When you notice you don’t have the culture you want on your team, you may be tempted to believe it’s hopeless. When you're not getting the commitment, accountability or even just the engagement you’re looking for, it can feel like a grind to work with others. That’s when it’s useful to turn to your intention -- more specifically, your intention for joy at work.
What do you want it to be like? What experiences have you had in the past or witnessed elsewhere that you want now? What might you accomplish if that happened? What might your day be like? What would need to be true to make it happen and whose help would you need?
An intention that you can see clearly in your mind can guide your words and actions and influence your team to a different place. This is based on the philosophy of leading with attraction (versus fear).
A Case Study
For 18 months, a team of 250 people located across the US had been working on a multi-million dollar project to replace a core operating system for a Fortune 200 company. It was not going well. Because the company had no experience at this scale and complexity, the original business case was way off and the team was now suffering as a result, labeled as poor performers. A parade of consultant experts came and went offering no solutions. When Ed (the new Program Lead) arrived on the scene six months into the project, he had to deliver the bad news to executives that the project was going to take 18 months longer and $55 million more than the business case reflected. This was unwelcomed. The moment of crisis came for the team when the CEO publicly announced to the entire company that the project was "a disappointment." This is our origin story.
Rather than leave the project, we decided to lead differently. It started with an intention. This is what happened.
- Get someone to help you see. As a leader, it’s hard to see what’s happening on your team because you can’t be everywhere and you’re under a lot of pressure. On top of which, past negative experiences could bias you to interpret your team's behavior negatively as opposed to signs of their engagement. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need someone to help you interpret -- a coach, a mentor, trusted advisor, someone invested in your success.
- Use team events as milestones to lift engagement. Engagement is not about more team events or “jazzy All Hands.” Every event you have needs to feel to the team like the timing is right and like it’s designed specifically for them. Where is their morale? Where do you want it to be at the end of the event? To get the culture you want, every event should reflect your intention. Truly, any meeting could be an event! The goal is to lift engagement so people feel inspired and motivated to focus on doing the hard work together.
- Big engagement budgets are unnecessary. In fact, budgets can get in the way of your engagement goals because of the temptation to purchase engagement. That kind of engagement doesn’t last and gets expensive. Budget constraints lead to more creativity: “What if we want the team to feel appreciated for that big thing they just did and we have no money? What would it take to get that outcome?” Questions like these lead to things like two-act plays, role-play simulations, team storybooks and other things that drive a lasting emotional connection to each other and the work.
Before change can happen the leader must change first.
A few unpolished video clips document this team's experience.
Try setting an intention yourself!
- Think about the best experience you've ever had leading a team or being part of a team. What was that like?
- What was happening that made it that way?
- What did you accomplish because of all that was happening?
- What 1-2 things from that experience would you most like to apply to your current team if you had your wish?
- Thinking about your current team, complete this sentence: "I'll know we're truly working together toward a successful outcome when...?"
- Based on your answer to question 5, what must be true to make this happen?
These questions were the catalyst for our origin story and have served our clients well ever since.
What's next? Once you set an intention for the culture of your team, you can start taking steps to make it happen. Look for signs of progress. Ask others to help you see those signs. You can also share your intention with your team and directly ask them for help.
Joy at Work Thinking
It will take a while for your team to behave in a new way, especially if they’re under stress, if your intention seems very new to them or if trust needs to be repaired or established. When things become difficult, your intention can be your touchstone to guide your words and actions. That consistency will help your team recognize your commitment and over time inspire confidence in your intention.
Remember, how you think, how you feel and how well you take care of yourself matters -- to a lot of people. We believe in you. Go create joy.