Make your meetings positive

An interesting article in April’s Harvard Business Review (‘The New Science of Building Great Teams’ by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland) reported research that examined the patterns of communication in teams (e.g. how much they gesture, interrupt, listen and talk; their tone of voice; whether they face one another when speaking, etc.). The researchers reckon they can predict a team’s success based on three elements:

  1. how team members contribute to the team as a whole (energy)
  2. how much team members communicate with one another (engagement)
  3. how the team communicates with other teams (exploration).

They concluded that the key to building a great team is not to select the smartest or most experienced people but to shape and guide the way they communicate with each other.

In her Workplace Communicator Blog posted 11/11/12, Marie-Claire Ross combined these successful ways of communicating with Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s research into positive psychology, reported in her book Positivity. Marie-Claire concludes that to improve safety meetings (or any meetings, or to help people work better together, for that matter) you need to make your meetings positive.

This means being positive in the messages you give (see my blog How Managers Communicate). Here are some tips to make your meetings positive:

  • Open on a positive note.
  • Keep the atmosphere upbeat and inclusive.
  • Keep ‘critics’ (negative team members) in check.
  • Get people in the habit of making suggestions rather than criticising and on focusing on the future rather than the past.
  • Make at least three positive comments for every negative comment. (Frederickson says the ratio in high performance teams is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment, not 3 to 1, but if you’re team isn’t yet high performing, 3 to 1 seems a good place to start.).
  • Concentrate on what’s best for the organisation or team rather than on individuals. This means, for instance, not letting people with personal, or ‘hidden’, agendas introduce topics and working to build bridges between any functional silos that exist in the organisation. Another way to build the team and the organisation is by telling stories that illustrate a behaviour you want to continue; this might be reviewing and praising someone’s actions that demonstrated safe working or talking about how someone on your team or in another team put the corporate values into action.

Discussion questions

Do you think a team’s internal and external communications can predict how successful and productive the team is? Is it possible to predict a team’s performance just from observing team members’ body language and tone of voice?

What are the communications in your work team like? How many positive statements do you and your team members make for every negative statement? Why not keep a tally at your next meeting? Do your team members think about what’s best for the team or the organisation or only for themselves individually?


Systematic sensational customer service

There we were, taking an overseas friend around McLaren Vale and having a great time, eating food and tasting wine. And then it happened. A flat tyre. We phoned the Bob Jane store near our home where we usually go and they suggested we go to a store closer to where we were, in case the tyre could be saved by not driving too far on it. So off we head to Bob Jane, Reynella.

A clean, comfortable waiting room with comfortable chairs, free coffee and clean NEW (not 10-year old, dog-eared) magazines, including many that women would appreciate (i.e. not just Wheels or Body Building!) I eavesdropped as a immaculately-uniformed woman behind the counter explained some quite technical information about ute tyres to another customer, impressed by her product knowledge and clear explanation.

Soon, our car was driven around and a pleasant, clean tyre fitter hopped out and removed the chair cover he’d been sitting on to keep the seat clean. He explained he’d put on the spare tyre. ‘I had to put on the spare tyre because your tyre can’t be fixed. Shame’, he said, ‘it was so clean and new, I hated to do it!  And your other back tyre has just about had it too, so I suggest you think about replacing that at the same time.’

The manager came out with a piece of paper. ‘I’ve written down the tyres I recommend; unfortunately, they need to come from Sydney. I’ve let your local Bob Jane know and they’ll order them in for you and phone you when they’re in, probably in about four days time.’ And how much did we owe him for changing over the tyre? Nothing!

And was our local dealer notified as promised? Absolutely. It was already on his computer five minutes later when we phoned him to confirm the order. And my husband was ‘Mr Cole’ not ‘Mate’.

What a nice experience (and one that impressed our overseas friend no end, too, making me proud to be Australian)!

P.S. That was yesterday. The phone just rang. Our tyres are in!

Discussion questions

Clearly, Bob Jane has some impressive internal procedures and systems to have made that happen so quickly and seamlessly. How well do your internal systems and procedures allow you and your team to dazzle your customers and keep them coming back? What specific elements of this service experience stand out to you? What Moments of Truth did you recognise?

The importance of building peoples’ confidence

When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is;
when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be,
we make him what he should be.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When you believe you’ll succeed at something, you’ll put in a lot more effort than when you don’t expect to succeed. That’s logical and it’s common sense. It also explains why optimists often perform better than equally talented pessimists and why optimists are more prepared to get out of their comfort zones and try new ways of working, practice new skills they’ve learned and so on—thereby further increasing their chances of success.

As a manager, it makes sense to build your work team’s optimism, or belief in their ability to succeed, because people try harder when they feel confident. Similarly, it makes sense to build a direct report’s confidence in their abilities when you delegate a task or teach a new skill. It even makes sense to build your manager’s confidence in your and your team’s abilities because that makes your manager more likely to support your efforts.

Discussion questions

How effectively do you build peoples’ optimism and confidence in themselves and their team? What other ways do you help people reach their potential?

Good numbers begin and end with effective workplace relationships

Miyuki Suzuki is a remarkable woman. Raised in Japan, Australia and the UK and educated in the UK, she has worked in a variety of roles in both Western and traditional Japanese organisations in Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, the Middle East, New Zealand, North America and Singapore.

