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After a real long time, yours truly returns to the keyboard and…wonder of wonders…its not to write code/emails/chat… 😀 . OK..enough of the long-time-no-write, let us get down to business. (WARNING: Long post follows!!)

Supervisory Skill Development Workshop

Today’s post is about the Supervisory Skills Development Workshop that I attended on October 21st at J W Marriott, Mumbai. The financial damages for the same were borne by Skyscape – something I must thank them for. So, what was it all about and why did I wait for 10 days to put down my thoughts in white and black?  The gap was simply to allow me to take a more dispassionate view of the workshop. I believe that when we make a comment about something immediately after experiencing it, our expressions are more driven by our immediate reaction(s) rather than by careful thought/analysis. So, here we go…

First of all, this is not intended to be a blow-by-blow commentary of the workshop, neither is going to be a up-to-the-minute, detailed breakdown of all that happened there. Instead, I will be focusing on providing a brief outline of the most important activities and learning from them that took place. Wherever applicable, I will also pitch in with my point of view/additions.

The session started off with a couple of slides with Rajiv (the speaker) speaking about the necessity of such a workshop. The gist of his talk was that though we all possess the necessary skills to supervise people, we all could do better with training and the “coach benefit” which allowed a neutral observer to point out improvements in our way of doing things, that otherwise might have escaped our attention. Then we were made to introduce ourselves – using our names, the work that we do, our passion in life and what we were expecting to take home from the workshop. I used this time to observe the other participants – almost all of them (including myself) showed that they had a little bit of opening up to do, which I think is a natural response of being in a new place, with unknown people. Later on though, they did warm up a lot.

Up next was the “Name Game” – wherein each person had to attach an adjective to his name, beginning with the first letter of his name and say it aloud. The next person was then supposed to repeat the names of all the people before him/her and add their own entry to the list. It was fun to see when people actually struggled to come up with adjectives for themselves. One thought they could do better after spending so many years with themselves. 😉 When the game started, we all believed that the last person would have a hard time remembering all the name/adjective pairs, but to our surprise, she had it the easiest, because the names were almost hammered in her memory by the time it was her turn.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Initial impressions about the level of difficulty of a task can go totally haywire – keep an open mind when you start something.
  2. After 10 days, I remember the names clearly (which was the whole purpose of the game), but not so much the adjectives. What works for others to jog their memory does not fit me.
  3. When playing a game like this, sit at a place from where you can see the name tags clearly. 😉

What followed next was an explanation of our comfort zones, panic zones and how most of our challenges lie in the area between these two. Rajiv then talked about the necessity to constantly expand our comfort zone by stretching ourselves a bit at a time. One thing that the participants had to do was that after every few concepts, one of us was supposed to summarize it for the rest of the group. At this point, I volunteered to do that. I believe that I did a decent job – though others might have a different opinion. 😉

After this, there was this concept of “Teachability Index”, which was defined as:

Teachability Index = (will to learn) x (will to change)

What I found most interesting here is the way how he explained that if one of these two factors is zero, the net outcome is also nil. It is a simple funda, but many of us focus too hard on one, and neglect the other, thereby minimizing their gains.

A listing of the various benefits of improved supervisory skills followed next. Though most of these benefits sounded like typical management speak (increased clarity of purpose/goals, better managed people/projects etc.), what stood out for me was the “reduced misunderstanding regarding expectations”. Too often I have seen people put in their best efforts in the wrong direction, simply because they were not clear about what was expected of them. Also, I believe that when you are in a customer-oriented role in any manner, expectations management plays a huge role in ensuring a happy customer and a stress-free you. When everyone is on the same page, the script unfolds better.

Then there was this activity in which 3 of us were asked to insert wooden pegs in a board, and the rest of us were to observe them, drawing their conclusions. Even in such a simple activity, people showed a wide variation in behaviour in terms of listening to instructions, the manner/order in which they inserted the pegs, and how well they used the available resources they had.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Given a task with no explicit instructions on how to carry it out, people will always do it the way they feel best – and every single person will have his unique definition of “best”.
  2. Some will find an easy way to do things, some will complicate them – try to belong to the first group.
  3. Even when a task is done the same way by 2 persons, the quality of the output will differ.

