Creating Cohesion on a Remote Team

The nature of how we ‘team’ is changing.

A growing number of leaders, managers, and organizations are approaching The People Piece for support on how to navigate the complexity of leading remote and global teams.

They wonder how to drive engagement and avoid isolation with remote employees. How to navigate team dynamics that naturally emerge when people don’t sit in the same room together and where cultural dynamics and communication styles vary. How to create team cohesion when employees haven’t met in person, or even when they, as leaders and managers, have never been across the table from many of their team members.

While navigating all those factors may feel daunting, creating cohesion on a remote team is not significantly different than bringing a team together that sits in the same office. It’s all about intentionality and being explicit rather than resting on the laurels of the implicit culture that develops. And it’s about how you prioritize your time as a leader and manager, creating clear agreements and expectations, and making space for meaningful human connection.

We too are a remote team at The People Piece. We don’t have a central office. Our team members are spread across the country, from New York to California. Below are the practices we’ve incorporated along the way and have shared with our partners around the world.

Design an alliance around communication and expectations

A designed alliance is a valuable tool that allows you to collaborate and create a set of agreements for the team that act as a foundation and constitution for how the group interacts. The key is to develop your alliance together, because as Patrick Lencioni says, ‘If you can’t weigh in, you can’t buy-in.’

A designed alliance can be especially poignant when navigating cultural differences. It allows the team to develop a shared team culture even when different cultural aspects are present.

Below are questions that can be used to facilitate the creation of a designed alliance.

What values and behaviors do we commit to as a team?

  • How will we handle disagreements, challenges, or differences of opinion? Constructive feedback or accountability?

  • What are our preferred methods/platforms for communication and when do we use them?

  • What’s our commitment around response timeframes when we’re in different time zones?

  • How often will we meet as a whole team?

  • What can we count on from each other?

  • How will we keep one another informed between meetings?

  • How often will we check in on how we’re following our agreements in the alliance and update?

Once you’ve explored these questions and crafted agreements as a team, create a shared document or post on a team site. Regularly revisit and assess how you’re living your alliance during your team meetings. Celebrate and recognize each other when you notice each other acting in alignment even when it was challenging. The designed alliance can also be used as a tool for accountability when behaviors emerge that are out of alignment.

Make time for personal connection

It’s easy to feel like time is compressed when working with a remote team and that you just need to “get down to business” when you have a team meeting. But this is where disconnection happens and engagement suffers. As Gallup found in their study of over 12 million knowledge workers, feeling like someone at work cares about you as a person is a key factor of employee engagement.

So how can you cultivate this when sitting together at lunch or swinging by someone’s office isn’t an option?

Create a ritual for connection. At the start of every People Piece team meeting, we allow for 2 minutes of breathing to ensure we’re arriving to our meeting grounded and with reduced distraction. We then briefly check in, sharing how we’re coming to the meeting, what’s alive or challenging for us, what we’re excited about, or something interesting we’re up to. This unscripted time gives us a chance to connect as human beings and gain insight into each other’s lives in an authentic and meaningful way.

Another great practice is to start your meeting by asking a provocative question that invites personal sharing from the entire team. You can assign the task or ask for a volunteer each week to come up with a question to ask the group. You can put time limits on each person’s response to ensure all voices are heard and also to keep the exercise directed. Try these questions to stir personal connection:

  • Share a book that has impacted you the most, and why?

  • Who is a mentor in your life right now and what are you learning from them?

  • What are you doing to develop yourself this month?

Prioritize 1:1s and meet on video

It’s widely understood that 1:1s are among the most impactful tools to drive engagement and connection, but sadly they often get pushed by the wayside for the urgent. When this happens it’s easy for a remote team member to feel disconnected or even forgotten when the majority of communication happens asynchronously. When leading a remote team, prioritizing and sticking to weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s for a minimum of 20 minutes on video can make all the difference. Being on video invites both of you to be present, listen better, and creates the space for more meaningful connection.

There are a host of benefits to maintaining regularity with your 1:1s. During the 1:1, the remote members of your team - and you - gain insight and knowledge, grow trust, and set goals together. Your remote team member has a moment to experience your investment in his or her success, engagement, and growth. An added benefit is that team needs, barriers, and opportunities become more visible, allowing you to strategically address them in ways that heighten a remote team’s contributions.

There are a variety of ways to focus your 1:1s so they don’t feel empty and redundant, and to make sure you’re getting the most of the time together. The key is to communicate the focus of your 1:1 with your remote team member ahead of time, to avoid radio silence, and ensure they are prepared for an active discussion.

The key is not falling into the trap of your 1:1s being focused only on the tactical and leveraging the time to connect on these different areas:

Updating & Unblocking: For status updates on projects, OKRs, tasks, and to remove obstacles and problem solve to encourage your team member’s productivity.

Growing Trust: To deepen personal connections and allow your remote team members to bring up concerns or frustrations, or even uncomfortable issues like team dynamics or truths about your leadership style.

Career Development: To identify your team member’s career and development goals and work with them to craft a plan.

Adding these three strategies to your approach will not only more deeply engage your remote team, it will cultivate a level of trust, cohesion and connection that is at the foundation of any high-performing team, no matter where you are located.

Jess, Roni, and the People Piece Team

Jess Peabody has over 15 years of leadership and training experience, with a track record of creating high performing and healthy teams. She brings an on-the-ground understanding of being a leader of 4 to 400 people in both a nonprofit startup environment and well established for profit organizations. Clients appreciate her for her insights and experiences with conscious business practices, her holistic and innovative approaches to building company culture, her years of experience in large-scale business operations, and her eye for strategic planning and change management. Jess manages programs at The People Piece, including discovery, design, training and team development.

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Want to develop your organization's people? 

Our engaging training and coaching programs help values-based organizations like Whole Foods, Pinterest, and Solar Mosaic develop their leaders, managers, cultures, and teams through a tailored approach that focuses on skills and fits with company culture. 

Get in touch to learn more about our programs and set up a time to connect.

Grow Your Team From Good To Great

The Five Foundations of Team Health

Teams are the heart of the modern organization. We depend on them to produce as well as to innovate, and they are generally where our closest and most important work relationships live.

While some teams thrive, many also struggle. They struggle to feel truly cohesive in an increasingly remote, and global world. They struggle to balance tradition with change as priorities shift and new members join. And they can struggle with interpersonal tensions, competing power centers, and lack of leadership clarity – all the people issues that are so very human and yet can sink, or seriously drag down, even the smartest strategy.

How do you create the team of your dreams? Focus on Five Foundations to grow a team that collaborates exceptionally, navigates challenge with grace, keeps great people around, and produces outstanding results everyone can be proud of:

Foster trust and cohesion

Trust is the bottom line in any relationship, whether 1 on 1 or a group. Think of a person you don’t trust and what happens at the slightest provocation. Now think of someone you do trust and how you can get in there, work through differences, and make amends when one or both of you screw up. High trust teams move faster, innovate better and make less mistakes. (High trust organizations keep better people around longer, and enjoy higher rates of productivity and profitability – see our Benefits to People Development infographic) So how do we build trust and cohesion on a team?

  • Get to know each other personally

  • Have honest conversations with each other (see our blog on Naming Elephants)

  • Practice vulnerability – about your hopes, fears, mistakes, weaknesses, and where you might need help

Set an aspirational vision

Your organization may have an inspiring vision. Does your team? Most teams live in a world of KPIs and OKRs. While these tools can help drive consistent results, only aspirations can keep people’s hearts in the game, and ensure all those fine-tuned, measurable objectives are keeping you on the correct course. Take the time to craft and regularly revisit an aspirational vision for your team. Answer these questions:

  • What is your ultimate purpose or goal?

  • What ideal state are you working to create?

  • How will you know when you get there?

Define your values and make agreements

Most teams are clear on what they are doing. Few have taken the time to define how they will work together. When times are easy, clear values and agreements can help us do even more together. When times are tough, they can help us weather the storm with far less infighting, mistakes, and divisiveness. Take the time to craft a set of team values along with associated behaviors you expect of one another (3 to 5 behaviors per value). The latter can be codified as a set of Team Agreements that articulate how you will treat one another, from giving feedback and working out disagreements to holding each other accountable and embracing difference.

Learn to communicate and collaborate

Did you take any classes on workplace communication or collaboration in college? Few of us have. While humans will most likely always face some challenges working together, there are ways to communicate and collaborate that get results and strengthen relationships – even with people you may find difficult:

Cultivate ownership, accountability and sustained action

An accountable team is an effective team. It does more with less, requiring much less hand holding from leaders and unleashing the true potential of every team member. How do you cultivate a team where everyone owns their role, takes responsibility for mistakes, and meets challenges with solutions, instead of blaming or passing the buck?

