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In its  “Inside the Executive Suite” newsletter, Armada Corporate Intelligence featured a recap and expansion on a Wall Street Journal article called “Win Over a Remote Boss.”  The prevalence of remote collaboration (and the new strategic thinking and other challenges those situations can create) prompted sharing the “Inside the Executive Suite” story here in an edited format.

Strategic Thinking – 4 Strategies for Successful Remote Collaboration

AEIB-Graphic

I Can’t See You! What Do You Think?

Roughly forty percent of US workers work from home or in other virtual work settings. Include individuals reporting to an office but working directly with bosses and/or employees in other locations, and the prevalence of distance working relationships grows.

We liken the advice to employ different communication styles in remote work settings to how actors vary gestures and speaking approaches based on how readily an audience can see their faces. TV and movies allow for more subtle gestures because facial cues are readily visible to the audience. Stage actors (who are further away from the audience) have to use bigger gestures to convey the same messages with comparable impact. The acting style must vary relative to the level of connection.

A recent Wall Street Journal article shared advice for individuals working remotely as part of a team.

Similarly in remote work settings, you have to adapt interaction styles to fit the challenges of reduced interaction when people can’t see each other.

4 Strategies for Clarifying and Modifying How You Interact

Based on ideas from the Wall Street Journal article and our remote working experiences, consider these strategies for successful remote collaboration. Instead of ideas tied to particular apps, we’ll concentrate on behaviors adaptable to the tools available to your work team.

Orange-Cupts-String

Create clear understanding about communication and decision making styles

It’s imperative to clarify communication preferences and decision styles irrespective of whether you are the boss or an employee. Not every boss, however, can readily articulate personal communication and decision preferences. We suggest answering these strategic thinking questions to improve clarity:

  • Do you like learning the main point immediately (with details to follow) when someone delivers a recommendation? Alternatively, do you prefer a run-through making the case for a recommendation before someone shares the big idea?
  • Can you identify typical situations where team members can make decisions on their own, either with or without the boss’ input? What types of decisions can the boss alone make? Are there any situational factors impacting these guidelines?
  • Do you comfortably make quick decisions, or do you mull over the possibilities prior to deciding? Does this tendency apply to all decisions or just certain ones?
  • Relative to approval situations, are there times when specific approval (i.e., receiving a Yes or No) isn’t required? In these cases, will it work to simply have a “reply by or we will move ahead” date to reduce back-and-forth communication and accelerate the review process?

The answers lead to more independent work processes and efficient communication. Try converting the answers into general guidelines or a decision tree everyone can use.

Use the right communication channel for the situation

While it is convenient to use email as a predominant form of communication, it isn’t ideal in every situation. Consider what communication channel makes it easiest for the receiver to consume, process, and act on your inbound communication.

The WSJ article recommends email for delivering project status updates and other information plus bouncing ideas off of someone else. Instant messages or texts typically generate greater attention for time-sensitive issues.

While over-communicating is important in remote work settings, you don’t want to overdo it inadvertently. Test yourself by considering whether you would seem to be a nuisance if you showed up as often at someone’s office door as you are showing up in his or her email inbox/text message list/voice mail box?

Schedule brief, informal updates with high regularity

It’s easy to be lazy and use cc and bcc as your primary avenues to communicate updates to others. What is easier for a sender than listing multiple names on an email and expecting that including someone on the email serves as an update?

Unless you have an app signaling when a recipient opens an email, however, you have no idea when or how a recipient processes the information. Additionally, copying people on emails in place of targeted updates places all the work on the recipient to sift through nested email strings to understand where things are at currently.

It’s far better for a team member to create a legitimate update listing high priority initiatives, along with current activities, potential issues, and likely next steps. Consolidating multiple “cc and update” emails into one communication (with hyperlinks to more detailed information) saves time and doesn’t waste the attention of a boss already inundated with “cc and update” emails daily.

Prioritize and escalate issues in smart ways

Despite creating guidelines for expected situations, there will be unplanned times requiring alternative methods of prioritization and escalation approaches. Here are suggestions in these cases:

  • Prioritize tasks that others need to get started addressing. Better to get someone else working sooner than later so you can both be active on high priority items.
  • When it comes to deciding on responding to communications, jump on quick email and phone response to bosses and co-workers that don’t have visibility to what you are doing. Suggest that the team put a phrase such as “Immediate Attention” into priority emails to help with this.
  • Anticipate an escalation path if a co-worker has not responded in a timely fashion, leaving you hanging. Do you have an okay to reach out at unusual times to keep things moving? Ask about this upfront to minimize potential anxiety if there’s a situation where you need to demand attention right away.

When in doubt?

Whenever a remote working situation leaves you questioning how best to communicate, interact, or keep a project moving ahead, a fantastic strategic thinking question suggested by the WSJ article is to ask: What path will best grow and maintain trust in this working relationship? The answer will generally be a smart way to go.  – Armada Corporate Intelligence

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand’s innovation strategy and implementation success.

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It’s been odd times recently.

Maybe it’s a scattered focus. Maybe it’s exciting possibilities that failed to pan out as hoped. Maybe it’s other unplanned possibilities that HAVE materialized that seem quite random.

