Saturday, 31 October 2009

No one in charge?

image: flickr salimfadhley

Been catching up on some of my favourite blogs this morning and the following caught my attention:

Graeme Martin's HR and People Management Blog

I include here three very short and somewhat out of context quotes (I hope Graeme will forgive me: but do please look at the rest of the post to review his evidence and well argued case)
  • celebrity leadership and traditional leader development are typically planned and individualistic while (Distributed Leadership) is typically emergent and collective (I have paraphrased here)
  • 'no-one in charge' can lead to highly positive outcomes......
  • "The 'romance with leaders' is definitely on the wain"

One of my interests in looking at leadership of virtual or dispersed teams probably springs from my own disillusionment with leadership as much as it does from my personal predeliction for working from home.

My own sense of the reality of making things happen is that very often the impetus emerges from within a network of interested and proactive people and very infrequently at the behest or dictat of a nominated leader.

This is certainly true of all of the really exciting projects I am currently involved in - they seem to mainly involve small networks of people who do not naturally fit within any organisational matrix - indeed seem to exist in spite of it! - but who are working with passion (for their "subject" or service, for an inspiring end goal ) and well beyond their usual "terms and conditions of service".

Even when I have been placed in the position of formally leading a project, I have found that the outcomes are significantly improved when each team member has been able to contribute their own thoughts - and even better, when they have individually or in small groups, been charged with taking on some of the responsibility for designing those outcomes and working to achieve the desired results. Such teams are energised, they feel an ownership for and pride in the final product and the sense of having achieved it by themselves.

Unfortunately it is still the traditional view that certain tasks - setting targets, deciding on strategic direction, monitoring performance - are the sole province of a designated "celebrity" leader, ignoring the expertise of equally or more experienced colleagues in the name of "strong leadership". At best this approach produces bored, underutilised people who doggedly follow the rules and produce whatever mediocre results are deemed sufficient to tick the boxes. At worst it leads to passive aggressive behaviour: deliberate sabotaging of goals, disaffected staff who leave to find new jobs, take long term sick leave or simply refuse to contribute to "team meetings".

There are analogies here with teaching. Certainly in the areas in which I "teach", I am not the expert dispensing wisdom from on high, but the facilitator of students accessing their own and others' expertise, helping them to making sense of it and to turn this knowledge into something useful, something they might themselves start to feel passionate about.

This last few weeks, as always when I work with groups of clinical managers in the NHS, I have felt genuinely humbled by their creativity, dedication and genuine desire to make a change for the better. Despite the complaints of target driven bureaucracy and poor leadership I also see evidence of distributed leadership at work in the inspiring and creative projects these managers produce - and beyond that to see the genuine difference this work makes in the lives of others - their colleagues, team members, students, volunteers, patients.

My romance with leaders has clearly been on the wain for years and I see nothing around me to make me want to start believing in them again. Here's to the Distribution of Leadership....and to no one in charge!!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

How I got that Prezi .....

I promised @nlafferty that I would blog a little about the Prezi process and share some tips for speeding it up a little: I spent MUCH longer creating the prezi than a powerpoint, but mainly because I had to go through a big learning curve too.

Tip #1: create a story board too and rough out a design: I actually decided on the circular frames and created something on paper which allowed me to decide where I wanted to group certain ideas first.

Tip #2: think visuals first. I think Prezi is so preeminently a visual thing, the last thing you want or need is a lot of words or God forbid! bullet points... Also there is no "layering" or "ordering" on Prezi, so what goes down first is on the bottom. Put in visuals then add text on top.

Tip #3: I actually created visuals on Powerpoint first - eg found Flickr images or Clipart photos with lots of white space around them; saved the slides as separate JPEGs then uploaded to Prezi, so the image appears to emerge from the white background with no frame. Where the image was on a background, I used Powerpoint formatting to put it in a frame, added a shadow or reflection and then cropped it tightly so that it would appear to be a photo pinned to the Prezi canvas.

Note: the visuals - sourcing, converting, formatting and editing - was the most labour intensive part of the exercise. I have kept a folder of all the images used so I can re-cycle when necessary!

Tip #4 I tried to avoid motion sickness (!!) by not having too many extreme zooms, changes of direction or big panning effects. Grouping things fairly close together and making gentle moves at slight angles for the most part, big effects once in a while to jazz things up or change topic.

Tip#5 Learn from others: look at the show-cased prezis and work out how they did them; watch some of the tutorial videos. I was inspired by @adamread 's lovely prezi on designing posters.

Tip #6 Take your time! I found myself stealing an hour here and there, whilst watching TV or sitting in a hotel room during a few days working in Scotland recently, to actually work on the Prezi. It became frankly a bit addictive. I also found it a very rewarding and creative experience - I absolutely loved working with the visuals and finessing the layout.
Tip #7 STOP when it' s done: This is not a good medium for anyone of a slightly Obssessive Compulsive tendency (like me) - a point comes where you have to say, hey this is good enough!

If any one would has their own favourite tips to share, please add them in the comments below.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Prezi and the PLE

I have been experimenting with a presentation format called "Prezi" to support a talk I'll be giving at the Public Sector Skills conference next month.........(click the grey arrow below the screen to get started)