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities

  • Encourage an environment of risk taking and self-management (avoid micro-managing)

  • Learn to hold others accountable, without being a jerk (see our blog by the same title)

  • Lead by example, and celebrate ownership when you see it

If you’re thinking, “This sounds like exactly what my team needs, but we don’t have the time,” you are not alone. The modern workplace is a busy place.  

While getting your team to take the time to address The Five Foundations may be hard, we think we can guarantee it will be much less of a challenge than all the wasted time, money and energy dealing with the interpersonal conflicts, attrition, inefficiencies, and even failed – or seriously slowed down – strategies that result when we don’t take the time to address (and maintain) the foundations.

Putting sustained focus on the people foundations of teams is as important as eating well and regular exercise if we want to stay fit. Pretty soon, the costs of sitting on the couch eating ice cream catch up to us, just like a team that is not attending to its people issues.

Ask yourself two potent questions:

  • What is at risk if we don’t improve as a team?

  • What is possible if we do?

Wishing you the best,

Roni and The People Piece team

PS – If you need buy-in for your team development efforts, ask your leaders the two questions above, and check out our blog on Winning Support for People Development. As always, contact us if you think some training, guidance or facilitated off-sites could help you and your colleagues grow the team of your dreams.

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Want to develop your organization's people? 

Our engaging training and coaching programs help values-based organizations like Whole Foods, Pinterest, and Solar Mosaic develop their leaders, managers, cultures, and teams through a tailored approach that focuses on skills and fits with company culture. 

Get in touch to learn more about our programs and set up a time to connect.

Weave Your Organization's Timeline

Organizations are often future-focused. Yet taking stock of the past can be a powerful way to generate the mutual understanding and alignment that effective forward motion requires. It can even break down any silos, resentments, and misunderstandings.

We recently brought together 50 senior-level leaders at a growing, 20-year-old digital ad company that has doubled in size year over year for the past 3 years. This was the first time that these leaders had been in the same room together, and more than half of them had been at the company for 3 years or less.

Faced with the range of tenure and experience in the room, and committed to unifying this leadership group in starting together from common ground, we knew this was a unique opportunity to help the group ‘start where they are’. In order to achieve this, we knew we had to give them an opportunity to tell their history and share their stories.

Write your timeline, tell your story

Here is how we engaged this organization’s leaders to tell, and therefore understand, their collectives story. We call it a ‘Timeline’ exercise. You might try the same approach with your team or organization.


1. Create the timeline

Identify time periods for the timeline exercise, and the people assigned to them.

Depending on the size of the group, the timeline can either be populated in a large group or small groups. With the example above, we had leaders arrange themselves by tenure and then they self-identified into small groups based on particular time periods in the company.


2. Fill out the timeline and tell the story of a particular ‘era’ in company history

In small groups, participants populate the timeline of each era with successes and breakthroughs, setbacks and challenges, and other important historical events, telling stories along the way. It can be helpful to use different colored markers and above/below the line indicators for different events: i.e., successes in green, above the line; setbacks in red, below the line; other events in blue.


3. Identify and engage time travelers

Engage newer leaders as ‘time travelers’ who travel back in time and participate with their longer-tenured colleagues, engaging them with curiosity and questions to understand what it was like in the past.


4. Tell the story together as a whole group

With the whole group together, encourage each era to tell their story. Encourage reflection on what made the successes possible, how challenges were overcome, and the lessons learned. Identify what has changed, and what has remained the same. Allow space for curiosity and conversation.

The Impact of Telling Our Story

The benefits of knowing our history can be far-reaching and profound. As stories are told by the people who experienced them, connections are fostered and meaning is built.

‘Elders’ sharing their ‘war-room stories’ reflect on what they have overcome in the past, about hard times and good times, realizing the value and importance of all of it. Past challenges put current challenges into a different light, realizing in retrospect that ‘the last time we thought the house was burning down, it all ended up ok.’ Newer team members often emerge filled with a sense of gratitude and respect for their longer tenured colleagues.

Specifically, reflecting on the past and generating a shared narrative can help to:

  1. Provide the opportunity for collective celebration, grieving, and laughing

  2. Breathe life into the past through the telling of captivating stories

  3. Unearth important context for dealing with current realities

  4. Create a collective sense of identity and purpose

  5. Clarify what has changed, what is changing, and what needs to change

  6. Name what has endured, rooting people with a sense of embodied values

  7. Gain a collective sense of where we currently are, and how we got there

While lasting organizational change requires the development of new capacities, new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing things, true strategic transformation has a greater chance of succeeding when it is informed by the lessons, struggles, and triumphs of the past.

Ty Hammond is a leadership, executive, and organizational development trainer, facilitator, and coach at The People Piece.

Want to develop your organization's people? 

Our engaging training and coaching programs help values-based organizations like Whole Foods, Pinterest, and Solar Mosaic develop their leaders, managers, cultures, and teams through a tailored approach that focuses on skills and fits with company culture. 

Get in touch to learn more about our programs and set up a time to connect.

3 EI Tools Are Key to Any Team's Success

Do you notice yourself wanting to avoid uncomfortable team dynamics or difficult conversations? You are not alone.

Working on a team can come with many challenges. We may need to navigate different and sometimes opposing personalities. We need to consistently communicate with one another— sharing feedback, making requests, and at the same time remaining open to other team member’s perspectives.

None of these challenges are easy - and that’s where strategies based in developing and applying emotional intelligence can help.

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is our ability to recognize our own feelings/emotions as well as the feelings of those around us, and to better manage our interactions from this awareness.

Over the last decade, companies worldwide have begun to recognize the value of emotional intelligence at work. EI was ranked sixth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 10 skills that employees will need to possess in order to thrive in the workplace of the future.

So how can we avoid the pitfalls of either working in a silo or engaging in unhealthy dynamics with others, and instead grow more productive, collaborative and emotionally intelligent teams? These 3 simple tools can make a big difference:

1. Slow Things Down

Most likely, everyone on your team is facing heavy expectations to produce results, and quickly. When we consistently operate at a rapid pace, mistakes can increase and communication breakdowns can occur. That’s because when we are consistently operating at a stressful pace, the brain’s hardwired ‘threat response’ can take over.

An essential aspect of developing emotional intelligence involves slowing things down, so we can re-engage the wiser, more aware and creative part of our brain - the prefrontal cortex. When we slow down, we can improve our communication, see more clearly and work more effectively as a team.

So how do we slow things down?

Start by taking some deep breaths. Obvious, right? But breathing is usually the first thing we forget when we feel stressed. That’s because our brain’s fight/flight response has taken over and slow, deep breaths are counter to our body’s instinct to fight or flee a stressful situation.

If you are starting to feel some frustration or stress with a coworker, taking a few breaths or even pausing the conversation and coming back to it later can be useful strategies. How often are you glad you took a break instead of firing off that angry email or making that indignant phone call?

2. Notice and Adjust Your “Listening Filters”

Are you listening to prove someone wrong? Are you listening only so that you can make your point? Are you listening to ‘fix’ someone or something?

Try paying attention to the unconscious and habitual ‘listening filters’ you use when communicating with your colleagues. Notice when you are using one of these filters, and instead try listening with genuine curiosity and creativity.

Practicing and modeling this kind of listening can be a game changer for teams. Asking genuine questions and truly listening can be a great way to slow things down in a meeting and reduce any tensions that may be simmering. Effective listening can also open up creativity and improved collaboration, instead of ‘I’m-right-you’re-wrong’ dynamics.

3. Respond Instead of React

Stress fosters reactivity, reflexive and patterned behaviors that may make us feel safer in the moment but often lead to misdirected energy and unhealthy conflict with others. So how do we fend off our worst impulses and instead respond from our better and wiser natures?

A well-known study conducted at UCLA found that when we name our emotions, we begin to re-engage our prefrontal cortex. When something stressful is happening on your team or someone says something you disagree with, instead of reacting with a dismissive email or harsh words, try pausing, taking a deep breath and silently naming your emotions.

Without judgment, ask yourself if you are feeling frustrated, worried or stressed. For example, while taking deep breaths you might say to yourself, “I am feeling stressed right now” or “I am feeling frustrated.” See how you feel and how you are tempted to respond after that.

Developing emotional intelligence takes practice and repetition, and the work really never ends. But the good news is, research in neuroplasticity has shown that we can in fact break old habits and truly rewire our brain through continued practice.

Slowing things down, practicing effective listening with team members and naming our emotions helps us gain access to the prefrontal cortex, the wiser part of our brain. When we do this, we not only reduce tensions with others, we become more open to creative ideas, collaboration and solutions. We stop pouring fuel on the conflict fire, model a better way for others, and notice ourselves responding more and reacting less. We are often happier and more fulfilled as a result.


