Category Archives: Engagement

We don’t have enough finales

I took my daughter to a children’s creativity festival this past weekend.   It’s a great little festival called ‘Just So’, now in its third year, combining painting, storytelling, music, magic, circus skills, den-building, crafts, drama, writing, pottery, getting very muddy and generally having a jolly good time.   Fun for us grown-ups desperately trying to hang on to our inner child too.   Anyway, we attended a talk by a children’s author.  She spoke about how to write stories and gave an insight into her personal style.   She explained that she always starts her one-page story plan at the bottom, with the finale –  imagining how the tale will end.  Will it be a sad ending, a happy ending or a cliff-hanger?    Then, she works backwards, creating a setting and a central character and adding a number of key ingredients – one of which was that the ‘hero’ should always have something that he/she very, very badly wants.    Another is that there should also be conflict.   So, in the way that my mind wanders, this got me thinking about our organisational stories, like delivering change programmes and meeting objectives.    Conclusion:  We don’t have enough finales in business.   We have all the ingredients of a good story –  colourful and heroic characters, a desire to achieve something, a call-to-action and plenty of conflict but we don’t have finales.   Our ‘endings’ are usually a list of bullet points from a business case setting out a (finger in the air) list of benefits, outcomes and cost-savings.    But what we should be aiming for is a finale– an eye-watering, soul-stirring, heart-lifting, air-punching, morale-boosting climax.   Organisations are great at starting things but terrible at ending them.    It’s one of the reasons most change programmes fail.   We don’t start with the finale.   I mean, we don’t articulate the ending in a way that drives the rest of the story.    So the lesson for communicators –  start at the bottom of the page by imagining the outcome of the change (or the strategy, or the project) as a finale.  Make it dramatic, emotional, colourful, inspirational and then work backwards, creatively filling in the gaps to author your own dramatic storyline.   Next week, how to build a den in the office (only joking).

Ten ways to find purpose in your work

I have written a number of times about how we as communicators and leaders should help people to find purpose in their work.   Purpose – or doing a job that means something – is dramatically climbing up the chart of what motivates people at work (much higher than money).    We need to take it seriously.   But what does ‘finding purpose’ really mean in practice and how can we be creative in helping people make sense of what they do at work?    Well, here are ten simple and practical ways to help you and your team find that reason to get out of bed each working day …

1. Play ‘whose purpose is it anyway’ – get your team to individually write down what they think your team’s purpose is.   Then come together to discuss and find the common ground.   Set some rules, like 10 words max and no jargon, and ask people to write what they really feel, not what they think the correct answer is.   The discussion itself will be enlightening and will bring your team together.

2. On a similar vein, ask everyone to answer the question “why am I doing this” or “how is what I do relevant”.   Or ask them to write down five words that describe what their job means to them.    Then go round and ask each other why.   Some will say ‘money’, others will write ‘fulfilment’ or ‘friendship’.    It’ll tell you a bit about why they do what they do.

3. Communicate to your team using words that lift their spirits and rouse their hearts.   Line managers, leaders and communicators take note.   Giving people meaning requires an emotional connection.   You need to reach inside them and make them feel something.    You can’t do that with PowerPoint.   To instil a sense of purpose in others you must show a sense of purpose in yourself.   Remember, Martin Luther King turned up in Washington on August 28th 1963 with a dream, not a Gantt chart. 

4. Talk openly about failures and things that don’t work out.   Sometimes we find meaning in loss, in chaos, in failure.   Sometimes we need things to go wrong to show us how to put them right.    Sometimes we need the humility to admit to making mistakes.   By talking openly about failure we can renew our sense of purpose, come together and resolve to put it right.

5. Offer praise regularly, and explain why.   Praise isn’t solely in the gift of the manager.   Let people know when you think they’ve done a good job or helped you do yours.   People get just as motivated by little pats on the back as they do for winning ‘employee of the month’.   Praise, with a reason why, adds meaning to work.  It lets people know that what they do matters.

6. Volunteer.  If you can do something together as a team in the community it can really add a new dimension to the way you work back in the office.   The feeling of coming together to achieve a common goal outside of work can have a powerful knock-on effect in terms of team dynamics, personal relationships and building a sense of purpose in the day job.

