Peak 65: A Demographic Turning Point
In 2024, 2025, and 2026, a staggering 11,200 individuals will turn 65 daily, marking the tail end of the baby boomer generation. This is being called the era of Peak 65. By 2030, every baby boomer will have crossed the threshold into their 60s or 70s. While discussions around Peak 65 have often focused on financial challenges, it also holds significant implications for employers, older workers, and the very concept of retirement.
Cyrus Bamji, Chief Strategy and Communications Officer for the Alliance for Lifetime Income, emphasizes the potential opportunities that Peak 65 offers. He notes, “Peak 65 provides potentially more of an opportunity to get the message out that older workers are good for business and that employers are missing out on opportunities if they don’t tap into Peak 65.” However, studies indicate there is an internal struggle many individuals face as they approach 65. In the worker’s mind, you turn 65 and can’t help but think, ‘Should I continue working?’ It’s a touchstone for this period of self-evaluation. Despite the average retirement age being 62, the trend of working at 65, either part-time or full-time, is rising. This shift can be attributed to longer life expectancies, with many 65-year-olds anticipating living well into their 80s and 90s. Plus, this generation realizes they still have so much to offer in the workplace!
Implications for Companies
A significant shift is underway, with roughly one in five Americans aged 65 and older (19%) still being employed in 2023. This marks a nearly twofold increase from 35 years ago, as highlighted in the Pew Research Center report, “Older Workers Are Growing in Number and Earning Higher Wages.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this figure to increase to 21% by 2032.
Several factors contribute to the rising employment rate among those aged 65 and older. Richard Fry, the senior researcher for the Pew study, points to increased education levels and better overall health among today’s older adults. The shift in Social Security’s Full Retirement Age from 65 to 67 in 1983 also played a role, encouraging some individuals to continue working. Additionally, the decline in traditional pension plans, which often mandated retirement around age 62, eliminated a disincentive for employees to continue working.
Despite these positive trends, challenges persist. Many individuals approaching 65 may decide to leave full-time positions due to eligibility for Medicare at age 65. Some continue working solely for employer-sponsored health insurance until reaching Medicare eligibility. The labor force dynamics are evolving, opening up opportunities for part-time work in what has been termed “unretirement.”
Adapting to the New Workforce Realities
While older workers are finding new pathways to employment, employers have been slow to adapt their policies and benefits to accommodate the changing needs of this demographic. Approximately 52% of retirees surveyed feel their employers do not understand their needs as they transition toward retirement.
Chris Littlefield, President of Retirement and Income Solutions at Principal, acknowledges the need for flexibility in addressing the tectonic shifts in workforce demographics. He emphasizes that employers must find ways to work with their employee population to manage knowledge transfer and succession planning effectively. Littlefield urges businesses to adopt more flexible work policies and personalized benefits to meet the diverse needs of the Peak 65 workforce.
A paradigm shift is needed in how businesses view and manage their workforce. Bradley Schurman, author of “The Super Age,” notes, “The big story is not just the number of people getting older. It’s the number of younger people coming into the workforce; there’s fewer of them.” Schurman emphasizes the importance of businesses addressing age bias and altering their policies to foster inclusivity.
The World Economic Forum advocates for inclusive working environments for all generations in a January 2024 report on the longevity of the economy. One of the key principles highlighted is the need for companies to evolve job designs for flexibility, allowing older individuals who wish to continue working the ability to do so. As the working-age population declines, creating inclusive workplaces becomes imperative for sustained economic growth.
There is a distinct absence of attention on older workers, specifically those aged 55-90. Many individuals in this demographic, supposedly in retirement, actively seek additional income to supplement their social security, savings, and, if they’re fortunate, a pension. As they face longer, healthier lives, these older adults are also confronted with soaring food and gas prices, reaching unprecedented levels. This juxtaposition leaves many older workers anxious about aligning their shrinking income with escalating consumer prices. It’s crucial to recognize that older workers differ significantly from their younger counterparts in the 25-50 age range. Employers grappling with the challenge of securing reliable personnel would be wise to consider the unique attributes of older workers.
What Can Companies Do?
Creating an inclusive and supportive workplace for older workers involves a thoughtful approach encompassing various aspects.