After this, Rajiv talked about moving towards excellence, wherein he said that:

  • Efficient = Doing things right
  • Effective = Doing the right things
  • Excellent = Doing the right things, better and better

Simple, effective words –  he drove the point home nicely, I felt.

I have always believed that unless one does justice to oneself, we can not do justice to others or what others expect of us. So I was actually pleasantly surprised when the next topic that came up was “Enhancing Personal Effectiveness”. Here, a number of points were laid out, most important of which were:

  • You are effective when you feel good about yourself.
  • Have a clear, specific, measurable goal and a detailed plan to reach that goal.
  • Be proactive, not reactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Accept responsibility.
  • Try to do better than what is expected from you.

Can you see the point that I have highlighted in bold above? Its something I do not agree with, at least not entirely. I feel that though it all seems well and dandy to keep your eyes on the goal always, a la Arjun in Mahabharat, it does prevent you from enjoying the journey to your goal. And to me, excellence is something where enjoying the journey is as much important as reaching the destination. I may reach the goal, but if I have not enjoyed my journey, I have just lost a huge chunk of learning that I could have absorbed in the process.

After talking about personal effectiveness, he laid out a list of things that you could do to be more effective. It was quite a long list, but I would like to state a few of them here:

  1. Create your ideal day/environment in your mind before you start your day (I do this quite a lot and trust me…it works like a charm).
  2. Believe everything is possible.
  3. Don’t repeat your mistakes. (VERY important)
  4. Take help from other people (Do not try to do it all by yourself)
  5. Don’t give up easily.

Up next was something that took me to my Civil Engg. days – it was a game in which a team was supposed to build a tower out of plastic straws. The tallest, self-supporting tower was to be the winner. We ended up making a tower which was not the greatest to look at, but fulfilled all the criteria, except one – we focused more on strength and compromised on the height, which meant that in the end, we fell a few inches short of winning.

Lessons learnt:

  1. If your task is meant to achieve 10 things, 9 is not good enough.
  2. Use all your resources, but use only as much is necessary.
  3. Learn to spot the difference between “good” and “good enough”. Excellence does not mean that you have to be great, sometimes “good enough” fits the bill wonderfully.
  4. Plan, plan, plan.
  5. Have clear goals, and make sure they are communicated effectively. Our job was not to build the strongest tower – it was to build the tallest tower which was strong enough to stand on its own.

The next one was fun – it involved one of us using just words to describe a geometrical pattern – no hand gestures, no prompting…absolutely nothing except words. To top it, he was supposed to keep his hands behind his back. What followed was an assortment of shapes, almost none fitting the bill. Lesson learnt – don’t take communication for granted. What you convey may not be what the other person understands.

If this was fun, what followed was unparalleled hilarity. We were to go through a list of 25 instructions and follow them as quickly as possible. What started off quite harmlessly with filling in your name on the form, and signing our name on the board, soon had us behaving like total weirdos,  clapping in the air, saying nonsensical sentences aloud and jumping and circling ourselves. Only when we reached the end of the form (and read the form fully) did we realize that we were not supposed to do any of that, and just keep quiet after the first 2 instructions.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Always get the full details of what is expected from you. Don’t just rush in and start doing it.
  2. It pays to spend some time doing your initial preparation and thinking – saves your backside in the long run.

Last but not the least was the magic hula hoop activity. Here, a group of people was to balance a plastic ring on their fingertips alone and then bring it down to ground from full height. All the while, you had to ensure that:

  • Everyone’s fingers remained in contact with the ring.
  • The ring did not tilt or fall off.

What seemed quite simple to look at, turned out to be a real experience in how things could go wrong, if not managed and coordinated carefully. One team’s ring went up instead of coming down and even when we had finished, they still had not manged to bring it down. Even in our group, which managed to do it successfully, it was mayhem in the beginning, until one of us (read: me) assumed leadership and the others followed his instructions.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Leadership is not always given, sometimes it needs to be taken.
  2. More the variety in the team, more will be the challenges and scope for things to go wrong.
  3. Co-ordination is easier said than done.

On that note, I would like to call it a day here.

In the interest of brevity, I have dropped off a couple of activities. I will come back and do another post on them. All in all, this was a day well-spent, and I am sure the learnings will stand me in good stead throughout.

See you next time..and hopefully next time should come really soon.