Creative Thinking Skills – Some Working, Some Not

What-Do-With-Idea

Amid the odd times, it’s no surprise my creative thinking skills have varied widely the past few months. When my creative thinking skills HAVE been stronger, here’s what has been working:

  1. When I think about needing to get all the financial records updated to be ready to prepare taxes, I can suddenly write like crazy as a diversion.
  2. Flying on a plane has worked to boost my writing, but not as predictably as it has in the past.
  3. I sat at a sports bar picking up dinner for my wife and was able to write nearly all of the next day’s blog post while waiting for her hamburger to arrive from the kitchen.
  4. Getting a few hours of sleep and starting fresh in the morning (even if it’s REALLY EARLY) has been creatively productive.
  5. Waiting in a particular conference room for a particular client that averages running thirty minutes late always seems to lead to quiet times with great creative output.
  6. Sitting in church after mass and praying for help led to answers in several situations where answers eluded me for months.
  7. Buying new notebooks to kick off business trips (and using a Sharpie marker to jot down ideas).
  8. Buying a new giant pad of paper to map out Brainzooming workshops.
  9. I’ve had selective success looking back to previous creative efforts and using them as patterns for new work.
  10. Attempting to video a blog post before writing it.
  11. Deciding that what I have completed is good enough and trimming away the extra parts I’ve started but remain difficult to finish.
  12. Sitting in my MIL’s various hospital rooms and finding mental space to write.

I-am-creative

It’s also fair to share what creative thinking skills HAVEN’T been working lately:

  1. Trying to write on the iPad. Lots of starts of things, but very few that move to completion.
  2. Going back to my Word file of blog starter ideas is hit and miss right now.
  3. Whenever I’m spending too much time away from groups of people, I can feel my creative thinking skills leave to find a more exciting place to hang out.
  4. Intense cardio exercise usually clears the creative cob webs, but that’s been sputtering.
  5. Having to make long car trips is USUALLY a miss, with very few creative hits. That’s unchanged so far this year.
  6. Sundays, at one point in my life, were big creative times, as were Friday night into Saturday. None of that’s happening anymore, for multiple reasons, I suspect.

As much as anything, I wanted to confirm that not all of your creative thinking skills, even ones that have worked well before, are going to work all the time.

It happens to ALL of us, I suspect.

That’s when you definitely want to have a strong bunch of new ways to get your creativity going again! – Mike Brown

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Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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We are big fans of strategy statements incorporating simple language an organization uses to talk about its daily business activities. Strategy statements should not be filled with complex jargon that most people cannot understand or with generic language that could apply to ANY business.

Think about that for a minute.

If you develop strategy statements featuring the ultimate in complex yet generic MBA-caliber language, they will apply to any business even though your own people probably will not be able to understand it well enough to carry out the strategy.

THAT’S why we advocate a very different approach for our clients.

Group-Collaboration

5 Advantages of Strategy Statements with Simple Language

When you have simple strategy statements that sound like your organization communicates, we’ve seen and experienced multiple advantages:

  1. People throughout the organization can read them and understand what’s important
  2. The strategies are more credible and believable
  3. Your team members have a clear sense of how they contribute to implementing the strategy
  4. It will be easier for more employees to develop ideas and suggestions to help the strategy take hold
  5. It will be evident what the end result of the strategy should be

It’s worth a few minutes (if you haven’t done it recently) to crack open your strategic plan and read your strategy statements. If you weren’t involved in putting the strategic plan together, would YOU be able to understand the strategy statements? And do they sound like your organization?

If not, you can do better.

And we’d love to be the ones to help craft your strategy into actionable statements and language your employees are in a strong position to understand, embrace, and turn into results. Contact us to talk about how we can make that happen!  – Mike Brown

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Are you looking for new, more effective ways to engage your employees in shaping and successfully carrying out your brand strategy? You need to download this FREE Brainzooming eBook, published with the Global Strategic Management Institute. You’ll learn three effective strategies to engage employees as an internal brand team.

Download Your FREE eBook! 3 Actionable Strategies for Engaging Your Internal Brand Team

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I don’t enjoy answering most ice breaker questions, thus I was asked to come up with ice breaker questions for a large dinner gathering. Two groups were meeting for the first time. While members inside each group knew each other well, there were only a couple of people that knew individuals from the other group.

Rather than use just one question that everyone answered and give the last person twenty minutes to plan an answer, I used a variety of questions. People pulled a single question out of an orange sparkly hat (naturally) and had a choice to either answer the question or pass it to someone else at the table. Before picking a question, they could also decide to answer the question of the person immediately before them if they liked it, already had an answer, and/or wanted to play it completely safe.

Since it’s a generally happy, upbeat, and introspective group, I went for questions that provided an opportunity to be positive and self-revealing without being embarrassing. And since you can NEVER have too many ice breaker questions, I’m sharing the list of them with you (and thanks to Amy Dixon for question 1 and Nancy Rosenow for question 9)!

