You're Doing Conflict Wrong

(Like this content about workplace conflict, but want to hear about it instead of reading about it? Here’s the companion podcast episode.)

If you’ve got two people who interact, sooner or later, they’re going to come into conflict. It’s a fact of human relationships.

This article is about transforming conflict and using it to your advantage. If conflict seems like something to avoid… If it seems like something you can win… Then, you’re doing it wrong.

When people come to workplace conflict hoping and striving to win, then it’s only conflict itself that wins. (Did that sound cheesy?)

What’s wrong?

Some people are conflict avoidant. Some people are conflict seeking. Whatever our conflict tendency, the vast majority of us are doing it wrong the majority of the time.

When we find ourselves in a disagreement, many of us do one of two things.

  1. Some of us widen our eyes, straighten up, and start arguing our case to win the argument. I call this the Stand and Fight.
  2. Others of us lower our eyes, shrug our shoulders, walk away, and resign ourselves to the certain outcome that things won’t go our way. I call this the Slump and Slink.

Most of us do each of these things at different times and in different circumstances. Avoiders sometimes go on the attack, and fighters sometimes flee.

It doesn’t mean we’re bad people — the fact the we do conflict wrong. It makes sense we’d respond this way. Our brains are wired by ages of evolution to preserve our lives. Being a jerk at work is a survival reflex. You’ve heard of “fight or flight.” Here it is. Argue = fight. Resign yourself = flight.

Your more primitive brain regions see disagreement with a colleague, anticipate conflict, and categorize that conflict as a threat to life and limb. Rationally, you know that threat isn’t real. Rational mind, though, has been nearly shut off. Primitive brain regions have coopted the rational mind.

What’s it cost to get workplace conflict wrong?

If it’s my brain acting on instinct, my response to conflict is nature. Why fight “fight or flight?” Why not let nature do its thing?

Well, combat and hiding both have costs.

  1. Combat deteriorates relationships in ways we’re all aware of. Combative posturing leads to mistrust and resentment. So does hiding — in more subtle ways. We pick up on the subtle signals when people disagree but acquiesce anyway. We see them hiding their disapproval like a kid in class who thinks they’re adeptly passing notes unnoticed. It feels manipulative. We’re uncertain where we stand, and so the relationship is full of uncertainty and discomfort. Without candor, there’s no trust.
  2. Even though the points of disagreement loom large, there’s usually more common ground than there is difference. When we enter combat mode, that common ground gets lost. Team cohesion suffers, and adversarial stances prevent good information from being heard. The points of disagreement are almost always relatively small. In the scheme of things, the common ground you share outweighs the difference 100 fold. It’s the difference that gets all the attention, and the context of affinity gets lost.
  3. When we avoid workplace conflict, valid concerns that could benefit the relationship and the organization don’t get the attention they deserve. Disasters (large or small) may result from the lack of information sharing. Same thing when you voice your concerns at the top of your lungs. You’re telling everyone why you disagree. And you may have very important points. If you’re on the offensive, however, instead of calmly sharing your concerns, people get defensive in response. They stop listening. You may be right, but by behaving aggressively, you insure that you’re not heard.
  4. People say quietly to themselves, “I knew it. Saw that coming.” People feel distanced from each other, and judge others as unwise, and pushy. “If only they’d asked me, I could have told them.” Team cohesion suffers. Resentment builds in all directions. 

So, if our primitive brains lead us to this kind of behavior, what can we do about it?

Slow Down

Your primitive brain, and the fight or flight response is powerful, but it’s not the only game in town. You can teach yourself to override it.

1.  Breathe: Try something called box breathing. Practice it anytime you feel a bit anxious or angry.

  • Breathe in for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for four.
  • Breathe out on a count of four.
  • Hold for four.
  • Breathe in for four.
  • Repeat.

This may not be practical during an argument, but it’s great before initiating a conversation that you anticipate may be stressful. And, even during the interaction, bringing your attention to your breath, and doing this box breathing as much as possible is a powerful fight or flight defuser. Just ask a Navy Seal. This is a technique they use in actual battle.

2.  Look for common ground. Whether your impulse is to fight or to hide from the conflict at hand, you’re focused on the differences between you. And either way, your brain is racing. It’s going a mile a minute. Your primitive brain has given your rational mind an assignment, “Identify all threats and all weapons to counter those threats and all means of hiding from those threats.” Your rational mind is good at that, but it’s now using that talent for assessment in an irrational fashion. It’s operating from the conclusion, and finding support. That’s backwards. Here’s an opportunity to practice the principle derived from the system of improvisation — YES, AND. Prompt yourself with phrases like:

  • “Here’s what I like about this…”
  • “I think we agree on X, Y, and Z.”
  • “I can see we’re not on the same page about some stuff. Before we get into that, let’s work together for a moment to find all the areas of common ground.”

3.  Puzzle it. Now that you’re calm, and standing on a wide swath of common ground, you and your collaborator can look at your points of distance and debate them. Investigate them. Try on each other’s perspective and see how it fits. Distance yourself from your ideas. You’re looking together at a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find the solution. Your pieces aren’t better or worse. They’re not even yours. Theirs neither. They’re not your ideas or their ideas. All ideas are joint property. They’re all just puzzle pieces. And they either fit, or they don’t.

