Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Steps to Manage Conflict

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

There is no doubt, managing conflicts is a challenging task. On my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my share of conflicts. I think working in close proximity and under much pressure, tends to raise conflicts more frequently in entrepreneurial ventures. It is hence important to know how to handle them more effectively. Losing a team mate, a client or a supplier can spell the end for a young startup. Listed below are five steps to help manage conflicts in a systematic and structured manner, and thus reach a fair and faster consensus.

1. Facts: Before anything is discussed or negotiated, it is important that all relevant details are documented. This includes finding core reasons behind the conflict, the stage the conflict is at, and the affected parties. It is important to be objective when documenting these factors, and ensure that each one of the affected individuals is part of the process. To read more about the fact finding process please click here

2. Ground Rules: Developing a set of rules and structure can greatly facilitate conflict resolution. It is important to let all the participants know what is expected of them. It also helps to formalize the actual negotiation process with a set agenda, and a mediator if possible. Setting up such a structure helps the negotiation process run smoothly, with each participant well aware, before hand, about the discussion agenda. To read more about setting appropriate ground rules please click here.

3. Negotiations: The actual negotiation stage brings all the concerned parties together, to discuss their points of view in a structured manner. It is important to insist that each participant keep their mind open to different options, even if they do not agree with them. Keeping a close mind and remaining stubborn makes the process more challenging to manage. During this stage, notes need to be taken down regarding options discussed and differences and concerns that were voiced. To read more about the negotiation stage please click here.

4. Evaluation: After the negotiation stage, all the participants are called back at a later date to discuss the options discussed during the negotiation stage. At this time, it is important to establish a set of objective criterions, to ensure the options discussed are feasible, fair and take into account the larger picture. There are several strategies which can be used at this stage to rank or combine options, and to come up with a mutually agreeable option. To read more about the evaluation stage please click here.

5. Closure: The final stage of a conflict management process involves bringing closure to the argument. This is done by  formalizing whatever was discussed and decided into a written document, which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities and roles. It is important that a commitment is made to follow through on what was decided. Periodic meetings can be established to ensure that everything is moving as planned, with suggestions and feedback provided along the way. To read more about closure please click here.

I have followed this system in conflicts I have been involved in. However, given the variances in every conflict, one needs to improvise along the way. Managing conflicts is a challenging task, especially when they have been brewing under the surface for long periods of time. Reaching a formal agreement acceptable to all the concerned individuals is a major feat. It requires patience, an open mind and the willingness to be flexible. It is much easier to be stubborn and refuse to change a position, rather than be adaptable and sacrifice for a more congenial and brighter future. 

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Closure

“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their configurations which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” Carl Gustav Jung

Closure is one of the most critical components of successful conflict resolution. Without it, there is always something unfinshed hanging in the air and this makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of us have been involved in conflicts which have ended without the required closure. It is not a pleasant situation, and if you then have to continue working with the persons concerned, it can be most awkward. To avoid such situations and reach closure, there are a few things I work on ensuring. 

1. Written Plan: Ensure that everything that has been discussed and decided upon, is written down in a formal document. This document should outline levels of future responsibility, possible compensation agreements, changed working arrangements or any other directives that are to be carried out. Putting it all down on paper makes it tangible, and easy to take ownership of.

2. Commitment: It is important that once a mutually agreeable option has been accepted, tasks and roles allocated, everyone commits to whatever they were assigned. A personal commitment is as important as having faith in the abilities of others to carry out their parts. This is not a time to doubt the follow through abilities of others. At this time more than ever, it is necessary to begin and rebuild the trust which may have been lost in the process.

3. Periodic Checks: A system to routinely check the progress of what was decided and agreed upon is vital, to ensure everyone is keeping their end of the deal. Such checks help monitor team progress and provide valuable insight into the team or individuals working dynamics. Such meetings can be a sounding board for suggestions, complaints or feedback. 

