August 26, 2015 Anil Saxena

Making Work Meaningful – Everyone Deserves A Little Dessert

It is important to recognize everyone’s accomplishments and the things they do better than anyone else.  This helps people gain confidence and momentum in their roles and to feel good about their efforts.  However, in the rare case that you cannot find something positive to say, realize that either you are not looking hard enough or you are guilty of tolerating poor performance.

It is far easier to remember all of the various and sundry things that team members don’t do well. In fact, there are many times where it feels like poor performance is the focal point of all of the conversations and where all the energy is spent with team members.

A manager that I once worked with named Dave took a negative approach to his leadership role. What he was to pick assignments for his team members based where they would do the least damage! I was stunned. There is no opportunity for growth in managing like this. This type of precautionary leadership limits the ability of team members to be innovative, creative, and really to use their talents most effectively.
No one can be beaten, belittled, or cajoled into working harder for very long.
For some reason, this scenario reminds me of the cake scene in the movie “Office Space.” As funny as this scene is, it really is important to give each person a little “dessert” or acknowledgment of the great work for which they are capable. High-performance teams focus on leveraging the strengths and talents or “the individual cornerstones” that each person contributes to the team.

A recent client that I worked with was a perennial winner of her company’s “best manager of the year award.” She had been moved to a number of different departments to take on failing teams within the organization.
Each new team that she took over became a high-performing team in a very short amount of time. But contrary to modern management modality, her results didn’t come from by firing current employees and hiring new people on the team.
Her stellar results came from her focus on understanding the value that each person brought to the team. Then, her success was cemented by giving her team members the opportunity to utilize their skills and strength as much as possible.
When I asked her what the secret of her success was, she said this:
“I look for the ‘frosting.’ That is, I look for each team members’ sweet spot and then exploit it so that they are doing what makes them happy and what makes us the most successful.”



1. Don’t focus solely on what your team members don’t do well.  Building a high-performance team takes the dedicated efforts of each person. Putting someone where they will do the least damage is a recipe for low performance and little (if any) dedication or improvement.
2. Look for the talent, or individual cornerstone, of every person on your team.  They were hired because of some talent or strength that set them apart. Look for the best. Talk to them about their “individual cornerstones.” Give them projects/tasks to let them focus on using those individual cornerstones (talents) that make them unique.
If you are spending more time trying to give people assignments that they won’t mess up rather than taking the time producing exceptional work, there is a big problem with your leadership.
Teams can’t survive, let alone thrive, by avoiding failure.
The better way to go is to take the time to really learn what makes your team members special.  You will be surprised at how a problem employee can turn into a superstar when you let them shine.
How have you seen leaders learn to look for the hidden talents of their team members?  
Can a high performance team have members that are not dedicated?  What tactics have you seen to leverage the talents of team members?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Cube 2.14 will increase your organizational effectiveness. We specialize in developing innovative, practical solutions to create productive workplaces that exceed goals.