A Quick Intro to Team Engagement

I have found that when it comes to Teams, the best way to approach them is like an extended family.  If you’re lucky enough to be the one pulling in or creating a team, you can pretty much ensure that (depending on how well you interview) you’re getting a group of people who share your values, drive, or maybe even sensitivity.  When I speak about treating team members like family, I’m not talking about inviting them into your home and sharing all your deep, dark secrets.  Instead, I’m talking about some basic, intrinsic values such as:

  •        Benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume something they do is purposefully negative. If an action or behaviour makes you step back and wonder what happened, don’t go on the attack. Get to the root or the why and understand the situation.  Accidents happen and sometimes bad judgement calls are made. Don’t immediately believe it is malicious.  Share your expectations and explain why you felt it wasn’t right.  Offer training and guidance.
  •        Listen, with your ears AND eyes. Get to know who they are by learning how they respond and interact, not just to the words they say but “how” in speech and in body language. Does the tone they use in speaking with you match their pose?  Are they hiding anger, regret, or resentment? Getting to know an employee and their strengths means you can get more accomplished by focusing on their positives.
  •        Trust them. You hired them for a purpose. Trust that they will do what is required.  It may not be the way you would do it yourself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.  If something doesn’t work, go back to the first item on this list and discover where the problem may be stemming from.  Is it lack of understanding?  Not being aware of how their individual positions and work enhance the group and team dynamics?  Again, offer training and guidance either in reviewing operating procedures or working with an established “buddy” that can share knowledge.

Building a team and allowing the members to reach their potential is an ongoing process that will result in a strong and cohesive unit. They not only share expectations for accomplishing tasks, but trust and support one another. A team takes on a life of its own and you have to regularly nurture and maintain it, just as you do for individual employees. Using the “Family” analogy, think of what happens when a child brings home a significant other who joins the family, or, alternatively, if one leaves the “nest”. They dynamics will change and the team will adapt to the new group – hopefully in a positive way. I’ll share some thoughts on keeping the team cohesive in my follow-up post.

With a strong team and good team-building skills, employees are united around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without good practices, the team is limited to the effort each individual can make alone. In other words:

“Individuals Play the Game, but Teams win Championships.” – Source Unknown

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona may not have built many sports teams, but he has definitely been lucky enough to build a number of excellent Development and Support teams! Although tackle football is still frowned upon in most offices, he’s glad that at least morning scrums have caught on. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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MRP Holiday Flash Fiction – 2nd Place Winner

The votes were tallied and I came in second for the Morning Rain Publishing 2015 Holiday Flash Fiction challenge 🙂

Thank you to everyone who voted for me!  You can also participate in the event as you now have the chance to read the story 🙂

Head over to their page to read: Stakeout and please make sure to let me know what you thought!

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

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Holiday Flash Fiction

I have to admit that out of all the writing I do, Flash Fiction is the most fun. I still love the challenge of creating a story within the boundaries of Fast Fiction (200 words or less) but having the space to breathe gives Flash pieces more wiggle-room to be silly when I need to be.

Of course, with all the other things on my plate short pieces allow me to create without needing to spend a lot of time on it – which works just fine for my sanity 🙂

This year, I thought I’d share my Holiday Flash Fiction in a different way and sent it in to Morning Rain Publishing for their holiday challenge. They thought it was good enough to make their top 5 and are now letting the public get a vote on the submitted stories.  So, if you would be so kind as to head on over to the Morning Rain Flash Fiction Contest Page and read snippets of the entries, perhaps you’ll also decide that my story (Stakeout) is worthy of winning 🙂

Thank you, as always, for your kind words.  You are free to keep any evil ones to yourself 😉


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50% off Sale at Kobo!

If you don’t already know, my Mysterious Minute-Men books are available on the Kobo platform:

Mike Aragona’s Mysterious Minute-Men

There are a couple of days left on the Kobo international sale that is currently running. Customers are able to redeem 50% off of select titles, including mine, using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times.The sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code so make sure you’re using the right one!

October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

Simply add the books you want to your cart and upon checkout add the code for your territory and the 50% will apply.  Happy reading!

(Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice.)


