Workplace culture

How to make the best from what you've got!

How to make the best from what you've got!

Wouldn’t it be great if every person you worked with was simply the best at what they do?

If they had all graduated first in their classes at school and had received awards and glowing letters of recommendation?

If they all had years of business experience and know-how, and were unflappable in the face of challenge?

If they had all come from generations of successful business people?

If they had no demands or distractions from family and could just concentrate on work all the time?

Aside from the potential egos of such a group of people, it’d be pretty interesting. It could be really great. But it’s pretty unrealistic.

Most teams are not made up of the best of the best.  They’re made up of the best you could get and sometimes it’s a far cry from the best.

You may have star employees among you but you probably also have a good number of folks who are pretty average.  You may even have some folks who are not quite as good as you’d like. 

This is most people’s reality. It happens on sports teams; it happens at work and pretty much anywhere you have a group of people who need to accomplish something together.

You’d think that, since this is a common reality for most people, we’d be pretty accepting of this and just go with it, but no.

What can often develop is some pretty negative talk, instead of figuring out how to make the best of what you’ve got.

Why you need to create more moments.

Why you need to create more moments.

It was many years ago, a night like so many others.

I was on stage playing a concert with a local symphony orchestra being led by a guest conductor.

I was dressed in my usual orchestra concert attire, a black tuxedo, complete with black cummerbund and bow tie  (à la James Bond, I like to think).  The strange thing about this time was that I was seated behind a drum set.

I say strange because when you study to be a drummer, you don’t necessarily see yourself wearing a tuxedo while you play. You also don’t imagine yourself playing behind a 60-piece orchestra at the back of a large concert hall filled with people.

I was playing the same drum set that I had played many times while dressed in jeans and t-shirt, the same set that I would “rock out on” in jam sessions with friends. 

But this night was different.  This night I was playing in an orchestral pops concert and it was the first time I was hired not as a percussionist but as the “drummer” for such a thing.

I had done my practicing, been to rehearsals, but I was nervous. There’s just something different about show time. On top of that, it was a big program. But I have to tell you that I don’t remember one single tune I played that night.

I remember one moment only, and how it felt. The moment I remember was near the end of the night, in the last tune.  It was a fast up-tempo number and I was busily keeping time when the conductor looked up from his score and looked me straight in the eye. Then with a broad smile, he raised his hand and gave me a big thumbs-up. 

I am going to guess that that particular moment was about 20 years ago now. Yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. I remember how great it felt, how happy I was.

I’m not sure if the conductor meant to make me feel as good as he did, but in that one moment, he validated my hard work, my years of practice, my musicianship and how I played that night.

And the thing is, he didn’t have to do it.  There’s no rule about that. I have played many concerts where it seems the conductors don’t even know you’re there. So for one to make an effort, that really stood out for me, and his timing was right on. 

That was a great moment! That’s the thing about special moments.  They can have a profound impact on people.

It’s a great time of year to build trust at work

It’s a great time of year to build trust at work

Happy New Year! Well sort of…

I think it safe to say that this time of year has a new-beginning feel to it.

In some ways, it’s even more obvious than the official New Year, which is more about a date changing on a calendar.

For most people, this time of year is about things starting again.  Our weather can start to turn, the leaves begin to change colour, the air starts to feel a little different, and my favourite thing… school starts again.

But this is the best one:  You and the people you work with have had a bit of a break.

You and the people you work with have had a chance for some renewal, a chance for some re-vitalization, re-invigoration, have taken the time for a bit of a pause and reset, have perhaps taken some time for reflection.

That why this time of year is so great for building relationships with people.  It’s a great time to build trust.

Why it's important to make your employees successful

Why it's important to make your employees successful

Have you ever thought about the kind of leader you are?

Have you ever thought about how your employees see you? How they feel about working for you?

Leadership is heady stuff but I have found that it’s important to take some time to reflect on the type of leader you are and the type of leader you want to become.

Because when you’re finally sitting in that chair with people looking to you for direction, it’s good to know what type of leader you want to be.

Sure, this is important so that you can achieve your goals. But it’s also important because you’re going to need help.

How to be a better leader and eliminate workplace cliques.

How to be a better leader and eliminate workplace cliques.

Last year, my 9-year-old daughter, who is a pretty tough cookie, was reduced to tears by a clique that turned against her.

In less than 24 hours, this group of kids, whom she considered friends, had her wanting to quit her hockey team and never play again.

They did this by using only words and silence (a.k.a - the cold shoulder).

I’d never seen anything like it. Or so I thought - more on that later.  Yes, yes… apparently being a man does not help me here.