Juna and The People Piece team

Juna Mustad is a communication, relationship and emotional intelligence trainer and coach at The People Piece.

How To Overcome Barriers and Win Support For People Development

Many companies say their people are their most important asset. But how many firms truly invest in helping people be their best at work?

Despite the clear benefits of people development – including increased retention, productivity, profitability, and happiness – not everyone is sold on its value. And you may need the support of these people to launch or expand programs that teach people and teams at your company how to communicate, collaborate, and lead more effectively.

So, what are the best ways to align stakeholders, gain support from leadership, and even convince detractors that people development should be a top priority? Based on our experience with dozens of values-driven firms in tech, finance, renewables, engineering, and other industries – as well as social benefit organizations – we’ve compiled 5 key ways to win over detractors and secure budget and commitment for people development at your company.

Whether you are a learning and development professional who needs to secure budget, a company leader who needs to make the case to skeptical colleagues or a new CEO, or a manager or employee who wants to bring training and coaching to your team, we think you’ll find these strategies handy:

Share the data

The data is clear – people development can have a big impact on the bottom line. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, Fortune 100 Best companies provide three times the financial return of firms that don’t make the list. Gallup reports 12% increases in profitability and 20 to 40% increases in productivity among companies that score well on its employee engagement metrics. You’d be hard pressed to find a CEO, COO, or VP of Finance that wouldn’t give you 30 minutes to explain how you could drive goals like these. Want more data? Take a peek at our handy guide to The Benefits of Learning and Development at Work.

Tell stories that illustrate impact

While learning and development programs are growing quickly, many leaders still haven’t experienced the true value of communication training, team facilitation, or individual coaching. It’s up to you to communicate the value, and there are few vehicles better than stories. While good data will speak to the minds of your stakeholders, stories will inspire hearts (yes, even people in finance have them! ;). Be prepared with stories that speak to the impact you have seen people development programs have, as well as the impact they could have for your company or team. Chances are what feels moving to you will move someone else as well.

Stress the value to millennials – i.e., half the workforce and growing fast

Your boss may have walked through the snow uphill both ways to get where she is today. Well, the times they have a-changed. A new generation expects to develop at work – and quickly. In fact, according to Gallup, growth on the job is the thing millennials – i.e., just short of half the workforce, and growing – want more than anything else (even money). If you want to keep your people around and engaged, the data is clear: you absolutely must invest in their development.

Align with business objectives

While the benefits of people development are clear, stakeholders may still ask: what’s in it for me and the business? These are fair questions. Effective people and team development focused on driving key business objectives – for teams, groups, and companies as a whole – have a greater chance of winning support. Ask stakeholders what they most want and need to achieve, design programs that help drive those goals, and then explain how learning and development can be essential to success.

Socialize through early wins

Whether you are focusing on managers and teams or company leadership, do something early that truly impacts people and creates a buzz. Plan a leadership day, a culture day, or a team development day. In a sense, your first engagements – especially at an organization that has not had much, if any, experience with learning and development or has had negative experiences in the past – are as much about supporting participants to develop as they are about educating people about what learning and development actually means, and what value it can have for them and others.

We’d love to know what you think of these strategies and what else you have had success with. Comment below or share in the comments section of the LinkedIn post associated with this guide.

Good luck with your endeavors! Roni and The People Piece team

The Post-it Plan Challenge

Are you in 2019 planning mode? Most of us are.

If you’re like most people, you value impact, efficiency, and working smarter. You probably also don't want to wallow in stress this year - you may even want to enjoy your work ;)

So how do we ensure the plans we craft now include the right set of priorities that will move us to the right goals in the best way?

There are many great tools for creating effective annual plans. Before going there, we suggest taking 60 minutes with your team to take The Post-it Plan Challenge.

It’s engaging, easy, a great team builder, and could have a significant impact on whatever strategy or plan you choose to adopt, as well as how it feels to act on it. All you need are sharpies, post-its, a laptop, and a desire to explore and collaborate.

Here’s how you do it:

STEP ONE (5min): What is most important to you?

Hand out sharpies and stacks of post-its. Have each team member take 5 minutes solo to reflect on two questions:

What words or short phrases most clearly articulate what everything we do as a team or organization should be aimed at achieving this year? Examples include Growth, Build Capacity, New Markets, and Innovation. We call these ‘doing’ words.

What words most clearly articulate how we should do whatever we choose to do as a team or organization? Examples include Intentional, Fast, Slow, and Methodical. We call these ‘being’ words.

Encourage team members not to try to get it ‘right.’ Instead, see what comes organically.

STEP TWO (20min): What is most important to us?

Arrange all your post-its on a table, wall or chart. Each team member gets 2 minutes to give color to their choices and field questions from other team members. At this point, no one is allowed to say No or to share what they think about someone else’s ideas. The goal is to flesh out, reflect and understand.

Now comes discussion and constructive debate. Work together as a team to choose one essential ‘doing’ principle and one essential ‘being’ principle for the year (or quarter, or any time period you have identified). Do not shy away from areas of difference. Engaging tensions constructively often leads to better results.

STEP THREE (20min): How will we apply our principles?


Now that each team member has had the chance to reflect on what is most important to them, and the team has chosen its core ‘doing’ and ‘being’ principles for the year, it’s time to apply your principles to various aspects of the team or organization. This will then inform what goals, objectives, activities, plans, and even timeframes, you will ultimately agree to.

Draw from your work in steps 1 and 2 to work together as a team and choose words you believe each area of your team or org must embody if you are to truly live up to your one main being principle and one main doing principle for 2019. Don’t worry about wordsmithing quite yet, just see what comes.

At The People Piece, we work with the following 5 aspects of our organization (you might choose different aspects of yours):

  • Self (me) - words and phrases like balanced, in integrity, doing what we’re best at, doing what we love, learning.

  • Partnerships (external stakeholders) - words like reciprocal, respect, mutually beneficial, integrity.

  • Systems (operations) - words and phrases like useful, lean, seamless UX.

  • Work (focus) - words and phrases like essential, aligned to goals and objectives, fun, nourishing.

  • Team (us) - words and phrases like collaborative, tapping into strengths, supportive, aligned, have each other’s backs.

STEP FOUR (15min): What are we really about this year?

Take a step back to review, synthesize and reflect. This process allows you to make any refinements, truly harvest your learning, and ensure all voices are heard. The following questions can help guide your discussion:

  • What do we truly value as individuals and as a team?

  • What feels most important to us?

  • What is possible when we adhere to our principles as individuals and a team?

Once you’ve completed your TPP, you are ready to develop goals, objectives and plans that truly embody both what you want to achieve together and how you are committed to achieving it. You might also choose to bring your TPP ideas together into a brief manifesto for the year. You can seek guidance and inspiration from your manifesto during team meetings, retros, and planning events, as well as when making important decisions.

We’d love to know how your TPP goes! Share a photo of your TPP in the LinkedIn comments section associated with this post, or comment below.

The Most Inspiring Business Trends of 2018

All-electric school buses. News anchors who meditate. Flat organizations that eschew centralized control for empowered agility.

Sound like a fantasy? It’s actually happening right before our eyes.

Each year we compile the most inspiring trends we’ve witnessed in the business world. From the rise of social enterprise, mindfulness and renewables to a focus on more human cultures and agile organizations, here are some of our favorite trends from 2018:


Women Take the Lead

Come January, more than 100 women will serve in the United States House of Representatives, and another 25 will serve in the 100-member Senate. While still low in terms of proportion of population, the US will have far more women serving in Congress than ever before. Women are taking charge in the business world as well. Check out this profile of 7 inspiring female CEOs and this piece about women leading startups in India. While we have a long way to go toward equality, things are changing.


The Auto Industry Commits to a Fully Electric Future

Earlier this year, industry witnessed a sea change as major car companies nearly fell over themselves with bold commitments to shift their fleets to all-electric vehicles. GM announced it will bring at least 20 all-electric vehicles to market by 2023, and electric vehicle company Tesla projected it would deliver 100,000 all-electric semi-trucks to companies including Walmart, Pepsi, UPS and Sysco by that same year. And remember those polluting diesel school buses? They may soon go the way of the dodo, as states including Indiana, New York and Illinois commit tens of millions of dollars to purchase all-electric school buses.


Business Stands for Diversity and Inclusion

While the US has certainly seen its fair share of racism this year, movements for diversity and inclusion in business are not only on the rise - they are steadily changing the landscape. Check out this piece from Forbes about 4 companies that are getting it right, and see which companies made the top 20 of Refinitiv’s esteemed Diversity and Inclusion Index this year. While you’re at it, check out the top 6 companies giving back to refugees, and learn how immigrants help the economy by helping businesses grow.


Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

Health care giant Aetna offers its employees intensive mindfulness programs. ABC News has a meditation room in its New York Headquarters - and its news anchors actually use it. And thousands of Goldman Sachs bankers participate in its resilience programs each year. Mindfulness and meditation have become mainstream, and they are taking off in business as essential tools for reducing stress and increasing focus. The holidays can be a great time to start a new practice and keep it going into the New Year - check out our recent digest for the best meditation apps.


Organizations Innovate New Structures

The modern workplace is changing. From Tesla and Gore-tex to numerous tech companies, including People Piece client ConsenSys, organizations are not only promoting increased ownership and autonomy among employees - they are also experimenting with entirely new organizational structures that replace command and control with collaboration, fluidity, and decentralization. Check out this in-depth article on the link between flatter, more adaptive structures and increased levels of innovation. Share your experiences in the comments section.

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Social Enterprise on the Rise

If profit ruled the 80s and 90s, purpose is driving the new century. As this white paper by consulting firm Deloitte demonstrates, “Organizations are no longer judged only for their financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, they are being evaluated on the basis of their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.” Check Forbes’ annual ‘30 Under 30,’ an inspiring profile of young social entrepreneurs “leveraging business smarts to save the world.” While profit still matters, factors like culture, inclusivity, environmental impact, and social good are beginning to matter just as much, or even more.


Humans At Work

There is a movement afoot in business - one we are proud to be part of - and its basic idea is this: we need to bring humanity back to the workplace. That means creating and sustaining workplace cultures that include empathy, presence, authenticity and balance, in addition to focus and results. These days, it’s hard to attend an HR conference or read a copy of Harvard Business Review that does not promote these themes. It’s also the idea behind Humu, a new start-up launched by Google’s former Head of People Ops which prompts users throughout the day to focus on relationships by engaging in practices like appreciating their colleagues. ‘Human at Work’ is not only the name of this monthly digest, it also underlies everything we do at The People Piece, from helping new managers give compassionate feedback and seasoned leaders practice coaching an employee to developing teams based on empathy and cultures that include all voices.

While there is always more change to work for, there was also a lot to be inspired by in 2018. We invite you to share these stories with anyone you know who could use a dose of hope this holiday season.

From all of us at The People Piece, we wish you a restful and nourishing year end. Thank you for all you do for a kinder, more sustainable, and more inclusive world. As always, please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how we can work together to develop inspiring new ways of leading, relating and working together toward a common purpose at your organization.


Roni, Jess, Genna, Emily, Jim, Elizabeth, Cameron, Christine and the entire People Piece team

Four Ways to Leverage Appreciation at Year End

The holiday season and the close of another year tend to invoke a time of reflection and gratitude. We think back on all we have accomplished, consider what we are grateful for, and look forward to what lies ahead in the coming year.

In business, many companies have developed formalized systems of reflection and recognition, from retros, reviews and parties to holiday bonuses, gift cards and paid time off. These are all important practices, yet, we can go deeper and have even more impact with new approaches.

How can we express more potent appreciation for our employees at year end in a way that goes beyond a little extra compensation and engages forms of reflection and gratitude that may be even more meaningful? Throughout my career managing teams - and also training leaders to manage theirs - I’ve found these 4 tools to be particularly powerful:

1. Write a personal thank you note to each employee.

Go beyond job performance and let your reports know how they have impacted the team by nature of who they are and how they show up. Use these questions as a guide: How has this employee positively contributed to the culture of the team or organization? What are the unique gifts they bring? Maybe they bring humor and brighten people’s day. Perhaps they have been willing to jump in and support their colleagues, or come up with creative and innovative ideas. How has this employee made your life or job easier? What are the small things they do that make a big difference?

2. Write a letter to your team sharing what you are personally grateful for.

Impart the joy you feel for what you accomplished together and what each one of your team members brought to the table. Try these prompts: Because of you, we were able to __. Without you, we never would have been able to __. I so appreciate the __ of this team.

Don’t be shy - include your personal successes as well!

3. Use Appreciative Inquiry to guide your year-end team retrospective.

Leverage powerful and positive questions to celebrate and build on your team’s strengths and what it has done well. Guide your discussion by asking these questions: Why is what we’re doing important to us? What positive impact has our work had over the past year? When did we perform at our best this year? How do we build on this next year? What personal contributions to our team's successes are you proudest of this year? What is possible next year? What work are we excited to do together?

4. Cultivate group appreciation.

It’s wonderful for your employees to hear your gratitude, and it’s also powerful to have them hear it from one another. A simple way to do it is by convening an end-of-year meeting and passing around sheets of paper with each team member’s name on it. Everyone on the team gets to write at least one thing that they appreciate about each of their colleagues. At the end of the meeting, every employee gets to see their paper and share a few things their team has said about them.

Often, we don’t know just how much we are appreciated. Each of these approaches to gratitude are free and easy to integrate, and can have a profound effect on your employees.

When we practice deeper forms of gratitude, we leave team members feeling engaged, seen, and excited for the coming year. That, in turn, helps to build and maintain a culture based on motivation, connectedness, loyalty, and innovation, as well as a deeper connection to purpose.

I’d like to challenge you to take at least one of these practices on as a gift to your team, and to consider how you might make it more than a once-a-year affair. Appreciation can truly do wonders.

Jess Peabody is Programs Lead at The People Piece, where she brings the power of appreciation to leaders, managers and teams wanting to build stronger relationships and achieve greater results. Before that, she coordinated chapter relations for Conscious Capitalism, directed learning and development for Whole Foods Northern California, and led teams of 4 to 400 employees.

Are you working at Machine Speed, or Human Speed?

The author Jerry Mander posed the question in his potent tract, ‘In the Absence of the Sacred.’ His basic take: as technology continues to speed things up, we will all become more stressed because we will need to work at a pace we were not built for.

Sound familiar?

Now consider Mander wrote the book in 1991, back when dial up internet was the norm, cell phones were a novelty, and some people (like me) still used word processors.

Fast forward to today. Google’s AI technology can help me spit out a dozen email responses in the blink of an eye, giving me plenty of time to comment in Slack, check my cloud-based project management tool notifications, read and respond to a few texts, and coordinate with an employee in Europe, all while logging in and out of a number of apps. All by 9:30am. You know the drill.

On some level, all this technology is really cool.

We can jump on fresh opportunities, collaborate seamlessly with people around the world, and leverage innovation far more easily. And, when we work at machine speed, we can get so much done in relatively short periods of time.

Yet we all know the truth: working consistently at machine speed is not sustainable. It is relentless, depleting, and often, overwhelming.

That’s because we are not machines. We are human beings.

It can be hard to remember amidst the bustle, can’t it? I mean to truly know it.

We understand human speed when we allow ourselves a spacious weekend.

We feel it when we go into nature for long enough. We know it when we let go of agenda and productivity in any way, whether we stroll on the beach, take in a sunset, play with a child, or gaze into the eyes of our partner.

I’m not speaking as a yogi here. I’m speaking as a guy from New Jersey who loves to move fast, get things done, and achieve. Always have, probably always will.

Being productive, being creative, serving a useful purpose and getting things done can all be wonderful aspects of being alive. It’s a question of scope, and a question of pace.

The irony is that when we work at machine speed in an effort to do too much of these things too fast, we strip the humanity out of our experience.

How often have you put in that 8-hour day and thought, “Wow, I don’t even know what the heck just happened, but I do know a lot of things happened”?

That’s because we can’t be fully present and work at machine speed. There is always more to do, faster, better!

Presence doesn’t need to mean slowing down from 5000 RPMs to idle. Or hopping out of the car for a week off (most likely chock full of activities – same pattern) and then jumping right back in at 6000 RPMs to make up for lost time.

Sometimes, yes. Other times, presence could mean just be shaving off a few hundred RPMs. To get out of redline and stay at Human Speed. Consistently.

What changes when we work at Human Speed?

First off, we are more fulfilled. We enjoy our work more.

We produce better things. Think of the master artist – is he moving fast around his studio, or is she taking great care with each refinement, utterly present with her work?

We feel less stress. And so we feel better, and we treat others better.

It’s hard to go all day at 5000 or 6000 or 7000 RPMs, stay connected to our phones until 8 or 9pm, and then expect to be able to slide into 800 RPMs for a consistent, peaceful sleep. For most of us, ain’t gonna happen.

So we wake up depleted. Down some caffeine. Go straight back to 5000 RPM, seeking dopamine hits from endless task completion.

Rinse, repeat.

Life flies. We’re 40. Then 50. Then 60. Then, boom: where did it all go? I did all this great work. Did I enjoy it? Do I even remember it? How did I treat people? What did it mean?

