I’ve found that these five two-word combos out perform all others in building a stronger team. Besides “free food,” of course. And we must mean it! If we simply go through the motions in uttering these words, our team will see right through us. That’s good, because it helps separate the weeds from the garden, so to speak. I’ll go out on a limb right now and say that very few people want a weed as their supervisor. Weeds prevent growth of what we desire.
Great supervisors are hard to come by. Most likely because they’re responsible for everything that is generated by the team – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the budget. And because of things that take time away from the individuals on their team – the meetings, the travel, the meetings, and the budget.
I write this list to remind myself of what was shared with me by the teams I’ve been fortunate enough to have led and been a part of. Life is unpredictable and at times downright terrifying, like me ending the last sentence with a preposition. So, before you read my list below, let’s soak in the wise words of Danielle Cormack (AKA: Xena the Warrior Princess), “Be mindful, exercise kindness, to yourselves, to each other.”
These two words generate answers, options, new ideas, innovation, and fun. Let’s ask the individuals on our team and the team as a whole. We must provide space and ensure that the quieter ones on our team have an opportunity to speak. So much can be gained by involving our team in decisions – bonding, buy-in, and increased productivity, to name a few. I’ve experienced companies that continually ask their team members their thoughts, with some having crafted the name of their company, their company’s core values, their style of workstations, and how they’d like to celebrate the latest team victory.
These two words continue to carry significant meaning for individuals day-to-day. There are unique ways to utilize the power of these words, including a one-on-one coffee meeting, a handwritten note card, a fun phone video, and within a team meeting so all can hear. Oh, and yes, we can also simply say “thank you” in front of them at their workspace. Sometimes that is most appropriate.
These two words create and develop positive momentum for the individual and the team. Let’s use it carefully – too often it loses meaning and too few it doesn’t propel the team forward. Let’s recognize individuals for their good work, realize the small victories and the larger accomplishments and track milestones. Some milestones to consider may include annual programs that have made a difference, best-ever results when they occur, organizational victories in years in business, numbers of employees, and new location openings.
These two words help break the ice for new team members and assist in understanding the dynamics of our team. Let’s not get creepy, let’s just meet our individuals at a semi-personal level – what do they prefer? Coffee or tea, sunrise or night owl, week-long vacations or day trips. It may be fun to pose a question at the beginning of each week as a team bonding exercise. Showcase birthdays and work anniversaries, ideally monthly as a group.
These two words remind us to be servant leaders. Let’s get in there, make coffee, and power-out the tough stuff with our team. Sometimes supervisors will need to move from coach to quarterback and actually touch the ball to generate movement. Be careful not to do something that others can do, or need to learn to do. Show them, and then get out of their way - because if we’ve hired right, we can now let them grow by failure, adaptation, success, and improvements. Support their wishes by creating individualized work spaces and allowing work-from-home opportunities, if possible. Each organization is unique. Embrace it. I’m right there with you.
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If you think this sounds like the results most men’s weekend projects, you’d be right. I won’t speak for most men – well yes, yes, I will. There’s a certain level of “fix” that men are comfortable with in many cases. For the most part, the tools involved in the fix include masking tape, a hammer, a screwdriver and a beer in hand.
I was raised in this way. My dad actually said to me, “son, if you want it done right, pay someone to do it.” And then we laughed at the fact that he called me “son.” The rest of the statement was no joke. And so there I was as a teenager in a hard-working, blue-collar family with my life advice for when something breaks - to pull from my barely-above-zero bank account to get it fixed. Fortunately, I only followed that advice for three decades. I lived past my 30-year high school reunion with fear of carefully disassembling an object, with every intention of reassembly, and instead losing the functionality of said object for the rest of eternity.
Today, thanks in large part to Google videos, I’ve begun to showcase my skills in the repair arena, specifically for things outside of my comfort zone. One recent project was my daughter’s car. It was an old car, mind you. Bought off a cheesy car lot for $4,500 with a mess of issues. Don’t ask why, I just bought it. Figured it wouldn’t take too much money to get all the little things up and right again. Mhm…
It needed work, and I was going to tackle it. No, not the engine. I could seriously injure myself wrenching at things in the gaping mouth of a Touareg. The headlight electrical was shot and it needed a new lighting compartment and wiring unit. Sounds like a project for dad, I loudly exclaimed to myself. And so, I began. It was mid-morning, I had my Google video, my tools, a discount card from Ace Hardware, and the garage refrigerator stocked with cold beer within arm’s reach.
