Get a lift of new ideas, insights, and inspiration

You’ve come to the right place for buzzword-free info about work, workplaces, and workplace improvement. These posts are all about improving work processes, strengthening teamwork, sharpening management skills and leadership skills, improving communication, and more. This is info you can use right away, full of practical ideas in straight-talking plain English. Enjoy!

Have a suggestion or question for a possible future post? Please let us know.

Top 10 mistakes of well-meaning employees

Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Archive, Performance

Take time for a quick reality check – because the following pitfalls can mess with the best of us.

1. Assuming the worst. When facts are lacking, it’s easy to fill in the blanks with doom and gloom. Do some fact-finding and get the real story.

2. Focusing on what’s wrong. Every workplace has its dysfunctions. Pay attention to what’s going right. Acknowledge it, talk about it, imitate it, and build on it.

3. Writing people off. Bob is too opinionated, Jane is too quiet, Stan is too new, Kim is too whatever. Forget the labels. Focus on the strengths these people bring to the workplace.

4. Mistaking busyness for worthwhile action. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re getting anything done. Scrutinize your to-do list, find what’s unimportant, and ditch it immediately.

5. Not appreciating your own influence. Disempowerment is often self-inflicted. No matter how small your sphere of control, there is more you can do to get things done — as long as you believe it and take action.

6. Letting yourself blend into the woodwork. Too many people get commoditized at work. Strive to become your own brand. Stand out by leveraging your strengths, speaking up, and taking some risks.

7. Going for perfect when pretty good will do just fine. Some people pursue perfection regardless of the task. Know when you’re doing the equivalent of brain surgery (perfection desired) versus ditch digging (perfection optional). Adjust your time and effort accordingly.

8. Getting sucked in by the naysayers. Every workplace has its raging cynics. Hear them out but don’t let them pull you in.

9. Looking for ways to say no. Some people always push back when new work comes their way. Make yes your new default response, knowing that new assignments will bring more learning, more contacts, more opportunities, and more interesting workdays.

10. Failing to connect with a meaningful mission. There’s more to work than tasks and a paycheck. Know exactly whom you serve and how they benefit, because we all need some emotional compensation.


By Tom TerezContact

What new tools are forgotten in YOUR garage?

Posted by on Jul 13, 2017 in Workplace Improvement

improvement tools

When you learn new ideas and gain news tools, you put them to work, right?

Yeah, so do I – or so I thought.

When spring sprung last year, I went to work planting a new flower garden.

It took several sweaty hours to break the ground, clear the weeds, till the soil, and build an edge.

The tools I used didn’t help. Most were old and worn out. Even my trusty ten-year-old Garden Weasel fell short when one of its bladed wheels broke apart.

Three hours turned into six. The sun climbed higher. The day got hotter. Eight hours in, I decided to save the planting for the next day.

That’s when it hit me. As I returned the old tools to the garage, I spotted new tools leaning against the back wall.

Yep, I had a full set of brand-new tools. They had been given to me as a gift several months earlier.

Why hadn’t I used these new tools in the first place – instead of slogging it out with the old ones? Great question!

I had forgotten they were there. I didn’t see them when I got started that morning. I reflexively went to the old ones in their familiar location in the garage. Your garden-variety excuses.

The next day, I used the new tools. The work went great, and I finished the job in three hours. The flowers took root and began brightening the yard.

But I’m left wondering: What else of value is in my possession but not in use? What other new tools can I put to work? What techniques have I learned recently that I should at least be trying? What newly learned ideas call for deeper exploration and discussion with colleagues?

We all have new and better tools, techniques, and ideas. Let’s make sure they don’t get forgotten in the back of our garage.


By Tom TerezContact

The “power” model that explains organizations

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in Change Management, Organizational Culture

Most of what happens in organizations can be understood in terms of two opposing concepts: power over and power with.

Chances are you’ve experienced one or both of these first hand, without using the terminology.

Perhaps you had a boss who told you what to do, who rarely asked for your input, who used subtle threats and fake praise to control your behavior. If so, you were at the receiving end of the “power over” model.

Or maybe you had a “power with” manager who led with a meaningful mission, who favored teamwork and co-creation over command and control, who recognized and leveraged your strengths. Maybe your current manager fits this description. Maybe you are that manager.

The huge distinction between “power over” and “power with” shapes every aspect of work life.

For anyone who’s striving to improve their workplace, the power over/with model is essential for understanding what’s going on – and for uncovering current strengths and improvement opportunities.

That’s why the following chart is so important. Use it to deepen your own understanding. Share it with others to prompt dialogue and group discovery. And use the resulting insights to identify practical steps that you and others can take to strengthen your workplace.



