Recreating “Water Cooler” Conversations in the #Virtual and #Hybrid Work World

Water dispenser in the room, front view

This is an excerpt from my new book The New Workforce: Productivity Through Virtual and Hybrid Teams. For additional ways of getting teams to higher performance in an online world purchase book here and please write a review:

When we worked in-person, the problem of the day was the main topic of conversation. As soon as we landed at the office, someone would ask, “Did you hear about the ERP system?” An emergency meeting invite regarding an angry large customer would appear as soon as we turned on our computers. As we poured our first cups of coffee, team members were huddled together in the cafeteria excitedly talking about the production line that went down.

The office setting provided many forums where team members could share what they knew about the challenge and explore together how it happened. Perhaps most telling, the gaggle of employees in the cafeteria was essentially an informal problem-solving session helping make sense of the current challenges. This was happening at the same time leaders were dropping into each other’s offices to carry out similar debriefs.

After going virtual, the first thing I noticed at our initial online meeting was that team members were no longer benefiting from those hallway and cafeteria conversations. This wasn’t surprising since the hallways and cafeterias were closed. Because the employees were working from home, they no longer had those important informal chats. Virtual employees were now making sense of the problem for the first time when I convened them for an initial meeting. …

I realized that I needed to re-create these pregame informal discussions in a virtual setting where teams hashed through the nature of the problem ahead of time. …  The first thing I do is jump onto one-on-one virtual calls with team members to get these conversations going. … I ask them a few pointed questions and make a number of suggestions:

  • I ask what the problem is and if they know its root cause. I also ask how they know this is the source of the problem.
  • I encourage them to initiate additional virtual live conversations with their peers.
  • I point out that exchanging ideas about the problem on collaboration software like Microsoft Teams or Slack builds understanding.
  • I suggest shooting off a few emails if they don’t have time for live conversations.

These methods spur teams into productive action in our online world…

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer

Book Announcement:

A Pandemic Story – Performance Through Virtual and Hybrid Teams

The New Workforce: Productivity Through Virtual and Hybrid Teams by Dr. Kevin Anderson tells the story of how going virtual due to the pandemic led to work innovations. The idea of delivering business consulting virtually was unimaginable for Dr. Anderson. He had spent decades building a brand based on being in the same room with intact business teams. He is also a self-described technological idiot. Going virtual in March of 2020 completely shook his world.

This book describes Dr. Anderson’s journey to design and deliver online work and meetings for high team performance. His story of how to approach work in the virtual and hybrid environment has not been told. The book starts with organizational topics such as business problems, strategy to execution, structure, and culture-building. This is followed by practical tips and techniques for succeeding online in these key areas that teams grapple with every day.

Through twelve practical lessons, learn how to craft effective virtual and hybrid work exercises and pair them with user-friendly online interactive technologies, such as online polls and whiteboards. Discover helpful ways to guide and facilitate teams in the virtual arena. Finally, end each chapter by reading the reflections of leading organization development (OD) consultants who have gone on this journey with Dr. Anderson over the past year.

As organizations struggle with remaining virtual, returning to work, or some hybrid approach that’s a mix of both, this book offers invaluable practical approaches for team success in the new workplace.

Purchase book here and please write a review:

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

Great New Book To Help Make Your Virtual Meetings More Effective and Efficient

We are all looking for ways to make our #virtualmeetings more productive.  The most helpful resource I have found is the book Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work.

Here is the back story. As a result of publishing my book Organization Design Made Easy: Structure, Process and People, I met Dr. Joseph Allen who just published this very timely book along with Karin Reed.  Dr. Allen is a professor at the University of Utah and the Director of the Center for Meeting Effectiveness.  Dr. Allen’s website.

Rather than ‘teaching’ people tips and tricks that are hardly ever applied, Dr. Allen reviews real meetings and provides specific, relevant, and actionable feedback on how they can be improved. True learning in action:) [And BTW: He has written 100s of articles on meeting effectiveness after reading through 1,000s of articles.  So you can check that task off your to do list!]

One of Dr. Allen’s findings that I have found most useful is the importance of providing voice opportunities in meetings.  He discovered that team members need to feel that they can speak up, be heard and have their opinions acknowledged in online meetings. Participants want to be accepted, validated and have their thinking included in the decision making processes.  Creating this open, safe environment is easier said that done online.  Dr. Allen’s research offers suggestions for drawing out participants including turning cameras on, as well as active facilitation.