4.  Murder the unchosen alternatives. When the decision is made about which direction to go down — yours, theirs, a third unrelated one or a hybrid of the two — put your doubts to rest. You may not be able to quash them, but don’t feed them. Instruct yourself, “We’ve made a decision. Whether I agree with it or not is irrelevant. That ship has sailed, and my job is to back this plan of action to the hilt.” Every plan of action but the one that was chosen is done. Burn your boats. Don’t dwell. And if it’s your plan that’s in action, don’t gloat.

Reap the benefits

By following this approach to difference and workplace conflict, you’ll reap rewards. Your relationships will thrive. Your blood pressure will improve. Your organization’s decision making will be more effective. Your results will be better.

If you want, you can think of this as the “BLIMP” method. If you look above, you’ll see the steps… BLPM. Ok. BLIMP is a stretch. I just know people like acronyms.


Know anyone who’d benefit from this article? Please feel free to share it or it’s companion podcast episode far and wide.


Set Expectations Like an Improviser

Are you in sales? Do you have a boss or have people working for you? Got people working with you? Do you work with people? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there are people who expect things from you.

The question is, are their expectations consistent with the reality you are prepared to deliver? Will you meet their expectations, or will you disappoint?

Half the answer lies in what you deliver. The other half lies in what they expect.

THE INCOMPLETE SET

Last month, I placed an order with a marketing company. They told me, “Your marketing product will go live in no more than 30 days. Maybe sooner.”

That’s expectation setting. They gave me an expectation about timeline.

They also told me that I’d have a “success manager” assigned to me and my marketing efforts, and that I’d hear from that manager to get my input along the way.

They gave me specific time when I should expect completion, but no specifics about when I’d hear from the “success manager.” Because they left a gap in setting expectations for me, I filled the gap with my own expectations about what the interim timeline would look like. Because I set my own expectations about their service, they set us both up for confusion, disappointment, and anxiety.

Indeed, two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from anyone, I touched base with the sales rep who brought me on board to ask how things were progressing. “The holidays have created a backlog. I’m sure you’re still on target. You’ll hear from someone soon.”

Cool. Reassuring. A little bit.

When I called again a week after that, I heard, “There’s a bit of a backlog because of the holidays, but I’m sure your release will happen on time.”

Less reassuring. Kind of vague.

When I heard from his colleague that same day, “I received your search landing page today, and you’ll see it for review in about an hour,” that truly reassured me.

Why?

THE COMFORT OF SPECIFICITY

Was it the tangible progress that reassured me? Because someone had seen actual work done on my project…?

Well, that was part of it.

A bigger part of it, however, is that the info they gave me was specific. It was not a general assurance like, “I’m sure you’re still on target.” Or, “You’ll hear from someone soon.”

I heard instead, “I’m currently looking at this specific aspect of our deliverables to you.” She said, “You’ll see it in one hour.”

It was nice that I’d see it so quickly. But, “tomorrow morning by 10AM,” would have been almost as good. It’s the level of specificity that gave me something to hold on to. My worries are gone. And I know when I should start worrying. I can directly compare the reality on the ground with the expectation they set for me.

IMPROV’S LESSON FOR SETTING EXPECTATIONS

What I’d like to impart to you is a bit of wisdom I learned by training as an improviser…

The more specific you are with others in your life — those who work with you, live with you, depend on you, employ you, work for you, buy from you, sell to you… whatever — the more specific you are with others, the more comfortable they will be.

And guess what, the less likely they are to irritate you as well. I think I got under my vendor’s skin a bit, by writing a few times to ask about the status of my order.

What would have saved me the worry that my order would be late? What would have saved my vendor the irritation of my, “Are we there yet?”

One thing would have saved us both the stress — practicing the improviser’s tool, “Be Specific.” Had they been specific, not only about the deadline for the finished product, but about the timeline of every deliverable along the way, I’d have rested comfortably and left them to do their work.

BE SPECIFIC

So, dear reader, the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone else is looking to you for answers about what to expect:

  • When will you…?
  • What will X look like?
  • How will costs be calculated?
  • What do you like about…?
  • What are the metrics for success?
  • Where can I find X?
  • How can I attain X results?

Be as specific as you possibly can.

Expectations are like bowling. When you’ve got a seven-ten split, you can’t expect to knock down both pins by simply rolling the ball down the alley “that way.” You’ve got to hit the seven pin just so, in order to send it spinning into the ten. That’s a specific task.

So is communication. You’ll be rewarded for your specificity.


6 Ways to Speed Up During Year-End Slowdown

It’s natural to slow down this time of year. The days are shorter, and we’re biologically programmed to slow down. There’s a break from Christmas through new years when many businesses all but shut down. We’re all thinking about family and friends — as we should. And we’re surrounded by so many messages about ending, that it’s hard to think about what’s continuing and what’s starting anew.

The holiday season is a full time. Good cheer, family, vacation, celebrations, feasting. Many of us look back at the year that’s ending and evaluate where we are compared to our dreams for ourselves and our companies. Many look forward to the coming year and start to resolve to change.

