Episode 46: Creativity INC: How to Create Innovation Environments that Work


What does it take to get people to bring their best new ideas to the table? How can leaders foster creativity and innovation in ways that deliver results? We hear all the catch phrases and buzz words: Design Thinking, Creativity and Innovation Spaces, being a Great Place to Work, but the question I hear from leaders most often is simply, “How can I get started?” After being the opening speaker for the Valley Business Keynote, Jennifer Owen-O’Quill continues the conversation about the ingredients that drive creativity and innovation at work. (And no, it doesn’t take big capital investment and a lot of infrastructure.) Tune in to hear about the two key ingredients that innovative teams have, and three simple steps that will get you started on the path to your own version of Creativity INC. Jeff and Jennifer look forward to taking your questions during this timely conversation.


Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, Leadership Director for Voltage Leadership Consulting, is an executive coach, facilitator, organizational consultant and leadership guru. With 25 years of leadership experience across a broad range of industries, she has coached leaders and their teams to execute institutional culture change through effective organizational management and leadership development. Some of Jennifer’s clients include: Carilion Clinic, WDBJ-7, Fenway Sports Group, Novozymes Biologicals, Yokohama Tires, Canatal Steel, Polymer Solutions, Interactive Achievement, Corvesta and the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Not-for-profit clients include Washington and Lee University, Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, New Horizon’s Healthcare, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwestern VA, and CMR Institute. Jennifer coaches professionals in firms in the Southeast and across the country, including Abbott Laboratories, Baker McKenzie, and Kirkland & Ellis.


Jeff: Welcome to Voltcast. Thanks for being with us today, so glad that you could join us. We’ve got Jennifer Owen-O’Quill here today. Welcome Jennifer.

Jennifer: It’s good to be here, we’re between vacations right now.

Jeff: Yeah. So great to have you.

Well hey today we are live so if you want to give us a phone call you can at 1-866-472-5788. If want to email us during the show it’s jeff@voltageleadership.com. During the week you can also check us out on voltageleadership.com if you want to go back and listen to previous shows, you want to see our blog, that kind of stuff. We’d love to have you connect with us.

Also you can see us on Facebook at Voltage Leadership, on LinkedIn, it’s Jeff Smith Voltage Leadership Consulting or Jennifer Owen O’Quill on Voltage Leadership Consulting. And you can follow us @VoltageLeaders on Twitter. So check us out there as well. So Jennifer, today you want to talk all about creativity. This is a continuation of your speech that you gave recently up in Harrisonburg to a bunch of business leaders.

Jennifer: It was fun.

It was fun to be in your hometown.

Jeff: I think that’s the funniest part is that here I was, out of the country wherever I was at the time and you go to my hometown to give a speech.

Jennifer: Yeah shouting it out to the Dukes.

Jeff: Some of my peeps were in the house. So well congratulations. This is a conversation about creativity. So what made you want to first pick that as a topic and then we’ll start to dig a little deeper.

Jennifer: Well I think it comes from I sit in the conference room a lot of times with folks, and I hear the story about how they’re only able to give a portion of what they’re capable of. And they’re very frustrated. I told a story about that at this talk and it was one of those poignant moments with this particular person just saying, “I go in and I go out and I’m really frustrated. I’m only able to give 5% of what I’m capable of and I can’t take it anymore.”

And that is more common maybe not to that extreme were 95% of your talent remains locked inside but it is common to be in a conversation where people are trying to figure out how to bring all of their skills, talents, and creativity to bare in their workplace. So I just figured this is a really important conversation. If CEOs in America knew how much creativity they were leaving on the table every day it’s like more than cash.

So how do you unlock it? That’s the question.

Jeff: Well I think it goes to a lot of the stats we see around close to like somewhere normally between 65 and 70% of employees are disengaged. At some level from low disengagement to fully disengaged. And I think back to the Tim Gallway performance equals potential minus interference.

So that they can really reach that full potential, it sounds like in the case the gentleman was excited, wanted to be at workplace. And kind of got wore down throughout the course of the days and the weeks. The next thing you know he’s really someone that we hired and how that full potential, it’s not getting used in the workplace and it’s probably a culmination of lots of things.

Jennifer: So what do you do about it? And what I would say, just to believe if I could shout out a belief is, believe that people want to be engaged. If you start with that belief, you’ll be able to see the world in a different way as you move through and talk to people and engage in conversations.

But what gets in the way are what were the sorts of experiences that happened that created that person who wanted to give 100% and was only able to give five. And how do we walk back from that story and have that re-engaged person giving it their full potential, and growing even better? So that’s why I wanted to talk about creativity, because I find that those environments, that’s not the issue. It’s different.

