The Best Team-Building Exercise? SUCCESS


If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. – Patrick Lencioni

Recently I was explaining my views on team-building to a group. They didn’t get the explanation they were looking for, so I gave them a personal illustration.

Several years ago, I took over a small team that had been without leadership for several months. The key employee, a veteran administrative assistant, suggested to me when I arrived that the group take a cooking class together, or perhaps steal away for an all-day harbor cruise.

“We need some team building,” she claimed.

I agreed, but suggested something else.

“You know what I think really builds a team, really draws everyone together and ignites their passion?”

“An office party?”

“No, achievement. Nothing builds a team quite like success.”

A team cannot achieve success without hard work; and people will only work hard if they believe they are working toward an important goal.

What the team needs is a strong mission, challenging objectives, and people who are committed to both.

Team activities work best with a team. When you only have a group of people, most activities just don’t quite work the same. And, by the way, I’m not convinced some team building exercises are all that effective, especially with high functioning teams.

So when do team building exercises work? When you have:

  1. A strong mission that is the loud and universally understood rally cry of your organization.
  2. Challenging goals that stretch individuals and demand their reliance on others.
  3. Members who are fiercely committed to the mission and goals.

Team building exercises work best when
they enhance a team’s ability to fulfill its mission.

A team can always learn how to be more effective and efficient. For example, my wife recently told me about her work-team cooking experience, and why it was an effective team exercise.

It was several years ago in her first management position at HP. She, along with the rest of the management team, was invited to the boss’s house for an all-day strategic planning session – followed by a dinner that was to be prepared by the team.

After a long day of hard work, the team was expected to plan, prepare, and ultimately eat the meal together. She explained how they, even after working so well together on work-related issues, learned even more about one another while cooking. They had fun, laughed, and playfully teased each other (yep, a small food fight in the boss’ kitchen – only at HP). At the end of the evening, the meal was over and they knew more than ever that they were a team, a really strong team.

The cooking experience enhanced their commitment to the team and its mission. It helped them learn more about, and appreciate, one another in ways not possible within the typical work environment. They now knew each other differently, better, more personally. They were more relational, understanding, and more trusting.

Clearly, this team experience enhanced the team members’ commitment to one another and ultimately the HP way.

Good leaders build a team with a strong mission, hard work, and dedicated people. They enhance the team with experiences that create new awareness, appreciation, and understanding among their team members.

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
– Henry Ford


Vision Without Volition is Daydreaming

vision questThe other day I was talking with a business owner who was at a crossroads with his leadership team.

Everything seemed so promising at first. There was energy and planning. Everyone had a sense of shared vision.

That sounds invigorating. What’s the problem?

I think I built a team of dreamers when I should have built a team of doers.

That’s a problem.

Dreaming is good. Working is good. One without the other is bad.

Seeing clearly (vision) is often half the problem. Having the will to do it (volition) is the other half.  – Michael Novak

While it is critical to have visionaries on the team, even leading the team, it is imperative that the team also have pragmatists who execute and hold others accountable.

Every leadership team needs to have both vision and volition.

Vision is seeing a compelling future in focus.

Vision provides clarity of purpose and establishes a guiding track of direction. It draws leaders toward a dream that is so realistic that others fall in behind them to join the quest.  Leaders are not driven to pursue a vision, they are drawn to it.

They can’t help themselves.

For these leaders, their vision is more of a conversation around destiny than it is dedication.

Volition is embracing the reality of having no choice.

Sure, leaders get tired and discouraged. Sure, there are days when they would prefer to roll over, pull the covers up and stay in bed.

But when you ask great leaders why they work so hard at accomplishing their vision, they will usually squint a little, tilt their head and look at you with a bit of confusion and reply with the resignation of a five-year-old.

Because. I have to.

Where do leaders get this level of motivation? How do they develop this strong will to press on?

Their vision.

We have all had the wise sages in our lives tell us the old adage:

You don’t have a vision. A vision has you.

It’s true.

Once you are gripped by that compelling vision with clarity, you thrive on action – even when you’re tired. You act out of a sense of duty and responsibility, not guilt or powerlessness.

