Seven Ways to Improve Performance
People often ask me, “What are the Seven Ways?” and “Why did you choose them as your business name?” The assumption being that Seven Ways is referencing a prescribed formula, as in, “Here are the seven ways I will help you” or “Let me show you the seven ways to improve.” I can see that. And while I do at times feel pressure to package my services in a cute way, doing so would contradict exactly what Seven Ways means to me.
At its most basic, Seven Ways gets its name from one of my favorite facilitation activities. Without getting in to all the nerdy details, when designing a new space or process, the team is instructed to come up with at least seven different ways of solving their problem. As an additional challenge, all ideas must be hand drawn. Pushing past initial assumptions to generate seven distinct options requires focus and discipline. While requiring ideas to be made visual through drawing simultaneously channels creativity and ensures clarity of thought. If you cannot make your idea visual, then it may still be too complicated to explain, design and implement. Immersed in paper, pencils and plenty of laughter, the entire activity brings people out of their comfort zone and ready to learn.
Additionally, the team is encouraged to look to nature for inspiration from time-tested, elegant solutions. Trying to figure out how to move heavy parts across a factory more efficiently? Consider: How do ants move things? What aspects of their situation might apply to ours? Now draw it out! It may sound silly (and it can be!) yet engaging our brains in this way uncovers opportunities and perspectives otherwise undiscovered. It forces us to deeply understand what problem we are trying to solve before getting attached to traditional solutions.
Hopefully, you can see this playful nod to nature in the Seven Ways Consulting logo design itself. The rays of the sun evoke feelings of optimism and confidence in a brighter tomorrow. Paired against the offset text, it hints at forward progress and momentum. I wanted my business identity to reflect with whom I want to work: People who genuinely want to improve and are committed to, and excited by, the process of making it happen.
The intent of the seven ways activity guides my consulting and coaching methods. I do not believe in “one size fits all” solutions. Your situation was created by a unique mix of assets and liabilities, strengths and weaknesses, luck, and hard knocks. Thus, your solution needs to be tailored to fit your problem. Your path forward is specific to you and there are many ways we could approach building it. My role is to help you better understand your entire situation, see what is possible and make it happen.
You are probably familiar with The Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. I subscribe to The Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated.
If you come to me and say, “Tell me how to fix my team’s broken communication,” I will first ask questions such as, “How do you know it is broken?” and “What would fixed look like?” and “What does your team think you should do?”
Now, I am not saying you are a special snowflake. Odds are, I have encountered most of the problems your team is experiencing. However, I have not encountered your exact situation. How long has it been going on? Why do you think it started? What have you tried before to fix it? What happened next? What positive things are happening on your team? What is the vibe? What is your timeline? Answers to questions such as these guide me in guiding you and your team.
In other words, I am not simply plugging your list of symptoms into a search engine and prescribing whatever comes out for “team communication challenges.” You can do that by yourself. I am analyzing the environment in which your symptoms were created, so that the plan we create is not only informed by the tried and true, but more importantly, by what will work for you based on your situation.
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Here is a simple, concrete example. A common recommendation for team challenges is to go back to basics and establish Ground Rules – how team members agree to interact with one another during meetings and projects. Typical Ground Rules include things like Don’t interrupt and If you disagree, speak up. These are straightforward and would probably show up on any sample list to get you started.
Further elaborating on this example, Don’t Interrupt is a very safe Ground Rule in that most people will agree to it and can adopt it easily, with minimal coaching. Your initial Ground Rules list should be primarily comprised of behaviors that cause minimal disagreement and allow for quick success as a team. Building upon shared wins, no matter how small, is critical at the beginning.
However, the real benefit comes when you touch upon the *right* Ground Rule. The rule added to the list to push the team, adding just the right amount of conflict at the right time to get people out of their comfort zone and working together differently. Maybe your team struggles with conflict, hesitant to engage in disagreement with one another. Rules such as Nominate someone to play Devil’s Advocate every meeting or Pause and celebrate when teammates disagree with each other could rapidly shake up dysfunctional team dynamics while building critical skills.
By now you may be thinking, “How do you know when a team is ready to be pushed? And once they are ready, how do you know what behaviors to push on? What do you look for once you start pushing? What if things get worse? It seems like there a lot of variables to take into consideration.”
And in response to these valid questions, I will leave you with a quote by the author Margaret Drabble,
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
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