How to identify what makes your team happy, and what doesn’t?

April 24, 2007

Jochen is at it again. This time, he describes a simple, two-part exercise known as the Happiness Reality Check.

Part 1

In the first part, the team identifies the multiple sources of their happiness at work. Jochen’s team’s list included such things as challenging tasks, like-minded colleagues, and an open atmosphere – things that might show up on the lists of many teams – as well as a few items that are more team-specific.

This part of the exercise is valuable for two reasons:

  1. By naming what team members like about the work and work environment, it helps the team to recognize what is working; what is going right! Too often, the “squeaky wheels” (problems) get all the attention while the well-functioning, joyful aspects of daily activities get overshadowed. Naming the good stuff reminds us of what we like.
  2. Naming what makes us happy also provides an opportunity to find ways to spend more time and energy on those “happiness” activities, and to spread the environmental factors that lead to happiness. For most people, greater happiness brings greater productivity and energy, so it makes sense to maximize happiness.

Part 2

The second part of the exercise is to identify those things that make team members unhappy. I was pleasantly surprised to see the team’s list shorter for this aspect than in part 1. It included such items as office noise, repetitive task and interruptions. (The last may be on everyone’s list!)

The critical aspect of Part 2 is for the team to also develop a strategy for minimizing the “unhappiness” factors. For example, to reduce the negative effect of repetitive tasks, the team resolved to better “use technology to automate them as much as possible.”

I have not yet conducted the exercise with any of my teams, but I hope to soon. Take a look at Jochen’s post and give the Happiness Reality Check a whirl. It might just make you happy!

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Six keys to a new team member’s success

April 23, 2007

Work teams often face situations in which new team members join the team. Teams can smooth the transition by providing a thorough orientation for these new members. When they gain knowledge about such things as process, procedures, and available tools, new team members can quickly begin applying their talents and skills to the team’s purpose.

While taking steps to orient new team members seems like common sense, orientation often gets pushed to the back burner, overshadowed by what may seem to be higher priorities. However, because there are always new members, it is never to late to plan for your next new team member orientation!

Here are six keys to a thorough orientation designed to ensure a new team member’s success.

  1. Partnering with a ‘buddy’. Current team members who will work side-by-side with a new member can do a great job with orientation because they have the knowledge to function in the same environment as the new member. A buddy system also reinforces a culture of interdependence among team members.
  2. Understanding the culture. Teams often develop their own culture, which is a combination of the over-arching organizational culture and a more localized aspect based on the people and the purpose of the team. Culture includes: the core values acknowledged by the team; how members conduct the themselves in work-related and personal matters; and the language, vocabulary and communication styles used in the team’s environment.
  3. Navigating the organization. This is critical if the new team member is coming from outside the organization, but it is also good to review with members who may be transferring internally. You want to ensure they are comfortable with the names, faces, titles, roles, and reporting relationships that effect the team.
  4. Utilizing the procedures. To get things accomplished in any organization, teams deal with a number of procedures that have been adopted and adapted over time. New team members were likely pros at utilizing procedures on their last team, but they may become stalled at every turn without structured guidance. Procedures are designed to facilitate work, not hamper it. Don’t let them become traps for new team members.
  5. Accessing the tools. A new team member may be a whiz at the team’s primary software programs, but they have to know how to access the shared drive to be able to collaborate. Tools can include technology, supplies, administrative support, and other resources.
  6. Committing to the mission. The basis of any business team is that the members share a common purpose – to achieve the team’s mission. New team members can be at a disadvantage if they join a team that has a well defined purpose, yet their commitment is necessary to their success and that of the team. In addition to ensuring that they understand the mission, the team may need to reengage in discussion of its purpose so that new members can be heard and become fully committed.

Teams can probably draft the key contents of their new member orientation during a single meeting, then set about refining it as needed. The process of developing the orientation is often instructional itself because differences in understandings or opinion among current team members may arise, or nuances in individual approaches will be revealed.

A thorough orientation is not the only factor in determining the success of a new team member (but it is an important one). For example, I discussed before how the existing team structure influences how quickly new members can begin to significantly contribute to the team. All else equal, teams with an established structure and culture can more easily integrate new members than teams that are only loosely organized, especially when the new members are good fits for the previous structure.

How does your team integrate new members? Have you identified other key components of a thorough orientation?

Credit to Leader’s Edge and Dr. Seymour Adler for inspiration.

Related posts: A metaphor for teamworking
Using short-hand communication within teams

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Is the tail wagging the dog on your team?

March 26, 2007

Grace Andrews raises a number of good issues in the post Managing to the 2%. She points out that teams, managers, and organizations often go too far when addressing problems that apply to only a few employees.

An example might be implementing a daily written status-reporting structure because a single team member communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, despite the fact that everyone else routinely shares all relevant task status information.

Overreacting, by creating new rules, policies, and procedures, is equivalent to letting the (2%) “tail” wag the (98%) “dog.”

