Category Archives: Teamwork and Project Management

Announcing our New App: iLiv Composer

iLiv’s new application has been officially launched to Alpha testers, and it has a good name:


So, what’s in a name?

To answer that, let’s ask another question: what does a music composer actually do? The answer to this question depends on who you ask:

A music theorist might respond: A composer puts music notation on a page, according to the sounds she hears in her head or wants to hear in the real world, and the rules of music theory and notation; the page is then handed to a musician who plays the sequence of notes on his instrument so the audience can hear it.

A music teacher might say: A composer is a really talented person with great musical ideas, and you can play his music if you practice hard enough.

A musician might say: He wrote the piece, I play it.

A conductor might say: The intentions of the great composer are there on the page, and it is my job to manage the orchestra, keeping them all together and on the same page about how it is supposed to sound.

A social scientist might say: a composer sets up a social situation that results in an uplifting experience for everyone in the room.

And here’s where it hits home for many of you:

A project manager might say: A composer is a designer of an integrative process, and I, much like a conductor, coordinate the work and the people, and keep everything on time.

With iLiv Composer, we are focusing on a blend of the impulses of the social scientist and the project manager.

Getting Better at Getting Things Done

The great underserved aspect of getting things done — certainly by enterprise software — is a critical attention placed on process creation.

We simply must put creative attention on bettering the way we get things done: to remain competitively productive; to keep our sanity while herding cats; and to continuously improve. We need our processes to energize at scale – for the bottom line, and for the creativity and efficiency of the team.

We chose the name Composer because nothing says great process better than conjuring up the image of great music composed by a really interesting composer. It certainly beats the greyness of entering tasks in a task management tool or drawing gantt charts in a spreadsheet.

Composer has the potential to be game changing:  Simply put, your concept for Composer has triggered a domino effect of ideas within our operations team on how best to leverage it.  I hope it is clear from our conversations how excited we are to begin leveraging your excellent design concepts.”

This comment came in last week, unsolicited, from one of our most important Alpha users (also a long-time user of iLiv All-In). No drab greyness in this reaction, is there?

In my next posts I will start to lay out what iLiv Composer is beginning to do for high-growth design, certification, and professional services firms.

BTW, the photo with this post is of American experimental composer John Cage. I worked with him daily for the last 11 years of his life. During that time he came to think of his music as an example of anarchic harmony. This is what the Internet is too, of course. It is also an essential design objective of the inspired project manager.

Photo from:

The 4 ‘Essential Types’ That Make a Team Great

Many factors contribute to making a team great, but one that sticks out in my mind is whether you have the 4 ‘Essential Types’ on your team.

According to David Culver, iLiv’s Chairman, you will always find all four of these types represented on any team that can truly be called great.

Culver grew Alcan to be one of Canada’s largest and most successful companies (a company that sold in 2007 for $38 Billion). He’s been awarded many accolades over the years, and is widely respected as a great leader. When asked to describe his key role as CEO, he once replied, “growing people quickly”. And this test — taught to him by management guru, James T. McCay — helped him to organize some VERY successful teams.

So, what are the types that every team needs?

Type 1: The Hunter

The Hunter is all get up and go, “Let’s do it.” Imagine a cave-dweller clubbing something and bringing it back to the cave. At that point, the hunter’s job with that ‘something’ is finished, and the hunter goes back out and continues hunting for another ‘something’ to bring back. The hunter is always hunting.

Type 2: The Spiritualist 

The Spiritualist asks questions, and then asks some more questions, and then more questions — the principle one being: “Why are we doing this?” The Spiritualist drives the Hunter crazy.

Type 3: The Jester 

The Jester has the innate ability to lower tension — to be the team’s pressure-release valve. The Jester thinks both the Hunter and the Spiritualist are a little nuts, but is fine with both of them, because the Jester is also keeping a critical eye on…

Type 4: The Leader

In spite of all of the traits that come to mind when you imagine a leader, there is one ubiquitous and essential quality of a great leader: The Leader understands that you must have all four types, and composes the team accordingly.

Of course, people can be more than one of these types at the same time. I often work with a team of 2, where we fill all four of these descriptions between ourselves. I’ve noticed my dominant ‘type’ changes as is required, and if we lose one of the types between us, that’s when we have trouble.

Your type can also change.

Perhaps you’re an executive (traditional Leader role), currently exploring your company’s purpose (the Spiritualist). Or maybe you’re in sales (traditional Hunter role), but strongly motivated to keep your sales team’s internal competitiveness in check (the Jester). This is all OK, as long as your team is always comprised of the 4 types.

So, the next time you’re wondering what you could do to make your team more successful, regardless of your traditional role, consider these 4 types, and be sure you’ve got them covered.

Communication: A must-have to get Innovation from Teamwork

Last month, both the New York Times Magazine and Quartz published articles regarding the recent findings of a Google study: That it pays to be nice to our teammates. Yes, it turns-out our friends at Sesame Street were right: Cooperation really does make it happen.

Both sources linked to a Ted Talk given by an old friend of ours, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson, whose own research has led her to similar discoveries about teamwork. In the talk, she says that, when working in teams, “Every time we withhold (a question, concern, or idea), we rob ourselves and our colleagues of small amounts of learning — and we don’t innovate”.

Did you catch that last bit?! It was pretty important. Her study revealed that when we don’t communicate, “we don’t innovate”. So, her research in this case focuses around creating a comfortable work environment, or as she calls it, a “psychologically safe” workplace where everyone on the team has a voice.

Of course, us green building industry folks have known about this for years – we call it “integrative design”, and it’s even been outlined by the United States Green Building Council as a possible credit toward the most up-to-date LEED certification.

In reading these articles and watching Amy’s Ted Talk, I couldn’t help but hear echoes from our 2013 interview with Architect, Bill Reed, another friend and iLiv advisor. Bill’s work with teams has given him superstar status on the green building circuit, and it’s no surprise that he and Amy’s work has brought them to similar conclusions. Back then, Bill told us, among other things, that we must be “co-learners” instead of “experts”. He said that “mutual learning” is imperative to a systems approach, and that it is necessary in order to find deep synergies — and to be truly innovative in teams.

Innovation is important. And it turns out that in teams, and on projects with lots of uncertainty, innovation won’t happen unless we’re nice and respectful of each other. We’ve got to learn to work well together, and that means communicating well together.

As a frequent collaborator and team leader, myself, I find this really interesting. And so, I plan to spend some time in the coming months looking deeper into how it is that we can get the most creativity from individuals on our teams. And, since we humans always want to improve, I will also look into how it is that we can ensure that individuals on our teams get the most out of our projects for themselves.

Can you think of a time on a team when you wanted to ask a question, or had a certain concern, or an idea, but didn’t feel comfortable enough to stand-up and voice it? I sure can. Please share your experiences in the comments section – Amy’s work tells us that sharing these stories (“acknowledging your own fallibility”) is a building block of psychological safety, after all. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to opening-up and learning more about the world’s latest, greatest, approaches to teamwork, communication, and innovation.