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:

  1. How often does this happen?
  2. What have you tried to solve this?
  3. What progress have you made? There may have been progress, even if the problem hangs on.
  4. What are we doing that causes this problem? Not doing?
  5. What would you like to try to fix this?

#2. Teach teams how to create positive environments.

  1. Set aside one or two hours a week for teammates to help each other. Just show up and sweep the floor.
  2. Practice candor, transparency, and vulnerability. Point out sour. Don’t ignore it.
  3. Eat together.
  4. Celebrate simple milestones like work anniversaries.
  5. Turn conversations toward action. Keep asking, “What are we going to do about that?”

5 practices that bring sweetness to teams:

  1. Dedication to make something better. Positive attitude.
  2. Teammates you count on. Character.
  3. Meaningful challenging work. Ease is the enemy. The reward of successful work is more work.
  4. Commitment to seek the advantage of others. Care.
  5. 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.