7. Be an organisational tourist.   Visit other areas of your organisation, or invite them to visit you, to better understand the part they play in the big picture and to put what you do into some context.   Context can provide meaning, and meaning will give you purpose.    Take steps to find out what happens to the work you do.     If you work in comms, go and find out how you are making a difference.  If you work in accounts, learn how your work helps keep the business running.

8. Pause and reflect.   Every now and again, take the team away from the office and take some time to stop, pause and reflect on what it is you do.   Stay high level, don’t get bogged down in detail or problems, and just take a step back.   Look at what you do, how you work, the service you provide, the reputation you have, the reason you all come to work.    Involve everyone and make an event of it.

9. Become a superhero.   Or whatever you want.   Everyone wants a job title that sounds cool to their friends, so play a game with your team to reinvent your titles.   Ask everyone to look at what it is they do (and why) and ask them to create a cool business card that sums up the role they play in the organisation.    Encourage them (and yourself) to go way over the top with descriptive adjectives and hyperbole.   Imagine your role stripped down to the basics and in a completely different fantasy world.   How would you describe it then?   It’s a great and fun way to look at the job you do.   If you work in accounts, maybe you’d feel better about having “numerical alchemist” or “bullion balancer” on your door?

10.  Be human.  Ever since we first looked up at the stars and contemplated our place in the grand scheme of things we human beings have searched for meaning.   Finding purpose in our work doesn’t have to be quite such a philosophical challenge, but it does require us to stay true to our basic human characteristics – asking questions, finding answers, seeking simplicity, collaborating with others, providing emotional support, connecting the dots, telling stories, offering praise, being creative.    Humanise the work environment and you’ll humanise the work.

Bring on the Meaning Makers!

OK, one last Olympic-related posting, then I’ll move on.   What most struck me about spending some time at the Games last week was the enthusiasm of the volunteers, or Games Makers as they were called.   These purple-shirted members of the public were from all walks of life, giving up their time for two weeks to be part of something special, something they could tell their grandchildren.   Some were assigned to queue control, some were posted around London to provide help and information, and some were given duties at events.    At the volleyball, for instance, they even had volunteers whose job it was to wipe the sweat off the courts between points!   So it got me thinking about how far people will go, and how enjoyable it is for them and others, when they are truly engaged.   Engagement is about having an emotional connection to a cause, a theme, an idea, a purpose.    The Olympic volunteers had this engagement in spades but it can be replicated in any organisation if the sense of purpose and level of involvement is strong enough.   Games Makers reminds me of the term Meaning Makers, referred to by Dan Pink in his book A Whole New Mind about the rise of the right-brained worker.    Meaning Makers are people in the organisation who ‘get it’ and have the skills to make sense of the world to those around them.   And it is a skill.   Meaning Makers don’t read out briefings and deliver PowerPoints.   They interpret and convey messages in a way that connects because they are truly engaged with the subject matter themselves.  They communicate with passion, clarity and credibility.    One of the problems we have in internal communications is that we allocate communication responsibilities based on job title and status rather than on ability and character.   Of course, some communications need to be delivered by leaders, but many don’t.    Meaning Makers can be those subject experts who just have a flair about the way they communicate, like those scientists who can explain the laws of physics and astronomy to schoolchildren.    I’d love to see organisations identify and appoint Meaning Makers who can take on some communication and education responsibilities in addition to their ‘day job’, like the London Games Makers.    Let’s have people with a passion for communication and an ability to engage others be recognised as official Meaning Makers on a particular topic, so that anyone in the organisation can go to them to learn and gain clarity on whatever topic they specialise in.   For instance, who is the Finance Meaning Maker who can explain transactional finance and SAP in a way that engages and makes sense?    Who is the Operating Model Meaning Maker that can bring structure and processes to life?    I’m not saying Meaning Makers should all wear coloured shirts but I would like to see them recognised formally – maybe they have a sign over their desk or a badge so people know who they are and that they are there to help colleagues make sense of the world.    London Games Makers were selected not on their occupation or role in society but purely on their enthusiasm, personality and their ability to connect with people.    So should Meaning Makers.   Creative internal communication is not about doing it all yourself, it’s about using the talents and skills of those colleagues with great communication skills in the organisation.   So bring on the Meaning Makers!

