Team-Building for High Performance

One of the most frequent requests we receive from prospects and clients is to help develop their teams so that they can be truly high-performing, whether they are teams at the top, or teams at the front line.  We believe that team-building exercises can be a useful complement to the more serious work of getting teams to build the ROCC of Trust with one another, which requires keeping commitments to one another (Reliability), communicate transparently and listen empathically (Openness), develop one another’s strengths and address their weaknesses (Competence), and most importantly, have each other’s and the organization’s best interests at heart.

Alina Dizik interviewed me about my take on team-building exercises for an article this week in  Here are some excerpts:

3 Teambuilding Exercises Tailored to Unique Business Challenges

SheFinds founder Michelle Michelle Madhok and her team after a playful paint-throwing exercise.   Photo credit:  Whoopee

Teambuilding exercises often get a bad rap as a waste of employees’ time, but some entrepreneurs are finding value in activities that are tailored to resolve specific challenges in their business. Designed correctly, team building programs can strengthen unraveling employee relationships, help sustain corporate culture during periods of fast growth, and build morale amid layoffs, human-resource experts say.
Exercise: To educate employees in an entertaining way, as well as bring them together as a team, Koch came up with Beer Jeopardy, an annual game where roughly half of the 850 employees compete against one another to test their beer IQ. All departments compete, but employees in the brewery play a tougher version of the quiz game separately. In addition to answering trivia questions, employees must do blind taste tests to identify different brews. Top prizes include hop-buying trips abroad and a visit to Oktoberfest in Munich. The game “has a way of knitting us together,” Koch says.
3 Teambuilding Exercises Tailored to Unique Business Challenges

Boston Beer founder Jim Koch at the podium hosting Beer Jeopardy, a company event that tests employees beer IQ.
Photo courtesy of the company

Expert advice: A creative approach works well when trying to teach company and industry knowledge, says Aneil Mishra, managing partner at Total Trust Coaching and Consulting, a Durham, N.C., firm that provides team development programs. “Games and creative exercises such as this are more likely to be retained by employees than rote memorization.”

The most important aspect of team-building exercises is whether they are truly applied to teams’ real work after the “experts” depart.  If the exercises not only surface important issues that the teams face, but also provide the tools to address those issues, and if the leaders make sure to apply those tools and reinforce desired team behaviors, then the money spent on the exercises will be well-spent.  Otherwise, the exercises will be viewed as “flavor of the month” or worse.

What kinds of team-building have you participated in, and how have you applied them in your organization?

Do you trust your feelings as information?

A new study shows that consumers trust feelings as information when making purchase decisions.  This means that instead of trusting facts, we sometimes trust the way that we feel, instead.  I studied this concept with Dr. Larry Sanna at UNC-CH in my doctoral program, so I was intrigued to read this study.

For instance, if we receive an offer on our house that is less than we paid for the house, we feel it is not fair, and we reject that offer, even if it is a fair market value offer.  We can relate to that feeling, and had to get over that feeling, in order to sell our house and move on in this down market.

This is also why you see some advertising appealing to how the product will make us feel as opposed to the features or benefits of the actual product.  Marketers know how to use that knowledge to their advantage.  This may also be why there is a 50% divorce rate in this country:  folks get caught up in their feelings and forget to think through the facts of their relationship.

This is good for us to remember in so many instances and is probably why my father always had me do a pros and cons list when making a decision–don’t get too caught up in your feelings without considering the facts, as well.

This study was done by:

University of Chicago Press Journals (2012, June 19). Should consumers trust their feelings as information?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/06/120619225953.htm?utm_source=rss1.0&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+(ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News)

Can the Economy Recover Without More Trust

Richard Leader, CFA, writing in the Houston Chronicle, had this to say about the trust and the economy:

Central to financial markets around the world is the issue of trust.  Trust enables people to do business with each other.  Lack of trust causes economic stagnation.  Lots of different things have contributed to this mess we find today.  Governments have promised benefits that they can’t deliver.  Corporations flush with cash are offering few new jobs.  Worker compensation is stagnant even as productivity has soared.  Add to this the repercussions of the dot com implosion of 2000, the housing collapse of 2008, and the sub-prime mortgage market treachery and it’s not surprising that people are unusually cynical.