1. Design Purposeful Roles: Start by crafting roles that go beyond mere job descriptions. Tailor positions that resonate with the company’s mission allow employees to see the direct link between their tasks and the organization’s broader goals. Recognize the importance of making individuals feel indispensable, fostering a sense of purpose by enabling them to contribute to customer service in a meaningful way. This acknowledgment holds particular significance for older workers, many of whom have spent their lives discerning between jobs that held such qualities and those that did not.
2. Arrange Flexible Schedules: Acknowledge the unique needs of older workers by embracing flexibility in scheduling. Understand that the late-life work experience is enriched when individuals can manage shifts and leaves of absence. While industries may have distinct requirements, adopting innovative scheduling solutions allows employees to attend to personal matters, ultimately contributing to increased loyalty and a willingness to go above and beyond when the company requires their support.
3. Pay for the Job, Not for the Tenure: Shift the focus from compensating based on years of service to valuing the contribution and equity of the work performed. According to research by Josh Bersin and Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, emphasizing job and level equity over tenure is a key factor in the recruitment and retention of older workers. This approach underscores the significance of recognizing the value of their contributions over time.
4. Adapt to Physical Challenges: Consider making modest adjustments to the work environment to accommodate the physical needs of older workers. This might involve offering more frequent opportunities to sit, especially for those who experience discomfort when standing for extended periods. Engage with employees to understand their specific needs, recognizing that individual preferences vary. Such accommodations not only enhance the working experience for older employees but may also contribute to increased efficiency compared to their younger counterparts.
5. Build Community and Camaraderie: Beyond the professional aspects, fostering a vibrant and enjoyable workplace is crucial. If the first principles are in place, it sets the stage for cultivating a sense of community. Consider organizing events such as picnics, costume contests, or seasonal activities to infuse a sense of fun into the workplace. Simultaneously, recognize the importance of compassion by allowing additional time off during personal crises and celebrating life events, creating a workplace where individuals genuinely care for one another.
6. Tackle Ageism: Stand as a beacon against ageism by recognizing and celebrating the talent and contributions of workers, irrespective of their age. Showcase older employees as role models, demonstrating a commitment to anti-ageism principles. Stay vigilant for subtle ageist tendencies and establish a zero-tolerance environment within the company. By fostering a workplace that values individuals based on their abilities rather than their age, you contribute to a more inclusive and enlightened corporate culture.
Of course, our work here at Steople revolves around making workplaces the best ones possible for all stakeholders…as research suggests, this absolutely includes looking at the diversity within a company. Many often overlook the age demographic as a viable option for the talent issue present in so many companies. How have you seen any of this play out in your company? Is this something you need to leverage? We would love to hear from you!
I woke up the other morning to the news that Bob Iger is returning as CEO of Disney. Iger came up through the ranks in a 50-year career at Disney and has an almost mythical status as the leader. He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, the home to Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and kicked off the streaming revolution with Disney Plus. Most people would say that anyone would be hard-pressed to find someone who says a bad word about Iger. And what does he attribute his success to? Building relationships, demanding excellence, and sweating the small stuff.
I’m sure most of you have been to the magical world of Disney. It is a rite of passage as a parent that you bring your kiddos to Disney to see that look of wonder when they set eyes on Mickey and the Princesses for the first time in person. We did that as a family…staying on property at The Animal Kingdom, getting Fast Passes, chasing after those character autographs, and watching Tinkerbell float across the sky during the evening light show. It was magical! But one of the memories I have of that trip has nothing to do with the Disney characters and more to do with a mistake I made that Disney helped me correct with their legendary service.
We had been having a great day in the Magic Kingdom…until I realized I didn’t have my phone. Now, this was in the early days of cell phones, and I remember that phone well…it was small and had a black and white checkered Coach phone case. Of course, panic struck and as I made my way to Lost and Found, I had very little hope that it would be there. But guess what I walked into? A room filled with cell phones…and there was mine sitting on the shelf! I couldn’t believe it and automatically told the lady at the front desk…if this was any other theme park, it would have never been found. She nodded and said they had a swift protocol of how to handle a lost phone. They had even shut it off so that it wouldn’t drive the employees crazy and so that the battery would be saved when found by its owner. That was a WOW experience for this customer. It perfectly illustrated the care and planning for every single detail that Disney is known for.
