Archives For team building

My library is currently undertaking strategic planning. As part of the process, our consultants (Right Management) are also leading us though “employee engagement.” Employee engagement is the extent that employees are committed to their jobs and, in our case, the library as a whole. Employees who are more engaged in their work and in the organization are generally more dedicated to helping achieve the goals of the institution. To this end, our employees were invited to take a test called the Birkman.

The Birkman identifies your interests, your normal actions, your stress actions, and your needs. The stress actions are those you display when your needs are not met. The report places a different symbol in one of four colored squares on a grid to graphically display where you fall in each of these categories. There is a red square (expediter), a green square (communicator), a yellow square (administrator), and a blue square (planner). There are also implications for task-oriented vs. people-oriented and direct vs. indirect, tangible vs. intangible, and louder vs. quieter. Apparently, my normal actions and interests fall strongly in the yellow square and my stress actions and needs are in the green square, but fairly close to the blue square. No surprises there!

Grid with four quadrants: Expediter, Communicator, Administrator, and PlannerThe Birkman also suggests careers that are most suited to you based on all of these things. Apparently I’d make a heck of an administrator, but should also consider literary, scientific, and numerical occupations. Of course, I’m not career-searching, but together these descriptions validate my career choice as a librarian middle manager: administrator = management, literary = information/books, scientific = research, and numerical = analytical/metrics. Those are all descriptions of me and my work, so it seems pretty accurate.

The employees who chose to take the Birkman were promised anonymity. We are all welcome to share our results as we see fit and self-disclose our results – and many did – but some people took the test for their own personal interest and have not shared the outcome. That’s totally fine! The idea behind sharing is so that you understand each other better and form the most efficient team possible, but there is certainly no rule that says anyone has to share their report. I believe strongly in personal privacy, so I’m glad everyone got the choice to participate (or not) and to share their results (or not). We were shown a composite grid with symbols representing each employee who took the test to see how we as an organization are distributed on the chart. There were no identifying characteristics – just a dot on the chart for each person – but it was interesting to see that the librarians mostly fell in the blue square, the administrative staff fell mostly in the yellow square, and as a whole staff we were fairly evenly distributed throughout the grid. The green square was the least-represented.

I’m fine with sharing my results, so I’ll give an example of how I could use my Birkman results. When projects are doled out for our strategic plan, I will happily volunteer for administrative projects that include things like quantifying results, measuring achievement, monitoring progress, or implementing a system. Those are all interests within the yellow square of the grid. I will avoid innovating, getting people to “buy in,” and selling or promoting services. Those are green square interests. (Remember, my green square identifiers were only for stress actions and needs. My normal actions and interests are in the yellow.) Also, I will be aware that my needs do not necessarily match my actions. I may show a proclivity for administrative activities, but I also have a need to keep unnecessary rules to a minimum, not overschedule myself, and vary my tasks. Those are the green square needs. When my yellow square interests are not met, my stress behaviors are defined by the green square, so I may become unsociable, easily sidetracked, and argumentative. (Who, me?)

The Birkman is much more complicated than I can go into in a blog post, but hopefully you get the idea of what the Birkman is and how it can be used for employee engagement. As with anything like this, I will take my results with a grain of salt and use it as a general guide for consideration. It won’t change who I am or how I behave – and it isn’t meant to. However, it just might make me communicate better with my co-workers and more efficient in my approach to projects.

Megan wearing a suit.

Blazers mean business.

The best thing about library school, in my opinion, is that people attracted to library careers generally share a certain socialist bent. Librarians like to cooperate for the good of the community and give things away for free.

Now I’m going to business school.

I was deeply worried that any MBA program would be filled with what I thought of as Business People: people who would rather sell things than give them away, and people who are cutthroat rather than cooperative.

Still, I’d been thinking about going to B-school for a while. A second graduate degree can be a huge asset for academic library jobs, and I wanted something practical.

An MBA is certainly practical. It opens the doors to a much wider set of jobs than an MLIS – but I’m not going to business school because I want to leave libraries.

I’m starting business school because I was starting to feel a distinct lack of leadership skills that I would need to move my career to the next level, or even to be the best possible leader in my current role.

