(Respect that others on your team) Think Different.

One of the reasons adding “process” goes so badly in organizations is that the process is defined by one type of person — the communicator/extrovert/generalist — but inflicted upon everyone.

I’m not opposed to structure.  Repeatable processes are necessary to get from a tiny scrappy company to a successful one.  But they need to keep in mind that some of the smartest people you work with don’t think like you at all.

Not everyone is good at “real-time”

Some people can listen and think and summarize and talk at the same time.   (Given recent studies on multitasking, probably more of us think we’re good at this but actually aren’t.)

For others, it’s like being asked to listen to a Beatles song and write down the lyrics to a Rolling Stones song at the same time.   It’s stressful and you will almost certainly mix up bits of the two.   It’s a smart employee who recognizes they can’t do both and focuses on understanding first and offering solutions later.  Unfortunately, they’re often perceived as too shy, too passive, or “never having any good ideas.”

The stop, go away, come back method helps alleviate this.  So does sending out an agenda/information before a meeting, or making a point of following up via email afterwards to catch any asynchronous insights.

Everyone has a continuum of most-to-least effective communication methods (and they are different)

IM and face-to-face are my favorite mediums. Other people prefer phone calls, sketches, or writing up emails.  This is all fine as long as you alternate mediums.

When your corporate culture is strongly biased towards conference calls but half the team communicates better via writing, it’s bad for morale (people who aren’t good at phone calls know it, and know they’re going to have a hard time getting their ideas across) and it’s bad for efficiency.

I hated the focus on conference calls when I worked with an offshore team — interactions via IM were faster and there was more understanding going on.  Between bad Skype connections and both sides thinking the other team had heavy accents, I always felt like I spent more time saying “What?” than “Great idea!”

If all you have is a hammer…

Want to know why engineers are always offering technical solutions to a problem?  Because you hired them for being awesome with a hammer.

“Soft skill” methods are not innate.  No one is born knowing how to rapid brainstorm, ask the 5 Whys, interview a customer, do competitive analysis on competitor products, or formulate questions to ‘ask the data’.   How can you expect your engineers/designers to contribute using methods that they’ve never learned?

It’s not hard to take a few minutes to walk through various approaches (faced with this problem, here’s one method I’d use and why I’d choose it, and here’s how I’d start…) but apparently it’s easier to just mutter under your breath about how “they” “just don’t get it”.  Easier, but not recommended.

If you’re not sure how well your new process is working, you could wait to find out when you conduct a project postmortem.  Or you could try asking (using that person’s preferred communication method.) Were you able to understand the problem completely?  Did you feel like you were able to make others understand your concerns/ideas?  Is there a way that would make it easier for you to contribute?

Now that would be Thinking Different.

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