What one thing?
It's been a while since I've written a post on the banal topic of team motivation. But it's in keeping with Leading a Quest: if your team is facing increased demand amongst greater uncertainty, you'll want to do this thing.
And so, in this article we are—in a round about way—going to talk about values. Understanding the individual values, needs and drivers or your team is the key to ensuring that they remain fulfilled.
A quick confession
Whenever I hear the word ‘company’ before the word ‘values’, I almost invariably brace myself for blandness.
Too often, company values are just beige wallpaper: superficial and meaningless. Integrity, safety, honesty, performance, collaboration, blah. Whatever.
But sometimes I’m quite pleasantly surprised! There are folks who think beyond the standard defaults, and work up values that are real.
Take Bellroy for example. I had the joy of working with these guys a little bit last year (their HQ is just around the corner from me, they’re a B Corp, and their co-founder & CEO is an absolute champion for all good things). Their internal values book features distinct expressions of value to help guide the decisions they make, and it has the most delightful little footnote:
What values are not listed here? This is not a summary of all the things every company wants like integrity, sustainability and great people. If you’re working for Bellroy, you should already believe in those things. Instead, these values focus on the key parts about Bellroy that are a little different or polarising.
Distinction is key: what values do you have that are a little different or polarising?
It’s an important question to ask. Not just for the company or brand values—but of yourself, and the people in your team.
To answer this question, you actually need to care, and show interest. This alone trumps any incentive or reward (within reason).
And so before we get carried away—just to be clear—we’re going to focus on the collective individual values of you and your team (not the brand or company values you operate within). And we're going to do it in a way that isn't naff or lame.
Back to the question: what values do you have that are a little different or polarising? Or, in other words: what values are unique or special to you?
In my experience, most folks can’t answer this well for themselves. At least, not initially. We end up with generic statements like health, family, achievement and so on. A good starting point perhaps—but we need to drill deeper.
And this is precisely what you can do with your team. We did this during our team strategic offsite last quarter, and I’ve facilitated this for a few of my clients now.
So! Let’s go deeper.
Now, I’m no axiologist, but one of the surest paths to finding your personal values is to venture to the extremes.
Grab a pen and paper, or open up a document, and answer this cluster of questions.
1A. When have you felt most elated at work and life? When have things been most blissful? When have you felt in flow and at one with your work? When has work brought about the greatest sense of fulfilment?
The pondering of this cluster of questions should conjure a sense of the times in which your work was most fulfilling. Times where your values and—more accurately—your needs were being met.
It’s worth investing more than a few minutes pondering this.
(If you’re still not sure when work and life is most fulfilling: write these questions down and place them visibly near where you do most of your work. In a journal or with this app, track the moments or days in which you feel the work is most fulfilling. Then, after a week or two: reflect.)
Now, on to the second half of the question.
1B. What factors contributed to the above?
Here’s where we get specific, and ask a whole heap of ‘why’.
For example, you might recall a time when a month ago work was brilliant. What was happening then? Stay with the time, and be curious about the myriad factors that may have played a part.
I facilitated this with a leadership team once, and one of the participants realised that the time he was enjoying work the most was the time he rode to work. The weather had shifted and he'd fallen into a habit of driving, but it got him curious as to why riding was a fulfilment factor—and how he could work to nurture it. Another realised that she loved the people-facing element of her role most, which spurred her to think about how she could engineer her role to fulfil her value/need for connection.
Hrmmm curious! The percolation of the ponderings from question 1A and 1B will help to paint half of the picture.
For the other half, we need to venture to the dark side.
Your values live at the extremes
And so, the flip-side question to ask is:
2A. When have you felt the most sh!t about work and life? When has it all gone to hell, and when have your personal work values or needs felt most violated?
2B. What factors contributed to the above?
Heavy, I know. But we need to go there.
Now I'm not suggesting you talk about this as a team—heavens, that'd be awkward. But do encourage the individuals of your team to think about this. Because the answers here paint the other half of the picture.
I remember one time when I dabbled with email autoreponders in the business. Not just a once-off autoresponder—but hugely complex sequences. I got sold on the dream that everything could be automated: if someone clicked a link here then that'd trigger this email, and then if they hadn't opened that email in 2 days, this other email will hit their inbox. And so on. It was supposed to be magic.
It felt disgusting.
I'm not exaggerating here. Though it took me a while to realise, I've come to learn that I was dabbling in something that—to me—was abhorrent. It completely violated my sense of authenticity. It felt vile, manipulative and fake. And it also violated my value for progress: I was too busy perfecting chains of emails that could become stale and irrelevant. That stuff is fine for a settler perhaps, but not a pioneer.
And so this violation helped me realise just how important these values are to me. And answering these questions can help you do the same.
Your Fulfilment Factors
The exploration of your values at the extremes will help you to generate a sense of your most important needs, and what factors contribute to their fulfilment. You will then be able to cluster related concepts together, to get a sense of the 3-5 values or needs that are most important and relevant to you now.
When we did this at our strategic offsite, some interesting and unexpected things occurred. I realised that curiosity was an important value I needed to nurture. The fulfilment factors for this included having dedicated time each morning or evening to read and explore new material. If too many days pass where I haven't had the chance to do this, I become restless and frazzled.
But perhaps more surprising were the values that emerged from our team. After sharing our values/needs and fulfilment factors with each other, I realised there were some things I just did not know about the team—and wouldn't have known without this activity. And I've seen this happen when I've facilitated this for other leadership teams. It cultivates new empathy. You realise that, wow, that person has an Etsy store and loves putting in time to make pottery. And that other person practices yoga daily—except hasn't had a chance to do so because of how busy things have been.
Knowing this—of yourself, and of each other—gives you a chance to champion fulfilling work and life (for yourself, and for others).
Also: Dr Sean Fabri has written a delightful newsletter on the savvy of knowing thyself.
Now steal this ritual
During our Monday morning meetings each week (or MoMoMe's as our friends at Jaxzyn call it), we briefly check in with each other. Each of us has our top 3-5 values/needs written on cards, with the various fulfilment factors on the back. And so, when the time comes for me to report on vitality as one of my key values/needs—I have an inbuilt accountability to my team.
Then, during our monthly meetings we always try go out for lunch or dinner. Here's the perfect time to reflect on what's working, and to work constructively together to ensure that work and life remain fulfilling—adapting and evolving our values/needs and fulfilment factors.
Without such a ritual, every team runs the risk of burnout. Particularly if your team is facing increasing demand amongst greater uncertainty. We need rituals like this to rally around, so that spirits stay buoyant and we can continue to bring our best to our work.