Jeff: Well maybe that where we’ll go next. So you be thinking about like where do you see the creativity happening? So let’s study that case study. I just want to wrap up something you said and I think it’s really important. And I think it’s the belief that people come to work wanting to do a good job.

They come wanting to be engaged. Often folks will start and a lot of what we do we’re behind closed doors often and sometimes it’s really we laugh; we have great conversations. Sometimes we’re talking about the best things that happen in the workplace and often it’s where we’re having problems. And we’re trying to work on that.

And that’s one of the things I talk about a lot and it’s like now let’s go back to when this person was being hired or promoted. Why were we excited and what happened? So I try to take them back to they used to be engaged, they used to be really talented, so what can we do differently? So I think that’s a good reminder of hey, let’s not label them a problem, a barrier, or an obstacle. Let’s stay curious to what are the possibilities for this person.

Jennifer: I’m curious what you see showing up in terms of the creativity and the capacity of folks. Do you kind of experience that frustration yourself with the people on your team?

Jeff: We had a two hour developmental conversation for you the other day about all the great things and all the things that you want to achieve and all that. So I’ll encourage leaders out there, take that time. Yes, here’s what I’d say is I think it’s a culmination of lack of time. So sometimes their folks just don’t take the time to look for creativity and innovation.

They will often go with sort of the tried-and-true, maybe a thing like, “I know this person that maybe is not the way I would do it or the way, but I think they can do it. So I’ll just take a decent solution.” So I think that there’s a whole lot of people though that sort of get left on the sidelines and they’re just not actively invited in to give their best thinking.

So I see a lot of untapped potential is the part that makes me sad. Is we tend to invite too many people to meetings, and unclear rules and expectations, and we allow good talent to sit in silence for too long, is what I see a lot of.

Jennifer: Yes I find that to be true. I also caught potentially that you also sit in the room with senior leaders that are so busy they might not even have the bandwidth to be noticing.

Jeff: So let’s go to where it’s working. So whereas you work around and work with all these fantastic organizations that you get to work with, what are some of the things that you see? And they don’t have to be perfect at this creativity and all that. But where do you see it being utilized more effectively and feel like it’s flowing pretty well?

Jennifer: Yeah, so a couple of places come to mind. And both of those have – well those places that come to mind have leaders that really for either because they want actual trust and the full capacity and creative potential of their people to be present, or because for business reasons they need that. So some places don’t need as much creativity inside of them as others.

It’s different. But there are some businesses and we do a lot in R&D and do a lot with STEM organizations. So those are places where if you’re building something that doesn’t exist, if you’re creating compounds that don’t exist, what is it that needs to be present? You have to have the full imagination creative capacity of people if they’re doing things that haven’t been done.

So in those places what I find is that there is an investment in the relationships to keep the relationships clean. They intentionally take the time and invest the time in being together and they play. They’re busy but they play. In one of the organizations I’m thinking of, on their website they actually had a picture of Paint Day at the organization.

It’s of course right that would make sense even though that’s not part of what they do. They don’t paint for their business but it was fun and everybody was there and the CEO was sitting to a project manager and they’re having some fun together. And they’re being together. So the teams that play together stay together.

And the other thing I think is the opportunity to slow down the pace enough to have a different conversation. You don’t have to do it every week, you don’t have to do it every month, but it is important to do what we did last week and just slow down and have that broader conversation. So you can find out what aspirations are inside of that person and start to draw them out.

Jeff: Yeah. So it sounds a lot about curiosity.

Ability to connect, be intentional with some of your relationships and the conversations that you’re having. I’ve probably heard a few people roll their eyes like, “Oh God, play really? Is that really what’s needed for innovating creativity?” So can you speak a little bit more to that?

Jennifer: Well I think it doesn’t necessarily have to be that you all go bowling together. Legislated play does not help. Right, I mean that is not helpful. We’re all going to go have a team outing and it’s going to be terrible because we don’t really like each other. But there is the sense of if you’re working hard, there has to be a pause and some ways to enjoy each other.

And you can tell if that’s happening just around the table. Sometimes play can be the way you work, how much you laugh with each other. I usually say how much heat and laughter is around the table, that’s a thing you’ve heard me say before. Do people really lean in to the ideas and rustle with them and break them down and you put together the best one?

And do they laugh about it along the way? Do they know each other well enough or is it all business all the time? There has to be that other place where you’re just together and enjoying the fact that you’re with these people a lot. And it’s more fun if you are enjoying that and finding ways to connect at work.

Jeff: Yeah and I love that idea. And I think it’s one we should come back to and it’s everyone’s play is different right. So it can be just a joyful brainstorming session it can be a lot of fun for people. For others maybe introverted or don’t like to think on their feet, that could be terrorizing right.

