Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Value and Sincerity of Small Teams

Leadership is so personal, so intimate, and takes a huge amount of devotion. It’s about communication, trust and building relationships.  This article by Pat Lencioni is quietly brilliant. My favorite part is about small teams that are effective, are 3-8.  People need to be heard. They need to feel they can get across their ideas. As the team grows, the ‘space’ for their voice dimishes.

And then what happens next is the diminishing of a culture. Because the voice -their voice – will be heard.  People will talk amongst themselves. They become disgruntled. The lunch table talk becomes about what doesn’t work, because your teammates, will listen. The bonding comes not from “what can we do to improve our service, our business our product as a team?” to team members who bond over what doesn’t work.  Here, they know their voice will be heard.

Sometimes, it’s hard to carve out the time, resources and money so that your team members are heard.  It may, at times, seem unrelated to your business.  And a huge investment of managers, personnel and time.  But in many ways it is not. These are real concerns with team members; they must be heard.  In addition we are all growing.  All of us. Interns, CEOs, volunteers, executive committees, board members, managers, engineers, consultants.   All learning to express ourselves in new and different ways.   And hopefully, making the investment for clearer communications, quicker joint action, and most importantly, more trusting relationships.  Plus, it’s just more fun to work together.

So keep investing in (and listening to) your team. It’s keep your ‘3-8 team’  tight.

Read on below for Pat Lencioni’s great article on leadership. You can also check him out at

Right-Sizing Your Team
by Pat Lencioni

Right-sizing has to be one of the more detested words in modern business language, mostly because the use of it often indicates a lack of courage. Rather than come right out and say ‘lay-off’ or ‘firing,’ too many leaders announce that they are going to right-size their organization, as though this will somehow change the reality of what they are about to do, which is eliminate jobs and let employees go.

Of course, eliminating jobs and laying people off is a reality of business and no one can fault a leader who has to make those difficult decisions as long as they do it with appropriate discernment and gravity. What is ironic to me is how often executives fail to step up to the plate when it is time to do what the term right-sizing actually means, particularly when it comes to dealing with their leadership team.

So many executive teams I deal with are simply too big. Whether they have eleven or fourteen or eighteen members, they become gangly and cumbersome, making it impossible to be nimble and responsive in their responsibilities to steer their organization through rough waters, or even relatively calm ones.

So what is the right size for a leadership team? Somewhere between three and eight. Why? Because groups larger than this almost always struggle to effectively use the two kinds of communication that are required of any organization.

Chris Argyris, a professor at Harvard, came up with the idea years ago that people need to engage in both ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’ in order to communicate effectively. Advocacy amounts to stating an opinion or an idea, while inquiry is the act of asking questions or seeking clarity about someone else’s opinion or idea. Frankly, one part advocacy and two parts inquiry is a mix I like to see on teams.

However, when there are too many people at the table, inquiry drops off dramatically, mostly because people realize that they’re not going to get many opportunities to speak so they weigh in with their opinion while they have the chance. Like a member of congress or the United Nations, they aren’t going to waste their precious time at the pulpit exploring the merits of a colleague’s proposal. Where is the glory in that?

But when the team is smaller, two things happen. First, trust can be exponentially stronger. That is simply a matter of physics. Second, team members know that they’ll have plenty of time to make their ideas heard, even if they do more inquiry than advocacy. This leads to significantly better and faster decisions. That’s worth repeating. Better AND faster. Those large teams I referred to before often take three times longer to arrive at decisions that prove to be much poorer, often the result of a grope for consensus.

So, how does a leader go about right-sizing a team?

First, understand the reason for having such a large team in the first place. Too often, they put people on the team as a reward, or to placate them for another unrelated issue. “I’ll put Fred on the executive committee. Then he won’t feel so bad about having part of his organization taken away.” Or maybe, “the merger has been painful for everyone. I’ll just have two VPs of sales at the meeting. No need to alienate anyone right now.” Along the same lines but for somewhat different reasons, they fall for the inclusivity plea, trying to demonstrate to the organization that they are open to many different opinions and that they value everyone’s input.

