one way to cultivate a more resilient and creative team

One Way to Cultivate a More Resilient and Creative Team

A creative team starts with room to think.

The rocky mountain air was crisp with fall chill–a perfect time for a fire in the wood-burning stove. We placed the logs on top of the kindling, held the flame beneath the wood, and … nothing happened. Our fire-to-be had the same problem that plagues many leaders who want a more resilient and creative team.

The logs were too close together.

Fire needs oxygen to ignite and spread, but the tightly packed wood didn’t allow the air to move freely through them. We removed two logs, rearranged the others into a more open stack, and within seconds had a warm and inviting fire.

Oxygen for Teams

As we wrote Courageous Cultures, we spoke with Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, about how leaders can build more creative teams.

He observed that leaders who are frustrated when people don’t creatively solve problems should pay attention to workload.

Creative problem solving, he said, “requires time to think, consider, and marinate. In most companies, there’s no time for that. Calendars are chock full and leaders don’t understand that they’ve spread people too thin.”

For teams working remotely or under heavy pandemic-induced workloads, this tendency to pack the day with wall-to-wall appointments increased.

Like the logs packed too tightly to catch flame, calendars packed too tightly don’t permit creative problem-solving. It also erodes resiliency by taking away the recovery time people need to process their emotions and catch their breath.

Creativity and resiliency require margin—space in the calendar to think, reflect, solve problems, and build relationships.

How to Create Margin for a More Resilient and Creative Team

1) Start with Self-Reflection: How do you view margin?

There are no easy answers to how you can build in a margin for reflection, but to start making this shift, consider how you would react if you encountered a productive team member standing at the window, staring into space.

You ask, “Hey, what are you up to?” and they reply, “Thinking.”

Consider how your words and actions reinforce that making time for white space to think is not just okay, but a valuable part of many of your employee’s jobs.

2) Take Action

We’ve worked with leaders and teams around the globe who have found different ways to create more margin and, ultimately, more creativity and resiliency. Here are a few strategies they’ve used and that you can use:

  • Meeting-free days or half-days
  • 90-minute interruption-free blocks of time each morning and/or afternoon
  • For teams across time-zones: no meetings scheduled before or after specific hours.
  • Scheduling all meetings in 10- or 15-minute increments (eg: a 40-minute meeting rather than 60) to create automatic buffer time between appointments at the top or bottom of the hour
  • Schedule white space – make appointments on your calendar for the thinking time needed to solve problems and perform work on projects
  • Limit single-issue interruptions
  • Celebrate and highlight different ways people use their margin. Eg “I found Gale staring out the window yesterday and she was thinking about how we might improve the information we give our suppliers so they can respond more quickly. It was a great idea and …”
  • Flexible schedules that allow people to work when they can be their most productive. The time spent between work on other life-tasks provides time to reflect and think about work-related challenges.
  • Workload reviews during one-on-ones. Pay attention to deadlines, expected workloads, margin needed to allow for interruptions and emerging issues.
  • Mini-team masterminds (we share more about this technique here).

You may even want to bring your team together and use the U.G.L.Y. technique to address this strategic issue. Begin by asking these four questions: “With regard to creating more margin in our schedules …”

3) Follow Through

As with any intention, schedule the finish. Create a specific time you will meet with your team to evaluate how your new intentions are working – perhaps one week after you implement them.

Be prepared to offer both encouragement and accountability to help everyone internalize that “this is how people like us” do things. If you’ve had a no-margin culture, it will take time to get everyone used to breathing again. Stick with it—you’ll have a more resilient and creative team.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you: What is your favorite way to create more margin for your team to think, reflect, process, and recover?

Losing Well: 7 Questions to Ask When You Don't Get the Win

A Winning Well post with David Dye

In a recent Winning Well interview, Bob Morris asked “You talk about Winning Well, but what does it mean to lose well? David and I both laughed the kind of half-hearted chuckle that comes only after enough distance from the pain.

And as timing would have it, I’ve recently been helping both of my children process through disappointing losses on the college political front and the baseball field.

The truth is, you can’t win well, without losing well–repeatedly. If you’re not losing some of the time, you’re not winning.

Getting good at resilience and recovery is all part of the Winning Well game.

As we answered his questions, we began sharing stories of times we’d lost, and had to rally our teams in the midst of severe disappointment.

7 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Win–This Time

“I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.” -Muhammad Ali

As with most leadership challenges, there’s hardly a better strategy for helping your team lose well than asking great questions. Here are a few questions to get you started.

  1. What are we feeling now and why? 
    Chances are this will be met with crickets–wait for it. Linger. Discuss. Process. Shut the door. Allow emotion. Before you open the door. It’s okay to share that you’re disappointed too, but do your best to role model a calm exploration and discussion of your feelings.
  2. What are we most proud of?
    Even the worst defeats generally come with moments of success, smart plays, and even ingenious effort. Help your team to step back and celebrate the elements of good.
  3. What must we do to show up as gracious losers?
    In order to win well the next time, it’s so important to not show up as bad sports. Help your team brainstorm the most important behaviors here. Perhaps it’s a congratulatory phone call or two, or a simple offering of “How can I help?” Remember Winning Well is a marathon.
  4. What can we learn here?
    This is the most important question, but resist the urge to jump in and start with this one. You’ll get better thinking if you start with 1 and 2.
  5. How can we invest in (and build bridges with) the winners?
    Our current political arena gives us plenty of examples of how to do this well–and how to screw it up.
  6. How do we stay focused on our MIT (Most Important Thing)?
    You may have lost a battle, but don’t give up on your bigger vision. This is a vital question to as before the final question…
  7. What’s next?
    It’s not over. Help your team craft a clear path forward.

When you’re the most frustrated, chances are, so is your team. Most situations get better with conversation.

5 Ways to Improve Career Resiliency

5 Ways To Build Career Resiliency

Bad things happen to good people. Karma doesn’t always show up in time. Even good people may find that the knife in their back sports their own fingerprints. Even the most well-intentioned leaders do stupid stunts from time to time. My time in HR gave me a front row seat to such tragedies and where resiliency comes from.

It’s not a matter of if you’ll need career resiliency. It’s when.

Sometimes I could help. Many times, even the most energetic HR fairy dust couldn’t save them. The best I could offer suffering souls during these times was resiliency support.

If all’s well in your world, amen. Please contribute to this community by sharing your own lessons and stories. Brilliant recovery stories strengthen anguished adversity.

5 Ways to Build Career Resiliency

Resiliency is hardly ever about “returning to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Chances are that the original form had something to do with the current predicament. It’s about gathering up the lessons and energy from the potentially crippling scene and emerging stronger, wiser … knowing you have the fortitude to recover the next time. There’s always a next time.

Narration

Your career is a story. Tragic events by nature scream “ending.” Rewrite them as the critical turning point … just before everything got better. Become the author of your own story. _________ happened. That sucked. But then _________. If _______ hadn’t happened I would never have ___________. Spend time considering the possibilities for the next chapter.

Interpretation

Okay, allow yourself to grieve, throw things, and yell at your mirror for a few minutes. Then work on interpretation. Why did this happen? Grab the lessons with eager fists. Hit yourself in the head with them if that feels better. Then try alternative views … “On the other hand, this is great news because____________. Generate as many answers to that question as you can. Put an asterisk next to the ones you most believe.

Navigation

When the wind is at your back, there’s little need or energy to adjust the compass. Don’t waste this scarce opportunity to let the sails flap for a while and consider your best direction.

Diversification

The natural scramble is to look for more of the same: a similar role, or industry. Consider all your gifts. Diversity builds future resiliency. Look for opportunities to pivot toward a role that will strengthen and stretch.

Preparation

Assume you’ll land on your feet and get ready for next time. You’ll face tricky situations again. Take some time to write down your key learnings. Build your network (by giving first). Save some money once you’re able.  Having some cash in the bank is the best way to reduce frenetic grasping and slow down for better options.

Your turn.  Share your ideas, advice and stories on resiliency.