How to Make Collaboration Work: Powerful Ways to Build Consensus, Solve Problems, and Make Decisionsby David A. Straus
Every day we work with others to solve problems and make decisions, but the experience is often stressful, frustrating, and inefficient. In How to Make Collaboration Work, David Straus, a pioneer in the field of group problem solving, introduces five principles of collaboration that have been proven successful time and again in nearly every conceivable setting. Straus draws on his thirty years of personal and professional experience to show how these principles have been applied by organizations as diverse as Ford Motor Company, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston Public Schools, Kaiser Permanente, the city of Denver, and many others. How to Make Collaboration Work shows how collaboration can become a joy rather than a chore-a kind of chemical reaction that releases far more energy than it consumes.
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Chapter One WORK ENVIRONMENT GIGGLE WHILE YOU WORK The phrase "a fun workplace" doesn't have to be an oxymoron. Anyone can choose to create a fun workplace. Both qualitative and quantitative data exist to support our belief that a fun work environment can have a positive impact on productivity, quality, customer service, and job satisfaction. But still it is a choice that each of us makes. To infuse your work environment with a spirit of fun, you must value fun as important, you must believe fun to be essential. If you want fun to seep into the fabric of your company culture, start with yourself: * make a conscious effort to lighten up, * plan for fun, * respond spontaneously to fun moments, and * embrace fun as the chosen tone [for] your work environment. An organization's work environment is both tangible and intangible. It consists of the physical structure of your operation as well as the tone that is set within its walls. It might seem difficult to get a handle on the tone of your environment. It is, however, a real thing and can have tremendous impact on your work. An environment that fosters fun is characterized by positive energy, high self-esteem, and team spirit. People feel alive and want to give their best effort to the task. Fun contributes to the creation of an environment that nurtures and sustains what we call employee "want to." You cannot put a price on "want to." Individuals can be trained to do just about anything, but first they must have the motivation. Fun can enhance motivation. If work and the work environment are fun, the results will be better. To support your pursuit of a fun workplace and your quest for an enlivened workforce, we will share with you stories, facts, ideas, and resources to stimulate your fun juices for creating your own "Fun Company." Work environment: Giggle while you work. Ask yourself the question each day, "Are we having fun yet?" * * * Weather can influence attitude in both a positive and a negative way. I know that I prefer clear skies and sunshine. I am happiest and most productive during the long days of summer, when the sun comes up early and stays up late. Recently, as the seasons began to change, our city experienced a week of dark and rainy days that sent my spirits sagging. One morning during this week, determined not to let the weather affect my attitude, I burst into song. I serenaded the office with a complete rendition of "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" from the musical Annie. It made me feel better and it was received with laughter. So encouraged was I by the response that I proceeded through the lobby of our office building in full tune, stopping to sing my merry melody to the security guard and the post person. I was chased back to my office with friendly jeers and robust cheers. There is something to be said for carrying a happy tune. * * * A California company promotes a fun and healthy work environment by distributing page-a-day calendars on different subjects to each of their staff members. The calendars range in subject matter from Wheel of Fortune puzzles to Dilbert cartoons to gardening tips. Since everyone's calendar is different, curiosity runs high. Staff members have been known to take breaks during the day to solve Wheel of Fortune puzzles on someone else's calendar. Many businesses are promoting a fun and flexible work environment by implementing a shortened work week during slow times of the year. One San Francisco-based company has summer work hours, closing the office at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The free afternoon may be a time when staff members go to a movie together or just have the freedom to get a head start on their weekend. * * * "The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office." - Robert Frost * * * Find a way to symbolize your fun. Trowby Brockman, an insurance industry professional, and her team adopted a mascotùone of those icky, soft rubber toy gorillas. He was affectionately called Gordy. Gordy would show up in unusual places, particularly when individuals were having a rough day. During one hurried flight to the home office, Trowby reached into her raincoat pocket to find Gordy. It put a smile on Trowby's face and reminded her that she was traveling with the support and good feelings of the team. When she was transferred to another office, Trowby continued to benefit from the loyalty of Gordy and her team, who remembered to send occasional cards and good wishes. You never know where Gordy will turn up. * * * Taking one's self too seriously can be deadly. Tom Ziska realized that his workplace, an architecture firm, had become far too serious and stressful, which can be detrimental to the