How to create an Inspiration Board

I love the idea of an inspiration board – a tactic often used by fashion designers, stylists and interior decorators to inspire them and keep them focused on a particular product or project.   Very popular when planning weddings at the moment, apparently.   Basically you take any visual medium (usually a physical board but it can be virtual) and you use it to pin a collection of visual references of anything you find compelling or inspirational that will help you deliver a goal, complete a project or generate ideas.    Whenever you see something that would work on your inspiration board, cut it out and pin it up – pictures from magazines, headlines from newspapers, photographs, tickets, letters, fabrics, patterns, drawings, colours – anything that means something and which has a connection with what you’re trying to achieve.    Before long you’ll start to see connections between images that will offer inspiration and stimulate creative thinking.   Inspiration boards are great for project teams trying to focus on a challenging goal or for new teams building consensus around a vision.   They can act as a focal point for the team, by providing a very visual articulation of the end-product or the spirit the team is trying to portray.    I also think they can be really engaging – not just for the team but for the rest of the office.    There are no rules to creating an inspiration board so let your creativity run riot.   Encourage team members to think laterally.   If your project is about new ways of working, look for images or visual indicators that convey a message of freshness or transformation.     Pin up images that remind you of previous successful business or personal changes, display prompts to help you focus on the key themes of the project and use visuals that motivate.   Make it big, make it colourful and make it inspirational.

If your team has an inspiration board, I’d love to see it and find out how it’s gone.  Please let me know.

It’s us we’re cheering for

By now you would have gathered that I love the Olympics.  Yesterday was why.   It wasn’t just the fact that it was a great day for Team GB, which I could appreciate and celebrate as a patriotic sports lover.   It was the fact that I found my heart thumping, my mouth dry with anticipation, my hands clammy with nervous excitement …. because of shooting!   Shooting?   Are you kidding?   What’s more, I punched the air in celebration in a judo match.  And then I was shouting at the TV and feeling like a proud father… because of canoe slalom!    I even found myself watching some boxing yesterday, a sport I can’t stand.   Every four years I find myself magnetically attracted to sports I wouldn’t otherwise shake a stick at.   You wouldn’t catch me near a horse in a million years but yesterday I watched an hour of dressage!   And what’s more, I loved it.    But from a human behaviour perspective, I also find big sporting events fascinating.    They tell us a lot about patriotism of course, but also a lot about engagement and the need to belong.   Yesterday I picked my daughter up from a summer camp and while I was waiting with the other parents, all everyone was talking about was the gold medals GB had won that afternoon.   People were happy and excited.   What I noticed most was the fact that everyone was referring to “we” rather than “them” or “GB”.    I’m proudly wearing my Team GB t-shirt as I type this and next week I’ll be sitting in the Olympic Stadium myself with a silly hat and giant flag.    So why do we do this?   The fact is, we don’t do it for the team, we do this for ourselves.   When Sir Chris Hoy crosses the line to break the world record and grab a fifth Olympic gold, we don’t cheer for him … we cheer for us.   We don’t celebrate because we’re “pleased for the athlete”, we celebrate because we’re pleased for ourselves.   If a shooter we’ve never heard of wins a gold medal for our team, why are we so happy?   It’s because we feel part of the team and we share a common sense of purpose.   What he’s done has made us feel successful.   For many of us, sport reflects our own values and aspirations in life.  We all have dreams and goals but we also know that life is hard and, as Mick Jagger keeps pointing out, we can’t always get what we want.   I know I’ve written about this before, but I love the way that sport brings us stories that we can all relate to – struggle, the pursuit of excellence, personal commitment, overcoming adversity, dealing with tragedy, the reliance on others, fluctuating self-confidence, the desire to ‘live the dream’.    We also use sport to reflect on our own lives – our health and fitness, the choices we made when we were younger,  the opportunities we wish we’d had, the regrets we have now.    I’m a middle-aged, slightly overweight bloke with a bad back.  When I watch the Olympics, I wish to God I was ten (my daughter’s age).    We see ourselves in those athletes.    When they do well, we feel it.   When they fail, we feel it more.   Not because we’re athletes but because we know what it feels like when things go well, and when they go wrong.     But you know, it doesn’t have to be sport that incites these feelings.   Work can do this too if only we’d build better workplace communities, engender a greater sense of purpose and meaning, tell more human stories of achievement and ‘struggle’, allow people to express themselves, encourage cross-functional education and experience.   And of course, if we were more creative in the way we communicate.   We need to humanise the workplace.    It is possible to create an environment where the bloke in Finance feels motivated and becomes more productive because he’s been inspired by the woman in HR doing a great job?   Where people talk about ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘them’.   Where organisations recognise people as individuals rather than resources.   And where one team has a group hug because another team has been successful.     Sorry for all these Olympic-related posts.  I’ll stop now.

