Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Preschool Wisdom meets the Modern Workplace

Developing teams who work well together and support one another is an on-going challenge – and a frequent topic of my articles. However I recently recognized a way to address that challenge that’s so simple it brings to mind the popular book of nearly 25 years ago, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum.

The revelation is based on an activity at my daughter's school which keeps kids connected and engaged, (qualities all employers want of their staff) while bolstering their self-esteem and giving them opportunities to be a leader (qualities that are difficult to both develop and assess). The activity is Share Day, and here’s how it works: Each child has an assigned time when he or she gets to share something with his classmates – by way of show and tell, and they get to ask questions about it. Through this activity the children get to know each other better, learn of their shared interests, and develop a level of interpersonal appreciation and respect for one another.

Apply that lesson to a business setting and the outcomes could be far greater. Share Day would facilitate staff in getting to know one another beyond the scope of their work. It would create an atmosphere of understanding and compassion, which translates into better workplace relations and stronger teamwork. It can help shy and quiet staff to connect with their coworkers, and it creates a platform for developing – and recognizing - natural leaders that others will follow.

There’s more good news. Share Day creates a specified time and place for engaging in personal conversation. This means staff would know when they get to share, and likewise, when not to share. Share Day presents staff with an appropriate place to talk about their recent accomplishment, to brag about their kids, or to share good or bad news that is affecting them. Rather than sending non-work related emails, this would be the forum in which staff could talk about their recent vacation, ask for sponsors for the marathon they'll be running, or to buy cookies for their child's scouting troop.
Here are a few guidelines for implementing Share Day at your company or organization:
  1. Incorporate "sharing" into team meetings, either as the warm up, or as a way of closing the meeting.
  2. Limit Share Day groups to a maximum of 12 people. If you have more than that, the team should be divided into logical groups based upon who staff work most closely with.
  3. Limit each person’s sharing to 5-7 minutes. Lunch and breaks are the time for added sharing if desired.
  4. Share Day does not need to be a part of every meeting, but should occur about once a month.
  5. Each person should be allowed (and scheduled) to “share” about once a quarter.
  6. Strongly encourage all staff to participate when it is their turn. Allowing staff to opt out will likely cause other staff to feel vulnerable or judged by their peers and ultimately undermine your goal of improving teamwork and employee relations.
  7. Have a kick-off meeting in which staff help in creating rules for Share Day.
Remember that the immediate goal is to help staff bond. Bonding yields trust, better workplace relations, higher productivity, greater loyalty, lower turnover, etc. If you follow the guidelines above, you are spending less than 20 minutes a month on staff relations, and likely yielding a huge return on that small investment.

Back to School and the Play Date

While it’s wonderful when your child goes back to school and makes new friends, sometimes there is a negative side in it for you.

What if your child’s new BFF (best friend forever) is not your favorite child to be around?  How do you set boundaries for your child, and their playmate, when there are obvious differences in the parenting style each child is accustomed?

In handling issues that involve kids and families, the most important thing you can do is be true to yourself, and the parenting style that works best for your family.  But realize that your role as decision maker is also limited to your family.  Below are some important reminders as you navigate these parenting challenges.

1.     Watch your tone – When you need to redirect a child that is not yours, or ask them to follow your rules, do so with a level of tenderness in your voice.  This child is not misbehaving to spite you; he or she may simply have different rules (or no rules) and needs to learn what you expect. 
2.     Respect the other parents – Do not speak negatively about the caregivers of this child in front of him/her, or in front of your own child.  Even if you are stating factual information, like their frequent absence from their son or daughter’s life, it is hurtful.  Imposing any judgment about the other parents is damaging to the friend, and sets a poor example to your child on the importance of accepting differences in others.
3.     Demonstrate Understanding – Begin the conversation by acknowledging that your rules may be uncomfortable for the other child.  Perhaps by comparison, you are strict or seem unfair.  By showing you accept this child’s reality you will gain ground in getting him/her to accept yours.
4.     Set Boundaries – Be clear and concise with the rules this child must follow.  Include your own child in the discussion so that it does not feel punitive, but collaborative.  For example, “In our house, we don’t eat sweets or snacks before dinner.  We have a rule that dessert is earned if you eat most of your dinner.”
5.     Instill Consequences – If there are certain behaviors that are unacceptable to you, let the other child (and yours) know what the consequence will be if they engage in this behavior.  Perhaps the other child must go straight home, or you will cancel their planned sleep-over.  You can prevent many problem behaviors by making the consequences clear beforehand.
6.     Be Consistent – Make sure that the rules you set are consistent with the rules for your child (wherever possible), and are likewise consistent for all their playmates. 

These guidelines will help to keep playtime a positive experience for everyone, even you.