creative nature of the work. Tom went searching for something that would allow people to vent their frustrations in a healthy and humorous way. He surprised the office with a pair of parakeets. They are named after two famous architects - Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Tom says about his feathered friends: "Their daily chatter and presence has done the trick. We give them the run of the office. To date, no one has complained about their little 'presents.' When things get heavy or trying, we ask them what they would do. It's surprising how often they have good answers." * * * Take advantage of every opportunity to have fun. Many nonprofit organizations use the fundraising strategy affectionately known as "jail and bail." Individuals are sent to "jail" for a couple of hours. During their incarceration, the "convicts" are required to raise donations by soliciting "bail" from friends and coworkers. When a community nonprofit organization created a "lock-up," Jerry Kaminski seized the chance to have some fun with his bosses: he sent them to jail for an afternoon. Not only did it become fun for the entire workplace but it also raised money for an important community cause. * * * A survey of business school deans and business executives revealed that humor plays a significant part in the operation of a healthy, successful business. * * * Having fun is being prepared to break out of the box - in small ways as well as large. It is doing the unexpected, being willing to look foolish or silly: like singing out loud, or cultivating funny voices, or bowling in the hallway with beach balls and empty boxes. When you take a chance, you break the tension and facilitate an atmosphere of acceptance, freedom, and trust. * * * Make a list of all the people and things that bring you joy, satisfaction, pleasure, fulfillment, and fun. Refer to it when you are bored, upset, or just need a break. Joy lists are great to exchange with others, too! * * * Many offices liven up their surroundings with Koosh Balls, the rubbery, stringy balls that are fun to play with and toss around. One of the more popular Koosh toys is the Koosh Basketball - perfect for the back of any office door. For information regarding Koosh toys, call 800-75-KOOSH. To view a few of the Koosh toys as well as a fun array of other toys and gifts, visit the Kitty Hawk Kites web site at www.kittyhawk.com. * * * When our office (like many offices) is stuck with doing a mundane, repetitive job, we often lighten up the atmosphere by listening to music. Occasionally, the local radio station will play an hour or an afternoon of "one-hit wonders," rock groups or singers who only made one memorable song. When a new song comes on, everyone in the office will try to be the first to identify the obscure artist. It doesn't sound like much, but in our small, competitive office an afternoon can soar by as we all attempt to be first to yell out "Video Killed the Radio Star! by the Buggles." Harmless practical jokes can be a memorable way to create fun in an office. Here is a story of what happened at Printing Industries of America, according to Association Management magazine (October 1993). On July 8, the building manager distributed a routine memo: "This weekend the vendor who installed the cabling in our building will thoroughly clean all of our telephone lines by injecting compressed air into the cables. To control dust and debris that may emanate from your telephone receivers, all staff members are urged to store their telephones in their wastebaskets or to procure special bags from the production department before leaving work on Friday, July 10." More than half the staff asked for the special bags, and the building manager had to get some clear trash can liners to distribute. One woman forgot to procure a bag, worried all weekend, and tried to reach the building manager at home. Over the weekend, the "Mirth Committee" tossed glitter and electrical wire odds and ends into everyone's telephone bag. On Monday morning the staff finally got the message: It was a joke! According to Polly LaBarre in the February 5, 1996, issue of Industry Week, Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth International says, "The only way for us to continuously provide solutions to the needs of an ever-changing business world is to have the kind of environment where spontaneity thrives." One way Hal measures his organization's "happy quotient" is by sending out crayons and a blank piece of paper to employees, who draw their current view of the company. He actually compares these drawings every six months to measure any changes in the way people feel about the company. * * * "A fun work environment allows you to express yourself freely in an appropriate way that generates a feeling of comfort and association among fellow employees." ùFabian De Rozario, Donaghey Student Center, University of Arkansas, Little Rock Timothy Schrllhardt writes in the October 2, 1996, Wall Street Journal that many companies are implementing programs to reduce stress on the job. One of our favorites is that of S. C. Johnson&Son in Racine, Wisconsin. The company subsidizes in-house back and shoulder massages in order to help reduce stress among its forty-three customer service department staffers. Corporate massages have become very popular. For example, Barbara Neims, of Manchester, Connecticut, started a massage service aimed at corporate customers six years ago and has since added six massage therapists to serve her growing client list. * * * J. David Lewis's office in San Francisco believes that it pays to spend a little money on fun and has come up with the following ideas: * Put up funny art in the office and change