WHY BFNLs? And WHO cares?
When I was a Captain in the Navy (O-6) in command of a Major Defense Acquisition Program, Air Combat Electronics, PMA-209 at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), I was charged with leading a team with over 380 diverse people. Some were in uniform, some were US Government employees but most of them were civilians (contract support services, CSS) from 6 different contractors outside of the Patuxent River gate, here in Southern Maryland. We could not execute without our CSS personnel. The team represented members from all over the country, some born outside of the country, all varying levels and type of education, vast experience, and belief systems. Boomer and Gen Xer’s. I had a team much like NYC where I grew up. ?
I had command from June 2011 to June 2014. We were not under COVID or telecommuting challenges at that time. We did have to endure Sequestration and Government Shutdown in 2013 which is an entirely different subject for a different Friday Night Lites.
But even then, with so many people, located in so many locations, some I saw daily and some I did not meet for months, I had to find a way to reach them all and on a regular basis. So, my biggest challenge (besides being pregnant with twins – another story for another day) was communication. Somehow, I had to share information, make sure everyone was on the same sheet of music and everyone working together as a team to execute our mission. Otherwise, how could I possible lead effectively?
One of the tools I came up with is ‘Barkhimer’s Friday Nite Lites’ weekly email. An homage to high school football. ? I would start the email on Monday and sent it out to the entire team as the last action I did before I left for the weekend. I would include all sorts of things so people could hear directly from, important information that was relevant to the program. I would include results of the past week’s efforts – program reviews, acquisition milestones, contract actions etc. I would talk about upcoming events for the next week and then 90 days out. I would talk about things I found important, to educate folks on things like Commander’s Intent, direction coming down from the chain of command, emotional intelligence (EI), and leadership tidbits, etc. I also made sure I added to the ‘Lite’ side with celebrations like weddings, or babies being born, or awards received, and even updates on one of our team’s son who played college football as a starting cornerback for the Hokies. I talked about what I learned that week and shared with the team, “what’s the Captain reading?”. And I talked about things that kept me up at night and tried to admit when I was wrong about something. This was an email that took 5 days to write to create or add too and was sometimes pretty lengthy, but I was as relentless about sending as I could be. A little different approach but I did my way and I think it was a good thing. Appreciated. Easy to ‘cause I was the PM.
But recently, I was asked to take on a job where I am supporting an Integrated Product Team (IPT) at NAVAIR with just over 80 people in the PMA or a competency, one manner or another, as a mentor/coach. I now find myself in a contractor support role (CSS) who needs to get to know the team members, assess what their needs are and try to coach and mentor them so they can be more efficient. To figure out what is really needed. To help the program manager think differently and be more innovative in execution. The program office is understaffed and lacking resources just as any program in sustainment seems to be and they don’t have time to spend with me.
So, it occurred to me that I’m in an amazingly similar situation to the one I found myself in back in 2012. Just in a civilian uniform. How do I attack this problem? Communication. Communication to the program manager and his team.
Below are some thoughts that come to mind right off the bat that need to be considered as I try to figure out how I effectively communicate with this team. Perhaps in sharing these thoughts, someone can get a nugget or two for themselves. And/or, share a nugget or two with me!
- My position – I’m CSS but hired to be an executive coach/mentor. Still, I am a contractor. How do I become a trusted agent on the team?
- Only a handful of team members know who I am or what my experience is or why I am even there. I, in turn, do not know them either.
- Regaining or building social capital is critical to a thriving workforce.
- I do not have access, yet, to the team share point or files or global email addresses.
- I am not sure my roles and responsibilities have been communicated to the team ensuring complete understanding. It has already provided for some reduced comfort levels as I introduce myself to the team.
- Oh – HOLD THE PHONE – I almost forgot! We are still existing under COVID rules and teleworking……….!!!!!!!
- People are fragile, frustrated, unsure, trying to define and live and work in a ‘new normal’. (I don’t like that term by the way.) Emotional Intelligence (EI) is going to be critical to everything I do as I coach.
- Social capital – benefits people can get because of who they know – is harder to come by.
- The entire ecosystem is stressed beyond what we have ever seen.
In order to be successful, I need ‘top cover and empowerment’ so that I can build trust with the team. They need to understand that I am not in their chain of command or a threat in any way.
I created an email where I introduced myself professionally with my resume and personally with my Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) preferences, a little bit on what my style and pet peeves are and then asked each Level 1 team member to fill out a survey telling me about themselves. Professional goals, training and certification status and some EI type questions.
My next step will be to look at each person’s input, including the PM and determine how best to work with them. Type Talk at Work, How The 16 Personality Type Determine Your Success on the Job, is a great reference book.
I’ll call them on FT or Zoom and have a 1v1 introduction with each of them. Some of the things I asked were ‘what are your aspirations?’ ‘What is your biggest challenge in the program office?’ What do they think I could help with as a coach/mentor? [As I do this, I feel sorry for the folks that have been recruited and started working with a team during COVID. Introverts must find it hard to feel like a team member and extraverts much be going crazy with the isolation. How do we fix that?].
By suggesting the idea of building back social capital in these remote times. With remote and hybrid work, we can’t count on bonds to form as side effects of hallway conversations. People need diverse perspectives and that’s hard to get while working remotely. My suggestion will be to make space for social capital. I have some ideas…
Let’s look at how we are currently communicating and see where we can gain efficiencies. I see death by video conference already.
Part II IN WORK? ?