Bridging the Generational Gap

Bridging the Gap

Recently, I have had the opportunity to pitch my new business idea to a group of business leaders. My business is an education center, or a learning lab environment, that will focus on the development of social skills i.e. effective communication, collaboration, building trust, critical thinking, problem solving, and conflict resolution. The twist is that I will be facilitating these skills to both youth and adults by having them work on projects together. During this pitch, one person latched onto a particular topic that has come up again and again and that is the incoming generation into the workforce. “What’s up with kids today? Millennials are the worst.”

Millennials are already in the workforce and have been for the past 10 to 15 years. In that time, a shift has started to occur where those Millennials are changing the way people work. They are starting their own businesses and getting contracted out by larger companies that once housed these positions internally. With the advances of technology, a startup’s reach is global making them successful in their endeavors. With this group of people leaving the traditional workspace, businesses are starting to look at why they are choosing to branch out on their own, why they are choosing risk over stability. Through surveys and testing, words like employee engagement, emotional intelligence, innovation, communication, and collaboration have become buzzwords. Gaps in the educational system and workforce readiness have been identified. The question now is “What’s next?” What are we doing to fix this?

I do believe that the real concern is for the youngest of generations, Generation Z. Those that are still working their way through secondary and post-secondary school. Those that may have part-time jobs or internships. It is a generation that knows only of a world with technology and it is shows as they sit hunched over next to their friend texting to other friends in complete silence. Now, an observer might say at this point that adults have been known to do this too and to that I say, that’s the point of this article.

Let’s step back for a second and consider human development. We are not born with morals and values, we learn them. We first learn right from wrong from our parents, guardians, and family members. Afterwards, we go to school and begin learning them from teachers. During the years of puberty, our peers provide us with our moral compass, and we hope that our children are friends with others who have been brought up with good morals and values. Every step of the way we collect data and store it when finally, as an adult, we become an accumulation of our life experiences, our environment. Depending on our life experiences we struggle or learn to cope and then we contribute to the life cycle by being examples for the younger generations.

So, for those who are asking the question, “What’s wrong with kids today?” I ask, no implore you to remember that these kids are a product of their environment and that includes you. There is a very apparent generational gap between the Baby Boomers and Generation Z where both parties are participating in a metaphorical eye roll. In true middle child fashion, as a Millennial in the middle, I ask both sides to unclench their fists long enough to figure out a way to work together. Resolution can only be achieved by putting aside our egos and realizing both sides have a role to play, a responsibility in “fixing” this problem. Now is the time to start bridging that generational gap to understanding and empathy. Both sides have so much to offer and learn from one another. I can see it, can you?

Human Sustainability

Human Sustainability - “To infinity and beyond!” Buzz Lightyear

Human Sustainability - “To infinity and beyond!” Buzz Lightyear

For the past seven weeks, I have been a participant in an accelerator program hosted by the downtown West Palm Beach co-working space, 1909. In its pilot phase, this program has attracted numerous entrepreneurs looking to excel their businesses from their current stages. Last night, after discussing finances, we turned our thoughts to what success means to us. What would success look like for each individual person? The discussion took an interesting turn when one of the participants discussed wanting to not just have a business, but be a part of a movement. This proclamation knocked something loose inside me because I then remembered I too was trying to not only create an education center but wanted to be a part of a movement. As these thoughts were stirring around inside me I listened to the responses of others in the group.

People commented on the changes in businesses. They discussed the importance of a business to change its work culture to increase employee relations if they wanted lower turnover. They discussed how the younger generations were no longer accepting the status quo for finding a job that is unfulfilling to them. They discussed finding purpose and the upward trend towards overall wellness. By this point, my insides were on fire (my outsides still cool and collected). This conversation was exactly the reason behind my vision for the education center. They were all seemingly talking about the same thing - human sustainability.

Over the years, sustainability has become quite the hot topic as campaigns for recycling, cleaner water, renewable energy, climate change, and eating locally and organically have passed through my Facebook feed. Going to a restaurant down here does not guarantee you a plastic drinking straw because of the high rate of sea turtle deaths from straws. The amount of plastic in the ocean is certainly appalling. However, these campaigns are environmental and I am strictly referring to land, sea, and sky. What’s missing in the discussion of sustainability is humans. The phrase “We are a product of our environment” is not just about climate change and saving mother earth so don’t litter. It’s also about the people in, on, and around the earth. It’s about how we are all affecting each other because we are all interconnected. It’s about how your attitude and behavior affects the immediate world around you. It’s about sustaining relationships.

