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Employee Growth is Enhanced by Team-Building

A recurring problem I run into as a business management consultant is the organization’s management structure. Too many organizations still rely on an old hierarchical model; you know, where six to ten people report to a supervisor. Each person works under a manager/supervisor who monitors their work, coaches their efforts, and evaluates the results.

A few years ago I was asked to consult with a service organization which had three supervisors each overseeing the work of eight workers, all with very similar jobs. Each group had its strengths and weaknesses. One group was superb at the service provision, and one was great with their paperwork. Another was reacting to its supervisor. The director of the organization was feverishly supervising the supervisors in the hopes that they would all work effectively.

What could be wrong with this model? It was painfully obvious that each group operated as a function of its leader. Because hierarchical management structures are top-down, they transmit the strengths and weaknesses of their leader directly to the supervisees. There is no buffer, very little cross pollination, and the situation is ripe for personality conflicts.

In hierarchical organizations each person becomes narrowly focused on their job. Their goal is to succeed at the job as defined by their boss. They don’t feel a part of a larger mission, they are not connected to one another, and they are less likely to contribute to improving the overall service provision by the organization.

My consultation goal became turning the management group into a team. As the management group began working together, they rediscovered their respect for one another by virtue of their unique strengths. Previously seen as an obsessive, one supervisor took on the task of leading the others in strategies for getting the necessary paper work done. One supervisor led discussions about the nature of supervision and the quality of service provision. They all worked to support their weaker colleague.

When people aren’t in teams, there is very little shared learning. The learning is limited to the skills of the leader/manager. Any diversity that is present in the group is left unused and unappreciated. There is too little safety and mutual support.

My consultation with this group tied the strengths of each team member into a unified whole. By doing so they began to grow and learn from one another in ways they had not previously experienced. In doing so they agreed to turn their respective groups of supervisees into teams. When those teams began to function the organization moved to a whole new level of growth and development.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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Less Management Equals More Success?

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In my last post I discussed the work of Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. Their research indicates that worker’s well-being depends on a manager’s ability and willingness to facilitate accomplishments by removing obstacles, providing help, and acknowledging strong effort. They show that the most important way to engage people at work is to support them making progress in meaningful work.

This is the research and it provides direction for mangers. But what does it mean? It means more than that employees want to succeed at a task, it means that they want to achieve mastery. People instinctively want to do tasks and do them well. We are hard-wired to take on puzzles and to solve them. With such wiring people instinctively feel good about themselves when they are mastering their work. The good feeling also attaches itself to the organization that gave them the opportunity to succeed.

So my view of the work of management is to set up systems that support people, structure the system to measure organizational success, and then get out of the way. Do less “management” of your employees. Whenever managers are “managing” people they are getting in the way of creativity, worker ownership, teaming, and high performance.

It is what Daniel Pink talked about in his book, Drive. Managers ought to get out of the management business and find ways to engage their employees. The keys to a successful company, at least one where there is thinking involved, are in employees gaining increased amounts of AUTONOMY, MASTERY, and PURPOSE.

When people take ownership of their work you don’t have to “manage” them. You cheer them on as they achieve the goals of the organization. People WANT to do it and it makes them feel good. The work of Amabile and Kramer, as well as the research reported by Pink, coalesce into powerful proof that people want mastery. I will talk more about mastery in the coming posts.

It is a funny thing that people can’t make themselves go to sleep. What people actually do is set the right conditions for sleeping. You know: get comfortable, go to bed at the same time, turn off the lights, go to the bathroom, and don’t think about work. And then, it happens. You can’t force it and you can’t manage it. You just set the right conditions and it happens.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Building Family-Like Work Environments

Where do you spend most of your time outside the home? Obviously it is at work. Well, it is not just a job, and certainly not just an adventure, but it might be a place you would like to enjoy, be comfortable, and maybe even feel like it is your second home. People naturally prefer a family-like atmosphere at work. And it is achievable.

Everyone at work has multiple reasons for being there. While people need the job to provide a living wage, they want more. They want purpose. A purpose can be different things, like personal accomplishment, corporate success, selling better food, or providing critical medical care. People want to accomplish something that matters.