So what is the fall out of this behavior? Think about it. When the 98% wake up, smell the coffee, and realize they are being “ruled” to death because of a few who aren’t contributing, the dynamic of the whole team is in jeopardy. Morale suffers; it takes twice as long to maneuver because of the restrictions put in place for the 2%. Employees end up feeling disempowered, and if the focus on managing to the 2% continues, turnover increases.

Organizations that have worked diligently to foster a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration may find their progress unraveling with each new policy. The most effective team members will recognize that new rules would be otherwise unnecessary if not for the 2% and, therefore, resent the unwarranted burden.

Andrews offers a few suggestions:

  • Before adopting any new policy or rule, consider whether it is for the 2% or the 98%.
  • Don’t let the 2% bog down the team; manage them up or out.
  • Practice transparency; when team members know what is going on it is hard for the 2% to gain a foothold.

I offer this additional suggestion:

Engage the entire team in deciding what policies and rules are needed to accomplish the objectives.

In the example of the single employee who communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, the team is unlikely to endorse a burdensome procedure of mostly unnecessary daily reports. A better solution is more likely to emerge from the combined contributions of the team. Team members will be empowered to establish their own rules and standards. The dog will once again wag the tail.

As an added bonus, the open deliberation process will help demonstrate how the behavior of the 2% is viewed by their colleagues.

Read Grace Andrew’s full article at

Photograph comes from Flickr by SoozieQ. I cropped the picture to show only the beautiful tail.

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Telling versus selling

March 18, 2007

Every team must determine what tasks and activities are needed to meet its objectives and decide which team members will work on which tasks.


Team leaders can make these decisions, then tell the team of the overall plan and the responsibilities of each team member. Using this approach, team leaders will often consult with some or all team members before making decisions about tasks and assignments.

A wagon wheel provides a good analogy for this type of team structure. Think of the team leader as the center and team members as spokes. Wagon wheels can work efficiently and cover a lot of ground once they gain momentum.

However, wagon wheels are entirely reliant on the center to hold them together. The center serves as the wheel’s connection to the rest of the wagon, just as a ‘telling’ team leader might serve as the team’s primary contact with the larger organization. Although the wagon wheel functions as a unit toward a common objective, the individual spokes have no dynamics between them. The wheel does not serve as a source of energy for the wagon, but rather relies on external motivation.


Alternatively, teams can collaboratively make decisions about tasks and assignments. Instead of the team leader ‘telling’ team members their plan, decision making becomes a matter of each team member ‘selling’ others on why various approaches should be adopted. As the process of selling convinces the team which are the most sound strategies, team members become committed to the plan, the tasks and their assignments.

An analogy of this type of team structure is the atom. Individual team members, including the team leader, are the electron, protons and neutrons. The team’s primary objective is the nucleus, and serves to hold the team together around its common purpose.

Dynamics between and among the members of an ‘atomic’ team generate energy and synergy, which serves to propel the team’s work and provide additional resources for the larger organization. The role of the team leader varies based on the needs. In self-managing ‘atomic’ teams, leadership is dispersed across its members.

How is your team functioning? Are you telling or selling? Is each team member a cog in the wheel or integral parts of an energy-generating, ‘atomic’ team?

Building high performance cultures

March 15, 2007

Jeffrey Pfeffer’s recent congressional testimony has received a good deal of attention around the blogosphere. Most that I have read have highlighted Pfeffer’s critique of pay-for-performance incentive structures, which he argues are systems that “effectively motivate the wrong behavior.”

In reviewing the testimony, I was struck by the alternative Pfeffer laid out for improvement. He explained that rather than tinkering around the edges with payment incentives, organizations seeking better outcomes should concentrate on building high performance cultures.

Although the list of high commitment or high performance work practices differs slightly among authors and studies, most such lists include:

a) sustained investment in training and development, including job rotation, both formal and on-the-job training, and a tendency to promote from within as a consequence of the successful internal development of skill and people;

b) an egalitarian culture in which formal status distinctions are downplayed, salary differences across levels are less than in the general economy, and in which people feel as if their contributions are important and valued;

c) delegation of decision making responsibility so that skilled and developed people can actually use their gifts and skills to make real decisions;

d) high pay to reduce turnover and attract the best people, coupled with rewards that share organizational success with its members; and

e) employment security and a policy of mutual commitment, so that the workforce does not fear for the outcomes of events over which it has no control and instead, feels reciprocally committed to the employer.

It is quite a feat for organizations to meet a majority of these ideals, meeting all five is phenomenal. Where does your organization fall out, and what discussions can Pfeffer’s comments help begin toward improvement?

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Finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens

March 8, 2007

My professional career began at the age of 10 when I joined my older brother in delivering daily newspapers. We would rush home each day after school, wrap about 150 papers in rubber bands or plastic bags , and set off into the neighbor racing to be home in time for dinner at 6:00. Each Sunday morning we would take turns pushing a full shopping cart down the street while the other one “porched” each bulky paper within a step of the door. I seemed to always end up covered in print ink by the time we made it home for hot chocolate and donuts.

