From reading articles celebrating company cultures, reading various “perks” in job descriptions, and seeing how companies cite foosball tables less and less, it seems like we’re making progress on creating genuinely effective teams.
Harvard Business Review came out with an article in 2016 called The Neuroscience of Trust. In it, the author states perks are not the way forward to high productivity — neither, would I add, are carrots and sticks.
He goes after organizational trust as the keystone for what’s required. Similarly, anyone who wants to study this more in-depth should read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
Getting back to trust, it’s not about ping pong, unlimited snacks, free-flowing booze, or other amenities (of which these aren’t bad), but what is that doing? Arguably, that’s creating the distant parent mentality of “let me just buy them whatever they want as long as they get it done, but I don’t have time for or want to prioritize relationships.”
We’re human. We can go years without foosball or ping pong; we don’t need an in-house chef, or free-flowing booze (okay, some may argue with that). What we need are relationships with one another. We live in community! Happiness may come from a fun night out or some innovative perk. Joy comes from real relationships — with other humans. If we want to grow our company’s productivity, don’t focus on those things that be solved by money but lack the heart.
Here are a few ideas, with concepts taken from the HBR article:
- Thank your employees. Publicly, and frequently. Recognize that they are humans and could work elsewhere, could have their minds focused on other things, but instead have chosen to work with and for you.
- Share new challenges. We rarely say it publicly, but we often have “stay in your lane!” mentalities. Why does that employee want to focus elsewhere? Why don’t they have 100% of their focus on their current job, duty, or responsibility? Have a conversation. Maybe they need a new challenge. Perhaps they need to hear how valuable it is to you?
- Discretionary working. What if your employees could choose how they get their work done, when they get it done, in what order, etc.? Sometimes that’s not possible — baking a cake that’s going to be picked up at 5 pm for a birthday party requires precision of ingredients and timeliness — but are there other ways you can give your team freedom and flexibility? Humans are not robotic.
- Define your role. It may not be feasible to allow employees to define or create their own roles, but what if you took the popular model of allowing Fridays to be “create whatever you want” days? Alternatively, just get started with Friday afternoons. That little bit of freedom (4 hours out of a 40 hour week) is often the spark to rejuvenate a person, not just for their projects but for the other 90% of the week!
- Transparency. This one is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve worked for some companies where much of the information required a prybar. The funny part? The places where I knew the overall challenges and opportunities focused me on my role much more than blindly assuming things were going well, or the rumor mill spinning up ideas on how it was the end of times.
As an employee, I learned to pose the question, “what are the top three things keeping you up at night?” Invite your employees in, find ways to share information.
- Socialize. No, “socialize” does not equate to happy hour. It can include it, but it’s so much more.
What does it look like to say hi to a coworker and ask how their day is going? What about a quick video call to someone far away? A quick Slack message? Could those “little” things add up?
- Personal development. Similar to freedom and discretionary working, how can you help your employees in their personal and professional development? There is one new perk that I do believe in and wish to see at far more companies: company coaches. The idea is that you can work with a company coach to help your personal and professional development. Sometimes we either don’t have access to or money for hiring an external coach — though, if you can, then do that. A coach (internal or external) can help us mature, adopt a growth mindset, and see the world differently. They can also help us see the challenges and road ahead at the company, understand how to navigate it, and help us see our future there.
- Vulnerability. In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she goes deep into vulnerability and shame, two topics we all fear. However, as she puts it, vulnerability is a strength rather than a weakness. “Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Yes, it’s fear-inducing to put yourself out there. Being vulnerable is a required ingredient for growth — as she talks about preparing to go on stage at TED, loving those around her, etc.
If you want “easy,” then go and spend lots of money going head-to-head with all the Valley VC-backed start-ups. You’ll undoubtedly lose unless you have an incredibly sexy brand and have tens of millions in the bank to entice employees to stay. However, if you want a high-functioning team, then consider what it means to relate to and know your employees. Fancy toys cannot buy trust. We build trust through relationships — real, authentic, meaningful ones.