SWPAG

The New Way to Work is More Work Than You Knew

Summary: Can you guess the sly, small rule that makes this game so hard to play?

Shall We Play a Game?

For the past few months, I have done a lot of work with my team, to do our work in a new way. Can we change to a style where we stress team sites, like on the web? This would force us to talk and share stuff with new tools, and not use the “mail” style that has been a key part of our work life for some time. Not just that – we tell folks to use less phone and more face to face chat, where that makes sense; at times, this can be tough when the team sits all over the globe. It may sound like not much work, but it is hard – more than you might think.

To prove my point, I thought I would try a new way to give a slide set to the group. A few times a year, I will give a “Town Hall” slide set, and talk through key points for the Corp as well as for the IT team. But this time, I told the group I would do this in a new way – a sort of game, and they had to guess how I could change my style to make my point.

The game is on, by the way – can you guess the one rule?

Sounds neat, right? In truth, it is quite tough to do; you might work on a few key phrases when you warm up for the talk, but if you do not have a strict script and read from it, you will have to think about each thing you say, at the point where you say it. When I gave this talk this past week, the folks heard a lot of things they were not used to …

  • I spoke each word one by one, and in a slow way – and I had to stress that style when I went through a part of the slides where I had broad things to talk on. When I did not set a part of the talk in my mind, I spoke in fits and starts, and my speech would halt a lot.
  • At times, I would have to stop, as I would start a word that did not fit the rule of the game, I had to stop and think of a new word, and some times I had to stop and start a few times, as I could not think of the right word.
  • At one point, I came to a full stop, as I could not work out where to go with one of my thoughts. So, I just threw the thought out and went down a new path – just went to a new slide and did not end the last one.
  • I was told that my speech did not seem to be smooth – it was as if I was still in grade school, as if I did not speak (or write) as well as I have in the past

It was a bit of fun – and I could tell that the group was not in the know, and some were of the mind that I all was not right, that I was a bit ill. But it was tough, and I could keep this up for but a short time – then I had to let the group know what the rule of the game was.

In fact, I had a thought to write this blog post with the same rule in mind – and to this point, I have been able to play the game here, just as I had done with my slides. Can you guess what the rule is? Think on it a bit …

Give up? The rule for my talk, and for this post (up to this point, is to speak [and write] in words of just one … syllable.

Made You Think

Interesting game; one sure way to lose is to try to describe the only rule of the game. At the presentation (the “slide set”) last week, when I declared the game over and announced the rule, there was a collective sigh of relief; afterwards, folks in the group told me that they were quite worried that I was having some sort of health problem, as I spoke in a completely different tempo and style. I can understand their concern; when I proofread this post, I found that really did not like the general style and flow of the first part; it doesn’t “sound like me”.

But this was the point I was trying to make; changing something basic about the way you work might sound easy (“speak in words of only one syllable” … “document your process” … “edit this document collaboratively” … “move conversations from email to the corporate intranet”). Sounds easy, and looks almost fun; but the truth is that it is amazingly difficult to pull off without, at first, sounding a bit odd. Depending on the audience, these types of work process changes go against years of ingrained thought and practice – so why are we surprised when they have trouble catching hold in more traditional teams?

Don’t believe me? Try holding a conversation with your project group, and only speak in words of one syllable. And here’s a key part of the test – don’t tell them what you are doing! Odds are they will think something is wrong, ask you to lie down …

So We Should Not Change?

No no no, not suggesting that. Just trying to make the point that for some organizations, changing a foundational work habit is more difficult than you think. Don’t assume that “really cool software” that “works just like Facebook” and is “Amazon-easy” will instantaneously take root. Your entire IT organization should practice and experiment to find out what works – and then, help the rest of the organization learn this new way of working as well.

The benefits are there, collaboration is worth the effort – just don’t assume it’s obvious or easy.

# 28 July, 2014

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.