Innovation, Tradition, And Striking The Balance


My son turns eleven today. We are all set to celebrate as we always do – our kids love the traditions that come with birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, college football, and too many other events to mention. The house is decorated exactly the same for every birthday. I’m told they love it that way. There will be a special dinner, as always.

All this tradition and consistency got me thinking. My children certainly love new things and surprises: new adventures, trips to unknown places, crazy experiences. And still, for a handful of personal milestones, they seem to want- to need- something familiar and dependable. Certainly, that is to be expected. New experiences bring excitement, anticipation of something unknown, and the possibility of “total awesomeness” (which, I have to imagine, is what the kids are saying nowadays.) Those traditions, the patterns sought out by their own brains, bring them a sense of stability, safety, and comfort. See my recent innovation webinar for more on this. Read More…

How to Use Pattern Disruption to Sustain a Culture of Innovation

pattern disruption to sustain a culture of innovation

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a webinar about dancing bears in colorful ball gowns. I mean, who hasn’t? The subtext here (and arguably the more important focus) was to discover new methods of disruption and innovation.

In case you missed it, you can watch a replay of the webinar here (gated content).

If you’re in a subway, without your headphones, or reading this on a flip phone for some reason, let me offer this summary.

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Are You Investing Enough In Your Team’s Problem Solving Skills?

investing in problem solving skills

As we explored in my last article, The Martian, by Andy Weir, provides a dramatic parallel to some of our most challenging professional situations.  We previously talked about empowering our teams and people. In this article, we’ll focus on the remaining two business questions we posed:

How important is our ability to solve problems and depend on our individual skills and strengths? And how critical is our investment not only in our teams but in each individual?

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Are You at Work on Your Own Planet? Or, How Empowered Are Your People?

Sol 17 – I woke up today with a killer headache, alone in an unknown place, with a book full of instructions on what to do next. The worst thing is, I have no idea who I am.

Sol 19 – Major breakthrough today. I remember, my name is Susan. I work here. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where “here” is.

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How Pattern Disruption Prepares Your Team for Unexpected Change

How Pattern Disruption Prepares Your Team for Unexpected Change

We are living in a world of constant change. Rapid technological advancements, the rise of the ‘Gig Economy’, and the changing face of today’s workforce are all putting more pressure on organizations to adapt and thrive in a business environment that never sits still.

To keep up with this ever-changing environment, organizations must remain flexible. The world is changing all around us, and falling into the same old patterns of operating becomes increasingly problematic as time goes on. Sorry to bring the bad news. But don’t worry; there is good news on how to handle this.

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The Power of Pattern Disruption as a Vehicle for Change

pattern disruption change

Every day, billions of people around the world wake up to a daily routine. Take a shower. Get dressed. Grab their favorite double tall latte from Starbucks on their way to work.

Humans are creatures of habit. Some more than others, of course. And while some patterns have positive impact on our lives, like scheduled sleeping times for children and adults, production of manufactured goods and weekly schedules, we also know that NOT following patterned behavior can be just as important. Read More…

How To Find Positive Return On Leadership Development

return on leadership development

Last year, Deloitte released some startling statistics about leadership development in their 2015 Human Capital Trends Report. According to their global survey, 50 percent of respondents rated their leadership shortfalls as “very important.” Yet only 6 percent of organizations believe their leadership pipeline is “very ready”—pointing to a staggering capability gap.

This capability gap will only widen if organizations don’t make leadership development a priority. So, how can organizations get back on track in 2016?

Leadership development is a fairly common phrase in business. Most professionals understand and appreciate leadership development for its intangible benefits: growing our cadre of business leaders, improving our workforce, developing core skills such as communication and management. It’s all those things, AND it’s more.

Understanding how leadership development provides a positive return on investment is critical in establishing and sustaining an effective program.

How Leadership Development Affects Your Bottom Line

return on leadership developmentThere are three core areas through which leadership development can affect your bottom line:

1. Setting/executing corporate goals. Providing skill development for leaders in the area of both setting and executing corporate goals is a foundational component of their development.

Emerging leaders in an organization are counted on to become champions and contributors to organizational planning. They will be the guiding forces within business units or departments to see those plans are executed. Over time, these emerging leaders will direct the planning at the highest levels. Because of this evolving set of expectations, providing these individuals with a proper tool set is paramount.

The investment up front for personnel to develop their skills in strategic planning, business planning and related actions will provide a return on investment in both the short and long terms. In the short term, they help direct the goal execution in a more efficient (read: cost minimizing) way. In the long term, they will take their knowledge and expertise to make the key decisions that directly affect the bottom line.

2. Getting the best from individuals and teams. The second impact to the bottom line relates to these developing leaders getting the very best results from the individuals and teams they lead. Through skill development in the areas of communication, management, coaching, emotional intelligence, presence, and others – leaders will be able to more effectively redirect their personnel’s ineffective approaches.

