Teams Beyond the Comfort Zone

By Felix Ludosan - Senior Program Manager | BASF 

As project professionals, we’re used to thinking about the plans, deadlines, deliverables.

We lead or be a team player as the situation requires. We experience and manage projects in the context of both our professional and personal lives.

But what happens when project thinking seeps into unfamiliar territory, to situations that extend beyond our normal comfort zone?

Beyond comfort means learning new skills and adapting quickly

As a former professional basketball player, I enjoy physical sports and a challenge every now and then. Sailing, a sport I have always wanted to try, was not exactly in my comfort zone.

When I was offered the chance to join a team sailing experience along the scenic Croatian coast, I jumped into the challenge. The prospect of learning new skills, and most of all, joining an exciting team, made me say yes. I’m about to set sail to Croatia’s largest marina in Sukošan, which some call a paradise for boaters!

Project professionals know this situation well: you get two or more opportunities to join new projects and something inside you says, “Stay in the comfort zone”. Other voices warn you to stay away of troubled waters, with a high probability to fail. But if you always listen to these voices, you will certainly miss important experiences in your life.

We flew to Zadar in Croatia and joined the sailing team in the country’s largest marina in Sukošan. The plan was to enter the sea the next morning, which meant there wasn’t really much time for team building.

We first went for dinner at the marina restaurant, surpassing Tuckman’s Five Stages of Group Development very quickly towards the Performing stage. Then we went back to the boat and clarified the roles and responsibilities for the next seven days.

Everyone was aware of the individual sailing skills of the others, making it easier to assign duties among the team members. Awareness about individual capabilities and the recognition that everyone can contribute in some way to the team’s goals are both key for team success.

My job was to help pull the sheets and lines at sea and to pick up the mooring line when docking in the marina, because that was the best I could do on the ship. To be successful in a project, it is important that specific tasks are carried out by the most skilled person, wherever possible. This is crucial, when sailing.

After being clear about our roles, we planned together the next sailing day, just as you would do in a projects, particulary some hybrid projects. On one hand, the final goal was clear—bring back the boat to Sukošan after one week; on the other hand, we kept the daily itinerary flexible, based on latest weather forecasts, personal mood, and physical condition of the team members.

Being a self-organizing team on a sailing trip, leadership is an important factor to success. Like in every relationship, consensus about decisions is not a given, but in crucial situations like on day four of our trip, there were no doubts. The dangerous Bora winds falling from the Dinaric Alps suddenly hit our ship as we were passing a strait between two islands. Our team member Mark immediately took the lead, and everyone followed his instructions without any discussion or blaming.

That reminded me of project situations—when quick decisions and actions are required, a strict hierarchy is very useful. After a two-hour-struggle with the sails and the waves, we managed to reach a calm bay. Afterwards, we tried to fix the damage to the ship. We cooked and ate together, while reviewing the situation and optimizing our approach for the future. We also exchanged our personal feelings and moods after this dramatic emergency. It reminded me again how beneficial it is for projects to have a team collocated to enhance information coordination and maximize resources.

The last days on the ship were smooth and, as we were handing over the boat to the charterer, we realized how fast a team can grow in just seven days, and how much we can accomplish together.

Because … we were on the same boat.

If you want to know what I learned about the power of teams during my basketball career, join my presentation at IIL’s International Project Management Day, which opens on November 4, 2021, and is available On-Demand until February 6, 2022.

Register here and get a $10 discount by using the code LUDOSAN.

IPM Day Speaker Felix Ludosan - Out of His Comfort ZoneAbout The Author

Felix Ludosan played basketball on a professional level before he joined IBM Germany as a Computer Science graduate in 1995. When ‘Big Blue’ established their Project Management Center of Excellence in 1997, Felix decided to pursue a project management career. He discovered early that his sports experience was extremely beneficial for the project management profession, which became his passion for life. Felix has worked in numerous industries including Automotive, Financial Services, Insurance, Government, and Manufacturing. The 6.5 ft. PMP® certified project manager is currently one of the Project Management thought leaders at BASF in Germany, a leading multinational chemical company. As a certified Sports Mental Coach and Athlete Manager, Felix also coaches young athletes, including his son, an international soccer goalkeeper playing in the U.S., and his daughter who plays basketball in Germany.