it when it gets stale. * Take everyone out to lunch once a month. * Provide candy at meetings. * Make sure there is plenty of light in the office. (The "jail look" doesn't facilitate a productive workplace.) * Wear casual dress on Friday. * Work more hours during the week so there is time for a party on Friday afternoon. * Give out mock award certificates for funny things like "Best Hair Day." * Pay for everyone to go to a conference once a year. David writes, "Perhaps the biggest factor in creating fun in the workplace is organization. If everybody is always overworked or behind, they will be stressed out. I think management needs to set realistic production goals and provide competent direction, as well as the resources to support achievement of the goals. Given this structure, even the most challenging work can be fun and not stressful." Josie Kramer of the Cleveland Public Schools Adult Education Department told us the story of a friend who collects all types of hats - baseball, fishing, beach, Sunday best. She brought them to work one day and left them tacked to the wall by the coffee station. She posted a sign that said, "Take one and try wearing someone else's hat for a day." It set a great tone that day and created lively conversation. * * * Joann Dixon of the Women's Institute for Leadership Development believes strongly in not taking things too seriously. She has shared her philosophy within her organization and they have adopted a "Live Fearlessly" attitude. They support their beliefs with a full-day training workshop in which they practice dealing with difficulties in a resilient manner. They say, "If no one is going to die, 'it' can't be all that serious." They feel this helps to take the threat out of any situation and allows individuals the freedom to think and to find positive solutions. * * * Tina Laslo of Avery Dennison in Hamilton, Ohio, wrote that the company installed a basketball hoop in their parking lot and started a tournament for employees during lunch break. For an investment of less than one hundred dollars, employees had a great way to interact and to blow off steam. * * * "Humor is a spontaneous, wonderful bit of an outburst that just comes. It's unbridled, it's unplanned, it's full of surprises." - Erma Bombeck James Mathers, executive vice president of Phillip Day Maddock, believes that while income is certainly a driving force in many successful organizations, happiness is also a front-runner. He says, "You can have happy employees without depleting the organization's coveted bottom line. People who realize that it is okay to laugh a little, joke a little, and actually have fun with the daily grind are not always looking for the cash reward." * * * Make fun part of your company values. Cohen and Company, an accounting firm dedicated to the special needs of smaller and growing enterprises, believes that their success stems from their core values. They believe strongly that the secret of their success and well-being lies in an adherence to the values of service, quality, innovation, and fun! Every employee is coached in the values and proudly wears a lapel pin with the acronym SQIF. They have dared to be different in a most serious industry. Ninety-six percent of the executives surveyed by Accountemps believed that people with a sense of humor do better at their jobs than those who have little or no sense of humor. Studies have also shown that people who enjoy their work are more productive and creative, in addition to experiencing greater job satisfaction. -"HR Focus," February 1993 * * * Angela Wiley of the Blonder Company reports that the order department at Blonder plays bingo at least once a week. It's not just regular bingo, however, it's Blonder's Bingo! The Blonder Bingo card consists of a series of customer account numbers, shipping vias, book names, and other company terminology. Like regular Bingo, the object of the game is to X items vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to win. An order rep must be available to take incoming customer calls in order to play and in order to win. The fun thing about this game is that more than one person can win. Prizes include gift certificates to local restaurants, lunch or breakfast with a supervisor, Blonder logo products, and other fun items. The order department's customer hold time has improved by 20 percent and the customer abandonment rate by 50 percent on Blonder Bingo days. * * * As a people-oriented company, CDA Management Consulting, Inc., believes that children will have a positive attitude toward work and toward working parents if work is a fun place to be. CDA is a consulting firm that specializes in maximizing the performance of its clients' most valuable and often most expensive asset, its people, and this is reflected in two of its well-known practices. Children and Babies Welcome. Like most companies, CDA has a no-solicitation policy, but vendors, clients, and guests know that children and babies are always welcome. When a child arrives on site, work stops to give the child a welcome. Toys appear, and for the more precocious, a trip on the Internet is offered. Bobby, one of the more frequent visitors (the vice president's son) has mastered signing on to the computer, getting to the Internet, and finding the latest scoop on Goosebumps by popular children's author R. L. Stine. (Continues...)
Meet the Author
Straus is the founder of Interaction Associates, Inc. He has served in every major leadership position, including President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board.
Layton is the President of the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation.
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