In a recent survey, 46% of employees report they’d prefer to do anything else than sit in a team meeting, with 17% reporting they would be willing to watch paint dry and 8% saying they’d be willing to endure a root canal.
That level of dislike is a wake-up call for managers who need teams to be engaged and positive when they’re together – not grumpy, bored and frustrated.
But how do managers inspire the right kind of emotions in team members so that it drives high-level performances?
Jackie Barretta (pictured), author of “Primal Teams: Harnessing the Power of Emotions to Fuel Extraordinary Performance,” says research by neuroscientists on emotional systems shows that there are a number of ways that managers can jump start enthusiasm, innovation and productivity within teams.
For example, the opportunity to experience something new “jazzes people,” she explains.
Of course, that might be easy in a high-tech industry that offers continual challenges, but what about the warehouse worker who deals with the same widgets every day? In that case, Barretta suggests periodically shifting responsibilities among workers. The forklift worker might switch with the shipping and receiving worker for a time, she explains.
Another way to maintain enthusiasm in a team involves using a “creative cycle” to organize work. She suggests that the movie industry provides a great example of how to do this as they come together to envision a blockbuster, then create it in about a year and disband when it’s done.
If you have teams that are getting bored by constantly meeting to make minor tweaks to a product, for example, you can try rotating new people in and out so that bored team members are exposed to more exciting work every once in a while. The new people brought into the team find the work novel, and that way employees stay more engaged because the leader is “looking at the work in terms of phases and cycles and adding variation to the equation,” she explains.
Another idea is incorporating play into a team’s routine. While workplaces such as Apple have been playing games like office Nerfball since the 1970s and find the playful atmosphere sparks greater creativity, not all companies have successfully done the same. The problem, Barretta explains, is that leaders try to turn the work into play such as offering a week off to the person who first discovers a solution to a customer problem. That strategy just leads to problems when team members begin competing against one another for rewards – instead of playing together for the fun of it, she says.
She stresses that play should be spontaneous – such as asking team members for an impromptu game of Kick-the-Can.
While some of these ideas may make more reserved managers cringe at the thought of having to get team members to engage in lunchtime ping pong, Barretta says that managers can easily influence team members to be more positive with subtle things such as offering a genuine “thank you.”
“People want to feel good about what they do and where they are. Team bonding is a primal need – people are receptive to it,” she says.
Here are some other ways Barretta, founding partner of Nura Group, suggests that managers can shift team emotions to positive ones that will lead to better business results:
Finally, Barretta says that manages shouldn’t try to deny that there may be negative feelings by some team members and so should create a “safe haven” that includes specific rules about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In other words, let them know it’s OK to express unhappiness with a process, but not to throw a book at a team member.
“The team member must invite people to share their emotions and explain why doing so will help the team improve performance,” she explains. “Just as no question is a stupid question, no emotion is a bad emotion.”