Are you available 24/7? Are you expected to be? Should you be?
At a recent networking event we were asked two questions:-
- Would you get an implant that enabled you to work without needing to sleep….ever?
- What if your peer got one?
Wow, that caused us all to rethink work life balance!
Where is this all heading?
Is there something here that we need to be aware of?
Will Corporations soon take control of our lives, our freedom, our choices?
Have they already?
I can’t speak for anyone else but I am glad that I am not entering the workforce at this moment in time. Whilst I am confident that as humans we will work it out, there is a huge pressure being placed on individuals, particularly professionals and leaders, to be available to their employers anytime and anywhere. Work life balance is fast becoming a figment of imagination.
Think globalisation and managing remotely being part of teams or organisations located throughout the world. Think technology and the possibilities that will be opened up that we don’t yet know about.
I know a manager who was promoted to manage not only his department in Australia, but also businesses in China, Brazil, and the USA. He now reports to two different Directors, both who are located in Europe. Most days he starts his day at 7am and works a normal 10 hour day here in Australia. He then has between 2-4 teleconferences most week nights, sometimes not finishing until midnight.
Should we push back or is this the new normal?
I really don’t know.
If people started using implants to boost their productivity how would that change the expectations of an employee?
Should we still be demanding work life balance or have we gone past this now?
Sorry no tips or techniques with this post, just sharing something on my mind and lots of unanswered questions.
What are your thoughts? How do you see the world of work evolving?
Whenever I commence a coaching assignment with a business client we start by working on creating the vision and values for the company. It is common for my clients to initially see this process as a waste of time until they get to understand the power that these create.
Rather than be a soft feel-good activity, clearly articulating WHY the business exists, WHAT the future looks like for the company, and HOW you will get there, are the absolute foundations of any business large and small. A good vision and values process will identify exactly these.
I have worked in a range of organisations over the years and I would say about half actually lived their vision and values.
What does it look like to work for a company that lives and breathes its vision and values?
It means that
- Conversations regularly include references to the values
- There is recognition in the salary reviews for employees who consistently demonstrate the values
- Any disciplinary action specifically makes reference to the values.
- Recruitment & selection decisions are clearly aligned to what the company needs in order to achieve the vision
- Training and development planning have a direct link to the strategic vision
- Vision and values are used in the decision making
There has been significant financial investment over the past two decades to create company vision and values statements that, I feel, have been lukewarm at best in their ability to engage and transform.
Some of the reasons could be that
- The process of creating the vision and values has failed to engage employees and leaders
- The belief that there is no “I” in Team causing individuals to have their voice taken away
- The existence of “elephants in the room” preventing open and robust discussion
- The assumption that everyone shares the same meaning of the terms used
When a company has a compelling vision and values set they have the power to bring out the very best behaviour and performance in the people. They have the ability to increase profitability, brand awareness, and market share.
In 1994 Samsung CEO was unhappy with the company’s performance and quality of its products. The CEO’s created a value proposition to its employees which was simply “change everything but your wife and children”. These seven words breathed energy into the organisation.
By the new century Samsung products were perceived as high quality and so they were able to charge premium prices. Their brand became well respected as the company transformed to be one of the top leaders in IT.
A compelling vision and values set can only come from honest conversation across a company. It requires a significant commitment of senior leaders and employees to be open and engage in constructive discussion with candor. Nothing can be left on the table; the process must allow the invisible to become visible. If a company is in a difficult position financially, this type of process is the best process to utilise to transform the situation.
How does it work?
I mentioned before that a compelling vision and values contain the WHY, WHAT, & HOW.
WHY does the company exist? This is the backbone for everything the company is about. Is it because the company cares about a particular thing? Does it have the expertise to improve something for someone?
WHAT does the company want to achieve in the future? Does the company want to be known as the best in its field? Does it want to achieve a level of revenue / sales within a certain timeframe? This is the vision or aspiration for the company and is used for all decision making and strategic planning.
HOW will the company achieve its vision? What does the company commit to in order to achieve its vision? These commitments become the values. For values statement to mean something they need to be action orientated and tell the stakeholders what the company will never compromise on. This is where the real power comes from.
If you were looking to create a new vision and values for your company or you believe it is time for them to be revised, I suggest that you look for consultants who can do the following
Provide an understanding how the brain works.
Neuroscience has uncovered a lot in understanding the impact that conversation has on the brain. For example research has found that
- Trust is located in the executive brain or prefrontal cortex whereas distrust is located in the primitive brain.
- In the absence of trust the primitive brain is activated and our responses are focused on protecting and defending.
- In the face of something new, our default, unconscious response is to defend and protect.
Create a high trust environment
The development of trust has be the first part of the process. Without trust there is limited opportunity for creativity and thinking about future possibilities. Trust works to open up the parts of the brain where creativity, innovation and relationship building occur. These close down in the absence of trust causing people to fear threatened and insecure or unsafe.