I am an achievement junkie.

For the past 15 years of my career, I have been constantly returning to the question, What would it be like to live life from this human place? To notice when the RPMs are too high and take my foot off the gas, just enough to be present. Maybe to idle every hour or two for 2 or 3 or 5 minutes? Sometimes, more?

Moving slower is not easy. We must choose to go against the prevailing winds of an accelerating, technological society, and perhaps more so, the relentless slave driver in our own minds.

Sometimes, redlining is what it takes and it can even feel great. But not all the time. We keep ourselves in a near constant state of dis-ease and fight/flight.

What would it be like to live our lives at human speed?

How would it change our stress levels, our moods, and our levels of fulfillment? How would it benefit our work, our families, all the people around us?

Take a moment right now. Close your computer. Silence your phone. Close your eyes if you like, and take three deep breaths. Drop below machine speed into the human place inside.

How does it feel? What happens from here?

Improve Your Team's Productivity

Teams and organizations reach out to The People Piece because they want to do better together.

They want greater efficiency, less mistakes, and more fulfillment doing their work. We help them develop the mindsets, agreements and skillsets they need to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

Yet there is another essential piece to the team health puzzle, and that is Process. What - if any - collaboration tools, systems and procedures have teams adopted to ensure they work more effectively together? (Together, we call these 4 elements our MAPS approach to team health)

In our work with teams - and also internally - we’ve found the process piece can be challenging. What is the best collaboration tool to support highly collaborative and often distributed teams, and critically, what are the best methods for ensuring team members actually adopt these new systems rather than reverting back to email and Word docs at worst, or a subpar cloud-based tool at best?

Here is some wisdom from our friends at ClickUp, the cloud-based collaboration tool we use in-house at The People Piece (and recommend to our clients). We think you'll find it useful for getting all team members on board with new ways of doing things, even when it's hard.

Does it feel like technology and new software tools has made team communication even more difficult?

With email, online comments and quick messages, sometimes it’s even more difficult to understand what your team needs and understands. It can be harder to manage their expectations.

Layer on tool after tool and it can be confusing about what goes where, and what steps need to happen next.

How do you break that cycle of confusion?

In fact, there are tools that can improve this communication and make the process easier. It’s a matter of creating new habits around the new software and getting everyone on the same page. Easier said than done though, right?

How do you get well-intentioned software tools to work for you rather than against you?

Though many parts of effective team communication still need to happen in person, you can effectively utilize productivity tools and project management software to erase the friction of follow-ups and review. Yes, it is possible for these tools to make your teamwork easier rather than harder.

In this post, you’ll learn how to leverage software to help your team’s collaboration and workflows, rather than bring your organization to a complete standstill.

Let’s think about the best practices for improving your collaboration with software.

1. Use the Help Resources for the Software

Don’t expect all of your team members to be fully knowledgeable about the software and its features. You may have a few power users who will naturally gravitate to all of its amazing features and a few others who progress slowly. Those that aren’t as adept or comfortable with a new collaboration or communication style should be helped and encouraged, and not shamed. You can gently nudge them to try it out and then offer a point person for help or assistance along the way. This could be the customer success team for the software company, or an in-house champion who found and looked at best practices for using it. Visiting the software company’s help resources, such as docs and videos, could also provide answers.

However, your software choices should feel intuitive for a large number of your team members even if there is a learning curve. Be aware when new team members start, and document any best practices that your team has developed so they can get up to speed quickly.

2. Agree on how you’re going to work and then hold people accountable

Once you’ve been onboarded and trained, your team has to follow through on its new collaboration. You are trying to change your team’s habits. And this could be a ruthless process.

If your team drops reminders via sticky notes on top of a keyboard, then that has to change with the new software. If they are accustomed to company-wide broadcast emails sharing their latest musings, that’s gotta stop, too. When new tasks, ideas or thoughts come up, be sure they’re recorded in a way that’s consistent and accessible across the whole business unit or department.

3. Create a central place for information

Oftentimes, software tools can consolidate lots of the conversations that are being conducted over multiple channels. Email has its limitations because everyone organizes their inboxes differently; spreadsheets often don’t have the flexibility that teams need and your company message board or chat tool also has ideas in there, too. A project management software and/or a knowledge management repository will help you keep those tasks and documents straight and accessible.

4. Make Specific Tasks

Ever left a long meeting and didn’t know what to do next?

It’s lonely to feel left out and disengaged from the process. A good step in conducting better meetings is to not only have an agenda, but to also have actionable steps after the meeting. What’s helpful is to also record these in whatever software tool / method you’ve agreed to in point two. Creating action plans with specific tasks will help your team stay organized and collaborate more effectively. Checklists and templates can also help your team follow the same process each time.

5. Focus On What Makes A Difference

One downfall with collaboration in software is that there’s too much information sometimes. It’s easy to skip between tasks and projects, doing a little bit here and a little bit there. To combat that tendency to procrastinate, set priorities in your system to indicate what each team member should be focused on. Task priorities tell the team what’s important, keep them focused on achieving that goal, and streamline the workflow, saving your company money in the process.

Many teams say they want to be on the same page and work together, but often overlook the key tactical steps it takes to make that happen. And that can be exacerbated when introducing a new productivity platform or software tool. Setting expectations for how your team communicates can be helpfulful in establishing clear boundaries, and will also help your team collaborate and eliminate the constant search for a perfect collaboration solution.

Josh Spilker is a writer and content strategist for ClickUp, a top productivity platform. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

The People Piece helps leaders, managers and teams develop the communication and collaboration skills they need to get more done together. Contact us to learn more about our customized coaching, training and comprehensive development solutions.

Name the Elephant (or Kill the Lion)

Think of your organization as a pride of lions – powerful and in command, with outstanding collaboration skills. Almost nothing can stop you…except an elephant.

Lions face few risks at the hands of other animals in the wild. Yet they can sustain life-threatening injuries – or even death – at the hands of a raging elephant.

Every team and organization has its elephants. Not the literal beast, but the figurative one.

Will this management strategy really work? Why are we sticking with this inefficient process? Is this person truly the right fit for our team?

These are the conversations individuals, teams and companies don’t want to have. These are the proverbial ‘Elephants in the Room.’

We’ve all seen the team that won’t proactively confront its manager about an ill-fated strategy. We’ve heard of the leadership group that won’t challenge its CEO. And we’ve been in a relationship where it feels too risky to get real.

What happens in the wild when lions don’t pay close attention to elephants? They risk serious injury, or even death.

The same is true in today’s increasingly complex, innovative and fast paced workplace. What is left unsaid is often what sinks the best teams, strategies and organizations. Authentic conversations that name elephants, on the other hand, help teams to build trust, avoid mistakes and achieve greater results.

How do we overcome our natural fear of elephants and learn to leverage their mighty power instead? Try these four strategies:

Insist on Psychological Safety

It’s up to every team member – and especially leaders and managers – to ensure that all voices are heard and all views respected. That doesn’t mean everyone should agree with everyone else. Quite the contrary - it means encouraging a safe space for expression of diverse and often conflicting views. Do that by agreeing to communication ground rules that encourage participation, inviting less expressive team members to share their points of view and stepping in to protect those in the minority from scorn or abuse.

Run an Anonymous Assessment

Want to know what people really think? Run an anonymous assessment to measure basic indicators of team health, including the ability to get real, challenge others and give critical feedback. We like The Table Group’s on-line team assessment, based on Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Five Disfunctions of a Team.’

Train in Communication

In our work with organizations including Pinterest, Cirrus Logic, the ClimateWorks Foundation and others, the desire to have more open conversations nearly always comes out as a top organizational goal. Visit The People Piece website to learn more about how we teach leaders, managers, employees and teams to have difficult conversations that are productive and authentic.

Model the Way

If naming elephants helps take away their power, the most powerful thing any leader – or team member – can do is to take the risk and model the way. Help your peers, reports and managers see for themselves that difficult conversations won’t kill anyone. In fact, they will lead to stronger relationships, less mistakes and better results.

In the wild, successful lions pay close attention to elephants. The same goes for successful teams. Take the risk to have those difficult conversations, and encourage and enable other team members to do the same. We think you will see better ideas, less mistakes and stronger relationships.

Conflict Is Good

The meeting was nearly 20 years ago. I was 24 years old, a young non-profit director helping lead the formation of a large citywide coalition.

The tension in the room was thick. And it quickly boiled over.

After an increasingly acrimonious discussion, a leader in the group stood up and publically challenged me. I defended my position. He raised his voice, dug hard, and got personal.

I didn’t know what do to. And it didn’t seem like any of the 30 other people in the room did either.

Out of the silence, a local leader called out: “Conflict is good.”

