It’s been one month since our Future of High Performance Masterclass and we’re excited to soon be sharing our Report with members of the Future of Work Research Consortium, which will present the key findings from our extensive research on this theme. The Masterclass was packed full of insights, activities and opportunities to network and share good practices. We had three fantastic guest speakers on the day, so here are my key takeaways from their insightful contributions.
Dr. Randall S. Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, spoke to delegates about the power of collaboration in high performance teams. My favourite takeaway from Randall’s presentation was about how research shows that the best teams are the most diverse – but so are the very worst teams. He argued that the key was in the management of these teams. When diverse teams are managed well, members have access to a variety of sources of information and have opportunities to learn from each other and grow. However, when teams are managed poorly, it gives rise to task conflicts (disagreements around the content of the work), relationship conflicts (personal disagreements) and process conflicts (disagreements about the logistics of getting work done). Creating common understandings of problems, encouraging information sharing and promoting psychological safety and belongingness are a couple of ways to begin managing conflict and supporting high performance teams.
Tom Ravenscroft, founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, identified three major myths about human skills which need to be formally debunked. The first is that these skills are innate and that there are some “natural” team players. The second myth is that these skills are picked up by osmosis and simply “rub off” on people, rather than needing to be taught. The third is that these skills lie latent and that, in the “right situation”, people will show these skills. Organisations need to abandon these assumptions in order to make real progress towards building the skills of the future.
Lynda Gratton, Hot Spots Movement’s founder and CEO, told delegates about her main impressions from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year – you can read her full blog for MIT Sloan here. Lynda stated that one hot topic was that work is undergoing a major transition, as technology demands that people upskill and reskill more rapidly than ever before. At our Masterclass, one of our delegates asked Lynda a fascinating question: how can CEOs continue to be creative when they are under increasing pressure to take immediate action to address this transition in work? Our research indicates that CEOs need the support of HR to look beyond the short term and develop a narrative on the future of work. By developing a point of view on learning and making their involvement and investment in learning initiatives a priority, they can help their people to develop the skillsets necessary to transform and adapt.
So, some key questions to consider when thinking about high performance in the long term are:
- Am I building the uniquely human skills I will need to succeed in the future of work?
- Am I harnessing the power of diversity in my team?
- Does my CEO have a clear narrative on what our organisation will look like in the future and what we need to do and learn in order to get there?
As our definition of high performance changes, building our skillsets and prioritising our interpersonal skills and development will help us to become more future-proofed. Drop me an email if you’d like to have a conversation about high performance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).
 FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).
When we meet people, we often think that we can tell a lot about them by the occupation they have. “So, what do you do?” is probably the most common icebreaker I hear, as our work is often regarded as shorthand for explaining to people who we are.[i] But our work identity is not our only identity.
No one person has a single identity; we all have talents, interests, relationships with others, causes we’re passionate about and worldviews that help to make us who we are. In order to embrace our authentic selves throughout our careers, the question researchers are now asking is how to balance the multiple identities that we have. But, after exploring agile people strategies here at Hot Spots Movement, what I think we should be asking is how to integrate them.[ii]
We are increasingly moving away from the 9-5, from which people can clock off and assume their out-of-office identity. With technology enabling a 24/7 culture and people demanding flexible, agile ways of working, our work and our personal lives are becoming more and more interwoven. Instead of allowing our work to monopolise our time and become the core part of our identity (something psychologists call “work-role centrality”) or viewing our work as something that begins and ends and is entirely separate from other aspects of our lives, integrating our identities enables us to be our authentic selves at all times, living and working according to our values and passions.[iii]
The rise in thinking about work-life integration focuses on scheduling time to disconnect and break away from our desks at multiple points throughout the day to ensure that we are maintaining our vitality and sustaining our productivity. Perhaps this can be as easy as using our lunch breaks more effectively, for example, to go to the gym, attend a lecture or catch up on that tv episode you missed. It might be leaving work early to make sure you have dinner with your family or friends and making up that time at home later on.