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Work’s a Journey, Not a Destination

After 40 years of working at the same company, a friend of mine retired recently. During her farewell party, she commented how she felt like she was, “…watching my life be dismantled piece by piece…” during the transition phase leading up to her last day.

This reminded me of a similar feeling I had many years ago when I was moving to a new company and was hearing from friends how many of the systems I had put in place during my tenure were being retired for newer ones. The sense of pride I felt having taken that company’s fledgling network and boosted/ grown it over the five years I was there was turning into sadness that this “upstart” who was hired to replace me was suddenly veering into (in my opinion) the wrong direction.

He wasn’t the guy who nurtured those systems, who understood what was needed to keep it stable, who worked for years in actually stabilizing it, who took care and maintained it.  He was just some “new” guy with ideas of grandeur who was coming in to make his mark. And worst of all he wasn’t going to be sticking around!

It was then that I realized that my career was not about creating anything solid or long-lasting like houses or buildings, but that I was dealing with what I can only refer to as “VaporWare”.  I was building or creating technology systems and/or working with teams developing software that could only last a few years.  That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to technology. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care about what they’re delivering, though.

Knowing that something won’t last means that you should accept the transient nature of the work.  Build the best thing you can without it consuming you or aiming for absolute perfection. Release it to the wild with the understanding that you will (and should) continue to tweak it, monitor it, boost it up, and make it better a bit at a time.  When the time comes that your system needs to be decommissioned, let it go. There will be other projects, other challenges, other teams.

In other words, build the best thing you can, but not at the expense of others.

The most important thing to remember is that the people you work with along the way, and how you treat them, will be what really continues to exist after the work is done. Those relationships you forged, or the ego battles you fought, will continue past the project and the company. The people you work with are what make your day and the time you spend at work bearable. Because of that, the best you should hope for is to make a positive impact in someone’s life.

I find the concept of “empire building” quite funny. I hear from people in various companies about some of the practices they have to put up with and I shake my head and snicker. It always amazes me when I hear of how one person is trying to push something through, or working to remove someone from their team, or trying to “amass power” in a way to move up in a company. Why go through all that effort?  Why dispense so much negative energy? Remember, Collaboration is the key to success.

Life is too short to spend your days arguing about things that will not stand the test of time. Those “empires” or victories will not keep you warm at night nor visit you when you’re on your deathbed.  And when the time comes, they will not raise a glass to your memory, either.

As a parting thought, I leave you with the conclusion to my friend’s speech.  She finished by saying, “…I realize now that it wasn’t about the work, it was all about you!”  Her daily work is over, but our friendships, memories, and new stories will continue. She couldn’t take her work with her now that she’s retiring, but she can definitely take our friendship. That’s exactly what I took with me when I left the company we were both working at, five years ago.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona still has a way to go before being able to retire, but when he does, he’s sure you’ll be able to read all about it… His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. (and  at last check, more than 50% of the companies he worked or consulted at are now dead!))

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Why Sharing Praise Sparks Engagement and Innovation

I have always been a voracious reader, and by extension I guess I also spend a lot of time thinking. Most times, I think about ways experiences can be improved. It’s a simple motto of looking at any situation and asking the question of “what can we do that would make this better?”

When I was first starting out my career and had taken “ownership” for the local area network of the company I was at, I thought it would be really cool if the users logging in were greeted with a friendly message and/ or perhaps a little word of wisdom.  I went searching for quotes everywhere I could (not as easy as it is today) and started to incorporate them within the network login scripts.

I was quite proud of this accomplishment – even though today’s technology makes it all child’s play. At any rate, I used to get a big kick out of seeing those messages appear and the users loved it as well.

One morning, a few weeks later, I came across a message that was sent to my boss from a new employee extolling his wisdom at such a young age for being able to present such pearls of wisdom to everyone every morning. In his reply, he simply thanked her, and made no mention of my contribution or the fact that it was all my doing.  I was crestfallen.

This was my first experience with someone else taking credit for something I had done and it took my breath away like a powerhouse punch to the gut.

Why didn’t my boss say anything? Why is it not inherent in people to direct praise to those who specifically earned it? Forget not being fair, that was just downright wrong! My young self could not believe what had happened.

I have often said that one of my reasons for wanting to become a leader was to ensure that anyone reporting to me would be treated the way *I* wanted to be treated and this was definitely one of those defining moments.