When you are captured by your vision you still move forward. Like a passionate runner, you put on your shoes even though it’s dark, cold and raining outside. You know how it will feel when you’re done and you honestly believe that it is the right thing to do.

You have no choice. And you like that.

Your Calling: The Unique Value of Where You’ve Been

Hands Holding a Seedling and SoilYour calling is revealed by discovering who you are, and what you can do, in light of where you have been.

All of us are in a state of becoming something unique, and can do things no one else can, because of where we’ve been.

To understand who you are becoming, and what you can do differently than anyone else, you first consider where you have been, that place no one else has been; those rare experiences (both good and bad) that no one else experiences quite like you have.

Developed largely from the works of Michael Novak, I developed an acronym to create a dialogue about the discovery of calling – that unique value that everyone can discover.

People cannot give you your value. They can only recognize it.

Vocation  (Lat. Vocatio, a calling): something toward which one believes him or herself to be called.  Vocation (or calling) is not always the same as a person’s career. However, you can fulfill your calling at work.  The key to discovering value at work is to find ways to fulfill your calling.

Ability – To identify one’s calling, two things are normally required: the God-given ability to do the job, and the enjoyment in doing it. We tend to enjoy what we are good at. (1) Competency – “Are you good at what you do?” and (2) Enjoyment – “Do you enjoy what you do?”

Love – When a person is fulfilling his or her calling, it becomes a labor of love. This labor of love is two-fold: it involved both what and who. You love what you do and you love those with whom you work and those whom you serve.  Larry Crabb has said that “Happy people do not love well. Joyful people do.” Joy is a deeply rooted state of contentment, largely based on self-efficacy. When people have this deep sense of emotional security and self-awareness, they tend to not only love what they do, but those with whom, and to whom, they serve.

Uniqueness – A person’s calling is unique to each individual. Not everyone wants to be a business professional, minister, mother, counselor, or caretaker. Each person has a unique inclination to serve in some way that is needed by someone else.  And, whenever you serve in a way that helps another, you do God’s work. Thomas Aquinas suggests that each person reflects a small, but very beautiful and significant, part of God’s character.

Experience – Discovering one’s calling takes time, sometimes a lifetime.  Few things contribute to your sense of value more than overcoming an insurmountable obstacle and discovering who you have truly become in light of where you have actually been.

Your value is discovered through thoughtful living and is gradually revealed by, and through, your passion. Your greatest passions almost always emerge from pain.  It is precisely this pain that drives your passion and reveals your calling.

You are called to make a difference, not in spite of where you have been, but precisely because of where you have been.

Rekindle the Flame (at work)

I love my job coffee mug

When I speak about employee engagement, I usually get one of two reactions. One is deep appreciation for the impetus for improvement and change. The other? Well, not quite the same.

It’s usually the same scene, one person waits around until everyone else has left. They approach me carefully, cautiously glancing out the sides of their eyes for potential prey. Then variations of the same question ensue.

“What if you can’t stand the place, and there really is no hope?”

If you are that jaded about your company, engagement may be a challenge. However, it’s not impossible. It may not be too late to rekindle the passion.

If you’re finding it hard to want the best for a company you believe is responsible for your misery, you have two options.

Rediscover the attraction you had in the first place (much like renewing a stale marriage).

1. Read old letters – Re-read your application, letter, resume, etc. that you submitted for the job that you so desperately wanted. Take note of how carefully you matched your qualifications with the job posting and recall the excitement and enthusiasm you felt when you submitted those initial documents. You might just be reminded how much you really actually love your job. You just forgot.

2. Look at old pictures – Scroll the company website and corporate brochures as you did when researching for your interview. Recall the things that were so exciting to you and even generated the heightened sense of excitement. Remember feeling how thoroughly disappointed you would be if the job was given to someone else? Well, you got it and you were thrilled. What happened? Did the job change? Did you change? Maybe there has been a little change in both.

3. Express appreciation – We used to sing a song “count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” As happiness research shows, writing down three things for which you are grateful can dramatically elevate your outlook after just 30 days. What would happen if, each day, you wrote down three things you like about your job? Just give yourself thirty days and see what happens.

