Tag Archives: teams

Why Small Teams Kick Ass

Why Small Teams Kick Ass

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When you want new thinking or rapid progress, create a small team.

When you have a small team, they manage the hand-offs on their own and help each other.

Small teams hold themselves accountable.

With small teams, one member’s problem becomes everyone’s problem in record time.

Small teams can’t work on more than one project at a time because it’s a small team.

And when a small team works on a single project, progress is rapid.

Small teams use their judgment because they have to.

The judgment of small teams is good because they use it often.

On small teams, team members are loyal to each other and set clear expectations.

Small teams coordinate and phase the work as needed.

With small teams, waiting is reduced because the team members see it immediately.

When something breaks, small teams fix it quickly because the breakage is apparent to all.

The tight connections of a small team are magic.

Small teams are fun.

Small teams are effective.

And small teams are powered by trust.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Disrupt Yourself, Your Team and Your Organization

Disrupt Yourself, Your Team and Your Organization

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Moving into a new year is always a time for retreating and reflecting to accelerate growth and harvest new ideas from our feelings, thoughts, and learnings gleaned from the last two years of disruption, extreme uncertainty, and instability. Whether you are actively seeking to disrupt yourself, your team, and your organization to effect sustainable success this year, or not, we all have the opportunity to adapt, innovate and grow from the range of challenging events that impacted us in the past 24 months. This is why it might be useful to see these disruptive events as positive, powerful, and impactful forces for creating new cracks in your own, or your team or organizational soil – to sow some imaginative, creative, and inventive seeds for effecting positive change in an unstable world.

To see them germinate the desired changes you want for yourself, your team, and organization and deliver them, to survive and thrive in 2022.

We are all being challenged by disruption

Our status quo and concepts of business-as-usual have all been significantly disrupted, resulting in a range and series of deep neurological shocks, that have shaken many of us, our teams, and our organizations, to our very cores.  Some of us adapted to a sense of urgency and exploited the opportunity to reinvent, iterate, or pivot our teams and organizations, towards co-creating individual and intentional “new normals” and just “got on” with it. Some of us have continually denied, defended, and avoided making changes, where many of us have sunk deeply into our fears and anxieties, falsely believing that our lives, and our work, would eventually go back to “normal”.

This is because a significant number of our habitual, largely unconscious mental models and emotional states, were disrupted, largely by events beyond our individual and collective control.  Causing many of us to experience “cognitive dissonance” (a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that produce feelings of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance) from the chaos, discomfort, confusion, and conflict.

Which saw many of us, disconnect cognitively and emotionally, from the current disruptive reality, where some of us secretly hoped that “it will all go away” manifesting and festering fundamentally and unconsciously, as inherent neurological immobility, (freeze, fight, flight) resulting in many areas as resistance to change.

Why disrupt yourself, your team, and organization?

Yet disruptive change is inevitable, the speed and pace of exponential change cannot be stopped, the range of complex and wicked global and local problems that need to be solved collectively, aren’t going away.

Job security and full-time employment, as hybrid and virtual work, and technology accelerate, are becoming “things of the past” as the workplace continues to destabilize through digitization, AI, and automation.

Whilst the war for talent also accelerates as the great resignation sets in and people make powerful, empowered life balance decisions and are on the move globally.

Taking the first steps to disrupt yourself, your team, and organization

In this time of extreme uncertainty, we have a unique moment in time, to disrupt ourselves, teams, and organizations by:

