July 18, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at planning the return to workplaces, advice for team effectiveness, improving trust, better meetings and setting the stage for creativity. Enjoy!


1. Resist Old Routines in Return to Office

Your first instinct as vaccinations take hold and the pandemic seems to be receding might be to return to comfortable old practices. But after pivoting with the pandemic and finding new approaches, it would be wise to retain the best of that change.

“Sustained organizational changes depend not only on the discovery of new practices and their initial adoption, but also on ensuring that managers and employees don’t fall back into old routines when the impetus for change is gone,” academics Vijay Govindarajan, Anup Srivastava, Thomas Grisold, and  Adrian Klammer write in Harvard Business Review.

They recommend you identify which new practices were successful and why.

Then reduce the symbolism connected to old practices. As creatures of habit, when given two choices we’ll almost certainly opt for the more familiar one. Old habits and their signals are not only ingrained in our brains but also in our surrounding environment, such as in language, workspaces, rules, and systems.

They urge you to:

  • Eliminate activities considered a norm previously that now are no longer required.
  • Question and reconsider criteria, both explicit and implicit, by which employees are evaluated.
  • Identify and change the triggers that make people retrieve old norms, such as going out for a Friday lunch that, in a hybrid office, should be hosted on Zoom so all can take part.

“New practices can be sustained only if they’re turned into habits,” the academics warn, so make sure good practices are cemented into your organizational culture.

2. Team Effectiveness: From Pandemic to Promise

Last fall, in mid-pandemic, Queen’s University IRC facilitator Ross Roxburgh looked at team effectiveness in various organizations. A year later, his findings can help shape the future.

The research highlighted the balance needed between tasks and relationships in any work setting.

“The well-being of the team and its members extended to not only having the tools and support necessary for the tasks assigned, but also to the whole question of safety and security as teams looked to leaders for assurances and ongoing clarity,” he writes in his executive report.

Other Findings:

  • Leaders became much more aware of the need for emotional intelligence to support team members. Leaders and teams paid more attention to communication and collaboration.
    He says as we move to a new reality of mixing virtual work with work in the regular office environment, organizations will have to ensure team effectiveness is not hindered by the emergence of A Teams and B Teams.
  • Attention will also need to be paid to how performance management is conducted.
  • “For instance, feedback for developmental purposes has already changed and may continue to do so. As we move forward, what will be the critical areas in which active attention will determine how successful feedback conversations will be?” he asks.
  • New models will have to be built for strong two-way communications wherever people are working.
  • Managers will also have to ensure continuous and shared learning across the organization. Learning organizations will have to build on their pandemic practices to ensure team effectiveness.

3. Two Ways to Look At Trust

In her work with leadership teams, consultant Suzi McAlpine is concerned by their tendency to overlook the fundamental importance of trust.

“Without it, you’re going to find it difficult to achieve anything worthwhile,” she notes on her blog. “When I reflect on my own professional relationships, high trust has always been at the epicentre of the best ones. Conversely, low trust relationships have been bumpy rides.”

But often we are mystified at what trust actually is. She breaks it into two types:

  • Cognitive Trust: This is about your capability, competence, and dependability. Can people rely on you? Do you do what you say you’ll do?
  • Affective Trust: This involves warmth, interpersonal care, concern, and the emotional bonds you share with another person or group. Do you genuinely care about others, and demonstrate warmth and goodwill in interactions?

Affective trust relates to your intentions toward somebody else while cognitive trust relates to your ability to carry out those intentions. At the beginning of a relationship, place priority on affective trust since people need to be open to working with you before you get the chance to build cognitive trust.

(For more insight on trust, see our post:  Brené Brown’s take on trust elements.)

4. Hints to Improve Your Meetings

Here are five things executive coach Dan Rockwell says you should stop doing in meetings:

  • Complaining
  • Interrupting
  • Blathering on and on
  • Chasing rabbits
  • Neglecting action items and accountability

Other Tips:

Specific agendas for your meetings — with no more than two or three items — work better than broad agendas.

Shorter meetings work better than long ones. “If your meetings run too long, make them a little shorter than they need to be. Talk expands to the amount of time allotted for it,” he says in his blog.

And keep the number of participants in the meeting small; beyond seven people, each additional person reduces effectiveness of the group.

