How Teams – and Their Companies – Can Become More Resourceful

May 25, 2017
7 Min Read
Scott Sonenshein Interview - How Teams – and Their Companies – Can Become More Resourceful

Scott Sonenshein Interview - How Teams – and Their Companies – Can Become More Resourceful


Many of us remember growing up and hearing the admonishment from adults to “turn off the lights” or “clean up that plate” because wasteful habits – whether with food or electricity – were not OK.

It appears that companies also could benefit from such admonishments, as a new book argues that having more resources is the wrong solution for building more innovative, agile and competitive organizations. Instead, by asking employees to do more with what they have, there will be greater engagement and creativity, says Scott Sonenshein, author of “Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined.”

“How we think about and use resources has a tremendous influence on professional success, personal satisfaction and an organization’s performance,” Sonenshein says.

As a social scientist and Rice University professor, Sonenshein spent more than 10 years looking at what makes organizations more prosperous and the employees better off. He’s studied many different industries such as technology, manufacturing, banking and retail.

“We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have,” he says.

His research shows that whether it’s about adapting to major changes or everyday routines, employers and their employees can expand their resources to achieve great things and feel fulfilled – to “stretch.”

The key, he says, is rejecting the idea that more resources equal better results. His research shows that throwing more resources at anything that comes along fails to generate the best outcome because it leads teams to go after resources they don’t need and to overlook the real potential of the resources they already possess.

Still, resources are important. For example, companies must have talented employees, skills and equipment in order to do the work and do it well.  But if a team is “chasing” then it’s geared to looking for more resources instead of being more creative and finding ways to expand or create with what’s already on hand, he says.

One of the problems, Sonenshein explains, is that there are always going to be those who are trying to convince leaders or teams that more is better.  The grass will always seem greener on the other side, he says, but “chasing makes people miserable because there’s always someone who has more.”

For those looking to become better stretchers, Sonenshein advises that teams need to:

  • Get a wider point of view. Whether it’s running the weekly meeting on Tuesday instead of Monday, changing the seating arrangement or using a different room, it can help teams see resources in a new way or spark new ideas.
  • Act without a plan. “Sometimes we spend so much time planning that we don’t have time for anything else and we can’t even focus on the present,” he says. Acting more spontaneously can spark creativity and learning, helping to build a momentum.
  • Banish negativity. Instead of assuming a late team member is lazy, consider there may be alternative reasons such as a traffic accident. Teams that focus on being more generous can create more positive prophecies, which research has shown will make them more productive.
  • Embrace outsiders. Outsiders are often the one who look at something in a new way, and can be key in solving complex problems. Outsiders can often take resources “to new problems and opportunities in ways invisible to experts blinded by the narrowness of their experience,” Sonenshein says.
  • Make enemies your partners. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch advised entrepreneurs to “Go out and buy or bury your competition.” But Sonenshein says that for stretchers, it’s bad advice. “Crushing the competition is only one way of looking at it,” Sonenshein say. “But we can also look at the competition as someone we can cooperate with and become friends with.” For example, gourmet food truckers in Houston help one another, such as helping fix the broken truck of a competitor. They remain competitive with one another, but the friendship forged between them has inspired them to “work harder for excellence, trying to live up to the standards of their friends by serving outstanding products and running smooth operations,” he explains.

Sonenshein says that leaders should not fear having less – or “constraints” – because it forces teams to be more creative and look at problems and solutions in a new way. Having less gives everyone permission to do thing less conventionally, which is why research shows that some of the toughest problems are solved by those with the least direct knowledge about them, he says.


Now that you know how to be more resourceful, here are 3 ways to increase your team's flexibility and agility.




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