  1. Hitting our individual, collective mental, and emotional pause buttons, to retreat from our business-as-usual activities, and take time out to reflect upon paying attention and qualifying:
  • How specifically have I/we been disrupted?
  • How have our people,  teams, and customers been disrupted?
  • What are some of the major collective impacts on our organization’s current status and how might these impact our future growth potential and overall sustainability?
  • How connected are we to an exponential world, how can we ensure that our feelings, thoughts, and actions, connect with what is really happening to us, our teams, and our customers?
  • What causes disconnection and how might we manage it to be more mentally tough and emotionally agile in an extremely uncertain future?
  • What really matters to us, our teams, organizations, and customers – what do our people, teams, and customers really want from us?
  • What are some of the key elements of our organizational strategy to enact our purpose and deliver our mission?
  1. Generating safe, evocative, provocative, and creative conversations, that evoke deep listening and deep questioning, about how to individually and collectively reconnect, revitalize, rejuvenate and reenergize people, teams and organizations to survive and thrive through asking:
  • How can we engage and harness our people and teams’ energies in ways that mobilize their collective intelligence to evoke new mindset shifts and new ways of thinking and acting?
  • What are some of the key mindsets and traits we need to disrupt, shift, and cultivate to be successful to adapt and grow through disruption?
  • What skills do our leaders and teams need to learn to think and act differently to shift the organizations culture to deliver our strategy?
  • How might we shift our teams and organizations to be agile, and redesign our organizations for both stability and speed?
  • What does it mean to us, our teams, and organizations to be creative, inventive, and innovative – How might we shift our teams and organizations to be more creative, inventive, and innovative?
  • What are the new behavioral norms that will support and enable us to execute agile and innovative changes?
  • How might becoming agile and innovative help our people, teams co-create a healthy, high-performing, and sustainable organizational culture?
  • How might becoming agile and innovative add value to the quality of people’s lives and help our customers flourish?
  1. Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable by developing our peoples, teams, and our organizational “discomfort resilience” and dance of the edge of your comfort zones through:
  • Creating safe environments where people and teams are allowed to experiment,  have permission, and are trusted to practice, make mistakes as they move through difficult emotions, and take little bets in low stake situations.
  • Intentionally breaking organizational routines and habits, to create space in people’s brains for new neural pathways to be developed.
  • Enabling people and teams to become mindful of their triggers, to interrupt their automatic reactions.
  • Equipping people and teams to thoughtfully and intentionally respond to situations, that make them uncomfortable and risk-averse, by knowing how to think differently.
  • Bringing more play into the way people work, encourages people to be imaginative, inquisitive, curious, and improvisational, to seek different ways of thinking and acting, that really make a difference in how work gets done.
  • Support people and teams to learn by doing, and failing fast, without the fear of blame, shame, and retribution, despite it being risky to do that.

Why not disrupt yourself, your team, and organization?

The future is going to be full of disruptive events and circumstances that will impact is our families, communities, team, and organizations, and the conditions of extreme uncertainty and disruption are not going to go away. In fact, they are fundamental to what might be described as our collective “new normal” and it’s up to you to disrupt yourself, your team, and organization, to lead, adapt and grow, to survive and thrive through it.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting May 2022. It is a blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Contact us now at mailto:janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt, and grow your business, team and organization through disruption.

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Google’s Insights into Successful Teams and Managers

A little over five years ago I created an evolution of a Gary Hamel framework from The Future of Management that I titled The Innovator’s Framework and included in my popular first book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire.

The Innovator's Framework

Recently Google recently released some of its extensive research into the skills and character traits of good managers and effective teams, and surprisingly the secret to a high-performing team lies less in the individual team members and more in the broader team dynamics: “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” High-performing teams, they found, almost always displayed five characteristics:

Google High Performing Teams

According to their research, by far the most important team dynamic is psychological safety – the ability to be bold and take risks without worrying that your team members will judge you. Now have a look at Google’s previous findings on the Eight Characteristics of Great Managers:

Google High Performing Managers

Eight Characteristics of Great Managers

When you compare the traits of a successful team, a successful manager, and the heirarchy in The Innovators’ Framework its interesting where the three overlap and where they diverge.

What do you see?

Sources: World Economic Forum
Image Credits: Google re:Work

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Inside Look at Culture of WordPress

Inside Look at Culture of WordPressInterview with Scott Berkun

I had the opportunity to sit down recently with fellow author Scott Berkun to talk with him about his new book The Year Without Pants, which catalogs his experience in two years with Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com.

Our conversation touched on many different topics including innovation, collaboration, and organizational behavior.

