Author Archives: teamclock

Peer Pressure

It took nearly three years for the Team Clock Institute to publish the soon-to-be-released interpersonal suite of products. The assessment sort cards and action workbook unfolded quickly since they are both anchored in the trademarked principles and methodology of the Team Clock. The book, Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle, took over two years to complete. While the author had his own obstacles, the primary source of delay was the decision to invite critique.

The decision to request feedback only from a pool of notoriously critical beta readers was deliberate. Every ounce of input prompted a rewrite. Nowhere in the exchange was the reinforcing praise designed to make an author bask in the glow of artistic creation. Instead, pre-publication readers seized the opportunity to improve the tool and make it accessible to an audience of peers. It is impossible to accomplish this solely within the confines of an author’s brain.

Writing begins as a hobby and the book becomes a friend. Just about the time the author establishes an exclusive relationship with his or her creation, a valuable team of partners swoops in and transforms the book into a monster that tries to destroy its creator. Now the author has a choice: fend off the peer pressure or buckle to contrary opinion. It’s simple – live happily in isolation or painfully as a member of a team.

Choose the pain. It’s useful.


The Purpose of Struggle

The Team Clock Institute’s upcoming release, Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle, was written as an enticement for growth. Based on a simple concept, interactions between partners are viewed in necessary cycles of meaningful challenge. Of course, instinct tells us to make the pain go away. The reward is relief from, you name it, tension…fear…anxiety…depletion…the threat of failure. But what might happen if we allowed the struggle to run its course without being soothed?

When two people embark on a risk together, decision are driven by either the most fearless or most fearful member of the relationship. Fearless partners push their apprehensive counterparts forward. Fearful partners pull their more confident partners back. This dynamic push and pull generates creative tension in the relationship that forces either growth or stagnation. The symptoms most likely to appear when the risk is being negotiated represent both the eagerness for and the resistance to the consequences of change. When the more fearful partner is pulling, the relationship will be most affected by issues like resistance to change or fear of failure. When the more fearless partner is pushing, the relationship will be most influenced by feeling over-extended or “out on a limb.” Of course, both fearlessness and fearfulness have value, depending on what’s at stake.

Taking smart risks brings excitement and adventure to the life of a relationship. Much like driving a car, you are less likely to take a risk if your have passengers on board than if you are traveling alone. In relationships, risk-taking must account for the consequences on all parties involved. The resulting struggle has purpose – learning how to keep moving forward while honoring the pace of the team – useful pain.

The Mindfulness Recipe

A meditative lifestyle practiced for centuries has suddenly become the hot mantra in workplace wellness. Mindfulness is the new remedy for chronic career stress. It’s simple – when the pressure of your job grows too intense, invite a deep breath to be the pathway to awareness of the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings. All is now well, right?

It’s a question of prevention versus repair. Stress is far easier to manage before it spirals to fear. Perhaps a mindfulness recipe that cooks up a career path impervious to stress might prevent the need for repair. Consider the following ingredients:

1. Only engage in professional activities aligned with your core interests, values, and purpose.

2. Choose your teammates carefully and make sure to include a mentor.

3. Embrace struggle as fuel for understanding. Don’t meditate it away until you know its role in your growth and development.

4. Stretch your goals beyond easy victories. Settling for good enough doesn’t advance you or the world.

5. Take joy in the art of resilience. Adapting is art to the science of change.

Ready? Inhale deeply into your diaphragm and imagine, as you exhale, the flow of your fit in the professional universe. You’ve become the ideal teammate.

Every Day is a Job Interview

There is always a most engaged person in the audience. Whether a professor in front of a classroom or a speaker addressing hundreds at a professional conference, one participant lifts the energy in the room by tuning in with all senses. Everybody else reaps the benefits. Consider these examples.

A guest lecturer in a small liberal arts college invites the class to challenge her assumptions and offer new perspectives. She removes herself from the role of expert and allows the students to take charge. Many students shy away from the risk of saying the wrong thing. One student deciphers the opportunity and trusts the unconditional challenge. His assertion is so unusual the rest of the class struggles to understand his frame of reference. He is bombarded by questions until, finally, the context of his unique history and circumstances gives clarity to his position. Everybody learns. That student would later be offered an internship at the guest lecturer’s business.

The participant entering the auditorium most eager to learn sat in the center aisle about three rows back from the podium. She positioned her laptop in front of her in case she wanted to take notes but her eyes never strayed from the speaker as he meandered about the room. She found her hand raising slightly ahead of the speaker’s questions to the audience. Deferring to her teammates, she allowed others to share feedback and adapted her contribution to the flow of conversation. The speaker noticed her generosity. When he received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn a few days later, he easily recognized his recent most-engaged colleague. In the ensuing months, sharing resources and project opportunities would become routine components of their professional connection.

Every day is a job interview. You never know when a stranger will become a friend.

2013 in the Rearview Mirror

This year’s discoveries were unexpected. The common theme was courage. Each of the teams highlighted in this retrospective were elevated by the bravery to abandon comfort and ignite change. They didn’t wait for the business landscape to demand a reaction. They listened to their clients, anticipated the future, and created solutions. Please enjoy a sampling of excellence.

