Warning! Construction Ahead, Team-Building in Progress!

One of the hardest things about the development of a strong team is finding people that you work together to bring out the best in each other. A team, based on the old team development framework by Tuckman is not easy! The concept of Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform takes patience. It takes people who are willing to go beyond self-focus and seek out the best in others.

under-construction-clipart-Under-constructionIn our culture this rarely happens. We don’t often see teams that withstand change. Whether we are talking about the turnover of professional sports, or the new environment found in the organization of today – rare is the team that has any real sense of continuity.

So, if we are unlikely to see teams stay together for more than a short period of time, what can be done to encourage teams to flourish? Three things stick out as key components for successful teamwork in this environment:

1) Set constraints – researchers on creativity are pointing more and more to the reality that rather than hampering our abilities to create, constraints actually encourage our ability. If constraints are placed on the process (e.g. the purpose of the group is to formulate a new haircare product for our consumer line), then the group is likely to reach better results.

2) Set deadlines – ok, so deadlines really are just more constraints, but from a specific perspective when we are given deadlines we have a goal that needs to be reached. Groups that have a time-sensitive factor to their work understand that an outcome needs to be reached and are more likely to iterate than to get stuck forever in the brainstorming and discussion stages.

3) Encourage humility (not meekness) – not often talked about, but groups that show humility have a significant advantage. They know what they are good at and what they aren’t. Too often individuals overestimate their abilities, and groups (with a desire not to hurt feelings) place tasks in the hands of people who are not capable of flourishing in those roles. Teams that practice humility have a proper perspective of their abilities, yet still show care and concern.

So your team won’t be able to age like a fine wine or a tasteful cheese, but that doesn’t mean success can’t be the endpoint for your work.

If only I had more time

I find myself thinking that so often. Right now I serve as the Executive Director of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I teach adjunct at Spring Hill College, and I am working with an amazing group of community leaders to bring innovation and entrepreneurship structure to my new hometown of Mobile, AL (not to mention other volunteer work that I do).IMG_20140508_073843

(Places like this do help the process. Taking time to reflect and enjoy your surroundings are helpful)

Still, it bothers me when I think about all of the other projects (including this website) that I just can’t seem to spend my emotional and mental capital in more places. The truth is, we all want to do more. The organization you work for wants to, the school that you attend desires to, and you wish you could – but the reality is, we all have to be strategic about what we choose to do, otherwise we will be spinning our wheels.

If you are like me, this is a really hard lesson, I mean REALLY! So rather than just whine about the problem, sit down and write out your list. Choose five things that you feel that you can really invest yourself in. No more than five. No cheating…and if you can’t come up with five – open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there. Why five, because that it just makes sense – trust me, or don’t (I mean you only have five fingers on a hand…it was just meant to be – and no, don’t tell me you have two hands…I know that but really when you start to go to the second hand for anything do you really remember it, no…I didn’t think so!)

Go forth and invest yourself wisely!

Why Unstructured Time Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Your Organization

ImageFrederick Taylor and Henri Fayol each were responsible for developing a new way forward for labor. Fayol and Taylor were both responsible for much of the improvement in thinking about how work was accomplished in late-1800s through the mid-1900s. Many of the improvements for organizing a workforce into producing consistent, replicable work in industry can be attributed to their improvement of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Both of these engineers developed new concepts for management, of which some still can be found in operation today.

Why the history lesson? Today’s worker is all too often bound to a physical building, desk, or even phone by many of the management improvements of an era 80 to 150 year old. We still have the concept of the 40+ work week, time cards, and even office management that was perfect for industry but is largely out of place in the present technological, mind-oriented work world.

One of the saddest by-products of this overly rigid, out of step with what should be reality, work existence that many people live is that we constantly face burnout, disengagement, and apathy. One suggestion that seems to present an alternative to this chained-to-your-desk, time-card-punching functioning of previous generations is the institutional embrace of unstructured time.

You can read about the concept and its effects here, here, here, and here. The reality is that this unstructured time rather than being responsible for Facebook wandering and blog-rolling is often responsible for tremendous innovation in organizations. When you give people autonomy, resources, and support, it is amazing what they can come up with.

How would unstructured time impact your own workplace?

Fight burnout and stress: Go play!

Fight burnout and stress: Go play!