The organization takes care of its employees and they take care of it. This ends up feeling a lot like family, where we are in it together, need to help one another, and have the common good at heart.

There are many ways to build that family-like feeling in your organization. You build it by encouraging it, by the right attitude, and by the little things people interpret as family.

• Set up teams where workers participate in decision-making and responsibility for their outcomes. Workers should be a part of designing the success of the organization.
• Engage employees by soliciting their ideas and feedback.
• Foster a sense of group cohesion and togetherness through identity, shared mission, mutual dependence. Do this conceptually and through little things like company shirts, a logo, and community projects. Provide a shared meal for them once in a while.
• Make sure every supervisor listens to employee concerns. Make sure every supervisor discusses the employees’ needs.
• Provide opportunities for growth and development.
• Link organizational success to personal employee success. Acknowledge contributions to the organization.
• Encourage workers to get to know each other through informal and formal means.
• Communicate, communicate, communicate. Share plans, solicit input, be as open as possible.

Building a family-like atmosphere is not overly complicated. And there are many models and ideas in other organizations about how it can be done successfully. Mostly you have to decide that it is a valuable part of maximizing the satisfaction and productivity of your staff.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

The Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment through Team Building

Family-like environments in the work setting help employees perform at their best. They produce emotionally safe and secure settings for people to work together for the success of the organization.

Some years ago I was asked to consult with a team of nurses on one hospital floor. A year prior to bringing me in the hospital had reorganized and combined two groups of nurses. Unfortunately these nurses still operated as two separate entities: members of the original groups hung out together, complained about each other, and did not appropriately share responsibility for patient care on the floor.

When I met with the group the nurses explained that they had a long history with their respective original groups and that they had not been happy about the combining. There was nothing specific, just us and them. The unit manager was flabbergasted by the behavior of the nurses.

In the process of a larger team meeting the nurses agreed that they were less effective operating as two teams on the unit. In fact they were at a loss to explain the failure to come together. With my help they were able to see the external forces that subtlety kept them apart (three shifts, no deliberate plan to join them, a busy schedule, and other factors). All of them understood that it had taken years to gain the original trust and friendship with one another.

Agreeing that continuing as two teams was not right, the group decided it was time to come together. I expressed my confidence that, with deliberate forethought, they could make a plan that would work. Indeed, the ideas began immediately landing on my flip chart. They arranged for meals together on all three shifts so that team members could talk and share histories. The unit manager suggested and found resources for a video about the unit (“Our Team on 3D”). There were other ideas, and most importantly, there was a commitment.

Over the next several months I heard of their success pulling together. The unit manage reported that the team improved their sharing of responsibilities, reduced arguments, and generally showed much more happiness at work. She felt patient care had improved significantly. I also knew because they gave my name to other nursing units in the hospital and I could literally visit to see their success.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Emotional Safety and the Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment

July 21, 2011 1 comment

You have been hearing me talk about emotional safety and security in the work environment as critical to getting the best performance from your employees. Well, one key element to this process is the building of a family-like work environment. What is this? It is the process of creating a workplace where people feel at home; where they are attached to the organization and want to make it succeed.

When we first put our new book, The People Side of Business, out for comment we had a colleague and good friend, Skip, complain about this notion. “I keep telling people in business that the workplace is NOT a family. It is about performance and the mission of the organization.” Well, we actually agreed. The workplace IS about performance and mission. But the best performance comes from people who feel secure in their jobs and where there is a family-like system of caring for employees.

People feel most comfortable in a work culture where they are in concert with the prevailing values. When they “believe” in what their organization stands for, they will contribute fully. When employees believe that the company wants the best for them (as well as the organization), they push themselves to meet goals.

There is just no escaping the fact that humans bring a family lens to groups in which they participate. They see peers as siblings and supervisors as parent figures. Employees want exacting sibling fairness (with rules, pay scales, and overall treatment), and complete support and encouragement from their supervisors (with fair evaluations, individual attention, and personal recognition).

One of the reasons that leaders can have such power is that we humans are wired to look for someone to give us direction. Leadership is not just about visionary acumen, but about people connection such that others will follow. It is our natural instinct to want, respect and appreciate parent figures.

