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HR Manager magazine: How do we quickly restore energy in organizations?

11 Dec 2014


Somewhere around 80% of the briefs we receive include in the first part a phrase like “to motivate the team”, accompanied by explanations such as “they have low morale, there have been and are some difficult years, we have to help them find their the motivation”.

Having contact with many companies in the market and running projects with hundreds of teams over the years, you can’t help but wonder how some teams are united, full of positive energy and the motivation to make things happen, in while others seem blasé, drained of energy and without a bit of desire and aspirations to go on an upward path. The correct, desirable answer consists in a balanced combination between a leadership and management team, which inspires its people permanently, and a coherent structure of organizational systems and procedures, which ensures that all the important motivating factors, identified by the literature of specialty*, are present in the company and work. We are talking here about:

  • collaboration with colleagues;
  • the fairness of the distribution of resources;
  • procedural justice;
  • the possibilities of professional growth;
  • clear performance standards;
  • a relevant, impactful job;
  • autonomy;
  • receiving and providing clear and transparent feedback;
  • a balanced workload;
  • variety of tasks.

So far, all good and beautiful! The only problem is that in real life, this kind of construction takes years and involves areas that the human resources manager, towards whom the expectation of “doing something to motivate people” is directed, cannot touch directly because he does not have the necessary resources.

The obstacle to small plans
I’ve always envied start-ups for their opportunity to do this kind of organizational building right from day one. It’s just that we don’t live in a world exclusively of start-ups. What do we do if the organization is 10-15-20 years old in the market and has a legacy of people, procedures and habits that do not promote an inspirational culture, capable of motivating people to give their best? What do we do when we feel the need for a quick intervention to give back to people that sparkle in their eyes, that passion for the work they do, that confidence that together with their team they can achieve the proposed plans despite all the difficulties?

I think I have an answer and to formulate it I will use a quote, found earlier in a book. It’s a quote that remained deeply imprinted in my memory, because it turned out to be much deeper than I had perceived it the first time. It belongs to Daniel Burnham, the famous architect who rebuilt the city of Chicago from the ground up, after the great fire of 1871. He said this: “Don’t mess with small plans; they don’t have the magical power to make people’s blood boil.” And his vision was translated into a city that is still one of the most imposing and innovative urban centers in the world. What does Burnham’s quote teach us? If we were to paraphrase it on an organizational level, it would probably sound like this: “only an ambitious, revolutionary vision can bring passion and energy to the minds and actions of the people in the organization”.

And yes, I think nothing is truer than this statement. Just how many times does an organization have the opportunity to launch itself, to reinvent itself, to receive a CEO with a new vision, to experience a massive reorganization of the brand or operations, that kind of movement that instills energy and hope in people? Maybe once every 5 years… maybe 10. And then, what can we do to obtain the same mobilizing, inspirational effect, in the context in which we should reduce costs, grow organically by 5-7% or at least stay at the same market share?

A handy alternative, but less intuitive
The answer to the above questions can be surprising: offer your people the opportunity to achieve incredible things together in a team building. And I say “surprising” because I am referring here to a new philosophy of thinking and building a team building. This is not the place where we have fun and eat. It’s a total of two hours in which 100-200-1000 people work TOGETHER to achieve a totally and totally extraordinary goal.

I saw what it means to tell 200 people that in an hour and a half you will sing Carmina Burana with them on 7 instruments and voice. Everyone laughs and says it’s impossible. I then saw the emotion and tears in their eyes, the endless applause they offered each other at the end of a concert in which they were the only artists. The surprise of realizing that YES, you, together with your colleagues, can achieve absolutely unbelievable things, brings with it an energy and a confidence that you can hardly awaken simultaneously in such a large and diverse group. Many will tell you that it was one of the best things they did in their life and will talk about it for days on end.

I saw what it means for 100 people to work together for a whole day to build a 15m high replica of the famous Big Bang Tower only out of cardboard bricks. Starting from the impossibility of visualizing how it could look and ending up taking 10 steps back and saying “wow….how does it look!” Did we do this?”.

I saw what it means for 400 people to work for 3 hours to paint together a huge painting 15m long and 3m high, made up of 120 independent pieces that come together perfectly in the final moment. The feeling of fulfillment and belonging that you feel in such a moment is very difficult to describe in words.

The energy that is created in such a moment is unique, intense, and its concentration in such a short interval makes a team building event a memorable experience, whose motivational effects will be felt for a long time. When was the last time you had “goose bumps” thinking about the team and the company you belong to?

Article originally appeared in HR Manager Magazine.


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