For those of you who haven’t read the book or who aren’t familiar with how Automattic runs as an organization, here are some of the highlights:

  • All of the staff used to report to Matt Mullenweg, the 29-year-old creator of WordPress and founder of Automattic
  • When they passed 50 or so employees, about the time Scott Berkun joined, they introduced team leads
  • Organizational changes happen organically in the company, primarily when the pain gets great enough to force change
  • Automattic now has about 200 employees
  • Email is not the company communications standard – instead they use IRC and Skype and WordPress
  • Employees can work wherever they want
  • They have a company headquarters in San Francisco, but very few people work there
  • All employees get together in person annually and teams get together maybe twice in person to recharge intangibles
  • Hiring decisions are made not with traditional in-person interviews, but instead primarily by evaluating test projects
  • All new employees spend a couple of weeks working in support before occupying their intended role

Scott during his two years at Automattic led the Social team for WordPress.com and one of the things that he focused on while he was there, and that the book focuses on, is experimentation. One of the things that was fascinating in his detailing of his experience was that there was little resistance in his team to all of the experimentation that they engaged in. His theory was that they were ‘makers’ (he led a team of developers) and so they didn’t feel that there was a need to justify their existence. We spoke a great deal about why the culture at Automattic might be so accepting of experimentation, where other organizations are not, and this led to a discussion of some of my theories about the effects of scarcity and lack of firm growth, and we arrived at some of Scott’s comments that focused on the fact that there is too much fear in most organization and most managers don’t invest much time or effort in actually managing. Most managers don’t work to impact the feelings or environment for employees in companies that aren’t growing and/or where job opportunities are scarce. We then dug more into the culture topic.

Changing Culture is Painful

When it comes to culture change, there are a lot of consultants out there that would have you believe that they can come in an change your culture in 30-90 days, and while this might be possible it wouldn’t come without a great deal more pain than most organizations would be willing to bear. The reason a great deal of pain is required to affect culture change is the fact that an organization’s culture is typically determined by:

  1. The organizations cultural history and inertia
  2. The prevalent culture comes from the things that the largest number of people reinforce

So, in most cases changing the culture will require you to stop reinforcing behaviors that are reinforcing the current culture and start reinforcing behaviors that will lead you in the direction of the culture change you desire. What will this mean for the organization? Half the organization might leave! Are you ready for that? Many people who felt comfortable in the old culture, or that derived their power source from their old behaviors will need to be asked to leave the organization, or hopefully, will leave by their own efforts. Add into this potential chaos the fact that in most organizations the culture problem is often being created by the person asking for the culture change consulting, and how many consultants will reveal and stand behind this fact if it occurs?

One of the ways to ensure a healthy culture is constant experimentation driven by experiments that are instrumented for learning and dedicated to its pursuit. If an organization commits itself to a continuous practice of testing and learning within its management practices, in the same way that it hopefully dedicates itself to testing and learning with its products and services, then it has a much greater chance of maintaining a healthy, productive cultural environment. On the flip side, the way that we promote people in most organizations undermines the existence of a healthy, functional culture and so we need to rethink promotion. We need to ensure amongst other things that people with technical proficiency have a career path towards greater compensation that doesn’t have to include management responsibilities for those that don’t embrace the challenge and willingness to experiment in their management approaches. One of the reasons that Automattic’s culture is so strong, is because it was built to be entrepreneurial, collegial, and collaborative, and people are trusted to do what they do well (in their own way).

Of course I had to ask if people had left Automattic, and yes they have. In most cases the left to join other startups, and Scott believes that Automattic will probably stay in their minds one of the best places they worked.

Pressures From Outside

Another topic we touched on in our interview was whether or not Automattic felt pressure to make money faster after taking some VC rounds, but Scott said that while Automattic took some investment from VC’s, it was already profitable at the time and didn’t need the money but took the financing to gain other benefits and wasn’t under undue outside influence. As a result, Matt was able to purposely not assign a team or an individual to focus on growing revenue every quarter. he wanted to be careful not to turn up the monetization dial too fast because in doing so you often make bad decisions by doing so (product, etc.). There was no Store team when Scott joined, but there is now. Matt and team are very careful to maintain a long-term focus and they could easily monetize the 8th most popular web site more than they are (that’s a valuable asset), but are being careful in how they go about it.

