Importance of Taking a Break
The thought of putting Kevin in his cat carrier and having a non-allergic barista come and take a photo with us was seriously considered. Knowing Kevin hates the carrier affirmed that I couldn't put my wants in front of his needs, even though he has been scratching the arm of my favourite chair. What we did do was have some time to relax by the back window and chat about our lives - chasing mice, chasing kids - washing tail, using a new shampoo - taste of the new cat food, new restaurant in the neighbourhood. It is good to take a break to think about something else for a few minutes other than the task(s) waiting for you at your desk.
The different generations in the present workplace have brought other social and emotional requirements for employees that had not been commonplace until only a few years ago. As technology changes exponentially, it affects how society communicates and navigates day-to-day. The "Old Guard" or "Silverbacks" 55+ Boomers club, want to know why is everyone going for a coffee break at 10am. That is what a lunch break is for. The "Gen X'ers" 35+ are torn between not having the time to go for a 10am coffee break, and not wanting to look like they aren't keeping-up with the new "hip" kids. Then there are the "Gen Y'ers" 20+ or the Millennials. Now, there is commentary circulating that the Millennials have entitlement issues - the need to instantaneously have what their parents have or what their mentors have as soon as they graduate from post secondary school - not recognizing the 20 years plus required to achieve some of these titles and assets. This observation is not completely unfounded, however, there are many Millennials who bring a host of skills to the workplace; hard-working, tech savvy, eager to learn, and very adaptable. In addition, the way in which they prefer to work and how they view their workplace rights, is not quite conventional. Coming into the office later in the day and working until late seems to fit some Millennial profiles, as well as working more during the week and not on weekends. For some offices and projects, this revised work schedule can be completely appropriate. This alternate timing can work to a teams advantage if there are also individuals that prefer to arrive early and leave early - then there are always people in the office working from early until late and this can help productivity.
Many Millennials also like titles. Titles are not quite what they once were. In the current customization atmosphere of companies, creating a new title or giving a title to a less-than-attractive position is quite common. This doesn't necessarily have the integrity and accountability of a grand title. Multiple letters after a name is also deemed an asset with your title. In many cases, the letters can be bought - because you took the course and received the letters doesn't mean you actually have the experience. Giving a title is fine - once the client has yelled at you on the phone or in a meeting, the need to flaunt your title begins to weaken.
With our technological society, texting, checking social media, and connecting to our world, it is important for us. It is also important to take breaks and keep our mental selves healthy. There should be times in the day where we see what the Bad Cardigans are wearing and what clever cat blogs are online. As long as time isn't been taken from the overall projects schedule, and affecting others work, minutes here-and-there are acceptable. In the overall project work plan and schedules, there should be buffer times for vacations, team functions, overtime requirements, and gaps of slower periods of work, if any. This info should be shared with the team so they know when and where their skills are required and for how long.
It shouldn't always matter how an employee gets their role accomplished. If they are capable and can do the work of 2 individuals, then inquire if they are comfortable taking on more responsibilities. Even though they are highly efficient, it doesn't mean that they still will not burn-out, or enjoy the increased workload. Once they leave the project, you still need to get the work done and re-train someone else, so it is easier to adjust a few hours of tasks and keep everyone content.
Kevin wanders over to where I am typing and yawns as he looks up at me. This is his way of suggesting "it is time for you to take a break, scratch my behind, let me outside, and make yourself a tea." I welcome the break.
When There is Nothing More to Say
For festive purposes, Kevin and I have decided to give a nod to the pagan celebration of All Hallow's Eve and explore when to know the conversation that you are having with someone is dead.
We have all had conversations where the recipient of the other end just has no evolutionary language skills past, "okay", "fine", or "not really". You can try to coax these individuals into a more dynamic discussion by trying to determine what their interests are, if any. However, sometimes you just need to accept that maybe this is how they are or maybe they don't like really like you, so best not to try too hard. Accept the conversation is dead.
Another example of accepting conversational completion is when your manager, client, or consultant has clearly indicated in the discussion or body language (crossing arms in defence, checking their watch, or physically turning away) that the topic is done. At this point, if you want your opinion to be heard, it may be best to move on or wait to resume the topic at a later date when the everyone has had a chance to cool down. If you receive the same response when you challenge the topic again, then the conversation is Zombie-dead. Zombie conversations are topics that will not die. The discussions can be killed, but the weapons to kill them vary from Zombie-to-Zombie. If nothing seems to vanquish the Zombie conversation, then it is best to lay down and play dead. Zombie conversations can only stay alive if the object of the conversations appear to have a heart beat.