Closure after a long drawn out conflict is a liberating and empowering feeling, and helps us face challenges with ease and confidence. It reminds us, that survival in this world, requires us to learn to be flexible and move forward. Being stubborn and refusing to see different sides of a conflict, renders us incapable of moving forward. 

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Evaluating Options

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follet

Once the negotiation stage has been cleared, all options presented and discussed need to be evaluated. During this stage, respective parties need to set their differences aside, and work towards reaching a consensus where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This is by far one of the most challenging stages in the conflict management process. Much of the time such situations conclude in deadlocks, because one party may not be open to entertaining any option other than one which benefits them. Conflict resolution needs a certain level of sacrifice from each party to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Some steps which can help reach a mutually beneficial agreement are:

1. Developing Criterions: Prior to starting this phase it is important to establish some base criterions. These include ensuring that all options discussed are feasible and fair. It is also equally important to identify a set of objective criterions which help each of the participants look at the larger picture. This helps set a tone which in turn helps the flow of the discussion and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, faster. 

2. Ranking: To begin the process, rank the options discussed in the negotiation stage. This will help the participants decide jointly which options address the needs of the group and their own needs. This is a tricky exercise, as each participant would like to rank the options which benefit them the most, on top. To resolve this issue, each option should be graded against a set of objective criterions which are mutually agreed upon. This helps bring objectivity and fairness into the process.

3. Combining of Options: I have found that it is often possible to combine certain options, thereby creating a mutually acceptable option to both parties. Through this method we can bridge differences in opinions, which may limit parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. This takes some creativity,  at the same time, helps to think out of the box when resolving conflict. 

There needs to be much give and take at this stage. Sacrifices need to be made, at the same time it is important to remain objective and work towards a mutually beneficial agreement. During this stage one needs to be creative and think out of the box. A deadlock must be avoided at all costs, if a party becomes stubborn and refuses to change positions, we need to factor this dynamic in, and find alternatives which may be acceptable to them. 

 

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Tackling the Issue

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point — a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.” Thomas Crum

Proceeding with actual negotiations after laying down a comprehensive foundation for determining the facts and establishing ground rules, makes the exercise easier. With a set agenda, each party is fully aware of what will be discussed. The negotiation stage is a a critical one in conflict resolution. Without each party making the effort to bring the issue to the table, and discuss it candidly, very little progress is possible. Once the concerned individuals have made the effort to come together, and discuss the issue at hand, it is important to keep the discussion moving in a focused and objective matter. 

Key points to be kept in mind at the negotiation stage are:

1. Remaining Open: It is quite natural to close one’s mind to the other person’s point of view in a conflict. If such a stance is taken however, to reach a mutually agreeable decision will be a difficult and long process. Therefore, it is essential in such a situation, to not just remain open to the other party’s point of view, but the larger picture as well. 

2. Developing of Options: When a conflict is being negotiated, it is important that each side offers possible options to resolve the matter at hand.  I have been involved in conflict resolution, where the discussion revolves only around options which are not acceptable to either side. Therefore, being creative in the development of options is vital, as is abstaining from judging or criticizing them.

3. Notes: In the heat of discussions, we tend to lose track of what was said. This only complicates matter further. During the negotiation stage, it is hence vital, that notes about major agreements, disagreements, options and any other important piece of information are taken down, this will help in resolving the matter at hand.

These pointers are cornerstones to keep negotiations open and healthy. They may be very simple steps, but they have been extremely helpful to me when I have been involved in negotiating conflicts. In the end, it comes down to keeping things simple and straightforward. It is only when we complicate issues, with more details or people, do they become more of a challenge to resolve.

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Setting the Stage

“Instead of suppressing conflicts, specific channels could be created to make this conflict explicit, and specific methods could be set up by which the conflict is resolved.” Albert Low

Most times there is no formal process on how a conflict is supposed to be resolved. Although setting up stringent structures can be stifling in an organization, it can streamline processes and make them more efficient. My thinking has shifted over time, from a loosely managed structure to a more defined one. The reason for this fundamental shift is due to the fact that entrepreneurial teams often consist of very strong personalities. When individuals or groups with strong personalities entangle in a conflict, one can expect a fair share of fireworks. Tackling this with set structures in place, helps facilitate such situations, as also controlling the external impact of such conflicts. 