OK. Still hate your job? Consider moving on to #2.

Leave (still talking about your job here, not your marriage).

1. Same circus different clowns – Some people move from job to job only to discover that each place they work has the same problems. After a while, it occasionally dons on some that they are the common denominator, and their consistent attitude facing typical workplace frustrations is the real culprit. Their expectations are out of line with reality. It’s not the problems that are the issue. It is the attitude in facing them.

2. Stick to your core values – If, however, you are working in a place that conflicts with your personal values, you are likely to experience justifiable angst. Often times we expend an enormous amount of energy trying to resolve surface issues and petty conflicts, until we discover those are merely symptoms of bigger problems – a significant disparity among core values. Your core values may be “service, harmony, faith,” etc., while your company’s core values may be “profit, competition, leadership,” etc. None of these values are bad, just different. Core values are what drive our daily energy. The mismatch between yours and your company’s might be just too much to justify.

3. Stay friends – Never burn bridges. Ever. Even though the movies make it seem so awesome, torching the place on your last day will only lead to regret, yours more than anyone’s. Breaking up is hard to do. It involves emotion – lots of it. Keep yours in check. Remember, this is a place you loved at one time. Sometime after you leave, you may want to reconnect with old colleagues. You may even need a reference at some point in the future. And, depending on how quickly you blasted through the options of #1, that point may be sooner than later.

Suck up, Manage Up, or Engage Up?

ImageIn his book Managers Guide to Employee Engagement, my friend Scott Carbonara challenges all employees, regardless of level, to engage up. He suggests that there is a significant difference between sucking up, managing up, and engaging up. We’ve all seen the first two, particularly the first.

Imagine what our workplaces would look like, feel like, if everyone engaged up.


Suck-Up: A person who ingratiates himself or herself, often using insincere behavior. A suck-up may be said to “cozy up with the boss.” In more erudite circles, a suck-up may be referred to as a sycophant. But a suck-up is best known for “brown-nosing” those who may help him or her.


Manage Up: This involves assessing your boss’ weaknesses and coming up with a strategy for dealing with them. At the very least, managing up includes the art of paying attention to the management and communication style of your boss, and changing your style to be an asset instead of a liability.


Engaging Up: This means providing positive reinforcement to your boss on the things your boss most values, while simultaneously letting your boss help engage your employees. It’s not manipulation; rather, it’s bringing out the best side of your boss. Your goal in engaging up is to link what your boss wants with what you and your team deliver.

I believe the difference between the three is that your interest at all times is the greater good of your organization.

The driving question should always be what’s best for the company?

If everyone is focused on this larger picture, the result will be a payoff for everyone, including your boss and you.


Of course if you are jaded about your company, this is probably unlikely to happen.

It’s difficult to want the best for an organization that you believe is responsible for your misery. If this is your case, you have two options.

  1. Rediscover the attraction you had in the first place (much like renewing a stale marriage).
  2. Leave (still talking about your job here, not your marriage).

I’ll talk more about this in my next post…

The Perfect Retirement Gift? Buy Dad a Dog


If your Dad is approaching retirement, there are a few things you should know.

Retirement can be tough on a person who has been in charge for years, only to find out later when he tries to give direction to his wife, his days of control are over.

Now his orders are met with rolled eyes, a smirk, and a “don’t forget to take the trash out on your way to the grocery store.”

He mumbles something under his breath as he walks into the garage and drops the garbage into the trashcan, thinking of the good old days when he had people on his staff who took care of all the little things. Now he has no one to hand him the paper with the morning coffee, schedule his appointments, clean his office, and compliment him on his tie.

Now the morning paper is in the wet flowerbed. The coffee pot is empty. His only appointment is with his cardiologist. And, he hasn’t worn a tie since his business partner’s funeral.

So what can be done for the retiring high power executive who is no longer fueled by his ability to avert life and death crises, close impossible deals, rescue the industry, and leap tall buildings with a single bound?

Buy him a dog.

You see, he still needs to have someone who will come when he calls, leave when he opens the door, protect him when necessary, show him loyalty without hesitation, and occasionally kiss his hand. Now that he has no one on payroll to do these things, where can he turn?

