For decades, we have been organising companies along value chains, focusing on performance and rewarding more turnover, more profit and more hours worked with money and shares of stock. More, more, more! But at a closer look, perpetual maximisation and increasing efficiency gradually appear to be bringing companies and their employees to the brink of a pathological state. According to the health insurance company AOK, the number of cases of work disability due to burnout rose from 0.6 cases per 1,000 insured persons in 2004 to 5.7 cases in 2018.¹
Many companies view New Work as an alternative form of therapy and treat their employees with placebos like foosball tables in the atrium, home office days or flat hierarchies. However, this does not tackle the root of the problem. As mentioned in our previous article, New Work means that the company encourages and supports the employee in finding what he “really, really wants”. While this may be a radical step, the basic idea is right. A team can only perform in the long term if every member is able to contribute in the place that is right for them. Sustainable team development is geared towards a fundamental change of mind of each individual.
Step 1: Putting the cards on the table
“Who am I and how many people am I supposed to be?” Sometimes this is how we feel in our day-to-day work life, when we are required to take on so many different roles and ideally be in four different places at once to fulfil our responsibilities. Making work people-friendlier and better suited to each employee’s personality begins with first becoming aware of their personality. Self-reflection based on models like 16personalities creates an awareness of how you are and how you treat your colleagues. It also gives the team insights into how each person works, and into the diversity of personalities in the team – which ideally enriches the team, but sometimes also creates conflicts. Caution is essential here. It is not about squeezing for even more performance and becoming more efficient; it is about finding collaborative solutions to improve each person’s everyday work. Out of the self-centred career ladder – into the community sauna: Initially, this is going to make some people sweat. But the result will be all the more refreshing.
Step 2: Blow off some steam for once
Do your own thing –but in a way that helps the team to do its job better and reach the shared goal. This requires an understanding of who is doing what: Which tasks are assigned to which team member? Context also matters – where are crossovers and dependencies, who works on what and for how many hours, in where do service providers lend support?
We will also look into how good or bad day-to-day work is: How do meetings flow, what does the work environment look like, is the right technical equipment in place? Which communication tools are used to communicate what information? How is the company run? We conduct structured online surveys on these issues. Ratings using school marks provide us with an initial quantitative picture and the basis for measuring change throughout the process.
We then verify and consolidate the feedback from the online survey in follow-up telephone interviews with the employees. The quantitative analysis is supplemented by a qualitative one, showing how the situation is perceived individually. This is the most exciting part of the team development process where employees can open up and also blow off some steam. This is how we find out where there is friction, how employees feel about team processes and, above all: what they really, really want.
Step 3: “Meeting trouble halfway”
With these insights, we scrutinize the commany’s work culture. In a structured analysis process, we identify patterns that repeatedly constrain employees, and reveal deficiencies.
The results vary greatly from company to company: A lack of transparency about the strategic direction of the entire team can lead to team members focusing on different priorities – and wasting a lot of time on the wrong things. Poor communication from the management may lead to unnecessary extra work, for example when assignments are issued without any context, requiring repeated adjustments during the process. Some cases show that many orders from other departments do not correspond to the aims of the department receiving them. And sometimes the devil is in the details: a daily deluge of emails, CC to everybody for safety, or poorly prepared meetings that only end up wasting time.
We will summarize the identified mechanisms in a presentation, develop recommendations for improvement and present them to the team during a workshop. It makes sense to discuss the results of the analysis – in particular the ones regarding the management style – with the management first. They can then decide on how to deal with the findings and, if necessary, present them themselves in the workshop.
Step 4: Life IS a bowl of cherries
This workshop initiates the healing process of change. First of all, we repeat and deepen the strategic structure of the department: What is the purpose of the team, what vision and mission does it pursue, and what strategic measures should be used to achieve which goals? This is usually where initial discussions start, because the new transparency finally empowers employees to have their say.
On the team level, we discuss how the teams will work together in future. Once again, we encourage employees to get actively involved, so that they can reach agreements with each other independently. New meeting structures are defined, communication rules developed, communication tools determined and processes readjusted.
An an individual level, we develop a new model for each employee’s role and his or her responsibilities. This is based on the employee’s personality traits identified in the first step, as well as on the feedback from the interviews and the requirements resulting from the new collaboration. And this is the where New Work happens: In an open and transparent way, the team decides who does whatever it is that he or she really wants to do, so that each individual can take responsibility for the team’s overall result. Change begins with the individual. That is why the individual level is particularly crucial. At the end of the workshop, each employee must ask themselves what contribution they want to make with regard to the changed ground rules. Ideally, the employee will also discuss this personal agreement with the management in order to define his or her goals for the future.
A playbook records all of these aspects, serving as an orientation for the agreements made, and also to make it easier for new employees to join the team.
During the period following the fundamental changes, the progress of developments is regularly measured using a change monitor. The online survey is repeated at regular intervals. The marks can easily be used to determine whether there has been any improvement or where adjustments are necessary.
Excited about work again
The result of the process is a new understanding of roles and responsibilities put into practice. The personal preferences that have been evaluated can be aligned with strategic requirements and ongoing responsibilities and, most importantly, reassigned in consultation with the employees. With each individual’s newly gained self-understanding of their contribution to the collective whole, it is much easier to implement the necessary operational changes.
The process generates a great deal of energy. Employees get involved and argue passionately on behalf of their positions. This energy needs to be channelled: into tearing down walls, thinking outside the box and creating new solutions. Afterwards, employees will be happy to go back to work, even get excited about it, because they know they can have an impact.
And that is something we all really want, right?
Read also our first article on New Work.
If you are interested or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: call +49 (0)611 . 238 50 10 or by eMail to kontakt(at)diefirma.de.
¹ Statista, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/239872/umfrage/arbeitsunfaehigkeitsfaelle-aufgrund-von-burn-out-erkrankungen/, Retrieved February 03, 2020