Mary Poppins Was Wrong About a Spoonful of Sugar
Mary Poppins was wrong. It takes a truck-load of sugar to sweeten a spoonful of sour.
Sour grows and intensifies apart from intervention.
Apart from intervention, sour consumes sweetness and moves to its next victim.
Living in a prosperous nation, it’s easy to think that sweetness naturally emerges. If you believe that nonsense, move to Afghanistan or Haiti. In the poorest countries, the true nature of sour is obvious.
A SPOONFUL of sugar is naive.
Every hint of sweetness in your organization is the result of intelligence, resolve, strategy, and execution.
If the team is sweet, someone worked to make it that way. Was it you?
Remove the sour:
Because sour is stronger than sweet, you have greater impact when you remove sour.*
#1. Eliminate recurring frustrations.
Patterns of failure are leadership’s responsibility. Ask challenging questions:
- How often does this happen?
- What have you tried to solve this?
- What progress have you made? There may have been progress, even if the problem hangs on.
- What are we doing that causes this problem? Not doing?
- What would you like to try to fix this?
#2. Teach teams how to create positive environments.
- Set aside one or two hours a week for teammates to help each other. Just show up and sweep the floor.
- Practice candor, transparency, and vulnerability. Point out sour. Don’t ignore it.
- Eat together.
- Celebrate simple milestones like work anniversaries.
- Turn conversations toward action. Keep asking, “What are we going to do about that?”
5 practices that bring sweetness to teams:
- Dedication to make something better. Positive attitude.
- Teammates you count on. Character.
- Meaningful challenging work. Ease is the enemy. The reward of successful work is more work.
- Commitment to seek the advantage of others. Care.
- Projects that have focus and milestones. Progress.
What makes teams/organizations sour?
How might leaders sweeten sour environments?
*Read Scaling up Excellence by Sutton and Rao.
I’ve heard it takes 7 compliments to overcome the feeling of one unjust criticism. I believe it.
Thanks Duane. One this is sure, a good taste of sour sticks with us much longer than a similar taste of sweet. Dealing with this is leadership’s opportunity.
I loved this post. Dan provided some really awesome tips. Such a real life issue. Thank you for sharing how to find solutions. I enjoyed reading it.
Thanks Jiri! Best for the journey.
The ‘bitterness/sour” leads to finding the root cause which may have many arms. I think we need to isolate them and deal one on one to change the outlook. Perhaps the team aspect of many helpers would make a difference, really depends on what is causing the “Sour”.
You have addressed the solutions well, just depends if they want to be part of the fix.
Thanks Tim. Love how you dug into this. Look for a root then pluck the fruit.
To find sweetness you have to dig into the sour.
I absolutely LOVE “Ease is the enemy. The reward of successful work is more work.”
Expect, enjoy and swim in the pool of opportunity. Focus, yes. Prioritize, yes. AND…take on as much as you can effectively execute!
Thanks Will. Frankly, I just don’t get the approach of working so you don’t have to work. So glad this resonates with you, too.
“What makes teams/organizations sour?”
Something that I’ve seen build sourness (actually, bitterness) is when efforts to improve things aren’t followed through on. The fact that improving something will cost money or require a change to established practices means the improvement is allowed to wither away, or worse is quietly strangled, it wastes the effort that was made and innoculates people against further effort.
Kudos for pointing out “The reward of successful work is more work.” Jonas Salk was about the nearest thing I had to a childhood hero!
In some cases it’s bad leadership with sour grapes in their mouth.
Thanks Mitch. Lack of follow through sends the message that others don’t matter. Worse yet, it lets others know that your word doesn’t matter.