Through my broader reading, I am seeing a lot on the idea of abundance at the moment. From Dr Wayne W. Dwyer to Gabrielle Bernstein, and many before them, the notion of abundance is certainly not new. However it is highly relevant to our current world, and especially to our workplaces.
What is Abundance in the Workplace?
One of my absolute favourite writers on workplace culture and management practices is Sarah Lewis and I highly recommend her book Positive Psychology at Work (2011). In this book, Lewis talks about the Deficit Gap and the Abundance Bridge. My own interpretation is that organisations who spend all their time focused on their weakest points (think W and T in your SWOT analysis) are only ever aiming for mediocrity - at best. Drawing on a sporting analogy, they are playing the other team’s game. However, organisations who focus on their strengths and unique points of difference, and strategies to maximise these, are aiming to lead the industry, rather than compete with the field. Forget playing the other team’s game: They are re-writing the game play!
What about Weaknesses?
Now of course, I recognise balance is needed in this interpretation. We all know that ignoring our weaknesses and vulnerabilities is the quickest path to derailment, as an individual, team or organisation. We need to have a very thorough and honest understanding of these weaknesses and a plan to manage them. We need to normalise weaknesses and have regular conversations about them. However, in order to achieve at our best, we must focus on our strengths. This applies for individuals, teams, work units and organisations.
This flies in the face of my early experiences of performance reviews and training plans, where the focus of discussion was on my weakest points, and my individual development plan was built around ‘improving’ these. Not surprisingly, performance reviews were dreaded and personal development plans were less than inspiring. One of my most painful early workplaces memories is of being in a performance review with our Managing Director who was asking me to ‘guess’ what he thought was my biggest weakness. Ouch!
Dysfunctional Teams: A Lesson in Abundance
Very early in my career, I participated in a two day retreat with my work unit. Our manager had organised the retreat with the intention of increasing our team connection and our performance. Things were going well until we came to one of the final activities, where we were divided into three teams and given the objective of ‘earning the most points for our team’. The way the game worked, if all teams worked together, we all scored the highest possible points. But if any one team was out for themselves, every team earned less points. The kicker here was the aim of the game was to get as many points as you could for your team – NOT to beat or exceed the points of the other teams.
So what happened? At the start of the game, two teams tried to work together, and one team did their own thing. They naturally gravitated to a competitive approach – ‘If we are to win, then the other teams need to lose’. By the half-way point, chaos had erupted. Accusations were flying between teams, and every team was out for themselves. Ironically, the team who refused to participate in a shared approach from the beginning was led by our Managing Director. Every team ended the activity with a very low score. It’s not surprising that we came back even more disillusioned, disengaged and dysfunctional.
Practical Tips for Abundance in the Workplace
So how can we apply this notion of abundance within the organisational setting?
1. Focus on developing each individual’s strengths, and having honest conversations about their weaknesses and strategies to manage them.
2. Avoid creating competition within teams and work units – light-hearted and humorous competition being the exception!
3. Recognise that when any one team member excels, the team benefits from this. Similarly, when any one team or work unit excels, the organisation benefits from this. And perhaps counter-intuitively, when any one organisation excels, the industry benefits. Excellence isn’t a competition – it helps us all.
4. Connect with peers outside your organisation and be genuinely interested in sharing professional development opportunities.
5. Key Performance indicators (KPIs) are likely a necessary measure of work, but don’t let them be the driver. Ensure through team meetings and communication that KPIs don’t dominate the focus.
We are often indoctrinated from an early age to view our world through the lens of scarcity. This inclines us to see competition between us and others even when there isn’t a need for it. It pushes us to set even more KPIs, and attempt to use them as the driver of our workplace actions rather than the measure. It’s not easy to shift to an abundance mindset, but the rewards are enormous. Maybe it’s time to re-write the game play?
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