It is amazing to me how often I hear about the themes of burnout, stress, lack of creativity and innovation, stagnation, etc. from people in business, nonprofit, educational, and religious work spaces. The truth of the matter is, we likely have all felt ourselves in these downward cycles that occur at work from time-to-time (or in some cases, all the time). Why?

Let me detail one workplace that I was in, where this easily could have been the case, but rarely ever was. I worked in college admissions for a small, private, religious higher educational institution. We faced aggressive targets for enrollment, high expectations for student contacts, and the hope of a solid close rate for campus visits. All of these things could have been overwhelming to a group of workers who were mostly just out of college themselves. But it didn’t.

Recently, I have been influenced by a stream of research that has focused on the importance of play. Research by Stuart M. Brown, M.D. points to the reality that play is not only fun, it is vital to our living and working! He points to play, you know that stuff you did when you were younger – before everyone told you to grow up and be serious, as a mechanism that shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul (which just happens to be the subtitle for his book). Dr. Brown along with the National Institute for Play are working to bring about a greater understanding of what play actually does for us as humans (think energy, happiness, creativity, etc.) and this is a very exciting project.

So back to the potentially stressful work environment. How did we get through this? We played. A handful of us had a standing pattern. When stress got high, calls were not going as planned, etc. we would take a break, walk down to the Campus Center and play foosball. Other times, when we were unable to step away we would shoot hoops on a flimsy door mount basketball hoop. Still other times we would engage in word play over the way someone said something in a previous call, or even – when computers were left “unlocked” we might come back from lunch or a break with a desktop background of a cat, or a screen saver of our designated “employee of the month”. This was on top off our semi-regular lunchtime basketball playing and evening euchre games. This could have been problematic, but thankfully during that period of time we had supervisors who understood the benefit that this play brought to our workplace: harmony, energy, teamwork, concern for others, and creativity.

What a realized in those instances, and have recently tried to reconstruct due to mounting levels of priorities, was that play helps. Think about it. The energy you get from stepping aside to play for even a few minutes provides fuel for an hour of work or more, easily. Some people may look at you as immature, a screwoff, or even worse for playing in the midst of these environments, but your ability to stay sane, produce creatively, and maintain energy will be all the proof you need for play.

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So, how can you incorporate play into your work?

Looking at your world through new eyes

So, preface, I am married to an incredible woman and with that marriage I became part of a larger family. In that family, as in all families is a cast of characters (all are wonderful, trust me – I am so very thankful for them). One particular member of that family has challenged the way that I see things, literally. After examining his work the other day, I joked about my desire to have an eye transplant to see the world the way that he does. While technology has grown by leaps and bounds this still has yet to occur.

So since transplants won’t happen, I have challenged myself to learn from the images that he captures with his camera lens. Yes, my brother-in-law, Jeff (a.k.a JLB), is a photographer. No, I don’t mean he takes pictures though. He is a painter of landscapes, a designer of ideas, a sculptor of imagery, a collector of memories, and a vessel of imagination. He is an artist (seriously, go check out his work)

Now, the above description, artist, will never be said about me. In fact, I might go so far as to say that my almost 5 year-old daughter is a better artist than I am (see, I told you so). For much of my life, I have focused on thinking, talking, and analyzing. I enjoy a beautiful sunset, I love the view of being on the water, but no one would ever mistake me for an artist.

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For the last decade though, I have been growing. It is through initial interactions with JLB (then a graphic designer at a small, private college that we both worked at) that I began to appreciate the world through new eyes. No longer do I think about “creative” as some distinct group of people, instead I have learned to see the finer things about design, scope, and imagery in my work.

Starting with JLB and leading to a host of design-oriented individuals, my world has expanded to seeing a new way to piece things together. I have a continually growing level of appreciation for how design immeasurably impacts work. While you are at it, check out organizations like Work Design Magazine and IDEO. Read books like A Whole New Mind, Accidental Creative, and The Myths of Creativity. But also, explore, take photos, look at magazines, create a design wall (gosh, that might have just stuck me close to promoting Pinterest), scrapbook (that one is for you, mom), step out outside, visit new locations, walk in the park, and meet people.

We live in a time in which we are constantly moving, always bombarded by noise and images, but rarely do we stop and appreciate beauty. As we grow up, society tends to discard imagination and play as being immature and juvenile. Fight back, have fun, pretend, go hang out with children and get drawn into their world of imagination. Experience the beauty that is all around – and you will recognize that you are seeing the world with a whole new set of eyes.