Two Secrets to Engagement You Can Employ Today

30/10/2018 11:00 | Share

From January to June of 2018, 53% of workers in the U.S. were “not engaged” at work. 13% were actively disengaged. The latter group were working against their organization. (Gallop) Complaints of incompetence:… Continue reading

Spell out the Organization’s Purpose

30/10/2018 09:45 | Share

Helping Your Team See the Bigger Picture

Spell out the Organization’s Purpose

If you want to achieve your quarterly sales quotas, slash expenses, or reach some other important benchmark, it’s import to remember your why—why you started your company, why you spent long days and longer nights helping it grow, and why achieving greater impact is critical.

But unlike personal goals that are often chased in isolation, business is a team sport. And if you want to win as a team, you need to communicate your organization’s purpose so that your team members can make it part of their why.

Get specific about your mission

Few things ruin a team’s focus more than generic objectives (increasing website traffic or launching new products, for example) that aren’t directly connected to the company’s mission. According to Joel Schwartzberg, a communications expert and public speaking trainer, using abstract goals to share an organization’s purpose is a mistake that makes fulfilling the true mission much more difficult.

“Whether your company makes the world a safer place or makes a profit from selling soft drinks, always end your point with the highest value proposition,” Schwartzberg says. “Always ask ‘Why is that important?’ until you reach the ultimate goal, then make that your point.”

This approach transforms a desire of “opening more stores” to “becoming the market leader and saving more lives.” The first is little more than an abstract goal, while the latter is clearly more purpose-driven.

Yet even after determining the highest value proposition, specificity is still important when determining how to communicate it. And, adds Schwartzberg, “badjectives” should be avoided at all costs.

“’Badjectives’ are adjectives that are so broad and overused that they mean virtually nothing—words like ‘great,’ ‘very good,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘interesting, and even ‘important,’” he says. “What’s ‘important’ to one person might be irrelevant to someone else.”

Instead of using those words, Schwartzberg recommends asking why an approach or goal is “very good” or “great.” The answer, he says, will bring you back to your organization’s highest value proposition and true purpose in the most concise way possible.

Tell a story

Jesus taught in parables for a reason: Wrapping important messages in the context of a well-told story makes them easier to understand, easier to remember, and easier to act upon.

Vlad Giverts has co-founded three companies and been one of the first employees or executives at five others. He now coaches business leaders and finds that a lack of storytelling often prevents deep buy-in from team members.

“Many companies have inspirational purpose statements like ‘Reinventing Finance’ or ‘Revolutionizing Education,’ but no one knows what they really mean,” says Giverts. “These statements are often obvious to the founders, and they can’t imagine how their team members, who they see and talk to every week, don’t just ‘get it.’ But they usually don’t.”

To help turn an organization’s purpose with a story, Giverts recommends answering the following questions:

● Who is the protagonist?
● What is their struggle?
● How will the company make a meaningful difference in these people’s lives and, thus, make the world a better place?

Responses to these questions provide clarity and, when incorporated, can turn a generic statement like:

“We’ll make it more convenient for people to get groceries!”


“Millions of professionals are working long hours to succeed at their jobs. They’re struggling to keep up with chores with the few hours they have left. What if we could free up some of their time to live their lives, instead of dealing with chores?”

Statements like these are much more effective in connecting team members to the organization’s why and uniting everyone with an objective that’s both shared and compelling.

Stay positive

It’s not just enough to communicate an organization’s purpose if team members don’t believe that it can actually be fulfilled. There are challenges inherent to running an organization and leading teams—and the larger the vision and intended impact, the more those challenges compound.

According to Earl Choate, CEO of Concrete Camouflage, the antidote to team frustration and apathy is for the leaders tasked with this communication to simply stay positive.

“Managers are limited in the amount of work they can accomplish individually, and there is only so much a person can get done in a given day or week,” he explains. “However, their attitude can have a tremendous impact on the work done by other people in the company.”

As the leader of an e-commerce company that designs and sells its own proprietary concrete staining supplies, Choate implements this simple strategy on a daily basis. He also notes how effective positivity is as a motivator and driver of purposeful action.

“A positive outlook is so important from a leader because it wears off onto the rest of the team,” Choate says. “It helps create a culture that inspires risk taking and personal initiative from team members.”

The Science of Teambuilding

30/10/2018 09:45 | Share

Forget Trust Falls and Puzzle It Out Together

The Science of Teambuilding

“Tell me about a time you worked with a team.” It is a common interview question, one many of us have heard before. If you’re like me, a flood of past teams comes cascading into your brain, some good and others not so good.

