2020 bolted out of the starting block and has not looked back. At the office, after nearly two months of productivity-killing but life-enriching vacation leave at 2019 year-end; the first six weeks of 2020 have included heavy ramp up for two separate multi-million dollar project launches, a site visit from senior leadership and a customer audit. 75% of our team has less than 12 months’ experience, not to mention our day to day workload is up 5% y.o.y. and getting more complex all the time.
The setting is a rurally located 24/7/365 Distribution Center for a Fortune 500 CPG company – blue-collar America at it’s finest. The operation is kept alive by 200 employees who work shoulder to shoulder, day in and day out to ensure high-quality paper products are delivered on time and in full to your favorite retailer’s rain, snow or shine. The work is demanding and the market highly competitive requiring continuous cost-saving, value-adding innovation to stay afloat.
I entered the scene at this location roughly a year ago taking a lateral move as a team leader in order to gain new experience and prove to myself prior success was something more than dumb luck. My philosophy was simple: business results are a bi-product of human relations. High functioning human relations are measured in units of trust, which act as a lubricant, reducing relational friction as it increases.
My approach was even simpler:
But it’s more personal for me than business. Rather, this business is personal for at least two reasons: my team lost a good man, friend, and grandfather, to a fatal workplace injury in late 2018 and I lost my younger sister in 2013. The lesson in both tragedies being that life is both too precious and short to be taken for granted. Plus, life is better enjoyed and more fun with others, even at work, and fun is only possible where trust lives.
Thankfully Daniel Coyle had, by that time, published a landmark study on workplace culture, what works, what doesn’t and why. In Culture Code, Mr. Coyle outlines the blueprint for successful groups in terms I could understand. Over the last 12 months I’ve worked to employ the principles in the book, measuring success according to the following characteristics outlined therein:
- Everyone in the group talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short
- Members maintain high levels of eye contact, and their conversations and gestures are energetic
- Members communicate directly with one another, not just with the team leader
- Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team
- Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back to share with the others
The healthier the group, the more its members exude the traits above and the more individuals in the group feel safe to take risks, safe to make mistakes and safe to not get hurt. It is then we relax around one another enough to have fun, the paradox being that is the exact moment we are most productive.
I call it focused fun, think children on the playground improvising a new game, simultaneously and spontaneously negotiating the terms, enforcing equality, competing fiercely, creating relentlessly. If you never had this experience in youth, it’s not too late to start.
Take one last nugget from Mr. Coyle before I wrap this up:
It is with this perspective I embrace the many challenges that 2020 has in store. I look at them as opportunities to have fun with people I trust and respect. I look forward to celebrating both the successes and failures along the way, knowing that we are building greatness as measured in friendships and memories that will, doubtless, last a lifetime, if not longer.
Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments below.