Consultants who can create a high trust environment for people to feel that they can contribute without judgement will deliver a significantly better outcome than consultants who don’t.
Create a shared understanding.
All too often we assume everyone thinks like us. For a company to create a compelling vision and values, all employees, leaders and departments must share a common meaning of the words and statements used. A failure to focus on this during the process will lead to lower engagement and acceptance levels.
If you were to select a consultancy that was able to provide these in their vision and values workshops you can be assured that the resulting statements for your company will be compelling and energising. You will quickly see the changes in the organisation having rolled out your new vision and values. You will want to engage with them.
I was talking to a friend yesterday. I hadn’t spoken to her in a little while and so I asked her how her company was going with the downturn in the mining sector. The company she works for supplies to the sector.
The good news was that she felt her company had sufficient alternative markets that they can focus on these until the local market improves. The bad news was that the need to move quickly to secure markets elsewhere has negatively impacted the culture of the organisation. She said that there is a lot of blaming and conflict between teams and it is getting worse. The GM’s persona has changed considerably, so too the behaviour of the leadership team. She said that over the past 18 months motivation and enthusiasm across the organisation has plummeted.
So what has happened here?
Much of our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings are the result of unconscious processes in our brains. Think about it. You spend most of your day doing and saying things that you don’t consciously think much about. From your habitual morning routines of breakfast, exercise, and getting to work, to how you do the tasks you do at work and how you react to others. Pretty much all of this uses stuff we already have stored in the brain. We rely heavily on our past experience, knowledge and skills to do the activities we do and we act and behave as a result of what we have stored. Our brains allow these processes to occur knowing that they will not harm us and generally will be safe.
This is a good thing for our brain because the amount of processing of incoming sensory information from our eyes, ears, skin etc that it would otherwise have to do in order to interpret our world moment to moment, would surely cause the brain to explode.
Imagine waking up every morning and having to decide your next move based on what you saw/heard/tasted/felt. You would certainly feel that everything and everyone was a potential threat. Your anxiety levels would be high and you would be on edge all the time. This could not be good for your heart!!
When we come across a new or different situation, this is exactly what happens. In my friend’s workplace the down turn in the mining industry has meant that the reliable and trusted ways of working no longer apply and this has put significant strain on the business and people. Everyone’s brains are reacting to the situation in their most primitive way: Fight or Flight. This is a normal reaction but it causes so many problems in an organisation when this is not recognised.
Research has shown that the brain prepares us for the threat by releasing cortisol and testosterone to ready the body for high intensity activity (either fighting or running away). This is our fight or flight reaction. It is our default response to anything new or threatening. Interestingly, the brain does not differentiate between real or perceived threat so both result in the same reaction.
The cortisol shuts down the higher order thinking and executive parts of the brain and thus the brain relies solely on memory and past experience to remove the threat. This makes sense because you already know how to escape or how to fight given you’ve survived previous threatening situations. You really don’t want to be using you higher level brain to develop a new skill or decide on potential options for survival in the face of the threat. You want to react right now.
The level of actual threat in our day to day lives is significantly lower than it was in primitive times however our brain responds just the same. Our brains do not know the difference between life and death situation and the minor threats we encounter day to day so our reactions are similar internally.
Going back now to my friend’s company, the GM and the leadership team will have responded to the situation as any brain will have done ie defaulted to primitive responses. Their brains will have perceived a threat and triggered the release of cortisol and that will have closed down their executive and thinking brains. The changes in their behaviour indicate that they are now trying to protect and defend rather than seeking out solutions to the problems.
A big problem is that this primitive system is self sustaining until the threat is removed. As a cave man/woman, you would have fought or fled the threat and either lived or died. The threat would normally be short lived.
In today’s business world unfortunately, a threat can last months or years depending on the situation and the person’s mindset. During this time the brain is constantly releasing cortisol and therefore shutting down the parts of the brain that would be most helpful for removing the threat. Responding in a defensive protective manner becomes your normal persona.
Whilst our response to threat is normal, it is what happens next that defines the leadership team.
A leadership team with high self awareness will know what they are feeling and why. They would consciously work on decreasing the cortisol in their brains and increasing the use of their executive and thinking brains. They would be building trust in others and involving them in finding ways to improve the situation. Where threats release cortisol, trust releases oxytocin, a hormone that, amongst other things, promotes creativity, strategic thinking and good decision making.
Leadership teams with low self awareness spend little time reflecting on what they are thinking or feeling. They lose their ability to listen and share instead becoming opinionated and addicted to being right. This is why disagreements and communication breakdowns occur. Leaders can suffer amygdala hijacking causing outbursts and poor decision making. As the situation continues their anxiety causes them to be sensitive to the nuances of others or their surroundings, both real and perceived. Leaders become distrustful of other and begin to micromanage. Many conversations that should be had, remain unsaid.
