Written by Roxanne Brown
Empathy became a popular word to use at work a few years ago. Have you thought about it lately?
I admit, I can be a bit jaded about words that become popular in the workplace because I’ve seen them enter the vernacular with good intention, then end up being meaningless or used to appear informed. Sadly, they can become another source for breeding employee cynicism and even weaponized. Adding to a kind of workplace blather.
The word "vulnerable" has been through this cycle, ironically. And, so has the phrase “failing fast”. It sounds great but talking about it without examining the lack of safety (in the practices that a culture values) just grows more cognitive dissonance which subtracts time and energy from creating value, the purpose of the company.
So, have you thought about empathy lately?
Take a look at these synonyms for empathy:
What do theses words mean to you now? Do you have more of this at work? Less? How do they show up at work? Which are more important to you now?
Why would you give some thought to this? Because we’re noticing compassion everywhere, especially as people are…
...forced to integrate their life and work.
...confronted with things they don’t like about themselves.
...noticing what relationships and interactions they miss and finding ways to stay connected.
...rediscovering their home and projects they can get into.
...concerned for their own safety, the safety of the ones they love and people everywhere; maybe losing someone they love.
This is a cocktail of emotions we’ve all experienced in the past but are experiencing in new ways now. Thinking about empathy now could be useful because you could learn and own the concept for yourself. Rather than speaking about it in ways that might sound superficial, you could internalize it now using this unusual, remarkable experience as your learning laboratory. Perhaps in the future, this could be how you approach new words that make their way into the language of work. Real personal reflection putting a dent in workplace blather and increasing authenticity in workplace conversations, an authenticity people crave. How great would that be?
Written by Ed Cook
With the coronavirus raging across the world and organizations asking people to stay home, we will all need to learn how to work better virtually. There are certainly practical tips for conducting a meeting virtually that you can review here. Also important in a virtual work environment is building trust.
“One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life.” -- E.M. Forster
But what is trust? And, why do we want to build it? These may not have easy answers to the simplicity the questions suggest. Let’s start with trust. We place our trust “in” things and people, as in, “I’ll put my trust in this old car,” or “I’ll put my trust in Angela,” or even “I’ll put my trust in God.” We talk about “my trusty pen,” or “umbrella,” or “screwdriver.” But how do we know we have trust? The one key characteristic of trust is that it is something given, as in, “I give my trust to you.” It cannot be taken or really even earned. The origin of the word itself is from Old Norse and means strength. In giving trust, you are giving your strength to another. A powerful gift.
As to why we want to build trust, especially in a team situation, the value is clear. The team is stronger. This may make more sense if the team is thought of as the collection of connections between the members of the team. The collective strength of those connections is the strength of the team. Building trust is team-building.
There are many activities undertaken by managers in the hope of team-building. Outings to group activities like bowling or golf, group experiences like ropes-courses or retreats, even lunches and happy hours are often undertaken in the name of team-building. The problem is that team-building activities cannot be merely episodes in the life of a team. Although ropes courses and team outings and, yes, even trust falls can create comfort between team members, they cannot create trust. These efforts are more of a quick, sugar high. Tasty but it doesn’t nourish. This is particularly true when the team is working mostly through virtual means.
The Steps to Trust
This caution provides a guide to the activities that will truly build the team. One of the ways to build trust is for each of the team members to express to all of the others the unique value they bring to the team. Then the other members of the team tell that person what they appreciate about them. This Appreciation Exercise is something we have done with many teams and the results continue to surprise us. In a simple exercise like this, people who are normally emotional rocks will tear-up as they hear what others appreciate about them. In many cases, they did not realize the value that others held for them. Trust was implied but not expressly given. A video meeting is a perfectly good way to do this for a team that must work virtually.
This brings up the second way to build trust: Use video. Effective human communication relies strongly on audio and visual information not just the conceptual content of the message. So a phone call is better than an email, and a video conference is better than a phone call. Making sure that the message is fully received is certainly important in the giving of trust. How sad it is to mean to convey your trust only to have the receiver miss the message because of the limits of the medium.
The third way to build trust is the most obvious and most difficult. It must be given. Since Trust is a gift, it cannot be earned by the team member on the other end of the video chat. It must be given. In that gift, you are strengthening the team and increasing the chances of your own success. This is the key to strengthening a team...trust me.
A process that guides each person to their place on the team, so they can find their personal fulfillment in the team’s success.
Written by Ed Cook
With one quarter remaining in the year, it’s an opportune time to think about how to lead your team to the end of ”two-thousand-greateen” so that you achieve greatness.
These last three months can be a pivotal time of year. Vacations are finished. The press of work and the hustle for families has returned. It’s easy to get lost in what is right in front of you instead of concentrating on your end-of-year goals. Don’t let that happen. Engaged teams emerge or vanish in opportunities like this.
Team Engagement is the pinnacle of leadership. It’s the end result of a process that guides each person to their place on the team, so that they can find their personal fulfillment in the team’s success. This makes Team Engagement a completely different beast than Team Building.
Team Building is discovering more about the members of your team; what they enjoy, their creativity, or their competitiveness. It comes through playing bubble soccer, and attending wine and cheese pairings, or even a team lunch. For a great place to find these kinds of events, check out Occasion Genius. And, while Team Building is valuable, it is not Team Engagement. Done well Team Building can create connections where true Team Engagement can begin to form. Done badly, it is a sugar pill for teams that creates the expected high and then the inevitable crash. Team Building answers the question: “Who are these people?”