Listed below are a couple of primer steps to help set the stage before the actual negotiations begin:

1. Ground Rules: It is important to set strict guidelines, to keep the negotiation stage as civil as possible. T Controls on language, tone of voice and relevance to the discussions are essential. Usually, if uncontrolled, irrelevant examples are brought into arguments, making conflict resolving more challenging. Keeping strict focus on the issue at hand in a healthy environment is vital.

2. Agenda: Before affected individuals or groups are called in for negotiations, an agenda needs to be developed to ensure that all the key issues will be discussed. Through this, both individuals can be given adequate time to share their points of views. By formalizing the structure of negotiations, they become more effective and relevant to the issue at hand.

3. Organization: Adequate notice needs to be given to the concerned individuals about the time and venue of the negotiations. The location must be set in a neutral space, where neither side will feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. This is an important step to ensure a smooth and natural flow in the discussions. At the negotiations, minutes or notes must be taken of all discussions and possible conclusions.

4. Mediator: If the issue at hand has escalated to a higher intensity level, it may be necessary to bring in a mediator or facilitator for the negotiations. This will provide unbiased mediation to help keep the negotiations on track and provide objective analysis. Both individuals must agree on the negotiator  to ensure a comfort level.

By following the above steps, expectations may be set prior to the negotiations. The affected parties will have a clearer idea of what will be discussed and how the negotiations will be facilitated and managed on the day itself. It makes the entire negotiation process more efficient and transparent, which in turn can help resolve the conflict as soon as possible.

 

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5 steps to ensure effective meetings

Boss Ramblings

Meetings are and have always been a critical tool to get the job done. All successful meetings have several common key factors. When we incorporate them into our daily meetings we will see a surge in productivity and efficiency. This will have a direct impact on the results and bottom line. Listed below are five key factors which should be incorporated into every business meeting:

  1. The Agenda: An agenda brings focus to the reason a meeting is being held. It outlines all the key factors which are going to be discussed and what is needed to be achieved during the course of the meeting. It helps the facilitator to decide who should be invited and why. This will help create a blueprint for the meeting and will also help keep it on track and to reach the required goal. To read more about how to create an ideal agenda please click here.
  2. Time & Focus: These two building blocks must be tracked meticulously during the course of the meeting to ensure that adequate time is allocated to each agenda item and that the course of the discussion remain in line with the agenda. Deviation from these two factors result in meetings where all the participants get frustrated and no consensus is reached. To read more about how to keep your time and focus in line please click here.
  3. Group Participation: Meetings are most productive when you have everyone contributing to the discussion. This results in a group generated consensus to be reached which is free from any sort of bias. A conducive environment needs to be maintained to get everyone to contribute. To read more about how to get participants to contribute more please click here.
  4. Decision Making: Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. It is essential that key steps are taken to ensure that everyones opinion on the topic are heard and a collaborative decision is reached. When there is resistance to a proposed decision it needs to be handled with care to ensure that there is no passive resistance which could jeopardize the project. To read more about how to reach decisions effectively click here.
  5. Minutes & Action Items: During the course of a meeting several topics are discussed and decisions reached. Each one of these needs to be recorded for reference purposes. Meeting minutes provide participants with an easily accessible document and reminds them of what tasks were delegated and to whom. Action items need to be delegated with clear instructions and should be time bound for optimal execution. To read more on how you can incorporate minutes and successful action item delegation please click here.

Meetings are a critical business component. To run them successfully will result in better communication. Once a team or a business is at a level where communication flow becomes more efficient and effective it will have a direct impact on its productivity and results. Incorporate these factors into your daily meetings and let me know if you have noticed better results or performance. Also if anyone else wants to share other factors which have helped them run more effective meetings please let us all know. Thank you.