To fully integrate our work-life identities, we should consider how to reignite or reinforce our connection with work. Instead of perceiving work as something we have to switch off from, how can we make work more meaningful and more aligned with our other identities?
Firstly, we can seek out new projects. When current work isn’t stimulating, we should find new ways to feed our intellectual curiosity. Seeking new challenges and a greater variety within our working day may help us to gain a whole new perspective on what work means to us and what really holds our interest. Similarly, pursuing new skills that we’re passionate about mastering or gain new knowledge on a topic we’ve always been interested in can raise both our engagement and sense of purpose at work.[iv]
Expanding our networks and meeting diverse people can introduce us not only to potential new friends but to potential new futures for ourselves, as these connections may be able to offer advice and guidance as we forge new career paths. Attending external conferences, lectures and events, or reaching out to colleagues from different internal functions are simple ways to integrate our work with our other interests.
To stop your work identity from becoming your only identity, find ways to integrate and align your work with your passions, interests and talents. To talk more about our identities at work, drop me an email at email@example.com
[i] Al Gini, ‘Work, Identity and Self: How We Are Formed by the Work We Do’ (1998).
For somebody like me for whom time is a gift – not as extra years added to the later part of my life but right now in the form of an 8th day of the week, an extra hour every day – I’m keen to understand why time is so volatile. Why are so many people struggling to make ends meet time-wise at work?
When at Hot Spots Movement we speak to companies around the world, and again lately when we were in Australia, we hear from senior executives how stretched they are, with many requests on their time that are not to do with their ‘day job’. Of course, in a time such as this of increasingly fluid job design and project-based working, the definition of ‘day job’ is not a hard and fast one. Nevertheless, it seems that many of the requests are peripheral to people’s roles. You may ask why this is an issue – after all being useful is profoundly satisfying to most people, and contributing to the ‘greater good’ of the organisation by delivering input over and above your own projects surely is positive? It is, but not at the expense of preserving time to focus, to think, and to ponder longer-term strategic matters. When people are persistently stretched, and their time therefore is too fragmented, their productivity, creativity and wellbeing may suffer. Although a hidden cost for some time, it will eventually catch up with both the individual and the organisation.
So, what is it that is occupying the time of busy executives, and are these tasks really adding value? They seem to fall into two categories: reporting, and collaborative endeavours, such as attending meetings or reviewing others’ work.
Let’s start with reporting. One of the many great columns Lucy Kellaway wrote in The Financial Times was about why young people leave jobs. Her empirical evidence was that they lose the will to live because they were promised meaningful work, however, once on the job, they’re asked to produce reports and spreadsheets that are not being put to use. I’m not convinced this only happens to young people.
Next, collaboration. As the new and indiscriminately applied preferred working style in many organisations, there’s a tendency to over-collaborate and be too consensus-focused (or afraid of taking full accountability). Both lead to more meetings and more requests for input, where in fact one or two viewpoints would suffice. Of course, there’s a certain respect for hierarchy, and there are compliance-driven requests, but we could question more what is on our to-do list, be they legacy tasks or new tasks. And a bit tongue-in-cheek, see what happens if we don’t get around to providing our input. I’m not sure it would always even be noticed?
As companies move to designing work around projects rather than roles, I’m wondering if we should learn from freelance workers who work on discrete and time-defined projects, measured on outcome, and therefore can focus on these? Perhaps a zero-budgeting  based approach to how we spend our time may be helpful – regularly resetting the to-do list to 0. We need to be regularly asking ourselves, ‘what is it that keeps me busy, and is it really adding value?’ On that note, back to my to-do list, where the first point is to critically question the items!
 Where you have to justify what you need to spend, starting from 0 for every period, rather than assuming legacy spend requirements.