Unless you’re in retail, business tends to slow down, too. Productivity slows. Sales slump, especially B2B sales. The pace of everything seems to wind down along with the year as if preparing for a hibernation. And after New Year’s, many businesses take a while to gear back up to their usual operating pace.

After the holidays, people stumble back in from their family trips and too many cookies. They look around the office as though it’s a familiar location from long ago. They blink in the fluorescent light, and they’re just not sure how to get started again.

Sound familiar?

Diminished productivity and lost momentum add up to lost revenue potential. Can’t cancel the holidays. Wouldn’t want to. So I hope my improviser’s mindset can help you and your team enjoy the holidays fully, and keep and even accelerate the speed of business.

Here are 6 things you can do over the next few weeks to keep the pace up now, hit the ground running in the new year, and improve the vitality of your team all at once. Improvisers look for opportunities to keep the action moving.

1. Express gratitude

In keeping with the season’s traditions, thank people for their work. To have the greatest impact, Be Specific.

  • Name specific behaviors. Like this, “Carla, when you go out of your way to help a client…”
  • Name specific events as examples. “Frank, you took the initiative to call Jerry over at ACME Widgets because you’d heard through the grapevine that they were having trouble with…”
  • Name specific results. “Beth,we keep happy clients and get more referral business because you…”
  • Name a specific desired future. “Thank you, Alan. Please keep doing that.”

If you do nothing else on this list, express gratitude this way. Gratitude is a prime motivator, and boosts engagement and productivity all by itself.

2. Shore up relationships

If sales and service activities are slowing down because of year-end, you and your team can reach out to clients, vendors, peers, competitors, colleagues. Reach out to anyone who’s important in your business, and express care (including gratitude). Have lunch or coffee. Attend holiday parties, and go deeper than typical small-talk.. Connect with people on things that matter to them — family, career, dreams, hobbies. Strengthen relationships, and reap the rewards in the new year.

3. Survey what you’ve built

Your team has accomplished a lot this year. Often, though, we just keep plowing forward, looking to the next project and the next task. Take a moment. Take a whole meeting. Look at what you’ve done together, and give each other a pat on the back. Even if you’ve taken a beating this year, you’re still standing. Take pride. If you can’t take pride, give pride to one another. A sense of accomplishment can bolster resolve and accelerate growth.

4. Plan for next year

If you haven’t begun this already, you’re behind. Plan for next year. What are your goals and targets? What are your metrics for success? How will you reach them? Be specific about actions you and your team will need to take. Begin to make assignments and map out responsibilities. Include your team in the planning process. Rather than allowing big goals to intimidate you and your team, frame the plan as an inspiration. And let people begin to take action.

5. Plan for the first week of January

Before everyone leaves for Christmas, gather your team to plan for your return. Set deadlines for the first Thursday that people are back. Include activities that require collaboration and accountability. Give people some work they find fun to jump into when everyone’s back. That way, when January 2nd rolls around, people will come in bright-eyed, eager to work. Gather very briefly on the morning of the 2nd to give people a high-spirited reminder of the plan. Then connect that plan with intrinsic motivators like pride in their work and the gratitude of their colleagues and clients.

6. Express Gratitude

Did I mention that already? This is something trained improvisers do easily and readily. They notice resources, structures, and people that support them. They acknowledge people who have their back.

Improvisers know that constant feedback drives behavior. Feedback is the material that all relationships are built from.


Make a friend. Almost kill him. Start a business together.

I made a new friend. One day, we almost killed each other. Then, we spent that afternoon together in misery. Next, we formed a company to teach others to do what we had done — at work. You can do it too at your work.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meeting:

Adam and I worked together once, years ago, on a project for two months. It was great. Won some critical acclaim. Was beloved by a small number of fans. And ultimately, it failed commercially. Some time later, we entered a competition together (along with some others) with a weekends’ project, had some fun, and won an award. I liked working with Adam. I thought there was potential for a friendship there, so I asked him on an adventure.

“Let’s go on a half-day canoe trip together, Adam. Something local. I’ll meet you at the river.”

On the trip, we almost killed each other. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together.”

Adventure:

We met relatively early in the morning at a gas station. He followed me in his car to the downriver site where we’d end our morning’s paddle. And then, we drove my car to the upriver site where we put the canoe in the water. After a couple of hours of pleasant, enjoyable calm flat water, punctuated by the occasional mild, short, fun rapids, we came to a bigger rapid, and pulled the boat to the bank to reconnoiter.

I hopped out, scrambled a ways down the bank, climbed up on some rocks and debris, and scoped out the rapid. It was fast, turbulent water, but the chute through the rapid was uncomplicated and clear of any major obstacles. I nodded, returned to Adam, and said, “Let’s do this.”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

“I think we can do it,” I said. “Bigger, but not harder, than what we’ve already done.”

Then I reminded him of a few key techniques for navigating the rapid successfully and what to do if we capsized (I was the experienced paddler in the boat), and we pushed off the bank.

The first half of the rapid was a thrilling, easy, straight shot. We came to the first of two slight adjustments we’d have to make before reaching calm water again, and Adam leaned right when he should have leaned left. We took on water. The boat rode lower, and within one second we were capsized. For a few seconds, I shouted instructions to Adam. “Hang onto your paddle! Feet downstream! See you at the bottom! Left bank!” Neither one of us knows if he heard any of that.