The Story Behind Disney’s Trash Cans
Along with this “small catch” the theme park had implemented, there are 1,000 other small things that are tended to. At Disney, attention to detail is something of an art form, stemming from the founder, Walt Disney. His passion, which one could argue is at the very core of the company’s values, was famous for his eye for detail, and he made sure that everyone paid the same attention that he did. As an example, Disney trash cans are legendary. It Is rumored that there are holes underneath the cans where the trash is swept away in underground tunnels. It isn’t true, but what is true is that each and every can is created to be a piece of art that is specific to the part of the park that it is located. The cans are ever present in the background of Disney vacation photos. They’re a vital necessity to a pleasant guest experience. Yet, they’re barely noticed. The humble Disney trash can might be easily overlooked, but actually has celebrity status with people vying for the trash can merchandise and swag that can be found in the Disney stores.
Why did Disney focus on trash cans? First, Walt realized that if you keep a place tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their trash, so he did research into how far someone would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground. He found that 30 feet was the magic number, so wherever you go in a Disney Park, a trash can will never be more than 30 feet away from you. Second, every trash can is designed in a way that blends into its surroundings and doesn’t remove the guest from the immersion of their experience. They are works of art and are meant to enhance the customer experience. Again, the little touches here and there truly make a difference.
Customers Notice Everything
You may not be consciously aware of it, but you are subjected to annoyances every day. Some you might just filter out and move on, but others might really bug you over time and impact your satisfaction. Interestingly, there is a human premise that it’s always the little things people seem to notice and get annoyed about, not the big things. See if any of these annoyances resonate with you:
These are the things we notice; they cause us to rethink whether we want to continue to do business with the guilty organization. These are the things they expect NOT to happen. They represent the basics of business, and we expect them to be performed without a flaw. But when things break down, we are emotionally caught up in the event and often behave in a way that doesn’t reflect who we really are. We confront the person who greets you at the phone store for not seeing us on time. It’s a small issue and shouldn’t matter, but it does. These are the things that we tell ourselves might indicate an organization is not concerned to do what’s necessary to finish the job completely for us. It says to us that they want to get it done and move on to the next customer.
Take Care of the Little Things
People get tired of the “big box culture”. Someone once told me – people want to feel special and that they matter. To be honest, that includes not just customers, but employees as well. That mantra has always stuck with me and has made me become more intentional in how we show up at Steople. My question to you is what small details in your company would frustrate customers? Not the big things, but the little things that might negatively impact your brand. How can you work on making the minute details as important as the big deliverables? What can be done? Here are some sample actions that might be taken to implement strong “little things matter” values.
Attention to detail is a culture that leads to sustainable competitive advantage because most organizations don’t have — or don’t desire to have — the competency. They don’t understand the little things aren’t little at all, they’re HUGE and can make the difference between a wildly successful business and a mediocre or failed business.
This is the time of year for reflection on the last 12 months. I encourage you to take stock of those things that might need to be focused on in the new year. Here at Steople, we are always here to support you and help you with the things that matter most in your culture. We are grateful for your partnership and wish you a great holiday weekend!
As I sat in the passenger seat of Debbie’s car, she gave me a tour of the beloved Ft. Worth children’s hospital she had worked at for the past 43 years. She spoke with love and respect about what she had helped build over that time. She reminisced about the two small buildings they had started in all those years ago and pointed to the numerous blue-topped roofs and sprawling grounds they decorated with adorable, welcoming-to-children topiary landscaping. We saw the Ronald McDonald House and the staff childcare center, as well as the numerous areas for reflection and relaxation for those suffering a physical setback. She talked about how the pandemic trauma of the last two years had impacted the culture they had built and even threatened to crumble it.
Regardless, as we pulled into the parking garage, she greeted the parking attendant warmly and asked how he was feeling, saying to me, that he had just recovered from surgery. As we strolled the brightly colored hallways, Debbie chatted and hugged her way across the campus. She would quickly point out those individuals who had been with the hospital for decades and were so dedicated to the cause of helping children heal that they wouldn’t think of leaving until retirement. During this tour, I fell in love with this new hospital client of ours and told Debbie how inspired I was to be a part of their purpose on this planet.
The whole experience was remarkable and seeing so many long-term employees reminded me of another group I had worked with the week before who had recently been acquired by one of my clients. During our joint company strategic planning session, we were discussing the “talent war,” and we all listened intently as two of the owners of the acquired company talked about the team that became family over the years. They had started at the age of 16 working in the lumber business and were set to retire from that same company in the next 5 or so years. They talked about others in the business who grew up together, got through school, enjoyed fishing trips as a team, went to one another’s weddings, and celebrated when they had children. We are talking retention of 31…28…19 years, which are unbelievable numbers in today’s world.
