TAG Consulting

Toxic Culture or Thriving Ethos?

December 11, 2017

Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, conducted a study several years ago with two groups. The first group was given the following prompt: You are seven years old. School is canceled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?

The second group was given the same prompt minus the first sentence. This means they didn’t imagine themselves as seven years old – they remained in their adult mindset. Neither group could see the other prompt given.

Next, the psychologists asked their subjects to take ten minutes to write a response. Afterwards the subjects were given various tests of creativity, such as inventing alternative uses for an old tire, or completing incomplete sketches.  Zabelina and Robinson found that “individuals [in] the mindset condition involving childlike thinking…exhibited higher levels of creativity than did those in the control condition.” This effect was especially pronounced with subjects who identify themselves as introverts.

Which begs the question: What happens to our innate creativity when we age?

Zabelina and Robinson discuss a few reasons. The first is that regions of the frontal cortex – a part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior – are not fully developed until our teenage years. This means that when we are young our thoughts are free-flowing and without inhibitions. Curiosity, not logic and reason, guides our intellectual musings. The second is that current educational practices discourage creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson says, “The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” So that’s where we lost our creativity.

Plato said “Whatever is honored will be cultivated.”

The opposite is true too. What we do not honor, we do not cultivate. Creativity has suffered at the hands of university entrance.

But, there is hope…no matter the reasons, the authors stress, adults can still tap into their more imaginative younger selves. Creativity… giving life to an idea, expression, thought, movement or a construct is life-giving for people, vital to organizational health, and directly impacts the mission. Every system has within its ranks the creative answers to the most challenging questions that system faces. Which means that innovation is not to be delegated as the solitary work of the Marketing Department or the Research & Development group.

Your climate matters. Strong organizational climate is found where creativity and innovation is honored. Better yet, where it is fueled. Everyone in our organizations has something to offer. Do we give them the space and permission to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities our organization faces?

We know that a toxic culture is a place where…
…new ideas can be seen as a threat to the establishment
…there is a pervasive fear of failure
…we are structured so as not allow out of the box thinking
…micro-managing is a way of life
…there is not enough time nor the permission to utilize one’s “work” time to be creative
…the physical work environment is disheartening
…there is no mechanism for brainstorming
…the generation of new expressions and ideas is limited to certain senior leaders or appointed positions.

So, let’s turn that around. A thriving ethos is a place where…
…new ideas are invited and encouraged as a way of finding new paths forward.
…we embrace failing so we can learn a new way.
…we structure to permit innovation in and out of the box.
…we unleash the “what if” in everyone.
…we provide tinkering space that might lead to the next break through idea.
…we design our spaces to invoke a catalyst of creative energy.
…everyone brings fresh thinking.

Does your organization more closely resemble a toxic culture or a thriving ethos?


Shane Roberson

Leadership Is All About Connection

December 1, 2017

A college freshman walks into his very first college course – the dreaded eight o’clock class.

Freshman year can be a bit awkward, especially so for this young man. He barely graduated high school, was forced to suspend any dreams he had of going away to school like the rest of his friends and felt stuck going to a junior college. Life did not quite work out his way up to this point.

His father died when he was 15, he was cut from every sports team, never “fit in” anywhere in high school. A shy, overweight, average young man who felt fairly invisible in what felt like the college for misfits.

The students shuffled in, plopping behind desks that felt sized for a middle school student. In walks a man just under six feet tall, wearing wrinkled black pants, white dress shirt untucked, adorned with a black necktie that was loosened like he had already been through a long day.

His wiry black hair was disheveled and his grin completed the package of the image of a mad scientist. Professor Herman Heluza fit the bill for what one would expect for a junior college instructor of a freshman English class.

Already defeated, our young college student readied himself for another series of struggles, trying to make something of himself. Failure defined his existence to this point.

He was never a particularly good student, especially in high school. He had all but given up being anything. He knew he wasn’t very smart, believed that he didn’t have much in the way of mental capacity and intellectual capabilities. It had be reinforced throughout high school. Just to graduate from High School he had to beg a teacher to give him a D in Geometry after he had failed it once before.

English was definitely not his strong suit. Identified as having a reading comprehension problem in sixth grade, he never quite recovered. His work was always sub-standard. He knew how to do just enough to squeak by. In his writing, he grew used to seeing a lot of red ink all over his papers.

He submitted his first paper, not thinking much of it. Receiving it back in class he skipped through the first few pages to go to where the grade would be, on the back page.

Wait, what? A double take. A big letter A. Verifying it was his paper, his immediate thought? “This crazy prof didn’t read my paper.”

Over the course of the semester he kept getting papers with very few comments (translate…very little red ink) and A’s. Wow, this had never happened before, ever!

The final paper, Professor Heluza provided ample feedback with a note at the end, “Please make an appointment with me to come see me as soon as possible!” Yikes! Gulp! His first thought? “He thought I cheated.”

