The World Health Organization describes the relationship between work, health and productivity as a virtuous cycle, where “improved conditions at work will lead to a healthier workforce, which will lead to improved productivity, and hence the opportunity to create a still healthier, more productive workplace”.
From a logical point of view this makes perfect sense. When people thrive, businesses thrive as well. But are you still scratching your head, not sure what part of the puzzle is missing at your workplace? Have you considered what I describe as the MAGIC? When magic is applied, you just might find the missing pieces to your jigsaw.
Often, problems at work have the feel that I liken to when you are a child, putting the pieces of a favourite old jigsaw puzzle together. You realise once you are well into your creation that there are vital pieces missing. Similarly, at work, we are often confident that most pieces are in place. We have worked hard on our culture and we are doing the right thing in so many ways – yet we seem to be missing something. This something is vitally important, because it is stopping our people and our business thriving – of coming together as a whole.
In these instances, it is worth considering the MAGIC and how you might apply it in your workplace.
Firstly, we need to understand what MAGIC is (and not in wizard terms!) before we can successfully apply it.
My background is in Occupational Therapy, so I absolutely believe that time can be used therapeutically. How we spend our time contributes to how we are feeling as people and this includes the time we spend at work, especially because most of us spend a lot of time in this sphere. However, what we also know about therapy is that it is often boring and not necessarily something we want to do.
Most of us are aware, though, that when we understand what the outcomes might be, the therapy makes a lot of sense. For example, when injured, we may not want to do ten repetitions of leg exercises every morning – but we do want to return to football, horse riding or surfing. When we understand the likely outcomes from our therapy, all of a sudden it has meaning for us and it becomes worthwhile.
Does your team understand the meaning and the greater result of the work you do – or is what is presented to them only a small piece of the puzzle? Are people provided with the chance to see the bigger, broader picture of their output and be proud of how this contributes to your industry, or are people expected perform only their “piece” and never see the puzzle as a whole? When completing jigsaws, most of us are constantly going back to the big picture to get our bearings and to confirm we are on track. How much more difficult and frustrating it can be, to be working away at something and not be able to see what you are working towards.
Another way to look at meaning is exploring personal meaning. In this case, helping people to find their personal meaning can start the process of weaving a little magic. An example is a workplace where there is a lot of face-to-face contact with others. Workers could find opportunities to engage with kindness – maybe it is via a friendly hello or even just a smile. This could be the meaning your staff need to recognise as valuable, and in a world where governments are appointing Ministers for Loneliness, then that is most certainly enough.
As a workplace do you support people to find their meaning in the work they do? Do they understand that some of what we do every day might seem boring, but fits into something that is much bigger and they can see the value of their contribution?
- Does your induction program include that big picture vision?
- Are you transparent in meetings about what direction you/ the team are going in?
- Is there space in one-on-one meetings to explore the importance of the pieces of the puzzle you are working on?
- Do you and your team celebrate your wins and what happens when the pieces of the puzzle all come together?
In Google’s Project Aristotle, researchers explored the elements that make teams most efficient. The number one factor was psychological safety. This can be defined as being able to have an opinion without fear of retribution. I believe there is also a subtle, nuanced meaning as well – and that is that people can smell “BS” or “speak” for the sake of it, that has no backbone behind it. In this perhaps overly politically-correct world, workers are sick of this corporate speak. They want someone to look them in the eye and speak plainly – to be authentic.
This is by no means easy to implement. A step in the right direction might be a team meeting, where everyone is given the opportunity to raise a change they would like to see. Extending the invitation for people to voice dissenting opinions from the get-go turns the tables on a culture of politically correct agreement at all costs. In many organisations people feel they can never speak out with an alternative opinion; consequently, if a workplace can set this up as the norm, then the door is at least open to genuine interaction.
If you are wanting an organisation to thrive into the future then workers who feel confident to communicate authentically have to be fostered. Workplaces are going to continue to change rapidly in the current climate and no manager can be across each and every change. Given this fact, it is worth asking: do you want to create a workforce which is empowered to communicate when something isn’t working and alert you to issues gathering on the horizon? In order to receive this vital feedback, authenticity needs to be encouraged.
- Do you support each individual to have his or her own authentic voice at your workplace?
- Is there space provided for everyone to speak at meetings not just the loudest voice. Perhaps at a monthly meeting you can allocate two minutes for each person to speak about what is happening for them at work; highs and lows.
- When people come to managers with concerns are they shut down? Do you parachute straight into the action phase? In our fast-paced workplaces, sometimes it feels more comfortable as a manager to go directly into action mode as it provides the certainty we crave. However, the concern could be explored further and questions such as “how did that make you feel?” could be posed. In exploring the feeling behind the concern, one gains a better idea of what is going on for the person raising it. By simply asking “and how did that make you feel?” we can uncover a lot more about the person we are working alongside and allow them to express what is going on for them.