Before beginning the education center project, I had put together a business focusing on work cultures. From personal experience, I saw the need to help businesses increase their employee relations. Discussing this business with adults, I was reminded of my short time as a counseling student. I was studying adventure therapy and specifically designing programs for youth aimed to build resiliency. The idea was if we could build resiliency in youth then they would grow into mentally resilient adults. There is one problem with focusing on just one of these populations at a time. They are not mutually exclusive. We forget about the life cycle. We forget that as adults we were once youth and that someday the youth will be adults. There is no “them” and “us”. It’s just us. It’s us who happen to be in different phases of life. We are a product of our environment. We cannot focus on youth if we are not also focusing on adults. We cannot teach a child at school effective communication if when they go home they are surrounded by adults ineffectively communicating. We need to learn individually, together, and simultaneously new ways to sustain our relationships, to change our attitudes and behaviors.

The aim of the education center is to do just that. It will be a closed system mutually benefiting students, educators, families, and businesses. The first phase of this project allows educators the opportunity to build their skills to not only teach their curriculum but to be intentional in their facilitation of life skills (21st-century/soft skills). They will have the opportunity to practice their new skills through a summer enhancement program that brings students and businesses together through collaborative projects. And I don’t mean just using a business as a resource. I mean the people working in the business working side by side with the students to solve a problem. Businesses, what problems are you trying to solve? Consider working with youth - the new generation. Understand them and make your business more sustainable while working on your own skills to increase your own relationships and work productivity. Eventually, more programs will be implemented so that families will share in the same opportunities. All programs will be directed towards building human sustainability. Without it, external sustainability isn’t sustainable.

The movement I promote is a mindset change. We are a society that celebrates the individual, but we often forget we are on the same team. We are all a part of the problem AND solution. We each have our role to play so let us stop pointing fingers and shifting blame. Take responsibility for your role and learn to build sustainable relationships in your life.  

12 Misconceptions of Workplace Team Building

Hot Chocolate River - Problem solving and accountability

Hot Chocolate River - Problem solving and accountability

On my journey to establish a professional business based on team development and team building, I have come across those that are skeptical of the benefits of team building in the workplace. I have asked many about their experiences in team building and have received answers that vary from going out to a bar together to participating in activities that do energize the group but do not produce any lasting results. I would be skeptical too if these were my only experiences with team building. I’m here to set the record straight and redefine team building so that workplaces can get the most out of their future team building experiences. Below are the most common misconceptions I have come across when it comes to team building.

1.Getting together with my team is team building.

Team building is not just an activity you do together. Yes, I am talking to those of you who consider just going to the bar together as a way to build team cohesiveness. While it may be fun, and depending on how much “fun” you have it can be quite enlightening, it still does not help the team work better and harder together at work. Events like this could be considered good ice breakers and a way to get to know one another to start to build trust. If we are not intentionally building trust, we will only acquire a certain level of it and this includes other outings that have been considered team building.

2. Team building doesn’t work.

Team building works because it is experiential. Without getting into the history of experiential education, experiential just means that we learn by doing. We learn better skills when practicing them. In theory, your team may have the know-how to be efficient, but with practice and in-the-moment feedback, your team can make group corrections to be even better.

3. Team building did not address the problems on my team.

Team building is intentional activities with processing. As mentioned in number one, putting people together in the hopes of things sorting themselves out only goes so far. We must be intentional with the activities we choose. This comes down to how the team is currently working together and if there are specific attitudes and behaviors that need to be addressed. Picking or creating activities that are specific to these attitudes and behaviors is what team building is all about. Targeted activities allow attitudes and behaviors to come out during the activity. When they do, we are able to address them in real time. We are then able to reflect on our experience and it gives us the opportunity to create and practice new skills for real lasting change.

4. Team building is always outdoors.

It doesn’t have to be outdoors. Team building can take place in any environment you choose. If you are like me and live in Florida, this may come as a relief to you in the August heat. Some of the activities may change to accommodate the space, but they do exist and they exist for certain levels of physical fitness.

5. Team building is for those who like extreme sports.

Traditionally, team building has included sports such as backpacking, caving, rock climbing, and kayaking. This is due to the high level of physical risk included and there is nothing that quite gets a group together like a life and death scenario. It does work, but there are more kinds of risk that people encounter on a regular basis and they are mental and emotional risk. Being put in a position that requires a person to confront another can be highly risky. It can get the adrenaline pumping and ignite the fight or flight response. How many of you avoid conflict? Thinking of all the risks opens the door to an array of activities. Some as simple as a facilitated discussion.

6. Once the team building is over all of our problems will be fixed.

It’s not a one and done. I don’t know about you, but for me, it takes some time and practice for a new attitude or behavior to be commonplace. That means once you go through team building, you have to practice the new skills. That goes for everyone on your team. Just because your team went through it doesn’t mean that everything will be fixed. Like every relationship ever, you have to want it and work on it. You may even want to consider incorporating a way for everyone to be accountable for continuing the work. Perhaps you want to schedule a follow-up team building experience to work on new problems and reinforce skills learned last time.

