Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Stage Play and Team Work

So, I’m sitting here contemplating about one of ExeQserve’s core values which is teamwork. Our lunch learn session is coming up and this is the assigned value for the month. We get to reflect about this as a group and talk about how far we can take it.  I’ve been reflecting about how much teamwork is really going on in my company because this is really important to me.

I really can’t complain. I have a team with individual members who are willing to go out of their way and help in any way they can to deliver results.  When we have workshops that require a lot of marshalls, my accountant, our messenger, our company driver, the marketing assistant, everyone, they’re all trained and willing to take on the role assigned to them even if that’s not what they are paid for to do. They are willing to fill the gaps, if that’s not teamwork, I don’t know what is.  My team is very good at collaborating, coordinating and cooperating. What’s festering me right now is the question of how else we can grow in terms of this value? How can we be more successful? What else can we do? I know whatever we are doing now is not enough.

I thought about stage plays. I took mass communication in college. I was a part of theater group called Dulaang Asilaw. Before college, I’ve enjoyed every opportunity to act and perform before a crowd. When I joined Dulaang Asilaw, it was hibernating. It was inactive for a time because all the leaders and actors have graduated. No body knew outside of New Era University that the group hardly exist, that there were no meetings, no projects, no nothing.  So, the organizers of the First National Drama Competition sent the school, the Dulaaang Asilaw an Invite. Fitri Grajo, the one tenured member of the group called a bunch of students and convinced us that we can do this. She convinced our course adviser, Elson Montalbo that we can do this. It was a crazy idea. They called for a rush audition and end up with a ragtag inexperienced bunch who decided what the heck.

Make the long story short, we won! We were among the winners. We beat UP, UST and La Salle! We were up there with PUP, Integrated Performing Arts Guild of Iligan, a theater group from Cebu, Ateneo de Naga. Among those groups was New Era College’s Dulaang Asilaw. Not the Dulaang Asilaw of its glory days, but a group of inexperienced amateurs who performed beyond everyone’s expectations, including us, the members. We performed beyond our own expectations.

What was key? Teamwork, a lot of it. But it was more than about individual willingness to help or contribute. It was more than just about filling a gap. It was every single one of us doing beyond what was expected. Fitri wasn’t a director before the show, but she took whatever she learned from Dulaang Asilaw legend directors, Elson Montalbo and Jojo Pineda and brought it to all the rehearsals and to the actual shows. We didn’t get school funding.  We had to improvise a lot on our materials. We were fortunate that the play was Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio which is a story about  a syndicate of beggars so all we had to do was bring a lot of junks to the stage. The guys in charge of production, Chai, Baby Anita, Anna Liza, Jim, Jim's friend whose name I forgot, Chai's friend whose name I also forgot, they didn’t just bring junk, they brought a marvel of a stage so dark and violent that it was so easy to believe that one is in a court of beggars persecuting and executing one of their own. All the actors were incredible. The main characters, the bit players, there was no wasted moment.  We had no money for make up so we spent a few minutes before the show rolling on charcoals as our makeup! I was so proud of what we accomplished.  I was particularly proud that I was part of a group of people who brought their talents to the show and exploded with their passion. It was amazing and I'm still proud of that group, that accomplishment.


So, here’s a thought; Teamwork, yes, is about a group of people working together to achieve a common goal, but it is more than that. It is about a group of people giving their best and maxing out their talents so the team can show its real power.  I’m still working on building that kind of a team.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Intent Focus

I conduct training on Strategic Thinking in the Philippines and one of the topics I cover is Intent Focus, which is one of the five elements of thinking strategically as described by Dr Jean Liedtka, a professor of Business Administration from the University of Virginia.  Dr. Liedtka says that Strategic intent provides the focus that allows individuals within an organization to marshal and leverage their energy, to focus attention, to resist distraction, and to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal.”

