Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #13: Factor in Fun, Inspiration and Togetherness

Leadership, fundamentally, is about movement in a positive direction. It involves moving people, moving organizations, moving profits and moving markets. It’s about making advances. Whether these advances are incremental or step-changing, the results of leadership seek to grow revenue, increase market share, develop people, teams, products and services, customers and partners. The demands to prepare, perform and produce are endless. The need to design, develop and deliver is ever present. The work of leading anything is hard. Maintaining the numerous disciplines of leadership requires physical, intellectual and spiritual vigilance. Leaders, who are keeping their heads down working, must also regularly ask themselves, questions to test productivity and the possibility of positive outcomes:

  • Is there positive action and interaction in the operating environment?
  • Are people working with each other or against each other?
  • What’s flowing with more regularity – ideas or conflict?

In a January 2017 article called Workplace Burnout at Epidemic Proportions, the author, Dana Wilkie, details the results of a survey conducted by Morar Consulting in November, 2016. The survey of 614 US Human Resource professionals, including managers, directors, vice presidents of HR, and chief HR officers working at organizations with at least 100 employees or more, found that 95 percent of HR leaders believe employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention.

The article goes on to quote Charlie DeWitt of Kronos, a company that provides workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. His company, along with Future Workplace, an executive development firm, conducted their own survey which found that

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions”

“While many organizations take steps to manage employee burnout, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout. Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, but, as this survey shows, it will undermine engagement and cause an organization’s top performers to leave the business altogether.”

The Morar survey cited compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent), and too much overtime or after-hours work (32 percent) as the top three contributors to burnout. This survey reported that the people who worked in the respondents’ organization felt overwhelmed and underpaid.

Great Britain’s independent regulator for work-related health, safety and illness; HSE, published a highlighted list of the many factors that affect human performance. They include but are not limited to:

Job FactorsPerson FactorsOrganizational/ Cultural Factors
Clarity of InstructionPhysical capability and conditionWork pressures: production vs. safety
Systems/Equipment InterfacesFatigue (acute from temporary, or chronic)Level and nature of supervision/leadership
Difficulty/complexity of task(s)Stress/MoraleCommunication
Routine or unusualWork Overload/UnderloadManning Levels
Divided attentionCompetence to deal with circumstancesPeer pressure
Procedures that are inadequate or inappropriateMotivation vs. other prioritiesClarity of roles and responsibilities
Not enough/ too much preparation for a taskConsequences of failure to follow rules/procedures
Time available vs. Time Required to perform a taskEffectiveness of organizational learning (learning from experiences)
Tools for the taskOrganizational or safety culture (ex: everyone breaks the rules)
Communication (with colleagues, supervisor(s), contractors and others
Working environment (noise, heat, space, lighting, ventilation etc)

This visual depicts the many factors that influence job-related performance. The central message is that there’s a lot a leader has to get right to strike the right balance between productivity, performance and pushing people too hard. Strong Point’s Leadership Rules #3 and #4, Do the Work and Push Courage respectively, articulate some of the challenges of striking this balance. Hard work is foundational to leadership success. Pushing yourself and others beyond comfort zones takes courage and grit. Although it’s necessary, the act of pushing beyond boundaries often unleashes the worst fears and behaviors of individuals and teams. Teams that are pressed and stressed sometimes destroy essential relationships and bonds irrevocably, in the pursuit of delivering results. Teams don’t often stay in-tact during important transformation initiatives. Often, team leaders and members are painfully removed or exit by choice, feeling injured and rejected.

In almost all Strong Point engagements, feelings of loss accompany the feelings of accomplishment. People and teams lose their grace and humanity at times. When colleagues and partners clash over essential decisions and deliverables, through the work of a mission-critical project, losses in revenue, morale or partnerships can sting and stay in the hearts and minds of professionals, even after goals are achieved and intended benefits are realized.

There are a few Strong Point engagements that I can bring to mind where I feel proud of the accomplishments and results of the project, but perhaps not so proud of how Strong Point or I managed the human aspects of a person’s or team’s performance. I bring these people and teams to mind when I’m preparing for a new engagement. Recalling less than perfect performance helps to keep the decency, divinity, and deference for people in Strong Point’s work.