In these very different work environments, people see things in very different ways

The world is viewed as generally hostile

Scarcity: “I need to get and protect my share”

Mechanistic: the organization as machine

Zero-sum game

Leader as lion

Divide and conquer

Manageable pieces

The world is viewed as generally friendly

Abundance: “There’s enough for everyone”

Humanistic: the organization as social system

Synergy: 1+1>2

Servant leader

Strive to unite

Chaotic whole


Here’s what largely determines how people go about their work in “power over” and “power with” workplaces


Procedures: How to do it



Extrinsic rewards, threats, and punishment


Mission: Why we do it



Intrinsic motivation


This is what you’re likely to see and hear

 Bemoaning what’s going wrong

Fixing blame

Dwelling on weaknesses

Hoarding and selectively handing out key information and resources

Telling stories of what’s going right

Fixing processes

Leveraging strengths

Freely sharing whatever is necessary for the greater good


Relationships are based on very different factors


Being fearful that others will lessen our power

Skepticism: “You will likely mess this up”



Trusting others…and working to earn trust

Confidence: “You will succeed at this”



One of the biggest differences is in how people make decisions in these work environments

Exclusion: A small number of people are seen as qualified to make decisions

Group decision-making produces chaos

My way or the highway



Inclusion: The best outcomes unfold when many people are involved in decision-making

Group decision-making fosters commitment

Multiple paths




Even in terms of how people are regarded for their knowledge and capacity, sharp differences are seen

People are empty vessels who need to be told what to do

A few teach, some learn

People bring abundant know-how and learn best by experience

Everyone teaches, everyone learns













By Tom TerezContact

Turn panic into success with these 5 practical actions

Posted by on Jul 6, 2017 in Management, Self-Improvement

project management

What do you do if you’re put in a role that’s way outside your comfort zone?

My friend Steve has an answer.

Assigned to lead a super-demanding IT project, he started to panic over his lack of technical know-how. But he pulled it together and turned his nightmare into a noteworthy success. The team got the job done ahead of schedule and under budget.

If you’re ever similarly overwhelmed, put this five-part Steve strategy to work:

1. Take copious notes. During team meetings, Steve wrote down key points, themes, and terms. He still does, taking time afterward to study the notes, make connections, and figure things out. This speeds up his learning process.

2. Build a network of trusted explainers. As Steve grew familiar with the technical details, he began to learn just how much he still had to learn. He built a bond with several trusted colleagues who would take his questions outside of regular team meetings. He’d scribble their answers in his notebook.

3. Make connections with people on their terms. When Steve needed information from the one person in the company who knew all about a particular operating system, he approached thoughtfully. The man was widely known as a brilliant yet prickly problem-solver who associated with very few people. Steve had heard that the guy was interested in all things automotive. So instead of launching into his computer questions, he started a casual conversation about his recent struggle with a bad transmission. The man’s problem-solving gears began turning, and they talked cars for 30 minutes. After that, Mr. Touchy was more than happy to answer Steve’s questions.

4. Pose key questions to help teams get smarter. Every once in a while, Steve would ask a “dumb” question at a project meeting. These were summary-type questions aimed at getting team members to question their assumptions, see the big picture, and reboot their thinking. For instance: “Let’s step back and take a look at the overall flow here. What does the user enter, how long should it take, and how again does this information get processed?”

5. Earn respect the old-fashioned way. As the weeks unfolded, Steve followed his three rules for earning respect: always put in a full week of work, always give an above-average performance, and make lots of friends. It’s common sense that’s all too uncommon. If you can exert your work ethic and your emotional intelligence on a regular basis, Steve says, “it’s just a matter of time before you’re a necessity.”


By Tom TerezContact

A loud lesson in team motivation

Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 in Engagement, Teamwork


If you want to motivate a group, you’d better be all in.

I learned that lesson the hard way some ten years ago – at a July 4th parade, of all places.

After the parade had passed by, I slowly followed on my bicycle with 10 or so other riders.

Our ranks grew as more bikers joined us. So did our enthusiasm as we rode past festive crowds.

In fact, my enthusiasm grew so much that I endeavored to lead the crowd in a group cheer.

This was in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Ohio State University, where Buckeye football fever runs strong year round.

For Buckeye fans, the easiest sure-fire cheer involves a solo shout of “O-H” – which is always followed by a fervent response of “I-O” from anyone within earshot.

Well, almost always.

When I tried the cheer with a big group of parade enthusiasts, my “O-H” got dead silence in return. The crowd just stared at me like I had quizzed them in some foreign language.

After riding on for a block, I managed to recover – enough to try the cheer again, this time a little louder.


Again, silence. Painful silence. Ego-bruising silence.

Two city blocks later, I decided to try the cheer one last time.

But this time, I didn’t just tweak up the volume. I turned my bike to face the crowd, I looked left and right to get their attention, and I cued the crowd with a high-volume “Hey, everyone!”

Then I unleashed an “O-H” that was full-throated, full-commitment, and fully heard by all Buckeye fans within a fifty-yard radius.

The crowd went wild. “I-O!”

“O-H!” “I-O!”

“O-H!” “I-O!”

In years since, I’ve repeated this drill every time I’ve been in Columbus on July 4.

It always reminds me that group motivation can’t be a half-hearted effort.

Whether you’re in a parade or in a workplace, people respond best when the leader lets loose with confidence and conviction. The bicycle is optional.


By Tom TerezContact