Another thing I asked about was the impact on WordPress.com of things like Tumblr and Instagram and others, and Scott said that despite a lot of other companies and supposed competitors that have come along that have been hypothesized to supplant WordPress, they’ve never been super concerned. The reason?

WordPress itself is very flexible and so people are able to easily create themes that replicate the look and feel of a lot of the supposed competitors. The large WordPress community will build Tumblr like themes, etc. And the company itself is very resilient, and so when something new comes out, people will have a look at it and will either incorporate some of what they learn from it or ignore it if there doesn’t seem to be anything there. And, another point on the Automattic culture, if someone were to say “someone should…” in relation to something they see outside, then typically that person becomes the person to take it on.

There is a lot more I think we can learn from the Automattic experiment, and I may talk to Scott again to explore some of the learnings in the second half of the book, but wanted to rush these thoughts and nuggets from the conversation out to you. I hope they have been good for thought and you’ll think more if you’re a manager about what experiments you might run to see if you can make your group function even better.

Final Thoughts

Team size and how the organization grows up around its founder make a huge difference in how the culture evolves and reacts to its environment, and in Automattic Scott’s team was four when he started and nine when he left. The Theme team had 15 people on it, and the Happiness team (aka customer support) was the largest team at 25 people. One thing that happened along the way was when Scott’s Social team reached eight people it sort of naturally started to evolve into two separate sub-teams, which they called squads. Squad leadership was informal. There were no raises or title changes, and the squad leaders had naturally earned the most authority. They actually tried rotating leadership, but the results were mixed at best.

Another thing I asked Scott Berkun about team size was whether he thought the loose oversight and team structure would scale well as Automattic grows. He feels that it if they were to grow from say 200 to 1,000 employees they would probably insert another layer of management and break into groups of 100-150 people centered around product unit owners with teams underneath. This reinforces the thinking that they have at WL Gore, where they consciously spawn a new organization when it passes 60-70 people if my memory serves me correctly.


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Partners Wanted – Taking Nine Innovation Roles Global

Partners Wanted - Taking Nine Innovation Roles Global I was in Boston, MA last week for the Front End of Innovation conference and had the opportunity to train dozens of potential corporate Nine Innovation Roles trainers as part of my quest to set the Nine Innovation Roles free and make this powerful tool available for people to use to improve the effectiveness of their innovation teams and the overall innovation capability of the organization.

Now it is time for the next step, to train other service providers from all around the world on the Nine Innovation Roles so they can use it with their customers.

Already, we have a Spanish language version of the cards and resources in process.

For interested service providers, there are only a few small requirements for becoming a Nine Innovation Roles training partner:

  1. Translate this page on my site (see Spanish example) – will publish and give translation credit with 1-2 links to first translator of each language
  2. Translate this page on my web site – will publish and give translation credit with 1-2 links to first translator of each language
  3. #1 and #2 will allow me to get a translated version of the Nine Innovation Roles cards design created for you
  4. Translate the Nine Innovation Roles presentation embedded in #1 (can leverage #1)
  5. Translate the Nine Innovation Roles worksheet I link to in #1 (can leverage #1)
  6. Attend an inexpensive Nine Innovation Roles train the trainer webinar that I will be holding soon.

To register your interest in becoming a Nine Innovation Roles training partner please fill out the contact form and make a note in the question field.


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Free Nine Innovation Roles Train the Trainer Session

Nine Innovation Roles Train the Trainer I will be in Boston, MA this week for the Front End of Innovation conference May 6-8, 2013 at the Seaport World Trade Center, joining 650+ innovation managers and thought leaders from around the world who are serious about learning more about the front-end of innovation or improving existing innovation efforts.

For those of you are interested, I am planning to hold a FREE Nine Innovation Roles train the trainer session to go with all of the other FREE Nine Innovation Roles resources I offer hear on my web site under ‘Products’. To register your interest please fill out the contact form and make a note in the question field.

I will also be leading some thought provoking panel sessions, sharing new insights, and reconnecting with innovation friends (both old and new) at this always fun and energizing innovation event.

If you’d like to set up a meeting to explore your innovation efforts or needs while I’m there, please contact me.