Disaster:

The next thing I knew, my ankle got caught between two boulders. I swung around head downstream, foot pinned, face up in the heavy water. And the torrent played me like a ragdoll. I could not free my ankle. I struggled to keep my face above the water. By trying to sit up, I could just manage to bring my face to the surface long enough to gasp a breath. I did this a few times. I hadn’t been pinned more than a few seconds, I think, but I was already becoming exhausted.

If I couldn’t free my foot, I would drown very soon. But struggling as I was to earn just three breaths, I was losing strength, and hadn’t made any progress toward freedom. I thought, “I’m going to die.” I thought of my unborn daughter growing up without a dad. So I took a breath, and gave in to the torrent. I went limp. My body did a horizontal impression of a car-dealership tube-man in the current.

I was resting.

After only a couple of seconds of that, I summoned my strength and did the hardest situp of my life. I managed the biggest breath so far, and — finally — to wrench my ankle from between the boulders that held it.

Seconds later, the rapids spit me out into the calm but swift water below. I thought, for the first time since being pinned, of Adam. I hoped he’d fared better than I had. I hoped too that he’d heard me say left bank. I swam for that bank myself, exhausted.

By coincidence or by design, Adam had also found the left bank. We found each other, and took stock.

Our paddles were gone. Our boat was gone. Adam had seen it destroy itself against a rock, turning inside out and wrapping around the boulder under the immense pressure of the water. Our food was gone. Hats gone. Almost everything was gone. Drinking water, gone. Adam’s shoes, gone.

I still had my wallet. Still had my keys. Both of us, somehow, had managed to keep our smartphones, and to keep them dry.

The phones turned on, but there was no reception. So we climbed a small but steep hill beside the river.We were somewhere inside Fort Lewis Army Base, and there were no buildings, or paths or other man-made anythings to be seen, even from the hill. The bank was impassable. The river too swift and cold to float the afternoon in. And we could not place a call. Google maps did, however, give us some slight indication of our location and of directions. We identified a possible road on the map and planned to walk there. It was not very near.

Adam’s shoes were gone, and his bare feet already hurt after the small amount of walking we’d done. I gave him my sandals and went barefoot.

Ordeal:

We tried to walk in the direction of the road or path that the map had indicated. It wasn’t easy to do. The forest around us was all but impenetrable. Every foot of progress was hard won through undergrowth and brambles. We zigzagged our way in the general direction we wanted to go by walking along fallen logs whenever we could. They provided paths through the bramble.

The afternoon became hot, and we wished we had water. We became quite fatigued. The landscape of small hills and valleys was difficult. The bramble nearly impossible.

Eventually, we reached my wife by phone and tried to describe the spot we were trying to reach — and told her it was within Fort Lewis. Could she call someone to meet us there — or try to meet us there herself?

We lost reception.

When we regained reception, we learned she’d gotten permission to drive into this remote section of the base to try to find us.

We pushed on. I lost my wallet, and spent some time and energy looking for it, retracing my steps a small distance. I could not tell where I had been, could not see my own path, so I gave up on my wallet, and we pressed on again.

Finally, we came in to a valley we believed our road ran along. But there was no road. So we pressed on, until…

Salvation:

I don’t know whether I saw or heard her first. Bless her, my wife had found our road, driven along it as far as she could, and then, when the road became impassible to the car, she’d left the car to find us on foot. She’d brought water.

Rejuvenated, somewhat, by the arrival of our rescuer, and by the rehydration, we quickened our pace and reached the car.

With the worst of the ordeal behind me, I decided and told Adam, “Now that we’re safe, and only in retrospect, that was kind of fun.”

“Not my idea of fun,” said Adam (a guy who’s run the Tough Mudder because that is his idea of fun).

Retrospect:

That’s when something began to dawn on me. “Not my idea of fun,” was the most negative thing Adam had said all day.

We’d stood on the bank of that river, nearly drowned, already exhausted by the ordeal in the rapids, with no way back to civilization, without water, and facing hours of greater ordeal in the heat of the afternoon. Adam had leaned left when he should have leaned right. I’d taken us into a rapid that I should not have attempted with Adam’s level of experience and confidence. We stood there on the bank facing trouble, but not emergency.

There were lots of conversations we could have had on that bank. Either of us could have blamed the other, shouted, pointed, and cursed. Either of us could have sat on the bank to cry. Either of us could have begun to marshal resources to support his own comfort and ease — to hell with the other guy.

Instead, we took quick stock of the situation, and began to think of the two person unit. Adam was fitter physically. I was more experienced outdoors. I had sandals. Adam’s bare feet were already hurt.

We strategized briefly. And we took immediate action to get the pair of us out of the predicament.

And the day went that way, each of us caring for the other, filling in when we could for the other’s weaknesses.

There was not a moment’s time given to sniping or to blame. We spoke occasionally of the fatigue and the dehydration, but neither of us complained. Instead, we kept the team apprised unemotionally of our slowly deteriorating state of strength and endurance. We took a moment to admire the beauty of a striking caterpillar posing on a tree trunk.