When conversation topics are spinning in circles around the meeting table, let them spin for a bit. After a few spins, and just before tensions rise, insert the "let's take a moment to see what we know and how to move forward" or "let's take a moment to take a breath". Assigning specific tasks, or re-evaluating the discussion facts can help get to resolution and clarity.
A meeting can be difficult if there is a topic that has not been fully disclosed. Sometimes silence can be your best defence, or your best give-away to your true feelings to others. Silence around to topic can indicate that no one wants to be accountable.
As this is a festive discussion, we could review the idea of dressing-up at work in costumes. This depends on office or team personalities, personal beliefs, and interest. It is amusing to see others express themselves or watch them enjoy the idea of doing something in the office that is non-conventional. Personally, I will have my costume at hand for this year, but Kevin is a purist and will stick to his cat suit.
There is nothing more to say today. This post is now dead.
Always Have Back-up
Kevin is my Wing-man or Wing-cat who flies beside me.
During the day, Kevin comes and goes by my side when he likes. However, he always seems to know what I am doing or where I am in the house. Perhaps as the keeper of the kitty treats, he views me as a feline goddess, but I truly think he is interested in what is happening in his little world. He is often a more attentive roommate than my kids in observing who is in the house and who is at the door. Kevin and I will walk from room-to-room together doing daily chores or we will just sit in the living room and hang-out. He is my wing-cat.
There can be times on projects where we feel that if we were to be struck by a bus, no one would have a clue what we are working on or what our deadlines are. Although heavy responsibility is part of any management role, the feeling that you personally hold the glue to everything on the project is unrealistic and somewhat narcissistic. Unfortunately, we may have put these constraints on ourselves due to fear of no control and ego, or we may have inadvertently acquired the responsibility of a glue stick due to client/consultant/contractor preference in working with us. For whichever reasons turn us into goopy glue, someone needs to be your "second" or someone who is your "back-up". Even if this someone is only aware of your overall responsibilities, ie, who are your team players, any major issues you are tackling, or significant deadlines, etc. You can still be the "all seeing eye" - the overseer of the entire project and its objectives - but others need to be aware of your project actions and intentions as well.
Your project or office Wing-folk* (maybe you have more than one person) should know where you are physically and mentally. They know generally where you are and what your overall well-being looks like. It doesn't mean you need to share all your intimate personal details with them, but they are aware if there are life or work issues that could impact your performance and judgement. If you are managing large or small projects, your Wing-folk know what your role requires and what you do day-to-day - they just may be assigned different tasks. Your Wing-folk is also your support. There are days that can be overwhelming and your Wing-folk are there to take you for coffee or to the grocery store to get you some ice cream. When you start behaving distracted and unresponsive to office banter, it is your Wing-folk who will pull you aside and make sure everything is fine. Your Wing-folk may also approach other senior staff to see what they can do to help.
When I am getting ready to leave the house to run errands, Kevin will watch me put on my shoes and jacket. Then as I close the door behind me, he will go upstairs to one of his favorite sleeping spots. When I return, I will hear the jingle of his collar as he rushes to the door to give me a household update and to see if I have any bags he can play in. He is an excellent Wing-cat.
* Wing-folk may be similar to the work-spouse, work-sibling, or as HR often terms the relationship to be non-offensive "buddy".
Kevin and I are now co-workers.
After many years of working on large high-profile projects, coordinating, managing, deadlines, meetings, workshops, workplans, herding cats and dogs, I finally decided to take time and reflect on what worked and what didn't for projects and people.