I felt the truth in that statement. But I felt so angry, caught off guard and embarrassed, I stood up and walked out of the room.

For most of us, conflict is scary. It triggers a very real ‘fight, flight and/or freeze’ physiological reaction. That’s because it conjures up a host of fears: What if I harm this relationship by speaking up? What if they retaliate? What if I lose my cool and make matters worse? What if I was wrong all along? Our mind can’t tell these fears apart from the proverbial lion on the savannah, so a host of chemical reactions put us squarely at the mercy of primitive emotions – and squarely outside the realm of reason and calm.

Most of us want to avoid conflict. When it goes of the rails, the consequences can be uncomfortable at best and disastrous at worst.

Yet some level of conflict is inevitable in any relationship, both at work and in our personal lives. You want sushi for dinner, I want a burger. You think we need two weeks to complete the project, I think we need four. You think we should focus more on speed, I think we should focus more on quality. And the list goes on.

Not only is conflict inevitable, conflict can, to go back to those words uttered at that meeting nearly 20 years ago, actually be a good thing. Disagreements can lead to better ideas. They drive innovation. They generate commitment and buy-in, because we’ve all said our piece. They can even strengthen relationships – we build trust when we say what needs to be said, hash things out, and come to a resolution.

So how do we leverage the power of conflict while acknowledging the very real pitfalls it presents? The key is to turn conflict from a fight to win into a problem to solve, and then to work together for a solution that helps all parties.

Sounds great in theory, but how do you do that? We’ve drawn on the work of negotiation gurus like Bill Ury to develop a simple 4-part model you can use to work out any disagreement – with your boss, your coworker, your teenager, or your spouse.

We call this model SWOP, and we’ve taught it to hundreds of people in workplaces across the US and Europe. It stands for Same Side, Why, Options and Plan. Here’s how to use it.

Same Side

Same Side is a foundational mindset, and it is essential. Instead of viewing conflict as a fight to win or a position to defend, embracing a Same Side mindset means viewing a disagreement as a problem to solve. Same Side means taking our energy away from trying to convince someone else or defend against them, and instead, directing that energy – ours and theirs - toward working something out. Same Side starts with a sensitive set up and solution-oriented, collaborative framing. “I know you’re upset. Are you up for trying to see if there is a way we can both get what we need here?”


The biggest mistake we can make in any disagreement is to focus on the requests and demands we and the others may be making, instead of focusing on the interests and needs that underlie them. If I know you have a vacation planned for two weeks from now, I’ll be more likely to understand why you want to speed up the project timeline. And if you know I just got some heat from a customer, you may be more likely to empathize with me about why I think we need to take more time. It may sound simple, but in our experience teaching this content over the past 7 years, we have rarely if ever seen anyone in our training sessions practice asking someone why what they want matters to them, without first being prompted from us. People also very often skip explaining why what they want matters to them. Try asking and explaining why — in that order — and we think you’ll notice a game-changing shift. The key is to ask with genuine curiosity and explain with calmly and objectively, rather than acting like a lawyer trying to interrogate a witness, or make his or her case.


You are focusing on listening, explaining why and problem solving. Now how do you find a solution? The key is to brainstorm options that can help both parties meet their needs and achieve their goals. The biggest mistake people make at this stage: offering a way forward. Instead, we suggest asking, “What do you think we can do to resolve this?” That helps generate buy-in from the other party, and generates a real, two-way conversation. If you avoid asking and collaborative problem solving and push through your solution instead, you risk alienating the other party and deciding on a plan they won’t follow through on any way.


All your careful work comes to naught without a plan. That means agreeing to concrete next steps that can be verified later through a simple SPOT check: Scope (what are we agreeing to, and how much), Process (how will we get it done), Owner (who will do what), and Timeframe (by when we promise to deliver). If the plan is a broad one, check in at key milestones. That way, you can course correct, celebrate the wins and hold one another accountable as needed.

Will following these steps always ensure a perfect resolution to any disagreement? Of course not. But in our experience working with hundreds of leaders, managers, employees and teams at dozens of companies, using the SWOP tool can help transform destructive conflicts into productive exchanges that build trust and generate better solutions – one disagreement at a time.

3 Simple Questions Can Reveal Your Team’s Purpose and Drive Higher Levels of Engagement

A clearly articulated, aspirational purpose has become a key talent management strategy for many organizations in today’s mission-driven economy. Whether that drive stems from younger generations who seek jobs at value-driven companies, or from an overall ethical shift in business, more organizations are shifting their focus to the needs of multiple stakeholders—communities, employees, the natural environment—not just shareholder gains.

Purpose for everyone

An organization’s purpose must permeate through each department, division, and team, so that everyone can feel inspired by it, embody it, and work toward it. Only a true sense of shared purpose can drive the highest levels of retention, engagement and innovation.

While many companies spend countless hours, resources, and money crafting the perfect purpose statement to proudly display on their websites and social media channels, few organizations ask - and act on - an essential question: How do we bring our purpose down from the C-Suite to the managers and employees who need to actually feel it, and live it?

Why we work determines how well we work  

So, how do we help our people feel truly connected to our organization’s purpose?

Identifying purpose with your on-the-ground teams doesn't take hours with a consultant or even a bevy of resources. Instead, it requires your leaders, managers, and employees take the time to explore three key questions that can cultivate a stronger connection to a greater “why”:

1.  Aside from a paycheck, what gets you out of bed and into work everyday?

2.  How would you define your team's purpose? What do you do, how do you do it, and why do you do it?

3. How does what you do - individually and as a team - fit in with, and contribute to, the wider organization’s success?

Two scenarios

How could this activity pan out in the real world? Here are two examples, one involving a People Piece client and the other involving my previous career as a leader in the natural foods industry.

  1. Last year, The People Piece led an off-site in Taiwan that brought together 9 East Asian sales operations employees with their 4 US and UK-based sales managers. The managers wanted their employees to step up into greater ownership and proactivity. We guessed the employees might be holding back because they may not have realized just how important they were to the wider organization’s success. So we had the group answer the 3 purpose questions outlined above through a visual collaborative brainstorm using post-its. We also shared short video clips featuring colleagues from the US and UK singing the praises of their East Asian counterparts and all they appreciated about them. When the employees reflected on these activities, they were moved and motivated to see just what a critical role they play for the company, and why stepping up would help even more. Managers have reported a fundamental shift since the retreat.

  2. 5 years ago, I led a team of over 350 people and asked them these questions. After asking employees what kept them motivated to come to work each day, I posted the answers throughout the hallways of our building so everyone could see them. The responses were nothing short of revelatory. I suddenly knew so much more about the individuals on my team, and we all learned so much more about each other. By being honest and a little bit vulnerable, we found that the team’s sense of community and support inspired us to come back to work every day with even more passion and commitment. While my team members might have known what motivated them individually, revealing what was important to their colleagues was a deeply moving and motivating experience. It also helped me become a better, more attuned leader.

Reveal, connect, and share

When you ask purpose-oriented questions, you uncover your team members’ motivations, drive a greater sense of ownership, and learn a lot about how employees view the impact of their work. You also help ignite an even more rewarding connection between employees and a deeper understanding of why and how you and your team are in this together.

Yet these questions are just the beginning. I challenge you to take it a step further: try using your new insights to draft a new team purpose statement. Seek feedback from team members. Then proudly display your purpose statement in your workplace or on a shared cloud drive where everyone can see it. You might quickly read it at the start of regular team meetings. These tools might just have a profound effect on catalyzing your team and building a stronger, more successful, and more purpose-driven company.

We wish you the best of luck in uncovering your “why” at work. Be in touch if you want to find out more about how our team assessments, trainings, and facilitated session have helped develop more purpose-driven cultures at tech companies, global sales organizations, and public utilities in the US, Europe, and Asia.
Jess Peabody joined The People Piece as our Programs Lead in April of this year. Before that, she served as Community Director at Conscious Capitalism, with 11 years at Whole Foods Market as a Team Leader, Associate Store Team Leader, and Learning and Development Associate Director prior to that.

Create a Culture of Ownership at Work

At The People Piece, our clients often tell us that they want their people to take more ownership of their work, responsibilities, and roles in their organizations. They say, “Instead of passing the buck, we want people to take responsibility, develop solutions, and take action to improve things. We want them to go above and beyond, even if it’s outside their role.”  

It’s not surprising. Organizations and teams with higher levels of ownership exhibit greater productivity, efficiency, and innovation. Team members are happier, and so are customers. And because the burden of leadership is shared more evenly, managers and leaders get to spend more time on important strategic functions instead of fighting fires.

While having an Ownership Culture is clearly beneficial, creating one can be challenging. Announcing to your team, “From now on, we want everyone to step up and own things more” doesn’t tend to cut it. In fact, doing so can backfire, creating resentment and mistrust.