And in case you are interested Dr. Allen is conducting a meeting effectiveness study for organizations.  The other connection here is Keith Leust, who I worked with at Accelare, who is part of Dr. Allen’s research team. For more information, give Keith a shout at

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer

How To Create Human Connection During Online Meetings

See the source image

The #workplace teams I consult with are driving extra hard to perform in this challenging environment.  They stay on task. However, I do get glimpses of stresses around parents’ health concerns, kids online schooling road blocks and other unfathomable challenges around working remotely.  This is unchartered terrain. 

As these stresses bleed into our daily work, it becomes increasingly apparent that virtual employees no longer have a forum to talk about and work through what they are experiencing.  Pre-pandemic, they could grab a cup of coffee with co-workers in the lounge and kick around their daily challenges.  Today, for many of us, that forum is gone.

They clearly want to share with their peers what they are experiencing.  However, jumping into a meeting and telling their stories may be uncomfortable and frankly not welcomed given the work tasks at hand.  This is why I have added opportunities for employees to share their triumphs, challenges, and even the mundane, as part of day-to-day meetings.  Any of us leading meetings can incorporate places where the team can interact.

 Here are three examples from virtual meetings I have led:

  • As a meeting kick off, I challenged project team members to show something from their home office.   We soon found ourself viewing a home workout area being built, some favorite family pets and even a half-eaten lunch. 
  • As part of a manufacturing plant leadership team, we explored the challenges that they are facing with their workforce given the pandemic.  Leaders shared stories and tips and techniques for helping employees who are struggling.
  • Team members talked about what they have learned about themselves from the pandemic.  The responses included funny stories about finding out that that their families despised their cooking.  Other discoveries included moving accounts of reuniting with family members that had formerly been distant.

These shared stories may seem small.  However, when people are staring at a computer screen all day, followed by being homebound by night, these very human interactions can take on expanded meaning.

The benefits are numerous.  Employees feel that they have been heard.  Peers have benefited from knowing that they are not alone.  Practical ideas for resolving challenges have been shared. 

Let’s be honest. At this point, even if all we do is help employees experience a sense of workplace normalcy, that is a job well done!

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

The Three Essential Change Tools

If you were on a desert island (or how about quarantined!) and could only bring three change management tools, what would they be? Kevin Anderson took this challenge in his new book Organization Design Made Easy.  He spoke about the power of simplifying our field at a recent Performance Excellence Network (PEN) session. 

Go to Amazon Author in a new screen to view a clip.

Buy Book Now: 

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

My New Book: Organization Design Made Easy: Structure, Process and People

If you’re looking for a page turner on organization design, this is it!  I’ve worked on this book for several years drawing on ideas from my consulting work, as well as my amazing peers.  It’s perfect for new and seasoned managers to C-level leaders.  Please write a review of the book and post the link on your social media!

Buy Now:

Book Description

The most popular business books on the market today advise leaders to simply articulate a vision, be inspirational from time-to-time, and leave the rest for employees to figure out.

As an organizational design consultant, Dr. Kevin Anderson has landed at the doorstep of hundreds of teams who have followed this path, only to find them without clear direction, stuck in silos and lacking the structure and processes needed to perform.

This book offers practical advice on how to design your organization. Whether you’re a leader at the top of a large organization, or a supervisor of a small team, here are the practical instructions to address structure, process and people challenges in developing an efficient and functioning organization. And, these same methods can be leveraged by consultants and employees at any level.

Each chapter offers three easy steps to address organizational challenges and opportunities. This means that you get just enough context, process and tips to immediately jump in feet first. Those who do not take the time upfront to craft their organizations leave their success up to chance. 

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer

Want Americans to Wear Masks? Call in a Workplace Shrink


Americans have been told to wear masks in the name of pandemic prevention with limited success. The more pressure applied to these mask resistors, the louder their voices rise in opposition. We have seen the viral videos where a customer yells and throws things after being told by a clerk that masks are required. The more ordinances that are passed, the more push back. Nothing seems to be working.

For those of you who want to see more mask wearing and hear less “can I speak to a Manager”, you are in luck. I am a #ChangeManager.  AKA, an organizational shrink.  However, instead of addressing personal lives, I fix #workplace problems.

I help people transition through work changes.  I pull levers to encourage employees to accept new products. technologies and ways of working.  This approach is based on organization psychological principles that great thinkers such as #JohnPKotter developed.  Translation: It works!

So let’s apply these proven change practices to the mask issue.

1/ Create a Sense of Urgency

Kotter maintained that the first step to motivating an organization to act is to establish a sense of urgency. He wisely said that the key is to then turn this sense of urgency into a tangible compelling action that everyone understands. Kotter said “But the real power of a vision is unleashed only when most of those involved in an enterprise or activity have a common understanding of its goals and direction.  That shared sense of a desirable future can help motivate all kinds of actions that create transformations.”

