TAG Consulting

Create A Culture of Listening In Your Meetings

May 29, 2017

In our last post, we wrote about how thriving organizational culture creates a space where the innate human desire to belong is met.

A very large part of belonging is being listened to, having your words and thoughts and point of view honored. Unfortunately, all too few of our organizations have cultures like this. Too many employees feel like cogs in a machine, interchangeable parts, not honored for their individuality. Our teams pay lip service to “people are our greatest resource” but all too often the implicit message is “Please be quiet and just do as you’re told”.

Nothing saps morale and decreases engagement faster than being told to keep your head down and cease to think for yourself. Nothing saps loyalty faster than feeling like you don’t have a say or a stake.

Organizations with thriving culture listen to their members. Particularly in meetings.

The best meetings aren’t one way monologues. They are an honest, open, frank exchange of ideas. They allow for creative and constructive conflict and are often free-flowing.

In other words, they can be scary for senior leadership!

Here are four ways to create a culture of listening, particularly if you are the one leading the meeting.

  1. Allow for silence. It’s easy to feel that you have to rush to fill every silence, to have all the answers, to know just where to take the group next. Resist that feeling. Sometimes, it’s best to slow things down to make sure that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity and that the group can absorb what has just been said.
  2. Respond with questions, not commentary or answers. Questions are immeasurably powerful and they honor the one being questioned IF their intent is not to interrogate or box in but rather to help the one being questioned hear more deeply what she is saying and communicate it more clearly to others.
  3. Protect the dissenting voices in the meeting. You’ve been there before. Someone says something that feels offbeat or threatening and the rest of the group responds with rustling papers, averted eye contact, jokes, or hostile silence. If you’re leading the meeting and a dissenting voice speaks, honor it as you would the voice that thoroughly agrees with you. Chances are, that dissenting voice has an element of truth the group needs to hear and honor. Most of all don’t let the dissenter be marginalized or shamed.
  4. Speak for yourself. Leaders of meetings don’t have to be experts or dictators, pushing the group towards a predetermined outcome. We know that members of organizations long to feel and believe that their leaders are trustworthy. Part of trust is honesty and authenticity. If the leader can also be a person – not just play a role – the rest of the group will gradually become more free to be themselves, which means that they will bring all of their gifts and talents and strengths to the team. This doesn’t mean that the leader is absolved of his or her responsibility to protect the mission above all else. That is a given. But the leader is not a mission automaton. She is a living, breathing person. It is OK – even necessary – to show this.

Every person in your organization has an innate desire to belong. If you create a culture characterized by active and receptive listening, your team will be drawn more deeply in to your mission and as a result your organization will be more productive and healthy.

The Key To Attracting and Retaining Talent

May 23, 2017


Thriving organizational culture allows for plenty of conflict. But it’s the healthy, not the destructive kind. Teams that have ‘good’ conflict start by knowing themselves and each other. In particular, they know where their talent lies.

One essential component of self-understanding is your Prevailing Talent.

Prevailing Talent is “our spontaneous, reliable and measured pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving”. Your Prevailing Talent is what you do well without even thinking about it.

One of the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time was Art Pepper. Pepper lived a difficult life with bouts of drug abuse and prison time. Fortunately, in the last few years of his life he got himself together and enjoyed his greatest success and triumphant tours. Even in his darkest days the one thing that never failed him was his talent.

Pepper was in the worst depths of his drug abuse when  he received a unique challenge – and an opportunity. He had been asleep, sickened by his addiction, when he was awakened by his producer. He had come to take Pepper to a gig with the band of the legendary Miles Davis.

The only problem was that Pepper had overslept and had no time to get his drug fix before the session – and he was largely incapacitated without his drug crutch.

He was going to have to play his saxophone in his sickest, drug-neediest mode: half-conscious, physically ill, hardly able to stand up straight. You would think a disaster would ensue, right?


The sessions that day became Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section – one of the most highly regarded jazz albums of all time.

Imagine if you had to go to work or take care of a child while desperately ill. How could you not only function, but excel – have a legendary day?

You could do so only if your Prevailing Talent was set free to shine – if you knew your Talent and were committed to expressing it. And if the climate you worked in allowed your Talent to flourish.

Your Prevailing Talent oozes out of you, regardless of how you feel. It is so deeply ingrained in you that no obstacles or limitations – even self-imposed ones –  can stop it from being expressed. As a matter of fact, your Talent is more than expressed – it PREVAILS!

Do you have a sense of your Prevailing Talent?