The student remembers, “I knew this was all too good to be true; he thinks I’m plagiarizing.”

The two connected in the professor’s office. Professor Heluza sat down, looked the student in the eye (a bit uncomfortably) and said “I love your writing!”

Shocked, the young man listened. Herman leaned in a little closer, “There’s a gift inside of you that you have to let out. The world needs what you have to offer! You are going to be a great writer and speaker some day.”

That day, this odd, disheveled, sort of weird College Freshman English Professor named Herman connected a skipped over, discarded, “dumb” student with purpose and meaning. Heluza was able to tap into latent potential, unrealized capacity that gave this young man a platform from which to contribute.

There is a gift inside each of us that is waiting to be expressed! It is your unique contribution that fulfills your innate sense of what it means to be human. You long – we all do – for a place to contribute and make an impact.

What Herman Heluza did for that young man was to connect his capacity with a specific way to contribute.

John Quincy Adams said “You’re a leader if you inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” You could say Professor Heluza was a leader! Leaders of thriving organizations inspire people to realize their capacity, their gift, to contribute to the organization. It’s all about connection, taking the time to meaningfully engage so we can see the potential in people even when they have lost sight of what they can offer.

There is more power in relationship than any position, piece of information or expertise can provide. Relationships are power. Our new economy is based on an age old natural resource; our ability and capacity to connect with people and their potential. Herman Heluza connected capacity with contribution and saved the life of a young man who thought he would amount to nothing.

Here’s something to consider:
 As a leader, what tone are you setting?
 Are you cultivating a climate where meaningful connections are established?
 Are you about opening gifts and breathing inspiration into people?
 Does your organization have a culture that is a place where people can contribute the best of what they have to offer?

The rest of the story? The young man went on to graduate college with a Bachelor’s Degree (with honors), one semester obtaining a 4.0 GPA. He completed a Masters degree from an Ivy League university and went on to get his doctorate and eventually became a published author and speaker.

All because of the power of one person recognizing the gift of another!

Shane Roberson

Culture Change Starts With…..Me

August 15, 2017

Leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational culture deal in change. It’s just part of the gig. And it’s one of the more challenging parts of leadership.

This makes it all the more important to get it right from the beginning. And the beginning is ME!

In the video below, which focuses on leadership coaching, TAG’s Shane Roberson, an experienced executive coach and Culture Architect, makes the point that “If you’re not looking for change in yourself, you’re not going to see it in others”.

All change begins with the leader being willing to change. So, that’s where the work of culture-crafting begins as well.

How TAG’s Leadership Coaching Can Help Your Team Win from TAG Consulting on Vimeo.

Coaching For Conflict Resolution

June 27, 2017

Choosing to live in the Blue Zone is one thing (a very important thing!). But having the self-awareness and skills to maintain Blue Zone living when all around you are in the Red Zone is another thing. In addition, the skill of helping your team live in the Blue Zone – to craft a Blue Zone organization – doesn’t always come naturally.

We’ve found that Blue Zone leading is immeasurably easier when you have a trusted advisor – particularly a leadership coach – to help along the way.

This video describes one example of leadership coaching, from a team of people who understand the Blue Zone inside and out.

TAG Leadership Coaching – What To Expect from TAG Consulting on Vimeo.

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

Is Your Culture Clear?

April 23, 2017

It’s Spring, which means I am out in the yard more. The other day, a small furry caterpillar caught my eye. I decided to watch it.

Which got boring really quickly! For me, at least.

I’m sure the caterpillar was on an epic journey to form the temporary shell of a chrysalis so that it could undergo the necessary transformation into a butterfly. The remarkable transformation from one species into another.

Watching that fuzzy creature reminded me of an experiment conducted by Dr. Thomas Watson. Dr. Watson placed a caterpillar on the rim of a large pot containing dirt and several of a caterpillars’ favorite plants. One by one each of the furry crawlers would inch along that edge.

Researchers look for patterns and trends. Dr. Watson noticed that the first caterpillar stayed on the edge of the rim. The second followed the first caterpillar’s lead. This was repeated across all the caterpillars, a half a dozen or so all making the assumption that the caterpillar in front of them knew where he or she was going.

Around and around the rim they went until every last one died of starvation. The food they were roaming around the rim of the pot looking for was just below, inside the pot the entire time.

This isn’t a story about leaders, but about an even more powerful force…..


At TAG we get the privilege to work with many different organizations across the world. What we find is that people thrive in cultures that are crafted to help them belong, contribute, and make a difference. Realize these three elements in full and you have a thriving culture. One thing every organization with a thriving culture has as a leading asset is clarity.

These organizations are aligned with a clear focus and their direction is clear. That doesn’t mean they get it all right, but when it comes to clarity, they have a very real sense of purpose and meaning. In other words, they know why they exist and they have crystal clear focus on pursuing that purpose.