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Latest Radio Interview with The Health Maven

LeAnna J Carey - The Health MavenI’m proud to share with you the link to my latest radio interview. This time I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with LeAnna J. Carey (@LeannaJCarey), host of the popular radio program The Health Maven – Innovation Talk.

We spend the 30 minutes talking about The Nine Innovation Roles and how organizations around the world are increasingly utilizing The Nine Innovation Roles to help them build more effective innovation teams. Curious which ones I think LeAnna fills or that I see myself typically filling?

Tune into the broadcast to find out! 🙂

Click here to listen to a recording of the interview


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Announcing FREE Nine Innovation Roles Resources

Nine Innovation Roles Cards

I have big news that I’m extremely excited to share with you today.

I’m proud to announce today that I’m setting The Nine Innovation Roles free.

What does that mean exactly?

It means that for the greater good, I am now providing all of the tools that you need to conduct a Nine Innovation Roles workshop or team meeting inside your organization to enhance the success of your innovation teams – for FREE.

Some people think I’m crazy to help people not hire me, but because of my collaborative and people-centric approach to innovation I would like to give everyone five free gifts:

  1. The Nine Innovation Roles themselves
  2. Downloadable Nine Innovation Roles presentation for team meetings or workshops
  3. Downloadable Nine Innovation Roles Worksheet for gathering data on team makeup
  4. Downloadable Nine Innovation Roles card deck design that I use with Fortune 500 clients
  5. Nine Innovation Roles video for use in team meetings or workshops

The Nine Innovation Roles is one of the most requested workshop topics in the keynotes and masterclasses that I conduct for companies all around the world, and comes directly from my popular book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, that is being used by universities like Creighton and companies like Microsoft and AB Inbev to help establish a common language of innovation.

Here is an excerpt from my book that talks about The Nine Innovation Roles:

“Too often we treat people as commodities that are interchangeable and maintain the same characteristics and aptitudes. Of course, we know that people are not interchangeable, yet we continually pretend that they are anyway — to make life simpler for our reptile brain to comprehend. Deep down we know that people have different passions, skills, and potential, but even when it comes to innovation, we expect everybody to have good ideas.

I’m of the opinion that all people are creative, in their own way. That is not to say that all people are creative in the sense that every single person is good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. I believe instead that everyone has a dominant innovation role at which they excel, and that when properly identified and channeled, the organization stands to maximize its innovation capacity. I believe that all people excel at one of nine innovation roles, and that when organizations put the right people in the right innovation roles, that your innovation speed and capacity will increase.”

I hope you take the time to download and learn and utilize these FREE Nine Innovation Roles resources to improve the success of your innovation efforts and of the innovation teams in your organizations.

Keep innovating!

Get the Free Nine Innovation Roles Resources Now


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Innovation Quotes of the Day – May 28, 2012


“The more successful an organization becomes the bigger it gets. The bigger it gets the more it focuses on optimizing its resources. The more it optimizes it resources the more it eliminates variation. Innovation requires variation. We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

– Jeff DeGraff


“It is in identifying which of The Nine Innovation Roles are vacant (or sub-optimally filled) that you will be able to see some of the areas where your efforts are likely to come up short, and then can take actions to improve your chances of innovation success.”

– Braden Kelley


“It is not enough to simply go through the motions. In order to build our abilities, cognitive or otherwise, we must think about what we’re doing, concentrate while we’re doing it and then review what we have done. Further, we need to seek out mentors and peers who will critique our efforts.”

– Greg Satell


What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – May 27, 2012


“So healthy paranoia is the friend of innovation. Complacency is the enemy – be ruthless in driving it out of your business.”

– Kevin McFarthing


“There are Nine Innovation Roles that need to be filled on every innovation project team, and filled well, for each individual innovation effort to be successful – and the skills necessary to be successful in each role should be cultivated in the organization.”

– Braden Kelley


“Variation, or hedging as it’s called in the venture capital community, is essential because it accelerates the failure cycle and quickens the discovery of the valuable solution. Innovation requires deviation; deviation requires deviants.”

– Jeff DeGraff


What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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