So I think there’s an element of something Jennifer alluded to earlier too, it’s okay so know your people what are their hopes, what are their desires? How do they like to play? Right, for some it’s as simple as a nice team luncheon, where it’s kind of let’s come in, let’s have a conversation, maybe let’s talk about family.

For others, let’s run and scream for that. But from your perspective it sounds like there’s how we just have places where we can slow down, notice each other a bit and see what happens in a conversation, there’s some possibility in conversation.

Jennifer: I’m curious when you’ve been in places that that’s gone really well, what are the kinds of things that they’ve tried? What have they put inside their culture? So it’s not necessarily a margarita machine or the beer in the fridge. That can cause common problems at times.

Jeff: Sure. Well that seems like a good place to pick up when we come back from break.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Jeff: So let’s do this, that’s a good stopping point. We’ll be with Jennifer all day today so we’ll come back in two minutes I’m looking forward to talking to you then.


Jeff: Welcome back. I am with Jennifer Owen O’Quill today. And Jennifer is continuing in our conversation around Creativity INC that she started in a speech last week. And we said, “Boy it went so well, why don’t we continue this conversation but we broaden it to a lot more audience that way?”

Jennifer: That’s right and it’s longer.

Jeff: It’s longer. So thanks for being here Jennifer. So just before the break you were asking me about play right?

You can do this because some people are probably worried about money and all those kinds of things. So if you’ve got a little bit money there are lots of great things that you can do. From everything till now a day in an office all day, we did a great scavenger hunt that was relatively inexpensive.

We took a couple of hours of company’s time and sort of did a cookout at the end of the day, fabulous. What was interesting about that was putting people with people they normally wouldn’t have worked with, broke down some barriers and allowed people to be like, “Oh so what do you do?” We’d have them drive all around town and this back in the old days with Polaroid cameras. And they get to know each other and do it in a different way.

So it wasn’t like you were trying to reach over to accounting and say, “Oh gosh I got to ask a question.” That was the person that you went on the scavenger hunt with right. So that was real play, right. So that was fun. We had a room that we set up too that was sort of that spot where we could go and you knew you’re in your non-normal sort of conference room. It had bouncy chairs; it had things we could throw at each other easily.

Jennifer: Not darts.

Jeff: Yeah no and there were darts, but we had pretend swords and we had costumes you could dress up in, and we had all kinds of creativity things. In fact I’ve got one like it on my table that I just picked up it’s a changing card where it’s a creative way of asking a question. And then you have everyone ask each other questions right.

So instead of just saying, “What’s our new product or what’s our next strategy?” We ask this kind of random question and then we turn it. And I think this is where everyone can do things. Why don’t you ask questions like, “Well how would an eight-year-old boy look at this? How would a 70-year-old woman look at this? How would a 50-year-old married person look at it?”

And just taking it and putting some different spins on questions in your meetings can also be a different way of having some creativity. That being said, what it really was; you could just look around and people were comfortable, pushing enjoying each other’s company. And it wouldn’t matter whether we’re in a scavenger hunt in a park or if we’re in a regular conference room. There is a comfort level that they knew they could trust the teammates.

Jennifer: I like what you said about that there’s different ways to ask questions, that are just- that doesn’t cost anything. It does require the person who’s pitching the questions to be creative though. What other question can I ask that’s a little bit different, that’ll allow people to be in the play space of their mind, not so linear.

Jeff: Well we were talking a little bit before we started the show, you really want to talk a little bit about trust, how you build trust. How do you have the kind the kind of aspirational conversation with your employees? So first, why is trust so important to this creativity? And then I want to get to this aspirational conversation too.

Jennifer: Well there are two things that are key ingredients for creativity and innovation space is trust…

And you need to be able to slow down the pace to allow your mind to sift and sort through things and really prioritize. So that then when you are creative you’re being creative in the right direction. This is my issue right, if we get going too quickly and we don’t slow down and downshift, then you’ll be creative maybe if that’s how your mind works.

Like me, I’m just talking about myself right now, and you’ll be creative in the wrong direction. Whereas if you take that time to sift and sort, then when you do have those moments where the thoughts come to you, you know to be creative in the right direction. Your mind is primed to allow for it to think and sleep on it, but sleeping on the right things right.

And the other piece is trust. People might have an idea but they will not share it with you if they do not trust you. They will keep that idea, that vision, that game-changing concept locked inside because it’s a gift and they know it. So if they don’t trust you, they won’t tell you.

Jeff: Fascinating. So we’ll have to talk a little bit about how to building trust which I imagine this aspirational conversation will help us with that right?

Jennifer: Curiosity is a step.

Jeff: So what I want you to know is we will get the transcript out of this show, you can go back and re-listen to the show. But Jennifer has also written a series of four blogs that I was reading. And look for them in probably sort of where are we-beginning of August.

