Category Archives: Teams and Motivation

Why Teamwork Pays!

How to Achieve Breakthrough Gains

Chartering and deploying effective project teams is one of the most important achievements for any organization.

Consider that high performing teams, by their nature, work on the right things — those that matter most to the organization. In addition, high performing teams are much more likely to bring about breakthrough gains – gains that go beyond those typically achieved by individuals — and for good reasons:

  • It is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses
  • The exchange of ideas leads to new thinking and innovation
  • The involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment levels
  • A team environment provides mutual support and a sense of belonging

Some of the skills and behaviors that can help an organization develop high-performing teams include:

  • Strong, committed leadership
  • Alignment around a common purpose
  • Diligent task and project management
  • Effective communication and meeting management
  • Clear and measurable performance targets
  • The right process to achieve results
  • People are held mutually accountable for activity and results

Managing the Cost of Disengaged Workers

An earlier post summarized the real costs associated with disengaged workers, which is close to $500 billion per year based on research by, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), and others.


Fortunately, there are proactive steps that can be taken to avoid these costs and the collateral damage to team morale and brand that is a regular side-effect.

Based on research and data shared by the EEA and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the following five steps can drive employee engagement, and reduce the number of disengaged workers and the associated costs:

  1. Enhanced recruiting and on-boarding — The first steps involve the inclusion of the organization’s mission and vision into interviewing conversations, and a more conscious effort to identify and hire people with aligned goals. Adding a mentor program to the on-boarding process helps new hires assimilate
    faster so they became more productive in less time as well.
    Enabling people to achieve higher levels of productivity and success early-on promotes greater engagement levels, and reduces first-year attrition rates. Early churn tends to demoralize
    everyone, so in addition to reducing re-hiring and re-training costs, the costs associated with negativity within the existing workforce are also reduced.
  2. Consistent performance management and communication — People need to have meaning in their work, and understand how their work aligns with organizational objectives. This communication works best when systematized as part of structured, proactive approach to performance management.
  3. Learning and development — A young, fast-rising junior executive had been working at a large bank for just over six years. When he was asked about his job and how he felt about it he said, “The job’s OK.” His lack of enthusiasm was evident, and when pressed to say more he added, “Well, I’m not really learning much anymore.” He went on to confirm that he was not truly engaged, and that he did not make much of an extra or discretionary effort, which engaged workers regularly make. Forward thinking
    business leaders understand that the path to sustainable employee engagement is to drive productivity, and to do so through ongoing education and empowerment.
  4. Recognition and rewards — Recognizing and rewarding employees is not a new concept, but if the goal is to engage people rather than simply acknowledge milestones (such as length of service), then the approach must be aligned with what is meaningful to each recipient.
  5. Flexibility and work/life balance — Employer/employee relationships, expectations, and engagement criteria have evolved significantly over the past decade. Data from a PwC survey of 44,000 workers who had become less engaged indicated that “71% said their jobs interfered with their personal lives, and 70% said they wanted to be able to work from home.”
    Employees can also become disengaged when they feel their managers only care about the bottom line. More than one-third of U.S. employees (39%) don’t believe their bosses encourage them to take allotted vacation days, and almost half (45%) say their bosses don’t help them disconnect from work
    while on vacation, according to a Randstad survey.

Read the full article… 

Productivity & Workforce Engagement

While employee engagement has emerged as a key objective in today’s business world, a surprising number of organizations have no formalized engagement strategy.

Or they fall prey to the misconception that “happy employees are more productive employees,” which has been disproved time-and-time-again. As it turns out, dress-down Fridays, free pizza or flex-time programs might create some short-term buzz, but the excitement doesn’t last; and the impact is neither greater productivity nor higher engagement levels.

In fact, the opposite is the reality — that is,
“productive employees tend to be engaged
employees,” not the other way around.

Consider that people like to feel successful… they
like to be part of a winning team… a productive
team. You might also consider three important
and corroborating data points that were
published on

  • A happy worker is not always a productive worker, and job satisfaction yields membership but not always productivity.
  • People differ in what they value and in what motivates them.
  • While it is typically better to have higher, rather than lower, engagement scores, engagement alone is not enough. In order to improve organizational performance, engagement, motivation, and performance must be addressed… and must be used to make data-based changes that will drive employee retention, performance, and commitment… not “just” engagement.

Driving productivity as a means of achieving and maintaining high-levels of workforce engagement enables an organization to more easily promote and reward desired behaviors, measure and document progress, and ultimately realize tangible results.

Equally as important, the measured return on investment enables leadership to further invest in the workforce as well as the workplace, thus promoting a culture of continuous
improvement and engagement throughout.

Leadership, Engagement & Continuous Improvement

Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and it provides the energy for change as well as the commitment to sustain it.