To help the participants appreciate being intent-focused, I ask them to do an exercise called the Marshmallow Challenge, a game familiarized by Tom Wujec.  The objective of the game is to build the tallest free-standing tower with the resources given and the time limit. It’s a fairly simple game to play  and it’s fun! But here’s an interesting lesson that I learned about the subject matter when I ask my participants to play the game.
  • Most participants would really try to compete by building a tall tower, sometimes too tall that they fail given the limitations of the materials given to them.
  • Some participants will be so engrossed in building the tower, they forget or underestimate the strength of their materials and the weight of the marshmallow that leads to failure.
  • I try to make the time visible or known to the participants. Some of them adjust their plans when they realize they are running out of time which is a smart thing to do.
  • Here’s the most interesting part. On almost every occasion that I facilitate this game, a team or two, will just go through the motion of building a tower with no desire to build the tallest one. They just want their tower built and standing because if they don’t finish on time, it would be embarrassing. When I ask them why, they say they want to make sure that their tower is standing albeit short.  When I remind them that the goal is to build the tallest tower, some would say that they are hoping those who were trying to build tall towers would fail.  Others just shrugged.

When I synthesize the lessons from the game, I tell participants that being intent-focused means really doing one’s best to achieve the goal. This means taking some risks and putting forth extra ordinary effort to succeed. Many people behave similarly to those who do not bother to build their towers high because they are afraid of failure. They comply but set their expectations low to make sure that they will not be embarrassed if they fail. It’s a teachable moment when some of these learners laugh at the teams who fail to get their towers standing because they’re too tall. I tell them, at least those teams tried.

This reminds me of a quote from Michaelangelo "The greater danger, for most of us, lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark..." 

As leaders, our decisions empower or limit the accomplishments of our people. Our decisions are multiplied by the number of people who defer to us. When we set our expectations low, we fail to grow and in the process those who expect us to help them grow also fail to grow. I believe being intent-focused is an important factor in strategic thinking, because you don't really need much of a strategy to stay the same. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Cost of Hiring a Coward

I don’t have the actual amount, but you can identify the effect of un-managed fear. When you do, you can approximate the cost of lost opportunities and unsolved problems.

“Coward” is a strong word. It’s also broad, so let me enumerate behaviors that I think are cowardly. You may or may not agree with me, that’s not important. Let’s focus on what these behaviors do to the workplace and the business.
  • Fear of goals – Some employees fear goals. They don’t like life goals, they most certainly dislike work goals. When people hesitate to set goals, they lack the motivation to take initiative. They focus on compliance and often, minimum compliance at that.
  •  Fear of change – cowards don’t like uncertainty. They like their comfort zone.  Your company cowards are often the first resistors of change.
  •  Indecision – Often, people who couldn’t decide, know what decisions to make. What they are afraid of is the idea that they might be wrong an fail. They fear failure and blame.
  • Inaction – One thing you can do with indecisive people is decide for them. Some people however, have overwhelming fear that even if you decide for them, they still fail to act because their afraid that you may be wrong and you will cause their failure.


I’ve always said that some fears are hard to detect. We often associate courage to mean big things like making bold decisions, taking leaps, challenging status quo.  These are not everyday stuff.  There are opportunities to show courage every day that people hesitate to do.  What are these? Not speaking up about a problem, not making an attempt to solve a problem, avoiding to learn a necessary skill, not disagreeing when they should, not taking initiative when they should. The cost of all these are not included in the usual business analytics because companies seldom measure lost opportunities or quantify the cost of inaction.

People who don’t have enough courage to act often underestimate three things; seriousness, urgency, and growth potential. They deny the seriousness of the issue, they look for “timing”, failing to realize that problems tend to grow when not addressed or that opportunities pass when not taken advantage of.  

What to do? I have a few recommendations:
  1.  Avoid hiring them, or hire them for positions that don’t require a lot of decision-making and initiative
  2.  Help your employees develop courage through training, coaching, mentoring and empowerment
  3.  Create an environment that promotes creativity, risk-taking and learning.
  4.  Model the way. When the leader is courageous, the followers develop the confidence to take courage.