Now running Jetstar in Japan, she and her 100 staff have notched up remarkable successes, culminating in Jetstar’s inaugural flight taking off five and a half months ahead of schedule.

Suzuki delivers a weekly message to all her staff in both English and Japanese, updating them on what has been happening in the company and employee achievements, complete with photos. Her underlying message is ‘I am watching. I am recognising all your hard work.’

To rally her staff and ensure they’re all pointing in the same direction, Suzuki pays attention to people, their aspirations and what motivates them, and keeps an eye on group dynamics. ‘It takes a bit of time to do that’, she says. ‘Once you get that sorted out, team building is much easier.’

She also works out who shares the same values as her own; when you do that, you know who will support you and help you meet your goals. She also works out who will be her detractors so she can turn them into supporters.

‘Relationships make business success possible. If you ignore relationships and focus on the numbers, you won’t get anywhere.’ When you get the relationships right, you get to take off five and a half months early.

Source: Damon Kitney, ‘Taking Flight’, the deal, The Australian newspaper, July 2012.

Discussion questions

‘Look after the people and the numbers look after themselves’ is a common catch cry. How true is it, in your experience? Do your communications send the message ‘I am watching and recognising all your hard work’? Do you know what motivates your team members, which of team members, peers and senior managers share your values and who your potential detractors are?

The benefits of knowing your customers

UK grocery chain Tesco was in trouble in the early 1990s. Falling profits, a depressed share price and European competition entering the market were just some of its woes.

Rather than ‘copy the leader’ as many companies do, Tesco decided customer data, not profit through own-brand labels and profit per square metre, was the key to growth and eventual market domination. By the end of 1995, Tesco had transformed itself, reversed its negative trends and overtaken, for the first time ever, the previous market leader, Sainsbury’s. Tesco remains the market leader today.

All thanks to learning from its customer base. A Clubcard offered customers a 1% discount and based on the in-depth data provided by the cards, Tesco stores could refine their stock selection, displays and staffing levels, and learn about individual customer’s buying habits. The card also allowed the company to segment its customers and communicate directly, and differently, with each segment to build loyalty.

Tesco kicked off a customer-centric culture by new training to empower all staff to look after customers the way they think best. It also moved into new retail services including online shopping, financial services, Tesco-branded mobile phone services and home broadband services, all made possible by its ability to tap into the wants and needs of its customers via the data gathered from the Clubcard.

Discussion question

How much do you and your team really know about the wants, needs and exciters of your internal and external customers?

Foul phrases

Magic phrases build effective workplace relationships and encourage cooperation and foul phrases do the opposite. Here are a few to avoid:

  • Yes, but …
    But butts away what’s gone before. When people hear it, they know bad news is coming: ‘You did a good job but …’ (‘However’ is just a longer form of ‘but’:  ‘I understand what you’re saying, however …’)
    You’ll be amazed at how well replacing ‘buts’ and ‘howevers’ with ‘ands’ works!
  • You’ll have to … (e.g. ‘You’ll have to put that request in writing.’)
    This is pushy; no one likes being told they have to do something. Explain why you need something done a certain way and when you can, ask (‘Would you mind putting that in writing because …’ or ‘I’ll need that in writing so that …’)
  • It’s only my opinion or I just think …
    Who wants to hear an opinion whose owner thinks isn’t worth much? Better to say: ‘I think’ or ‘I believe that …’ or even ‘It seems to me …’
  • Why questions (e.g. ‘Why did you do that?’)
    To avoid making people defensive, ask ‘How did this come about?’ or ‘What led to your decision to do that?’ or ‘What makes you say that?’
  • That’s not right! or You’re wrong about that!
    So that people don’t dig in their heels to defend what they’ve said to the death, say something like ‘Here’s how I see it’ or ‘I remember it differently.’

Discussion questions

How many foul phrases did you use this week? How could you have made your point more effectively?

Smile like you mean it

Some people are paid, in part, to smile, like flight attendants and people in the customer service, entertainment and hospitality industries. It’s called emotional labour. But smiling when you don’t really feel like it is draining and can lead to job burnout.

When people fake their smiles a lot, they actually worsen their mood and their productivity falls, according to a new study. Conversely, when people smile because they’re thinking of an amusing incident, their next vacation, or a joke, their mood improves, and with it, their productivity.

Team leaders of people whose jobs expect them to smile should therefore coach their team members to cultivate positive thoughts by recalling pleasant memories or thinking about what they’re currently doing in a favourable way. That way, their smiles will be genuine and they’ll feel better about themselves and their jobs and consequently, do a better job.

Smiling helps in difficult situations. When people are stressed or nervous, their attention tends to narrow and they stop thinking clearly and noticing possible courses of action. That’s when a smile can help.

And if you’re still not convinced, smiling can help you solve thorny problems, too.  According to another study, a smile not only relaxes you, but helps you think holistically and flexibly as well. In that way, a smile can give you insight into a problem or situation and open you up to seeing your best course of action.

So for a happier, more productive workplace, smile at people. Chat about their holiday plans, their kids recitals and soccer games, their plans for the weekend. The happier people are, the better they’ll work.