Top economists say that trust is necessary for an economy to grow.  It’s the oil of the engine of capitalism.  Without trust, the engine seizes up.  Distrust is arguably the primary reason this economic crisis won’t go away.  The world economy is stuck in first gear.  While people generally want to be trustful, many institutions have not acted in a trustworthy manner.  Financial institutions, in particular, have done a very poor job of honest dealings with their customers.  The recent housing collapse looks like a replay of the 1930s, a time when Americans completely lost faith in bankers.

We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Leader.  Without greater trust in our institutions, particularly the institutions of business and government. we don’t our economy will grow fast enough to reemploy all those who lost their jobs in the Great Recession, as well improve the financial picture for the vast majority of working Americans.


Global Teams Need Trust to Innovate and Excel

Professor Tsedal Neeley of the Harvard Business School recently blogged about important moments that global teams all need to have to develop the necessary cohesion and perform at the highest levels.

Global teams face the challenge of having to operate with limited face-to-face contact and across vast distances, time zones, language backgrounds, and contexts, as well as cultural differences. In turn, these differences generate disruptions to team cohesion and top performance outcomes.

To counter those cohesion and performance risks, managing such a globally-dispersed team requires deliberate planning that helps bridge those boundaries. In my work centered on coordination of work across national boundaries — including the implementation of a standard language — I have learned that the most powerful way to overcome these differences is for global managers to create “moments,” sometimes difficult moments. Four types of moments make material difference:

4.  Creating “awareness” moments. One of the greatest problems with global teams is that they don’t share the same context in their everyday work. Members have no idea about the work environment, pace, scale or scope of their counterparts worldwide. The lack of a shared context leads people to make misattribution errors (he’s stupid), generates conflict (it’s their fault if something goes wrong), and a whole host of other disruptive behaviors.

My colleague, Mark Mortensen, and I have identified two types of knowledge — direct and reflected — that help fill those awareness contextual gaps. Direct knowledge involves norms, rules, and context about the personal characteristics, relationships, and behaviors of other collaborators. You build it ideally through short site visits, but you can also build it through extended online interactions. Working side-by-side for a time allows people to observe, for instance, who works well under pressure, how people allocate their time, and how the social networks play out on a day-to-day basis. Such insights give teammates a better understanding of their colleagues’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations, fostering the development of trust. Site visits aren’t always practical, of course, and extended online interactions can be a reasonable proxy.

In our own recent work with leaders of global teams, we’ve learned that that there is no substitute for face-time among team members.  This allows them to develop the trust that is absolutely critical to foster innovation and lasting positive performance by 1) sharing information, 2) making decisions collectively, and 3) collaborating over always-scarce resources.  Still, the costs in time, money, and other material resources required for such face-to-face interactions means that they will be infrequent.   They must then be followed up with a variety of interactions that although not physically direct, still allow for a rich communication and joint problem-solving.
In our forthcoming book sequel, Becoming a Trustworthy Leader:  Psychology and Practice, we profile how leaders of two different global Fortune 500 teams are building trust across multiple continents, cultures, and businesses in order to create lasting innovation.  To get started on learning how they do this, we recommend reading our first book, Trust is Everything.  You can download a free excerpt of that book here.

FedEx Office Regains My Trust

I recently needed to do a large-volume color printing job for a leadership development program I was conducting that would have taken too long to do on my HP CP1525NW color laser printer. and in any case also had to be spiral/coil bound.  I checked prices online, and determined that I could get the price down to about 35 cents a copy if I used FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinkos).   Office Max was close in price before any discounts, but FedEx was offering a 50% discount for high-volume jobs.  I called the local Durham FedEx which is conveniently two doors down from our favorite watering hole, Starbucks, and confirmed that the number of pages I was going to get copied qualified as a high-volume order.

