Is it just me or has everything got really serious lately? I don’t mean the things that are serious: Omicron, climate change, heightening global economic tensions or the Poland Belerus border crisis, I mean everything else…the things that used to be fun -or at least neutral – have become serious and formal. I’m talking about work, and more specifically working from home, online meetings and digital collaboration. While I love working from home, but I want to talk about its downside for the invisible drivers of business growth, i.e. trust, innovation and culture.
Gone are the days of having a giggle about who knows what with your desk mate or grabbing two minutes in the kitchen to sense check something with a mentor before you press send, now you have to set up a calendar invite before you can connect. No more impromptu lunches or quick coffees with random colleagues – if you don’t work directly with someone, I bet you haven’t seen or heard from them since March 2020.
Hello to the days of homeworking where ‘office hours’ are rather more blurred and interactions are scheduled. We now exist in this simultaneously intimate and isolated dimension where we allow groups of colleagues into our private homes via Zoom but our interactions are quite impersonal as they are governed by online meeting decorum. Conversation can be stilted and solely task focused, subtle body language cues are lost and when cameras are off, and lines are muted sometimes it feels like you are speaking into a deep, dark abyss.
It is easy to be focused just on the task in front of you with the small circle of people you work with directly. In the short term – great for productivity. But long-term, I question if it is best for growth, innovation and creativity? I believe the magic happens within the interconnections between individuals’ ideas – and that this social capital ultimately fosters growth. While I love the new normal of hybrid working, I’d like to add a bit of abnormal to supercharge the camaraderie that fuels winning teams.
Fun is not just fun, fun is a serious business….Relaxed, shared experiences give us the opportunity to really get to know our colleagues. When interactions aren’t governed by hierarchies or a five-point agenda, that is when trust is built, and creativity and innovation can flow…therefore I propose a #funtervention…
During lockdown I binge watched Taskmaster, the rather irreverent panel show hosted by Greg Davies and Alex Horne. The premise of the show is both simple and totally silly: contestants must compete in a series of ridiculous tasks for judgement by the Taskmaster. I thought, what would happen if we recreated the show at work…what would happen if BroadReach did Taskmaster?
We are about to find out… We sent out the challenge to our 1200 staff around the world to form teams and complete various self-filmed tasks (loosely) related to our values. The size of team didn’t matter, nor did location (virtual or in person), the point was just to get involved. The tasks were purposefully bizarre and unrelated to anyone’s regular work product or skillset. We wanted to level the playing field, so it didn’t matter if you were an accountant in HQ, a nurse in the field at a rural facility or a programmer in the US – you just had to be a BroadReacher.
What came back was truly incredible: far exceeding my wildest expectations and validating my hunch that we humans are social animals and – when given the opportunity – we are creative, supportive and hilarious beings!
The tasks were as silly as make a portrait of the Taskmaster using just items found in the kitchen or learn a TikTok dance. What was serious was how teams put their heads together and found enterprising ways through the uncomfortable or unfamiliar tasks. Some colleagues met up in person, others completed the tasks entirely online – one team even comprised of colleagues in three continents, each team found a way – they found their way.
While initially colleagues were horrified when they read the tasks and regretted signing up, once they got going they were unstoppable. I heard inter-team banter and teasing enter Teams chats and I gleefully watched people’s competitive sides come out. The result of the tasks almost don’t matter, the real result is the energy it brought back into the business.
What I didn’t expect was for colleagues to discuss why this funtervention changed their experience of work: for colleagues that had started at BroadReach during COVID it was the first time they really interacted with peers in a social context. Others relished the chance to lead discussions, problem solve, disagree and come up with solutions in a low steaks environment. We saw creativity and ingenuity in unexpected places. People laughed and played and had fun, we made fools of ourselves but somehow didn’t feel embarrassed or judged. From what I can see it has brought us closer together, and made us more understanding, trusting and compassionate…to nod to one of the participating teams…We are all Spartans…
And for me, it was a win too. I was really challenged as I took on the role of Taskmaster – a stern, blunt judge of the tasks and colleagues. As I grow as a leader, trying on the new parody persona of a fierce bosslady was interesting and rather liberating. I will not be incorporating my taskmistress ways into my regular nine to five, but it felt like a courageous, bold experiment.
Shared experiences, laughter and fun are important building blocks for a positive corporate culture and identity. Targets, sales, delivery, troubleshooting are all essential parts of business life – but knowing your colleagues, understanding what makes them tick and where their secret magic lies, can be the difference between good and great. It humanizes us all…so like I said up top – silly is no laughing matter – it’s serious business – that is my final judgement.