Ten great Olympic inspirations for communicators

Communication is a team sport

What the Olympics can teach us

Why optimism comes naturally

Just back from a week’s holiday in the sun to find my blog had over 500 hits from more than 20 countries last week, so thanks everyone for visiting.  Anyway, I’m feeling refreshed, energised and looking ahead to the Olympics. But it seems that’s not the case with everyone.  According to the latest poll, 53% of the UK public aren’t interested in the Olympics.  I just don’t believe that.  Who are these grumpy cynics anyway? (don’t answer that, I really don’t care). I also read yesterday that most business leaders in the UK are sceptical of the official figures that show Britain in a double-dip recession, claiming that the drop in unemployment and their own order books suggest we’re not in recession at all, and that this run of downbeat official statistics is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. So what’s going on? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Well, as it happens, I’ve just read a book about optimism. Apparently, we humans are hardwired to look on the bright side (no, really). But whilst we tend to be optimistic about our own futures, we also tend to be pessimistic about everyone else’s! The difference is in the choice and control we have in our own lives. Ask people how they rate their driving ability and most people will rate themselves in the upper quartile. Ask people to rate the likelihood of them getting a serious disease, like cancer, and they will usually put themselves below the national average.  Most people will rate themselves high for their ability to ‘get along with others’. Most people believe their children will do better than the national average at school.  Most people underestimate their chance of losing their job. But most of us can’t be better than most of us, right? Our inherent optimism bias comes down to the way our brain works and how we feel psychologically about the choices we make. Here’s an example. Researchers asked volunteers to rate a number of paintings out of ten. They then picked two paintings that were rated the same (say, 8 out of 10) and asked the participant to pick one to take home. They could only have one, so the volunteer would have to choose between two paintings he previously rated the same. Let’s say the participant chose painting A and rejected painting B. The researchers then asked the same volunteer to re-rate all ten paintings again. This time, the participant (in almost every case) would rate the painting they chose (A) higher and the one they rejected (B) lower, even though they rated them equally the first time.  The study proved the psychological impact of choice. If we choose something, we tend to value it higher. If we don’t feel we have control – like running the finances of the country – we tend to be pessimistic, but if we do have control – running the finances of our own family – we are more upbeat. Now bring this into the workplace. Why are people often cynical and pessimistic about change programmes or delivering on corporate objectives? Usually it’s because they’ve seen previous goals and change programmes fail to deliver and because they’re not personally in control. Give them greater choice and a reason to believe and their natural optimism will kick in. Maybe we should do more to set choices out for the workforce – we could do things this way or that way – and let them have more of a stake in the decision? Companies who have given their employees the choice of taking a pay cut and avoiding redundancies or maintaining current pay levels and cutting the workforce have actually seen their productivity and engagement go up when the employees have been involved in the decision (usually to take the pay cut). Maybe we should thank people more for choosing to work for the organisation?  Optimism can be a powerful factor in business.  Optimists are more productive, more creative and more fun to be around.   They live longer as well.   This isn’t just about employee engagement, this is biology.

Do you know who you’re talking to?