I dropped off the document to be copied, showed the FedEx Office employee the 50% coupon I’d printed out from home, and again confirmed the discount.  You know where this is going.  When I returned the next day to pick up my order, the bill was several hundred dollars higher than I’d estimated.  I looked at the receipt, and found I’d only be given a 10 cents per copy discount, not the 50% discount I’d been promised.  The employee, a different one than the one who’d taken my order, said it was too late to change the price in the system.  As I had to use the handouts the next day for presentation, and didn’t have time to go somewhere else to get another set of copies, I took the copies with me and said I’d follow up later.

Over the next three weeks, I then called FedEx Office’s corporate number and the local office several times to get the bill rectified.  Finally, Rob the local manager, was able to get the discount applied, which resulted in a refund of more than $600 almost a month to the day after I placed the order.  That’s real money in anybody’s wallet!

Thanks, FedEx Office, for restoring my trust in you!


Eastman Kodak Files for Bankruptcy, Could Have Been the First Facebook

My blog post title may reflect my age, but for us Boomers, Kodak really was the first Facebook.  We trusted Kodak with our precious film, and it magically turned it into keepsakes we could share with anyone around the world, albeit at the speed of an aircraft and not light.  Karen’s family took (and still takes) thousands of photos each year.  Mine took fewer, but plenty enough.  Karen and I then did the same once our children were born, filling a score of photo albums with the years and sub-years stenciled or written on the spines.  Then our habits changed.  First we requested photos to be written onto a CD, then we trusted it to the Cloud via Shutterfly, before it was called the Cloud.  Then I took great (for me) pictures of my trips to Istanbul and Punta Del Este, Uruguay using my 5 MP camera on my Blackberry Bold in 2008, and posted them to our blog without ever getting any of the pictures printed.

Where was Kodak when all of our family photography behaviors were changing?  It’s too long and painful a story to write about here, although I discuss it in my leadership development programs.  One example of the firm’s inevitable demise should suffice.  When I was a newly minted Ph.D. back in 1992, Kodak’s Imaging Division flew me up to its headquarters in Rochester to consult with them about a downsizing effort they were contemplating.  They had read my research with my colleagues Kim Cameron and Sarah Freeman at the University of Michigan on how to do downsizing effectively, achieving both bottom-line improvements while actually enabling employees to redesign their jobs so that layoffs could be minimized or even avoided altogether.

I should have known something was wrong from the moment I arrived at the headquarters.  Instead of meeting with the division president as I had been led to believe I would be doing, I spent the entire day with two employees from the organizational development staff.  Rather than seeking my help in crafting an effective downsizing strategy, they had hired me to help them craft a communications plan for a strategy the top brass had already decided upon, one which involved a lot of layoffs.  I tried my best to get them to change their minds, but even though those two employees agreed with me, they had no influence to change the strategy.  So my first big consulting engagement was a failure.  Yes, I collected a nice check for my one day’s work, but as I flew back to State College, PA where I was an assistant professor at Penn State, I knew that Kodak was embarking on the road to failure.  The destruction of a brand trusted by tens of millions, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs lost, and billions in equity gone forever would be the result of a firm that downsized rather than innovated.

For information about the bankruptcy announcement, please go to the Dealbook article.

For a timeline of the company put together by the Wall Street Journal, go here.

For a discussion in the Wall Street Journal as to whether filing for bankruptcy will save Kodak, go here.


Undercover Boss, Sheldon Yellen, Voted #2 Moment on CBS’s Undercover Boss

We are thrilled to introduce you to our newest ROCC Star leader, Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Belfor Holdings, Inc.,, the $1.5 billion property restoration company.  Sheldon and Belfor are profiled extensively in our forthcoming book, Becoming a Trustworthy Leader:  Psychology and Practice, to be published later this year by Routledge Press.  Of course, for some of you, Sheldon and Belfor will need no introduction.  CBS in fact announced yesterday that the moment where Sheldon Yellen worked with water tech, Jen, and revealed himself to her, has been voted the #2 moment on the show Undercover Boss.