Sort of late August early September is when we’re planning on dropping those. So go to our website and of the four weeks Jennifer is going to be having a blog each Monday. So that will be able to give you a lot more information and build on what our conversation is today.

Jennifer: That’s right. So you’ll have the notes, they’re already here.

Jeff: Jennifer, we’ve got this thing. We’re trying to work on trust right. I can hear someone saying, “Yeah trust is that big kind of word,” and I think you alluded to some curiosity. So I hear that and also through trust and time.

Just know be intentional work on your time. But the trust part we haven’t worked on it quite as much. So when you talk about to be as creative as possible, get the most out of our workplace, we have to have a trusting relationship. Okay makes sense. So what are some of the ways that you’re suggesting that we’re going to build the trust with these folks?

Jennifer: Just as a practice, being curious not direction of your outcomes necessarily, but it’s resisting that you need to have the right answer or to find the right person with the right answer. There is something in answers that gives you information about how people are doing. And there’s the other piece about trust is I want to talk a little about the brain. It takes .07 seconds for you to have an emotional response to something that happens in your world.

Less than a tenth of a second, so before you even define the word, your body is already metabolically responding. And all kinds of chemicals are running through your body. And that’s why trust is important.

It accesses a different part of your brain, it accesses the prefrontal cortex of your brain, the part that is strategic that thinks wisely, not the animal part. So the animal part of your brain that’s reacting emotionally that can figure out how to run and hide, how to save itself, how to slaughter the enemy right, because that’s part of your brain is surviving.

And it’s very important to quiet part to be able to think really creatively and differently, and take all of the data in our world into account to be able to make great business decisions. And that takes a minute, but it also takes not having this reaction going on.

So figuring out how to have natural trust where if things do come up and you do have that emotional reaction, enough trust say, “Hey well hold up, something went wrong here. I thought you meant this. Did you mean this or did you mean that?” Because the next thing we do when we have that reaction is we make a story. Have you ever seen somebody make a story?

Jeff: In the last 20 minutes even though it’s a rare story. So yes, absolutely we make stories.

Jennifer: I mean it’s not a delusion of grandeur anymore. It’s I’m going to turn that person into an enemy, I’m going to protect myself. I actually had someone on a great team they’d been working together for a long time.

And she came in and she’s, “Jennifer, I need to talk to you. This happened, I don’t trust him I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m just going to phone it in.” And then in a couple of seconds because there was trust there, “But I don’t want to do that.”

 “So can you help us?” Right so that’s the next piece, that’s how we feel and if trust is there you’ll move past that more quickly. If trust isn’t there, you might get derailed and you might take a good performer and they’re going to turn and become a poor performer because they are not engaged, or they’re not trusting or they’re afraid.

Jeff: So I hear the leaders out here like, “Holy crap it turns in like less than a second.”

It takes less than tenth of a second, it takes forever to build the trust. So what should I be watching for and what should I be doing to try to ensure that I have a trusting relationship? Now look, I’m not saying that they need to be best friends.

But it’s a place where you can trust, respect feel comfortable bringing your best self, there. Again some of the people I’ve had the most trusting relationships I hardly do anything with outside of work but inside of work trust each other completely. So what would you recommend for our leaders to start doing?

Jennifer: It’s important. Listen to the end of the sentence; don’t be afraid of silence. Some of the best ideas arise in silence and silence from the leader is a real gift. Acknowledge that person’s real experience so if somebody is coming to you with, “This is what happened and I’m not happy, or that isn’t what I meant, or my decision actually is right.

Defending our position isn’t going to win the day if we’re in a situation where we’re arguing with somebody or they have a mistrust of us and we don’t mistrust of them, that we then start leaning in, it just creates more mistrust. So acknowledging that person’s real experience.

What, do we say that really and mean it? Yeah apologizing can go a long way. And then asking that question, what can we do differently together now? That’s what you do when things go wrong, what can we do differently together now? Not just I’m sorry, there’s another question that then you co-create.

Not what can I do differently, right what can we do differently? How do we create a different outcome next time? So there’s probably something we need to start doing, stop doing; keep doing. Just something need to change. So I think those are things that are helpful.

Jeff: What happens when trust break hits the employee though? Like maybe they didn’t get something in on time and you got to so you as a leader, this way it was more of a, “Hey leader do things differently.” This one is the employee missed the deadline, didn’t give credit where credit was due and something like that. How do we handle that when we need both sides for creativity, it has to be a two-way street.

What do you recommend there?

Jennifer: I still think that all of the apologies is the same, right. You still stay open; you still listen. You don’t know why. It could be that poor performance is showing up because there’s chemotherapy going on at home. Right you might not have all the reasons for something. Not talking about excuses right but sometimes there’s more to it.