I was in a meeting the other day with a bloke called Mark.    I’ve known Mark for some time – he’s a project manager in IT and we’ve been working on some comms stuff together.  We’d attend the same meetings, say hello in the corridor and exchange emails, like you do.   All very cordial, all very workmanlike.    In this particular meeting my phone went off (how unprofessional, I know).  My ring tone is an old Genesis track.    Mark recognised it and told me he’d been listening to that exact song in the car that morning.   We continued the conversation about music, and he then mentioned that he plays in a band.   So did I once.    It then turns out that Mark is a mad motorbike nut, spends most of his weekends ‘on the road’ with his mates and also likes walking in the Lake District, as I do.     So ‘Mark the Project Manager’ became ‘Mark the bike-riding, guitar-playing, fell-walker’ in the space of five minutes brought about by a ringtone.   If my wife hadn’t called to ask me to pick up some cat litter on the way home, I wouldn’t know all this about Mark.   Why does it matter?    Well, because knowing about a person and finding common ground builds relationships, breaks down barriers and creates a more informal and relaxed (and creative) environment.    When we’re at work we have a persona – a title, a role, a way of working and a framework of behaviour set out by written and unwritten rules, convention and perceived good professional conduct.   We all try to be businesslike and professional at work, of course we do.  Work is serious business, obviously.   But behind the persona is the person – the lives, loves, likes, dislikes, passions, fears, motivations, frustrations, obsessions, dreams, hopes, experiences, secrets, relationships, problems, stresses and releases that make us all human.    And the colleague we see in the office may not be the ‘real them’.   There’s the person who never speaks in a team meeting but who performs amateur dramatics at weekends.  The office junior who can’t be trusted to order some paper clips but who runs a scout group on Tuesday evenings.   The person who says they’re not creative in a brainstorm but who goes home and whips up an amazing stir fry.  The manager who delivers dull presentations but can bring people to tears with his piano playing.   The quiet part-timer in the corner who answers phones for the Samaritans for two hours every other night.  Not only does this highlight the complete waste of experience and creativity that organisations could exploit but don’t, but it also begs the question what would our workplaces be like if we all knew the people behind the job titles.   Collaboration would be improved, business relationships would flourish, ideas would be voiced, circulated and nurtured, innovation would boom, productivity would increase because people would be relaxed and happier, retention would go up, stress would go down.   All because we’d be working with friends with substance not colleagues with note pads.    So let’s take time to get to know the people we work with.    Opening up a team meeting with tales of what we did at the weekend shouldn’t be considered small talk, it should be big talk.     I’d like to see HR departments formally recognise the skills and experience people have outside of work.   Let’s see communicators do more to identify, share and celebrate the achievements of the workforce out of hours.   And let’s create environments in which people can come together to talk about stuff other than work.   Having conversations and finding common ground with others is naturally human.   And conversations about holiday destinations will soon become conversations about solving business problems.

The seven deadly sins of Change Communication

I read recently that recruiters and organisations with internal comms jobs to fill have ‘change communication’ at the top of their wish-list of expertise.    The suggestion was that there are plenty of comms practitioners out there but they don’t all have the necessary skills, experience and confidence to lead the comms around a significant change programme.    It’s true that change comms requires a particular set of skills, tools and techniques, but as well as knowing what to do during change, it’s also imperative to know what not to do.   Having spent much of my comms career working on change programmes, and having run dozens of workshops on communicating change, I’ve seen some real horror stories.   So I’d like to share my seven deadly sins of change communication.    Avoid these mistakes folks, and you’ll be fine.

1. Not providing clarity around the ‘big four’

When you boil it down, change comms is all about four key messages … why are we changing, where are we heading, how are we going to get there and what’s it going to be mean for me?    Without clear answers to the big four, you’ll be flawed from the start.   The first question your audience will ask is not what or how, it’ll be why.   So without a compelling reason for change, you won’t get past first base.   But don’t just trot out a load of ‘burning platform’ jargon, make the reason why connect at an individual level.    Your audience doesn’t have to like the reason why, but they do need to ‘get it’.   When you’re clear on ‘why’, work on the ‘where’ (but keep it simple, don’t overdo this bit) and the ‘how’ (at least the first important steps of the journey).   Then the really important bit … how will it impact me?   You won’t have all the detail to satisfy everyone (anyone?) but don’t dress it up or play it down.  You’ll regret it.

2. Forgetting that change is about people  

Organisations don’t change, people change.  The big mistake I come across all the time is the failure to recognise the impact of culture and human behaviour during times of change.    That doesn’t mean we all need to go and get psychology degrees, but a basic understanding of ‘what people go through’ is a vital ingredient of the change comms toolkit.   So take time to understand the change curve, how people react and what people need psychologically.  It’ll make you a much better communicator.

3. Having leaders who don’t show humility

During change, senior leaders can sometimes turn all heroic and macho, or they can go the other way and become conspicuous by their absence.  Leadership behaviour is so important, and the most important behaviour of all is humility.    They need to demonstrate genuine empathy and understanding with the people they are leading.    Saying “I know what you’re going through” isn’t enough.    Sometimes you need to be open and admit you don’t have all the answers and you have to recognise when people are hurting.   The best thing a leader can do during change is not to go on stage and deliver a presentation, it’s walking up to someone, sitting on the corner of their desk and saying “so, how you doing?”.