This aspect of leadership is critically-important if an organization hopes build and sustain culture of continuous improvement in which employees are truly engaged, and in which measurable improvement goals are achieved through people.

In a recent article published by Engagement Strategies Media, the connection between leadership and engagement was discussed.

“They’re connected because we can’t create the levels of engagement we would want and get all of the benefits we know can come from that without people leading…. we have to have someone leading us in the direction of this desirable goal of higher levels of engagement. They’re completely one hundred percent connected.”

The article goes on to explain that improving engagement scores requires intentional effort, and “most leaders, most organizations, aren’t placing a high enough priority on it to make that intentional.”

Thus a formalized, goal-oriented plan is a must… a concept that is presented in our “Engagement Around the Work” white paper.

Consider that people are much more likely to become engaged when they feel productive… when they feel like they are achieving success and that they are an important part of the organization’s success; when they feel that they have a voice in creating a better, more productive workplace.

By following proven Continuous Improvement methodology leaders and people at all levels can achieve measurable goals and higher levels of productivity; and this productivity leads to engagement.

Once leaders recognize that productivity leads to engagement, not the other way around, it becomes easier to allocate the necessary resources to sustain the Continuous Improvement effort. This means we must create a culture that is based on improving all that we do and which enables and empowers every employee at every level to make improvements through involvement and commitment — through being engaged!

More Hidden Costs of Disengaged Workers

hiddencostsIn an earlier post we discussed the direct and “hidden” costs of disengaged workers.

Carrying-on with this theme, a recent discussion among a group of Continuous Improvement leaders included some additional perspectives on the real-but-often-hidden costs associated with disengaged workers:

  • Higher turnover: Disengaged employees leave their employer as soon as they see a better opportunity. The turnover increases the costs of recruiting, on-boarding, and training.
  • Greater risk: Every newly-hired person comes with the risk of being a bad fit, or worse!  Every employee leaving an organization takes with him some organizational knowledge that might have been helpful to future decisions.
  • Lower productivity: A disengaged employee does not go the extra mile or challenge the status-quo.
  • Little or no process improvement: Improvements require engagement, a willingness to design and conduct experiments, a willingness to try something new and potentially better.  Disengaged employees focused on their personal agendas see little upside in risking trying something new in an effort to forward the organization’s goals.
  •  Higher pay: When we say about someone, “They are only in it for the money,” we are observing disengagement.  While money is important to nearly everyone, if that is the only motivation, there is no genuine engagement.  Organizations that are unable to create an environment that intrinsically engages their employees must pay them more to keep and motivate them.

Possibly you have some ideas we might add to the list?

How Productivity Drives Engagement

productivityAndEngagementIn an earlier post we shared some of the reasons why so many organizations struggle to engage their workforce. Among the challenges cited was the failure to understand the link between engagement and productivity.

Based on research and experience, we have concluded that productivity drives engagement, not the other-way-around. By increasing employees’ productivity, you get increased engagement, and that engagement, in turn, increases productivity, and the other positive and measurable results that come from increased engagement.

A couple of supporting comments:

“Employee happiness and morale is NOT the critical path to employee productivity. but productivity and employee achievement are the critical path to high morale and a happy work environment. Morale and employee happiness aren’t the means to the end — they are the end itself.” —Morale and Motivation Myth…No Strings Attached

“Improving our work is what ultimately captures the mind, the heart and the spirit of employees.” —Results From the Heart by Kyoshi Suzaki

The concept of productivity driving engagement is one of the core principles of our approach to engaging a workforce and, ultimately, customers and the marketplace — it’s all about the work.

Sponsors & Continuous Improvement Success

sponsorThe root causes of poor team performance are often a direct result of actions taken, or not taken, by the sponsor. Sponsors are senior leaders who have the interest and authority to provide the means, resources and guidance necessary for a team or project to succeed.

A sponsor’s responsibilities include guiding the process of creating a team charter so the team gets off to a good start, linking the work of teams to strategic objectives, guiding the team through the process improvement methodology, empowering the team, and recognizing both progress and achievement.

As noted in an article on the qualities associated with an effective sponsor, author and BPI executive Andrew Slaney wrote, “As a sponsor you need to be engaged and continuously involved.”

In that article, Slaney goes on to identify a simple equation:

  • Passive Sponsor = Project Failure
  • Proactive Sponsor = Project Success

Other qualities associated with successful sponsorship include:

  • A genuine interest in the project
  • An understanding of continuous improvement methodology
  • A willingness to “champion” a project and an ability to influence within the organization
  • A willingness to maintain appropriate visibility so as to lead the way through action and not only words
  • A willingness to be accountable for the project’s success

Investing in Continuous Improvement?

investinemployeesNot too long ago. a member of a prospective client’s senior management team spoke of a past consulting relationship in which the recommended “solution” for improving their process was to buy a new (and expensive!) software package.

