5 Ways to Get Your Team Unstuck
Perhaps you’ve heard of parallel play—when children play alongside each other in the sandbox or on the jungle gym but never interact. Kids outgrow it, but some adults in the workplace get permanently stuck in a similar state we call parallel work. People in this state can be on the same team for years without ever really
engaging with each other in meaningful ways (much like the U.S Congress).
This lack of real interaction prevents a team from truly coalescing.
In most organizations, managers expect the workday to be a day filled with, well, work. “Johnson, go ahead and leave your personal life at the door please, no place for that
in here.” But there is a change afoot in some of the most productive and profitable organizations we get to study. Some leaders are finding ways for their people to bring their “Whole Selves” to work, and it’s reaping big rewards.
A few ideas that might get your team started:
1. Remember Personal Milestones.
The best teams are there to help when a member is having a difficulty outside of work hours, but they also remember to celebrate positive employee milestones too. This can be as simple as giving a birthday card, attending a wedding, or sending a baby gift, but some go farther. Some managers we’ve met note the birthdays of team members’ children (and pets to give equal time to those without kids). They then give their people a little time off on these special days.
2. Make It a Game.
Some teams encourage their people to interact through activities, such as the one described by a recent participant in one of our workshops: “We have a large entrance wall,” she said. “One day we had each employee post something about themselves
that others wouldn’t know. That first day we didn’t put our name with our unique things, and we all tried to guess what belonged to whom. The person with the most correct won a prize. It got us talking and laughing and we learned a lot about the people in the cubicles next to us.”
We had a meeting delayed recently, but the executive texted to say she was running late. “I was with my employee Kat who’s in the hospital. Be there in 10,” was the message. We shot back, “How kind of you!” She replied, “Wouldn’t any manager do
the same?” When she put it that way, the answer was clear. Of course, any leader worth following would care enough about a sick or injured employee to visit them in
the hospital, but the sad truth is that the majority don’t. Be the exception. If asked, attend your employees’ weddings, funerals, parties, or other important life events (again, only if asked).
4. Lighten up.
All work meetings don’t have to be PowerPoint slides and yawn-inducing pie charts. Mix in a little fun with the work. Insert a Dilbert comic or a lighthearted YouTube video that reinforces a point you are trying to make. You still get the work done, but everyone enjoys it much more. At Innocent, a UK company, prior to a recent company meeting employees were asked, “What would you do with $1,000?” The question wasn’t hypothetical; at the company meeting the top five had five minutes to pitch their
dreams to the crowd. The vote determined who got the money. Of course, such fun doesn’t have to cost a grand. We’ve seen a team act out an entire book of ours—a parable—in full costume during a leadership gathering. Other groups play Minute to Win It games at the start of their meetings: It takes 60 seconds and gets everyone involved and thinking outside the box. Studies prove that laughter is a key factor in enhancing creativity and boosting camaraderie.
5. Serve Together.
A bank branch we visited in Idaho has a paint-a-thon where twice a year employees volunteer to head out and clean, repair, and paint the exterior of low-income homes in disrepair. The manager’s investment is minimal (paint, brushes, and snacks for those who show up) but the impact on employee engagement, bank image, and the community is significant. Can you take a few hours off this month to work together for the betterment of a charity?
These are just five ideas we’ve seen; there are five thousand more.
The bottom line: With technology connecting us 24/7, there is no more personal life vs. work life, there is just life. When a leader knows the whole person who works for her, that employee is typically much more engaged at work, relationships deepen, and the ultimate winner is the customer who can see people who enjoy their work and who they work with.