The power of informality

A big part of the pleasure we derive from work is in our social relationships. Discussions around the coffee machine, lunches between colleagues, the legendary after hours get-togethers, and of course, team building! But is this sufficient to consolidate your teams?

Even if your company’s values are important and its mission highly stimulating, even though you may have some very nice projects simmering, it can all lose its value if you are not able to consider the hidden portion of the iceberg: the power of informality! According to an MIT study: “The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as ‘asides’ during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance”. Well, if even MIT has something to say about it!

Beyond all the studies carried out by all the major institutions of the world, have you ever observed team productivity develop when the dynamics that punctuate exchanges extend beyond their usual framework? Have you ever noticed that increasing your employees’ well being also makes your major projects shine?

The parameters of a company’s informal components are mainly built upon three interpersonal pillars: goals, perceptions, and beliefs. This means that everything related to interpersonal realities is often glossed over in favour of formality and organizational control.

But that’s just it! We should stop trying to fit round pegs into square holes! What if we instead went on a quest off the beaten path in search of authentic human relationships?

(Re)connect with colleagues after two years of screen time

There is no ready-made formula, and fortunately so! Of course, the pandemic has somewhat disrupted the way we interact socially. Two years of staring into our screens, and poof (!) we are all just a bit rusty on a social level, a little confused about our own goals. So how do we get back on our marks?

As Émily, our event coordinator, confided in us: “I felt social anxiety at the idea of meeting, in real life, the new people who had been hired during the pandemic”. While some of us can manage to deal with this new reality (hybrid work, 4 day workweeks, etc.), others are still attempting to readapt to social interaction, and sometimes their batteries are a little drained, says Émily!

Develop a user guide in an informal setting

If your team’s lifeblood begins to flow outside of preconceived frameworks, destroy that framing, create new spaces (fictional or real), and let everyone’s “crazy” roam free. It’s time for us to relearn how to work together.

The Lulu Experience

Following a period of strong growth, Lulu’s team experienced an unprecedented wave of hiring. Brand new smiles were added to the company’s organizational chart, and as the events waltz played on, our team members were busy taming one another professionally.

In order to build trust and consolidate all the new relationships between Lulu members, our team members took advantage of a moment of calm to recharge their batteries in a natural setting! La Dolce Vita, yes – but not just that! Thinking differently implies entirely readapting former behaviours, and this also requires team moments in an informal setting.

A team building exercise organized by Lulu’s management, focusing on discussions and experiences centered around each team member’s personality, allowed for the creation of a user guide. You may well be thinking to yourself: “what is this invention?” Well, the user guide is not just a tool that you store in a closet and only unleash during yearly evaluations, but rather a blueprint that we all maintain preciously in memory and integrate into our practices. Thus, a user guide can allow team members to put themselves in one another’s shoes by closely considering their teammates’ core values. “It was a powerful experience and it helped me understand the team by meeting with them in a different context,” says Émily.

What types of topics can you address to develop your own user guide? Here are some examples:

  • Have you ever wondered whether any of your actions could be misconstrued by your teammates?
  • What are the behaviours of others who have earned your trust?
  • What unclear areas in your learning still require further development?

Obviously, you are free to adapt your topics of discussion according to your team’s needs. For our part, transposed outside the framework of formal production meetings, our team was able to develop more effective learning (methods, practices, etc.) in an event context! And boom!

Recently, Lulu cast an eye over the labour shortage that has been affecting Quebec these last few years. At the dawn of an (almost) new post-pandemic era, a multitude of factors have all raised their share of questions about new methods of enabling team consolidation. Why not rethink our approach?

If adequately prepared, team building among your employees can continue to feed them the knowledge that is essential for team evolution. In 2018, the Journal of Business and Psychology reported on a study that revealed a growing consensus wherein 70% to 90% of organizational learning does not occur through formal training, but rather in an informal manner.

 

SOURCES

Tessier, P. (1995) “Les stratégies du pouvoir informel exercées par les coordonnateurs de département dans un Cégep”. [Master’s dissertation, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières]. Downloadable from: https://depot-e.uqtr.ca/id/eprint/4948/1/000620437.pdf

“Team Building Statistics & Facts”. Teambuilding.Com, April 15th, 2020, https://teambuilding.com/blog/team-building-statistics.

Unknown. “Cross Cultural Communication: ICEBERG MODEL BY SELFRIDGE AND SOKOLIK, 1975 AND W.L. FRENCH AND C.H. BELL IN 1979”. Cross Cultural Communication, July 8th, 2013, http://communication-across-cultures.blogspot.com/2013/07/iceberg-model-by-selfridge-and-sokoliks.html.

 

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