We disagreed about strategy often. At those times, we debated briefly, and one of us would defer to the other, and get completely behind the plan from that point on. We made errors that set us back. We adjusted, and still never pointed fingers.

Revelation:

We had each other’s backs, and we were united behind a single purpose.

I’d been considering a company dedicated to making work good for people. I’d seen how much ineffectiveness there is in many people’s work habits, and how many people feel beat down by work instead of fulfilled. Most people in our society don’t like work. I wanted to make a difference in that because I wanted my daughter to grow up in a culture where work is viewed as a grace and a privilege. I knew that tools and techniques from theater improv could serve to help people focus on what matters, to respond to others with empathy and purpose, and to take inspiration from the most seemingly trivial things — and therefore to like work.

Because Adam is the best improviser I know, I’d thought about asking him to join me in founding this company.

But it was because of who we were together in adversity, because of our focus on purpose, our willingness to keep going when it seemed we could not, because of the resourcefulness and commitment to purpose and team above all else… Because of those extraordinary qualities proven in a true trial of our temperaments, I knew two things.

Company Born:

First, I knew Adam was someone I could work with in the trenches. Come hell or high water, we’d be able to weather the rough seas of a startup.

Second, I knew that it was the improviser’s mentality that allowed us to maintain such equanimity, kindness, and resolve during and after such a trial. I knew we had something we could offer to the workplaces and to working-teams all over our country. And I knew we were already both experienced at teaching it.

Pair that with a life-long passion for developing leadership in myself and others… We were poised to change lives. We asked Rachel (who shares our mindset and devotion to developing it still further) to join us. She rounded out our team, and we started changing the world of work one team at a time.

Our Impact:

The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together. Imagine the joy that would have filled your days. Imagine how you would feel on Monday morning, knowing you were heading to work to be surrounded by minds like that.

That’s why I have found my life’s work in changing lives, by changing work, by changing habits, by teaching improv dynamically correlated to the work you do.

 


Your Happiness, Your Job with Dana Manciagli - MGW #4

GUEST: Dana Manciagli — Global Career Expert: Speaker and Private Coach

www.DanaManciagli.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danamanciagli

 

Over decades, Dana Manciagli amassed skills and insights into good work and career wisdom while working at such companies as Avery, SeaLand, Kodak and Microsoft. Now, she gives others the benefit of that wisdom as  an author, blogger, keynote speaker, career coach, and global career expert.

Earlier episodes of this podcast have focused on leadership’s role in great work in our companies. Dana Manciagli is here to talk with your host Aaron Schmookler about what each of us can do to insure that we’ve got Mighty Good Work.Reboot yourself by changing jobs, by jumping division to division, location to location, or company to company.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation with Dana:

 

Make choices! Don’t let your work happen to you. Be deliberate.

 

Figure out what you like, and pursue only what you like.


You can’t be all things to all people. Make choices. Sometimes they’re tough. You don’t have to get it absolutely right. Make a call and take action on it.

 

“What are you waiting for? You have a vision. You know what you want to do next. Why aren’t you doing it?”

 

Don’t rely on your boss to make you happy.

 

Ask yourself, “What was this week like? Did I do my best? Treat my people well? Make good choices?” Take regular accounting of your own performance against your own standards of excellence. Expect greatness.

 

There’s a lot of boss bashing out there. Stop bashing the boss. It only hurts your career.

 

Business revolves around relationships.

 

Rule #1: Build the relationship with your boss. There’s a “we factor” and you’re role in the relationship is equally important. It takes two.

 

YOU have tremendous power in yourself — through your choices — to have good work wherever you are.

 

Put in the work that it takes to enjoy work! Don’t be stuck.Take action to get to joy at work!

 

If you need a private job search coach, contact Dana through her website or through LInkedIn.

 

http://DanaManciagli.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danamanciagli
Check out this episode!


Case Study - Mean to Team (Part 2 of 2)

The trivial details – names, and the like – in this case study have been changed to preserve our client’s anonymity.

Last week, you read about the problems on Jack’s team. They were significant. Some people were at each other’s throats. Some people simply weren’t speaking to one another. Others were simply disappointed to be working in such a contentious setting. Productivity and work product were suffering.

And now, the exciting conclusion…

THE RESULTS:

Four weeks later, Jack said, “You undercharged me. What I got for myself and my job alone was worth what we paid for this workshop. And then there’s what my team got too. You undercharged me.”

Here are a few of the other things Jack told us:

  • “I’ve regained the trust and earned the respect of my team.”
  • “People are coming to me to share, not to complain.”
  • “I’m not stomping out [figurative] flaming bags of shit outside my door every day.”
  • “We have a common language now.”

Specifically, Jack had given us three priorities… three results he wanted for his team from our training:

  • Cohesion
  • Camaraderie
  • Communication

Those things can be difficult to measure quantitatively. However, here is the shift in Jack’s rating of his team (on a scale from 1-10) in those three areas after a single workshop of 4 hours.

 

before after
Cohesion 4 or 5 6 or 7
Camaraderie 6 7
Communication 6-7 7-8

 

Jack rated tensions on his team at a 6 out of 10 before the workshop. Four weeks afterward, Jack’s estimate is just 2.5 out of 10. Jack is planning their next installment of training with The Yes Works.