- As an organisation how do you encourage this type of authentic engagement?
In order to feel safe and to be authentic, a worker needs to feel grounded. Ground rules are the perfect method for creating these feelings of confidence and stability. Ground rules established by the group, for the group, allow those within to know where boundary lines fall, if they are getting close to those lines, or indeed if they are crossing over those lines. Ground rules also outline how workers are going to communicate and, perhaps most importantly, how they are going to deal with conflict when it (inevitably) arises. By being clear with boundaries, communication and conflict resolution from the very beginning, a platform is created that does not make “conflict” a dirty word in your workplace. Instead, the process is kept above board rather than pushed underground, where it can fester. It is given a space where it can be aired and worked through.
Smart organisations recognise that when people are brought together, there will always be conflict. It can either be ignored, pushed against, or, businesses can lean in, and provide people with the skills to support positive outcomes. Smart organisations also recognise that within constructive conflict and disagreement lie the seeds of innovation and great ideas.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if company inductions provided advice on how to handle conflict within the workplace or team? It might be that as an organisation, your workplace provides some skill development and offers language that may help workers feel more capable to handle conflict in a manner that is going to feel safe. Another idea is engaging an external party that assists with this skill development. Then, when conflict is raised, people can do so in a manner that is solution-focussed and curious, rather than the dogmatic “my way or the highway” scenario.
As human beings, we crave certainty and we like to be able to look in the mirror and be okay with what we see. In being able to do this, we often create stories around conflict that ensure that we can look at ourselves favourably. However, these stories often have a narrow focus around our self-interest. By broadening the lens and looking at things from the other’s perspective, solutions that were initially hidden can emerge.
The world is changing faster than ever before and consequently, workers who are capable or who have been trained to manage and resolve conflict within the vastness of the grey areas are essential. Negotiating skills and open-minded understanding will be required to find a favourable way along the path of constant change, twists and turns.
Ground Rules Check-List
- Does your induction program outline your company’s approach to conflict?
- Do you have internal professional development scheduled that supports conflict skill development?
- Do you as a manager allow conversations about people and not to people? If yes then perhaps you can reflect on your own relationship with conflict and why you are not addressing concerns with the people involved. We cannot make any real changes without having the person involved in the room.
- Do you regularly set aside time in team meetings to discuss “how are we getting on” and what could we do differently to keep this subject alive?
- Do your ground rules outline your approach to conflict and do you review these regularly as a team to keep this as a living document, rather than something that sits in an operations manual?
Authenticity at work requires bringing one’s whole self to the workplace. Do we really know who we are working with and what is important to them? Do we let people know our true selves? What is our/ their line in the sand? Brené Brown uses a values exercise in workplaces to help people describe what is important to them and what the drivers are in their lives. From this starting point, workers attain a clearer idea of why colleagues do what they do, as well as why certain behaviours/ occurrences might push one person’s buttons yet not push another’s at all. Referring back to the jigsaw puzzle: knowing people’s values offers a few more key pieces, and when the picture is clearer there is a higher chance of working successfully together.
- Part of your induction could be a values exercise. Further explorations of these values could then be made in team meetings. For example, asking team members to describe when and how they felt aligned with their values in the past week would shine more light on individual values, as would asking for an example of something that had challenged their values that week.
- Allocate an area in the workplace where people’s values are on show. Ask close contacts/ customers to share their values as well.
Are you encouraging a curious workforce or would you prefer a team where everyone fits in, where everyone takes the same cookie cutter approach? Curious means “I am willing to understand”. Curious says “I am willing to learn”. Curious also represents “I see you and I respect you”. Curious shows a willingness to understand how you have come to the opinion you have and it is essential in a psychologically safe workplaces.
When we have adrenaline running through our bodies and we feel threatened, sitting firmly in our primitive mind, curious in fact allows us to step into our executive functioning. Curious opens up the part of the brain that organisations most want their workers to operate from. If a workplace proudly describes itself as curious, then it is likely those within it will feel exactly that and be comfortable to ask questions. A workforce that can problem-solve, that can action its way out of a jam, is the highest goal of most organisations. To achieve this, a workforce that is curious is not-negotiable.
- Encouraging curiosity may start with some learning about mindful listening. As a team, look at the benefits of focussed listening without your own agenda and then relaying back to people what you have heard. From this point you can work on excellent questions and when to use them. For example, when you feel foggy, when you feel on the back foot, or when you feel the adrenaline rising are often the ideal moments to ask a question, rather than respond to sensation and emotion. Then, you might also encourage people to ask: “how did that make you feel?”.
To conclude: we know that when people are engaged at work, there are good health outcomes. We also know that we want people working with us who are healthy, happy and engaged. How do we bring the two together? Perhaps we just need to sprinkle a little MAGIC.