Thriving organizations know why they exist. They are filled with people who embody that purpose in very real and concrete ways. Too often, we encounter people more like the caterpillars in Dr. Watson’s experiment. Circling around the rim, filling days with busyness and movement that lead nowhere. Organizations suffer from the O-Curve, the monotonous meandering in circles that look busy, but lead nowhere. An O-Curve culture is characterized by a senseless pursuit of things that don’t matter and subsequently lead an organization to irrelevance.

Circuit City was featured in Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. One of those long time establishments that cornered the market in electronics, prided themselves on their customer service, and knew that they couldn’t fail. In fact, reports from those who stuck around to the bitter end state they thought they were going to be salvaged by last minute investors.

The O-Curve set in. Going around the rim waiting for the right investor to buy them and save them from impending peril. Looking back, many close to the company and even the founding family (who were not in the company at the end) say that Circuit City lost their way. They lost their why, their meaning and purpose. In other words, they lost their clarity. They were traveling around the rim of the pot thinking someone was going to show them the lush green vegetation for them to feast on.

We’ve found a solution for this lack of clarity and it comes with a name:

The Frames of Clarity

Your organization or team might be due for a check up. Instead of a vision test, maybe it is time for a Clarity Test? Why does your organization exist? Why does it matter to the people you serve? Are you leading people around the same rim of your organization, or to a place of thriving success? How do you know?

There are at least three frames through which to view your organization in order to assess clarity.

Your first frame is the balcony frame. Getting out of the weeds, the day-to-day and taking things in at a new angle. Seeing the bigger picture, not of what is coming, but what is happening. Asking questions that seem obvious, maybe even foolish, about the day-to-day occurrences on the dance floor of the organization. When you force yourself out of your normal viewing area into a new realm, you start to see things differently. It’s in that difference that clarity is discovered, where sights and sounds resonate more clearly. A place where you can begin to see the moving parts, the chemistry, or lack thereof, the synchronized connections of the individuals, groups and teams that comprise the organization.

Leaders belong on the balcony so they can gain clarity and offer it to others. The balcony view is not an elitist, club level view however. It is the leader’s role to bring other people onto the balcony. Effective leaders seek to bring others to clarity, connecting with people in such a way to show them new perspective and learn about their perspective.

That introduces the next frame. Clarity comes when we look through the frame of another individual’s perspective and context. Clarity emerges when we shift angles, change directions and look differently at the same thing.

Take some time to think about how what you see looks like to someone else. How do you do that? Ask them questions. Walk a day or a few hours in their world, their shoes, gaining insights from their viewpoint. It’s what the show Undercover Boss brought into the popular culture. CEO’s disguising themselves as part of the workforce in order to learn and grow. Most every time the CEO’s eyes are opened. It’s because they have the opportunity to look through another person’s frame.

Finally, look through the frame of your customer or stakeholder. Think about who that is first. Many teams don’t even have clarity about that. Why do they do business with you? What are their other options for the product or service you deliver and provide? What compels them to do business with your organization? Often times in organizational life we get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of the internal processes and structures that we neglect the external viewpoint. Looking through the lens of the customer’s perspective sheds the filter that working and existing within the organizational system tends to overlay.

Whichever frame you choose to use, look for misalignment and areas of disconnect. And look for fresh perspective and new insights. Such clarity refuels the organization’s capacity for growth and innovation. Without it, organizations struggle, people become disengaged and we start roaming around in caterpillar circles.

Break the cycle, seek clarity and craft a thriving organizational culture, one where everyone involved realizes the fulfillment of their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

Shane Roberson is one of TAG’s Culture Architects and its Vice President for Client Services. He is the co-author of Your Intentional Difference: One Word Changes Everything. To get to know Shane better, click here.

A Coach Can Help You Lead In The Blue Zone

November 13, 2016

Choosing to live in the Blue Zone is one thing (a very important thing!). But having the self-awareness and skills to maintain Blue Zone living when all around you are in the Red Zone is another thing. In addition, the skill of helping your team live in the Blue Zone – to craft a Blue Zone organization – doesn’t always come naturally.

We’ve found that Blue Zone leading is immeasurably easier when you have a trusted advisor – particularly a leadership coach – to help along the way.

This video describes one example of leadership coaching, from a team of people who understand the Blue Zone inside and out.

TAG Leadership Coaching – What To Expect from TAG Consulting on Vimeo.

What Does A TAG Leadership Coaching Session Look Like? (Video)

October 27, 2016

People who enter into a relationship with a leadership coach usually wonder how they ever went without it! But if you are unfamiliar with the process you might be understandably cautious. After all, what does a “coach” do? Blow a whistle? Demand that I do pushups? Yell at me?

Actually, a TAG leadership coach is a trusted advisor, for you at every step of the way, committed to your development as a leader even to the point of being willing to challenge you seriously. We specialize in asking the questions no one else might think to ask.

Veteran TAG coach Shane Roberson explains how a typical coaching session unfolds and what a typical relationship looks like in this short video.

What Can I Expect From A TAG Coaching Session? from TAG Consulting on Vimeo.