I have always been a fan of Big Bands. They create such amazing, diverse sounds, from the beautifully orchestral Glenn Miller Band, to the endlessly energetic music produced by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Music has taught me a whole host of valuable lessons, but it is only since I started working for Hot Spots Movement that I have begun to realise how useful it is to consider the Big Band as a metaphor for the organisation. Here are a few ways that I believe tapping into jazz can help you to improve your performance at work.
There are no mistakes in jazz
It’s an old cliché but experimentation, expression and freedom are what jazz is all about. You shouldn’t be afraid to try new notes and rhythms, because that’s how you push the melody forwards and create something new and exciting. This attitude should hold true in the workplace as well. Recent research has indicated that high performance organisations actively promote risk-taking and have a high tolerance for failure and setbacks.[i] Those who never make mistakes are actually perceived as “too safe” and are seen to be avoiding opportunities to innovate.[ii] Improvise, explore new ideas and do not be afraid to fail; you never know what you might discover.
Solo, Soli, Tutti
It’s written into the music: there are times when you are expected to play alone and to take the lead (solo); times when you play in sync with your section (soli); and there are times when the whole band comes together as one (tutti). Knowing when these moments are and when you should be playing either a leading or a supporting role is vital. Great leaders are also great followers: they know the strengths of their people and are able to defer to the expertise of people in their team. In doing so, they develop leadership qualities in others and create a collaborative, successful team that respects each other’s skills and leverages everyone’s talent. Being able to both lead and follow – and recognise when each is appropriate – demonstrates your commitment to the group and shows that you are thinking about what you produce together rather than what you can produce alone.
Practice makes perfect
Like typical business meetings, rehearsals are necessary to discover how the music (or, indeed, the project) is developing. During rehearsals, players have the opportunity to learn from each other and to see how their individual parts feed into the whole. However, the most sophisticated players also spend time practicing their part alone, away from the group, in order to improve not only their command of the piece but their general playing ability. Similarly, research has shown that, in the workplace, taking time to step back and process your work fuels creativity, as employees are given space to arrange their thoughts and explore the ideas that emerged in collaborative sessions.[iii] Time away from the music room or office to practice your techniques and hone your thinking is vital, as interspersing collaboration and solo time makes for the most well-rounded and competent players and employees.
So, when you next think about your team performance, perhaps ask yourself – do we operate in a safe space which encourages us to experiment and learn? Do we know when to take solos and when to step back and support others? And, finally, are we taking enough time to process our work and explore ways to innovate and improve our performance? If the answer to any of these questions leans towards the negative, tapping into jazz may be a real way to drive your team forwards.
What incites people to deliver their best performance? I have been exploring this question for some years now and I am increasingly of the view that the answer lies in empowering people. People will be most committed and motivated to the organisation when they feel their day-to-day work environment is autonomous. They need to believe they have a sense of control over their work or they may adopt what psychologist Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania termed ‘learned helplessness’, where they basically stop taking initiative.
Building a culture of trust is what will truly make a significant difference. Research indicates that people in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, suffer less chronic stress and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. Simply put, when companies trust people to choose which projects they will work on, they focus on what they care about most and this powers greater performance.
An important caveat to remember here is that autonomy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can fuel creativity and performance. On the other, autonomy can also lead to ambiguity and chaos. This is because the effects of empowering people are largely impacted by how people perceive their leader’s behaviour. People may perceive greater autonomy as an indication that the leader trusts them and is providing them with opportunities for growth or they may see empowerment as evidence that the leader can’t lead and is trying to avoid making difficult decisions. In the latter example, people may become frustrated about their role, leading to worse performance. It is therefore vital that when trying to empower people, the leader makes sure people are equipped effectively to perform their jobs. To make this happen, an ongoing discussion of the needs, obstacles, what is working and what is not working is of paramount importance to the development and upkeep of an autonomous working environment. Indeed, providing people real autonomy requires hard work of crafting all the incentives, practices and processes that actually empower employees to be autonomous. A good practice illustrating how to approach autonomy is the Swedish company Spotify as they have largely succeeded in maintaining an agile and autonomous mindset without sacrificing accountability.