A wise green chap once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda’s words are certainly wise. And so, I do… uh, I mean, I did. I fixed it four times. Four times I took it apart, put in new parts, put it back together and tested. At points, some lights worked. Other times, nothing worked. In fact, I broke a plastic holder piece deep inside the casing and it fell somewhere into the engine compartment. A baptism of sorts. My hope is the plastic will hit a hot spot on the engine and slowly melt away with no one the wiser to my gaffe.
Took four hours, two trips to the auto parts store, one Amazon shipment, and one Amazon return. Still broken. Worth every second. Here’s why…
I did. I implement in an area that was unfamiliar to see how I managed the situation. I didn’t procrastinate; I simply started and ended up directionally correct.
I bonded. A curious neighbor stopped by and we worked together for some time. His young son even became our runner for tools and such. It was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in my quest. In most cases, we never are.
I accomplished. Ok, fine, I eventually paid someone to fix it. The metaphorically good news is the mechanic had the car for two full days and the issue was much more than the casing and wiring. When I finally picked up the car, it still wasn’t fully working. So, yeah, my talent is up there with the best of them.
I discovered. Now I know a little bit more. More about who I am, how I respond to an unfamiliar challenge and why it’s important to do. I also discovered that I prefer the Fall beer medley of Sam Adams over any other seasonal selection.
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"Nancy, what do you think?” said a co-worker.
“Can you repeat the question please?” said Nancy, looking up with half-mast eyelids.
Nancy’s body occupied the room, but that’s about it. Nancy represents an estimated 70% of all workers at any given company in America who are disengaged employees. Nancy’s name has been changed to protect the guilty.
According to Dale Carnegie, out of the 70% of disengaged employees, as much as 26% are actively disengaged. ACTIVELY disengaged? Yikes! No wonder these people don’t hear a wit of the conversation in front of them. Actively disengaged is a frightening condition for an organization that wants to flourish. At some companies, if you listen closely, you can hear the sucking sound. That’s the sound of the positivity and productivity being propelled out of the rooms where these people are sitting.
The team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill describes these people in the following way: actively disengaged workers are the most damaging employees in the workplace. They are unhappy and let that unhappiness show in words, attitudes and actions. They undermine the performance of others by constantly voicing their displeasure and listing the many reasons why they are so miserable in their jobs.
And I’ll add… they can’t wait for that next employee satisfaction survey where they can share their thoughts with the entire organization, anonymously.
So what do we do about it? For me, a good general rule is to mentally triage them in groups as follows:
– Group A: one-third can be somewhat easily encouraged
– Group B: one-third can be encouraged in time and under the right conditions
– Group F: one-third will never be encouraged no matter what anyone says or does
If we have team leaders that act this way (employees with one or more direct reports), we will encounter a significant impact for all those team members in that lane. They are our priority. And if these leaders are in group F, it’s time to let them be successful in a different organization.
Three quick ways to make an impact on groups A and B…
“And that’s it for the annual ‘My Listening Hour’, thanks for letting me speak to you this entire time. Hope I was clear and concise,” said the CEO with gusto. Conciseness flew out the window 9 minutes into that hour. And hoping our employees understood what was said, once per year, is just fantasy.
Here’s what to do. Speak briefly and then listen. If our speaking time outlasts our listening time, we’ve missed the mark. We must know what is disrupting productivity. Therefore, ask and listen. Often. Provide the opportunity for our employees to share, anytime, to any level within the organization. Yes, the C-level team must be available, even if it’s only for set monthly or quarterly sessions. Let our employees tell us what’s on their mind, and then set a plan to do something about it. That leads me into my next point…
Say, Do, Share
“Thanks for working so hard to learn the minutia of the old system – however, tomorrow we’re launching a new one called OneSizeFitsAll, the training is intensive, but we hope it will be better for you in the long run,” said the new CIO to the entire organization via video clip. Dropping news like this takes time and input from all levels of the organization to unite and foster buy-in.