Diagnosing Opportunity
When forty of the nation’s leading producers of insurance and investment products gathered to share best practices in team effectiveness, the bypassed the urge to celebrate their success. Instead, they immersed themselves in the metrics of their team assessment results in search for an opportunity to evolve. Some leaders identified a strength to leverage. Others discovered a vulnerability to address. In each case, a unique aspect of their team was mapped to a specific productivity goal and a tactical plan was forged. Within six months, all team goals were met or exceeded.

Connecting Resources
An urban public school district invited parents to partner more actively in their children’s education by establishing mentoring workshops at times when the families were most available. Each workshop provided resources for every family member anchored in evidence-informed actions proven to promote home-school partnership. When adults harness their power, kids win.

Sharing the Wealth
An equity partner in a global law firm invested in the development of his most promising talent by engaging leadership coaching relationships. Each future leader completed a personal strategic plan for their own career path mapped to the firm’s goals and their own signature strengths. The marked increase in internal morale, client satisfaction, and business development targets was not a coincidence.

Transforming Culture

When a macro-level industry transformation impacts all 200 of your association members, there is no time to complain about increased complexity and decreased resources. It didn’t take long for the good-to-great, great-to-greater vision of the executive leadership team to cascade to management and employees in all departments. The same energy that most organizations spend on grousing about change was quickly deployed to support innovation. From leadership to line staff, curiosity and difference was elevated as fuel for adaptation. Although the labor will be invisible to most of the association’s membership, the outcome will enable a benchmark level of advocacy, research, and education to the institutions where they spend the bulk of their waking hours.

So long, 2013. A new standard of courage and effectiveness has been set. Welcome, 2014. Whose stories will we share next December?

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Laura Gettinger, a Chicago-based professional wellness consultant, for winning the 2013 Team Clock Institute Holiday Matching Game. Laura correctly matched all five team challenges with the outcomes resulting from their struggles. Below are brief summaries of each resolution.

Corporate leadership of a global consumer products company must determine whether a division president has what it takes to lead innovation.
The division president models disruptive innovation by suggesting numerous product variations unparalleled in the market. Sales skyrocket and teammates begin to take greater risks. Industry praise follows and the leader deflects credit for the group’s success to the product development team.

State-based association struggles to keep pace with the growing complexity of the industry as roles and work processes transform.
The executive leadership team sanctions weekly four-hour blocks of “protected innovation time” where department managers are encouraged to brainstorm and collaborate in creating new approaches, process improvements, and efficiencies.

A regional accounting firm attempts to honor diverse generational values in crafting leadership development strategy to support long-term succession planning
The managing director assembles a task force stocked with representatives from every workplace demographic and sponsors an initiative to define the core competencies and work-life balance expectations for c-suite talent of the future.

A national law firm’s leadership team confronts an under-performing practice group with two actively disengaged associates poisoning the workplace culture.
The practice group’s leader sponsors an “accountability initiative” in which behavior not aligned with organizational values is brought to the larger team for resolution. Everyone is empowered to raise day-to-day culture violations to the resolution process. Within six months, natural attrition results in a new composition of talent.

A local boutique retail sales team wishes to raise performance to the next level following a record breaking year.
The store owner implements weekly full-team planning sessions to research, design, and implement best practices for co-worker, customer, and community engagement. Year-to-year sales rise to a new benchmark.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes share common team challenges. Each challenge provides a call to action. By following the pain points to a diagnosis, targeted intervention elevates the team’s performance. Sometimes, organizational mission, values, and vision needs to be refreshed. Other times, teammates need to be held accountable for behavior that advances the culture. Courageous teams use this foundation to push change. The resulting evolution challenges everyone to adapt with poise and resilience.

Where are your pain points? What are they telling you to do?

Holiday Matching Game

Let’s kick off the holiday season with a game. Below are five team challenges observed in 2013. Following the challenges are five outcomes. Can you match the challenge with the outcome?

1. Corporate leadership is not sure whether the division president has what it takes to lead innovation.
2. Team roles and work processes have not kept pace with the complexity of the industry.
3. Traditional succession planning efforts are complicated by competing generational values.
4. Two members of a fifteen person team are actively disengaged and poisoning the workplace culture.
5. A sales team wishes to raise performance to the next level following a record breaking year.

A. The team leader sponsored a 2013 “accountability initiative” in which any words or behavior not aligned with organizational values was brought to the larger team for resolution. Within six months, natural attrition resulted in a new composition of talent.
B. A weekly planning session was instituted to research, design, and implement best practices for co-worker, customer, and community engagement.
C. Ten percent of the team’s work week was allocated as “protected innovation time” where teammates were encouraged to brainstorm and collaborate in creating new approaches, process improvements, and efficiencies.
D. The team leader deferred credit for the product development group’s success despite having contributed the ideas that won the most industry praise.
E. A task force stocked with representatives from every workplace demographic was charged with defining the core competencies, goals, culture, and work-life balance expectations for the chief executive of the future.