Most leaders have attended leadership development programs and self awareness is an important topic in such programs. Yet I see and hear time and again of senior leaders and CEO’s behaving without much self awareness. The situation where my friend works is not unusual. I do believe that leaders and CEO’s have the best intention however without self awareness they have no understanding of the impact they have.
It is clear that training courses alone don’t prepare leaders well enough to deal effectively with stressful situations. Self awareness is a journey of discovery that occurs best when you have a trusted advisor. Someone who can help navigate and keep you heading in the right direction. Mentors and coaches are ideal because they have nothing other than your best interests at heart.
When you are next confronted by a situation that threatens you or makes you fearful, how will you respond? Remember that to feel threatened and feel fear is normal, it is what you do next that defines you.
Want to understand more about your brain and how to manage it effectively? Call or email me to arrange a time for a chat.
A farmer ploughs a new field. He knows that there are large rocks and tree stumps that are just under the surface but he just wants his crop in the ground. He wants to make money so he doesn’t want to spend time and effort finding and removing them believing he will deliver a great crop anyway. So he sets his blades on the plough just high enough to rip the soil surface and travel over the buried problems. He ploughs his paddock and plants his crop. No one will see.
Are you the farmer and is does your team have hidden matters just under the surface?
Have you a team that is unable to solve their problems causing you to intervene and come up with solutions. Is there blame, and defensiveness within parts or all of your team. Are there team members who are creating a toxic or unhappy environment?
What impact is there on you, your career, and the organisation when your team is not functioning as you expect them to?
I think that all leaders aspire to have a team of people who are honest, trustworthy and treat each other with genuine respect. What would your team look like if they were all committed to a shared cause and willing to question and challenge ideas and suggestions?
What would your job be like if you had a team that operated like a well oiled machine and not the farmer and his plough?
Sometimes people think that a healthy functioning team doesn’t experience conflict or disagreement. That to be a good team member it is better to agree rather than challenge. Some teams and their leaders may prefer people to become virtually invisible like minions and slaves to the norms of the team. On the surface these teams appear to be functioning and delivering, but at what cost?
I believe this mindset of how a team should operate is damaging the fabric of functioning high performance teams. The damage comes from the conversations that need to be had but lay silent. It comes from the people who assume so much but ask so few questions. Collaboration is also suffering from the absence of understanding and dealing only with the surface level.
Innovations and adaptations occur best when ideas are challenged and when people offer and debate different perspectives. When trust exists in a team the members feel safe to disagree and debate without fear of reprisal because the team recognises that this level of discussion is healthy and solution orientated.
In this blog I want to provide you an alternative to the commonplace saying “there’s no “I” in TEAM”. I want to explain why it is important for the “I’s” to be encouraged and promoted in teams and how you can ensure your team “I’s” have a voice.
Why are the “I’s” important.
People have a very strong need to feel included and this can be a powerful driver in the workplace, particularly where teamwork is an integral part of the culture. This need can drive team members to tend to agree to whatever the collective agrees upon in order to maintain their feelings of inclusiveness. They will put their need to belong ahead of rational decision making processes. This happens at the subconscious level of the brain so you are not even aware it is happening. Group think for example is an extreme case of where the need to belong overrides the desire to engage in healthy debate and disagreement.
A strong team culture can create situations where an individual may feel unsafe to question or challenge the ideas of others. They fear the loss of relationships, status, and/or credibility if they did so. As a result the decisions and solutions can lack sufficient consideration of factors and impacts such as costs, risk, and safety. They may lack clarity, responsibility, and/or strategy when there is a lack of debate and inquiry.
Team players who are loud or opinionated may demand that their ideas are listened to, yet have no desire to listen to or consider the ideas of others. This can lead to the decisions and solutions coming from just one or two people in the team. When people feel that they are not being heard they will eventually stop offering up ideas. Their motivation decreases and so do their aspirations.
Do you observe any of these behaviours in your team? What do you think the impact would be if they did exist?
Team engagement is significantly affected when individuals are hamstrung by a strong culture of “we”. To improve team engagement individuals need to feel safe to take a stand, to speak up, and to feel heard. Focusing on the “we” in a team and ignoring the “I” can have harmful effects on team cohesiveness and capability.
We are social animals and we are hardwired to connect. There is a part of our brain within the prefrontal cortex that seeks to form bonds with others. We have survived as a species and evolved to what we are today as a result of forming relationships, groups, and communities.