5. Zingers

  • Look to a Time Beyond Now: When making decisions, don’t think in terms of “now”, argues Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried. Think about “eventually” —  how will the decision feel then? How will it feel when the complications around the current concern have cleared?  (Source:  Hey.com)
  • Distance Mutes: A study in February found people are more than twice as likely to avoid speaking up about concerns with colleagues and managers virtually than when they worked together in person.  (Source: VitalSmarts)
  • Hiring Criteria:  Hire and promote for demonstrated curiosity, says management guru Tom Peters.  (Source: Tom Peters Weekly Quote)
  • Redirect Egos: It’s common for sports coaches to tell players to leave their egos at the door. Many modern managers repeat that advice. But one of the most successful coaches in history, Duke University basketball’s Mike Krzyzewski, says it’s a mistake to avoid recognizing the passion they have. Redirect it to serve the whole team: “Why would I tell anyone, ‘Think less of yourself?’…. We’re only going to win if we win together.” (Source: Duke.edu).
  • Usually You Can Recover: The list of mistakes you can never recover from is very short, says Atomic Habits author James Clear. (Source: JamesClear.com)


6. The Model:  How to be Creative on Demand

When have leaders needed creative thinking more than now? Joseph Grenny, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says we can reliably create conditions to invite in the miracle of creativity, even if it has complex underlying processes.

The Model:

  • Frame the problem, then step back. This primes the pump. A grain of sand irritates an oyster to produce a pearl; similarly, a compelling, complex, and unsolved problem stimulates creativity. Be sure to state your problem clearly, concisely and vividly.
  • Follow your curiosity. Creativity involves connecting things. Honour your passing curiosities — if something tickles your brain, spend a moment with it.
  • Keep a shoebox. Find a way to collect and organize your experiences. Grenny uses a three-step process to improve retention: he highlights key points when reading, reviews/re-reads those notes, then organizes them.
  • Do things that don’t interest you. Sometimes we call things “boring” simply because they lie outside the box we’re in at that moment.
  • Invite uncomfortable conversations. Regularly engage in conversations outside your comfort zone. Though you might normally recoil from talking with, say, a racist cabby, drug dealer or political extremist, it will stimulate.
  • Stop and work when it hits. Honour those unexpected moments when clarity crystalizes. Interrupt whatever you’re doing at the time to write. If you   transcribe and organize your thought flow, idea development will accelerate.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler:

Great Teamwork Needs Strong Fundamentals
In the context that’s emerging post-pandemic, it will be easy for dispersed, diverse and digital teams to become disconnected, especially when collaboration crosses organizational boundaries.

Here’s a nugget of advice from Martine Haas at the University of Pennsylvania and INSEAD’s Mark Mortensen:  Success still depends on the fundamentals.

Consider these enabling conditions:

  • Compelling Direction: The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients and engages its members. Do you have a shared goal that is clear, challenging (but not impossible) and of meaningful consequence?
  • Strong Structure: Do you have the right number and mix of members? Are they responsible for tasks from beginning to end? How are your workflow processes? Do you have clear norms to support positive dynamics and discourage team-defeating behaviours?
  • Supportive Context: Do team members have the resources, information and training they need? (This might vary a lot for individuals working across sectors or on distributed teams.)  And are there appropriate rewards for success?
  • Shared Mindset: Distance, diversity, digital interaction and changing team membership set the stage for potential “us vs. them” problems. Do your team members have a strong common identity? Do they readily share information and understand one another’s constraints and context?

With attention to these fundamentals, team members will improve their skills, enjoy dynamics that help them work well together, and have happy customers.


What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: The Imagination Machine by Martin Reeves, chair of Boston Consulting Group’s BCG Henderson Institute, and Jack Fuller, a colleague at the Institute until his imagination led him to start an entrepreneurial project — it’s a fascinating, cleverly illustrated deep dive into imagination inside and outside organizations that will be of value to academics and practitioners alike.
  • Rob’s Pick: We all struggle with influences that warp our thinking. If you’d like to reflect on your own habitual biases and blind spots, Rolf Dobelli sets out a comprehensive list (99 types of cognitive bias ) in The Art of Thinking Clearly. Planning and thinking processes can easily veer towards the dysfunctional — particularly as we struggle to design “COVID exit strategies” under pandemic pressures, uncertainties, and disruptions. If you’d like to guard against your own worst tendencies, this book has you covered.

(Also, see some of the favourite biases we noted in the Water Cooler last year:
Thinking Straight in a Topsy-Turvey World.)


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8.  Closing Thought

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Rita Mae Brown