The quickest way to lose employee engagement is to hold back the kudos they deserve for good work, especially if the praise comes from a third party. That is partially why I always make sure my employees know exactly how I feel about the great work they do. The other reason is actually quite simple: because they deserve to know when they’ve made a positive impact in the lives of others! They should know that their work matters!

No one is more willing to invest time and effort into something than when they know they are appreciated.

As for me, it wasn’t too long after that experience that the login greeting scripts I had created were slowly dismantled. It just wasn’t worth my time and effort to keep doing something that wasn’t strictly necessary, especially considering all my other work. Network logins went back to being what they were because no one else had the time to maintain it and I filed the experience away. Eventually, I did polish it off and reinstitute it again. At a new company, of course.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona fondly remembers those old Bulletin Board Systems and CompuServe Forums, but can’t deny the better on-line world of today. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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Transformation, Strengths, and Monstrous Changes

Every year, August slowly brings back that crisp morning air and the sense that Autumn is just around the corner.  With it, of course, comes the beautiful transformation of nature as we (at least here in Canada) begin to prepare for the coming winter. It is always during this point in time that I begin to reflect on my own transformation.  What has changed since the year began? Where do I need to adjust my course? Are the waters up ahead calm or am I headed for a storm?

I’m not a believer of “new year resolutions” but I am very much a believer of naturally taking stock of where you are and where you’re going, both in a personal and a professional way. And just as the new school year arrives every September offering new challenges and opportunities for learning to students, I try to peek around the corner and figure out “the shape of things to come” in my own life. It’s just an instinctive reaction I have to the changing of this season.

A few years ago, I was asked to go on camera and record my thoughts on what I thought about Transformation in business and the challenges that come with change. Never one to shy away from (a) sharing my thoughts or (b) being on camera, I readily agreed. The memory of the video came back to me recently while discussing Clifton StrengthsFinder with a friend and my approach to using it.

Change for change’s sake doesn’t work for me. If you’re going to invest time, money, and energy into something, it should be for a positive and rewarding experience. Often, just looking at a situation differently is enough to spark a change.  For example, I used to carry my personal motto with me to every meeting I went to.  A simple note of “Make it Happen” reminded me that nothing happens without someone to put things in motion. When I was given my first team, I made a small change to my saying and shared it with the team.  It became: “Make IT Happen”.  As Information Technologists, our job was to support our colleagues, our clients, and our company. There was no reason that we couldn’t do whatever it took. We just needed to take full ownership and get the job done.

Simplistic?  Yes.  Difficult?  Sometimes, yes, it was. When you are working in an environment that doesn’t empower employees to challenge the status quo, it’s easy to fall into a routine. Deciding that you will and CAN get the job done (and that you have the support to do so) changes the way you approach a problem. And when you’re working in a cohesive team, there are ample ideas to help you out if you get stuck.

As is the case with any new direction, not everyone bought in on the changes. Eventually, though, once the benefits started to materialize and people noticed the positive and impactful changes we had introduced, it became second nature. I’m proud to say that those employees quickly earned a reputation for being knowledgeable, trustworthy, efficient, and most importantly, dependable. They became known for getting IT done.

Let me wrap up this post by sharing the transcript of my recorded interview:

“Personally, there is a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes that sums up my feelings about Transformation. It is this: ‘We must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it, but sail we must and not drift nor lie at anchor’.

The point, for me, is that we need to keep moving, keep adapting, keep looking for newer and better ways to use our skills, our talents, our people, in ways that empower them, make them accountable and get them energized by the possibilities that new ventures can bring us.

Transformation is all about taking a look at where we are and what is to come and finding ways to synergize the best of both worlds, keep us heading in the direction we need to go to reach our goals and just learn to steer our ship with more eloquence and speed with the whole team working together towards those goals.

It’s not about forgetting the old and blindly embracing the new, but about accepting, not resisting, what is to come and seeing how it can fit with what already is.

In other words, to use another quote, it’s about building a better tomorrow, today.”

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona’s top Strength is Strategy, but he never imagined he would one day quote Monster’s Inc. during an interview on Business Transformation, even though that movie’s theme (now that he thinks about it) is all about changing a business model to survive!! His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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