A few more quantifiable results you’ve got to love:

  • Three people who work in a cubicle pen but didn’t talk even when work required it are now willingly communicating without third party intervention.
  • Mark and Margaret are willingly communicating as well, without needing to involve Gary.
  • Jack reports that before the workshop with The Yes Works, the team was working at a productivity level of 60% of his target for the team. Four weeks later, they are working at 80% productivity (compared to the same target). That’s a 33% increase in productivity almost overnight.
  • No more vomiting before, during, or after staff meetings!

Jack’s team was under significant stress before working with us, so results may vary. But every team can benefit from the collaboration intensive training we provide.

After an intensive training with The Yes Works, Team members will:

  • Improve communication skills and eliminate most miscommunication.
  • Collaborate effectively, considering all perspectives and finding innovative solutions.
  • Experience greater confidence in making decisions.
  • Enjoy greater freedom and personal accountability.
  • Work effectively and with gusto without close supervision.

Call us today to discuss your goals for your team — and to learn what an improv perspective can do to light a fire within the heart of your team.

 

Your company culture engineer,

Aaron Schmookler
253-301-8004


Case Study - Mean to Team (Part 1 of 2)

The trivial details – names, and the like – in this case study have been changed to preserve our client’s anonymity.

THE TEAM:

12 engineers make up the operations team supporting the IT department of a large school with 25K employees.

“You undercharged me.” — Jack, the Team Leader

 

THE SITUATION:

When Jack, the Operations Team leader, reached out to us, he cited communication and cohesion challenges on his team. We soon learned that he was understating the problem.

Interpersonal tensions were so extreme on Jack’s team that he was frequently physically ill before, during, and after staff meetings. Just imagining being in the same room with all those people at once, with the strife he experienced weekly in that room, caused him to vomit. Jack gave us this example of the tension level:

Mark requires Margaret’s work product to complete his own work. Mark won’t talk to Margaret directly, however. He won’t even look at Margaret. She won’t even say, “Good morning,” to him. Instead, when Mark needs Margaret’s work, he asks Gary to get it. Gary goes to Margaret. Margaret rolls her eyes. Gary rolls his eyes. Mark sits at his desk, drumming his fingers waiting for Mark to return so he can get back to work.

What an unnecessary and destructive waste.

On his wall, Jack had posted an acronym of traits he and his team had committed to embodying. While I’ll keep the acronym to myself, to protect the client’s anonymity, I will say that one of the traits was, “professional.”

I complimented Jack on some commendable ideals and asked out of curiosity, “How do you guys define ‘Professional?’”

He answered, “You know. Everyone knows what ‘Professional’ means.”

“Sure,” I said. “You know what it means, and I know what it means. But the problem is that we each have different definitions. But we assume that our own definition is universal.” I laid out a scenario:

Betty and Dave are standing outside their cubicles, talking about their weekends and their kids, and laughing. After about a minute, Stan gets very irritated. Don’t they see him trying to work in the next cube over? They’re so loud. Why don’t they just get to work? It’s work hours. To Stan, they are clearly unprofessional.

Meanwhile, Betty and Dave both wonder why Stan — who is sitting right there — hasn’t joined the conversation or even said hello. It’s clear to them that a little light conversation on a Monday morning reacquaints them with each other. It lubricates the professional relationship, and gives them insight into each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and what stresses or joys from their personal lives might affect their work today. Stan, however, seems to be giving them snide looks and is muttering something under his breath. To Betty and Dave, Stan is clearly unprofessional.

“Yes,” Jack yelled when I had finished my short story. “That’s my team.”

Beyond helping teams define important terms and values so that everyone’s on the same page, we explained to Jack, we also help to establish a foundation of empathy — as a habit — between people. Each person’s perspective helps to create a rich and well-balanced vision for the team as a whole. There’s a bit of one of my father’s favorite jokes in the training we offer:

Two arguing men in the community come to the Rabbi to ask him to settle their dispute. The first explains his perspective. The Rabbi replies, “You’re right.” The second argues his case. The Rabbi says, “You’re right.”

The Rabbi’s wife, overhearing all this, says, “He’s right? And he’s right? How can they both be right?”

The Rabbi shrugs and says, “You’re right too.”

 

THE TRAINING:

Soon after our first meeting with Jack, we met with his team for the first installment of their training. We were there, ready to begin the training on time. For the first time in our company history, however, we did not start our training on time — even with everyone in the room. The first 5 minutes of the training time were spent in an argument.

Kerry was certain that the training had been scheduled for 3 hours. Sally rolled her eyes and said, “I saw that in the last email, but every other email (and the calendar invitation we all got) said 4 hours. 3 hours was a typo. It’s 4 hours.” Kerry insisted it was three. Sally repeated that it was four. This went on for some time with only little variation. Jack, their boss, sat between them, bemused. We, The Yes Works trainers, sat before them, diagnosing the patient and seeing first hand the disfunction that Jack had described.