The Common Traits of Exceptional Leaders — A Live Case Study

by Sofia Zafeiri

For a significant period of my student life and as a Communications Professional, I’ve been wondering which personality traits are the ones that I need to work on to make myself not only stand out from the crowd but to thrive. On a recent Friday night, I had the opportunity to meet with a Global Executive from one of the world’s largest financial organizations.

Not long after we sat down, Stephan (the Executive) and I started discussing my experiences while job hunting and getting into more detail about the Executive’s approach to hiring new and young professionals.

He said, “I want to hire great people. Those who are better than me. And then, I want to give them tasks and the freedom to learn and do their own thing. I need to know they succeed in their personal lives as well as their professional ones. Only then am I a proud leader.”

That rang a bell. A few months back, I was desperately looking for inspiration and some answers to my endless questions. So I asked one of my professors (also a CCO of a global conglomerate) to be my mentor. An invitation that weirdly enough, he happily accepted. I remembered in our first meeting; he said the exact same thing as Stephan.

In fact, I distinctly remember him admitting, “I am not good at everything. But I know what my weaknesses are, and I know how to hire great people. We work as a team, and there are members of my staff that are much smarter and more current than I am.”

In an ocean of good and bad business leaders, hearing an amazing professor and well-respected business person saying what he did, astounded me, to say the least.

For the rest of the night on that rooftop, my wired brain was going back and forth comparing the two leaders. The similarities were plenty. By the end of the evening and on my way back home, I tried to summarize the new data. I realized that:

In other words,

  • They make people feel great about themselves
  • They know their weaknesses and are open to them
  • They know how to hire people who are better than them at particular things
  • They measure the strengths of their employees, give them tasks, and let them “swim” while they provide help and support when needed
  • They acknowledge the inner balance that a family life has to offer

Although their careers are imperative to them, they both valued their time with their families.

  • They are genuinely interested in people

It doesn’t matter if the new acquaintances are younger or entry-level professionals. A good leader knows that the future is in the eye of the beholder.

At the end of the day, great leaders create an army of loyal employees and friends around them who will be more than willing to help them in a time of need.

What type of leader do you aspire to be?


About the Author

Sofia Zafeiri is the Social Media Coordinator at IIL. She graduated from NYU with a Ms in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Before moving to New York City, she worked for a variety of organizations in Europe.


5 Lean Six Sigma Concepts to Help You Reach Your Goals

By Anne Foley, MBB, CSSBB, PMP
Director of Lean Six Sigma, IIL

There is a popular quote that says the definition of insanity is doing the same things the exact same way while expecting the results to change. That is what tends to happen when we have a goal without a plan. It would be like a farmer expecting to reap a harvest without planting anything.

Here are five concepts from the Lean Six Sigma framework that will help you to reap the harvest you need in 2016. Not only have I used these concepts to make improvements to processes and results at work, I have used them to accomplish personal goals.

Concept 1 – Clearly Define the Necessary Improvement

Saying you want a better year in 2016 isn’t enough. What is it that you want to improve? Identify the starting point and a realistic goal. Do you want to increase sales or reduce billing errors?  The more specific you are about your goal, the higher your probability of achieving it.  This also applies to personal goals. For example, many people resolve to lose weight in the New Year. That’s a good start but things go south quickly when they try the same tactics that they’ve tried in years past, expecting different results.

Concept 2 – Identify the Factors That Impact Results

There is a statistical expression that you probably learned at some point of your educational journey that states y = f (x). If you were like me, you quickly forgot this expression because you had no idea how it can help problem solving and goal fulfillment. Believe it or not, this easily forgotten statistical expression is a key part of improving results.

As a quick review, y is the statistical symbol for an output. It is something measurable that you want to change. In our weight example, the “Y” would represent weight loss. X is the statistical symbol for inputs or factors that generate the “Y” output. The factors are going to be things like caloric intake, exercise, and water intake, just to name a few. So the first step is to identify all the factors that impact the result.

