Many years ago I had the fortunate experience of working with a hyper-productive and wonderfully lovely team of about 100 people. Within us we had many smaller teams, that topic is for another post.
One simple act of leadership
The first thing that happened was the leaders of the group asked the people to choose their working hours.
Shared purpose and specific outcomes
Immediately this group of people had a puzzle to solve. The puzzle had one specific outcome. What times will we be working from tomorrow onwards? The puzzle was meaningful and had a hard deadline – the end of that day.
There were constraints. Every two weeks everyone had to share their work and plan together. This needed to be between 9am-5pm to make it easy for our users and business sponsors to attend.
Some wanted to have their own flexible hours. Most wanted to work with other people. Some just wanted a particular lunch time. As the conversations flowed people started discussing their personal needs. There were long commutes, picking up kids, rush hour traffic in central London and some even opened up about prayer needs and health problems.
Shared ownership and motivation
As people were getting personal they all became willing to bend their first thoughts to accommodate. I doubt most people ever get to know these things about their colleagues. We’re often shocked by the variety of situations people face.
As humanity and empathy emerged deep thought and dialogue was becoming infectious in the group. It also meant they decided they’d rather work together all the time if they could. Indeed they were the only group I’ve known of this size who all paired quite naturally.
Some bright sparks decided to get everyone to put up stickies with their suggestions, they then got rid of the duplicates. Everyone had three dots to vote on whatever suggestion wished.
Permission and trust
The most popular vote was 10am until 6pm.
The people and management accepted the proposed hours. This acceptance initiated the building of trust. And it paid off in later iterations when the teams would help each other get stories over the line.
It also gave everyone permission to ask for what they needed to do the job.
And thanks to the relationships formed that day, the people were good judges at who they needed to work with to make a great team.
Healthier and happier
Ah. Missing rush hour.
Most people I know would vote for this in their ideal working day. This team made it happen. People got in pretty chilled. Some had even managed to work on public transport – no noses in armpits thank you very much. It cost less for some to get to work. We managed to hire brilliant people from further afield.
And 6 pm was pub time. Even people with families and busy lives would pop in of an evening, have a coca cola (ahem) and chat. It was dinner time too. I found one of my favourite restaurants of all time through this crowd.
Eventually they were also spending break times playing together, hanging out on weekends. Lots of lifelong friendships (and more!) were born there.
A plea from me
So I ask you, ditch the theories for a moment, stop looking for methods, and know you cannot force people to change.
Try a single, simple act of leadership instead.