Each was so focused on being right (and in Kerry’s case, on going home), that they completely overlooked the authoritative resources in the room that could have settled the argument. We were there, looking at them, and would gladly have shared what our intentions were as the trainers (and what we’d been paid to do). Their boss sat only feet from them — between them — and could easily have defined the expectations. But neither of them asked him, and he didn’t interrupt to resolve either the content of the dispute, or the context of the dispute.

Kerry seemed committed to reading any ambiguous communication to him “in his own favor.” Evidently, he defined “in his own favor” as whatever would have him out of this place and this activity the fastest. Sally seemed committed to using the power of her reasoning to defeat Kerry’s wrong-headedness. Jack seemed disinclined to intervene. He did not assert his authority about a matter that had an authoritative answer. He did not bring his employees back to a focus on in purpose instead of self-interest.

When the dust eventually settled, we began our four hour training.

Some of the team was excited to have us there, and participated from the first moments with gusto. Others, like Kerry, were there because they had been required to be there, and were reluctant. Within minutes, however, we had the entire group on their feet. They laughed. They moved past some fears. They saw new sides of one another. They all went through quite a mental workout, each person going through multiple reps of practicing the principles that define our business-relationship training. Many of them did and said things they would not have anticipated doing. All of them participated equally. Kerry was completely involved.

 

Click here to read the exciting conclusion


Fail Forward Like a Baby

I’ve taken a lesson in failure from my fourteen month old baby daughter. She does fail forward with the best of them. I know “fail forward” is a bit of a controversial maxim. With all that I’ve heard and read on both sides, I think it’s primarily a semantic argument. So, whatever your thoughts on the maxim, my daughter’s pretty smart.

THE BABY STORY

She’s walking now.  That’s new.  Just a few short weeks ago, she couldn’t really even stand on her own.  She needed something to pull herself up by, to hold on to. Once she’d gotten good at “cruising,” walking around while holding onto furniture, I could see she wanted to walk unsupported.  She wanted to try out what everyone else was doing.  She’d hold on to a chair or coffee table and step away, going as far as she could while still holding on.  She’d look at me across the room.  She’d stretch and strain to reach me.  Then she’d let go, sit down, and crawl the rest of the way.

There was something she wanted to do but couldn’t.  She didn’t get frustrated.  She just kept trying.  Every day, she stretched a bit further.  Her grip on the furniture got a little lighter.  She stretched far enough one day that only the tips of her fingers grazed the tabletop before she sat down to crawl.  She smiled.

Soon after that, she climbed onto her toy chest.  After sitting there for a few moments, she pushed herself up onto her hands and feet, her rump in the air, and then she straightened.  And there she stood, atop the box, grinning from ear to ear, triumphant.  She balanced there, on this small box, with nowhere she could go.  But she balanced there, for thirty seconds.  Then she looked around like she wanted to take a step.  All around her, though, there were edges.  She sat down, unfazed.

“Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them.”

Then, I came home one day and sat on the sofa.  She turned from the nearby chair she was holding onto and fell forward into the hands I held out to her. And she giggled like a fiend.  What was new here was that she’d mustered the guts to go for it.  She giggled with the thrill of it.  As she fell, headlong into my hands, she’d moved her feet – step, step, step – making this a kind of walk-fall.  Her body was almost horizontal by the third step.  It really was more fall than walk.  She said, “more.”  And so I picked her up, and she repeated her fall, stepping as she toppled like a felled tree.  “More.” Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.”  Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.” Again and again.  Giggle-fest.

After doing this for a couple of days, she stopped, and spent her time instead crawling. Then, one day, she stood and established her balance.  With spoon held aloft like a cheerleader’s baton and shouting something that sounded like “go,” she took six solid steps forward.

As she’s learned to walk a city block at a time without falling down, she’s been a dogged student of one step after another.  When she falls, she gets back up.  When she falls hard, she cries for a few seconds, then gets back up.  She smiles a lot.  Sometimes she laughs about it all.

A FAIL FORWARD PERSPECTIVE: Everything Is An Offer

There is a principal in improv – Everything is an offer. That means we can take inspiration from anything, because there’s information in every interaction, every event, every failure and every victory. Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them. Everything is an offer.

I’ve taken a lesson from my daughter about failure. That’s another example of taking everything as an offer. She’s offered me an approach to my own failures. Humor, celebration, shrug. On my best days, I accept that offer completely.

FAIL FORWARD with a “Yay for failing!”

Another principal we teach our clients in the training we offer is celebration of failure. It only takes a moment. “Yay.” Then, as my business partner says,” we’re moving on with our lives.” Instead of self-recrimination or frustration or shame, I can choose a chuckle in response to a fall. Heck, like my daughter does, I can choose a giggle. And, like my daughter does, I can immediately reboot and try again, enriched by the lessons from my failure.

The difference between my daughter and me – aside from the obvious – is that she’s really good at noticing tiny advances in her skill. She really celebrates her micro-victories.

We set goals for ourselves with the best of intensions, but that all too often don’t work out:

  • I’m going to lose weight.
  • I’m going to exercise more.
  • I’m going to double my numbers at work.
  • I’m going to increase my call rate.
  • I’m going to improve my close rate.
  • I’m going to expand my network of business contacts.
  • I’m going to finish what I start.
  • I’m going to curb my temper.
  • I’m going to read more.
  • I’m going to learn a new skill.
  • I’m going to spend more time with my family.