Even though I’m not job hunting, I’ve continued my habit of reading job ads to get a sense of what skills and abilities I’ll need to grow before I’m ready to move to a role with broader scope. I started to notice some themes in library leadership job postings – change management, program development, and budgeting and finance.

As we heard in Douglas Crane’s conversations with public library directors, library administration involves a surprising amount of finance management. That’s not a skill taught in library school (at least – not mine), and I’m really feeling the lack of financial literacy as I move into positions with greater levels of responsibility.

To be perfectly honest, budget spreadsheets terrify me. I have to steady my nerves before looking at hourly employee payroll projections, or before turning in a budget request for a new program.

This is something I need to get over. In a time of flat or shrinking budgets, librarians have to learn how to use money responsibly. That means (horrors) diving deep into financial management.

The skills that attracted me to business programs went far beyond financial management. A lot of the leadership sources we turn to for inspiration are from business schools, like our perennial favorite, the Harvard Business Review.

It seemed like B-school would give me a set of skills that would really help when leading a library – personnel management, strategic planning, and, yes, the dreaded financial administration.

The university I work for offers a tuition waiver as an employee benefit, so I can take MBA classes for the cost of textbooks. That cushy free tuition is key to this venture, since I’m still paying off student loans from library school (and I’m just kidding about buying those textbooks – I’m getting them through interlibrary loan, of course).

Even with that free tuition, I resisted for a while. Would business school just be immersing myself in an environment I hated? Would I be surrounding myself with a bunch of business jerks? Perhaps a degree in public administration would be more my speed, I thought.

As it happens, the university’s B-school is right across the street from my bus stop. I eyed the classes suspiciously while waiting at the bus stop. There were a lot of people wearing collared shirts and suits – a far cry from the librarian style I fondly think of as “creative casual.”

Despite the more formal wardrobe, they didn’t look like jerks. They looked like nice people laughing and learning and getting along together. I took a tentative look at the MBA programs and found to my surprise that the school offered a specialization in managing for sustainability.

That sounded fantastic. I realized that the skills I wanted were about helping libraries be more sustainable – economically sustainable, yes, but also socially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

I signed up for an MBA orientation session, still harboring some doubts that this was the right place for me. Would the business school employees put the hard sell on me? They’re Business People, after all, I thought.

I am glad to report that I was dead wrong. Every single person I talked to at the orientation was welcoming, kind, and informative – just like the best kind of reference librarian. I talked to the director of the sustainability program for just a few minutes, and he mentioned a person on campus who could talk to me about sustainability in the context of higher education . . . and then he followed up the very next day with an email offering to introduce us.

I was convinced. So I’m taking a deep breath and starting an MBA program. I’m genuinely excited about what this new knowledge can do for my library. I mean, just look at some of these class titles in my program:

  • Accounting & Finance for Sustainability
  • Business and the Natural Environment
  • Sustainable Management Research
  • Global Climate Change
  • Information Systems Strategy

Oh gosh, Information Systems Strategy. I learned a lot about information theory in library school, but I certainly never devised a strategy.

I’m taking Leading Individuals and Teams right now. The course addresses burning questions I have at work in the library. How do you get people to cooperate on complex projects? How do you bring diverse personalities together in pursuit of a common goal?

As each of my classmates gave a short introduction in the first class session, I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one new to capital B business school. Sure, there were a few business majors planning to specialize in finance or accounting – but there were also several nonprofit professionals, several veterans and civil servants, a few teachers, and even a musician. When I said that I was a librarian, I got a lot of grins and nods.

We’re now in the third week of the semester and things are going swimmingly. People are cooperative, not competitive. Our group project for the class is to do a significant project for a nonprofit organization. There are no Business People – just people who want to be better leaders.

So this librarian is going to business school. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted!


The library world has mixed feelings about icebreakers. Some of us will avoid them at all costs and show up late to meetings if the agenda starts off with an icebreaker. Some of us love goofy icebreaker activities like a group paper scissors rock competition.

Given these very strong and totally opposed opinions, how can you use icebreakers wisely in library meetings?

I confess: ice breakers are starting to make more sense to me. When volunteering for a service committee, icebreakers can help people from different libraries get to know each other. For staff days, where all the participants theoretically know each other, icebreakers can engage those who are reluctant to join in wholeheartedly.

