It's March 2015, I sit in one of the meeting rooms of our office, with a dozen colleagues. We are waiting for our training on social innovation from Jessica Tangelder, as a gift from our organization.
Desire for innovation
Jessica put us to work with various exercises. Exercises outside out our comfort zone, exercises to get to know each other, exercises to share knowledge and to learn about social innovation.
I remember one exercise more than the others, the post-it exercise. We had to write our innovation desire for within the organization and then stick it to the flipchart.
On the post-it, I drew a thick wall with a figure on each side that held a piece of rock, the wall was crumbling down. That is how I experienced our organization: Four sections separated by thick walls. There was little exchange of knowledge, and it was not very common to know many people from other sections in the organization, let alone to ask them for any kind of help. My wish was for that wall to crumble quickly.
The exercises we were given were about creating energy, meeting (new) people and sharing knowledge. Jessica told us how she applies these techniques in Co-workplaces in the Netherlands to bring together entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs go to those co-workplaces to meet others but they are all behind…their laptop at work, next to each other. Nothing different than at our office.
In 20 minutes, Jessica is able to connect professionals with her proven methods, kick-starting the process of working together and helping one another.
That was my vision for our organization, to be more connected!
Much like Jessica, I am also a connector; I often call myself a ‘blender’. I enjoy blending ingredients (my network, ideas, knowledge and skills) together to make a nice 'cake'. Through this training, I realized that I do not need to make the ‘cake’, I want people to blend together, themselves. This training fits perfectly with my talents, passions and desires!
Even better, I was not the only one; two other colleagues identified with my drawing and they are also connectors and facilitators. Not long after the company training, I went to Amsterdam to experience a session hosted by Jessica at Seats2meet-Berlage. Excited and curious for more, we began following the Host2Transform program by Jessica!
Next, how to start up an initiative within an organization of 1400 people?
Our start was using a "secret society". We brought each person to a session and then expanded the invitee list slowly. You could only participate by invite. The group size varied from 4-10 participants each session.
Each session always started with a warm-up exercise (energizer) an introductory and knowledge-sharing exercise. Even people that already knew each other learned new things (about the other). Actually, we always got enthusiastic responses from participating colleagues. We were most happy when people made appointments to re-connect later.
Once we mastered the method, we invited "openly". Everyone in our organization could participate! It was difficult; there were not as many colleagues responding to the open invitation as we had hoped. Occasionally, past participants came to the session. But it wasn’t the amount we had hoped for.
It seems as though people find it difficult to try new things, especially in times of much ado. People find it difficult to pull away from work to do something when they do not know what it will bring them.
After a while dabbling, we came in contact with two colleagues who started a new talent program. They had guided 80 colleagues in their pilot to learn their talent word (like me 'blender') and the associated learning question. They sought a way to bring these people into contact with each other. Then we had the solution!
We planned two dates on which these colleagues could participate and eventually, we had 2 × 20 colleagues together and one time even outside in the sun!
After an energizer (clap-jump-wiggle), everyone provided an introduction using his or her own talent word (which they had to draw on a post-it and stick on their chest). In the knowledge-sharing part, those who wanted to share their learning needs could and the others could give "unsolicited-advice": giving tips, asking questions, pointing to websites or people who knew more, and so forth. The energy was great and several people left with the engagement to meet again or at least a "how nice to meet you, next time I’ll think of you when…."
Start simple ...
We still have to look for the right way and form to offer these sessions within our organization; we're still puzzling at the moment. Use the themes (like talent) to gather people together. Alternatively, maybe stay with the "secret society" concept? Or endure in the open invitation-way? Or a mix of them all?
It's so simple, as we know each other better, we can help each other better. It takes only half an hour to meet new people and is also a lot of fun. Not to mention the valuable revenue/gains!
For one thing, I'll start small by reaching out my hand and asking "Hi, I'm Laura, can I help you?"