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The Whole Should Not Be Less Than The Sum of Its Parts

Lack of Psychological Safety


You have heard it ad nauseam—the bit about the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. We use it to describe the benefit of systems or why teams are better than just individuals working in groups.

So let's just recap: When do “things” become a system?

A system is the result of connecting things that are different.

Note that the critical words here are connection and diversity.

A box of nails does not constitute a system. All the things are exactly the same and they aren’t connected even if they are in the same box.

A computer is a system and so is a management team. One is mechanic and the other is organic. We’ll come back to the implications of that later.

But what we seem to forget is that it’s not a given that the whole will be more than the sum of the parts. Sometimes—quite often actually when we talk about teams—the whole turns out to be considerably less than the...

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All Your Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

A Simple Model to Understand How This Works


"Tell me, what do people actually ask you to coach them about,” she asked. I was having a lovely conversation with an old friend who I had not seen in a while and we were catching up on how our lives had developed. I tried to give her a few examples of what I thought were very different issues of what I’m working with.

Later that week, I was reading something by Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler and came across this:

All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.

Then, it hit me—reflecting on what I had discussed with my friend and also thinking through other examples. They may call it different things, but by far, most of the coaching challenges that I work on are about relationships.

Relationships with colleagues, bosses, across departments or even customers—even relationship with themselves—

—the common denominator in all of this has to do with how to work better with others.

Why do so many...

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Leaders Found Less Than Proficient at Leading Others—

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Would it be fair to say that an important part of leadership has got to be the ability to lead others?

Yet, in a survey published by Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), only 45% of leaders are rated proficient at this by their boss.

Wait a minute, are you saying that more than half of the European leaders out there aren't considered by their boss to be good at leading other people?

Yes. Exactly.

If that's not shocking, then it's at least seriously thought-provoking.

But the sad fact is that it correlates well with the Gallup surveys that say that more than 60% of our workforce are not particularly engaged in their job while 23% are actively disengaged. To a large extent, engagement is a function of leadership.

These are depressing stats. To me, it just confirms that there's a serious challenge out there to improve our leadership capacity.

CCL recommends three ways to improve that situation:

  • Challenging assignments that offer opportunities to...
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ETC is at the Heart of your Employee Experience.

A few years ago, MIT Sloan Management Review ran an article entitled Designing the Soft Side of Customer Service. In it, the authors argue that regardless of whether we are talking about a pizza delivery or a complex consulting agreement, emotions are lurking under the surface and that our job is to make those feelings positive.

If we are aiming to create the optimal customer experience, we'll need to start off by examining the kind of employee experience that's going to be the foundation of the customer experience.

A miserable employee is not going to provide your customer with a breathtakingly positive emotional experience, no matter how much you train them.

But this isn't just about the full employee journey from recruitment to exit interview. As team leaders, we need to focus on the day-to-day experience as well.

We have looked at endings, consequences and psychological safety in previous posts. In this blog post, let’s take a look at what else we can learn from the...

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No Fear—It's the Foundation of a Great Team.

In the previous blog posts, you've been looking at the employee experience. If you buy into the whole concept of the Service Profit Chain, it makes perfect sense that creating a great employee experience will help you create the best possible guest experience.

Then, let’s explore another element of the employee experience.

At the basic level, people have a need to feel safe. Only when you feel safe can you do your best work. If you feel anxiety in some form, your system directs your resources toward coping with whatever you feel as a threat. At a deep level, you try to answer the question: fight, flight or freeze? Obviously , none of these modes are conducive to producing great customer experience.

When you dissect great customer experiences, most of them are the result of one of your team members deciding to do something different in a given situation. The guest’s situation does not fit the script and there's a need for an improvised...

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Employee Experiences and Why You Need to Focus on Consequences

In the last blog post, you looked at how progressive organizations are focusing on managing their employee experience as a way to ensure the best possible customer experience. From the Service Profit Chain‘s point of view, this makes perfect sense.

You can create super sophisticated employee career journey maps, but you could also only look at what a day looks like on your team from the point of view of an employee experience. What are the emotional highs and lows in a day? You looked at how managing positive ending has a huge influence on how the whole day is perceived.

In this blog post, have a look at why managing the end of the day is just as—or maybe even more—important than managing the start of the day from a motivational point of view.

A reasonably accepted definition of motivation is a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.

That reason—called the activator—for doing or not doing something can come from...

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What Drives A Fabulous Employee Experience?

For a while now, progressive service organizations have been focusing on the customer experience. It's well-established that the way customers perceive the total experience is crucial to getting their loyalty—and at the end of the day, loyalty is the magic path to profits and growth.

But only the most advanced companies are looking at the logical consequence of that thinking: How are you managing the employee experience? If you're familiar with the Service Profit Chain, this line of thought won't come as a surprise to you.

At the end of the day, the customer experience is a reflection of the employee experiences. It then makes perfect sense to start looking much more closely at how you're managing your employee experiences.

There are different ways you could approach that. You could look at a classic journey map over the life span of employment. What is the pre-employment experience, such as recruiting, among others? How does the on-boarding flow? What is the...

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You Won’t Get Results by Pussyfooting Around the Issues!

It's not personal. It's a challenge.

No feedback, no progress.


I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Ed Catmull called Creativity Inc. Now, you may not be familiar with the name Ed Catmull, but if I tell you that he was one of the three original founders of Pixar, then you’ll probably have an idea of who I’m talking about.

In the book is a chapter where Catmull describes the process behind making a successful animation movie. Catmull writes, "Early on, all our movies suck!" This makes sense when you think about it. But when you see their fabulous animation film, you often forget how that represents three years of hard work from an awful lot of people. Of course, that rough idea was not born a box office hit. It was worked, reworked, and polished endlessly until it became that work of art.

It's one thing being a lone genius—a Picasso or a Rodin—tirelessly and self-critically continuing something until you get it right. But how does that work...

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Take Charge of Your Energy Levels!

Where does your energy come from?

Body: Physical Energy

Emotions: The Quality of Your Energy

Mind: Focus Energy

Big Rocks First

Human Spirit: Energy of Meaning and Purpose


Continuing a series of blog posts on how to best support first-time managers, you now need to look at one of the huge challenges—lack of time.

For most new managers, landing that first managerial job is exciting and challenging, filled with so much to do!

Then, the realization hits—so little time to do it in.

The natural reaction for first-time managers as team leaders is to just put in more hours. Crank up the work volume. Often it works for a while but you then run out of steam. Then, in your pursuit to squeeze more productivity out of the hours available, you start researching time management tricks and tips—maybe even invest in a super to-do app for your phone or fancy leather-bound paper organizer.

Regardless, chasing more time quickly becomes exhausting.

There has got...

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A Team Leader's Key Instrument: Conversations, Not Small Talk

Great conversations have a powerful impact.

What is a quality conversation?

Who are you talking to?

How often are you having quality conversations?


Before you plunge into this, take a moment, and think about leaders that you have admired in your life. This could be a teacher, scout leader, sports coach or boss. Go on. Do it now.

When you think of a leader in your life that you've admired, does a specific conversation come to mind?

I think most people can remember at least one—maybe even several—conversations that they have had with a great boss. A conversation that somehow shifted something in their thinking, understanding or behavior.

Great conversations have a powerful impact.

But great conversations are also time-consuming. For exactly that reason, they're also often the most neglected part of your leadership toolkit. Most people don’t seem to find the time.

That's a shame because when you neglect your conversations, you miss out...

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