The Power of Gratitude in a Team (Bonus Episode)

April 11, 2022
I would say the real core as to why people resist gratitude, besides it is strange and awkward at the beginning, is the fact they are scared that they won’t be prepared for the inevitable doom that is always around the corner if they are happy. Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host, Joe Hudson.

Brett: I wanted to add a little bit of a bonus episode in here after talking about how to build a functional team and all about dysfunction teams because I know the way I might listen to this, if I was a CEO, might be to see all the ways a functional team are not what I am, are not what we have yet and that I am just not good enough and then look at all those signs of a dysfunctional team and just see them everywhere and just get really hard on myself, down on myself and down on my team.

I want to talk a little bit about that and what would you have to say to somebody listening to those two episodes and just walking out of it feeling like they just had a one-star meeting with themselves.

Joe: What I would say is that’s part of the dysfunction. That kind of self-talk is probably the root, if not one of the roots of the dysfunction. It is also incredibly limiting, meaning there are two ways to get to solutions. One way to get to a solution is to see what’s wrong and how you fix it. Then the other way to get to a solution is to see what’s right and how you build on what’s right.

Most people really focus on the first one because they have that negative voice in the head because what’s been really useful for humanity up until now is to be able to see what’s wrong more than see what’s wrong. To see what’s right, I like that apple. To see what’s wrong, that snake can kill me. We have learned and there are all kinds of psychological studies. We tend to look for what’s wrong. The more intelligent you are, self-criticism is more likely to be heightened.

Brett: And more nuanced.

Joe: And more nuanced, exactly. I would say it is really important in any kind of analysis to really be able to see the data clearly and, in this case, it means to see the positive stuff clearly. One of the things I recommend doing that creates team cohesion is a gratitude process with a gratitude session with a team. When I was doing venture capital, we did at the beginning of every one of our teams. We would have three or four rounds of gratitude so that we could see what’s right and how to grow as easily as we saw what was wrong and how to fix it.

Brett: You are speaking about gratitude in the team, gratitude for the company, gratitude in personal lives or any form of gratitude.

Joe: The way we used to do it is before meeting, everybody would say three things they were grateful for in a circle. It would be like one, two, three. Everybody would go one time and then a second time. The most important part of a process like that is you have to feel the gratitude. You can’t be a five-year-old at the table who just wants to eat. You have to really feel into this is something I am really grateful for. That’s the key part of the process.

If you are working on a problem, it is really important to see what you are grateful for around what you think is lack or what you think is the problem. That helps. That expedites the process. For instance, if you feel like you are always poor and don’t have enough money, to be grateful for the resources you do have is a great way to figure out how more resources come to you quickly. That’s a great example.

If the biggest issue right now is your product isn’t selling, then it would be great to spend gratitude, and this is difficult for people around your product not selling because then you can start seeing all the opportunities. I am really grateful that our customers are telling us what they don’t like about the product. I am really grateful that the salespeople are telling us their concerns about what makes them not be able to sell the product. I am really grateful for the learning that before we make a product next time, we should make sure it sells before creating it.

Doing all that really helps you see what’s right and how to fix it, and it gives you all new solutions to the problem. It is doing three rounds of gratitude. It is making sure everybody feels grateful. If it was a neutral time, I would do it around the team, what we were grateful for around the team, so we could continue to be more and more function.

I think there is a great story about this. I am not sure if I have shared it, but I will share it, which is this story I read about this guy who went to Vietnam. He was with Save the Children or some such thing. He was supposed to, with $50,000 dollars, stop malnutrition in kids in this county, which just seems like a completely impossible task. He got met at the airport by some officials. If you don’t do this in six months, we are kicking you out. He has got like $50,000.

He goes into the first village and the second village. He finally finds a village where the kids aren’t malnourished. What’s happening here? He found out that instead of the same amount of rice in two meals, it was in three meals. They took this weed out of the rice paddy and they chopped it really finely, put it in, and they took this little, microscopic shrimp and put them in. It was just all right there available. He saw this and was like oh my gosh. What he did was he took those $50,000 dollars and took the moms from all the other villages, brought them in with some kids and said if you do this, this is measurably what your kids will be different compared to doing that. All of a sudden, the whole county changed their way of feeding their children and he solved the problem.

If he was just constantly thinking about what he didn’t have and what was missing, he would never have been able to solve that problem. It has to come from a place of gratitude and seeing what’s functional.

Brett: I can imagine an alternate story where he tried to use that $50,000 to purchase food and bring it to the kids in all those other communities. The scalability of that with that money just wouldn’t have done it.

Joe: I think there are hundreds of billions of dollars used that way in Africa and it doesn’t work.

Brett: Something really interesting about that example is he didn’t go straight to the problem and where the problem is. A lot of the wisdom in leadership is where there is a problem, look directly at that. What you are kind of saying here is some form of that, but also look for what’s working in the problem. I think people can have an allergy to something like gratitude in a meeting when they are feeling angry before the meeting even begins as that’s just some positive scanning or positive dissociation from reality. They will bring in I am just being realistic and showing what’s real here. This is broken, and that’s broken. What would you say to those people to help them see the truth in both and look to the positive in a non-dissociative way but to see it as fertile ground to grow from?

Joe: The people who are going to do that particular thing are usually very intellectually based. What I would say is let’s just do the experiment. For the next three weeks, we are going to start our meetings this way and we are going to note how our decision changes and if it is effective. If it is ineffective, then we won’t do it. Also, because we are being positive, we are not being pollyannaish. I want to hear everything that’s going wrong. I just also want to hear everything that’s going right. If you can convince me that hearing all the data is a bad idea, we can stop it right now.

I would approach that very intellectually and also make it experimental. Because if the team doesn’t feel like it is of benefit, then, why do it? It is far more productive to have the team know that what they are doing is beneficial. You can find another tool if that one doesn’t work. It is critical that they actually feel the gratitude. That person who you are speaking to would probably most likely also be the person who would be like I am really grateful I got a paycheck, instead of I am really grateful that this team is working together in such a way that allows us all to be paid and allows me to take care of my children and really feel the gratitude.

I would also be quick to call that out. Hey, you are either running the experiment or you are not running the experiment, but don’t half ass because if the experiment isn’t clean, you are never going to learn anything.

Brett: That would be dysfunctional, wouldn’t it?

Joe: The simple practice, and this works with your husband, wife, and kids, and it is just an incredibly useful, really just beneficial thing. I would say the real core as to why people resist gratitude, besides it is strange and awkward at the beginning, is the fact they are scared that they won’t be prepared for the inevitable doom that is always around the corner if they are happy, if they are content, if they are looking for something good to happen. Having empathy and compassion for that perspective is also really important.

Brett: Foreboding joy.

Joe: Exactly, for many people, joy is just the signal that the other shoe is going to drop because it is. You are not in joy forever. It doesn’t work like that. Everything is fleeting.

Brett: With every up comes a down, or at least your nervous system will regulate back to it being normal.

Joe: Exactly, but that’s like saying I am not going to eat this beautiful bowl of food because at some point it will be gone. It is silly but it is the way our systems respond.

Brett: Thank you so much.

Joe: Great idea for this bonus episode. Thanks, Brett.

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