Employee Engagement is about the individual and how that team member finds personal fulfillment at work. An engaged employee is more likely to be able to contribute to an engaged team which makes your focus on the employee important. To get to Employee Engagement a manager needs to spend one-on-one time with an employee to understand from where that personal fulfill can come. Employee Engagement answers the question: “What do these people need?”
Team Engagement answers the question: “How do these people find joy in the team?” Team Engagement is the lightning in a bottle that many of us have experienced on a sports team, theater group or hopefully somewhere in your work. Team Engagement (like so many things) is something you know when you see it, but there are signs.
There are three signs of Team Engagement:
But if these are the signs, how to achieve them? We will focus the rest of this year’s newsletters on just that question. But for now, the first necessary step is totally with you, Awesome Leader. You need to embody the three signs of Team Engagement. As Roxanne has often said, for a team to change, the leader must change first.
Your first assignment is to reflect on the level of truth for you Awesome Leader in each of the three signs of Team Engagement. Think about how that truth came to be. Think about how happy you are with situation. Think about where you would like that to be by the end of the year.
Making a real connection with my new team.
Written by guest blogger Tracey Sloan
It's lonely at the top. I used to hear that phrase, and think "Really? You got THAT far, and now you're complaining?!" Fast forward a few years (okay, two decades), and I hate to admit it, but, it's lonely at the top.
I am in a senior leadership role in the transportation industry. Not so senior that I have my own floor, or even keys to the Head Master Chef's Boardroom. But I am invited to the table, and I have a role and a team that allows me to dream big and create something absolutely fantastic for the future.
In years past, I was a little spoiled. I'd led communication, change, strategy, operations, training...well, all sorts of teams. In most of those occasions, I grew up through the ranks, and had plenty of time to invest in building great, productive and positive relationships. Relationships I could tap into in a pinch, for a word of encouragement, or a quick cup of Joe to talk through a challenge du jour. And my team, who'd I'd essentially grown up with, was there for me, anytime and always, and me for them. I got to a place where I could just share an outcome needed with a direct report, and BOOM, they delivered, just like that. On time; high quality; minimal guidance required. Guess you could say I was livin' the dream, from a leadership perspective.
In my new role (four months or less; still a babe in these woods), I know no one. Goose-egg. Came to the company new to everyone; no familiar faces or places in sight. I was fortunate enough to meet a small handful of people in my interview process, and in the first couple of weeks, I began to build a small tribe. Unfortunately, they have day-jobs, too, and can't be there at my beck and call, just because I'm feeling lonely or need a little encouragement or peer interaction. One of them even made clear that this was not a role he was even remotely interested in playing. Um, okay.
So lest you think I'm just crying in my proverbial Wheaties, there's a positive angle and some light coming (because living in darkness is just not my thing). While it's been difficult to navigate this career change, I've grown a tremendous amount in just four months. I've learned that all workforce cultures have their ups and downs, their smiles and frowns. I've learned there is always good to be discovered, and bad to be worked through. Pursuing perfection is a waste of time and life. I've learned I do much better when I remain present, and embrace the now. If you stay hopeful, and encouraged, good things will come back to you, even when you aren't sure how that's going to happen.
Recently, I had several back-to-back, high-stakes, high-visibility meetings and deadlines. Testing the new kid, I get it. They were all hitting at once, and there's only one me. Out of sheer and utter necessity, I had to let go of one of my deliverables, because I knew it would go to pot out of sheer neglect. So, after weighing my options, I took an uncalculated risk and delegated 100% of my very first All Hands to my direct reports. It had been years since they'd all been together in one place, so this was an important event. I challenged them to work together and design an event that would be informative, interactive and inspirational. I warned them that I would essentially just be showing up, and they'd be fully running the show. I then proceeded to work ridiculous hours on making sure the other efforts I was managing were on track.
When my team arrived early to set up for the big day, I was finishing up my last big meeting, which unfortunately ran two hours late, and both meetings were in the same room. This reduced their set-up time to seconds, not minutes, with eager-beavers waiting in line to get in. I prepared myself mentally for a complete debacle, realizing it would be my fault if it tanked, for leaving them in a lurch. Boy, was I wrong. The team didn't miss a beat; they put on an amazing show. The team was engaged, thinking and laughing-out-loud, like never before. Prior to this, I'd experienced my team more as a group of talented solo artists, and here they were working together, as a thoughtful and free-flowing symphony, with all but a standing ovation at the end.
Here I gave them this task out of pure necessity, and they delivered something magical, better than I could ever have imagined. The lesson was on me. I learned to trust that your team has your back, even if they're just getting to know you. That they can take - and even welcome - a challenge. That home runs happen when people are inspired, not over-coached. And that Stephen Covey was right when he said people will rise to whatever expectations you set. I just needed to get out of their way.
Since this day, I've seen my team through a whole new lens. I think we've gained mutual respect and understanding, and see the value of the diverse gifts each person on the team brings to the table. I give them more space, and greater degrees of freedom to lead. In response, they are lighter in their steps, stronger in spirit and leading with a renewed sense of creativity and determination. And me? Well, let's just say, it's not so lonely at the top anymore.