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Minutes and Action Items

Action Items

Minutes are a critical aspect of any successfully run meeting. Before the start of the meeting a participant should be delegated the role of taking them down and emailing them out to the rest of the group after the meeting. This will provide all the participants with an easily accessible reference point. The rationale that everyone will remember all that is discussed during the course of the meeting is not valid and could lead to confusion in the future. Provided below are some of the key aspects which should be included in the minutes;

  • Details regarding the date, time, participants and primary objective must always be included.
  • Notes regarding every pointer on the agenda sheet provides a good framework for easy reference.
  • Clearly outline the decision or consensus which was reached during the course of the meeting.
  • List down delegated action items with proposed deadlines.

Another key aspect of successful meetings is the delegation of action items. When a consensus has been reached and an implementation strategy outlined action items need to be clearly and concisely delegated to members of the team. Some key points for successful delegation of action items are;

  • Clearly and concisely state the action item to the delegated individual. A rationale behind the item and methodology to be used is essential.
  • Action items need to have time constraints. It provides an outline in which the task needs to be completed in.
  • Follow up action needs to be allocated if the action item is complicated. This helps to keep the team in the loop regarding the implementation. It also provides checkpoints which provide valuable feedback during the implementation process.

It is the meeting facilitators responsibility to ensure that the minutes and action items are successfully delegated. Incorporating them into your next business meeting will ensure that the responsibility for these tasks is efficiently delegated and discussion points are created for future references.

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Decision Making

enforcing decisions

Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. Decisions which are taken without the consensus of all the affected departments or individuals leads to confusion, frustration and an unhealthy work environment. Listed below are a few guidelines on how to reach decisions within groups or teams effectively.

  • Ensure that the meeting facilitator or any other participant doesn’t take all the limelight. This will lead to an extremely biased view which will not be well received by all the participants. Every person in the meeting has the right to voice his/her opinion and have them factored into the decision making process.
  • Maintain an optimal size and type of the group to ensure you don’t reach a deadlock. This requires you to be selective in who you invite to the meeting. Calling two aggressive participants with three passive individuals will not yield an optimal outcome.
  • To reach an effective decision make sure that all participants have clearly understood the problem or issue which is being resolved to avoid any sort of confusion. An incorrect perception of what is being discussed is common and should be clearly stated in the agenda sheet for reference.
  • Once all the solutions to the problem have been discussed a decision used should be reached by a consensus. A voting systems will clearly identify those individuals who are for the solution and against it, this can be later explored in individual meetings if time is limited in the group meeting.
  • When a decision has been made and has received a majority consensus those individuals who were not in favor of the decision should do their best to buy into the proposed solution. Passive resistance to the solution becomes a major threat in implementing the solution. If you are strongly not in favor of the decision you may call another meeting to convince key individuals, however if the rest of the team is behind the decision you must do your best to go with the majority.
  • The facilitator of the meeting should do a summary of the decision which was reached through consensus at the end of the meeting. This will outline the problem we tackled, the solutions and the groups choice. This provides a great time for participants to clarify any confusion that they may have had.

If senior management has already made a decision on the particular issue do not call meetings to re-iterate the decision. If you need input from some departments calling a “review” meeting about the option selected is a better strategy.

Good decision making skills is a critical success factor for all teams. By leading meetings where you can reach timely and collaborative decisions you will be able to help your team reach fantastic results. Poor decisions which do not have the buy in of the team will result in poor performance which has a detrimental impact on your team.

Help your team to start making better decisions today!

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Group Participation

Business Meeting Participation

Business meetings are productive when all the attendees are active contributors to the discussion. Without adequate participation a biased decision may be formed based on the input of only a few participants. As the facilitator of a meeting it is your job to make sure that you get everyone in the meeting to become active contributors. Being a facilitator doesn’t require you to be extremely knowledgeable of the discussion. The following tips will help increase group participation in your next meeting.

