A team’s major efforts into developing a new go-to-market strategy seems almost pointless as news comes from above that the company is about to be scooped up in an MBA. The launch of a game-changing new product is overshadowed by a sudden slump in the economy. An eruption of negative social media comments over a poorly-worded ad distracts from a customer event that’s just being finalized.
In the day-to-day life of working in a B2B firm, these are just some of the more extreme examples of forces that make it difficult to focus or concentrate on things that are really important. They are compounded by the constant interruptions from smartphones and mobile apps. Then there are the personal stresses that, like it or not, have an inevitable impact on our professional performance. No wonder so many experts are preaching the gospel of practicing mindfulness at work.
According to a study published in April by the University of British Columbia’s Saunders School of Business, mindfulness is not necessarily just beneficial to individuals but to corporate teams as a whole. The study involved introducing meditation and other mindfulness techniques to 394 MBA students as well as a nearly 300 health-care workers in China. Here are the results:
The researchers found that, when teams are more mindful, the degree of interpersonal conflict decreased. Team members were also less likely to transform their frustration with a particular task into a personal conflict with their colleagues. This helped the team members detach from the task and eliminated strong emotions and feelings of prejudgment.
These kinds of conclusions are opening up doors for organizations lie Mindwell-U, a startup with has set a goal for making mindfulness a core competency for large organizations by 2030. According to Dr. Geoff Soloway, MindWell-U’s co-founder, a rise in stress-related leave, disability costs and impacts on group benefits plans are among the catalysts for organizations to take mindfulness more seriously.
“I call it ‘presenteesm’ — people are showing up, but are not as focused as they could be,” he told B2B News Network. “Their minds are wandering all over the place — they’re being emotionally hijacked by conversations they’re having internally or with clients. That leads to conflict.”
Even when B2B employees have time to hunker down at their desks, they are rarely living in the present, Soloway added. He said most efforts at multi-tasking would be better described as “unitasking,” especially if it involves a laptop screen with multiple browser tabs open and applications running.
“The myth is that we can go back and forth and be doing multiple things. The reality is we’re always task-switching,” he said. “These technologies are great to perform certain tasks, but as you’re moving out of one task to another, your faculty of attention is decreasing.”
At starting point for mindfulness at work should probably involve defining it in a corporate context, suggested Dusty Staub, author of The Heart of Leadership and a consultant to large organizations. To Staub, mindfulness in B2B is not merely a matter of closing your eyes and breathing but “pausing to reflect with critical thinking tools and more awareness or intelligence than we would normally use.” This is not necessarily the way most of us operate every day, he added, and it has consequences for productivity, customer retention and other key performance indicators.
“If I let my mind or ego run me, I end up being short-sighted or alienated by not thinking through the implications of what I’m saying,” he said. “If there’s a transactional element of the day-to-day job and that’s all I think about and I truncate my thoughts, I lose the incredible creativity, innovation, breakthroughs and possibilities that I could gain otherwise.”
Efforts are already underway to automate some of this through technology. Unmind, for example, describes itself as a B2B mindfulness platform that learning and development programs on meditation and stress management that can be offered via desktop or smartphone through an employee assistance program (EAP).
Soloway’s Mindful-U, meanwhile, offers more hands-on training with programs like its 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge, which encourages employees to take “meaningful breaks” throughout the day for a month.
“You don’t have to close your eyes. You don’t have to go into a quiet room,” he said. “This is something you can do in a meeting, on a phone call, or after having a difficult situation with a coworker or a client.”
Mindfulness becomes more of a team activity, however, when organizations align employees with stories that relate to their vision, mission and values, Staub said. These stories are already in the staff’s mind, in many cases, but not necessarily articulated well or codified to provide direction. This is something that should be established even before mindfulness practices are applied, Staub said.
“There’s no employee manual or booklet necessarily, but in most companies there are about six stories we teach every employee, and they tell you how we should perform and act,” he said. “For the majority of organizations, this is radical stuff.”
Mindfulness at work, in other words, is not only about helping employees to give their busy minds an occasional cleansing pause. It’s about making sure they have something helpful to think about once they resume working again.