So how is this possible and do we have any chance of recreating this in today’s job market? Some will say “No way, today’s workforce isn’t nearly as loyal, and it is not realistic.” But is that true? Or can we at least aim to be a significant part of an employee’s work history? I believe we can.
Develop a Great Retention Initiative
Many employers are no doubt wishing that the Great Resignation, where employees have been quitting their jobs in record numbers since the Spring of 2021, would suddenly become a very different trend: the Great Retention. But research suggests that many workers remain confident about their prospects in the current hiring market, in fact, 41% of respondents are currently looking or plan to look for a new role in the next six months. This means employers must still be vigilant about the risk of top performers walking out the door.
This, in my opinion, is the number one issue, outside of finding talent, for companies today. Every single coaching or consulting conversation I have includes the current challenges with talent. And it’s not getting better anytime soon. We have to look at those companies who are doing it well, come up with creative strategies, and listen to what our most-valued employees are telling us. Based on research and my own anecdotal evidence there are 8 areas that I believe you need to focus on as a leader to retain your talent. I hope these resonate with you and inspire you to work on at least one of these:
1. Create and Support an Inclusive “Family” Culture
Having a “sticky” culture where people take care of one another and truly care is crucial. Through the years that is one common thread in companies I have seen be successful in keeping their employees long-term…they are one another’s work family and it would be unthinkable to leave that family. Now with that kind of vulnerability, you must make sure there are good boundaries in place so there is no “family dysfunction”, but essentially these teams support one another through the good times and the bad.
2. Find Each Team Member’s Motivation ‘Lever’
“Money” is not the reason people stay in a job. It can be demotivating if they are paid unfairly but thinking about throwing money at an employee who is thinking of leaving is the wrong strategy. Every person has his or her levers of engagement and motivation: Fun. Authority. Development. Responsibility. Autonomy. Respect. Recognition. Challenge. Variety. Figure out what each individual needs, then figure out how to best work towards it. Meeting those individuals where they are is one of the best things you can do as a leader.
3. Emphasize Shared Non-Negotiable Core Values
From the beginning, recruit people whose values align with yours and the company. This builds a positive atmosphere and culture, which resonates with people and keeps them on board. Consult with your people, find out what they care about, and build collaborative solutions that inspire their loyalty and commitment. People like to feel included, and valued and that their contribution makes a difference. The great thing about this is that if there is a value mismatch the team will pick it up instantly and advocate to keep the shared values on track.
4. Rally Everyone Behind an Emotionally Driven Purpose
Most employees want to feel part of something bigger and to be proud of it. In addition to rewards and positive feedback, leaders can inspire others by consistently and regularly communicating a clear purpose that people connect with emotionally. It is easy to get mired in the day-to-day details; step back and connect those details to a broader vision. This means embedding it in your everyday work not just from a “marketing” perspective (posted on your website), but in daily conversations as evidence of working towards that incredibly important purpose beyond making money.
5. Change Old-School Thinking Against Flexibility and Track Results Instead
In 2022, people value flexibility more than ever. If someone is in a role that can be effectively carried out through flexible work, then offer this. Not only is this hugely rewarding for employees, but it also gives them a sense of comfort, knowing that you trust them to carry out their role effectively and manage their own time. And don’t automatically assume the younger generation will take advantage of it. Depending on what stage of life and career people are in will determine how much or how little structure or time in the office they will need or want. Track results, not “butts in chairs”.
6. Get Everyone Directly Involved in The Company
Money is the result of successful work and not a sustainable source of motivation. Other important forms of compensation include having fun, working on something great, recognizing and appreciating colleagues, and the feeling of having achieved something challenging. Coming from this mindset, rather than just exchanging their time for money, the culture should encourage an “owners’ mindset” in the employees. The employees can then be a part of building something inspiring that they can be incredibly proud of.
7. Recognize Your Team Member’s Humanity
The most meaningful way to recognize employees amidst all the difficulties we are facing in the current challenging business and social environment is to first and foremost recognize their humanity. Know the individuals on your team and recognize each employee’s unique challenges as the year unfolds. Command and control are out. Prioritize time, space, and opportunity for them to thrive and reach their goals by guiding their growth and investing in them. Compassion is one of the most overlooked leadership traits to leverage, especially after a couple of tough years.