Submit your entries via email to The first five correct responses will enjoy the delivery of a signed copy of Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The 4 Teams Everyone Experiences

Take a look back through your work history and evaluate the various teams you’ve joined. Everyone has experienced at least one of the following situations:

“We just knocked it out of the park! How do we elevate our team to the next level?”
“Wow! Everything is changing! Can we slow down for a while and get our bearings?”
“We really under-performed this year but it’s hard to know what to fix to make this better.”
“This is the most dysfunctional group I’ve ever seen. This is toxic!”

Team Profile #1: We just knocked it out of the park! How do we elevate our team to the next level?

Some teams are energized by continuous improvement. They see their life together as an evolution where the investment in the mission, the degree of trust and accountability, the itch to innovate, and the thrill of transformation continuously deepens. Teams like this are always hungry for the next challenge and they’re willing to experience whatever discomfort is necessary to keep growing.

Team Profile #2: Wow! Everything is changing! Can we slow down for a while and get our bearings?

The natural reaction to change is resistance. The science of humanness is to seek and protect sameness and stability. It’s more comfortable – even when staying the same isn’t healthy. Constant change can be energizing and depleting at the same time. The trick is to use the lulls and plateaus as rest stops. The functional value of exhaustion is the creation of an opportunity to recuperate and deliver new energy to the next challenge.

Team Profile #3: We really under-performed this year but it’s hard to know what to fix to make this better.

Everything is clear in hindsight. Until the diagnosis is made, however, clarity is on hold. Often, it takes someone from the outside to serve up the objectivity to see the things that are right under our noses. Find the themes and patterns. Follow the pain from the symptom to the cause. Leverage strengths. Convert vulnerabilities to opportunities.

Team Profile #4: This is the most dysfunctional group I’ve ever seen. This is toxic!

There are so many variations of this dynamic. The workplace bully is the most common. More subtle examples include the culture that punishes excellence and the sanctioning of mediocrity. Not everyone has the rank and authority to call foul when a teammate says or does something that hurts the team. Strong workplaces empower everyone with that authority. The result is mutual accountability for organizational health. Depending on how high up in the organization the poison lives, this job is either simple or arduous.

Now What?

The common theme of each of these is the need for action. Whether taking it to the next level, navigating a significant change, diagnosing an obstacle, or eradicating a toxin, every team has key decisions to make about their next steps. On which team do you participate? Why is your team experiencing these challenges? What actions should you be engaging today?

The Boardroom and the Bedroom

When Team Clock was published in 2009, we offered up a simple model for creating and sustaining effective teams. As I shared the Team Clock concept with business leaders, time and again people asked me how these principles applied to interpersonal relationships. Could the conflict resolution and team building strategies applied in the boardroom also work in the bedroom? Does the cycle of investment, trust, innovation, and distancing play out between friends and management teams alike?

The recipe is the same. What enables teams to soar is no different than what makes interpersonal relationships thrive. In the micro-colony of a team’s infrastructure lives a matrix of partnerships where variations of two people engage in the peculiar dance of connection. Some move with closeness while others raise their guards to prevent being known or vulnerable. Some follow the reasonable rules of engagement while others violate them. Some fuel and lift their partners while others drain their teammate’s energy dry.

Like the investment phase of the Team Clock, connection begins with the challenge of creation. The thrill of discovery unfolds when we are forging something new. As the relationship transitions to the trust phase, we are introduced to the challenge of intimacy. Closeness is a tricky promise when individual histories have had mixed results. If the relationship moves forward, the foundation for growth is laid as partners leverage their trust to invite adventure. The challenges of growth now define each day’s interactions. All of this generates fundamental change in the essence of the connection. Partners distance from their previous understanding of the relationship and use that space to refuel and adapt to the new circumstances they have created. Once replenished and clear, the relationship comes back together to tackle a new cycle of discovery.

So whether you are wearing your freshly dry-cleaned suit or your favorite pajamas, the rules of engagement are the same.

1. Invest and discover possibilities.
2. Earn trust and dare intimacy to unfold.
3. Innovate and create an adventure.
4. Harness the recuperative magic of distance and space to adapt and embrace the next chapter.


Funding Your Job Hunt

There’s a parallel running through the baby-boom and millennial generations. It’s driven by a shrinking tolerance for work that lacks meaning and purpose. Patience is wearing thin on workplaces shaped by toxic politics. Unless impact is measurable with some regularity, jobs fail to engage or become sources of burnout. Whether you are thirty or fifty years old, it’s good to get clear about the most basic, non-negotiable criteria for a thriving professional path.

The negotiable items are easy: fair compensation, reasonable benefits, work-life flexibility, collegial civility, and some job stability. Everyone wants these elements. The next level of criteria is unique to each of us. Some require a seat at the table of decision authority. Others demand a healthy, creative, and collaborative environment. Many insist on continuous stimulation and challenge so each day is fresh.

Once you move beyond the celebration of a short commute or the convenience of an onsite fitness center, it’s time to give some consideration to the non-negotiables. You’ll either rediscover the magical fit of your current engagement or your current gig will fund your next job hunt.