There are hundreds of blogs, websites, forums, etc. on Project Management and Corporate Culture. However, all seem to have organizational lists for steps and tips or snazzy charts and spreadsheets. Although these are very important, there is also a great human factor, or feline factor coming from the feminine, that make projects successful. Now, Kevin is obviously a guy, but he is a cat. Oddly enough, as I began to hang with my new co-worker, I realized what we had in common. Kevin only likes attention when he wants it. Check. Kevin likes to be clean. Check. Kevin is picky about what he eats. Check. Kevin is independent and calculated. Check. Kevin looks for opportunities that no one has looked for. Check. Kevin likes his routine, but can change it-up when he needs to. Check. Kevin's litterbox looks like a pretty sandbox with all kinds of potential after it has been cleaned. However, after a few short hours, crap starts to build-up underneath and makes the pretty sandbox stink. Then it becomes a litterbox. Definitely, check. As I continued down the list, it seems Kevin and I could probably get some serious work done.
It is a bold, unscientific statement to say that women are like cats and men are like dogs, but there really could be some merit in the generalization. It would be one way to explore the masculine and feminine personalities of people which contribute to how the project team functions. There are other factors about people, the main ones, ego, trust, fear, anger, and failure that can compromise our happiness and thus the project. Time. As projects are possibly four or fifth dimensional, the element of time is a factor in the work-life balance or imbalance. Time could actually be the governing ethereal master we all serve.
This work that Kevin and I will be doing, although if he starts to sleep most of day and this could end-up a one-woman-show, another excellent topic on the imbalance of project teams, is to present different ways of looking at Project Management and the people who make-up the corporate workforce. We may also delve into a more direct connection between the overall office community and the litterbox although project teams often operate like a mini ecooffice.
We may introduce pictures and quotes, (note the almighty "we" - he and I have to function as a team until a situational change informs us otherwise) and we may have little videos or invite our dog friends to comment.
There are some of us in the workforce who can't sit in the office managers office and tell you how we do things exactly, or why we can get things done, or why we seem to be so emotional. Perhaps Kevin and I will be able to help others understand us.
This is Mikey.
When I actually make it to the gym, Mikey has been there and he has become my therapy dog. Mikey, unlike Kevin, loves attention anywhere, anytime, and he is eager to offer his soft fur for a vigorous scratch around the ears. His enthusiastic tail wag during scratching affirms that I have finally pleased someone this week. The rest of the week is about trying to please others; clients, co-workers, family, and even some friends. It is ridiculous to believe that I can please everyone - impossible. There are too many egos and personal agendas that do not make it a reality to fulfill everyone's whim. What I try to achieve is mutual respect and understanding.
A key element to success in a sandbox (or litterbox) is to have unspoken or spoken personal parameters. These could be things like not questioning a co-workers authority in front of a client or contractor; the exchange of small pleasantries before meetings, or in some instances, no acknowledgement to save time, but all understand that is acceptable and no offense is taken; the quick nod of the head in agreement with positive action. The sandbox should be fun, productive, and innovative if required. It is also a place to learn, build strength, and create memories. Respecting a person or having a mutual understanding of personalities, doesn't always mean you need to please them. It just means you need to try and do the best that you can. When we don't feel like we are being tested or trying to please people we can relax and begin to enjoy challenging the typical ideals or mediocrity, or feel inspired to do our work, not repressed.
There is the theory that respect has to be earned. Yes, deep respect has to be earned, but as a part of being a good human, we need to start at some level of respect for another person. The exception is when you may not respect a person based-on knowledge of previous actions or behaviour. Or you may lose a level of respect during a project because of actions or behaviour. If you were Kevin the Cat, you could ignore them. If you were Mikey, you could growl at them. However, as bipedal creatures, we either need to find something we could respect about them even if it is just their taste in shoes, or dig deep and fain respect for the greater good of the project team.
Returning to fun, sometimes we don't get the project exactly right. The outcome isn't achieving expectations or intent. Building in the sandbox has the same issues as things don't always work. Although there is the appearance of failure, perception of the outcome can change if the process of creating has been fun. Fun seems to be associated with kids at play or not sophisticated in our corporate culture of rules and regulations. Fun is timeless. If you have a smile on your face as you are working on some complex problem or excited about the prospect of an idea, you are having fun. If the end of the day you feel 80% content, then you had fun. If a co-worker told a good joke and you laughed out loud, you are having fun. It may be crazy, but projects can be fun.
As I collapse on the floor after my workout, Mikey comes over wagging his tail for a scratch. After all my hard work lunging and push-uping, he doesn't have to say anything to me. His actions say it all.
Fiona Warren - 17 years experience with large high-profile projects and teams.