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Get Happy, Carefully

Someone asked me a while ago why I named my company HappyTeams. To my own disappointment, I couldn't answer properly, so here is one attempt.

I want to help teams become happier, because happy teams are better teams. Recent research has shown that there is a compelling link between worker engagement and productivity. In short, happy people work harder and smarter (Goleman et al, 2001) Yet the dismal reality in the U.S. is that only a minority (33%) of workers are engaged at work, while the rest are either not engaged (51%) or actively not engaged (16%). (Gallup, 2017) Why is it so hard for people to get happy at work? And what can be done about it?

In a wide-ranging study of the links between people's feelings and engagement, Annie McKee of the Teleos Leadership Institute found surprising commonality across industries and countries in what people say makes them happy and engaged at work. They are three things: a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose, and great relationships. (Mckee, 2014) Simple. It's not rocket science, yet radical in its implications, because it suggests that conventional approaches to improving engagement-- free perks, employee coaching, regular engagement surveys, feel-good team-building exercises-- are tangential at best, useless at worst. No amount of mindfulness at work is going to solve a misalignment in values or a conflict over work processes. All of the three elements involve creating and sustaining relationships over time, and having (at times, difficult) discussions about organizational vision and broader purpose. They require sustained effort, leadership, and a willingness to value people and relationships over getting a lot done in a short time--which, unfortunately, is the prevalent value today. Crucially, all three require addressing the real, often messy, organizational and human issues at hand.

Facilitation is key to improving engagement because it involves people in decisions that impact their everyday work experience. If trust is an issue in the organization, facilitation can help identify the systemic causes and help people work through problems. Facilitation can surface solutions from within the group that are based on reality and experience, thus making it more likely that the solutions will be implemented.

Getting happier at work may be easier than we think, as long as it is done carefully-- with skilled facilitation, of course ;-)

Postscript and Sources

*For the purposes of this blog, I define happiness at work as a sense of fulfilment and engagement with one's work, including relationships with colleagues.

**If you're wondering what a program for team wellness might look like, take a look at a proposal I developed with a colleague: Team Wellness Workshops

Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. (2001, December). Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance. Harvard Business Review. Accessed online

Gallup. 2017. State of the American Workplace. Accessed online at

McKee, Annie. (2014, November). Being Happy at Work Matters. Harvard Business Review. Accessed online at

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