  1. Take a count of who is going to be attending the meeting. This will help you seat the participants in a manner where all the quiet individuals will not be isolated into a corner. It will also help you structure the list of questions, specifically when you are talking about certain agenda points. Lastly knowing the participants background and personalities will help in anticipating barriers which may act as impediments.
  2. Avoid times such as right before lunch, right after lunch or nearing the end of office hours. These are times when the participants are least attentive and will not be very willing to provide feedback. Choose your time wisely, early morning meetings or an hour after the lunch break are optimal timings for meetings.
  3. Introductions from all the participants helps break the ice and allows for free flowing conversation. This helps to create a friendlier environment to encourage participation.
  4. If the meeting has a technical focus do your best to keep the jargon to the minimum. This will allow all the participants to get an idea of what is being discussed and to provide their opinion or feedback.
  5. Ask open ended questions such as “What are you thoughts on this method?” “How do you think you would implement this process?”. If you do not get appropriate answers to your questions then paraphrase them to make the respondent understand the question correctly.

Everyone at a meeting assumes a certain role. These roles may be habitual or may arise during certain discussion. Examples of roles which may take place during meetings are, the constant nit picker, quiet listeners and yes men. Take a look at your participation in meetings you attended recently. Did you take on any one role in the meetings you attended? If you did, you need to fix this by bringing balance to the image you are portraying.

You have to remember that you were invited to the meeting to give your insights on what is being discussed. You have to take this responsibility seriously and make sure that you voice your opinions in a clear and concise manner. This will give you greater visibility in your organization as well as help you establish a level of authority on a given subject matter.

Do your best to be an active participant at your next meeting!

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Time and Focus

Time Bound Meetings

If there are two components which should be tracked meticulously in every meeting “Time & Focus” top the list. When we lose track of these two components is when meetings fall apart and after endless hours of debating and discussing an issue no measurable progress is made towards the goal. To keep track of these components special attention needs to be paid to them to ensure that you have effective meetings.

Keeping Time: Time encapsulates both, being on time to your meetings and running them in such a manner that they start and end according to the time stated in the pre-meeting agenda. A few pointers on enforcing time during a meeting are;

  1. If you are chairing the meeting make sure that you reach the meeting on time. It is your responsibility to set an example about punctuality. By the same token if you are supposed to sit in on a meeting also make sure that you arrive on time. Even if your company has a culture of being late for meetings you need to start with yourself. Punctuality is essential and a defining aspect of effective organizations. If you have a habit of being late for meetings I highly suggest that you make a concentrated effort to rectify this.
  2. Assign someone to keep track of time. Reminders can be provided at checkpoints, reminding the participants how much time is left to keep everyone focused on completing the required agenda in the stipulated period of time. Keep track of how many meetings go into overtime. This can be a key metric to analyzing and calculating the effectiveness of your meetings for future optimization.
  3. For participants who reach meetings late you do not need to do a re-cap unless critical. You can fill the participants in after the meeting has concluded. Demerit points can be assigned to individuals who are continuously late. This can be included in the individuals performance review and needs to be taken seriously.

Keeping Focus: Losing focus during a meeting is quite easy. Any off-topic comment can send the meeting on a completely new tangent which will have a negative impact on both the timing and quality of the meeting. A few pointers on enforcing focus during a meeting are;

  1. Use your agenda pointers to help keep track of the meeting’s progress. When discussing an agenda point, allocate a certain action to that point once discussed and cross it off the list. This will help  bring closure to the point and make it harder to come back to discuss the point again.
  2. Ask only relevant questions during the discussion. When an off-topic comment or question is asked it has the ability to completely derail the meeting from the agenda. If you are the facilitator of the meeting do your best to keep off- topic questions to the minimum.
  3. Keep distractions to the minimum. There should be no cellphone conversations allowed during the course of the meetings. This has to be taken seriously to remain focused on reaching the goal in the time allocated.
  4. If the meeting is scheduled to take 2 hours do your best to incorporate at least one break for 5 – 10 minutes to keep participants focused and attentive.

Once you are able to bring these two key components under control you will enjoy shorter and more effective meetings.

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