From Workshop to Workplace

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It seems to be the season for off-site meetings, and the one last week brought on something completely unexpected: unadulterated joy!

Not ‘work satisfaction’.. but ‘jumping-in-the-air-joy’. I think it is important to dwell on what brought this on- not just for me, but for the dozen other people who typically expect a day at work to be ‘challenging’, ‘dynamic’, ‘successful’.. but aren’t typically expecting ‘joyous’.

Perhaps because it threatens to implicate you with not being ‘serious enough’ about your deliverables, if you break into a song while working, or if you laugh too much in meetings (Especially if you are the youngest person in the room, like I typically am).

And we universally opt instead, for cultural artefacts which will indicate our ‘seriousness’ and ‘professionalism’: dark coloured suits-black, brown, grey, blue… and preferably a matching shade of mood; desks and meeting spaces that are sufficiently devoid of personality to accommodate anyone but belong to no one; a consciously depersonalized language and ‘processes’- that proudly depend on no one in particular.

Then we take ‘time-out’s to figure out how to create more engagement and belonging. Some things begin to flower in workshop settings, but do not always survive the heat of the workplace.

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I am wondering what worked the magic in the workshop setting last week- The work was the same, and the people were the same.. and yet the energy was completely different.

Maybe some of these elements back at the work place would be great:

  • Engage people in the promise of future: Create opportunities to focus on the future, the long term, the big picture.. and give people a chance to define and change that. That’s what makes the day-to-day worthwhile.
  • Allow people to literally see the blue sky: This may seem trivial, but I believe that when we are close to nature, it reminds us of our place in this vast universe- significant, but small. And we are better able to view our issues and challenges in perspective- and work through them more calmly.

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  • Permission to ‘have fun’: Ok, who doesn’t have smart comments running through their head through meetings? Or is reminded of a story or a song given a certain situation? Who doesn’t feel energized after a good laugh? Or relieved to see that others are about as goofy as you are. Aren’t we waiting for an opportunity to drop the blue/brown/grey expression? Doesn’t that free up enormous amounts of creative energy to actually channel into work?

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  • Minimal rules: It is amazing how people will almost always exceed expectations when the boundary conditions given to them are kept to a bare minimum. Leaders need to exercise the right facilitation skills.
  • Warmth, and humane spaces:

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Spaces that allow you to feel ‘at home’… that allow you to recline, to huddle together cozily, to stare out of the window, to do all the many things that a human being does other than simply sitting at a desk and looking into a computer.

Again, trivial as it sounds, I also thought that during the workshop, something about games, music, and hearty homely food tapped a mental space where the energy flows- perhaps things that people associate with family and friends, and happy times.

Bottom-line being, how can people feel more human, less machine?

  • Plan for ‘distractions’: Here I mean both pockets of free time, and pockets of high-stress distractions like phone calls and emails. The pockets of free time allow people to turn to each other for no better reason than just a normal conversation- sometimes even non-work related!!
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Time to clear some clutter…
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and feed some birds..

And pre-defining pockets of high-stress distractions allow one to get through ‘actual work’ peacefully rather than reacting constantly to every spark and fire here and  there.

During the two days, the group was energetic, committed, participative and creative in ways that surprised even themselves. There were spontaneous dancing and singing, lots of silly laughter, diverse creative expressions-from cheerleading sequences to 3D art… and huge amount of ‘actual work’ accomplished.

  • Have a personal answer to ‘why are we here’? A factor that also played a big role for me, was a conversation with my husband a day before the workshop, wherein we dwelled on all that our work adds to our life. Perhaps when we acknowledge and affirm the value of something, it grows further to fulfill that promise.
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I’d like a cup of sunshine to start the day!
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