Connecting at the Virtual Water Cooler

Creating Space for Casual Conversation

One of the commonly mentioned downsides of working remotely is the lack of casual conversations that happen in hallways or at the water cooler. Casual ConversationLike the challenges that come with any change, we can either whine about our loss or be intentional about optimizing our new reality.

Here’s one idea how to do that. You’ll need to adapt it to your context and probably do some trial and error to make it work for your team. For some team members it might be a hard sell at first. But if you can get a core of people who are committed enough to work through the inevitable startup hurdles, you might find you’ve created a valuable culture-building tool. Continue reading Connecting at the Virtual Water Cooler

Unity vs. Unanimity

Do We Have To Agree?

Seven of us were gathered from around the globe for three long days of meetings. We were a diverse group: Millennial, retired, male, female, and with a wide range of pet topics. Our choices would set the course of our organization for years to come.

Unity Group meetingIt was a unique experience that I wish was common: In the face of diversity and considerable disagreement, there was an overwhelming sense of unity.

Continue reading Unity vs. Unanimity

The Challenge of Changing Culture (Pt. 2)

Why does Culture Matter?

In Part 1, I described the three levels of culture as defined by Dr. Edgar Schein.  Now let’s look at why culture is important and some tips on how you can change it.Changing Culture

A strong, healthy culture can put even a mediocre strategy on steroids.  But it can prevent even the greatest strategy from gaining any traction.  We ignore culture to our own peril or we can leverage it for great benefit. Continue reading The Challenge of Changing Culture (Pt. 2)

The Challenge of Changing Culture (Pt. 1)

I once had responsibility for a large technology project that never delivered on its objectives. We had a team of highly skilled people with a great track record of successful projects.  They used processes that had succeeded repeatedly in the past.  But we never got the traction to make this project take off.

Culture ChangeThe reason, I believe, lies in an unintentional shift that had occurred in the organization’s culture.  That change sucked the energy, passion, and motivation from this highly competent team. They had always been passionate to succeed but now they were just trying to get a job done. Continue reading The Challenge of Changing Culture (Pt. 1)

What Cultural Fit Isn’t…

Cookie-Cutter Yes-Men Need Not Apply

Cookie cutterStewarding an organization’s culture is a core responsibility of every leader. Weak culture can bury the strongest strategy and vision. But a strong culture will put even a mediocre strategy on steroids.

Culture-fit can get distorted into an unhealthy form. Unhealthy culture-fit looks something like this: Continue reading What Cultural Fit Isn’t…

Interviewing for Character and Culture Fit

Probing Beyond the Hard Skills

I want to share this list of insightful interview questions, adapted slightly from those used by a client[1]. Try asking some of these in your interviews to assess the culture impact of your potential hires:

  1. Describe a skill you feel you are missing.

Can the candidate properly assess himself/herself?  Humble enough to see where a skill is missing?  Desire to learn new skills? Hunger to be better?

  1. Describe a situation where you had to admit to others that you had made a mistake. How did you handle the situation?

Does the candidate have the humility and integrity to admit mistakes and apologize? Have the people skills to effectively verbalize the admission of mistakes to others? Care enough about the team to be honest for the benefit of the team?

  1. Describe the dynamics of the best team you have been a part of.

Is there humility to put team above self? Indications of caring about fellow team members? A passion regarding team performance; a shared team standard of excellence; results better together than apart? Examples of team innovation?

  1. We all have people that we don’t hate but dislike. Why did/do you dislike a former/current co-worker and how have you dealt with him/her?

Can they explain the dynamics without disparaging the person? Do so in a professional way? Do so while protecting the other person’s reputation? Express empathy or understanding about someone they do not like? 

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to make a big adjustment in order to succeed.

Is this person able to be flexible? Innovate or find creative solutions? Have a hunger for excellence that will not be derailed by obstacles?

  1. What is a misconception that people may have about you?

How realistic is the candidate’s self-perception? Humble or selfish as they express the misconception? Mature/immature in what they express? Care about how the misconception affects their team or others? Express their concerns about this misconception in a socially appropriate way?

  1. Describe the boss who would get the very best from you.

Is the candidate aware of what helps them succeed? Express their relationship with the boss in the context of team? Examples of humility in describing the best boss? Want a boss who holds to high standards vs. coddling them?

  1. What are you most passionate about?

What gets this person excited? Animated? Truly hungry about? Examples of caring about other people as more important than self? Service-oriented traits? Passion to do something really well? Passion for self-improvement?

[1] Courtesy of Action Property Management

Balancing on a Three-Legged Stool

Responsibility, Authority, and Privilege

The nice thing about a three-legged stool is that it won’t wobble.  That doesn’t mean the top will be level enough to keep you from falling off, but it won’t wobble.   Ever try to play Jenga or build something on a stool that wasn’t level?  Not a formula for success.

I like to picture responsibility, authority, and privilege as a three-legged stool that I can build an organization on.  To build successfully, we need that stool to be level.  If any leg is too long or too short, our growth and stability will be constrained. Continue reading Balancing on a Three-Legged Stool

Trust and/or Transparency

A Paradoxical Relationship

Transparency is often touted as foundational to building trust.  And it can be – or not…

We live in a culture that equates our desire to know something with our right to know it.  We feel entitled to tap into the endless free-flow of information, believing that anyone who holds anything back is hiding something and can’t be trusted.  Except, of course, that we choose to keep some things private and we can be trusted. Continue reading Trust and/or Transparency

Sources of (Dis)Trust

Competence, Character, and Motivation

Building a high level of trust within an organization can seem like the search for the Holy Grail: It’s highly valued, but very elusive.

Some of us believe that trust must be earned. We’re not willing to accept the risk of betrayed trust. Some of us grant trust more freely until we have reason to withhold it. We recognize that people give their best when we expect the best out of them. Most of us start off relationships somewhere between extreme trust and extreme lack of trust.

We Don’t Need Trust Where There Is No Risk

Continue reading Sources of (Dis)Trust

The Cure for “Too Busy”

The Investment that Pays Back Big…

I’ve written before about dealing with the pervasive problem of being too busy (see, or the videos at There is a way to gain significant ground against this problem. Now don’t roll your eyes at me until you’ve heard me out, but I believe the best, most lasting solution to being too busy is… Continue reading The Cure for “Too Busy”