I got the giggles at work the other day while watching a colleague wield her mouse. She was using the computer mouse to set up a Skype session with another colleague working out of a remote office. The funny part was that she was using a mouse pad, which was unnecessary as it was an optical mouse. It was a small example of how we tend to hold on to the way we’ve always done things even when there is no reason to do so. I also come across examples of the opposite habit: adopting new behaviors for no reason. I was in a meeting in which a colleague was updating us on the status of a project. In the midst of his remarks, he said he had “socialized” a document with the project team. I was pretty sure he wasn’t a Marxist, but I didn’t understand what he meant. The meeting was full of technologists, so I considered the possibility he was using a term of I.T. art and decided I would look it up later. When he said it again later in his presentation, I determined from the context that he was using “socialized” to mean “shared” or “discussed.” I’ll skip my rant about inventing words or, in this case, inventing new meanings. Suffice to say, it was unnecessary to use a fancy word to communicate a simple idea.
When I come across such “You’re Doing It Wrong” moments at work, I think about how I would do things if I were in charge, and I make lists. Reviewing the lists, I find that many of my royal edicts are related to interpersonal relations. I work in a large organization, and it’s important that we do everything possible to get along. So, while I wouldn’t banish mouse pads and unnecessary verb aggrandizement, there are a few things I would do to promote esprit de corps. If I were king, I would offer these humble edicts:
There Shall Be Themed-Shirt Fridays.
In my office, Friday is the day the dress code – which we don’t formally have – tends to get a bit casual. During football season, for example, Fridays are designated as “Blue Fridays,” and staff don their Seahawk apparel in support of the local favorites. I tolerate this behavior, but do not participate, as I am a Raider fan – the most metal of all football teams. On football Fridays – known as “Silver and Black Fridays” as celebrated by a handful of people in my building – I wear an Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas, ugh) Raider t-shirt. In the offseason, I would, as king, encourage one Friday a month to be dedicated to Aloha shirts. I am married to a Maui girl, and I have access to a dozen such garments. Most often, wearing an Aloha shirt in Western Washington is ironic, as we don’t get a lot of Hawaiian-style weather. Encouraging everyone to wear Aloha shirts one Friday each month should work the same as the football gear. Even if our team loses, we still wear the clothes to signal our loyalty, so wearing an Aloha shirt makes it clear that even though sun is unlikely, we are all still devoted fans of warm weather. I would also set aside one Friday a month for “Band Shirt Friday” on which everyone would be encouraged to wear a t-shirt from one of their favorite bands or solo performers. It would be a fun way to learn a bit about our respective musical tastes. As a devoted metal head, I have a collection of shirts, and I would love the opportunity to wear them at the office. I would have to establish ground rules for work appropriateness, as some metal shirts can be considered deeply offensive to those with sense of common decency. I’m sure I could get away with the Black Sabbath, Death Angel, and Slayer shirts I own, as they are relatively tame, but I’m not sure about the Amon Amarth shirt featuring a viking having his head bashed in…and open. Very bloody. The Motorhead shirt is harmless, but the Venom Inc shirt features a Baphomet – the goat head pentagram symbol – and would almost certainly cause a ruckus. While the metal heads would have to use discretion, I don’t presume that everyone would wear heavy metal band shirts. I am surrounded by country music fans at work, so I anticipate a lot of Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band shirts, and that’s o.k. As long as no one wears something truly offensive, like a Justin Bieber or Nickelback shirt, we’ll get along fine.
There Shall Be Cookie Mondays.
In addition to fashion-oriented team-building, I will encourage the devourment of treats to spur camaraderie. Breaking metaphorical bread together is the oldest form of relationship building, and cookies are much easier to bake than bread. While Fridays are reserved for themed shirts, Mondays call for a sweet respite from the misery that is Monday morning. As a generous king, I will do the baking myself. As the culinary arts go, I would rather barbecue than bake, but smoking sufficient ribs and brisket to feed everyone at work would get complicated and expensive. Perhaps the barbecue will be a once a year event, but I’m not making any promises.
There Shall Be No Royal Edicts.
Aside from decrees about Friday fashion and Monday carbohydrates, I would not make a lot of pronouncements. I prefer my decision-making to be deliberative, and I believe it’s another way to promote fellowship at work. Recently, I called together a team to let them know my plan for how to proceed in starting some pre-planning in advance of a formal project launch. I was proud of my proactive thinking, calling together the experts to get a head start on an ambitious effort. After the meeting, I checked in with one of my staff who had participated. I confess, I went to her in hopes she would tell me how clever and enterprising I was. Instead, she asked me why we were doing this. She interrogated my assumptions and challenged my great idea with specific questions for which I had no answers. I was annoyed…for about ten minutes. After I walked away and gave it some thought, I realized I was grateful. Her questions pointed out the flaws in my thinking, and now I could fix it. I could get the answers to those questions, answers she and the others deserved, and put the effort on an even better track. I sent her an email thanking her for pushing back. As a leader, I’m reluctant to say I’ve decided something until I’ve first said, “This is the way I’m leaning, what are your thoughts? What am I missing?” My experience has shown that when I make a quick decision, I spend a lot of time cleaning up messes.
If the king wears Aloha shirts and eats cookies but doesn’t listen to the people when they speak up, he’s doing it wrong.