If I asked you and your teammates to describe your work culture in one word, what words do you think would show up most often?


(Name two or three words to yourself silently before you keep reading)


The One Word You Probably Didn’t Use

Of all the words you just thought of, I’m going to guess “joyful” probably didn’t make the list.

Think back to your last team meeting or hallway conversation. What was the feeling like once everyone lost the momentum of holiday vacations or New Years’ resolutions? When a spouse or a friend asked about a meeting or interaction during your day, did you reply, “I got so much joy from that moment”?

There are so many barriers to joy in our organizations and companies. Some of them are clearly visible while others are more subtle.

I define “Joy Barriers” as the attitudes and mindsets which keep us from contentment, confidence, and delight in our organizations. (For more on the lies we believe about joy, click here.)

5 Joy Barriers Which Hold Our Teams Back

There is an infinite number of potential joy barriers, but I picked five to explore today.


Entitlement kills joy. What could be appreciated is assumed. And what’s missing becomes a source of complaints. Joy is a gift, not something we’re entitled to. Entitlement is dangerous in a company because the focus shifts from serving others to being served. And as many have noted, if serving is below you, then leading is beyond you.


Cynics are often idealists who don’t want to be disappointed again. Cynicism sucks joy right out of the room. A painful experience often leads to the loss of our joy and cynicism steals the joy of others too. Cynicism is contagious; we either process the pain of our past, or we pass it on to others in the future.

A Critical Spirit

A critical spirit is different than critical thinking. Critical thinking is invaluable to a team, while a critical spirit is detrimental to a team. In many of our organizations, we have a proud “devil’s advocate” sitting at the table. Here’s the thing – the devil doesn’t need an advocate, especially if you’re seeking to try something new or difficult. A critical spirit shuts down the ideas we need.

Selfish Agenda

Scientific research has found that joy grows when shared. But, we often become consumed by what’s good for us at the expense of what’s good for others. Our organizations should exist for people, but not be about them. Selfishness turns us inward, limiting the success and joy of those we are leading.

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset believes talent, intelligence and potential are fixed, whereas a growth mindset believes these three can be developed through persistence, education, and effort. Organizations which operate with and reinforce a fixed mindset remove the joy of growth, discovery and transformation from their members. There is no joy in the status quo. None of us became leaders to maintain what was done by someone else before us.

Tips for Breaking Through Joy Barriers

Our joy barriers are often intense and sturdy, built through intense experiences and attempts to cope with pain. They do not break down easily. They often require persistence to break through, both individually and corporately. I’ve seen these three methods be effective agents in changing individual attitudes and corporate culture.



Begin a No Complaining Challenge

Jon Gordon, the author of the No Complaining Rule, has created No Complaining bracelets for a No Complaining Challenge. I bought the team I lead a pack of bracelets earlier this year. We established a 21 day period, where no one was allowed to complain without offering a solution to what was wrong or broken. It was fun to hold each other accountable and redirect our focus from what was broken to what we could do to fix it.

Make a Daily Gratitude List

Gratitude starves entitlement. Author Steven Furtick says, “Entitlement ends where gratitude begins.” Science continues to affirm the transformative power of gratitude. Writing down three things you’re grateful for each day can break the power of entitlement by refocusing you on what you have rather than what you don’t. Joy is found in what we have, not what we lack.

Move Towards Forgiveness

It might seem odd to talk about forgiveness in a leadership blog with readers in Corporate America. But forgiveness is an antidote for cynicism and a critical spirit. Until we let go of our bitterness towards those who hurt or disappointed us in the past, we’ll continue to wound those we know in the present. Contrary to popular opinion, forgiveness doesn’t let the person who hurt you off the hook; it sets you free!

Bringing Joy to Our Teams

The most invaluable team members – the kind of people we want to collaborate with to solve difficult problems – are those people who introduce joy into every room they walk into. We can all be those kinds of people if we deal with the joy barriers in us and around us.

Photo by veeterzy on StockSnap
There are many things that threaten to steal our joy at work or at home. Scott Savage shares a few ways he's found to break through those joy barriers.