A team can be heaven, a team can be hell: what makes the difference?

This is a story I shared a few months ago during the ACE16 conference at Harvard.

The story of Heaven and Hell

There’s a man that all his life he’s had one singular worry.

He wakes up every morning with this worry, every lunchtime has this worry. What he worries about is “how is heaven and how is hell?”.

Every morning he wakes and this is the first thing he wonders, every lunchtime, every moment that he has a bit of peace, every time he’s waiting in an elevator: “how is heaven, how is hell?”

Finally God gets a little bit tired of this incessant worry and decides I’m going to take him up and show him.

The man appears at the first set of gates. There’s some fire, little devils and rusted gates. The gates open and they enter a room.

They enter hell. In this room, the first thing that strikes him a wonderful smell of food. As he looks around the room he sees people holding their belly groaning, starving.

He sees that each person in the room is holding something in their hand.

He looks closer. He sees it is an enormous spoon.

In the centre of the room there’s a bowl. An enormous bowl. In that bowl he looks and he sees it is full of food. The people in the room are approaching the bowl, dipping their spoon into the food but the spoon is so large that they cannot eat. They’re starving.

God says “this is hell”.

The man says “Hell is not what I expected.”

They appear in front of some other doors. Little angels, harps, nice clouds… the doors slide open: they step into heaven.

Same smell, same room, same Bowl in the middle, every person in the room has the same spoon… but in this room room they’re reaching into the bowl, filling their spoon with food and they are feeding each other.

The difference between heaven and hell is who you choose to serve first.

More on the subject of creating teams that are more like heaven than hell…

I had the privilege to deliver a keynote session at the European HR Director Summit yesterday. It was inspiring to be surrounded by 200 senior HR people thinking about making work engaging and meaningful for the people at their companies.

AkzoNobel decorative paint division put 17,000 people through a 3 day reflection on who they are, where they have come from, what their purpose is. The leaders chose to do it because they believed it was important. Engagement levels doubled.

Royal Philips HR Director Denise Haylor spoke about splitting the company into 2 units. Splitting payroll, teams, leadership… 63 countries… hundreds of applications… and all delivered last week.  Hard work!

European HR Director Summit

Here’s a few photos that the event organisers shared of my session:

and some responses:

And here was a powerful lesson I took away…

“Your learning rate is your earning rate” Dan Tesnjak