“He is so rich, he has no room to shit.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing, or of anything. Ever heard of an ’embarrassment of riches’? How about an ‘illness of riches’.
We can become so inundated with the collection of stuff that surrounds us that we literally cannot move to rid ourselves of some portion thereof. Part of functioning efficiently, is paring back. Utility, not proximity gives an objects value. Do you have a ‘graveyard of obsolete technology’ stored somewhere in your home or office? All the one off chargers, old cell phones, never used storage devices, playback devises. Endless tangles of headphones, mice, power cords and connectors to defunct formats. Forget the idea that you may someday find a use. Get rid of them. Mentally scan your home and office, your garage, your car trunk. The shear volume of junk we accumulate can sometimes be paralyzing.
The same goes on on the inner level. This is part of the Mental Ecology I have been promoting. Sometimes we have so many ideas, projects and creative schemes going in our head at the same time that we are unable to get the free room to work on them directly and mindfully. We are so ‘rich’, we can’t get anything out into the world in a concrete and successful completion.
Monday I identified the following four issues with our current approach to team building and productivity in the workplace.
Let’s start with item number 1. Should evaluation and compensation be based on individual performance? If a team has a goal or set of metrics for performance such as sales targets, completed projects, service scores, cases completed, etc.; can we evaluate the team and not the individuals? If the team meets it goals, should everyone be graded as equally contributory? What are the motivational implications of removing individual appraisals from the process? Is there something uniquely american about the emphasis we place on individual performance. Can an individual be deemed a success at their job if the team of which they are a part falls short of its goals. Will team based rating draw performance down to the lowest common denominator or will the team pull all of its members up to a standard through mentoring, coaching and peer pressure?
In my previous post, I gave the example of sports teams. These are generally composed of a combination of high paid stars and role players making a league average salary. Spectacular performers are compensated based on the impact they have. They are game changers, or can be. A manager builds around that core of talented individuals, but there are myriad examples of teams stocked with superstars, that can’t reach the goal of a championship. It is almost always some intangible that make the difference between a group and a team. What can we do to make our work groups cohere into high functioning teams? How do we promote the intangible? Does the attainment of a short-term goal provide a better foundation for teamwork? Do we set attainable short and mid range goals that are subsets of the overall missions of our teams?
My experience is that a good manager can help a team coalesce around clear short-term goals and let the team build its own identity by fostering social and professional interaction. Let the members coach themselves and each other. Get the stronger contributors and more tenured staff adopt and nurture new employees. Create compensation criteria that ensure that team goals are a component such that we each win when we all win. Establish peer reviews rather than top down evaluations and make sure that performance appraisal and feedback take place all year round, not just at year-end. Get out of the office with the team as often as practical. Team building activities can range from bowling night to training activities. Get team members involved in setting goals and developing the strategic plans. The deeper the matrix of connection, the better the team chemistry. The more each member participates in defining the team’s objectives, processes and personality, the more personal ownership they feel and therefore the greater pride ownership and commitment to excellence each brings to the whole enterprise.
Is there a beneficial collectivism that supports and maintains the individual while enhancing the chances for attaining success en toto? Really, that’s your first sentence after two weeks vacation?
I have spent the last two weeks with my wife’s family in Brazil. Our four daughters and son-in-law joined us (well one was already there, but traveled with us in country) as we spent time on the coast and then inland at the center of the families heart both literally and figuratively. The experience was heart warming and eye opening. I come from a tiny family. As a nuclear family I would say our element is helium. I am an only child. So was my mother. My father had one brother we rarely saw and have only reconnected with my two first cousins after a hiatus of twenty five years. We are gaseous and don’t really mix that well, if at all. My wife’s family element might be silicon. Combine with oxygen and you get the intricate crystalline at the heart of quartz and amethyst, two semi precious gems at the very bedrock of the country in which they shine. They are dense, complicated, brilliant, strong, sometimes hard to penetrate, often shining as individuals and almost always connected at the heart. More on the matrix of human interdependence and support in a minute.