A leader can better motivate an individual by being actively present on-site, in a very supportive and approachable manner. A leader can make significant contributions to individual performance because of a refined set of skills as a coach. Knowing and working with team members who have different levels of emotional intelligence could provide difference-making insights.

All these outcomes provide stimulus for greater efficiency, time savings, cost savings and profitability.

3. Driving accountability. Finally, leadership development supports more effective levels of accountability. First, the leader is held accountable in having an active stake in the business, as one of the key contributors to organizational goals. Additionally, these leaders provide an improved approach to driving accountability for the individuals and teams they manage. And improved levels of accountability leads to improved results in terms of financial outcomes.

While the intangible benefits of leadership development have grown increasingly visible to organizations, the return on investment has not received as much attention. Understanding the ways in which your financial investment intentionally leads to improved performance helps reinforce the importance of the leadership development. It also makes a direct impact on the dollar signs that your stakeholders find important.

How To Make Training More Impactful During Rapid Growth

training more impactful

Rapidly growing companies, startups or otherwise, are faced with a daunting challenge while they scale. Having the right growth strategy, hiring the right people in the right positions, and having a culture to support them are all crucial elements to sustainable growth.

You may already know that the balance between all of these elements is critical. But there is one component of strategy that is often overlooked in the scale-up discussion for small, growing businesses: Training.

Training as the Linchpin for Growth

training more impactfulTraining is often considered a component of strategy, and is often discussed as part of the balance needed for growth. As your organization grows, you want and need a dynamic, well-trained workforce, and professional development becomes a strategic objective in the company’s overall planning. But there is a place for further–and dare I say more impactful–integration of strategy and training. That is, bringing a strategy component into training.

Integrating your company’s strategy into training ideally produces two key outcomes:

1. Alignment. Your workforce, managers and senior leaders are trained and get better understanding of how strategy works for the company.  This has a positive effect as change (vision, new objectives, etc) is managed across your rapidly growing organization.

Misalignment between culture and strategy can happen in many different ways. For example, if the culture and strategies don’t align, the organizational culture is one of creativity, new possibilities and collaboration, where the strategies are rigid, prescriptive and highly structured. Here, workforce has an opportunity to inform the strategies, helping leadership more effectively tailor the strategies around collaboration and not structure.

Another example exists in the case of an organizational culture that is non-existent or splintered.  There is no hope of aligning with said strategies, because the workforce can’t work effectively together. This provides the organization an opportunity to affect culture change through training, be it related to strategy, process, safety, and/or performance.

2. Input. Your workforce and leadership are provided an opportunity to actually INPUT into the strategic process. For instance, as they learn about vision setting or goal setting, they are brought through an exercise of coming up with goals they can support within the company. This ultimately creates greater buy-in for the entire strategic process. Which, in turn, leads to bottom line results.

Training can potentially act as a bridge to help prepare or refine the culture to understand and buy into the strategy more readily. Furthermore, by integrating strategy into training, real work gets accomplished, and it gives managers the opportunity to talk to their teams after the training, to keep it alive.

At gothamCulture, we talk about culture eating strategy for breakfast. Meaning, you can have all the right strategies in place, but if you don’t have the culture to support them, your best-laid plans go nowhere or mean nothing. Leadership, strategy and culture are inextricably linked, and training may be your untapped conduit for integrating these fundamental business components and help successfully scale your growing company.

One Surprising Way To Build Resilience In The Workplace

build resilience in the workplace

“You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson

As an entrepreneur, business owner, or a leader in your organization, you may already know how important it is to be adaptable, build trust, and align your team around a common purpose that drives your bottom line performance goals.

But, how do you, as a leader, weave these qualities into the fabric of your team? How can you proactively create an organizational culture that allows for mistakes, encourages perseverance, and engages all of your stakeholders around a common goal?

In today’s rapidly changing and ever evolving business marketplace, there are few qualities that drive a team’s success like resilience. And in my experience, the best way you can help your team build resilience in the workplace is to explore the skills and experiences related to improv comedy.

Why Improv?

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a major service/product organization on training for a point-of-sale system.

As part of the supporting effort for the training, we developed a series of improv exercises to engage the participants, raise their level of commitment, and actually help some of the key points in the training be more “sticky”.  This initial training became a core component of a multi-year engagement, and I saw first hand that these core improv skills became key building blocks for the system trainers and users.

Why? There were three core components of improv that helped this organization’s training program succeed:

  1. Focus: In improvisational comedy, participants must come together as a unified team to make an improv scene work, no matter their skill level or seniority.  When even the most tangential (wacky) ideas, distractions or curveballs are introduced, it is up to the team to collectively bring focus to the scene through adapting to the change in stride.
  2. Commitment: Commitment on stage is no different than commitment in the workplace. Those participants who are committed (not just “doing” but COMMITTED) to a scene are as successful and contributory as those who are committed in the workplace.
  3. Energy: The longest engagements, solutions, services, or efforts will most certainly languish if your workforce doesn’t bring energy to the process.  So, too, will an improv exercise languish if the participants don’t bring over-the-top levels of energy to their words and actions. Energy becomes the engine for an organization to be resilient and sustain their efforts.