8. Share What Each Employees Role in Your Vision for The Future Is
Inspire people to want to work with you and each other by sharing your vision and their role in it. You might be working your way through current challenges, but your eyes are on the future. Tell them about three indicators informing your vision for the future and why those give you confidence. Assure your people that they are building the foundation for a future in which all of them play a part. Be honest, specific, visionary, and hopeful. People love making a difference and being a part of something big.
The list above is near and dear to my own heart. The two that were highlighted by the clients I was working with the last two weeks were knowing one another on a personal level and ensuring people understood how relevant their contribution was to the success of the organization. This aligns nicely with Patrick Lencioni’s work on employee engagement. I would hope that you might look at the above list and rank yourself from 1 to 5 on each. Then ask yourself which one you might need to work on from now till the end of the year. If you are diligent in working on it, it will pay off…I promise! If you need more resources, please let us know, and, as always, best wishes in your leadership journey!
Standing outside on the balcony, feeling the hot rays of sun on my face, and catching the breeze coming from the north, I could see the Pacific Ocean just a block away. As each wave rolled in, I saw figures bobbing in the water – easily flowing back and forth. I realized they were surfers out to catch a wave before they started their day. It was at that moment that I gained clarity on my North Star. “Why am I doing what I am do every day?” It’s because one day I want to be on the water with my kids trying to catch the perfect morning wave!
The Steople team gathered in sunny California to enjoy time together and gain alignment on our goals and rallying cry moving into the end of the fiscal year. Our annual strategic planning offsite event was booked several months ago, and we were all excited to spend time together. We started out the day with air travel. Not surprising to say that everyone’s travel was eventful with cancellations and delays. Nonetheless, we all got to Los Angeles in one piece and met for a late lunch at a restaurant on the beach. We enjoyed a team building activity that night talking about what drives us and what drains us as individuals and as a team. This provided much needed insight to the team and how to work better together. Even though most of us have worked together for a while, this activity helped us realign on each individual value. Apparently, my drainer is “enjoyment.” Of course, the team found this revelation quite funny! However, it wasn’t a big surprise to me. When I am tasked with work, all I want to do is put my head down and get it done. Go ahead and think it… Layla’s the buzz killer (smile)!
We spent the entire next day aligning around goals and reviewing Steople’s core ideology consisting of our core purpose, core values, mission/vision statement, and SWOT analysis. In reviewing our core values, we provided examples of how we “walk the talk” every day in our behaviors and work product with our clients and our own team members. These core values provide guidelines for us of how we want to behave in our own Steople culture. By knowing your core values, it allows you to get you through challenging times because the strong foundation is set and clear for all. This sets the culture in an organization. Talking about our vision statement enables each of us to see how our roles guide us collectively into the envisioned future. We asked ourselves, “Why are we doing what we do?” Client meetings often take us away from our families and, sometimes, we even have to face the challenges of working across global time zones. Indeed… why do we do this kind of work? Simply put – we love our team, the work we do, and the clients with whom we do it!
I gained the most clarity during our talks of core ideology, metrics, feedback/recognition session, and strategy discussion. As a team, we strategized around how we will achieve our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) during our session on our one big commitment. Before I reported out on my own One Big Commitment to the team, I walked back to the balcony, looked out to the ocean, and asked myself again, “Why do I get up every day and get excited about the work that I do?” Because one day, my kids and I will be on the beach at sunrise to “catch the perfect wave.” How do I achieve that? I need to be aligned with my teammates and on the same page with my vision for the upcoming year. Getting alignment may require difficult conversations; this is where the turning point was for our team. Being able to have healthy conflict on a team enables the team to gain trust and become more open to innovation and creativity instead of being reactive to a situation or person.
As we faced the last day in sunny California, we packed our bags and piled into a Jeep laughing about funny moments from our time here. We broke bread together one more time at a restaurant on the pier before heading back to the airport. As a reminder of the clarity I achieved, my mentor – who happens to by the CEO of Steople – gave me a ”Surfing the Wave” sticker that I have in front my computer as a daily reminder of my WHY.
Remember to invest in your business and your people by ensuring your strategic planning offsite happens so you can realign around your core ideology. Make it a priority as this will help guide individual team members through challenging times and help them find the focus and desire to work as one team. Allow Steople to be your compass as you find your North Star.
