Beyond the water cooler


I’m writing this article wearing my chief executive of SHARE Community hat (hard hat? train guard’s peaked cap? wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with shiny cherries and gingham ribbon? chic beret?) because I want to share something with everyone else who’s in a leadership role.  Following a recommendation by our Investors in People assessor (we achieved the Bronze award last year), I’m using appraisal season to have a one to one meeting with all the staff, rather than just those for whom I hold line management responsibility.  It’s proving to be a revellation.   I like to think I’m on good terms with everyone, 360 responses that fed into my own appraisal would tend to support that view, and I certainly like and respect each of my colleagues.  My office door is rarely shut. There’s plenty of chat around the photocopier or in the kitchen (we’re not posh enough to have a water cooler) and the annual staff satisfaction survey tells me quite a bit about how people are feeling about being at SHARE.  But these scheduled, one to one meetings, unstructured and informal, are something different, and I’m finding that each person is using their protected time with me in a unique way that’s right for them.  Some people have used it as an opportunity to go out for coffee and cake and tell me all the things they like about their job.  Others have talked about what’s working for them, and what has caused them grief.  Some see it as a chance to make suggestions about how we could organise things differently, and others to talk about their visions for the future.  Some have used it as an opportunity to share something personal that they’d like me to know.  Each session has felt special, and has had its own kind of intimacy.  Each has given me something to ponder, and there have been some ideas that will lead to organisational change. From some, I’ve learnt about how my own behaviours can help or hinder, and so have been able to make changes.

I believe that a happy and healthy organisation requires a culture that is open, vibrant, and in which everyone feels engaged and valued.  At SHARE, we create an environment where open dialogue and creative thinking is integral to how we work, and our recent staff survey showed 95% of staff as being happy to be working there.  These one to one meetings are a step beyond the workshops and project groups and away days that are central to our culture.  My role is to listen.  I listen, and I ask the kind of questions that a good coach might ask.  Open questions that further develop the person’s thinking, and that enrich our shared understanding.  It’s also an opportunity to appreciate and acknowledge the gifts that each person brings to our organisation.  Yes, it takes time.  Conversations last around an hour, and with 20 people, that’s a big chunk out of the working week or month.  But it’s precious time, and I would strongly recommend it to others working hard to lead organisations.  I’d love to hear of your experiences, so please feel free to comment on this blog.

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One thought on “Beyond the water cooler

  1. I wish there were more people around with your caring attitude, my last management team went through the motions but never any continuity. I never even had a call from them to say have a happy retirement. Keep up the good work, I know your team will really appreciate the time and effort you put in to making their working life that much more enjoyable.

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