Friday, June 4, 2010

two heads are better...

Last week's post on convening people brought a few comments from others, mostly in terms of how important it is to be able to have the power and authority to do so. Within an organization, there are few people who can say to a random group, "let's get together to solve this issue," and have everyone show up. However, there is nothing that can keep two people from meeting over lunch or breakfast or even in the hallway to problem solve and think through issues. My mom always used to tell me that "two heads are better than one," and I think I am beginning to believe her.

This past week has been a seies of "two-headed" meetings. I took a trip to Houston to meet with friends of the Univeristy where I was able to pick their brains and ask for advice...I had lunch with an Advisory Board member where we brainstormed on different ways of mentoring students...I then met with a colleague over a glass of beer to flesh out the details of an upcoming training. Each meeting produced great ideas and much better results than if I had tried to figure out the issues by myself. Which again reminded me that two heads really are better than one.

The picture of the "lonely leader" at the top does not need to be a reality in today's world. While many still hold to the fallacy that the leader has all the answers, more and more people understand the importance of collaboration and bringing ideas together from multiple resources. I have found that people like to be asked their ideas - and if framed in such a way that their ideas really do matter, they are ready to contribute their best thinking. And that's the key to bringing two heads together - making sure that it is not a one-way conversation, but truly a bringing together of the minds. How can that be done? Read on...
  • Someone needs to initiate the conversation - is there a problem that needs to be solved? Go and find someone and ask their opinion on it.
  • Before asking someone their opinion, consider the question you want to ask - be sure that the question appropriately frames the problem so that the answers you get are actually directed to your problem (beware that this may be the most difficult part of this process - asking the RIGHT question is the key to getting the right answer).
  • Find an appropriate time - set an appointment, or take them to lunch, or meet them for a cup of coffee, or if you happen to see them in the hallway, graciously ask if they have 10 minutes to give you. What you need at this point is undivided attention.
  • Begin the conversation by setting the context - a question asked without context might provide an answer that doesn't get at the heart of the issue. Tell your story - what was it that led up to the question you are asking. Don't expect the other person to be familiar with your particular situation.
  • After asking the quetion, shut up and listen. The other person may need some time to formulate their ideas - graciously give them that time without filling in the dead space - you may even say to them, "take your time and think - I am in no rush."
  • As the conversation progresses, you may want to offer a few of your own ideas, which will a) spark new ideas with them; or b) confirm your own thinking on the matter. A naturally flowing conversation can lead to some great thinking over time.
  • Take written notes - for two reasons: 1) it helps you to remember what they are saying and any action items you might need to follow up on; and 2) it says to the other person that what they are saying is important enough for you to write down.
  • When all is said and done, be sure to thank the person. A note the next day is also very much appreciated. And if you implement their idea, be sure to send another note letting them know what has happened and that without the time they gave you, it may never have come to fruition.

I know that there will be many times people have to make decisions on their own...when the time crunch will force only your own best thinking...when the decision has to be made by the one person in charge...when the privacy of the matter allows for little if any interaction with others. But for me, it has always been better to ask others their opinions and thoughts...because what my mother told me is true - two heads really are better than one.