Our firm has special workshops designed to help you and your team identify your talents and learn how to work together to unleash the best in each other and avoid unnecessary conflict. We’ll help you craft a thriving organizational culture where talent and individuality is recognized and honored. You can learn more about those opportunities  here.

Image cred: jazzwax.com

How To Handle Organizational Transitions

May 23, 2017


Part of crafting a thriving organizational culture is building in resiliency – the ability to navigate change and transition with strength and wisdom.

Transitions are almost always wrenching for an organization or a team within an organization, even when the result of the transition will be beneficial to all concerned. Leaders can make transitions worse by insensitivity or tone-deafness to the effect the music of the transition has on the ears of the team.

Organizational transitions of all kinds are navigated well when you use these three practices:

  1. Gain credibility – leaders are even-handed and fair, and so make deposits of trust, which can be borrowed against when tough changes have to be instituted.
  2. Practice transparency – unless trade secrets which would compromise competitive advantage are at stake, default to sharing details about the conditions that shape transition decisions, the rationale for unpopular decisions, and the long-term effects on those in the organization.
  3. Demonstrate honor – in the case of terminations and layoffs, unless an employee was dismissed for ethical or legal reasons make every effort to honor those leaving, thank them for their contributions and point out their positive characteristics. This is the right thing to do for the one leaving and it engenders trust and loyalty among those staying!

Culture Works, Part 2 – Do I Belong At Work?

May 22, 2017

What if I told you that there was a way to transform the organizational culture you have for the culture you want in three easy steps?

I wouldn’t believe that either. My inner skeptic would charge in with a heavy dose of reason and remind me that there is no such thing as “three easy steps” to almost anything; especially not culture.

Culture is complex. It doesn’t just happen and there are very powerful forces at work against thriving culture.

Now, every organization has “culture”. Either it is a purposeful culture or a default culture.

We call default culture the “Shadow Culture”.

Shadow Culture is what exists without intention – it just “is”.

This kind of culture usually shows itself in systems or processes that no longer make sense, but we live them anyway. A shadow culture can be one that prohibits speaking up, pushing back, offering suggestions.

The shadow culture always operates behind the scenes and is very powerful. While the Enron Corporation had a strong stated set of Core Values, its shadow culture of greed was much more powerful and ultimately resulted in the downfall of the company and the loss of thousands of people’s jobs and retirement accounts. It was devastating.

When all the dust had settled and the stories were told, it became quite clear that the shadow culture ruled. More recently we’ve read about and experienced the shadow cultures of United Airlines, Uber and Fox News. Their recent “incidents” are not isolated but are indicators of deep underlying culture issues.

So, while there are not three easy steps, there are three very important ingredients that go into creating a healthy, thriving culture. We believe that people have three innate desires:

1.    The desire to belong
2.    The desire to contribute
3.    The desire to make a difference

The desire to belong is a very powerful one. I can remember back to the early days of elementary school and how badly I wanted to fit in, to belong. In between my 5th and 6th grade year of school we moved. I changed schools and I was devastated. I thought I would never fit in or be accepted in my new school. It felt like a life consigned to the shadows.

We’ve all faced rejection at some point. So, when it comes to creating a thriving organizational culture the first thing to focus on is belonging. Do your people feel like they fit in?

I have been a part of many organizations that had a “feeling like family”. While on the surface this feels right and good, it can also be quite dangerous. With family, either you are a part or you are not. This can be counterproductive to creating a thriving culture.

Instead it helps to think of work as that place “where everyone knows your name”. Our places of work should serve as a place of validation, acceptance, growth, stretching and belonging.
Your coworkers don’t need to be your best friends, but they also should not be your worst enemies.

No one in your workplace or on your team should have to live in the shadows.

Work should not be a dreaded place; we spend most of our lives there. Work should a place that is life giving. And it all starts with a sense of belonging.

Is your organizational culture one of belonging?

Trevor J. Bron is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor with TAG Consulting. To find out more about Trevor, click here.

Culture Works (Part 1)

May 7, 2017


Is Complaining About Work Inevitable?

On a recent flight from Denver to Washington, D.C. I overheard the flight crew talking about their work. They were complaining about the airline, critiquing the competition and griping about passengers. This is not the first conversation like this I’ve overheard. It seems to happen everywhere all the time.

Is complaining about our work just part of the job? Is it something that is inevitable? Unavoidable?

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. And it’s easy to justify it.

Work is, after all, a four-letter word. So is “boss”! So why not talk bad about it and them?