In this one example, Sheldon displayed compassion for Jen.  So many employees are seeking something beyond the basics in their leaders, and showing your compassion for your employees can make all the difference between having a resigned employee and a loyal one.  This example moved us greatly, too, which is why we reached to Sheldon to see if he wanted to be profiled in our  new book.  He ultimately agreed to meet with Aneil to see if this was something he was willing to do, as he is not someone who likes to seek publicity for himself.  A one hour meeting turned into an unplanned half-day together , and he and Aneil bonded as we’ve bonded with the other leaders we’ve studied over the past two decades.  As publicity-shy as Sheldon is, he does want to tell the world about Belfor and its 6,000 employees, and so he will be joining several other great leaders in our new book.

We can’t wait to share Sheldon’s leadership journey and how he used trust to build Belfor into a truly incredible company.

-Karen and Aneil

More Facebook Friends Than Real Ones? Facebook Support Equals 50% of Marital Support?

How many friends do you really have, and where are these friends?  This recent article by Ned Potter of ABC News indicated some trends and research findings that I find disturbing:

We may “friend” more people on Facebook, but we have fewer real friends— the kind who would help us out in tough times, listen sympathetically no matter what, lend us money or give us a place to stay if we needed it, keep a secret if we shared one.

That’s the conclusion made by Matthew Brashears, a Cornell University sociologist who surveyed more than 2,000 adults from a national database and found that from 1985 to 2010, the number of truly close friends people cited has dropped — even though we’re socializing as much as ever.

On average, participants listed 2.03 close friends in Brashears’ survey. That number was down from about three in a 1985 study.

Even more disturbing to me was this:

Compared to other things that matter for support — like being married or living with a partner — it really matters. Frequent Facebook use is equivalent to about half the boost in support you get from being married.”

My take on this is that to the extent that that particular finding is valid, then a lot of people don’t have very health marriages.


Top Down Decision Making Inhibits Trust and Innovation

The September 24, 2011 edition of The Economist reports these survey results from LRN:

It found that 43% of those surveyed described their company’s culture as based on command-and-control, top-down management or leadership by coercion—what Mr Seidman calls “blind obedience”. The largest category, 54%, saw their employer’s culture as top-down, but with skilled leadership, lots of rules and a mix of carrots and sticks, which Mr Seidman calls “informed acquiescence”. Only 3% fell into the category of “self-governance”, in which everyone is guided by a “set of core principles and values that inspire everyone to align around a company’s mission”.

The study found evidence that such differences matter. Nearly half of those in blind-obedience companies said they had observed unethical behaviour in the previous year, compared with around a quarter in the other sorts of firm. Yet only a quarter of those in the blind-obedience firms said they were likely to blow the whistle, compared with over 90% in self-governing firms. Lack of trust may inhibit innovation, too. More than 90% of employees in self-governing firms, and two-thirds in the informed-acquiescence category, agreed that “good ideas are readily adopted by my company”. At blind-obedience firms, fewer than one in five did.

In our own research on organizational change, we’ve found similar results.  When organizations have tightly controlled decision making, employees evidence both distrust in top management and are less likely to engage in the behaviors that promote innovation.


Growth Through Greater Trust and Control

For decades, management scholars and consultants have debated whether building trust in an organization runs counter to exercising greater control over employees.  Certainly, using formal tools such as monitoring employees’ behavior and communications makes it harder to earn their trust, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all forms of control are inherently trust-inhibiting or trust-violating.

My colleagues Gavin Schwarz and Karen and I have just published a peer-reviewed book chapter on how an organization has grown to over $200 million per year in annual revenues by building greater trust and control at the same time.  If you’d like to read it, here it is.