Primal Teams

Harnessing the Power of Emotions to Fuel Extraordinary Performance

 Primal Teams

Author: Jackie Barretta
Pub Date: October 2014
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814434413
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814434420

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Hidden Energy

Unleashing Maximum Potential

Over a decade ago, IBM met a challenge that would have destroyed most

businesses. IBM’s leaders, recognizing that the company could not sustain

a viable future relying on the hardware that had made it a household

name, initiated a complete transformation of the company from a hardware

manufacturer to a global problem solver. Their new business model

deployed smart teams to work creatively with clients on the development

of customized solutions to complex business problems. Instead of

just selling PCs to a customer, IBM now fields teams who analyze the

customer’s workflow to determine the functions that equipment, such

as mobile devices, could enable employees to perform optimally.

Transforming the company from building one-size-fits-all products

to developing one-of-a-kind solutions to meet unique needs took

courage. Such a huge and risky strategy would capsize most companies,

but IBM isn’t most companies. Its employees often say they “bleed

blue,” meaning the IBM spirit and culture run through their veins.

Their deep emotional connection to the company helped motivate them

to persevere through a difficult transition and played a key role in their

success as members of smart, creative teams. The emotional connections

and sensations that people feel in the workplace can empower them to

come up with innovative solutions to their clients’ most challenging

problems. At IBM, emotions—as much as, if not more than, IQ or any

other measure of brilliance—stimulated people to make their new service

business succeed in a radically altered marketplace.

In this chapter, you’ll discover that your organization already contains

a treasure trove of similar problem-solving potential that you’re

able to release by stirring optimal (i.e., distinctly upbeat and deeply felt)

emotions in your people.


I vividly recall the magic that happened one day in a software development

team I was leading. The CEO of our company, a trucking giant,

had challenged us to alter our computer systems to support a new railroad

service he wanted to launch in four weeks. We felt highly motivated

and had spent every waking moment over a two-day period

straining to find a quick way to modify our trucking software to work

for railroads. Sitting together in a conference room, batting around ideas,

and drawing diagrams on the whiteboard long after the other company’s

teams had gone home for the day, one of our teammates, Jake, voiced

our basic fear: “We just can’t do it in four weeks. These changes are

going to take at least four months.”

Although I respected Jake, I felt we could do better. “Let’s shift our

emotions,” I suggested. Several heads nodded agreement. We all needed

a break from fear and anxiety. “Forget about all these alternatives and

diagrams,” I continued. “Let’s take the problem and put it on a mental

shelf alongside our anxiety.” I then led an exercise (which I’ll outline

later in this chapter) to get everyone de-stressed, centered, and feeling

positive. Once the energy in the room had shifted, I said, “Now let’s

pull the problem off the shelf, leave all the anxiety behind, and see what

happens.” It took only a few minutes before Jake exclaimed, “I’ve got

it! I know how we can solve this quickly.” He had devised an elegant

solution we could implement in a scant few weeks.

Make Creativity Job One

The success of an organization depends on those key moments when

teams develop creative ways to provide greater value to customers and

perform more efficiently in increasingly demanding situations. Too

often, a team under pressure falls prey to negative emotions like fear

and anxiety and formulates an unimaginative solution that barely gets

the job done, takes an eternity to implement, and requires constant repair.

However, when they replace fear and anxiety with optimal emotions

such as joy and playfulness, they find it a lot easier to dream up

solutions that delight customers, rapidly deliver value, and elegantly

evolve along with the business.

A 2010 IBM survey reported that the majority of over 1,600 global

CEOs agree that the success of their companies rests on the creative

problem-solving capabilities of their people. That’s the only way their

companies can handle the accelerating complexity of today’s business

terrain, with all of its disruptive technological innovations, quickly

evolving customer expectations, constantly shifting government regulations,

dramatic swings in the global economy, and overwhelming volumes

of data.

You must instill creativity at every level, from the senior executive

team to the help desk staff, because you cannot afford to waste valuable

time waiting for decisions to travel up and down the food chain. By

then, impatient customers will have switched to your competition.

While executives in the IBM survey agreed that organizations should

encourage creativity in frontline workers, they admitted that they did

not know how to do that.

Whether your team must solve an internal design problem or invent

the next disruptive breakthrough in your industry, they won’t exceed

your expectations unless you make it clear that creativity is Job One and

develop an environment that fosters innovative thinking. Don’t leave

creativity to chance; shape it by design. Most businesses today focus intently

on enabling data-based decisions and streamlining their processes,

but these tactics will never spark the creativity needed to get and stay

ahead of the competition. Creativity and innovation require the right

state of mind. Fortunately, new research in psychology and neuroscience

suggests that you can employ specific methods to put any team in the

state of mind where creativity becomes a habit.

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