4. Inviting your people to ask questions … and then ignoring them

During periods of change, people have lots of questions, especially during the early days, so giving them outlets to ask questions is vital if you want to keep them engaged from the start.    But there’s nothing more disengaging than to ask a question and then not receive a response.   Note I say ‘response’ not ‘answer’.   That’s because we don’t always have all the answers (in the early days, many questions will be about individual impact, and that level of detail is usually not known at that time).   But not knowing the answer is NEVER an excuse to not respond to the question.

5. Expecting them to engage with your agenda if you don’t engage with theirs  

Senior leaders can sometimes get frustrated that change isn’t moving fast enough and they make the mistake of trying to move the communication agenda on too quickly.   But people will only engage according to their individual needs and priorities.    If they haven’t been satisfied about their own personal circumstances, it can be hard for them to get all excited about the future.   If they’ve been bruised by uncertainty, they may be reluctant to start exploring.    It’s vital to listen to what people are saying and to recognise what’s on their minds.  And don’t patronise them – if they’re more interested in talking about parking spaces than strategy, deal with it.  When they’re ready, they’ll move on to what you want to talk about.

6. Failing to engage and support the line

All the surveys say that during times of change people want to hear messages from their own boss.   Line managers are the most important cog in the wheel – not the big cheeses, but the ‘on the ground’ people managers.    During change, we need line managers to be briefers, presenters, facilitators, translators, listeners, social workers, motivators and role models, but we then just assume they can do it because they have the word ‘manager’ in their job title.  No, these people (usually the unhappiest people in the organisation anyway) need our support.   And remember, they’re probably going through the change curve themselves.   Communicators, work really hard on the line managers.  Without them, we’re doomed!

7. Thinking presentation will win over conversation

Somebody once said “for big change, use small communication.”   That means, the bigger the change impact, the more the communication needs to be face to face, one to one, conversational and discussion-based.    Nobody has ever had their behaviour changed (in a good way) by PowerPoint, so don’t rely on the big events to change hearts and minds.    It’s the small conversations, interactions and collaborations that will make the difference.   So get people talking, allow them to let off steam, encourage them to share their ideas and thoughts, have the discussions about what’s on people’s minds, bring teams together.   Don’t try to manage and choreograph every interaction.  Let people be people.

Communication is a team sport!

Spain’s victory last night in the European Championship final offers us a shed-load of sporting metaphors around teamwork, passion, drive and commitment, but there’s an additional analogy to be found for communicators in the way they kept the ball.    Think of the football as a message.   You can lump it up the field and hope someone gets on the end of it, or you can pass it neatly from one player to the other, building interaction, craft and purpose along the way.     Some of the lesser teams, England included, tend to lose the ball and the pattern breaks down.   Lose the message and understanding breaks down.   Lose the match and engagement suffers.    Possession is key – passing the ball builds trust, insight, skill, understanding, confidence and ultimately success.   At work, we ask our people to keep possession of a set of messages, and when it works well, the outcomes are the same.   Think of passing the ball as having conversations.   What’s more, players who contribute to a goal are recognised for their ‘assist’, just as we seek leaders, managers and role models to ‘assist’ the understanding of messages.    Some players are artists and innovators, whilst others are more direct and functional, just like some business communicators are great orators and others are better in small groups.   But we rely on them equally as part of an eco-system (team) to use their individual skills and styles for the common good.    Many sporting metaphors are over-used and cheesy, but you can’t deny the parallels are there.

BBC:  Are Spain the best team of all time?

8 ways to liven up your team meeting

Team meetings should be like a family Sunday lunch, an opportunity for ‘the family’ to come together, talk about the week gone and what lies ahead, share opinions and ideas and generally take time out from the day-to-day for some good old social conversation.   However, just like family mealtimes, team meetings can become stale and formulaic after a while.   So how can we make team meetings a time for exploration, creativity, interaction and relationship building?   Here are some suggestions:

Go somewhere different.   First of all, break the monotony of repetition by occasionally switching the location to somewhere different, ideally somewhere completely different like outside on the grass, at a local cafe or in another part of your organisation where the sights, sounds, smells (!) and stimuli are different.   Not every week, just every now and again.

Rotate the chair.  Just like changing the chef for Sunday lunch, give control of the meeting, agenda and format to different members of the team and let them do it their way.   Let them invite who they want and raise the topics they feel are relevant but make sure they know the rules – it must be inclusive, interactive and creative.