There is the team where you had to the do all the work, and the team where you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The team meetings that devolved into useless monologues and those that ended in smiles and fits of laughter. Some teams energize, while others leave us feeling depleted.

Companies worldwide are moving away from hierarchical, functional organization towards networks of teams in an attempt to increase efficiency and better respond to business challenges. At the same time, teams have varying levels of effectiveness.

In a 2013 survey conducted by the University of Phoenix, 68 percent of respondents had been part of a dysfunctional team. Only 24 percent reported preferring to work in teams. With such high levels of dysfunction, who can blame them?

To harness the power of teams, we need to understand them and actively work to build better teams. Luckily, science can help.

Finding the ‘It’ factor

What exactly are we trying to achieve in teambuilding? To know, we need to identify what gives effective teams their edge. In 2010, a collaborative research effort conducted by Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Union College set out to identify what factors foster and diminish teamwork-superpowers.

They assigned 699 participants to groups of various sizes and assigned each group a set of tasks. The most predictive measure of each group’s ability to perform their performance on previous tasks. Group dynamics, or collective intelligence, best determined future effectiveness.

Researchers then identified two characteristics that corresponded with collective intelligence: social sensitivity and conversation turn-taking. Successful groups also tended to include more women, but this was mediated by women’s likelihood to score higher in terms of social sensitivity.

Future studies have further downplayed the importance of group composition. According to Dr. Alex Pentland of the MIT Media Lab, patters of communication “are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”

The importance of psychological safety

Academic institutions aren’t the only hubs of social engineering gurus to tackle teamwork. Google has conducted their own research on what makes teams hum with efficiency.

As a pattern-seeking tech giant, Google had been surprised to find successful teams distinctly lacking common patterns. The individual success or intelligence of members didn’t matter, how meetings were run didn’t seem to matter, even leadership style, beyond getting the basics right, didn’t matter.

When they came across the research on collective IQ, Google realized that they had been missing the “it” factor. How teams create a safe space for collaboration isn’t important. What is important is that they do. Psychological safety, they determined, was the underpinning of success.

Team members needed to feel comfortable speaking up to create the communication dynamics necessary for success. It all comes down to trust, which is one of the characteristics teambuilding exercises were designed to enhance.

Finding trust in the human brain

Paul Z. Jak knows about trust.

Drawing on evidence that oxytocin signals to rats that it is safe to approach another of their species, Jak thought it might play a similar role in human interactions. He amended a popular economic game, where one participant sends money to another, who then has the option to share in whatever way they see fit, to test his theory.

Not only did participants show more oxytocin in their blood levels after a trusting interaction but administering the “moral drug” increased levels of trust and sharing. Jak was onto something. He has since spent much of his career examining how to increase natural oxytocin to enhance trust and build teams.

His most recent book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performing Companies, highlights lessons learned along the way. Though it concentrates more on management than teamwork, a blueprint for effective teambuilding underlies many of his management points and closely parallels previous research.

A manager can help to promote an atmosphere of psychological safety, but it is up to entire team to embrace positive norms.

Effective teambuilding today

Not all teambuilding is created equal. In line with teambuilding research, a 2009 study found that exercises designed to build interpersonal relationships and enhance solving problem abilities were most effective. How, though, are these goals best accomplished? There is more than one answer, but here are some pointers:

1) Teambuilding requires buy-in. Will your team be receptive to a professionally facilitated, official teambuilding exercise or will the suggestion be met with groans of resistance? If you don’t run a teambuilding-type operation, think outside the box. At Articulate Global, a tech firm, employees take a week to team up and work on a tech project of their own choosing during their annual Hackathon. It’s teambuilding without the stigma.

2) Steer clear of activities where people are singled out and might feel embarrassed. Awkward and embarrassing situations are exactly the opposite of the trust-building activities needed to build strong teams.

3) Effective teambuilding allows teams to tackle an achievable challenge together. This suggestion comes straight from Dr. Jak. Working through a challenge together increases oxytocin and group cohesiveness. Choosing the right challenge, however, comes back to knowing your team. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of science hacks for that.

What I Learned from a Week of Advice-Seeking

29/10/2018 11:20 | Share

Those eager to give advice may not know what the heck they’re talking about. The trouble with receiving advice is YOU didn’t think of it. That makes you skeptical. It means you’re reluctant… Continue reading

15 Questions that Invent the Future

26/10/2018 11:01 | Share

Progress is the answer to a question. If you feel stuck, you have aspiration without progress. But the right question re-ignites forward movement. If you want to invent the future, you must first… Continue reading

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