On my library team, icebreakers help us get started on our monthly departmental meeting.

When people first step into the conference room, their minds are on the patron they just helped at the desk, or on the report they have to run afterward. An icebreaker can re-focus everyone’s attention on the other people in the conference room.

Icebreakers have to be used with caution, however, because of those opposing viewpoints on them. I stick with a very simple icebreaker that the dean of my last library used at managers’ meetings.

The icebreaker I use is a connection question. It’s a very simple question that each person answers briefly. It might be about work, or not about work at all.

I share the connection question in the meeting agenda so that everyone has a chance to think about it.

A few connection questions I’ve used include:

  • What book have you enjoyed lately?
  • What’s your hobby outside of work?
  • What work skill are you particularly proud to have?
  • What date on your calendar are you looking forward to?
  • What professional development activity has helped most in your career?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant near the library?

These questions aren’t too personal, but they do encourage people to share a a little bit about themselves.

When I started this library manager job a year ago, several people across my team said that they wanted to get to know their colleagues better. The connection question helps individuals connect about their interests and goals.

Through this icebreaker, I’ve learned surprising things about the people I work with in libraries. I learned that one person is an accomplished musician, that another is a huge science fiction fan, and that most people pack their lunches and therefore don’t have strong opinions on restaurants near campus.

The connection questions get everyone in the mode of speaking up in the meeting. They swing us into a group conversation, and sometimes spark good conversations afterward.

Of course, some people will loathe icebreakers no matter what. The connection question has the virtue of being short enough that icebreaker haters get done with it quickly. The quick time also helps keep meetings short and effective – which we all agree is good.


group of 4 people talking in a circle and talking with text "improve you library communication in 20 minutes with standup meetings"Internal communication has been a sticking point in for every library department I’ve worked in. Even within a team, employees felt like they didn’t know what their colleagues were doing.

Solutions to internal communication usually involve a lot of reading and writing. There are internal newsletters, emailed updates, or project reports. All of this written communication takes a ton of time and energy, with only mixed results.

If internal communication is a problem in your library, I want to share an almost magical solution that you can start doing right away. Even better: this communication fix takes 20 minutes at most.

A few years ago, I learned about a great solution to internal communication problems at a fantastic project management training from Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. I realized in the training session that internal communication isn’t a problem unique to libraries, and that project management strategies offer a fix for this issue.

Many software development teams start each morning with a quick standup meeting to explain to what they’re working on that day.

Standup meetings are a classic project management technique. The idea is to keep each other informed about new projects, let colleagues know if their help is needed, and share a team sense of achievement. Participants don’t need to literally stand up; the name standup just indicates that you’re not going to be in the circle long enough to get settled in.

The time investment to payoff ratio is stunningly good. Each person is given 60 seconds maximum, so the standup meetings last only as many minutes as there are people.

I wanted to try standup meetings out with my circulation department, but I needed to tweak the format to fit our service-oriented work.

The timing was the first thing to change. Daily meetings seemed way too often. For one thing, we cover a wide variety of schedules to keep the library open, so it’s a rare day that we’re all here at the same time. Instead of daily standup, I settled on weekly standup meetings with my access services team.

The standup meetings have been amazing for our team communication. In just a few minutes, the entire team gets a sense of our biggest accomplishments and the challenges coming up.

I borrowed the format Megan Torrance shared at the training. We gather around our ILL processing table every Friday morning, and in 60 seconds, each team member is asked to share:

  • What you’re working on
  • What you need help with
  • (If you want to share) something that’s going on in your personal life

This basic outline results in a lot of information packed into 60 seconds. For instance, a circulation manager might say:

“I’m working on hiring new student employees to staff the circulation desk. I might need your help with some of new hire training, because I’ll be out on vacation next week if my kid makes the gymnastics semi-finals.”

These two sentences give the team a heads up that new student employees will be joining the department, that they might need to lend a hand for training and orientation, and that their coworker has something exciting going on at home.

As a manager, I really appreciate the communal format of standup meetings. Everyone’s voice is heard and my staff are giving status updates to each other, not just to me. Everyone at the standup hears that reserve requests are flooding in or that interlibrary loan urgently needs extra processing help, and we’re able to create a quick plan to deal with it as a team.