But these things are easier said than done.  And it’s not just that these are difficult things to accomplish.  They’re difficult things to muster our will to even attempt.

Force-of-will motivation doesn’t work.  Getting yourself pumped is short lived. Guilt-tripping yourself into action is painful and ineffective.

Why doesn’t my daughter give up after days of trying to walk? She doesn’t dwell on the falls. She focuses on the passionate desire to walk. And, she relishes the tiny victories. She celebrates each incremental improvement with gusto.

When I allow myself to do the same, my goals are more ambitious. I learn and improve quickly. My victories are many. And, I make things happen. I’m driven by passion that’s not dampened by fear of failure. I’m undaunted by shame and frustration at the hiccups along the way. And I’m encouraged by every incremental triumph as a promise of greater success to come.

TRY THIS ON

  • Celebrate failure.
  • Dust yourself off.
  • Yay for failing.
  • Notice tiny triumphs.
  • Enjoy the growth and relish the learning.
  • Everything is an offer.
  • Keep going.


Collaboration Culture is "Got Your Back" Culture

Tracy and Cal work for a company that names “Collaboration” as a core value, but no one has ever defined collaboration.

Tracy and Cal head back to their desks after the meeting. Tracy says, “Cal, You told me last month when I started working here that you were going to have my back.”

Cal says, “I did. You heard me tell them you were doing your best.”

Tracy feels hopeless. “Yeah. Exactly. Now thanks to you, they all think I’m drowning. They think my best is crappy.”

Cal asks, “What’d you want me to say?”

Tracy stops walking and says, “Where were you last week to help insure I was better prepared for that meeting before I put my foot in it? You knew I was on the wrong track and you did nothing. You call that collaboration?”

What does collaboration mean?

The expression, “Got your back,” means different things to different people.

In some of the teams I’ve worked with, there’s very little agreement as to the meaning. Tracy feels hung out to dry while Cal knows he’s got her back. Often, the argument is not so much about the facts of who’s doing what, but about what it means to truly have your teammate’s back.

This is something I give a lot of thought to. “Got Your Back” is a central principle in every training program conducted by my company, The Yes Works. Our Adeptability Training is built on principles from neuroscience, organizational psychology, improvisation, and best practices in leadership practice. We help teams to function at higher and higher levels of teamishness through exceptionally collaborative relationships. “Got Your Back” (which we describe as making your teammates look good — and be good) is one of my favorites among those principles. Everyone can always improve in their practice of it.

Ultimate Got-Your-Back, Ultimate Collaboration

As Lon, a recent acquaintance of mine, told me today over coffee, “I ask myself, ‘who do I need to be to amplify my wife’s best?’ And she asks herself, ‘Who do I need to be to amplify Lon’s best?’” That’s not a question with one simple answer. And it’s a question of a higher level than most use when considering how to have a team mate’s back in collaboration.

Colleagues disagree about whether they’re being supportive because few teams have any specific definition of what a supportive attitude or supportive behavior looks like. I don’t have one either. I have eight. Each definition represents a different level of practice, and each level reflects a higher degree of functionality, productivity, and satisfaction on the team.

I’ve got your back:

  • Level 1: I won’t throw you under the bus. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 2: If you’re in distress and you ask me for help, I’ll agree to help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 3: If I see that you’re in distress, I’ll stop and volunteer my help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 4: I know where you’re likely to need help, and I’ll ask if you’re struggling and need my help. I’ve got your back. This includes looking for the inspiration in every idea, and seeing the value in intention.
  • Level 5: I know your strengths and weaknesses. My help will come in such a way and at such a time that your weakness will never show. The help is there before you know you need it. I’ve got your back. This includes allowing yourself to be inspired to action by those around you in all that they do.
  • Level 6: I know our strengths and weaknesses as a team. I develop my skills and those of my team and find resources to eradicate those weaknesses and contribute to seamless team production. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 7: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m going to bring my A game. You can depend on me to bring my best, even when I’m tired or overwhelmed or scared. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 8: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m dedicated to your success. I will do what I can to bring out your best. I’ve got your back.

Collaboration and you.

What level are you playing at? What level is your team playing at? What level would you like to play at?  No doubt you want your company to prosper. What level of “Got your back” do you and your team need to play at in order to reach your goals?

Levels 7 and 8 require a whole culture of got-your-back. I can only bring my best, and truly be committed to bringing out your best, if I’m confident you’ve got my back. Someone’s got to look out for my best interests. If I know the team is looking out for my best interests, then I don’t have to.

What are you doing to move your team along the continuum? Leadership coach, Cy Wakeman, suggests a single question for the arsenal of every leader. When the shit hits the fan… When an employee complains about a peer… When a deadline is missed… “What did you do to help?”

Adeptability training is another way to move everyone up through the levels of got-your-back habit. This is simple, but not easy. Each of us plays at different levels at different times and in different circumstances. Each of us has moments where we fall off the Got Your Back track altogether. With practice, repetition, awareness, and intention, you can enhance your relationships — and (as Lon said at lunch today) “who you are,” in relationships — in business and beyond.

 

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Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.