Life is hard, life + work is really hard and life + work + crazy world is really, really hard! :D It's been pretty easy to witness that, no matter how much you focus on a great culture and an engaged workforces, at some point things are going to get difficult. We've witnessed many of these difficulties and named at least two of them. We have also been able to identify "Ingredients" to help us deal with them in a way that can actually make them somewhat enjoyable and beneficial. It's kind of like adding a little sugar to a glass of lemon water - what once was sour can now be... refreshing. :D
Have compression, add fun - There are times in every organization when things just get crazy. A big milestone must be met, opportunities (for learning) are coming from everywhere, the team is completely burned out and the customer is breathing down your neck. It seems that no matter how agile you are or how much planning you do, these periods of time present themselves. We call being in these times "Compression" or under compression.
Being a pretty self-aware group, we at least recognized them and, while we understood we could not prevent them, we purposed the question of what should we do about them. We found that by adding some simple fun and camaraderie we could actually make them enjoyable (at least for a short period).
I am sure you have actually experienced this in your past, on a team sport or a family project... it was hard as all hell, but at the end you actually felt better and more connected.
Have churn, add targets - There are also times when things just refuse to stabilize. Where, just when you think you get things aligned and the teams pointed in a direction, change happens; again and again. Our personalized management philosophy, Agile, helps with this but it can still build frustration and dissension. I don't care how flexible of a personality you have, constant shift has a way of wearing you down at the core emotions of most people. We call this "Churn".
In churn or in times of high churn, it isn't so much change in a new direction, it's actually the clarity, speed and communication of the change. Often the new direction does not come across clearly and lingers for a period of time. This is where people start to disengage. We have found that by adding targets - named, pin-pointed goals - this churn can actually align and strengthen a team.
The key to both of these recipes is that they must be deliberate. You must add time, focus and energy to make them happen. They will not happen on their own. By being aware, looking at things just a little different, and adding some secret ingredients, you can actually break the equation on these opportunities in your organization and actually use them to create an even better workplace.
So I ask you... are your recipes turning up the heat in your kitchen and burning the cooks or will you add some secret ingredients and light the kitchen on fire? :D