Please send any ideas or examples you have on building an environment that empowers people. I would love to hear them!
 Monarth, H. (2014). Make your team feel powerful. Harvard Business Review
 Zak, P. (2017). The Neuroscience of trust. Harvard Business Review
 Mankins, M. & Garton, E. (2017). How Spotify balances autonomy and accountability. Harvard Business Review
A fascinating interest of mine is the human consciousness. I could forever learn about how each of our brains, 1 kilogram of hard matter, conjures up an infinite kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings, memories and emotions, which make us ‘conscious’. This conscious awareness has long been assumed to govern how we make the approximately 35,000 decisions required of us each a day – from what time to get out of bed to what to eat for dinner. However, increasingly, there is evidence to suggest that many of the decisions we make are determined not by our conscious thought, but instead by our unconscious thoughts. This theory is a relatively new one, titled the Unconscious Thought Theory or UTT, (Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, 2006).
We all have an ‘unconscious’. It is where the bulk of our mind’s processing takes place, attributing to our beliefs and behaviours. Our unconscious mind’s main purpose is to prevent mental overload by efficiently informing our decisions based on quick reference to past events and experiences. However, research has begun to suggest that our unconscious may go beyond informing decisions, and actually be making our decisions for us. In one study by Soon et al (2008), it was concluded that our brains make decisions up to ten seconds before we realise it. So much so, that researchers could predict what decisions participants would make before they were even aware of having made a decision.
This can be both positive and negative. As anyone who has come across the literature or training on unconscious bias will know, it can result in us making snap judgments that reflect stereotypes and bias.
However, it seems it can also be positive. For example, whilst theorising UTT, Dijksterhuis and Nordgren found that when participants faced a complex task, the group which had more time to deliberate but were distracted (and therefore not consciously thinking about the task), had better and faster solutions. This is particularly interesting for us at Hot Spots Movement, when we consider how we perceive complex tasks and decisions, particularly at work, and how we might tackle them in the best way.
So, how can we tap into our unconscious to help deliver better and faster decisions?
Firstly, we could all benefit from a good night’s sleep. I’ve found this is the most accessible as our unconscious mind does not rest at night, instead it is busy making sense of the day’s events. It’s a common feeling to wake up from sleep and feel like a brand-new person, with your troubles not seeming as big as they did the night before. A tip for being in touch with your unconscious insights would be to write down your initial solutions to a problem first thing in the morning, before your conscious mind takes hold again.
Another way is through meditation or yoga, which are both fast-becoming forms of ‘fashionable’ exercise but actually benefit you by initiating deep insight, calmness and reflections. They work by allowing you to think beyond your conscious distractions to really consider who you are and the choices you make and if they resonate with your being.
Lastly, you can channel unconscious thoughts by putting yourself in situations where you can repeatedly act spontaneously, for example, during Improv classes – Improv is a form of unscripted theatre, where actors make up the story in the moment. Improv is a great way of channelling your unbiased thoughts and feelings – the idea is that you are in a safe environment and able to give entirely impulsive responses to a friend’s own, impulsive response. These reactions have not had time to be considered or filtered by your conscious so, over time, you can inadvertently learn about your instincts and how to involve your unconscious mind in your decisions. Several of my colleagues here at Hot Spots Movement practice Improv for the very same reason – to be more in touch with their unconscious mind. It has proven very beneficial for many reasons – so much so that here at Hot Spots Movement, we have started incorporating Improv exercises into our workshops with clients to enhance collaboration and trust amongst employees.
So, next time you’re struggling to think of a new approach to a difficult problem, perhaps consider engaging your unconscious mind. Take a moment for meditation, distract yourself with another seemingly unrelated task, or perhaps even sleep on it. It could be that your unconscious mind already knows the answer.
If you’d like to find out more about how you can use Improv to enhance collaboration and trust amongst employees within your organisations then please do get in touch on Melissa@hotspotsmovement.com