Now, while there are great advantages to understanding family phenomena in the work environment, there are also easy mines to step on. In my coming posts I’ll discuss the implications of the family lens, ways to achieve the family-like atmosphere, and the great value in teaming.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Common Problems that Ruin Emotional Safety and Security at Work

There are common managerial problems that ruin emotional safety and security in the workplace. Here are some examples of things I have seen and heard from employees.

1)Bad attitudes: “My boss is chronically annoyed.” This is how one employee described his boss. He assumed it was because work production was not up to par and he was worried that the blame would eventually be pinned on his tail.

2)Dangers in the physical environment: “They didn’t bother to contain the dust from the construction down the hall; they don’t care about our health.” A worker explained that despite her expressed concerns there was an unwillingness to make sure her area was safe. The episode left her assuming no one cared about her as a person.

3)Judgmental management: “My manager reminds me regularly that I am their difficult employee.” Struggling to improve and succeed, this person kept hearing judgments that effectively told her she would never succeed.

4)Dishonest or disingenuous behaviors: “These people asked for my feedback, but I saw Sally get in trouble when she complained.” All too often management says that things are open and that feedback is desired. Well, not always.

5)Lack of commitment to employee success. “They’ve let me know I am replaceable.” An employee complained about an unnecessary process. The answer she heard was that they could find someone who didn’t mind their processes. She’ll never contribute again.

6)Negativity about employees or others: “I heard my manager talking to another about how she disliked Sally.” From this employee’s point of view it could just as well be her next time the managers chose to be negative about someone. It left her uncomfortable. She even wondered if she should inform her friend Sally.

7)Preoccupation with rules or ways of acting unrelated to outcomes: “There are a bunch of stupid rules here about lunch times, dress, and behavior that have nothing to do with doing my job.” Sometimes management wants to control, thinking that the controls matter. Usually there is too much control.

8)Not appreciating success, because it is expected. “We’ve been pushing and pushing to get things done by the deadline. Will this ever end?” Especially when there is growth, too often more and more is expected. When it is not acknowledged people lose the willingness to continue pushing hard.

There are many ways to ruin the environment that makes it safe and secure for workers to operate at their best. Most of the time the problematic behavior is inadvertent. This can only be prevented by having a clear commitment and vision to creating a healthy, emotionally safe work environment.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Keys to Creating Emotional Safety and Security

June 22, 2011 1 comment

Maximizing the capabilities of your employees requires the creation of an emotionally safe and secure environment. Here are some tips to building that kind of environment.

1) Be personally warm and accepting of your staff. You need to accept them even if you don’t always like them. You care because they are there and they will make your organization successful (or not!).

2) Assure physical safety and a relative degree of comfort. They don’t need a posh environment to feel secure, but they do need bathrooms, heat, and water to work comfortably.

3) Drive out fear of rejection (my take on Deming). Personal judgments are poison to security. No one is a jerk, asshole, or idiot, and no one is stupid, insecure, or ridiculous. People may have problems and quirks, but you are not their judge. Besides, you have them too.

4) Be honest and straightforward. Your staff doesn’t need to waste brain energy figuring out if you mean something different than you say.

5) Have a commitment to your employees and their success. After all, their success is yours. So you are in it together with them.

6) Have a positive attitude. It helps people feel like there is something good ahead. Negative attitudes cause people to worry about the impending doom. It also creates a positive atmosphere which invites creativity and commitment.

7) Be oriented to outcomes. You want your employees and the company to succeed. Consequently the most important goal is to get the business work done right and done well. An outcome orientation also allows corrections to be focused on what is needed for the business, not what is wrong with the employee. And, when things do go wrong, or errors are made, you can review with a mind to the proper outcome.

8 ) Measure success and celebrate it. People need to know that they are mastering their work and that it matters. Be clear about the benefits of worker efforts and reward it. The reward may be monetary, but it must always be personal. This means you tell your employee that they did a great job, and that you/the company appreciates it.
You can do this. It’s actually a pleasure. And it matters a lot.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com