As a Culture Architect, I believe that humans have an innate desire to belong, contribute and make a difference, not just at work but in life. So, what happens when we don’t belong, can’t contribute and aren’t making a difference?

We feel like an outsider. We experience rejection. We feel undervalued.

So we complain.

The late Peter Drucker wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, the culture that surrounds us either encourages us to belong, enables us to contribute and empowers us to make a difference or it doesn’t.

Millions of dollars and employee hours are invested in creating “strategic plans”, but the best strategy in the world will never create a thriving organizational culture or overcome an unhealthy culture.

The correlation between a thriving culture and employee engagement is undeniable. And employee engagement is the key predictor of organizational productivity and success. People who work in a place where a thriving culture is cultivated are more positive, less likely to quit, take fewer sick days, spend more time at work and take greater initiative.

But this kind of culture doesn’t just happen. It takes time and effort. As Plato said, “What is honored is cultivated”.

What does your organization honor? What does your organization cultivate?

Ask yourself a few of the questions we use at TAG to diagnose organizational culture:

1. Our average employee can articulate why the organization exists. True/False
2. Our organization’s mission is clear and concise. True/False
3. Our organization’s communication tools are effective. True/False
4. Our organization’s leaders are all headed in the same direction. True/False
5. I know where we are headed in the next year. True/False
6. People in the organization honor our Core Values. True/False
7. Team members know how they contribute to the ‘why’ of our organization. True/False
8. Every department feels ownership around the driving purpose of the organization.
9. In our team meetings push back and challenges are encouraged. True/False
10. Our organization fosters an environment where new ideas surface. True/False
11. We provide time and space for people to think differently about challenges we face.
12. People are encouraged to embrace conflict and work through it. True/False
13. Our employees feel connected to each other and the mission. True/False
14. People are encouraged to connect regularly to learn from each other. True/False
15. We are encouraged to collaborate with other teams in our organization. True/False
16. Managers and Leaders make a priority of developing connections between team members
and other teams. True/False
17. Our company has a system to regularly reward people. True/False

Add up your “True” scores:
• 1-6 Your Culture Needs Some Serious Attention.
• 7-12 Your Culture Is Good but Could Be Great.
• 13-18 Your Culture Is Vibrant and Should Be Maximized.

The conversations that happen while in the break room at work, the hallway after a meeting or even standing in the airplane galley are also a good indication of culture. Create a habit of listening carefully to the conversations around you – not just the ones you start.

Want to talk to one of our Culture Architects about creating a thriving organizational culture at your workplace? Click here.

Next up in this series – What makes for a thriving organizational culture?

Trevor J. Bron is a Senior Consultant and Culture Architect with TAG Consulting. To find out more about Trevor, click here.

How Hot Is Your Team?

May 2, 2017

PictureOne of the most important components of culture is Organizational Climate. This is rooted in our innate desire to belong to a creative community. We can learn a lot about an organization by walking through their work areas slowly, having casual conversations with people, paying attention to snippets of conversation during workshop breaks—in general, taking the temperature of the place.

In early 2014, Google made one of its biggest-ever acquisitions. It purchased a company called Nest, which makes a thermostat and a smoke alarm, for $3.2 billion.

Yep, Google—the worldwide leader in search and in organizing information—bought a thermostat and a smoke detector for just north of three billion.

Many observers scratched their heads. What would a technology firm want with a company that makes boring commodities that hang on a wall in your house and are only noticed when they beep or you become uncomfortable? No one has ever looked at a thermostat or a smoke alarm and said “Cool!”
At least not very many people.

But the acquisition made sense. Nest makes thermostats and smoke alarms that are connected to the Internet, and thus can be used to gather data about customers and potential customers. Google’s avowed mission is to “organize and simplify the world’s information” and certainly house fires, carbon monoxide levels, and how warm people like their living areas are part of that data set.

But there may be something more at play here. Google realizes that climate matters, that temperature makes a difference, that whether or not a room is warm or cool has a big bearing on the happiness and productivity of the people in that room! The climate in your home makes a difference. The same is true in your organization.

Your culture matters. Thriving cultures are the ones that succeed and they do so in part by tapping into the universal, innate human desire to belong, where the climate leads you to think and feel “I think I’ll stay awhile!”.

So, how is the temperature in your organization or on your team? It’s a great personal reflection question and also a great (and maybe even fun!) question for your team to wrestle with together.

Photo cred of Google Nest – amazon.com

4 Ways To Leverage Conflict For Good

May 2, 2017


Very few healthy people enjoy conflict. But wise leaders realize that pushback can actually be their ally because it surfaces tension within the organization and open up options for alternative approaches. Conflict can actually provide positive leverage.

