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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A with Jurgen Appelo on Managing for Happiness

Q&A with Jurgen Appelo on Managing for Happiness

Key takeaways

  • Learn about Jurgen Appelo's new book Managing for Happiness.
  • People should be rewarded for how they make a team successful.
  • Exploration days help teams to do self-development and self-education.
  • Focus on purpose, identity, and values to make remote working succeed.
  • Documented feedback makes difficult discussions easier to handle.

The book managing for happiness by Jurgen Appelo provides practices, games and tools to manage organizations and make work fun. It contains tips and suggestions for applying the practices for achieving organizational greatness.

InfoQ interviewed Appelo about rewarding people and rewarding teams vs. individuals, effectiveness of collaboration with remote workers or distributed or dispersed teams, enabling teams to do self-development and self-education, main challenges that remote working can bring to organizations and how to deal with them, giving written feedback, and maximizing learning in organizations.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Appelo: I wrote the book for everyone who wants to make a contribution toward better workplaces with happier, motivated colleagues.


InfoQ: What's new or changed in this book compared to the #workout book?

Appelo: There are two new chapters about the popular practices Moving Motivators and Happiness Doors. And other chapters are updated with new tips and tricks. I also removed some less popular chapters (based on votes by readers). They are now available as free downloads.

InfoQ: In your book you stated that people should be rewarded publicly and not privately. Can you explain why?

Appelo: I believe that people should be rewarded frequently, unexpectedly, for good behaviors, and in a peer-to-peer manner. Leaders should highlight and emphasize the good things happening in an organization so that others can pick up the signals. And then it makes no sense at all to do this secretly in private.

InfoQ: What's your view on rewarding teams vs. rewarding individuals?

Appelo: Someone who says that we should reward teams instead of individuals (to improve collaboration) doesn't understand that this doesn't solve the sub-optimization problem, because it repeats itself at each higher level. Why reward individual teams and not whole departments? Why reward individual departments and not the whole organization? The only way out of this is to reward the parts for the contributions they make to the whole. In other words, recognize individuals for how they make a team successful, recognize teams for how they make the whole department successful, etc.

InfoQ: In your book you mentioned that the effectiveness of collaboration between people heavily correlates positively to their proximity. Is there a substitute for proximity when it comes to remote workers or distributed or dispersed teams?

Appelo: You will have to redefine proximity from the narrow sense (which is just geographical proximity) to a broader definition that includes virtual and mental proximity. I feel very close to some people who actually live far away, in other countries. It takes frequent travel, great communication tools, and meaningful practices (such as Personal Maps) to achieve that feeling of proximity.

InfoQ: What are your thoughts on whether people should work from home or in the office?

Appelo: People should be taught to act as professionals and make that decision for themselves on a day-to-day basis. Who am I to tell other people what is best? It all depends on context.

InfoQ: What can organizations do to enable teams to do self-development and self-education?

Appelo: Well, Exploration Days (or Innovation Days, Hackathons) is the first practice that comes to mind. Preferably, I would like to leave self-development as a responsibility for the people themselves. But whole generations have been raised with the idea that education is something that we do to other people, not to ourselves. That's why it's useful to have a regularly organized day that invites everyone to develop themselves. Maybe, once a culture of continuous learning is achieved, you can get rid of the top-down practice.

InfoQ: Which are the main challenges that remote working can bring to organizations? Any suggestions how to deal with them?

Appelo: The most difficult is achieving a sense of cohesion and motivation to collaborate. Despite ubiquitous connectivity, people easily get caught up in things that are happening directly around them. That's why it will always be more difficult to form a team when the team is virtual. But things are getting better. A good start is a strong focus on purpose, identity, and values, with practices such Work Expos, Identity Symbols, and Value Stories.

InfoQ: What makes written feedback so important?

Appelo: Documented feedback (written or recorded) can be important to make difficult discussions a bit easier to handle, such as, "No, what I said last month was this." and "Really, I notified you twice, on these days." Also, I find that offering someone constructive feedback can be easier to do in writing, because it allows me to think more carefully about the proper words to use. When disagreements escalated for me, it was nearly always face-to-face.

InfoQ: How can people improve their capabilities for giving such feedback?

Appelo: Stick to the facts and personal perspectives: Express what you see happening, express how you feel about that, and express what you would value more. Those are all facts and perspectives, with little or no leeway for disagreement. To make the feedback even better, you can start by describing some context and end with a request or a suggestion.

InfoQ: Which ideas do you have to maximize learning in organizations?

Appelo: Everyone should be running experiments, all the time. Learning is optimal when we run more experiments. Make it as cheap as possible to try things out, create an environment where people feel safe trying things out, and come up with ways to extract learning from those experiments. I created the Celebration Grids practice specifically for that purpose.

About the book Author

Jurgen Appelo is pioneering management to help creative organizations survive and thrive in the 21st century. He offers concrete games, tools, and practices, so you can introduce better management, with fewer managers.

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