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Seven Simple Principles Might Contribute to Group Work Success

Imagine a 12-year-old saying or writing something so readily applicable to the business environment, it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

September 5, 2007
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Imagine a 12-year-old saying or writing something so readily applicable to the business environment, it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Dick Eaton, LeapFrog Innovations chief energizing officer, said this was his experience after stumbling across a paper in his son Alex’s social studies folder.

The heading on the paper read, “How can we make group work successful?” Beneath it were seven bullet points: share ideas, work together, share work evenly, listen well, follow the golden rule, stay on task and be accepting.

Apparently, Alex deals with the material all the time in class to reinforce key things that will help make his classmates’ group projects successful. Eaton has since adopted the seven principles into his business.

“He blew it off as no big deal, but I borrowed the paper, and I thought about it for a couple of days,” Eaton said. “It resonated with all of the work that I’ve been doing in this business for 13 years and in my other business for six years before that. So, basically, for 20 years of my life, this is what I’ve been trying to bring to the world.”

Eaton said the principles neatly sum up the work he does with clients working to facilitate team building or to create a certain kind of corporate culture in which employees behave, interact and (perhaps most important) collaborate in ways that really make an impact on the business.

“It’s super simple, but really it’s the essence of what our clients are doing and striving for in their organizations,” Eaton said. “For instance, John Hailer, CEO of Natixis, has a very clear idea of what kind of culture he wants the organization to have. It’s very contrary to the normal financial services culture, which is very much about ‘me’ —what can I earn, how much money can I make and how can I look out for myself?

“As the company has grown, John called on us to help with many of their most significant meetings and employee conferences to basically make it a different place to work. When I was talking about the way this resonates with me, he said, ‘This resonates with our corporate culture and what we’re trying to do here around people. We’re different — we don’t allow meanness in this company, we don’t allow lying. We’re all about people actually collaborating.’”

The concept of group work is particularly relevant to CLOs because of the impact learning and development can have on behavioral change. Eaton said employees might not even know they’re resistant to change, but companies still look to the learning organization to create business impact.

“Really believe in the power of people connected and collaborating because it’s people who make remarkable things happen within your organization,” Eaton said. “It’s not so much the re-engineering and the spreadsheets and the infrastructure — it’s really the people who make remarkable things happen. That’s the essence of what this paper meant. It’s all about ‘How can you help people collaborate? How can you give them the tools to do it?’”

Eaton said real change begins with a shift in attitude or orientation. People should be open and see one another in a way that expresses their willingness to work collaboratively, whether it’s in a cross-cultural team or across business functions.

“That’s the biggest trend or emphasis in the (learning) industry and in our business,” he said. “How do you help people work better across boundaries? How do you get people to be willing to share information and share best practices and mine all that knowledge that’s in the company?”

Jim Knight, Hard Rock International senior director of training and development, said his organization already has adopted many of the seven group work principles. With the exception of following the golden rule, he said they would work well for an organization looking to reinvent its culture or foster better teamwork relationships.

“Follow the golden rule is an interesting concept, but it might have some religious undertones to it, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he explained. “It’s a natural principle, kind of universally accepted, but it could also be a detriment if somebody thought, ‘Jeez, somebody’s trying to mix religion and business.’ Some might not want that or think that’s successful or smart.”

Knight said many of the principles seem to hinge on communication, which he described as a bridge or a dam to successful leadership. Principles such as listen well and share ideas require that participants not only hear what their teammates have to say, but trust that peers can contribute something valuable.

“Be accepting is a great one in our company,” Knight said. “At Hard Rock, individuality is truly celebrated, and it’s not just the way that someone looks aesthetically. We are going to have some tattooed, pierced, mohawked people out there but also people who are diverse in their thoughts and actions. We celebrate the fact that people see things differently.

“I’ve been here 16-and-a-half years. I head up our entire training and development for hotels, casinos, cafes, live music venues — the whole kit and caboodle. You look at the type of culture that’s created. I’ve never done any drugs, I’ve never smoked and I’ve never even tasted alcohol, and I’m about to be a 40-year-old guy. Yet, I’m accepted in the company. Unless I tell people, they would assume differently because I’m out there, hanging with everybody till all hours of the night, and I like live music, have spiky hair, a goatee and piercings. We’re not using these exact terms, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it. It’d be interesting to say, ‘Why not make all of business work around these concepts?’”

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