Here are four ways you can make conflict your friend rather than your enemy.

1.      Maintain clear focus – one eye on the moment, the other on the big picture. Persevere and hang in there!

2.      Embrace resistance. Move towards, not away from the sources of resistance. This is a learned behavior, so be patient with yourself. Remember that the voice of resistance is almost always representative of others and once you know what the problem is you can move ahead.

3.       Respect those who resist by monitoring your emotions, avoiding overreacting, and always telling the truth.

4.      Join with the resistance. Begin together, looking for common values and themes and patterns, looking together for ways the situation needs to change.

How about you – how are you doing currently with conflict in your organization – and in your life?

Why Work Should Be Like Jazz

May 2, 2017

Think of the last time you heard a jazz ensemble.

A group of gifted musicians bringing their unique talent on their particular instrument together into a riot of sounds that make a spectacular expression of art. It’s truly the sound of collaboration.

The word ‘collaborate’ means “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” It comes from Latin, originally possessing a meaning of ‘laboring together.’

But wait. What do jazz and labor have to do with one another?

After all, we often assume labor is something difficult, less than fun. You know, laborious.

But labor is simply the act of work, of doing something. The saxophonist labors at her craft. The bassist labors at plucking the right note in the right pattern to hold the bass line. Labor isn’t always hard; it simply connotes action. The jazz musician labors by playing a guitar, horn, bass or drums. For a good (or even just enthusiastic) musician this labor is play – anything but laborious!

What if we played at work?

When jazz musicians collaborate, they give of themselves, pour their entire being into the music, take the notes and bring life to them with each inhale and exhale, each beat, each rhythm, each riff. Jazz provides the perfect blend of eclectic instruments converging together to create a sound like no other. It becomes a soundtrack of tonal resonance that is unique and unmatched. Each musician plays at bringing their own gift to the mix.

Thriving organizational cultures invite people to “play” at their work! Now, many of us don’t consider our work environment as being a place to play. But why not? Are we not to contribute something of value and meaning, fulfilling a greater purpose? Why can’t we reframe our work as play and not something to be dreaded, but rather something to be celebrated?

We believe that thriving organizational cultures allow for the expression of three innate desires common to all human beings:

-To belong
-To contribute
-To make a difference

That sounds a lot more like “playful” than “laborious”.

Like a jazz ensemble, your work environment has a distinct sound. What is it?

The Sound of Your Work Culture

Ever experienced a ‘work’ culture like jazz? An experience where each person comes to the ‘table’ or the ‘studio’ or the ‘stage’ with their instrument?

They tune together, start with a simple chord progression and then contribute their own unique interpretation and contribution to the masterpiece. Probably even the thought of coming to ‘work like jazz’ is silly, frightening or just laughable. Knowing a lot of work environments, I get it.

There are not many work environments that are set up to allow the unleashing of creative energy to be harnessed in such a way as to produce a melodious outcome. Yet, down deep that’s what we desire. Down deep we have a yearning to honor what is inside each one of us.

Maybe your workplace needs a new soundtrack. A soundtrack that brings meaning out of life and allows us to explore places that words cannot express. One which cultivates meaning and a deep sense of purpose that escapes the rational, intellectual brain. A soundtrack that enlivens and unleashes us into a more creative space, giving permission for our hidden talents to emerge.

What if we approached our work more like jazz? Co-laboring together with our instruments, our skills, talents, our passions and seeing what sound comes out of what we contribute.

Keep in mind too that true jazz music is never a solo. Sure there may be a bandleader, a conductor of sorts. They set the tone, pace and notes, but each person gives to the project, plays into the rhythm, and plays out of who they are.

Work like jazz. Collaborate, create, contribute. Don’t worry about who gets the credit. Credit is for scorekeepers and the points in the end don’t matter.

What matters? Honoring the music in you, honoring the difference that you make and living more fully into that difference. Offering to the world the best of what you have every time, giving yourself in the moment to the work. Giving what you have because it’s in you, it’s who you are; it’s what makes you feel most alive.

Thriving organizational cultures allow people to contribute to the work so that the work is not just about outcomes, but the journey. A journey where people are celebrated for who they are and what they offer, how they labor together in a way that draws with it meaning and purpose, not just outcomes. Sure, the outcome will arrive. But the outcome in jazz music is not the end – it’s the whole experience.

Tune your instrument, gather others who like to play, provide space and time and watch your work turn into a soundtrack that will be life-giving and dare I say fun?

Shane Roberson