16 Ice Breaker Questions to Stimulate Great Conversations

Ice-Breaker-Questions

  1. What work of art would you like to have come to life?
  2. If you could share one thing with your twenty-year old self, what would it be?
  3. What emotion has most characterized your life, and why?
  4. What is something people think they know about you but really don’t know?
  5. What is the best word of encouragement you ever received and who was it from?
  6. What is the one of the “big rocks” in your life that you cherish, protect, and prioritize?
  7. What is one (brief) story behind your success?
  8. Whose phone call do you drop everything to take?
  9. What has led you to be sitting at this table tonight?
  10. What would you like your last words to be?
  11. When did you realize in life that you would be doing what you’re doing right now?
  12. What has been the most joyous moment of your life?
  13. Where, when, or what are your most creative moments?
  14. What is your earliest memory in life?
  15. Who is the person you can dependably reach out to for a pick-me-up when you need it?
  16. What is the life lesson you’ve learned that you most frequently pass along to others?

All together, I think we used fourteen of the questions. I was last so I let a couple of people pick from among the last three questions to decide what I should answer.

If you want to use these, I’d suggest doing it with a group that’s in a mood to be introspective. Based on the reactions, I don’t think anyone had had enough liquor to readily tackle some of the questions. One example of that was the last words question. That elicited a lot of “ohhhhhhs.” Quite honestly, I included it as a goof, because my ideal last words will be, “I knew it would come to this!”

If you decide to try these ice breaker questions, let me know how they work! – Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on creating strategic impact can boost your organization’s success!

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Delivering a creative thinking workshop, I was eavesdropping on conversations at five tables full of attendees. I gave each table a specific focus for identifying new ideas. One group was starting to use one of our creative thinking exercises. As they began, one participant apologized for suggesting an idea that he introduced by saying, “This doesn’t fit the question, but here’s an idea.”

I was startled, but his statement is actually common.

Even though creative thinking exercises and strategy questions are intended to help people approach familiar situations in new ways, they can easily become new boundaries to constrain thinking. This happens when people become so focused on answering ONLY the targeted creative thinking question that they self-censor any ideas not directly addressing the question. When this takes happens, creative thinking exercises becomes just that many more boxes to shut down ideas that are off the beaten path.

Clemmie-Box

As I explained to the group (and will explain to future workshop groups), creative thinking questions and strategic thinking exercises are simply starting points to launch new ideas. They should inspire, not limit thinking. Someone in a creative thinking group should not have to justify a new idea that doesn’t answer a specific question. Likewise, another group member shouldn’t use a creative thinking question as a club to beat down a new idea because it appears off track relative to what a group is addressing that minute.

With all the roadblocks to new thinking that float around us all the time, the last thing that should ever happen is for a creative thinking question to be used as one more “NO” to new ideas.

Creative thinking questions should inspire great thinking, not conspire to box it in and limit it.

Make sure to use them for good, not evil! – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

ebook-cover-redoBoost Your Creativity with “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”

Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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I’ll be presenting a Brainzooming workshop on internal branding strategy at the Brand Strategy Conference in New York, April 6-8. The workshop, while drawing on material from my Fortune 500 work, springs from multiple conversations at the 2015 Brand Strategy Conference. The discussions focused on when employees should be brought into branding strategy decisions.

The executives asking about and offering opinions on the topic tended to believe it was okay to advise employees about branding strategy decisions immediately after introducing changes to customers.

I was horrified by this viewpoint coming from senior executives because it is so strategically misguided.

3 Keys to Engaging Your Internal Brand Team

Internal-Brand-Strategy-eBo

One alternative to letting your employees know about a new direction in branding strategy after your customers is to view employees as an internal brand team. With that change in perspective, you introduce possibilities for engaging employee in shaping branding strategy. Even without revealing specifics to employees in advance, purposefully involving them in developing branding ideas opens up opportunities to familiarize employees with the direction and insights leading to a new branding strategy.

To complement the in-person workshop content, The Brainzooming Group collaborated with Breanna Jacobs at GSMI, the Brand Strategy Conference producer, to publish a new free branding strategy eBook called, “Engaging Employees as an Internal Brand Team: 3 Actionable Strategies.”

The eBook includes three strategic thinking exercises you can use with your internal brand team to invite collaboration, solicit input, and create early learning opportunities.

Download Your Free Internal Branding Strategy eBook!

If you can make it to the Brand Strategy Conference, I’d love to meet you and have you attend the workshop. If you can’t attend, get your free copy of the new branding eBook exclusively from GSMI and start collaborating more effectively with your employees to strengthen your brand and its experience for customers.  – Mike Brown

Download Your FREE eBook! 3 Actionable Strategies for Engaging Your Internal Brand Team

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We put this infographic together for a client today to distill The Brainzooming Group approach into a few images depicting what we do to pave the way for a great strategic thinking workshop.

6 Guidelines for a Great Strategic Thinking Workshop

Strategic-Thinking-Workshop

If you would like to go deeper on any of these topics, here are links to articles for each of the six areas:

Here’s to a productive and great strategic thinking workshop – not only today, but every time you bring a smart group of people together! – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

ebook-cover-redoBoost Your Creativity with “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”

Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Download Your Free

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