I was reading the Summer 2016 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review in which an article appeared by Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden titled “What Makes Work Meaningful or Meaningless.” The article gave me some pause for thought as to why cross functional teams sometimes failure to reach the goals that they have set.
My response is that these teams fail because we have not properly explained the return in investment for team involvement to the rank and file. The authors suggest that there are five (5) qualities of meaningful work.
The first is that the work gains meaning to the team members when the team members as a whole see value to the effort not only to themselves but the organization as a whole. The team members understand that what they are working on means something of value in the long run. Many times management treats these teams as something to show that they mean well in theory.
The second factor is that the work of the team is poignant. They author stress that the experience may be either positive or negative. The important part is that they have gone through the experience in an authentic fashion. It is when the team members can utilize their knowledge and skill sets to resolve a problem. It is the problem solving that is critical.
The third factor is that Meaningful work is episodic. Our intent is to have an engaged employee base and that is not a problem per se. The question is whether we want a totally engaged employee 24/7 or it can be a particular moment in the time spectrum. The authors suggest that it is more important to have the team members find the work meaningful for that particular project. The team members must see value in the work of the team. Ideally we would like to see them find the employment experience in the organization have meaning all the time but the primary goal is to find this project work as being fulfilling to them.
The fourth factor is that work is meaningful when it is reflective. BY this the authors are suggesting that the team members will be able to identify that the team effort was meaningful to them only in the past tense. It becomes recognizable as meaningful after the effort has come to a conclusion. It is meaningful after the experience has settled in and they can see the value that came out of the improvement effort.
The fifth factor answers the question posed by the title of this blog. The last factor is that the work is personal. It encompasses the total effort and how it fits into their lives both internally and externally to the work environment. How does the involvement in the team add to their skills portfolio? How does the involvement in the team add to their personal lives in terms of social connections?
We seek to have vibrant, active teams that work together as a team to resolve those critical organizational issues and on the face of it that is a worthwhile effort. However, if we do not develop and put in place the vehicles to make the work meaningful to each team member then the effort tis doomed to fail. Each and every team member both on a personal level and a team level must know and understand what is in it for them. This is the key to the TLS Continuum brining about the results we are all seeking.