“Yes, And…”

There is a key concept in improv called the “yes, and…” rule. Instead of thinking about problems as obstacles, and stifling team members with a “yes, but…” response, the “yes, and…” rule allows your team to brainstorm as a collective, build off of each other’s ideas in a positive way, and foster an environment of creativity and innovation.

So, how does it work? In another article I wrote for the BossaBlog, I gave the following example; an exercise called “Animal Ad Agency.” It works like this:

Break into small groups.  Five to seven is ideal.  Each small group forms a circle. Ask each group to name two things:

  • An animal. (Take the quickest or best answer.)
  • A common household product.  (Take the quickest or best answer.)

Then explain that your organization has been hired to be the advertising firm to sell the common household product to a group of those animals.

Describe the process to the group.

Someone starts by identifying a feature of the product that would be compelling for the animal; the next person says “yes, and…” then gives their feature; and so on around the circle. It might sound like this for selling Eyeglasses to Elephants:

  • Person 1: The glasses would be enormous, to fit their large head.
  • Person 2: Yes, and…they would have a special nose-saddle to adapt to the movement of their trunks.
  • Person 3: Yes, and…they would have a heads-up display that pinpoints distance to their next meal.
  • Person 4: Yes, and…they would have special bifocals strictly for seeing their tiny mouse friends.
  • And so on…

When you debrief, discuss the importance of “yes, and…” in terms of the creative process.  As a team of professionals, what types of new possibilities are created by thinking in terms of “yes, and…” instead of the more often heard “no, because…” or even “Yes, but…”

The benefits of an exercise of this type will remain evident into the future as well.  Meetings and discussions will include more “yes, and” thinking—and the results will be immediate and valuable.

Building Resilience Through Improv

We as leaders inspire trust as we let everyone know that ALL voices are heard and are important, that the best ideas come from building together as a team, and by letting our personnel know that we trust and empower them to come up with the solutions.

These three core concepts—adaptability, trust, and a common purpose—are the building blocks needed for successful, sustainable teams. Show them that it’s ok to trust their gut, try new things, and learn from their mistakes. They will learn to be resilient, they’ll be more prepared when problems arise, and they’ll be better aligned to collectively handle anything that may come their way.

Building A Sustainable Team Starts With These 3 Foundations

team building

Creating just the right team can be difficult. And once you create one, get all the nuances just right – it’s near impossible to sustain. Yet sustaining teams is a foundational element to any successful effort, program, organization and company. Small businesses. Large businesses. All industries, around the globe.

What makes sustaining an effective team so difficult? In my experience, there are three challenges a team must be able to overcome in order to be effective. Trust is absolutely a factor. Ensuring everyone is pointed towards – and bought into(!) – a common purpose. And, staying steadfast in the face of constant change.


Trust is a topic upon which much is written. My colleague, Chris Cancialosi just wrote about building leadership based on trust. My colleague, Andrea Howe, co-authored the Fieldbook on the topic. Those are great resources, and while I wouldn’t be able to improve upon their words, the importance of trust cannot be overstated.

I’ve seen first hand that the most effective teams are those where trust is established quickly. This allows people to get past concerns related to feeling awkward or self-conscious, and get to the work. How do leaders achieve that?

  • Creating a work environment that is authentic and safe
  • Encouraging people to bring an open mind, getting past their traditional practices and biases
  • Providing people the opportunity to “get real” and enjoy each other as…people!

A Common Purpose

Aligning your team in the pursuit of a common purpose/goal/objective is a second factor. In the absence of that unified approach, the team could (most likely will) flail with no clear sense of direction, process or results. Alignment leads to effectiveness when:

  • Team members are given an opportunity to contribute to determination of the objectives and process
  • Individuals are values for their creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration is encouraged and nurtured

Adapting to Change

Every team will face change. Just as individuals do, teams struggle with handling it effectively. Those teams (and by extension the leaders and individuals within) that are resilient as they meet those changes will be best equipped to handle them. The most resilient teams (and therefore the most sustainable ones):

  • Recognize behavioral patterns and work to disrupt them
  • Tap into the viral nature of ideas and emotions in the workplace
  • Ensure individuals and teams are innovative in thinking and flexible in action

And one of the tools we bring to leaders to help create sustainable teams: improvisational comedy. Not watching it, but rather bringing teams through a series of exercises that generate trust, encourage collaboration and alignment, and develop resilience.

The best practices of improv comedy can be applied to day-to-day business situations.  Team members arm themselves with a style of thinking, listening, communicating, and collaborating that is authentic, inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable.

Cary (@thecarypaul) is a Senior Associate at gothamCulture, and the Chief Improv Officer at The Get Real Project.  Sustaining Teams is a passion of Cary’s, and he’ll be using improv comedy to support those efforts at CBODN, April 24 and 25.