And if you don’t know the root cause, if don’t you really listen you can’t help chart a different outcome. So really listening and acknowledging that that person had an experience that needs to be changed, but that learning is going to happen when they’re not defensive. And then asking those curious questions, what can we do differently next time? What do you want to try?

Ensure that you’re instilling learning, along with accountability. The accountability, the questions that you ask to guide that person to learn are the ones that will hold them accountable. And you are excellent at that, and you’re really good at crafting questions in the face of a misstep, misjudgment, whatever mistake. That allows for learning to be present.

And creating that learning environment where people then feel like they can make a mistake, not that we’re driving for failure. But you are going to go the extra mile or push yourself past your comfort zone into the failure, I might fail zone, that’s where creativity happens out there in this kind of dangerous space. It’s risky to create something. And you’re not going to get that from people if they don’t know that they can try and fail.

Jeff: That’s good. I was trying silence there for a second.

So I won’t do that too much more. So nice really start to the show here. We’re about halfway through Jennifer. So when we come back, maybe we can talk about some of the best teams that you’ve seen. What are some of the tools and tricks where there’s been some high trust? I’ve got a couple of examples and then we’ll continue on down the path of what you’ve discovered in this journey. So please come back in two minutes and we’ll rejoin Jennifer in conversation.


Jeff: Welcome back. I’m on today with Jennifer Owen-O’Quill the leadership Director at Voltage Leadership also an outstanding facilitator, also certified in conversational intelligence. So if you find this conversation interesting want more of it then reach out Jennifer and find her on voltageleadership.com. So Jennifer.

Jennifer: Thanks Jeff.

Jeff: Thanks for being here today.

Yeah so let’s continue the conversation for the second half of the show here.

Jennifer: I asked you this question while we were offline about one of the thing that happens is that people make up stories like I said when they have this emotional reaction. So one of the things that we do oftentimes right is we’re walking people back from a story to the actual truth.

So that they can reengage in a relationship, so that the thing that they’re reacting to isn’t accurate but it’s what they believe. So how do you engage with that when that comes across to you in the conference room?

Jeff: And sometimes conference room and sometimes some of my best conversations with my coaching class is on a walk somewhere truthfully.

I encourage you as a leader if your coaching or your thought partner has gotten a little stale get out go for a walk or go to the gym or just something a little different too. And the reason I say that is that sometimes it takes getting out.

So even as much I get them up sometimes I just have them stand up for a moment to say, “Okay let’s talk about this.” And the reason I’m talking about physical is that one of the things I do is, okay I’m going to walk over here. And I’m going to stand in that person’s shoes that you’re upset with.

I say, “Tell me story from their point of view. And if they’re capable of doing that, I’ll do it. Sometimes I’ll role-play and I’ll be that person. But I’ll often ask them to go back and say, “Well tell me the story from their point of view.” And what I’m amazed at is how often people are pretty good at that. There’s an occasional that the heat is just so high or the voltage is just that amped.

But for most people I’d say 95% of the conversations I have, if I’m calm and I’m collected and I’m providing space, and when I ask them to say, “Tell me how this person would describe the same scenario that we’re living through,” they see it themselves. So then we start to say, “Okay knowing that that’s where they are, I never discount the feelings that my client is having though.

So I don’t try to have them say, “Oh well my feelings aren’t right. What I would say is I ask them and say, “Well describe the feelings that every person might have.” And then I might say from there, “So where is the common ground? Where do we go off a little bit and that we have two different viewpoints of this perspective?

And what’s the conversation that you would like to have with the other person? But now we’re back to seeing that other person as a person and not a barrier or an obstacle or a vehicle that’s either in my way or I’m going to use. They’re back to seeing that other person and seeing that like you said. Most of the time that works.

So a lot times it’s just, sometimes- no, a lot times sorry I’m mixing my words here. But a lot of times I just have them stand up and physically say, “Tell me the story from the other person’s shoes and switch sides through the room and tell me how that’s like.”

Jennifer: That’s great I like that. One of the things I do is we’re going to have a trilogy or sometimes.

And give another, let’s do the other one, and let’s do the other one and now what do we see. We are really making movies in our minds.

And we are always the stars. I love being the star in my movie, I come in I do my thing right.

I do now, I love being the star in my movie. And there’s Jeff and he’s in my movie but he’s a star of his movie. The other thing that comes to mind and I love what you said about being able to see that person as a human being again.

Jeff: Yeah.

Jennifer: Couple of questions I sometimes ask; what’s the most generous assumption that you can make about this? And what if they’re doing the best that they can? It’s a question that Brene Brown asks in her book and I think it’s a great one, what if they’re doing the best that they can? And all of a sudden like that person’s life comes into the room the whole life.