7. I will sign my team up for team building, but I am too busy to participate.

Ok, leaders, this one is for you. The leader needs to be involved. I have spoken with many people who have told me that leaders, CEO’s, managers, etc. have signed their team up for team building, but do not actually participate themselves. This boggles my mind. You’re a part of the team! The leader has a huge role to play in the cohesiveness of the team and sometimes it is the leader themselves who can most benefit from the team building. It allows them priceless opportunities to build trust, better their communication skills, see how the team actually works together, be involved in conflict resolution and so much more! So for the sake of your investment and your team, get in there.

8. Team building is uncomfortable.

We want you to be uncomfortable! Feeling uncomfortable when chasing down your coworker in a good ol’ fashion round of blob tag? Good!  If you’re not uncomfortable at some point during your teambuilding workshop then your facilitator is doing something wrong. Whether it’s the physical proximity or just not wanting to play “silly” games, do it anyways. It is in this discomfort that we humans learn the most about ourselves. It allows us to break down some of those barriers we maintain so we can react to people and situations authentically. A good facilitator will be able to notice these moments of raw reaction and be able to address them in a safe and appropriate way. Trust the process.

9. We have a perfectly good meeting space in our office.

I’m sure you do but leave the office. I know it’s cozy and familiar and if you need to write that one email you can just “go to the bathroom” to do it. I and many other facilitators will insist on getting outside the office. Be it a park or hotel conference room, this new and different environment will put everyone immediately on the same playing field and also creates focus on the workshop itself. We need you focused, your team needs you to focus. On that note, turn off or silence your phone. Heck, let’s get really crazy and say don’t even bring it with you!

10. Team building brings up too much conflict.

Conflict isn’t a dirty word. Sometimes conflict is required in order to make progress, so I wouldn’t say that team building brings up too much conflict it just allows us to have conflict in a healthy way. There are several stages of group development and one stage is storming, a.k.a. conflict. It’s a natural stage and the more people who get on board with healthy conflict the easier it will be to come to better decisions made at work, not to mention less negative backlash from employees. We all just want to be heard and taking out our natural inclination to be defensive helps resolve conflict quicker.

11. My team isn’t having issues right now so we don’t need it.

Well, that is awesome, but team building can be used as a preventive tool. Why wait when drama and chaos are abounding? Why not nip it in the bud and get everyone on the same page in the beginning? Team building is a great way to set expectations and boundaries. Doing so allows problems in the future to take up less time because you’ve done the work up front.

12. Everyone at my job works independently, or remotely so we don’t need it.

Every one of those independent/remote employees is working towards a company goal, at least I’d hope so. It is in these environments that team building is most needed. We don’t know what to tell the left hand if we don’t know what the right hand is doing. Communication is already difficult in companies where everyone is under the same roof. Imagine the communication issues when everyone is in different locations doing only what they do. In these scenarios, it is imperative to make time to connect with one another. Get together once in a while! It’s difficult to create trust, the foundation of a team, through technology.   

I hope this list has eased some of those who are skeptical of team building workshops. Do you have other questions or concerns about team building? Let me know, I’d be happy to discuss them with you.

We Are On the Same Team

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Since starting my business I have gone to quite the number of networking events. What I have found is that most of the people attending these events are small business owners like myself that have at most one to two employees. This makes selling my team-oriented services a bit challenging. It got me thinking more about how we view teams. Realistically, a team is two or more people working towards a common goal. If you have a partner in life or at work, you are a team. If you have even just one coworker you are a team. If you work alone but have clients or customers you work with, guess what, you are a team. I currently work out of a co-working space that houses numerous entrepreneurs that are mostly in the early, or small stages of their business. We all work individually, but we still crave a community and this particular workspace tries to make it easier for entrepreneurs to collaborate. This collaboration may be happening to an extent, but in my experience, if collaboration is not intentionally being facilitated it may not happen at all. Before collaboration can happen though, our overall mindset needs to switch from thinking in terms of the individual to the team.

I recently did a talk that further explained my services and the misconceptions of team building. In the beginning, I showed a clip from a video done by Simon Sinek. He discussed his work with the Marines and how they developed what he labeled “a circle of trust”. This circle was developed only after new Marines were given a series of tasks to complete that were impossible to complete on their own. They had no choice but to work as a team. They had to trust each other in order to survive. Think of the team cohesion! Think of the way they would have to communicate with one another and trust that each person is doing the job they are supposed to do. Think of the commitment they have to their common goal and how they would have no time or patience for any pettiness or egos. Everyday life is not usually a matter of life and death scenarios, I mean it is because we never know what is going to happen, but for the most part, we don’t live this way. We live like there is always a tomorrow. So for most of us, we do not treat work or work experiences as life and death. There’s no heightened threat so we live blissfully autonomous. There’s nothing wrong with autonomy, but as the human race, we need to remember our survival depends on working together. We treat problems with a “you vs. me” mentality instead of a “you and me against the problem”. The question I propose is what if we treated our work or even personal relationships with a team mentality? What if we changed our mindset so we saw that collaboration was life or death of our businesses? What if every interaction you had no matter if it is a romantic partner, a coworker, a client, customer, or even acquaintance was your teammate? Would your interactions change?