Just before the senior trip, I was asked to speak at a leadership conference by one of our global clients. The topic was Psychological Safety on High-Performing Teams, with around 200 leaders, and the location was Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Not bad, right? I flew directly from Mexico into Honolulu and dived right in with the leadership team. The agenda was packed full of really great exercises and experiences. This organization does amazing work saving cancer patients’ lives, so their Noble Purpose is, obviously, incredibly important. But, as with any company that is publicly traded, has lived through a pandemic, continues to try to get good talent, and is plagued with supply chain issues, they have had their struggles over the last two years. The great news is they have an incredibly competent leadership team and employee base and are working through those challenges with grit and grace.
As with any client work I am a part of, I did a quick “post-game review” as I flew home from the gorgeous Hawaiian islands. I reflected on the high points of what really resonated with me from this gathering that other companies and leaders might be able to learn from. I wanted to share with you today three of my observations:
Our Journey In
As I lay there I reflected on how this amazing adventure had come to be. After our leadership had been introduced to Bridges to Prosperity at a construction industry event, they realized the tie our core values had to their mission, so the decision was made to join in their efforts to build much-needed bridges. The call went out and we had responded, knowing that we could make a big difference in another part of the world. The last few months had been filled with planning meetings, getting various immunizations, gathering donations, and purchasing construction tools and safety gear. We had just kissed our families goodbye and traveled halfway around the world. Touching down yesterday in a land where none of us knew the language or how to navigate foreign kiosks and signs was definitely eye-opening! But as we exited the airport with all of our luggage, tools, and safety gear we were warmly greeted by our driver, Bati, who was transporting our team to the hotel for the night. With 10 of us and our staff, we somehow squeezed all of us and our gear into Bati’s for a midnight trip through Kigali. The rest of the evening/night was a blur, as I don’t remember checking into our hotel. I awoke still tired from the days of travel to find breakfast waiting for us and praying that there would be coffee. The coffee did not disappoint nor did the breakfast of Shakshuka with freshly made bread. As our team trickled in for breakfast; our drivers, who would be helping get to a from the site every day, arrived in two old green Land Cruisers. As we talked logistics with our drivers, the first priority would be getting to the local market to stock up on food before venturing out to the remote village. Upon arrival at the local market, with our driver’s assistance, we divided and conquered our list to load up the 10 grocery carts…enough to last the entire two weeks we were here.
It had been a slow 4-hour trek out to the village. As we rolled along, the roads were in pretty good shape for the most part and we had very few cars that passed us. As we bumped along the driver informed us that Rwanda is called “The land of 10,000 hills” for a reason. There is not a flat piece of land anywhere in the country… there are hills, there are twists, and there are turns. The country was just gorgeous. I leaned my forehead on the window just watching the countryside go by simply soaking up the sun. At that exact moment, our Land Cruiser made a sharp left turn and dropped down into this dirt road. That’s when things changed, and reality hit. There had been recent rain and so the rivers were overflowing and a huge body of water was running wild right beside us. I peered out seeing our tires were barely skimming the edge of the river. We began the steep climb up on a very rutted dirt road. In the back, we could hear our groceries jostling around and we quickly grabbed onto the “sissy bars” to stay put. After some time, we came to a clearing with the village spread before us. We soon began to see what village life is really like…there were village people everywhere hard at work on their daily tasks. We saw women carrying water jugs, men tending to livestock, and children on what looked like recess playing an unfamiliar game. I was entranced by this whole different way of living day by day with no electricity and being, for the most part, off the grid.
The village of 1,000 people was waiting for us as we squeezed the Land Cruisers through the 12 feet wide entrance into the village. We saw heads pop out from all the thatched roof home doors and windows. They were wide-eyed and looked to be asking what was going on. Immediately what seemed like the whole village was surrounding us and we carefully stepped out of the vehicle realizing we couldn’t actually communicate due to the language barrier so busily tried to get our gear out as our driver translated what was going on. The thing I’ll always remember about that moment is the curiosity and wonder each of these groups had about each other. We knew we were embarking on something both strange and wonderful. They bustled us through to the 400 square feet home with our gear, clothes, and food. It was tight accommodations. And so we were here! Exhausted and excited at the same time. Sleep came fast and this morning I woke to a feeling of wonder that we made it this far. Today we would make our way to the site where we would build a bridge that would so positively impact this village.