Jeff: I’ll tell you another question that not everyone is ready for, so I’m just putting it out there. I’ve used it from time to time and I’ve used it with big burly men to CEOs to frontline folks. What would love do here?

What would love do here? And it’s not that you have to again love that other person, but many of us are generous, and many of us are able to do that. I’m not going to put it in the heated situation. But I’m often saying, “What would love do?” and people know what love is and they’re like, “Oh I get it.” So I would say for the leaders out there that might be a little bit scary.

But for one that you’re comfortable and you’ve got someone wound up, once they’ve calmed down a bit, maybe ask that question. The other question I would come back to a lot around this kind of stuff is just, when you two are at your best, tell me what’s going on there? So I get away from the data point of today, and I tell you, “Tell me about when you two were at your best, what was different, what did you see?

Describe the feeling, describe what you were seeing?” Back to your movie; I’m amazed at how often you’ll see calmness come over their face. You’ll see a little smile at the corner of the mouth and you see the breathing shift a little bit.

So leaders, I would just say, when you’ve got someone that’s coming to you and they’re having a little frustration with a peer in their department, ask the question. “Tell me about when you two were at your best.” Often I will tell you that the first thing they’ll say is, “We’ve never been our best.” Okay, “Tell me about the best you’ve been.”

Maybe it’s not a perfect question but tell me about the best you’ve been and generally people can find, “Two months ago we were in a much better spot than today.” “Well, what were you doing two months ago?” “Well quite honestly we were in two more meetings together, I normally stop by their office once a day and check in blah, blah, blah.” “Okay what would we do if we got back into that kind of pattern?”

Jennifer: And you get a different result.

One of the other conversations that came to mind while you were talking is this, when we’re going to go and have that conversation, try not to accomplish the tactics. Try to deal with the relationship. We’re getting upset because we’re trying to drive someone; somebody crosses the boundary.

Right they might not have turned something in one time, or they might have overstepped or they might have disrespected your authority. Whatever it is that is happening that the conversation needs to be engaged, begin with the relationship.

Because the details, you can argue back and forth about which tactic. And the thing that needs to change is the quality of the relationship. That needs to be good or better, improving. So starting there allows that person to begin not in their head but in their heart, back to love right what you said about what would love do here?

Jeff: Yeah so for me this could sound well soft and who’s got time for this in this hardened nose, fast paced world? And all I’d say is that you’re going to spend the time one way or another right. And if you’re willing to lean in, this can be a 5-minute conversation that can be really intentional, really powerful and adjust the relationship in just five minutes.

That’s going to be probably much better that having to go re-recruit the position, train somebody, start from scratch, have to explain to customers why a super star left, blah, blah, blah. So people that say that are often uncomfortable having this kind of conversation. So that’s why I challenge them is, “Go and have that conversation.” We were talking previously about give me examples of some trust teams.

Jennifer: Right.

Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about high trust teams. I’m picturing Jon Hagmaier and the team from Interactive Achievement. They’re willing to have hard conversations as a team. And they’re willing to have the space in the room to push each other and to challenge each other.

But it wasn’t personal but it was personal. This is what I mean, it wasn’t personal attacks but they were all like, “Marcy when you’re at your best here’s what I’ve noticed about you. You’re amazing and excellent one.” So they were really good at recognizing the gifts of each person; that was the personal part.

But when there was a problem, they also didn’t mind saying, “Jon, I think that we’re doing some revision and I don’t think we’re sticking true to what we made connections and promises on two months ago.” And that they could be that frank and honest, but when they left that room they were united.

So there wasn’t any of, “Well did you hear what Jacob said or did you hear what Marcy said,” and kind of lean that down through the organization. They may have first banged heads a little bit, but when they left and look, they’re human I’m sure 1% of the time they did go say something.

But 99% of the time, they said, “We had a really productive conversation and here’s where we’re going.” And you wouldn’t have known whether that was their idea or someone else’s idea in the room. So it’s also about having the courage to have the right conversation in the room and speak well of the people outside the room.

Jennifer: You’re reminding me in that conversation, we talked some here about what to do when something goes wrong, but there’s also starting well.

There are things that you can do in the beginning to start well and to start from a place of yes, to start from I see you and this invest in this relationship and let’s get clear about what we both want.

So that we can work from that place. What are you expecting? What am I expecting? How are we going to do this? And building that relationship is really important. When we get to just get going with task and tactics right away with people and we don’t take that little bit of time to clarify what each person really wants and needs, and what their style is and particularly around communication what they need back, that solves a lot of problems.

And a lot of times we’re in situation where we’re contracting with someone that isn’t a direct report but it’s off to the side, they’re doing something that is important that isn’t our thing whether it’s an HR partner or a finance partner. How do you really build those relationships in a really strong way so that you both know what you need?