Human relations needs some work today especially since the advent of technology. Autonomously sitting at a local restaurant, I notice the groups of people around me in some stage of waiting. Most of them are not speaking but looking down at their phones. Do you really have nothing to say to one another? If anything, it is a good time to practice some of those undervalued soft skills that are needed to be successful in, well life in general. Get curious again and start asking questions. This interaction is how we work on our relationships. Don’t just say you’re good or fine and things are going well. Tell me how things really are, get vulnerable. I don’t mean that each interaction is a therapy session. I just mean share your thoughts and opinions. If this is uncomfortable for you there is a reason for that. Tell them the reason you feel uncomfortable about sharing. This conversation itself could open the doors to so many other meaningful conversations and strengthen the team relationship.

I help people work on those soft skills in a work setting - in any work setting. You’re not an island and you really don’t want to be. You want to work independently, but you still want to work on a team, whatever that team looks like. Maybe you belong to a coworking community or you belong to a networking group. Maybe you are part of an online community or get together with friends to share a common interest. Families are also considered a team. Let’s change the mentality of personal success to team success. We’re in this thing called life together.

If you want to work on these skills but unsure of where to start or how to articulate what you need to work on, ask. It’s that simple. It starts with a conversation. It’s you and me against the problem because we are a team. I’ve got your back. We are on the same team.

Team Emotional Intelligence

We need to consider how our personal emotional intelligence affects the rest of our team.

We need to consider how our personal emotional intelligence affects the rest of our team.

There is a reason we do all the things we do. Whether we are conscious of why we are making certain decisions or not, it affects not only ourselves but the world around us, including what we do at work. It affects how we do our work, how we relate to our coworkers, how we respond to our supervisors, and even how we treat our customers. Our personal attitudes and behaviors may change over time, but what is often overlooked is when all of these personal attitudes and behaviors are combined on a team. Whether you have a team of two or two hundred, your attitudes and behaviors have the ability to make or break a business.

A friend recently informed me that the keywords “self-awareness” may be too trendy now for some to buy into so in the interest of inclusivity I ask you to conduct a personal inventory of your own attitudes and behaviors at work. How are you at work? Do you enjoy going to work? What is it about the job that you like or dislike? What frustrates you? How are you responding to problems or conflict at work? Do you feel comfortable speaking up at work?

The answers to these questions often set up a chain reaction of behaviors. Whether they are good or bad behaviors, we have a choice in how to respond. This choice requires some amount of introspection and understanding of our conscious and unconscious reasons why we do the things we do. The intellects call this emotional intelligence or our EQ. Unlike our IQ, we can work on improving our EQ. There is an enormous amount of information out there about improving your EQ. This information tends to focus on the individual and how they can personally improve. The problem with improving your own EQ and working with a team is that everyone has different areas where they excel and where they need to improve. Additionally, everyone is working with different perspectives about how the world works and commonly operating with different communication styles. So while it is important to work on your own EQ, we need to consider how it works with the EQ of others on your team. There is a way for a team to improve their EQ and it requires them to work on it together through team building.

Through my experience and research over the years about the uses of team building, it saddens me to say that team building experiences in a corporate setting are often missing the mark. I kept asking myself why that is and I believe there are many reasons contributing to the decline of team building in the workplace. The biggest reason is that people may not fully understand the true purpose of team building and the facilitator may not be taking the time to explain it. I do believe that most if not all people believe that we learn best through experience. I have yet to meet someone to argue with that. This is team building at its core. Your team building facilitator should be experienced enough to choose or create activities that target the attitudes or behaviors that seem to be negatively affecting the success of your team and therefore your business. By selecting these targeted activities, these attitudes and behaviors will play out during the experience. When they do, we can then address them in hopes of changing them or improving them. In this way, we can improve team EQ.

Improving EQ on an individual or team level takes time and practice. It requires the team to be dedicated to improving their personal and interpersonal relations. It requires accountability and for everyone to be involved including those considered as upper management. If you want to improve those soft skills at work consider doing so as a team. If you invest in a team building experience make sure you are getting the full value by being very clear and specific about your goals to the facilitator. Don’t just say that you want to work on communication. Tell them the areas where communication is failing. Is it between departments? Is the message breaking down from CEO to worker? Additionally, tell them what kind of experience you want to have. Do you want it to be indoors or outdoors? Do you have a team that is high energy or low energy? A good facilitator will work with you to create a personalized experience no matter where your team is with attitudes and behaviors.

Melissa Landis