Teamwork Made the Dream Work
Everyone in the house is starting to stir and after a quick breakfast, we load up our gear. None of us know what is ahead of us, but we all have that feeling of intense anticipation. Although we all work for the same company, before this trip we didn’t know each other at all. But, we understand (and this falls back on our ethos) why we were here and why we were chosen. That is our motivation. And the one thing we also know as a Flintco team is that we’re not going to fail. We are outside our comfort zones, but we are going to make this happen.
What we weren’t aware of was how much we would bond over this experience. We had little contact with the outside world. We all worked seamlessly together over the coming two weeks, living our core values, and gaining confidence in our roles and abilities. Every day we would debrief what went well or didn’t go well. We laughed and cried together. We would stay ahead of schedule and begin to integrate into the community. As the day progressed, the village people would come to rely on us and us on them.
The Village Culture
I will never forget the people of the village. The atrocities that happened in this beautiful country in the 90s hung like a cloud over all of us throughout the trip. Initially, I noticed they were nervous and a little bit hesitant with us – they honestly didn’t think we were real at first. But, that first day, as we were all standing on the edge of the hillside talking about the day’s logistics and doing our safety kickoff… we consciously integrated ourselves within the community. We just went and just spread out. There were some strange stares… like what are you guys doing? Why are you standing beside me? And the crazy thing is, it wasn’t anything we had talked about doing before it happened it was totally intuitive!
Our first day on the ground was awkward. Initially, we used a lot of nodding and very little speaking. As an entire group, we immediately got into a great rhythm. I noticed early on that the villagers would look over and see that we were working hard and doing good kinds of things. This definitely helped with the trust! By the second day, they knew we were in it until the end…we were all in to help them. We got to know them and what their names were, who their family was, were able to say simple words like hello, and started to learn more of the language. They learned a little English and we learned a little Rwanda! We were part of beautiful ceremonies, played their sports, and ate the meals they offered. By the end we had friends.
The Bridge is Built!
As for the noble purpose of why we were here – it was all about saving lives by building the Bridge. We listened to story after story about the loss of about 10 people a year trying to cross this bridge. They basically had only a log to cross this river. The new bridge ended up being 90 meters…It’s basically the length of a football field. Imagine walking down an incredibly steep hill for half a mile to get down to the log and shimmying across to see family members, getting medical care, fetching food and water…all that is solved now with a beautiful bridge!
Upon completion of the bridge, there was an amazing celebration. There was singing to bless this monumental accomplishment. It was incredibly powerful. They had the tribal members, leaders in the community, and everyone that helped speak about the bridge. They spoke of the importance to the community and everyone who was there took an initial walk over the bridge to christen it. What those 100+ people walking across the bridge meant was that it was safe to use, and everyone was meant to celebrate. The singing, the dancing, and the gratitude expressed by this beautiful group of people… were inspiring.
What an incredible story of a newly established team (Flintco, Bridges to Prosperity, and the Rwandan people) working so well together! Can you think of a time when you worked on a team that seemed to flow effortlessly? Reflecting on it, humanity’s greatest accomplishments have resulted from team efforts. No one is an island; people everywhere survive and thrive by pulling together. Ironically, however, organizations are finding it harder, not easier, to build successful teams. Numerous studies show that only 20% of teams are considered high performing. This is especially true in fast-paced 24/7 global teams that are constantly switching across functions.
What we see so much of the time in our work with teams is that there is a “Professional Culture Clash”. Different areas in an enterprise tend to approach a common project or initiative very differently as it relates to jargon, timelines, and approach to the work. Sometimes this might be due to different skill sets and personalities that, if channeled effectively, might result in diversity in thinking…which is positive! However, so much of the time there is actually a “Scarcity Mindset” which is where people on the team feel as though they are competitors on the same team…which is not a positive! So, what made this Flintco team so successful? I believe so much of it had to do with two things: Alignment around core values and evidence of psychological safety.
If the answer to both of those final questions above was “Not Sure” or “No,” then I encourage you, dear readers, to immerse yourself in the literature of Simon Sinek or Amy Edmondson’s work. These two gifted researchers and authors will take you a long way on the journey of embedding these two important realities in your team culture. As always, at Steople. we are here as well to talk through any questions you have in building the type of team Flintco lead in Rwanda. Have a great rest of your week!