So, how can leaders, managers, and team members engage in smart actions to drive ownership among their employees and peers? In our experience, these 4 tools are key:

1. Connect to purpose

As children, the first question many of us ask is: Why? And we never stop asking, seeking to understand the world around us. The drive to understand doesn’t end when we’re at work.

One of the most powerful ways to drive ownership is to help your team members understand how what everyone does matters and fits into the bigger picture. Not only does a sense of purpose increase motivation, it fosters an environment where team members can take the reins because they understand goals and dependencies.

Engage your people’s rational minds through numbers, plans, and bullets points, and appeal to their emotional centers through stories, images, and aspirational language. (Why both? Chip and Dan Heath explain in their book Switch.)

2. Ask a lot more questions

You can’t expect people to own things as theirs if most of the ideas and directions come from you. Even the most well-meaning, empowering managers and leaders can benefit from a hefty dose of one simple practice: asking more questions.

Asking “What do you think we should do?” or “What could you do to solve that problem?” can naturally put team members in an ownership frame and drive commitment.

The best way to get people talking, thinking, and often, acting, is to ask questions. As leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni says, “If you don’t weigh in, you can’t buy in.”

3. Insist on solutions

Bake a solution-orientation into your organization’s values and expected behaviors, and model the way yourself.

Each time someone gets into an old pattern of throwing their hands up, ask them, “What can you do?” If they need more direction, be more specific. Try asking “Would you come up with 3 possible ways we can solve this, along with recommendations for action and suggested next steps?”

Repetition and consistency pay off, and will help shift mindsets and behaviors towards change through solutions and problem solving.

4. Let go of control

Lastly, if you want people to truly feel a sense of ownership, you need to let go of some of it yourself. Would you design that initiative better than your employee? In some cases, almost certainly. But if you do most of the ideation and planning, it becomes a lot harder for others to feel a true sense of ownership.

If you truly want to drive ownership in your organization, you need to bite the bullet and let go of control. Only then will people feel more like the work, the outcomes, and even the organization are truly theirs.

- - - - -

Building an Ownership Culture can be challenging, especially if people have been passing the buck for years. Trying to get people out of a mode of being “good enough”—or worse, being a “victim”—often challenges deep-seated behaviors and beliefs. Yet over time, we’ve found that individuals, teams, and organizations can shift into new ways of thinking and acting.

Remember that success doesn’t just mean increased productivity, efficiency, and innovation—it also means happier people, healthier cultures, and an organization where everybody leads.

And that’s something we hope that you’ll keep working toward every day.

Roni and The People Piece team

PS - Want to drive ownership in your team, group, or organization? Get in touch to learn more about how our comprehensive, customized development programs have helped develop ownership cultures at tech companies, global sales organizations, and public utilities in the US, Europe, and Asia.


Are You Bringing Your Whole Self to Work?

I have spent the past 17 years as a speaker and consultant, partnering with employees, leaders, and teams across a wide variety of companies. I’ve seen lots of examples of what works and what doesn’t work for the success and engagement of individuals, managers, and organizations. 

Whether as a professional baseball player in my young adulthood or my current life and career as a developer of high performing teams, I’ve struggled with fears, doubts, insecurities, and an erroneous obsession with wanting to be liked by everyone. My commitment to authenticity and to bringing my whole self to work is an on-going practice. While sometimes challenging, it is always important.

For any of us to truly succeed, especially in today’s business world, we must be willing to bring our whole selves to the work that we do. For the teams and organizations that we’re a part of to thrive, it’s also essential to foster an environment where people feel safe enough to bring all of who they are to work. 

Here are five specific things you can do to both bring all of who you are to work and empower your team to be as effective, successful, and engaged as possible:

1. Be Authentic

The foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability. It takes courage to be authentic, and it’s essential for trust, growth, and connection.

2. Utilize the Power of Appreciation

Appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships, empowering teams, and maintaining a healthy outlook. Bringing your whole self to work is about being willing to be seen, and also about seeing and supporting the people around you.

3. Focus on Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is often more important than IQ, skills and experience—in terms of your ability both to manage your relationships and to bring your whole self to work. EQ is both about you (self-awareness and self-management) and about how you relate to others (social awareness and relationship management).

4. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is a way of approaching your work and your life with an understanding that you can improve at anything if you’re willing to work hard, dedicate yourself, and practice. It’s also about looking at every experience (even, indeed especially, your challenges) as an opportunity for growth and learning.

5. Create a Championship Team

The environment around you and the people you work with have a significant impact on your ability (or inability) to fully show up, engage, and thrive. At the same time, the more willing you are to bring our whole self to work, the more impact you can have on others. Creating a championship team is about building a culture that is safe and conducive to people being themselves, caring about one another, and being willing and able to do great work together.

Regardless of where you work, what kind of work you do, or with whom you do it, bringing your whole self to work allows you to be more satisfied, effective, and free. For a leader who wants to influence others, having the courage to lead with authenticity also allows you to build or enhance your team’s culture in such a way that encourages others to bring all of who they are to work. That, in turn, unlocks greater creativity, connection, and performance for your people, your team and your organization.

Are you willing to lean in and bring all of who you are to work?

Mike Robbins is the author of four books including his latest, Bring Your Whole Self to Work: How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance

He is a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, eBay, Genentech, Schwab, the San Francisco Giants, and many others. For more information on Mike and his work, visit

Portions of this article are excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.

Rethink Your Team's Development

“Employee development” is often framed as learning certain skills or building knowledge to keep employees engaged and productive. We all hear about company-funded training, attending upcoming conferences in our field, or how everyone should read the latest best-selling business book.

But the way we see it, employee development is less about what you and your people can do and more about how your team can achieve specific, time-bound goals together. Instead of focusing on individual knowledge, skills, and abilities, we encourage you to look at the potential of your people and ask, “What do we want and need to achieve together over by a set period of time? What capacity do we need to build to get there successfully?”

What Do You Want to Achieve in 1 Year?

Agree on realistic, measurable, and concrete benchmarks, such as, “Bring in $1 million by December 31, 2018,” or “Have 20 ongoing and committed clients by October 1, 2018.” By being detailed in both number and deadline, your team will feel more empowered and driven to rise to the challenge.

Once you’ve agreed on specific overarching goals for the coming year, post those goals somewhere where everyone will see them regularly. Put them on a shared calendar, or an online business dashboard. If you don’t have one, create one that everyone can see. Think of this goal as a mission statement to keep your people inspired and focused. Eyes on the prize every day.

Then, after you’ve determined what you want to achieve, planning how you’ll get there will be a lot easier.

What Can Your Team Bring to the Table Already?

Once you’ve figured out what you want to achieve over a specific time frame, you can map out what capabilities you’ll need to get there. Chances are that if you’ve hired driven, high-performing people, you have the talent, you’ll just need to ask them a few questions.

Ask your team members: “What do you like to do?” Then ask, “What do you think you’re good at doing?” And your third question can be, “What kind of work would benefit both you and your team that you’d like to stretch into?”

Maybe your team members have passions that you didn’t even know about, and those talents align with your team’s goals. Combine this potentially new information with the strengths that you know your people already have.

If your people are doing what they love to do, they’re more likely to take ownership of their work, follow through with excellence, and stay with your organization. And instead of spending time and money on trainings to develop skills and knowledge your team members might be lacking, you’re leveraging their existing talents right away.

What Does Your Team Need to Be Successful?

You’ve figured out what you want to accomplish. You have driven, passionate, and hard-working people. Now… what new, improved capabilities does your team need to build to get there?

Get down into the nitty-gritty of what skills and capabilities your people have, which ones they both need, and want to build. Align those with your team’s goals. Now that you know a little more about what each member of your team is good at and wants to learn, you can work together to create development plans that benefit the group and keep the individuals engaged. Way better than just sending someone from your team to the next conference in your field because you feel like you should.

Say Angelica is your leading sales rep, and you want your her to help your sales team increase sales by 50% over the next 12 months. Angelica has the skills and the drive, but you need a better strategy and planning to reach that benchmark.

So how can you work together to both help Angelica develop and be successful in reaching your collective goal? Maybe it's a specialized sales-planning training. Maybe it’s connecting her with a more senior sales veteran with experience in sales strategy. Work together to develop the plan that keeps your target at the forefront.

We wish you the best of luck in developing your people. Be in touch if you want to find out more about how our team assessments, feedback training, and consulting services can help you shape the team of your dreams.

What are your upcoming achievement goals?

4 Tools for Giving Tough Feedback

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Oreo” method of feedback. You (inauthentically) butter someone up by telling them how great they are, then you tell them how they suck, then you (inauthentically) tell them how great they are.

