thing, keeping enough control over the agenda but not so much that I don’t get to find out anything new by having the meeting, is an interesting balancing act.  One thing I’m learning is that going around the room giving reports by division is almost always a fail.   Boring.  Disjointed.  No narrative.   It worked once, when the question around the room was  “what do you have to do to get ready for X deadline” .  But open ended reports?  Not making me happy.

Next meeting, I’m planning to experiment with getting the division reports boiled down to about a sentence or two each and onto a handout in advance.

It is completely impossible to over-prepare for running a meeting. At least I haven’t managed to do it yet.  The meeting I’m currently trying to over-prepare for is a full-day retreat of about 25 people — almost all my division heads and some of the assistant division heads.  I think they trust me not to waste their time at this point.  But I’d like this to be really something special, and fun.



Good challenges and … the harder kind

Sarah Twichell (of the blog Edge to Center) asked me today What makes the difference between a challenge you rise to and a challenge you’re overwhelmed by?  Good question, and I had to think about it for a bit.  Here are a few things I thought of:

On the overwhelm side:

  • tasks that I think are going to get a lot of negative judgement from others
  •  tasks that I can’t break down into pieces that I know how to do
  •  tasks where you can’t get feedback on whether it’s going OK until the end
  • times when I’m not managing adequate self-care,
  • excessive multi-tasking.

On the successful side:

  • when someone is depending on me
  • when lines of authority are clear
  • when the purpose of the task is clear
  • when I have enough time to make a plan
  • when I can reach out for support

Challenges don’t fall neatly into one category or another.  I can easily be daunted by one aspect of a major project even as I make progress on related areas.   Sometimes I just have to plunge ahead, overwhelmed or not.

Thinking about this helps me be more sympathetic to other people’s overwhelm — and helps me think of some ways to improve how I’m delegating so I’m not adding to the problem.