He went on to say, “Upgrading an IT system is not the kind of answer we’re looking for… we want to learn how to improve the work!”

We completely agreed…

This same topic came up during a more recent discussion among CI Leaders. The group recognized that many organizations invest in technology or IT systems hoping to improve productivity, but also noted this type of investment frequently fails to deliver a sustainable solution.

As one member of the group said, “Software rarely fixes problems; people do. A bad process, with new software, will only run faster, not better.”

Thus the question was posed, “What kinds of investments can lead to successful continuous process improvement?

Among the top suggestions:

  • Invest in the staff. It’s remarkable to me how little soft-skill training employees get, in areas such as communication, teamwork, project management, delegation, and more. It’s assumed that people already have these abilities, but this is not always true.
  • Invest in team development. Even if people possess the right skills individually, they may not know how to work together as a team.
  • Invest in preparing people for change. This includes getting people to look at change through a positive lens, and maintaining proper staffing on the development and support side post-delivery, allowing for quick iterations with real-time user feedback.
  • Invest in developing the right culture for the improvement journey. Invest in our people, educate them, and shape their behavior through rewards and recognition.
  • Invest in defining improvement and quantifying the opportunities. Three useful questions, answered is this sequence, help to produce a path to improvement.
    1. What are we trying to accomplish?
    2. How will we know that a change is an improvement?
    3. What changes can we make that will produce improvement?

Encouraging Your Team

motivation2As business leaders, project managers, and CI leaders endeavor to manage,  motivate, and engage their teams,  many incorporate some form of a rewards and recognition program.

Among the key objectives of doing so are gaining increased commitment or greater discretionary effort from the team, promoting desired behaviors, or achieving specifically measurable results.

Regardless of objective, during a best practices exchange by a group of CI and business leaders it was agreed that recognizing and rewarding employees has a strong impact on sustainable behavior and results — a perspective that aligns with the findings of numerous studies; or, as summarized by one of the participants, “People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.” (Unknown)

The group also  indicated the following criteria would yield the best results when creating and implementing a rewards and recognition strategy:

  • Keep it simple: one of the most cost effective methods of all seemed to be the simple thank you note.
  • Extrinsic rewards programs require clear metrics, auditing, and mindful design to ensure a focus on the rewarded metrics will not lead to deterioration of teamwork or other facets of the organization due to things such as jealousy or resentment.
  • Be specific: it is much more effective to recognize a team or a person for a specific result or accomplishment than for generally “doing a good job.”
  • Be timely: the closer in time the reward or recognition is to the accomplishment being recognized, the more impact it will have
  • Communicate widely: Publicity helps extend the celebration and communicates widely what is valued by the organization. Similarly, the way in which rewards are presented has a significant impact on how recipients value their rewards. Make a splash! And DO involve organizational leaders in the presentation.
  • Be consistent: Be sure that you respond to comparable accomplishments in comparable ways.
  • Be authentic: Sincerity in words of appreciation and praise are essential to an effective system of reward and recognition.
  • Use team rewards to encourage better organization-wide results.

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of “Quick Wins” in Continuous Improvement

time_is_money_800_10875As discussed in our three previous posts, when it comes to Continuous Improvement (CI) time is definitely a factor. Thus Quick Wins can be a powerful means of moving teams into action, and are an indispensable tool for any continuously improving organization!

As we complete our series of posts on the subject, here are five ideas that can help your organization get the most out of Quick Wins.

Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good. Often an organization has a problem for which the perfect technology solution is known — it is just not available, either because of the cost or because it is still under development. Ask “what else?” What are the other ways the problem can be solved? It is often difficult to think of a Plan B, when there is a big, gleaming, perfect, obvious solution that is simply not available now. The temptation is to set aside the problem as something you need to live with — but there may be other solutions not quite as good but that at least capture 50%, 60%, 80% of the benefit that the best solution could provide.

Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time Many of us choose scopes that are way too big. A large scope greatly slows the work and reduces the likelihood of success, making the project into a lumbering giant. Our instincts may tell us if we have a big scope, we will have a big win — but the opposite is more often true. To get good results quickly, we must take a big problem and break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Rely on the People Close to the Work The people closest to the work often have the best ideas about the problem and possible solutions. They live with the problems in the work every day and are a great source of possible “quick fixes.” A Waste Walk is a great way to explore the work and talk to the people close to the work to identify potential targets for improvements or for a “kaizen blitz.”

Keep it Simple The simpler the better. Cross organizational projects move much more slowly as priorities and approvals must be aligned in order to make progress. The fewer people on the team, the simpler it is to get together and get to work on the problem. Start small and simple, execute, and build the skills and motivation to tackle more and more problems.

Enjoy It! A Quick Win is both satisfying and fun! Make sure you celebrate and spread the news. Take measurements, take pictures, take the team to lunch! Then go back and do it again.

Read the full article…