Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What it Takes to Make A High-Performance Event Team

You can’t begin early too early and you can’t communicate too much,” admonished a savvy collaborator at a post-event debriefing. Your humble blogger had taken some lumps after running what he’d thought had been a good team effort. But the maxim to became a motto.

Event production is a test of group intelligence. Events of any size take a team to execute. And the effectiveness of the team is not simply a function of the individual intelligence of people on the team.

Collective intelligence can be measured and reliably associated with group performance according to a study recently covered in the Boson Globe. Collective intelligence “is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group,” according to the abstract of the study which was published in Science. The female factor fell away when controlled for social sensitivity.

Teams of individually intelligent players can be collectively weak-minded. When unexpected problems test the typical event team of specialists, too often the response is a collective deer-in-the-headlights standstill. In these situations somebody needs to step forward and focus the group on generating a solution.

Effective problem response may be counter intuitive. The study apparently found that “overbearing leaders” tended to reduce group intelligence. This is evident on event teams that hesitate to act on urgent problems while waiting for the leadership to "call the shots." But the coverage of the study did not mention socially sensitive leadership as a catalyst for problem solving.

The leadership factor in collective intelligence will emerge in further study, if your humble blogger’s observations of event teams are correct. A socially sensitive leader can raise the collective intelligence of the group simply by being part of the group and by example, influencing others.  But  leadership is also critical in guiding group processes to a conclusion.  A formal leader does not have to be the one leading the show, but leadership is a key on any event team, especially when the team faces a new or unexpected problem.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zip Ideas: Three Lessons from the CEO of Zipcar

Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar, recently offered key lessons learned in the his seven years in the driver's seat of the company.  Zipcar is trying to “redefine the way people think about transportation.”  Giffith’s "Zip Ideas" could apply to media companies in a time when the way people think about information is rapidly changing.

Giffith has led Zipcar from a three-year-old, struggling start-up to an a 150 million dollar company, still without profits, but a market leader on the verge of an IPO.  For an audience of fellow University of Chicago grads, including your humble blogger, he boiled his lessons down to three ideas:

  1. Branding: Keep it Simple
What he means is keep the idea of what your brand provides clear and easy to understand; e.g.  Zipcar is a car sharing service that provides a less expensive, more convenient alternative to ownership for urbanites, businesses and university communities.

  1. Sell the steak, not the sizzle
A quick look at the Zipcar website is helpful in understanding this point.  The online pitch includes two pairs of bare legs sticking out of a station wagon (“if your boss asks, you were on a sales call”), two twenty-something “dudes” with expressions more evocative of a roller coaster ride than a car ride (“as a matter of fact I do own the road, just not the car”), etc. so he’s hardly opposed to using sizzle to make a sale.  But what he is saying is that management attention and resources should be focused on the execution of the experience. 

  1. Innovate Yourself
“If alarm bells are going off all around you,” Griffith said, “you may be the cause of the alarm.”  This rings true to your humble blogger. I’ve observed that the common denominator in repeated problems I see, might be the observer.  Griffith credited his awakening on this point to his personal fight with cancer and his brother’s supportive but challenging intervention: “I know you’ll get through this Scott, but you need to think about what kind of person you want to be on the other side.”  Griffith advocated both personal and professional self-innovation.

When you are working to turn good information into good business (which is the key part of our simple statement of what we do) these three lessons are worth keeping in mind; retain a simple view of what you do, how you do it and for whom; keep a firm grip on basic operations that create the value you sell; and constantly improve not just your organization and its products but your own character and capacity.

Next time you see a Zipcar, take a moment to recall these “Zip Ideas.”

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