A dog can do these things and more. We can’t really put our finger on it, but somehow, having a dog around makes us actually feel better, physically and emotionally.

According to the University of Minnesota’s Academic Health Center, puppy love is more than just fun; it can actually be good for you and have a profound effect on your health and well-being.

The benefits of pet companionship have been proven in scientific studies to lower blood pressure and heart rate and to relieve anxiety and depression. In short, pets reduce our stress… A number of studies have suggested that pet owners are healthier than people without pets… A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society revealed that pet owners tend to be more active and less prone to depression… Pets help us focus outside of ourselves. They improve our social lives by keeping us active and connected to the community.

So, if you’re still wondering what the perfect retirement gift might be for someone who has been operating at optimum speed throughout his career…

Forget the gold watch. That will only remind him that he has no place to go and no schedule to keep.

Forget the golf clubs too. Most men only golf because they have to for business. Few are really good at it and the idea here is to lower the blood pressure.

Perhaps the most disastrous idea is a motor home. While seeing the country is a great idea, being cooped up in a “cabin on wheels” with the wife he hasn’t really spoken to in twenty-five years is a formula for a heart attack (for both of them).

Remember, what he really needs: someone who will come and go as he directs, love him unconditionally, and be absolutely overjoyed to the point of peeing every time he comes home.

Unless Mom can measure up to those standards, you better buy him a dog.

SUCCESS: Overcoming Complacency, Fatigue, and Resistance.

high placesHannah Hurnard’s Hind’s Feet on High Places is a provoking allegory with characters to which most leaders can relate – pursuing a dream while shedding the nay-sayers.

The hometown from which the main character, Much-Afraid, is trying to escape is bent on her destruction. She tries to pursue a better life, one that is truly worth living, but unfortunately meets with interference and resistance. While her family members act as if they have her best interest at heart, they would lead her to ruin if she followed their direction. Her family, the Fearings, is opposed to her journey. They want her to remain among them and marry her cousin Craven Fear, which would certainly ensure the continuity of complacency and dysfunction. Much-Afraid, however, is compelled to move on; move beyond the stagnant life of irrelevance and move into one of promise and fulfillment.

Success is often unattained because of complacency, fatigue, and resistance.

A Choice: Overcoming complacency

Often times the easiest thing to do is to stay still. It may not be the best thing to do, or even the right thing to do, but it is often the simplest thing to do. A point does come however, when we realize that there is something else, something more, something better than that for which we have settled. When this realization becomes unsettling enough to evoke action, we are on our way to personal transformation. We choose to act. We have to make the choice in order to overcome complacency. No one will force us to grow.

 A Journey: Overcoming fatigue

Once the journey begins we are beset with a destination that never arrives immediately. This destination is often moving and at times seems so far away that we grow discouraged and tired. We realize how far we have yet to go and we want to give up. We are tempted to stop and stay put, or sometimes when we haven’t gone very far at all, we even consider turning around and going back to the very place from where we started. To carry on and continue the journey, however, we must overcome the fatigue and press on. We continue the journey knowing that in time, in perfect time, we will arrive at our destination and it will be far more fulfilling than we had ever imagined.

 A Challenge: Overcoming resistance

Besides our own fatigue and doubt, we must also overcome the resistance we experience from those often closest to us. Many times friends and family will be quick to tell us our endeavors are a waste of time and that our journey is destined for certain failure and disappointment.

In some cases, those who are closest to us may feel threatened by our potential success. After all, if we move on they might be left behind. Our accomplishments might only serve as a reminder of what their lives could become if only they were willing to leave their state of complacency and set out on a journey of their own. In short, our growth encourages others to grow and many don’t like that same unsettling feeling to which we ourselves had to respond.

At the end of her exciting and successful journey (which we know is just the beginning of even greater ones), Much-Afraid is asked what she had learned. She passes on her lessons:

  1. Accept with joy all that has happened along the way and everything to which the path has led.
  2. Bear all that others were allowed to do to us and forgive them with no trace of bitterness.
  3. God never regards us as we are now, but rather as we can become.
  4. Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked, distorted and ugly it appears to be, can be transformed.