Once a leader has come to terms with why the team has grown so large, it becomes time to right-size the team. The key to doing this is to avoid the band-aid approach, which involves painfully choosing people to take off the team, one at a time. A better method is to create a new team, starting from scratch. That means if you have twelve people on the team, rather than winnowing it down to ten or nine, try forming a real executive team with just four or five. Add one or two more from there if necessary, and unapologetically explain to the old team why the new one is necessary, and why you’ve formed it the way you did.

You can keep the old team intact for other purposes, like communication and development, but not for making the regular decisions that must be made quickly and with the right mix of debate and decisiveness.

One of the things you’ll learn is that the people who are not on the new team will probably thank you. In many cases, they see and experience the dysfunction of too many members, and while there may be a temporary sting at not being on the new one, any good executive will be mature enough to see the benefits to the organization overall. And if they aren’t mature enough to do that, you probably shouldn’t have had them on the team in the first place.

Upswing in Volunteerism: Perfect for International Volunteer Day December 5th

The Boston Globe has been on fire recently.

Thankfully, they’ve covered articles on international giving,  giving in India, and now, the increase in volunteerism:  Over the past two decades, students are 100% more likely to volunteer than they were in the past.

This upswing in volunteerism is simply an increase, and return to, the wonderful culture we have had since the early 1700s. We have always been an entrepreneurial society, willing to invest our time and energy to help others.  Benjamin Franklin was a great model for us in helping us build our first volunteer firefighting force. That spirit and motive of helping one other in our community, has led us to help so many at home, and across the world.

We can get better.  Every person volunteering is gaining so much — so much perspective about another’s life. Learning how to communicate with people of different backgrounds. Increasing their own gratitude for their life.  Cultivating a deeper compassion and empathy.

The Globe provides an inspiring article that is also factual. What’s really happening is people are seeking connection and meaning… which can lead to greater understanding and world peace. 

And we just can’t have enough of that.

By the way… International Volunteer Day is December 5th: Celebrate it!

Sincerely, Pamela Hawley
Founder and CEO
UniversalGiving (
Creating a World Where Giving and Volunteering are A Natural Part of Everyday Life.”

Creative Gift Giving in Tough Times: Giving Meaning, Giving Service

It’s a tough time right now for many people, as our joblessness rate climbs, with more than 300,000 expected to be let go this next month.  It’s hard to stay hopeful, and yet, there are ways that we can keep the positive energy flowing.  

When I think about the holidays….it is about spending time with people, serving people meals, and being grateful.  Perhaps we can translate part of that to our giving this year, and every year…

It can be such a wonderful trend that we are humbled to be less materialistic, and more focused on giving of ourselves. More focused on impacting other people’s lives. More focused on serving, rather than sending another gift.

The good thing is that people are still going to give.  And we can revolutionize the way we think about giving. What about the giving that comes from ourselves? It takes precious energy, and is one of the most valuable investments in life, in people.

It’s about spending time with people you love, or spending time with people who simply come across your path, in need of love.  Serving them in ways that help them with their daily lives, whether it be clearing the table, cleaning up your room, making a meal for your roommates, having flowers on the table, and yes, taking the garbage and recycling out. 🙂 Those are the gifts of service, of helping, that go miles in filling our hearts and others. During this holiday season, and yet during any season of life…

Another idea, rather than spending $100 for a shirt or a purse, we could give $25 to buy eyeglasses for a child in Tanzania, or $50 to feed a family in Sudan. What we are really focusing on is that the gift can not only be less expensive  — but more meaningful. You can see some examples by searching for gift packages at

Whatever you decide to do for these holidays…the most important is giving the gift of appreciating people.  Let’s enjoy, appreciate and be thankful for our time together this holiday.

Warmly, Pamela

Wisdom & Leadership

Being a leader of an organization, I am always searching for ways to grow as an individual.  Great authors I love are Bill George &  Stephen Covey; great leaders I love are Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa.  I came across this inspiring brief film by Andrew Zuckerman, cataloguing what many of our leaders across different sectors, thought about wisdom. I hope you enjoy:

Stay inspired and true.