Invite a stranger.   In some cultures it’s commonplace to invite a stranger into your home for mealtimes.   As dramatist W S Gilbert once said:  “It’s not what’s on the table that counts, it’s what’s on the chairs”.   Inject some new perspectives into your meeting by inviting a colleague from a different part of the organisation, or someone from outside who might just bring some new ideas and stimulating conversation.    If you can’t think of anyone, invite me (seriously).

Have a ‘thought board.’ Both before, during and after your meetings, have a ‘place’ where team members can record ideas, topics and issues they’d like to discuss.  Ideally, make it visible and creative, like a white board in the office or a graffiti space.     Make it come alive, like a communal collaboration space and just use the physical team meeting as a time to reflect on what’s been raised.

Story time.  Invite one or more team members to tell a story.  It could be about anything, as long as it’s creative and interesting.   It could be a story about what they did at the weekend or an experience they had at work.  But do it properly – set time in the agenda for stories and set some ground rules about time and interaction.   Use the stories to find out about each other, stimulate conversation and explore opportunities to use the learnings in the workplace.

Any Ideas?  Set time aside for problem solving and innovation.   Have a ‘problem of the week’ you want to solve in your team meeting.   Use the time for  a mini-ideation session like a brainstorm or creative exercise.    Again, set the rules and use the idea time to build your team’s creative capability.   Over time, you’ll find you’ll start to get really good at positive problem solving.

Praise be.   Of course, just like mealtimes, team meetings should be a time of recognition, praise and encouragement.   Ask every member of the team to say what’s made them happy at work this last week/month.   Allow them to explain why they felt good about something they did or something that happened.   Inject some belief and spirit into the team by focusing on what’s gone well.

Spring some surprises.   Every now and again, do something completely different without warning.   Throw out the normal agenda and devote the whole meeting to one topic.  Bring some flipcharts in and ask everyone to ‘draw their week’ in ten minutes (now words allowed).   Move all the chairs to face completely the opposite way to normal.   Bring sweets or cakes.   Play a game.   Have music playing in the background.   Just make it creative.  Don’t be repetitive, don’t be shy and don’t be unoriginal.

Economy down, engagement up

Recent research from Cambridge University has shown that employee engagement goes up during tough economic conditions.   There are two main reasons for this.   First, when times are hard, people reign in their own personal ambitions.   Even if they’re not mad keen on their job, they tend to take the view that they’re lucky to have one at all, and so they make a conscious decision to engage more with the organisation.    They don’t have such a long ‘wish list’ they want their company to fulfil.   They put their frustrations and personal desires to one side and instead concentrate a little bit more on not only doing their job, but doing it well.   They start to show more interest in what the organisation is doing and they cling on a little harder to the ‘comfort blanket’ of their current employment.     Secondly, when times are tough for organisations, the workers often feel a collective loyalty to keep it afloat and successful.     This speaks to our need as human beings to be part of something, to have purpose.   It’s not just that people work harder to keep their job, it’s deeper than that.   If employees see their company in trouble, they want to help turn it round.   They see a sense of purpose in pulling together to ‘get through this’.    For communicators and leaders, there are learnings and opportunities from this research.   Organisations need to be open about the challenges they face and they need to do more to take advantage of the spirit of collaboration and goodwill that naturally arises from difficult times.    Recession is not a time for cutting back on communications and engagement activities.   It’s time to be open, inclusive, innovative and bold.   The workers will respond.

Right Brain Rising!

A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink

This book has been out a while but I have to give it a plug.   It provides a fascinating and highly convincing argument as to why the successful workers of the future will be those who can master the creative right side of the brain.  Pointing to how abundance, Asia and automation is ‘changing the game’ for analytical left-brain knowledge workers (sorry doctors, accountants, lawyers, IT workers .. you’ve had your day!), Dan describes how the winners of the future will be the designers, storytellers, carers, big-picture thinkers and meaning-makers.   It underlines how corporate communications …. and actually leadership in general …. is essentially a right-brain activity.   Dan outlines the six fundamentally human abilities that are essential for professional success and personal fulfillment and reveals how to master them.  From a laughter club in Bombay, to an inner-city high school devoted to design, to a lesson on how to detect an insincere smile.   A must-read for anyone in comms, and in facts anyone who owns a brain.   It’s the reason why, when looking for new schools for my daughter, the first place I wanted to see was the art department.   That’s where the future is.  More on Amazon