We can keep sharing this message of a shared better future state.  It may be our first knee jerk reaction to tell someone to wear a mask.  However, it is better to start by pointing out the wins for complying.  In this case, the positive outcome could be living another day!

2/ Make it a Two-Way Conversation

What do all the viral videos have in common?  The customer does not feel listened to and thus becomes frustrated.  Change management principles suggest that when faced with a resistor, follow some simple steps:

  • Identify their valid concerns and address them
  • Show that you understand their objections
  • Be clear about what you cannot change

By taking the above approach you enter into conversation with the resistor.  You show that they are being heard and you give them some credit for their thinking. However, in the end you let them know that you cannot change the policy, nor the importance of the practice.

3/ Finally, Make Folks Feel Like They Have a Choice

It is a rule in the change management profession to avoid “telling” employees what to do.  Even when there are mandates we point out the areas where the employee has free will.  In fact, we create a pull that results in people wanting to comply with changes.  The fact that these techniques can at times get people to act on their own free will, without establishing any new rules, is a bonus.

By giving the resistor a choice, it often disarms them.  I have seen many employees over the years itching for a fight about a change.  By letting them know that in the end they get to decide how they act, ironically, many times they come around. [BTW: Even with mask laws, this change principle suggests starting conversations with choice versus the mandate.]

You may suspect that these workplace practices will fail on the mean streets given the passionate responses of mask resistors.  However, they have resulted in tens and thousands of employees not only complying, but even, welcoming changes.  It may be time to call a workplace shrink!

In addition to #ChangeManagement, Dr. Anderson consults on #LeadershipDevelopment, #CulturalTransformation and #OrganizationalDesign.

Note: I updated this blog on Oct. 30, 2020 in order to reflect broader challenges around mask wearing in American.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

A Response To Our Clients’ Pain: Listen


Our business clients are trying to stay focused on organizational improvement.  However, it is evident that there are bigger forces at work here.  We are all worried about our health and well- being in the face of this world-wide pandemic.

As Organizational Development professionals our role is to offer up solutions.  We toss in an approach or a few probing questions and before we know it, the problem is resolved.  Today, however, we may have met our match.  There is no easy ideas that we can toss into the mix that will make this go away.

Our teams and colleagues are feeling a level of worry and grief that is in many cases off the charts.  The most helpful response may be to offer a forum where team members can talk about what they are experiencing.

The Reverend Gale Robb recently delivered a sermon ( where she suggested that we are dealing with the concept of lament.  Lament is the result of people asking “why” and not getting an answer back.  Lament is a biblical term which may apply to our daily working life as well.

Lament helps us move beyond our immobilizing individual fears.  Reverend Robb says that lament requires us to reflect on the overall suffering of the world.  She observes that the power of lament is that it provides “public witness of intense personal grief.”  The conversation is about unbearable sadness.  However, it is naming your grief and pain within community.

This is the power of taking time during our organizational meetings to allow our teams to express what they are experiencing during these unprecedented times.  Reverend Gale quotes the late Eugene Peterson’s thoughts on why lament can transform in his book Leapt Over a Wall:

 “Lament isn’t an animal wail, an inarticulate howl. Lament notices and attends, savors and delights – details, images, relationships. Pain entered into, accepted, and owned can become poetry. It’s no less pain but it’s no longer ugly. Poetry is our most personal use of words; it’s our way of entering experience, inhabiting it as our home, and not just watching it happen to us.”

What help can we offer to those experiencing worry and pain as a result of this pandemic?  We can start by simply listening.  Lead with suggested approaches and tools, No.  Simply listen.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.



The Pandemic: What Are You Learning About Yourself?


This past week I heard a pop psychologist on a talk show say that this pandemic is not happening “to” you, it is happening “for” you. As a result, a useful question is: “What am I learning about myself from this experience?”

I am usually a cynic when it comes to Dr. Phil media types dispensing self-help advice on the airwaves. However, the statement that this is happening “for” you, along with the follow-up question “What am I learning about myself” kept coming back to me all week.

I am learning the great extent to which I get my energy from live, in-person interactions. I am learning how much I appreciate my wife and kids as we spend time doing house projects, exercising the dogs and simply hanging out in the back yard sharing our mundane daily experiences. These live interactions have been so energizing!

At the same time:

  • I am learning that the virtual zoom game nights, the living room concerts from my favorite bands and the exercise videos are all just OK. For me, they are an interim, mildly amusing form of interaction.


  • I am learning that having your favorite restaurant owner run out to your car and throw a bag of food into your back seat, is not nearly as rewarding as being welcomed at the door as your about to enjoy a leisurely meal.


  • I am learning that it is ten times more difficult to design and deliver work-based virtual team experiences that match the level of engagement and output as compared to in-person.