For example if you were to observe tribal communities you are likely to see that when decisions are to be made the elders in the tribe come together to discuss the issues and agree on a strategy to solve the problem. All the elders are given the chance to speak and be heard. The decisions may take days or weeks because where time is not an important factor, honest consensus is. The decisions made are the result of a collective of minds. It has enabled us to grow and create. I sometimes feel that we have lost our “collective of minds” in our teams.
In today’s workplace we seem to be so focused on the team that we have overlooked the interactions at play at an individual level and the effects this has on team engagement.
We often assume so much about people within the team, transferring team behaviours, expectations and beliefs to all members without ever knowing the truth. This causes silos to exist and it breeds misinformation and miscommunication. This all changes when we operate in a climate where we can trust, share, and engage.
I will give you an example
Imagine that you are a project manager and have brought together a project team consisting of project engineer, as well as representatives from finance, supply, operations, OHS and quality.
As the project manager what is your intention for the project? Your response might be “deliver the project on time & on budget”. The finance person may say the same thing and, so too the supply and quality people. In fact everyone on the team agrees that the intention is to deliver the project on time and on budget. On the surface it appears that you have great team engagement.
During the project however tension arises between quality and finance over costs, and between supply and operations over delivery. OHS feels ignored and their audits show several breaches of policy. The team members start to form alliances and blame one another for problems and errors. The project falls into disfunction. What has happened?
Let’s go back and look at it in more detail to show how you can improve team engagement through encouraging trust and openness.
Intentions will always have underlying needs attached to them. Whilst everyone on the team can agree to the same stated intention “deliver on time and on budget”, the needs underneath this statement can vary for each person. For example the engineer may feel the need to boost their status in order to be considered for promotion, the finance person could have a need to demonstrate their recently implemented project costing software, whilst the supply people may feel the need to prove the benefits of their one stop shop supply process.
So while each of project team agree to the project intention they all have very different needs. It is the needs and not the intention that cause conflict and tension. If the needs of each of the stakeholder is assumed rather than shared, the team is setting themselves up for failure.
To overcome this problem identify the key words that will commonly be used as part of the project language and ask each member share what the terms mean to them and to do so without judgement. For example people will have very different meanings to words like collaboration, success, on budget, costs. Do not assume everyone on the team will have the same meaning. Once you have everyone’s own definitions create shared meanings for each of the terms and have these documented in the project scope.
- Set the rules of team engagement
Talk to the team about how they see the project operating. You want to move people into their creative mindset to get the best out of this session. Run activities that encourage sharing and opening up such as talking about their vision for the project and what they see as potential barriers. Use questions such as “what is possible”. These are great questions because no one will have the answer but by sharing and listening you will come up with a collective vision that is strong and enduring.
Create a shared set of rules that the team commits to follow covering off how to resolve a dispute, what are acceptable and non acceptable behaviours, how and when to catch up, and what to do if something falls off schedule. Follow this up with each member reflecting on and sharing what they will need to do differently in order to uphold these rules.
These types of activities will significantly increase team engagement by giving each member the permission to feel safe to speak up. You also remove the risks of assumptions leading to misunderstanding and miscommunication.
- Generating trust
A fully functioning team can only operate when there is genuine trust between each other. Without trust people will say only what they feel safe saying. They may decide not to speak up because they fear the consequences of doing so (real or perceived). When there is distrust people start blaming each other rather than seeking to solve the problem and move forward. Conversations to address issues become the elephants in the room not daring to be made visible.
You will need to take on a leadership role here and ensure that the team complies with their rules throughout the project life. Any actions, however small, that you condone will have a ripple effect on the success of the project. You need to be vigilant that the conversations that team members are having are about finding solutions and moving the project forward. You need to encourage the use of questions such as “what are our options?, or “what do you need to do next” that trigger the creative parts of our brain to think about how to move forward.
Finally, have a look at the way you run your meetings. Is the intention of the meeting just to confirm what everyone already knows (ie via reports, other meetings etc) or could they be used to explore questions that they haven’t yet an answer for? Some examples include “what should we do now? what are our options? what are your next steps? Questions like these are inclusive and encourage discovery and critical thinking that helps maintain team engagement.
What questions can you use to increase participation in your team?
Everyone who is part of a team needs to have a voice. When you silence the individual for the sake of the team you smother creativity, critical thinking and change. Don’t assume everyone in your team is satisfied and feels heard. As a leader you need to ensure the culture gives them permission to be authentic, to speak up and to have their say.
For the next three weeks I would like you to experiment with a different approach to your team meeting. I would like you to only ask questions and really listen without judging. I would love to hear your feedback on how your experiment went. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am running a free workshop on how to improve team engagement one conversation at a time. I will present an understanding of how conversations trigger the brain to be either open or defensive and give you some tips on how to improve your conversations to build great team environments.
The webinar will be held at 10am WST on Tuesday 31 January. To register please click here. I look forward to you joining us.