Search This Podcast

Friday, August 31, 2012

#024 - Leadership: On Developing Teams - Are you alone on the Ice?

Alone on the ice, surrounded by mountains and snow in the darkness. The faintest sliver of moon is barely brighter than the thousands of stars overhead. A cold, clear sky on a windless night, -16C/3F outside. I am dressed warmly but a small shiver escapes me.

Feeling very, very small indeed.

I am standing in the middle of Lightning Lake, British Columbia, Canada. The light of the stars is bright enough for me to easily see the contrast of light and dark - brighter, actually than I thought it would be. An igloo stands a ways back, off to my left. 

I check my watch. Time to go in.

I turn and walk in silence, a hundred paces back the way I came - where I join the rest of the scout troop I am leading. They have retraced their own steps back to the circle.

Technically I was not really alone - however with everyone separated and facing away from each other, looking only at the sky, the lake and the mountains, it was very easy to imagine you were indeed alone out there.  

In absolute stillness.

We waited for the last few to join the circle and then we quietly shared observations of the experience. Most felt small, insignificant, alone in the vastness - but also not alone, either. They were not talking about the other members of the troop hundreds of feet from them - they were feeling small, but also part of their surroundings.  Maybe the start of a sense of belonging to nature, and a few did not feel as cold standing there as they did on the walk out onto the lake.

The interesting part of the whole exercise was that from being and feeling quite alone out on the ice, we walked back to camp with a deeper connection from the shared experience of being alone in the universe - together. And I am quite sure that each of them will remember the experience as long as they live.

There is no one prescribed way to build a team, but the common thread in all successful methods is in doing things together. Whether you are leading and developing the youth who will be the leaders of tomorrow, or working with already-grown-ups, the principle is the same.

Teams grow and bond (and sometimes break apart) through challenges and the shared experience of building or accomplishing things - together.

 Listen to the podcast, or read the full article on Gazza's Corner blog

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#023 - Teams, People and Change: You Can't Push a String

When I was younger and preparing to go to University, I received some strange but sage advice. I was told that if you wanted to go into Engineering, the two main things you needed to remember was "E=MC squared, and You can't push a string".

Image licensed from

Then a lateral thinker I know said "if you wet it and freeze it, you can push the string". Needless to say, he went on into Engineering on a path that eventually led to Project Management, while I completed a degree in Computing and came into Project Management from a slightly different direction. 
Of course, the person who provided the sage advice was merely describing the physical limitations of the string and its behavior when force was applied "in the wrong direction". As we  all know, it is much more effective to pull a string in order to move whatever it is attached to.
Unless, apparently, you wet it and freeze it.
Then it would be definitely easier to push it. It might even be harder to pull it, with it being all wet, cold and slippery. You probably would need gloves or some pliers to grab it so you could pull it.
It has been many years since I was told that message, but often the strange or different sticks with you. This advice came back to me most recently when I was contemplating a new project, and refreshing my thoughts about team development, and preparing for change within organizations.
In fact, it is a perfect description of what is NOT part of a successful approach to building a team or managing change. (The string part, not the E-MC squared part. And real string, not any quantum mechanical string theory stuff).
Because when it comes right down to the bare bones of it, People are like strings. Pushing them is rarely effective - but ah, if you can lead them (and pull them along in the same direction), there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

#022 - Built to Last - Forget Waterfall, Forget Agile - Let's Talk Tectonic Project Methodologies

Have you ever managed a really big project? I am certain that many of you have managed some very large projects. But how big is that, exactly? As big as the pyramids? Well, maybe some of you have. But there are some projects that make even those pale in comparison.

As a matter of fact, I am currently sitting in the middle of one of the world's largest Projects. No, it was not my project - not by a long shot. We don't actually have the email or mobile number for the project manager responsible - but you can clearly see the results.

I am sitting here typing away in Hamilton - roughly in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand.

No, Hamilton is bigger than a pyramid, but it is not the project either. It is a nice place to live, and a medium sized city for New Zealand - actually the largest inland city as the main ones are along one coast or another.

The project of which I am speaking is the whole of the North Island itself. The island is 113,729 square kilometres (43,911 sq mi) in area, making it the world's 14th-largest island.

Ok, ok, you say - what's the point, and how is this a project?

I suggest this is a project because it is almost entirely volcanic in origin. Just like Hawaii or any of the smaller pacific islands - but on a much, much larger scale - both geographically and the project timeline.

I guess we should really call it a Program, because it is so large. Ok then, it's a very large program - with each of the volcanoes an individual project. 27 major volcanoes in the Taupo Volcanic zone itself, with another 15 or so scattered in the North Island - well, much more than that because the Auckland Volcanic Field features more than 60 cones. After a while, you lose count of the smaller volcanoes.

Then there is the South Island - a very different kind of project and island.

So - let's translate this to Project Management terms - and build ourselves an island or two.

Mt Ruapehu and Ngarahoe (right), Taupo Volcanic Zone