There’s more to the story that I can get into now, but we managed to get to the bottom of it and got some “I’m sorry’s” flowing.  We got her to the rink just before the puck drop for a “big” playoff game but it was too late.

Too late, because even the kids who weren’t involved knew something was just not right that day.

The team played horribly and lost badly. It was their worst game of the season. It cost them the chance to move on.

This prompted a lot of discussion among the parents. Some of us (maybe it was just me) realized we were oblivious to the cliques on the team and how they were inhibiting its success. 

To be fair, I think some people were aware, but I don’t think any of us (parents or team leaders) were doing anything to mitigate these naturally forming sub groups on the team. And that wasn’t good.

Here’s the thing about sub-groups.  They happen everywhere people get together. They’re part of kids’ hockey teams and they’re part of where you work.

Cliques are not relegated to kids’ sports teams or the playgrounds of our youth.  They can materialize anyplace you have groups of people who see each other frequently.

If you’re a workplace leader (manager, boss, etc), it’s your job to set things up so that everyone on the team can do the best work they can.

I’m not saying it’s easy but you’ve got to do it, or else…

How to make your people more cohesive.

How to make your people more cohesive.

I’ve been lucky.  I've been part of a cohesive team. I have played in the same musical group for 27 years. The group is the Evergreen Club Gamelan.

Evergreen is not famous like U2, Coldplay or the Rolling Stones. I'm pretty sure you haven't heard of us. But we do have a bit of a following and a reputation for being great at what we do, including several CD’s, many concert tours and a couple of Hollywood film sound tracks.

While we’ve had many great things happen to us over the years, it hasn’t been the quickest path to financial freedom. Yet, many of the members have been in the band since it started more than 30 years ago.

Why is that? Why would people be part of something for so long when the financial incentives are low?

Because being part of a cohesive group is a powerful experience. It satisfies so much of what we look for in our work and, dare I say, even in our lives.

How a new perspective will make you more successful

How a new perspective will make you more successful

I was blown away. He gave me one of the best audience comments I’d ever heard, and as he said it, I knew something had changed for him.

I had just finished delivering my talk, “Building Trust”, to a group of 100 people.

They brought me in because their organization was going through restructuring.

There were many changes in leadership.

People had had to learn new skills and others had even needed to change office locations. They needed to rely on each to make this work. They needed to trust each other.

If you follow my work, then you know the tools I use are musical instruments. I do this so people can experience the concepts that I speak about. The audience sits in a circle so they can see each other as they do this.

About 2/3’s of the way through my program, I had the group improvising a piece of music, as I often do.

At one point, when the piece was cookin’, (musical term for going really well), I brought a couple of people into the center of the circle. One of them was the boss.

At first they weren’t sure why I brought them up there. I told them, “Just stand here and listen.”

When the program was over and I was chatting with a few audience members, the boss approached me.

He said, “Hey Paul, I have a suggestion for you. Remember when you brought me up to the center to listen? I said, “Yes.” He said, “You should find a way to have everyone get to do that.”

I said, “Interesting. Why do you think that?”

He said, “When I was in the middle of the circle, I could hear how it was all fitting together. I was astounded at how great we sounded as a group.

When I was sitting in my section, I didn’t hear that. I only heard the few people around me and myself. It didn’t sound as good. I was wondering if what I was doing mattered.

When I was standing up there, I realized that this is something everyone can learn from. It would help them appreciate their contribution.”

It struck me that many of us suffer from that problem. We’re working away doing the best we can but we don’t know the impact we’re having. We don’t know if what we are doing is making a difference.

And it’s because we don’t have the right perspective.

How to use silence to make your work and your life better

How to use silence to make your work and your life better

I’m fortunate to be able to spend a little time at a cottage during the summer. One of my favourite things to do is to get up just before sunrise and take the canoe out for a slow paddle.

As the sun creeps upward, it’s a time of awe-inspiring silence.

The water is like glass.  Only the bow of the canoe and my paddle cut through its smooth shiny surface.

It’s not really silent though. You can hear some birds singing and the odd fish jumping out of water, but it’s as close to silence as I can get without finding a anechoic chamber somewhere.

I know that, very soon, the silence will be overcome by fishing boat motors or the splashes of an early morning swimmer, or worse, by jet skis and skill saws.

I’ll often head over to an old beaver dam and just sit there in the canoe. I’ll let my ears search the forest and water for a chirp, rustle or splash. I hope for a chance encounter with a beaver perhaps. But my paddling has probably tipped them off long before I arrive so that’s never happened.

This is a place where I remind myself how to listen.

And that’s important. Because without an appreciation for silence, we can’t really listen to what others have to say.