Ice Cream Social Leadership (part 1)

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Organizational culture has always been an indicator for employee turnover ratios, productivity and return on investment. Many times big and small companies plow ahead with flipchart strategies, profit and loss discussions, and backfilling for employee turnovers, without much consideration of how the workforce is relating to each other. 

An Ezine article by Jackie Jordan Davis speaks to the topic of getting along with people in the workplace. She lists seven simple communication rules for people in a work culture.

  1. Observe boundaries.
  2. Fulfill commitments.
  3. Respect time.
  4. Pay attention.
  5. Avoid gossip.
  6. Ask questions.
  7. Check-in.

Connecting with people is easy for some and a challenge for others. Behavioral differences and personality style diversities are existent in every organizational culture. Sometimes these differences are celebrated as the “magic ingredient” for company success. Other times these diversities become impassable obstacles to effective productivity and exceptional outcomes. 

Conflict is inevitable in a team…in fact, to achieve synergistic solutions, a variety of ideas and approaches are needed.   Susan Gerke

Conflict and normal amounts of opposing dialogue between company teams is healthy. Leaders that have developed their team building, communication and relational skill set can carefully guide a contrary conversation between team members into an effective goal-setting or solution-gathering episode. Conflict in and of itself is not bad. How it is guided, leveraged and utilized is a skill that many leaders aspire to seize. Some of the organizations I have worked with have simply given up on addressing these human factors and cultural challenges. Countless times the executive leaders are detached completely from these everyday incidences. Some clients accept the challenge of leading an organization or a team into healthy divergence. These leaders and their teams achieve results that many times surprise even the most optimistic.

What sets apart high-performance teams is how deeply committed the members are to one another.   Katzenbach and Smith

Recently, when coaching a long-time client who is an executive with an international company, we talked about this very topic of employee engagement and divergent conversations. The coaching conversation was rooted in his need to continue to motivate and inspire his top performers, although the company’s C-Suite, located in another city, had no clue of how the top performers were feeling about the culture. In fact, this particular office led by my client, outperformed all other offices in profitability, lack of turnover and general climate. This office of professionals had voted the office a “best-place-to-work” company in our city. This office and  one other office in another city, according to my client, have adopted a unique way of doing business. The employees, mostly highly talented account managers, have been encouraged to lead a circle of their peers. These circles are affinity groups like, (1) a fun circle [group] for employee events, (2) off-site circle for suggesting and planning group retreats, and (3) a service circle to suggest and coordinate community service projects. There are more circles. The executive has told the employees that when they have an idea for a circle to present it to the team then to organize it. This has brought energy, inclusion, security, wellbeing and healthy divergence to this company.

The company at large does not practice this circle idea. Maybe there is no correlation, but the rest of the company has higher turnover ratios and by observation are transfixed on just closing business. This energetic engaged company group is closing business and has even been challenged to close more and more. These “challenges” come at almost an unrealistic rate with goals that are insane. This team, however, is led in a way that allows the team to figure it out on their own and achieve astronomical financial goals. Wonder why the company executives keep picking on this large high-functioning group with goals to make up for other company teams’ profit losses? The team achieves exceptional results and the circles keep them engaged, healthily conversant and they feel like they have ownership of the company’s outcomes. They are discovering their own solutions and appear to enjoy coming to work. They work hard and long and are loyal.


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