Recognition as social lubricant

Photo by Shandi-Lee

The title of this post is taken from a post by Paul Hebert. Here is the gist:

… recognition is the lubricant for social interaction.  Making sure your employees have ways and methods of connecting and recognizing each other within and between organizational silos lubricates the interactions that must happen in order for innovation, engagement, and collaboration to occur.  It is very difficult to refuse a meeting or a conversation with someone who just recognized your work or highlighted how great you are in the company program or on the company intranet.  You can’t refuse a meeting if the person requesting it just gave you a big thumbs up in the Peer-2-Peer recognition program.

I have spending a major part of the last year reading, studying, thinking and writing about teamwork and collaboration. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize that long-term successful team facilitation (read: great teamwork) is a journey into the path of most resistance. Teamwork is about interaction and relationships. Interaction and relationship causes friction. We are social beings and putting us with other people affects us and causes us to react. Emotions. Feelings. Thoughts. Urges.

Some of these reactions are positive. Joy. Meaning. Sense of progress. Some of them are negative. Tensions. Discomfort. Fear. Facilitating an effective team is about dealing with all of these issues and putting them on the table. This sounds simple, but it is usually the opposite of what we tend do, which is ignore, tip-toe around and hold back.

When done properly, going against the resistance, facilitating teamwork enables negative reactions to be dealt with in a safe environment and for positive reactions to be magnified in order to improve and sustain future interaction. While the fact that issues are suppressed and unattended will be familiar to many of us (even though they might not agree on the consequences of this habit), like in many other facets of life, taking deliberate time to deal with the positive is even more scarce, even though it has the potential to transform entire systems.

And this is where the quote above comes in. One of the most effective ways to use the positive not only as a leverage to more positive habits and interactions but also as a way to discuss the negative in a safe constructive environment, is recognition. Adopting mutual recognition habits can do wonders to the level of actual interaction between team members. As Hebert says, it might prove difficult for anyone who has just been recognized by a team member not to open up and expose himself to a more intense and difficult interaction.

Of course, I am not talking about a onetime event. Recognition has to be part of the habits and culture of team for it to truly work. What will happen if we take time each day (or each week) to recognize others in our team that for their unique contributions? What will happen if we start every meeting by recognizing what and more importantly who allowed us to reach this phase? What will happen if we recognize any mutual learning that occurs in our team or a regular basis? I suggest you try this magical lubricant and see its social effects yourself.


Catch them doing something right

Photo by Fishking_1

I have written a number of times about the concept of MBWA – management by walking around (see here, here and here). Somehow, in the last few months it hasn’t come up. I was so happy to encounter it again, this time from a different perspective. I am currently listening to the audiobook of Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People by Edward M. Hallowell. In the book, Hallowell shares a quote by Brigadier General Thomas V. Draude, USMC (Ret):

My employees responded well to the example of me showing up when they didn’t expect me to. Not that I was sneaking up on them. They used to say it was an opportunity for me to catch them doing something right. And also to be there after hours and on Saturdays. When I first began to do it the employees would say: “Why are you here?” And I would say: “Because you are here. If you are here doing the things that are necessary, the least that I can do is to dignify your efforts with my presence.

What a wonderful idea: “opportunity to catch them doing something right”. If you are not out there, walking around the people, talking to them, watching their experience, you can’t really understand them and the challenges they are facing fully. And maybe more importantly, if you aren’t there to see it, it will be a lot tougher to recognize them for doing the things right.  To find out what works. To focus some of our attention to those who show up every day and maintain the standard.

When is the last time you actively caught you team members or employees doing something right? Isn’t it time to go and take a look?


Spreading positivity

Photo by tango 48


A short paragraph from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:

In a more exhaustive study, a psychologist analyzed 558 emotion words – every one that he could find in the English language – and found that 62 percent of them were negative versus 38 percent positive. That’s a pretty shocking discrepancy. According to an old urban legend, Eskimos have 100 different words for snow. Well, it turns out that negative emotions are our snow.

This reminded me of an experiment I heard about in a Judgment and Decision-Making class. People were shown different words. Some were positive (Baby, Fun, Happiness, Kitten, Smile, Sweet, Friend) and some were negative (Fear, Bomb, Rude, Thief, Shark, Cancer, Weapon). Each word was shown for 13.3 milliseconds. They were then asked two questions:

  1. What was the word?
  2. Was it positive or negative?

Most of the people could not recognize the words. However, they were able to determine much more accurately, if the word was negative than when it was positive. One possible explanation is that by evolution, we are wired to better spot negative and threatening things. If you miss that berry on the tree, that’s a shame. If you miss the Saber Tooth Lion lurking behind you, you might die.

But we shouldn’t let the fact that negativity controls our language and sub-conscious to allow it to control our lives. It just means we have to work harder. To think more closely on how we say things. To make an effort and look for the sliver-lining, the bright spots and the part of the glass that is half full.

We are not in the Savanna any more. There are no lurking lions. We are dealing with people who feed off relationships. Positivity is a contiguous thing but so is negativity.

What are you spreading? I sure hope it’s positivity germs…


Live long and prosper in horse manure

150668050_0a55ed8b3aPhoto by Rikki_

My friend Jonathan sent me a link to an article writing in the subject of the email: “long, physiologic and fascinating”.  The article, from “The Atlantic Online”, bears the very promising headline: “What makes us happy?“. Although I don’t think it actually answers this question, it sure does give you a very interesting journey of trying to understand it.

In a nut shell, the article describes the writer impressions from spending one month in the file room of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest running – and probably the most exhaustive – longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history. It begun in 1937 as a study of healthy, well adjusted Harvard sophomores (all males) and it has followed these subjects for more than 70 years. I will leave the work of reading the article and answering the question “what makes us happy?” to you, but I do want to quote and comment shortly on two quotes I liked in particular.

The first quote is a very short story the manager of the research, Dr. George Vaillant, gives as an answer to one of the questions:

… [T]he story of a father who on Christmas Eve puts into one son’s stocking a fine gold watch, and into another son, a pile of horse manure. The next morning, the first boy comes to his father and says glumly, “Dad, I just don’t know what I’ll do with this watch. It’s do fragile, it could break.” The other boy runs to him and says, “Daddy! Daddy! Santa left me a pony, if only I can just find it!”

We always hear the importance of looking on the part of the glass that is half full, and not the one that is half empty (link in Hebrew). As I mention in my e-book, In Randy Pausch ‘s last lecture he said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand“. When is the last time you woke up to see horse manure on your table and thought to yourself – this is an opportunity. They say that times of depression are times when people get rich. It is the people who can see the opportunity in the horse manure. The following thought is self evident. When you are assembling your team – are you looking for people who opportunities in horse manure?

This is the second quote:

In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs – protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections – but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak

I talk a lot about short-term versus long-term thinking in this blog. And about the fact that short-term thinking is to be blamed for a lot of the problems this world is facing.  Actually, my last post was about this subject. I also mentioned, a couple of times, that I believe the most important challenge of a leader is the dissipate people fear’s about the future. This outlook on the subject, gives another explanation, why long term view is so important and why it is so hard to reach. This also explains why the talent of leadership is so important and why we need to create processes that help us overcome out behavioural tendencies