Jeff: Yeah and I think that to your point, task is important. So sometimes it’s let’s get the task done and for some groups it’s we knocked three, four tasks out of the way early and then we made forming that strong relationship, having that honest conversation another task. So don’t feel like you have to like have this Kumbaya moment and it’s let’s talk about the relationship.

No, the task can be, “Hey let’s talk about how we’re doing as a team and what’s working right and what we’d like to do differently. I’ve noticed that our communication has been inconsistent with the folks below us. How do we get better at our communication pattern?”

That’s working on the team, but you can make it a task if you’re a little comfortable saying, “Well I don’t know if this is how I want to do the approach.” The approach can be, “Let’s talk about how we’re performing, how are others views our team and where do they see us trust each other and where do you think there might be some trust breaks that they’re noticing?”

Jennifer: So you’re catching the ebb and flow of a team right there I hear.

That’s good, sometimes there’s high and sometimes there’s midlevel and sometimes there’s shaky trust right. And it moves even if you’ve been on a high trust team, there’s going to be moments where something goes sideways. And how do you come back to it? And that’s a question I wonder about, how do see that ebb and flow going? We’re getting down on time here so.

Jeff: Yeah let’s do that post-break. But what I’d say is in general a high trust team does ebb and flow. But if you’ve built the trust and there’s a break, you can come back quicker if you haven’t invested in spending the time to get to that trusting team that almost never comes back. So let’s do that. Jennifer good question, let’s come back in two minutes then we’ll pick up on that question.


Jeff: Welcome back, I’m here today with Jennifer Owen O’Quill. Jennifer thanks for being with us today. I want to start and then Jennifer you go where you want to go. I’m just picturing a high trust team that I was on at one point that the creativity was off the charts. And here’s what it was; it was relatively small in number.

So that’s one thing that I would say helps is when you don’t have too big, there was five or six of us depending on the time. We kind of rotated somebody in and out. We had complementary skills, so we had different things. So it was pretty easy to have sort of who took what. It was clear who the leader was to make decisions.

So we had that clarity. But we also just worked at it too. So we would build off of each other’s ideas and credit just didn’t seem to matter. And we were putting together our global program at Capital One and we ended up just getting to be recognized as the best global training shop in the United States. And the program and we were developing ended up being the one that they really talked about.

And to this day I still have tips and tools I took from that program. But part of it was we on Wednesday afternoons at four o’clock, we’d go meet and instead of being in a conference room we’d go have a beer together. So the team we’d just kind of do the after action like what went right this week? What didn’t go right? And we were really honest but we weren’t in a conference room.

And we could laugh and we could giggle. And we just built on each other’s strengths and we worked at it. So it was kind of sad when we wound it down but to this day when I see those folks, we still give a hug and even though it’s be 20+ years now, it feels like it was yesterday in some ways. And that’s what a high trust team is.

It was to your point, we set up some rules and regulations about what needed to get done in tasks but we also spent time on relationship and how are we together. And we didn’t take it too seriously. The work was important but we didn’t get too caught up in the seriousness of it. We got caught up into how do we make each other better? And there was just this sense of let’s help the other person be better than our self. And when you did that, it really took off.

Jennifer: I caught what you had there, is you had a shared vision.

You had something that you were driving toward. And you can’t wait to get everything perfect. We have folks that have administrative mindsets. They want all the things to be just right before they go do the next great thing. Go, take the hill, you will figure it out while you’re on the hill.

Go do something interesting together that really calls for something exceptional from people. We want to build this great experience for people globally and you end up at the end with the number one training experience out there. So that’s one of the byproducts of high trust teams, is that you also get there while you’re going.

But you started with a couple of things.

Jeff: Right.

Jennifer: You started with we got our ground rules straight. We had what we need personally and what we need to how we’re going to hold each other accountable collectively. And then every Wednesday you kept to it; what went right, what went wrong.

So you didn’t let things go too long.

There wasn’t grace being granted for weeks and weeks because after a while grace starts to fade, turns into frustration and then there’s something else and really just.

Jeff: Is that Grace’s hair color or not?

Jennifer: That’s right. So I love that story, that’s such a great story. I thought about the teams that I’ve been on and I started in fashion in LA a few years ago or many years ago it was 20 years ago, 25 years ago, wow. And one of the things that happened right, was we played but we played while we were working. You’re playing right now Jeff, you’re running around. And one of the things that we would do while we were together is- am I getting an award?

Jeff: You’re getting an award.

Jennifer: This is so great. But one of the things we did was we just were able to laugh at our mistakes right. And we did some crazy things together. I had a visit that was a big corporate visit and we did some real high jinx to make it work when it happened. But we had a story that we shared. So some of it is a shared story.