Despite this technique’s popularity, it actually isn’t all that effective. Maybe the “Oreo” has stuck around for so long because it feels easier.

Giving critical feedback can be tough. As compassionate managers, team leaders, and co-workers, we might fear hurting the other person’s feelings, being misunderstood, or even triggering retaliation. If you are on the receiving end, you might leave the conversation feeling incompetent, ashamed, or attacked.

But giving and receiving feedback—whether from coworkers, managers, customers, or outside partners—is essential. Given well, it helps individuals to grow, products to develop, teams to innovate, and organizations to become more effective.

If that weren’t enough, according to a recent Gallup poll, Millennial workers want feedback. So, how can we give feedback so it has the best chance of getting through another person’s defenses and be heard the way we intended? Focus on the following 4 tools:

1. Offer your observations, not “the facts.”

Our perception of someone sometimes doesn’t line up with their perceptions of themselves. So, if you tell someone that they’re not meeting your expectations, and they think they’re doing a fabulous job… that might create confusion, unnecessary tension, or even animosity.

When addressing a concern about an employee or peer’s behavior or performance, frame your statements as observations, not absolutes. Try beginning with phrases like, “I’ve observed,” or “A team member has said,” (without naming names, of course). This lets the receiver understand from the very beginning that these are perceptions, not objective truths.

2. Describe the impact of the behavior you want changed.

The past is past, so why not look forward to how everyone can do better in the future?

As employees, managers, and human beings, we appreciate when someone explains the “why.” Say your team member Danika missed an important deadline to submit a proposal to convert a new client. And say that potential client hired another team. The issue isn’t so much the missed deadline. It’s the lost opportunity. It’s the other team members feeling let down. It’s the disappointment felt by all of missing a chance for a team-wide triumph.

So, instead of berating Danika about the deadline, try describing how submitting reports in a timely fashion helps not only convert clients, but also contributes to the overall success of the team in the long run. And when she succeeds, everyone on the team shares in that success.

3. Focus on solving problems, not judging people.

The best way to trigger someone else’s defensiveness and derail a conversation from the start is to project blame or judgment. Skip it. Instead, get in the habit of offering future-oriented feedback.

Remember Danika? Maybe she needs some help managing her time. Maybe she’s feeling overwhelmed, either at work, or at home. Does she need more check-ins? Perhaps an accountability buddy on the team? Maybe she’d appreciate your help in outlining a specific plan of action with smaller steps that will make her projects seem less daunting. Figure out what the problem is so that you and she can work together to solve it for the future.

4. Appreciate the other’s strengths and their willingness to hear you.

At the end of the conversation, let the other person know that you appreciate their strengths, and that they were willing to listen to your concerns. Maybe you found out that Danika is juggling several difficult projects at once, which is why she missed that deadline. You can let her know that you appreciate her efforts trying to keep on top of it all, even if you didn’t know just how much work she’s tackling.

Remember that any time you give or receive feedback, you have an opportunity to work on building long-term relationships that help everyone learn, grow, and be better humans. If you focus on the future, you’re already off to a great start.

Let us know how your conversations go, and be in touch if you want to find out more about our work helping organizations develop cultures of healthy feedback.

3 Words That Will Help You Actually Keep Your 2018 Resolutions

Resolutions. Practices. Intentions. We all make them. But how many of us actually stick to them all year long? And what about the people we coach, develop, manage and collaborate with?

Many of us craft a variety of ambitious New Year’s resolutions. Yet we all know what happens to most of them. By February or March, our best intentions lie by the wayside as we revert back to our old habits. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Keep It Simple

Over dinner shortly after the new year began, a colleague reminded me that less is more. Yes, sometimes it’s important to have detailed action plans to drive behavior change for you and your teams, but we’re more likely to follow through with our intentions if we keep them simple.

This year, in addition to comprehensive plans for improvement, try boiling it all down to three words. Ask yourself:

Which three words best sum up my intentions, goals, and commitments for the new year?

For example, my 3 Words for 2018 are Presence, Authenticity, and Organic Growth. I’ll count that third one as one word ;)

Keep Yourself Accountable

Creating your list might be easier than you think. If you coach, manage, or support others, encourage them to find their own 3 Words. Then help them stay committed to acting on those words throughout the year.

Personally, I like to write my 3 Words on a sticky note (or 3) and keep them somewhere visible. I also often write my 3 Words out at the top of meeting agendas and to-do lists.

If you use a planner, you might want to write your 3 Words in the front pages. Wherever you put them, make sure your 3 Words stay visible. For even greater accountability, share them with your friends and colleagues. When you take time to reflect, meditate, or even go for a walk, imagine what it feels like to truly embody these words, at home and at work.

Keep Focused on Your Goals

We hope that your 3 Words help you focus on your goals for the new year, bringing you success and positive change.

Roni and The People Piece team

PS - Want to drive change in your team, group or organization? Get in touch to learn more about our comprehensive, customized development programs.

What are your 3 Words?
Help keep yourself accountable and share in the comments.

4 Tools for Holding Others Accountable — Without Being a Jerk

Ted is your co-worker. He is on another team, and you depend on him to get you things so you can complete your tasks.

Each time you ask Ted to get you something by a certain date, he says, “For sure!” The only problem is that half the time, he doesn’t deliver.

To make matters worse, he doesn’t let you know he will be late. Sometimes, he doesn’t even respond to your emails asking about his part of the project and when it will arrive. 

You’re pretty sure Ted means well, but his lack of follow-through is a problem: it costs you time, raises stress levels and slows down projects. Sometimes, his actions have an impact on other team members. They might also make you look bad to your manager because deadlines slip or work is rushed.

You don’t want to be pushy, but you can’t keep letting Ted’s lack of follow-through slide. What is a well-meaning, diligent collaborator to do?

Lack of accountability can have a significant negative impact on our work. Yet whether we have authority over someone or we don’t, most of us tend to want to avoid calling people like Ted out.

Here’s what we hear from the leaders, managers, and individual contributors we work with: “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.” “I don’t want to harm the relationship.” “What if it just makes things worse?” “What if they become demotivated, or even quit?” Sometimes, we hear things like, “What if I don’t have my facts straight and it turns out I was wrong?” “What if they attack me or retaliate in some way?” And finally, “I don’t want to be a jerk.”

These are all valid concerns. They cause most of us to either skip holding Ted accountable at all, or engage in a conversation with him that we know is too soft at best, or passive aggressive at worst.

Yet in today’s collaborative work environment, we depend on others to complete our work, and we must hold others accountable for theirs. If we are a leader or manager, doing so is part of our job. At any level, accountability is one of the hallmarks of a great organization.

So, what is a nice person to do when someone else isn’t following through? Avoid the main mistakes people make when having accountability conversations, and focus on these four key tools instead:

Instead of Blame, Embrace a “Same Side” Mindset

The best way to sink an accountability conversation from the start is to blame the other party. Blame is also the approach most likely to elicit a defensive response and close the door to improvement. Instead of blaming, embrace a “Same Side” mindset. That doesn’t mean agreeing with Ted or “being nice.” It means viewing the fact that you aren’t getting what you need as a problem to solve, rather than a fault to place blame. Focus on solving the problem together, for the good of the project, your teams, your relationship, and the organization.

Instead of Judgments, Focus on the Data

Maybe Ted is just lazy, or maybe he’s really out to make your life hell. Probably not. Either way, your judgments of Ted will put him on the defensive and won’t help you stay Same Side. Instead, focus on the data, that is, what actually happened. Calmly explain to Ted the pattern you have noticed. Be specific and concise, and ask him if he’s noticed the same. 

Instead of Convincing, Describe the Impact

Most accountability conversations fail because each party tries to convince the other they’re right. “It’s your job to get me these things, isn’t it?!” “Well, I have other things to do, you know, and you’re not my manager!” Instead of making a case for why Ted should change, describe how his lack of follow-through affects the work, your team, the customer—and yes, you.

Instead of a One-Way Conversation, Generate Solutions Together

Instead of first proposing your ideas, start by asking Ted. Tap into your Same Side mindset, and ask Ted what he thinks he needs to do to deliver on his commitments more regularly. You’re far more likely to engage him and get his buy-in. And who knows? He might even think of a better set of solutions than you.

Will these conversations go perfectly every time? Nope, we’re all still human. But after working with hundreds of managers, individual contributors, and teams, we have seen the difference they can make.

A few things happen when we try these tools: We get more of our work done. We’re less stressed. Our relationships improve. And we may just be giving Ted a gift too: compassionately helping him to see his shortcomings and improve his follow-through.

We hope this helps! Feel free to let us know how your accountability conversations go, and get in touch if you think some coaching or training might be useful for your organization.

Roni Krouzman and The People Piece team