My positivity for the week is to stop looking for these virtual events to be more gratifying experiences than they are. Yes, I will continue to dial in and gain some good things from the virtual world. And no, I will not rush out into a crowd, abandoning social distancing.

However, I am keeping my eye on the prize. And that is the day when we can once again gather in person. And when that day comes, I will be even more aware and grateful of how amazing and inspiring it is to be together in real-time, in the same space.

And so, this pandemic is happening “for” you.

What are you learning about yourself?


Note: this blog does not reflect the views of my employer.



All The Consulting World’s A Stage


“Great consultants are as much actors as they are fonts of knowledge.” The founder of the consulting firm I had just joined delivered these words to me after my first week on the job. I was initially taken aback. A number of questions rushed to my head. Wasn’t I just hired because of my skills and abilities? Didn’t my years of on-the-ground experience mean anything? And perhaps most importantly, since my mission is to transform organizations, what in the heck does theater have to do with my consulting practice?

The answers to these questions revealed themselves to me as I reflected on my initial experiences with my first client. I had gone through all the motions of being a good external consultant. I jumped on a plane as the sun was coming up Monday morning and flew to the client site. As soon as I arrived, I began to learn about the project and culture as quickly as possible. I worked night and day all week to figure out how I could best help this client.

And now over a glass of wine back at the airport Thursday night, my new boss was telling me that our work had as much in common with a theater production of Guys and Dolls than it did with providing deep insights to help the organization transform. Could this really be true?

In some ways, the answer is: Yes! The only justification for flying in highly paid consultants each week is to shake up business as usual. And we all know that the best way to impact fellow human beings is to reach them on an emotional, as well as logical level.

I came to understand that I had great content. However, I needed a more compelling persona. Borrowing an acting analogy, I was coming across a bit like the actor Harrison Ford with too much flat line delivery. My boss was asking me to be more Ryan Gosling with a bit more style and flair.

Now, I faced the challenge of figuring out how to make a bigger splash. I carried out the following steps:

  1. Telling Compelling Stories

“Stories for business have a practical purpose. They should gain or strengthen the trust of the intended audience(s) and, with this achieved, to inform, persuade, and even inspire them.” [Janis Forman, Storytelling in Business (2013), Stanford Business Book, p. 23.]

The first thing I did was turn some of my dry content into stories to grab the attention of my clients.

For example, I was helping a client develop a new mission statement. My goal was to get the leaders to understand the impact of crafting a powerful purpose. I told the real-life story of how the mission of a nonprofit in the health field had helped a family member identify a mystery medical condition that they had suffered with for years. Finding a diagnosis was a life changing event.

After telling the story I noticed that the leadership team was more engaged than usual. They were clearly impacted by the story. In fact, one tough, former military VP who had said little during my previous sessions had tears in his eyes.

I glanced over at my boss and he was smiling. Clearly, I had hit the mark!

  1. Finding Ways to Connect Personally

Theater touches us on an emotional level. Similarly, I sought out opportunities to interact with my clients on a more personal level. As consultants we are dropped into an organization for a limited period of time. It is easy for us to stick to the work at hand versus forming deep interpersonal relationships.

Peter Block (Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, 2011, Jossey-Bass) points out that we have the potential to more fully bring of ourselves to our consulting gigs:

“A unique and beguiling aspect of doing consulting is that your own self is involved in the process to a much greater extent than if you were applying your expertise in some other way. Your reactions to a client, your feelings during discussions, your ability to solicit feedback from the client – all are important dimensions to consultation” [p. 13].

Block correctly points out the importance of a strong relationship between you and your client. And nothing cements a relationship like having a personal connection.

I applied this with a client by introducing opportunities on our agendas to talk about what our work means to us personally. These conversations allowed me to learn more about my clients’ backgrounds, values and aspirations. At the same time, they learned more about me.

This was win-win. The personal discussions which were part of our agenda led us all to be more engaged and invested. As a result, we had more impact and enjoyed the process more.

  1. Leading with Content – Don’t Over Do This!

The above theatrical tactics for connecting with clients on emotional and personal levels are powerful. However, we still need to infuse our skills, knowledge and abilities to transform the organization. As consultants we are primarily hired for our expertise and not our wit, nor fashion sense. The message here is clear. Your main focus is on accomplishing business goals. At the same time, do not be afraid to throw in some theater for maximum impact.

Over fifty years ago the academic Marshall McLuhan coined the expression “The medium is the message”. Perhaps McLuhan was correct and we should pay more attention to the vehicles we use to communicate our big ideas.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.


Be inspired and motivate others

Kevin Anderson, Dr. Organizational Design

Building High Performance Workplaces for Productivity, Fulfillment and Connection

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