Making Something from Nothing–Deadlines and Templates

I assigned a small writing job to one of my colleagues. She’s normally very fast with producing a draft for my approval but this time? Nothing.

Two things are helpful in a situation like this (“like this” means someone is creating something from scratch and it involves an amount, however small, of creativity.) One is a deadline. A deadline should be clear enough that there is agreement about whether or not it has passed. Soon is not a helpful deadline, but before lunch tomorrow works.  If this is someone you aren’t able to boss around, it’s still good to include a deadline–my favorite is My request is for your feedback in time to finalize the document before lunch tomorrow.

And the other thing that is helpful in a situation like this is a template. Here’s where I blew it. This colleague drafts lots of correspondence for me, therefore how difficult could this be–it’s a letter! Easy as pie, right?

Except the letter needs to say, “I’m sorry to hear of  your devastating illness and I accept your resignation from this group.” And also I’m not sure this person has indicated that they are going to resign but there is some urgency towards getting things wrapped up so I’ve also asked for a second version of the letter that says, “I’m sorry to hear of your devastating illness and although you haven’t submitted a resignation, you gotta resign anyway.” See the letter is going out under someone else’s signature and we don’t know if the guy has actually resigned…I mean you can see her point in not drafting the damn thing. What exactly is the template for that?

Still, someone has tackled this sort of thing before, right?  I started to search for something that I could use as a template. Then I realized that my colleague should do that searching. We’ll discuss tomorrow.


Management is not a science

Loving this interview between Scott Berkun and Phil Simon, author of the new book Message Not Received: Why Business Communication is Broken and How to Fix It.

Berkun starts by asking why jargon exists, and Simon blames a number of folks:

We can start with management consultants, arguably some of the worst purveyors of jargon. They try to make business and management more complicated than it is. Management is a discipline, not a science. There are no immutable laws of management. Period.

later on, when discussing solutions:

…remember that most people aren’t actively trying to confuse others. They just don’t realize that they’re bloviating.


When someone is routinely confusing others, don’t be afraid to call bullshit on jargon. At a minimum, say, “I don’t follow. Could you please explain what you mean by that?” In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Remember that the word communicate means “to make common.”

“Making common” is tough. I spend a lot of time at work trying to do just that. I don’t have any hacks to share.

Self-Organizing Teams and a Magic Question when you Get Stuck

I’ve been reading Galina’s post about self-organizing teams, and while she illustrates her thoughts with a picture of a unicorn, she has several thoughtful ideas about self-organization, including a realistic appraisal of what is reasonable and what is unreasonable to expect from a self-managed team.

Ever been in a romantic relationship? Congratulations; you’ve been on a self-organized team of two. Did you guys magically achieve consistent harmony, no matter what the situation, through the sheer force of your luuuuuuv? No, of course not; you had to communicate, and you had to rehash familiar territory over and over again.

That last part sucks, no? Here’s a tip for when when you are feeling stuck and keep talking past each other:
I’m concerned that I don’t fully understand your point-of-view, so I’m going to say what I think your p.o.v. is and I’d like you to please correct me where I’ve gotten it wrong. Then we’ll trade places.

Here’s why this works:

  • We repeat ourselves because I want to hear you but I want to be heard first. Making the turn-taking explicit (and giving them the first opportunity to be understood) breaks that cycle.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t heard, so the reflecting makes your listening tangible.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t understood, so accepting the correction (I assumed you were concerned about the budget, but it sounds like the deadline is a much bigger concern for you. Do I have that right?) helps us to move from adversaries who have opposing points of view, to allies searching together for a win-win solution.