And so it went; the Collins boys had jobs (and a jingle in our pockets) throughout our teens.

A new report finds that fewer U.S. teens have such jobs these days, especially since the economic downturn of 2001. In Why Teens Aren’t Finding Jobs, and Why Employers Are Paying the Price, Knowledge@Wharton explains that only 37% of teens had jobs in the Summer of 2006, down from 50% in 1990. The report cites a number of possible reasons for this trend, such as employers finding that immigrant workers can fill the positions that would have traditionally gone to teens and preferences by parents that their teens concentrate on academics rather than diverting time and attention to teen employment.

I don’t find it particularly worrisome that 10-15 percent fewer teens are working these days. With life-expectancy increases and later retirement ages, today’s teens will have plenty years of employment.

Still, I recognize that teens who do not work may miss out on some of the growth and development experiences that come along with early employment. From the report:

“Working as a team, completing tasks and taking responsibility. Kids learn these skills through employment,” says Ian Charner, director of the National Institute for Work and Learning, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit concerned with workforce development. “Can you learn those skills by playing a sport or volunteering at church? Yes, but if you are a volunteer, you don’t necessarily have to show up. A lot of kids don’t or can’t play sports. Employment provides an important opportunity for kids to learn from adults other than their teachers or parents.”

This last point seems like the most critical aspect. With some variety depending on the job, teens who work have a chance to interact with working adults in a business or professional setting. They have a supervisor who (hopefully) gives them feedback on their performance and possibly becomes a mentor. Teen workers can become involved in collaborating with full time workers, laying the foundation for teamwork skills and emotional intelligence that will be so necessary for their future success.

If the forces described in the report remain aligned as they have been in recent years, it’s possible that even fewer teens will be working in the future. That makes me wonder what options society has for giving teens opportunities to learn and practice softer skills that are not found in text books or through standardized testing.

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers. Mentoring comes to mind, and I know that much attention has been devoted to mentoring for at-risk teens. It could be that these programs hold promise for broader use.

How about you? Do you have some ideas for finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens? Are you aware of any potential solutions already being implemented?

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Is social networking of the generation or in the genes?

March 6, 2007

Flowing out of last week’s Social Media Club meeting, Sunni Thompson offers an insightful, revealing post, Mind The Generation Gap. Take a few minutes to review Sunni’s post.

First about Sunni

Sunni explains how she was raised to be familiar and comfortable with computers. She started using the Internet in the early days, continued through college and relies heavily on social media to maintain connections with family across the country. Her primary news sources are national, with little local news. Sunni explains the effect:

As a result of having spent the majority of my adult life firmly entrenched in learning, researching and collecting news and information on the Internet, I find that I am fairly disassociated from any sense of locality.

During the discussion last week, we considered whether there was a whole generation similarly lacking a sense of locality and, therefore, unlikely to be interested in local elections, such as the Dallas mayoral election. Again, from Sunni’s post:

I DO care, but because of my submersion in the world of Internet news, my understanding of politics and issues is heavily slanted toward a national scale. If it’s not covered by NPR, The Daily Show, or my favorite local blog, I won’t know about it.

Then about me

Understand that I am quite a bit older than Sunni; we are definitely not of the same generation. However, we share much of the same perspective about our “place” in the world. Although I still live within about 10 miles of my childhood home, I view myself as a citizen of the planet more than as associated with any particular place. Perhaps because I have settled where I was born, I view “place” as a matter of chance or circumstances more so than an indication of who I am as a person. I am from Dallas, but Dallas is not who I am.

The other commonality Sunni and I share is that much of our active, engaged, daily world is virtual – here with all of you. By definition, that implies that less attention goes to our place of residence. This is a relatively new phenomenon that was not available during my youth. Now that the opportunity is here, I have embraced it and it seems right.

Finally, the question

Is social networking of the generation or in the genes?

I have no doubt that many, many more young adults are wired and comfortable with social media than are so in my cohort. However, I also have no doubt that many baby boomers are technologically savvy, blogging daily and using social media like it was the best thing since, well, color television. From all generations there are also those that shun technology and could care less about connecting to anyone they cannot see, hear or touch.

This makes me think that having a propensity to engage in social networking on the Internet may be a very personal attribute – in our genes more than our generation.

The generational influence, then, would mostly be a factor of opportunity and comfort; older folks have to work harder to learn new skills that were not taught during their traditional school years. I know a bunch of older, life-long learners who have made this investment and would now be just as lost without social media as I would be (and apparently Sunni too.)

I sense that locality has less significance now than it did 20 years ago. Maybe it’s part of the whole flat world phenomenon.

I’m interested in hearing from you, no matter your generation, about the relationship between age and social media and sense of locality.

Are others like me, feeling as much or more connected virtually than to a particular geographic setting?

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