The best way that I have found to inoculate people and teams from lasting negative impacts of a leadership initiative is to keep wholeness as a project objective. By wholeness, I mean, keeping the whole person engaged in project work. One way I have found to learn about people and teams in a holistic way, is to interact with them on deeper levels. My thoughts are centered on the work of getting to know people and teams more deeply and learning to see other sides of them while taking into account the entirety of their being beyond their work. I think Glenn Llopis gets it right when he writes about 10 Ways to inspire your Team in a Forbes article dated May 6th, 2013:

“The secret recipe to inspiring employees is to know the “ingredients” of the people you are inspiring. People want to know that their leaders understand their tendencies, aptitudes and behaviors well-enough to best work with and motivate them.”

As a leader, you can foster wholeness by intentionally building in fun, inspiration, and togetherness. Here are some suggestions:

Do something physical

Some of the best fun I’ve had with work teams was spent tubing down the river, playing in table-top ping pong and air hockey tournaments and bowling. We all see each other’s strengths and weaknesses in another light. When others see my hideous bowling skills, they’re reminded of my shortcomings. When I look at others smash a ping-pong serve on behalf of the team, I am reminded of the joy we gain in helping each other. These physical activities work to “jog” and change the conditioned ways we see each other at work.

Learn a new skill

Ask each team member to spend an hour preparing to teach the rest of the team a particular skill they have mastered. The team will benefit from learning how to create a pivot table, design a flower garden, use and update the team’s communication content templates, and compose a jingle all while seeing other facets of the teacher and team member’s strengths and abilities.

Listen to a speaker

I’ve listened to Johnny Carson tell jokes, and an Auschwitz survivor explain how he lived through the loss of his entire family and Joan Rivers reveal the coping strategies she used to get through the aftermath of her husband’s suicide. During these speeches, you can see tears rolling, hear belly-laughs and feel the shared sorrow of your colleagues. It’s hard to forget that we’re all human and that we all have a broader purpose when we come together to work, after hearing the inspiring stories of others.

Create a work of art

Host a team art show. Redesign a common workspace. Paint a team mural on a common workspace wall. Beautify an outdoor eating area. Create a meditation room. Work to reach deep into the soul and spirit of each other. These activities remind us that we all bring deep thoughts, emotions, and instincts to our work. Creating a collective work of art helps us to see the beauty in each other when the work gets ugly.

Participate in a community event

Nothing like helping others takes the focus off team dynamics and challenges. When the team is involved in a joint effort to support a community, or a charity or a group of less fortunate people, members can partner and band together in richer and more productive ways than those that can be accomplished in the framework of the project or initiative.

Host a company-wide open house

Making a conscious effort to proactively demonstrate and showcase the goals, challenges, progress and current status of an initiative helps teams to focus on how far they have come versus facing the sometimes overwhelming burden of delivering results. Other professional groups, organizations, and leaders can ask questions and share feedback that adds richness and depth to the team’s vision of itself. Having mindful and meaningful witnesses of the team’s work has the same effect as having a cheering squad routing along the path of a long run.

The difference between engagements that feel a sense of loss at the end from the ones that don’t is wrapped up in project’s ability to maintain purpose. It’s quite easy to lose sight of the fact that we are working to help each other grow. Strong Point’s mantra is: “we grow the people who grow teams and businesses.” If people grow, teams develop, and businesses thrive. Purposeful sponsors and leaders successfully factor in Fun, Inspiration and Togetherness to counteract the impacts and effects of the natural hurts, injuries and unintended outcomes that are sure to be present in any transformation endeavor.

Here are some of the benefits leaders reap from factoring in Fun, Inspiration, and Togetherness into their work:

  1. Colleagues get to laugh with each other and share happiness
  2. People and teams have good memories to carry them through tough times
  3. Leaders and Teams have another way of relating to each other and sometimes create their own language and buzzwords
  4. Teams bond and build quiet reflective, informal and non-threatening ways to broach difficult topics and initiate and conduct difficult conversations
  5. Individuals and Teams get a chance to show other parts of themselves and other skills and abilities (softer vs. stronger and vice versa)
  6. Team members have an opportunity to pair-off and create different dynamics and relationships. These opportunities help the team break-out of unhealthy patterns and form stronger, more holistic bonds

Many studies validate that fun, inspiration, and togetherness all work to enhance work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness while decreasing burnout, stress, and worker withdrawal. I think everyone wants to know their leaders are paying attention to them. Show the people you work with that you care for them.

Listen to Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #13: Factor In Fun, Inspiration and Togetherness.