For example, I once ran something called a Design of Experiment (DOE) to determine what the correct factors and levels of those factors are to help me lose weight. I learned that my optimal recipe (pun intended) for weight loss is to eat 250 calories, five times a day, and drink no less than 64 ounces of water daily. Additionally, I have to walk and jog in intervals for 30 minutes per day – five days per week. For me, that results in a 2-3 pound weight loss per week. I don’t share this with you because I expect it to be your optimal recipe. The levels of these factors might be different for you but you could easily identify your own factors and levels by learning to run a Design of Experiment.  This means experimenting with key factors in a controlled environment and measuring the results.

Concept 3 – Expand your “Line of Sight”

Knowledge is the power we need to accomplish our goals. Measurement is a great way to gain that knowledge. What things do you measure? In your business, I expect you to measure revenue, labor costs and some sort of customer satisfaction metric. What about in your personal life? I know someone who sets a goal to read a certain number of books each year and keeps track of how many he reads. I once had a student who decided to measure all the factors around his family’s consumption of gasoline for their cars. He tracked how often they purchased gasoline, the number of miles per gallon they were getting, the number of times they drove somewhere per week, and where they drove and why. The information he uncovered from his data collection helped his family reduce their gasoline expenditures by $1,000 that year.

If your goal is to save more money this year the first thing to evaluate are the factors that will allow for this. The obvious ones are to reduce expenses or increase your income/revenue. Whichever one you chose should be broken down into the factors that will drive that result. In the previous example they decided to focus on the reduction of gasoline expenditures.  Others may focus on reducing food expenditures. There are many paths to the same result and each of us has the freedom to choose our own path.

Concept 4– Get Rid of Waste

Another goal of the Lean Six Sigma methodology is to reduce the amount of time wasted in trying to fulfill an objective. By reducing the waste, you speed up the process. One of my favorite techniques from Lean is utilized to create better organization in your life. It is called 5S.

  • Sort. Take a look around your work or home environment. Do you see anything that is outdated, broken, or just collecting dust because you never use it? Get rid of it.
  • Set in Order. Once you remove all the waste, evaluate what is left and find a place for each item. That place should be clearly labeled and arranged in the order of use. If the extension cord for the snow remover is located across the garage from the snow blower… behind the stack of boxes… rearrange the garage. The point of this step is to promote the most efficient flow, with the things that are used most often, located in an area that is easily accessible.
  • Shine. This is also known as systematic cleaning. At a pre-determined time – daily, weekly or monthly depending on what space you are in, clean out the space. If you notice that inventory is low, follow the process to refill. Things that you frequently use should be inventoried. There are two goals for this step. First, to ensure that the space is kept clean and free from things that could cause problems. Second, to ensure that you can clearly see when you are low in inventory so you can restock.
  • Standardize. Make it a point to put things back in the same space after each use. The rest of your colleagues or family needs to do this too. That means labeling spaces and making sure everyone knows where the most commonly used items belong.
  • Sustain. Schedule a 5S review on a regular basis. Most people do some sort of spring or fall cleaning and it’s a large undertaking. If you do this frequently, those types of full day cleanings can be spent doing something more enjoyable.

Concept 5 – Put Things in a Logical Order

When ATM machines first came out, the user got their card back prior to the money and 60% of users left their card in the machine within the first year. I guess the cliché “take the money and run” is true. Banks re-arranged the order of the process to have the card come back before the money and it reduced the problem by 90%. Things have a natural flow and you’ll have fewer defects/costs if you set up your process to match that flow.

If you are feeling hopeful about 2016, take advantage of the energy surge that the New Year brings. Apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to different aspects of your life and you will dramatically improve the likelihood of meeting your goals!

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Lean Six Sigma training at www.iil.com/leansixsigma. [/trx_infobox]

anneAnne F. Foley, PMP, MBB, CSSBB has been teaching Lean Six Sigma (DMAIC) and Project Management for eighteen years. Anne has served as the Director of Lean Six Sigma at IIL for the past thirteen years. She is also the author of The Passages to Peace (a novel) and a frequent contributor to Project Management, Lean Six Sigma and other various publications. Anne has a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University.