Unfortunately, while I was idyling in south american paradise, my NY Yankees were getting dominated by those bearded bastardos of Beantown. As an observer of and author on the subject of productivity and teamwork, I have to put aside my home-town partiality and admit, those scruffy scalawags are onto something up in Boston. The Redsox are the team to beat this year and have turned themselves around 180 degrees. Now you can’t hit a baseball with facial hair, (although some of the Sox might actually be able to catch one in their chin nests) but apparently it can build a lot of team chemistry. Often, a group can build a great deal of common trust and sense of purpose in building a fence between the essence of “us” and the sense of “them”. Sports teams have a keenly identifiable short term goal – Win. Win today, win the division, win the championship. A clear beginning and end for each campaign and unlike many business and personal objectives, a clearly defined timeframe called a season. A team is made of individuals and a season can contain personal accomplishments for some players such as milestones achieved or awards garnered, but the goal of a championship can only be attained as a group and once attained, no member of the team is more than any other. A bench player who does no more that pinch run once or pitch an inning over the course of the World Series is no less a champion that the guy who hits five home runs or is the winning in pitcher in two out of four of the teams wins. There are intangibles that have to be present for a team to make the leap from group of individuals to cohesive collective of winners. If the beards help Boston’s pull together by giving them an identity and level of camaraderie that transcends the mere fact that they share a common employer, their barber may end up being their MVP. The matrix of short term goal and unique team identity is the nexus around which the structure of a winning team is growing in the Redsox Nation this year.
Families are sort of a fluke of nature. As the saying goes ‘you can’t choose your family’. Close families do choose each other. They revel in shared history and maintain the collective memory. I listened as my new Brazilian family spent days telling the stories of great grandparents, aunts, uncles and their humorous exploits, their accomplishments and petty squabbles; listened as they sang songs together. I watched them welcome new members of the family, including myself, my two daughters and my wife’s new son-in-law as well as other new ‘aggregados’ as they call folks who marry into the clan and absorbed as completely as rice absorbs the rich gravy of slow cooked beans. I even saw them assimilate a brand new blood relative none of them even knew existed and who showed up at the family reunion as the only representative of a branch of the family tree that bore new fruit. The strong matrix of interconnection is the foundation that sustains a family over the course of generations and ensures that while a chip or two can form, the vein of love,trust and ancestry can never really be exhausted.
What about our work teams. How do we build teams that can find an identity, build trust and a common objective and attain success? I think the basic currency of the work environment pulls against the growth of teams that can function effectively for the long terms. Here are some reasons:
Over the coming days I will address each of these in-depth. Particular emphasis will be paid to building structure on the matrix.
Bem Vindo de novo a Productive Practice. Welcome back.
Time to clear the decks and go on an adventure. Back in two weeks with my mind expanded my energy amped up and my focus back on productivity and aligning purpose to project to process.
My basic method has to do with getting de-cluttered from the inside out, clearing out the mental overload that leads to stress and reduces productivity and going all the way through the individuals work and home environment. I help folks get their projects organized and on track, get systems, either paper or digital, to handle tracking all the goals, to-do’s, deadlines, communications and systems needed to accomplish their goals. Amazingly, getting the little stuff all cleaned up, opens up the valves to let folks really focus on the more important level of purpose, vision and goals. Logically we would think you start big picture and get down to the details, and that’s true when you get the processes cleaned up, but until you ‘clear out the underbrush’ that bogs most people down, they never get to see the forest or the trees, just the immediate emergency that is engulfing them.
Positive thinking is like positive drinking. It can be intoxicating but don’t drive under the influence.
Neutrality and outcome focus leaves us nimble, agile, flexible and ready to react to the realities we encounter between here and our goal. Negative thinking can pull us far off course and we do want to reprogram or reframe our inner environment and make it conducive to getting to our goal, but Pollyanna positivism can prevent us from seeing clearly the true and real obstacles in enough time to divert and reroute.
We envision the goal. We imagine our successful attainment of that goal. We start taking action in movement toward the goal and we accept feedback on a constant basis. Positive thinking in the form of blinders to the feedback that comes our way is a not a method of getting where we want to go.
An amazing property of the qualities love and compassion is that they are not scarce. We can’t run out of them. We forget them for periods but we never have to fear that if we give them freely we may not have enough for ourselves.
“The Sufi way is through knowledge and practice, not through intellect and talk.”
― Idries Shah, Sufi Thought and Action
Searching around the web on the topic of Mental Ecology I found a couple of useful links. One to a David Allen Article of Huffpost. It is a coincidence and not a coincidence that I am using a term from my mentor. I never heard David use this term, as far as I can recall, but since so much of what I practice comes from his Getting Things Done methodology, the fact that I generated an idea so close to his is no surprise and unconscious co-creation at the best and unconscious plagiarism at the worst.
I also found this short public webinar
This not only fits in with our topic of mental ecology, the Vervago website has online and offline content geared to building your Working Memory and Cognitive skills, which is something we talked about in late June both in the blog and in the interview I had on the Conscious Consultant Radio Show which you can find here: