Newsletter Vol. 7, Issue 1
February 2009


Welcome to the Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight how we can have stronger work relationships, communicate more effectively, and manage conflict constructively in the workplace.

I hope you'll find our suggestions useful and contact us when we can help.

Susan Gunn
Working Dynamics

In this issue:
  • About the Publisher
  • Fun Has to Be Part of the Equation
  • Huddles: Just One Method of Preventing Communication Breakdowns
  • Using Brain Research to Become a More Convincing Leader
  • Does One Bad Apple Have to Spoil the Whole Bunch?
  • Subscriber Information

  • Fun Has to Be Part of the Equation
    fun image

    Tensions. stress, and uncertainty abound in the world of work today and can make us a great deal less effective if we aren't careful. Managers and employees alike feel on shaky ground, which makes everyone think about performance, goals, and staying on top in turbulent times. There is danger though in letting the workplace be all about work. Fun has to be part of the equation!

    Ask your team, "What would make our workplace more fun?" You might be surprised at what you hear. Michael Guld of "Talking Business" asked the question and found responses didn't involve costly time away from the workplace or expensive in-house changes. Instead, they said "fun at work" meant

    • "more communication, more POSITIVE communication"
    • "more interaction and less debate"
    • "more latitude to make decisions"
    • "an environment where you can create your own fun"

    Let's face it -- work is a huge part of everyone's day and should include the byproducts of fun for the individual and for the organization. If we are having fun while we work, most likely we are confident, relaxed, creative, open-minded, and productive. Even in in today's extraordinary economic climate, the ability to have fun at work remains a big factor in why employees feel positively about their job and find the energy to give their best.

    Huddles: Just One Method of Preventing Communication Breakdowns
    team huddle

    "Huddles" can be effective ways for busy teams to communicate on a daily basis. Teams in production, legal, and medical workplaces have been using them for years. Huddles can prevent lack of communication or miscommunication from needlessly becoming serious disagreements, and perhaps prevent them altogether.

    Do you sometimes hear comments like these: "I thought the deadline was next week, not Friday"; "Didn't you hear today's meeting was rescheduled?"; or "Huh, I though Bob was in charge of that!" These comments can simply signal communication that's not taking place at the same point for everyone. However, the emotional nature of this miscommunication is felt when someone misses a deadline or shows up for a meeting on the wrong day. An oversight or forgotten detail now has some unintended consequences -- assumptions, frustration, anger, sense of being left out, or worse. A simple communication breakdown has the potential to lead to a more serious situation. Five- or ten-minute huddles might be useful for busy teams to disseminate information in a timely way.

    Successful huddles usually have these characteristics:

    • team leader buy-in to the practice
    • a convenient and consistent meeting time
    • a length of 5-7 minutes
    • a central location
    • an agreed-upon agenda that is useful to all participants

    Try different methods of keeping teams up-to-date on important information to learn what works best for your team. Whether it is a huddle or something else that fits your team better, do spend time investigating ways to minimize costs of miscommunication. Communication breakdowns are often the first step in a path to much more serious problems.

    Using Brain Research to Become a More Convincing Leader
    brain reach and self-leadership

    Using five principles of neuroscience, you can become a better leader of yourself and others. In "Leading Your Brain Instead of Letting It Lead You," Stephanie West-Allen and Jeffery M. Schwartz use advances in neuroscience to give leaders a blueprint for self-leadership.

    Proven effective by neuroscientists, here are five strategies and tactics essential for leaders who need to have a clear picture of where we want to go and the ability to stay on course:

    1. Harness your will.
    2. Your brain meets resistance when your are learning a new behavior or trying to adopt a new habit. To get past the resistance, we need to "animate our will for a clear purpose." A clear purpose as inspiration will be needed when the old ways beckon.
    3. Instead of resisting the old way, substitute a new one.
    4. We all feel the tug toward familiarity. To break away, we can substitute a new way and find we are able to create new brain pathways.
    5. Rehearse the new behavior in your mind.
    6. Mental rehearsal, like that of an athlete, can change your brain and improve behavior.
    7. Act as if you have already mastered the new skill.
    8. The person skilled at self-leadership has a strategy of who she is or wants to be and can use "acting as if" as one tactic to become that person.
    9. Make mental notes to increase focus and concentration.
    10. Start by labeling feelings as they occur, then move to labeling behaviors. Taking mental notes can be calming in the middle of a storm.

    Does One Bad Apple Have to Spoil the Whole Bunch?

    We've always heard what "one bad apple can do," but it looks like the leader may have more influence over "bad apple behavior" than we previously thought was possible. Do you ever listen to "This American Life" from Chicago Public Radio? On Dec. 19, 2008, the episode asks "Can one person ruin a workplace?"

    "Bad apples" can be a major frustration on the job, but their behaviors also can have debilitating effects on group dynamics and performance. In an experiment conducted by Will Febbs, professor at the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, teams of four responded to a 45-minute management task without realizing an actor was portraying one of three behaviors considered to be hurtful to a workplace --

    • abrasive, insulting behavior (e.g., "Are you kidding me?" and "Have you actually taken a business course before?")
    • slacker/do-as-little-as-you-can behavior (e.g., texting friends while others work or sighing "Whatever!")
    • depressive/pessimistic behavior (e.g., complaining task wasn't worth the effort and doubting the group's ability to succeed)

    The initial results mirrored scientific studies. Groups with members who were insulting, not doing their part, or depressive and pessimistic, performed 30-40% worse than others. In these groups, other members facing these negative behaviors would argue, fight, not share relevant information, and communicate less. Not surprisingly, teams would take on the negative characteristics.

    Another result, while not scientific, was particularly interesting for team leaders and leader educators who are interested in finding ways to lead teams to successful outcomes. What is the good news? In the experiment, a leader emerged in one of the groups. In that group, the leader asked questions, engaged team members, and diffused conflict when it occurred. In this one instance, the team did not take on negative behaviors from others and were actually able to succeed at their management task.

    While this needs to be studied further, it is interesting to consider the potential influence a team leader can have by simply asking questions, listening, and increasing understanding. "How do you see this?" and "What is your view?" increases employee engagement and it just may zap the power of naysayers, bullies, and slackers!

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    About the Publisher

    Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a Richmond, VA, consulting firm. Working Dynamics provides a full range of assessment, development programs, and conflict management services for organizations in business, government, and nonprofit sectors to reach their goals using conflict in its most productive forms. Learn more at workdyn.com.


    "Never take a person's dignity; it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you."

    -- Frank Barron


    "A 'No' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. "

    -- Mahatma Gandhi


    "Let us be kinder to one another."

    -- Aldous Huxley's last words

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