Building trust is important at all levels. And it must be kept up constantly – like brand new parents with twins. Here’s what to do. When we’re making decisions on programs, products and organizational design, think things through in detail on how our decisions will impact employees. We’ve already done the asking and listening – now’s the time to tell them what we will do together, then do it, and then share what we’ve done - and the positive and personal stories that are wonderful because of it. That leads me to my next point…
“Hey, let’s give Nancy a plaque and parade her up in front of the entire division to make a short speech. She’ll be thrilled!” Unless, of course she’s an introvert, loves her solitude and her greatest fear is public speaking.
Here’s what to do. Recognize – only in the way each individual wishes to be recognized. That means we must get to know our employees on somewhat of a personal level – their likes, pet peeves, favorite color, fears, hobbies. Quick note: introverts and extroverts are tough to identify by their outward appearances and actions.
Our employees are our greatest asset. Yes, more important than our customers, our clients, our shareholders or the media. I will defend that statement any time, any day. Our employees have the opportunity to reinvent our organization. After all, this philosophy continues to create the best and brightest organizations full of happy and fulfilled employees and customers. And these organizations can make the world a better place.
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Put yourself in the mind of your six-year-old self. What happens is that your imagination comes to life, coloring outside the lines becomes the norm, and you even see the world from a different perspective, both physically and mentally. Now, when someone at work asked you to help them brainstorm or solve a problem, invite your six-year-old self to the table.
Yep, I tap into my grade-schooler self quite often. Here are four traits on how he benefits me:
Albert Einstein said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." Children aggressively take this advice like they do full-sized candy bars on Halloween. Kids question everything. A bit rough for the adults in their lives, but good for them!
It was curiosity among other things that sent our United States astronauts to the moon, and keeps us intrigued about the workings of our brains, the creatures at the depth of the oceans, and the yet unknowns of deep space. Even the discovering of America was a result of the curiosity and boldness of Christopher Columbus and others.
Curiosity begets inspiration, which in turn produces insights; insights lead to ideas and then on to inventions. In short, curiosity is the catalyst to invention.
As a kid, I used to run around barefoot in the sunshine, build forts, climb trees, and come home only when dinner was ready. Since I was so active, it made me healthier. I rarely got sick, I healed quickly, and I was in many ways a tougher version of my current self. If I met myself today, I couldn’t keep up!
Physical exercise comes naturally to many kids, so, in the mind of my six-year-old self, I get out there more often. I ride my mountain bike through the dirt trails, I sign up my non-runner self for 5K runs, and I climb trees with… well, my wife won’t let me climb trees anymore. Fine, I’ll play in the snow with my daughters when the season hits.
In one simple study by Jubilee Media, they asked adults and children one question: “If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?” The individual adults mentioned things like, having smaller ears, wanting to be a bit taller, shrinking the size of forehead, and help to correct their walk.
The kids were asked same question, but answered quite differently. Some would like a mermaid tail, a shark mouth, legs like a cheetah, wings to fly. Cool huh? One little lady said she’d like to have teleportation. TELEPORTATION! Me too! And a couple of them said nothing. Meaning, they wouldn’t change anything, because they liked their body the way it is. Talk about confidence!
Kids are brilliant brainstormers. Why? Because they challenge normal thought and they are naturally creative and solution-driven. I challenge us to invite our inner-kid into the room more often. We may just find that cure or solve that issue or invent that product, much faster than if we let only the adults weigh-in.
Vegas, baby, Vegas! When was the last time you played it by ear and just hopped in the car and took off? Imagine leaving the house without plans, like neighborhood kids do - the wonder that might develop in our adult minds. I’m intrigued just making that statement. I did that quite often, especially when I was in my teens and twenties. I lived moment by moment.
Today, I often weave within my storytelling, some of those moment-by-moment examples from my youth. I do still live like that, only in much smaller doses. And those doses are some of the best experiences in my life. The memories are beautiful - getting lost with my wife on a hike, taking a new road and two days across multiple states rather than flying, and challenging myself to write a thriller novel. These are some that come to mind.
That six-year-old will always be with you, and he’s brilliant in many ways. Personally, I make sure he shows up often in certain situations at work, on the weekends, when I’m exercising, and when I’m with friends. Although the kid needs to be tamed at times, because he’ll periodically move into the conversation when I’m with my wife, clearly defining for her that there’s now a third child in the house.
Every now and then, let’s invite our six-year-old self out to play, to explore, and to ask crazy questions - and we’ll be surprised how fast she can build a rocket ship that’ll take us to the stars.
Visit me and say hello!
"freedom at work"