Some Informal Volunteer Recommendations, But, You Don’t Have To :)

As I think about what has made my volunteer trips more comfortable, or more enjoyable, I thought I would share a few with you. Some of them make me laugh. Such as don’t wear certain sandals in Bangkok. What might that mean, you say?  I had just arrived and it was sweltering hot.  I was walking the streets with cement sidewalks, just walking around to really get a feel for the city. Perhaps it was 104, pretty hot. 

All of a sudden i tripped on my own shoe, and looked down to see my foot half on the pavement.  It was so hot, that my sandal had become unglued from the base. There was no reattaching it, and my feet burned as I rushed to the shade (and then back to my hotel for a new, ‘non glue’ pair!). Wow did the cement scorch my feet.  But I had to laugh. Who knew shoes could become ‘unglued’ in the heat? 🙂

So here are some recommendations, some of which you may not want to do for various reasons. But, they do add to the quality of your volunteer trip, or volunteer vacation. See what you think.

1. Get up Early.

I know that doesn’t sound so great for some of you!   But being up early in the morning and really being  a part of quiet nature, especially if you are in a remote village, countryside, or unpopulated place. You will see and hear things that you won’t when more people are up and about.  You will hear  the wind, see a beautiful sunrise, early rising wildlife. It will be a special connection with the land of this country which is new to you, and will imprint a special feeling in your heart, because you have reserved this special time.  (And you don’t have to do this every morning.. just experience it at least a few times.)  Especially if you live in a city, you’ll be amazed by the majesty, peace and grandeur of simple, yet vast nature.

On your volunteer vacation, they may take you for a day or two to the sites or for a tour.  If so, definitely go early. You miss the crowds and it so so special to be in the quiet of one of their most esteemed monuments, religious devotions, or natural wonder.

2. Walk Your Community.

As long as it is safe, walk the community. Try to talk with the local  people. Ask them about their lives, listen to their day to day. If you don’t speak their language,  speak everybody’s language which is the language of a smile. Everyone relates to that. You can smile for hours with someone, pointing at things, sharing smiles, cooking together – you’d be amazed.

Point being is don’t just stay on your campsite with the other volunteers. 

Get out in the community and get to know people.  Walk their streets.

3. Exchange money into their currency.

Sometimes, people in the community will be fascinated with the dollar and will want you to pay with dollars.  They want to have them either because it is from America, or because it represents a more stable currency.  While it’s good to have them on hand anyway, I always exchange into their local currency.  They might want U.S. currency, but that doesn’t mean you should expect  they will want U.S. currency.

Respect their currency.  Be prepared to have it and to pay with it. You’re in their country, their culture, and that’s how their country operates.  So live as best you can, the way they live.

4. Create your home here.

I really like this one. If you are staying in a low key hotel, a home, or a hut, make it your home away from home. Get to know the people who help you live there. Sometimes someone will be appointed to ensure you have water. They might not be introduced to you, but you should introduce yourself. They are not your slave, they have just been told to make the guest in their community as comfortable as possible. Be aware that you could be getting luxuries (such as fresh water everyday) that they don’t have access to.

So share with them. Create a sense of home with them. Speak or smile with them.  They might not be a part of your volunteer opportunity (building the home, helping in the orphanage) but they are  a part of your volunteer trip. And you’d be surprised how quickly they become part of family to you.  You’ll miss them. Treasure your time with all the people who try to make your life easy there. And try to make it easy for them…if you can, visit their home, or ask about their lives, and always ask about and express interest in their children.  That’s important in any country, caring about someone else’s children. 🙂

5. Listen to Taxicab Drivers.

When I was in Cambodia, one of the richest  parts of my trip was speaking to the taxi cab driver.  He told me about the history, the changes in the economy, the  Pol Pot regime, what had happened to teachers, mines, and a whole host of personal stories.  He himself had been sent to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the Soviet  Afghan war. He has been trained and spoke Russian as a second language, English as third, French as a fourth.

Ask them about their lives. 

(This is true anywhere! Most taxicab drivers have wonderful backgrounds, or other professions (they  might be a doctor or lawyer, but can’t practice in this country due to different regulations).

Signing off tonite and hope you enjoyed this entry on some Informal Volunteer Recommendations….

Goodnight, and In Love of Service,  Pamela