And it was a little bit nefarious in terms of like there was something that they shouldn’t see and we made, we got through the whole experience without that ugly part being seen. And it was fantastic. So sometimes it’s playing together. We fixed it, we went back and fixed it. But there are some memories that you then turn back and look at. And that’s one, thank for that award, I appreciate it.

Jeff: So what I did was when Jennifer was talking we’re doing this one in my office, this show. And I pulled out a two things just to share with you and Jennifer can attest to this, I don’t have a whole lot of knickknacks. A lot of pictures; a lot of books in my office.

But these are two things from that last discussion. So I got this trophy about Best Supporting Manager. And it was from that team because of what they’ve added. And I’ve kept it all these years and this is one of the awards better to see it, but it’s kind of an Oscar looking.

And then there’s this little thing that’s plastic but it’s a mountain and class was called, Maximizing Performance, and it was about climbing the mountain and helping people achieve. And I keep this as a reminder of the best team that I was on, and one of the best teams I’ve ever been on as a reminder of my best self.

So even for leaders out there, I’d encourage you to, when you’re done this is a nice way of doing some recognition but it’s also a reminder to the people that you give it to about their best self. So one of my last thoughts around this creativity is take time to recognize.

Jennifer: Recognize.

Jeff: And say, “What did you do right here? What were the behaviors that worked really well? What was it that made this team come together?” And have them celebrated. That was our last after action review was, we got luck Training Magazine came and did an interview with us.

But it was easy because we’d already done it ourselves about what were the things that worked? And what are the things that we would do differently. So when we launched our next program, we had a template for the next team to sort of pick up from and go. So take the time to do come recognition too.

Jennifer: It’s fun. One of the places we would recognize people when I was in LA was the Casa Vega and Baja Cantina. And one of the places that Steve Reza who was doing the speech with me a couple of weeks ago shared was the Baja Cantina. So that’s the fun you never know you’re going to stumble upon in Harrisonburg, a story about the beach in Marina Del Rey.

And how you were celebrating with a variety of people but oftentimes with the team when you go out there. It’s fun, you just take that moment and unwind and have those good conversations. And don’t make people do it on their free time. You built in that four o’clock time, I love that.

Jeff: What’s the last tip or share that you want us to take to go do something different later today or tomorrow?

Jennifer: Right, so to do something different, I would say, think for a few minutes before you gather with the key folks on your team about you the questions you want to ask in the room. And be intentional about what they are. In the next time that you get some time to get alongside one of your folks, how do you really invest that time, not in a performance conversation but in an aspirational conversation?

So it’s different from this is how we’re doing, it’s different from what’s going on at home, it’s what do you want? It’s a future looking conversation about what you really want. And that’s always an element of the conversations you and I have. And it’s helpful to the other person for them to actually pause and remember what they want.

Oh right, I’m starting to perceive these things but are they really what I want? And it just makes sure that the right creativity is in the room. So that’s a helpful piece. Takes a little time to do that and mark it off on your calendar. And maybe at the end of the day where you can close out in another setting where you can go off somewhere and have that conversation off site. How about you?

Jeff: Well first, Jennifer thanks for being here.

Thanks for taking the time.

Jennifer: Thanks.

Jeff: And being with us. I think for me it is the aspect of play is just one that’s missing. I’ve written some blog about where has all the fun gone. So it doesn’t have to be a scavenger hunt, but what are some ways that you can have play and maybe they’re not the most creative on creating play. But ask your team, how would they like to play and go find that.

So let me tell you about the next couple of weeks here for the show. I’m really looking forward to next week. Alan Schlechter is coming in, he is a professor at NYU, and he’s a renowned psychologist and psychiatrist up in the New York area. He also is the author of the book called U Thrive. And he and Dan Lerner teach the most popular elective at NYU it’s called The Science of Happiness.

So he’s going to be on we’re going to talk all about wellbeing and how can you sort of get the most out of your day with some of best practices they teach at NYU. And then in two weeks Joanne Mosey is going to come back on the show. And we’re going to have her on talking about succession planning and talent development. So that’s the next couple of weeks on Voltcast.

Jennifer: That’s going to be great I’m looking forward to listening.

Jeff: Yeah so if you’re trying to find us during the week, go out to voltageleadership.com, you’ll find the old shows. If you missed one, if you want to read our blog or get some more information, it’s all going to be out there. If you’re trying to keep track of us it’s jeff@voltageleadership.com or you can go out to Jennifer at jennifer@voltageleadership.com. And if you need some help we’d love to help, we have some space on our calendar for the first time in a good while this fall.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Jeff: So we’d love to join you, help your organization help it reach its goals. In the meantime we really do appreciate you taking time each week to join us. So in the meantime we better do for today and we’ll pick up with you next week at 1PM Eastern. Take care.

Jennifer: Have a good week everyone.