The better understanding of current workloads we get at standup meetings helps us empathize with each other. When you know your coworker is dealing with rewriting loan rules, you’re able to empathize with her, hold off on less pressing requests, and understand if she’s slow to get back to you.

The empathy also extends to personal life. If you know that your colleague’s sister is visiting from out of town, you understand why he’s really motivated to get out the door at 5 o’clock sharp.

Of course, all of these things could be shared in casual conversation. The beauty of the standup meeting is that it sets aside a small amount of time to ensure updates are shared, and that information is shared equally with everyone at the same time. Staff who felt out of the loop before are assured a place in the circle.

I also believe that standup meetings help us get more done. Saying out loud what you plan to accomplish instantly creates a feeling of accountability, so we get to work right away.

How does your library department keep up to date with each other?

Standup up meetings are the best strategy I’ve found for my group. They’re quick, effective, and help us feel connected. If your library department could use an internal communication boost, invest 20 minutes to try out a standup meeting.

Library Staff Day

hhibner —  March 26, 2015 — 2 Comments

My library held a staff in-service recently. It was very successful, so I thought I would share a few do’s and don’ts of planning an in-service.

The Committee

Our in-service planning committee consisted of one person from each department. I led the committee, plus there was a Page, a Clerk, a Librarian, a Reference Assistant, and the Public Relations and Marketing person. I highly recommend having people from various departments on the committee. It creates a more holistic, “bigger picture” program that is relevant to everyone. What I don’t recommend is long meetings. We put our program together in four one-hour meetings. Have an agenda and then send a follow-up email after every meeting that reminds everyone of what was decided.

The Activities

We were asked by the Director to include one team building exercise. After talking it over, the committee members all agreed that we didn’t want to make anyone do anything silly or embarrassing that would single them out or require them to touch anyone (I’ll admit, that one is my hang-up). We decided to play trivia. We created teams that included people from various departments. Our library is a three-story building, so there are a lot of people we rarely see and never get to work with. Trivia teams were encouraged to come up with a team name. Some of them even dressed alike. We got to have fun in a non-threatening, team environment with people we didn’t necessarily know well ahead of time. The questions came from a trivia question-a-day calendar from a few years ago that one committee member had, so they covered pop culture categories.

My next suggestion is to give everyone on staff an opportunity to weigh in on what learning opportunities are offered on in-service day. We asked for suggestions, and the most-requested topic was emergency procedures. They wanted to do a fire drill and talk about all kinds of emergency situations like tornadoes, medical emergencies, active shooter scenarios, etc. We had a city police officer, an EMT, and a fire chief come to give a quick talk. Then they watched us go through our fire drill procedure and do a mock evacuation as if we were open for business. After the all-clear from them, we came back together as a group and the fire department critiqued how we did. It was very valuable, since we learned a few things about our PA system, our new security panels, and our signage.

The rest of the day was filled with department-specific meetings and project-specific updates. That’s not as exciting, but very relevant to everyone and a good opportunity for departments to train or share information with everyone in their department at once. Even our regular monthly meetings don’t catch as many staff members as this staff in-service day did, so take advantage!

The Food

I can’t leave out the most important tip of the day: have food and make it good. That sounds really easy and obvious, but as it turns out there are a lot of ways of doing this and you will never make everyone happy. We provided a nice breakfast spread with a variety of bakery items and fruit and beverages. Then we provided boxed lunches with three sandwich options or two salad options. My advice is to acknowledge dietary restrictions, of course, but limit the number of choices. Make it clear what is included, and what substitutions can and cannot be made. The reality is that you’re providing lunch (you’re welcome), you’re giving enough options to satisfy diverse lifestyles and restrictions, and if anyone just can’t make it work they are welcome to provide their own lunch. If they just can’t remove the cheese or abide the white bread the sandwich comes on, that’s not necessarily on you. Do the best you can to accommodate health risk, but don’t get too caught up in personal taste. At some point, it is what it is and you have to move on to bigger problems.


Ultimately, a staff in-service is a paid-time work day that is meant to be interesting and informative. If you can build in some fun, that’s great too!


Photo cc-by Calvert Cafe & Catering.