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.

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