Olympics Are Increasing Productivity

XBox as a sport?

XBox as a sport?Is the Olympics killing your business? Every two years, companies worry about the drop in productivity that might happen if employees focus too much on watching television and checking medal counts online. Even without the distraction of a major televised sporting event, lots of companies discourage time away from one’s desk. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog at all, you’ve probably already guessed that the Fool does things differently!

Obviously, companies want to get the most value out of each of their employees. But creating a culture of non-stop, nose-to-the-grindstone working isn’t going to accomplish that. Quite the opposite – a seemingly counterintuitive approach that allows for breaks will actually make your employees work harder and get more done. It’s science!

Study after study has proven that the best and most sustainable way to work is to take short breaks throughout the day. This system also works well when studying for a test – taking a breather after a burst of uninterrupted studying allows your brain to retain more information. And since sitting all day apparently will kill you, the occasional 10-minute stroll around the office park has even more benefits than helping clear your head.

Beyond just taking a break on your own, gathering around the water cooler with your colleagues goes far beyond looping you in on office gossip. It makes a company, overall, a happier place to work. And employees are still more productive than they would be without breaks!

At the Fool, we have televisions all over the office. Whether it’s the Olympics, March Madness, or presidential election coverage, Fools are welcome to take a break and watch some TV. It creates a more fun and trusting environment, and makes us all closer to each other!

So the next time your employees are gathered around the break room television cheering on Michael Phelps, you should join them. You’ll bond, you’ll relax, and you’ll return to your desk ready to tackle your work.

People Don’t Like to Be Told What to Do

Volunteerism

Fun timesWhen you were a kid, wasn’t it always more fun to play the games you wanted instead of what your parents told you that you had to do?

Of course it was.

So why do many employers in the corporate world today still try forcing their employees to do something they know they won’t like?

I find volunteerism to be an important part of individual success. My experience is that no one likes to be told what to do in any part of their life. (If you have kids, like I do, they can explain this to you in detail.) The reality is that once you are told what to do you become part of someone else’s vision. When you choose a path on your own,  it is your path – you have ownership over it and control over what you do with it. You become invested in the process and the outcome because you chose it.

Wharton Professor (and super cool guy) Adam Grant goes into some great detail about the affect this reality has on corporate giving programs in his report Giving Time, Time After Time: Work Design and Sustained Employee Participation in Corporate Volunteering. If you are a geeky people professional like me, you’ll enjoy the full read. Adam finds that, “In the absence of pressure, employees are more likely to feel personally responsible for the decision to volunteer, which will increase the likelihood of internalizing the volunteer identity.” He found that corporations got some short-term bumps when they put pressure on volunteering. But, long-term success increased when people chose their own direction.

If you know me, you know I love to recommend books that I haven’t finished reading yet. Well, I am in the middle of Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. It is also an awesome read, and so far, it reinforces much of how we operate at The Motley Fool. When describing some great leadership traits, Liz says that peoples’ best thinking should ” be given, to taken,” and that while a manager may be able to insist on a level of productivity and output, the employee’s efforts must be given voluntarily. She continues, “This changes the leader’s role profoundly. Instead of demanding the best work directly, they create an environment where it not only can be offered, but where it is deeply needed. Because the environment naturally requires it, a person freely bestows their best thinking and work.”

At The Fool,  we try to incorporate volunteerism in all of our projects and development programs.

 

I will always bet on the project led by the person who volunteered and has the passion for it, instead of the person who may be more skilled but was forced into the role.

NERF Wars – What, your office doesn’t have those?

NERF

NERF Are NERF wars in the office still cool?

I guess really we could ask if they ever truly were. I have noticed a resurgence in our office in the recent weeks, and am reminded of the business value behind them. Yup, I said business value behind NERF wars.

There certainly is no value in the act of a NERF war. Inevitably someone gets hit int he face with an errant shot. There are disturbing screams of joy, satisfaction, or fear. NERF darts are found in random places like coffee cups and trash receptacles. So, where is the business value, again?

Foam attacks?

My take on it:

1) Camaraderie. Bands of Fools teaming together to attack one another. We are in this together.

2) No Hierarchy. A great reminder that no one is a sacred cow.

3) Laughter & Fun. It seems just when I am taking myself or my day too seriously, I am reminded that we should always be having some fun.

4) Inexpensive. I don’t always need big bonuses or fancy parties. A random NERF gun war is fun, collaborative, and gets the energy up in the office.

I am off right now to search Fool.com to see if NERF is a public company. I think they are making a comeback.

Q x A = E

Fools collaborating

Fools collaborating Quality x Acceptance = Excellence

This simple formula is a reminder to socialize your ideas before you complete them.

Most of us focus on quality and will work heads-down without any input whatsoever.  It feels good to create a quality product; it also feels good to know that you have figured it out by yourself.  Yet, we are left scratching our heads when our high-quality work doesn’t get the traction that we want, or what we feel that work deserves.  Frequently this is because we have spent too much time on the Q and not enough on the A.

Acceptance and buy-in are crucial to success.  Let’s take the formula at face value and add some numbers to it.  Let’s assume that each hour of time is equal to one unit of Quality or Acceptance.  So if you spend an hour working, you can put that hour into either by getting the project perfect or by gaining buy-in.  If you have 10 hours to spend on the project, let’s look at how you would maximize the project.

Scenario 1 – Put all of your time into creating an excellent project.  Perfect it, and then perfect it again.
Q=10 and A=0; so here is our formula: 10 x 0 = 0.  Wow!   Such high quality and such a miserable failure.  I don’t get it?

Scenario 2 – Put most of your time into quality but leave an hour to socialize the idea.
Q=9 and A=1; so our formula is: 9 x 1 = 9.  Much better!  The output isn’t quite as perfect on quality, but it can move forward because it has advocates.

Scenario 3 – Split your time equally.
Q=5 and A=5; so our formula is 5×5=25.  WHAT?  I spent half the time on the quality of the project, and 5 hours wagging my jaw, but got 25x the results.  How can that be?

I see several of you dismissing this formula already…..

BUT WAIT…

I encourage you to try it!

Well, what are you waiting for?

The next time you are frustrated because you have a project that is stalled, and you are tempted to work from home to “fix it”, instead set up 3 different discussions with key stakeholders and socialize it before you “fix it.”  Post your results here.  I’m telling you, you’ll be surprised.

The Great Foolapalooza Hunt (Part 2)

Foolapalooza Game

Foolapalooza Game

So the idea was approved, albeit with some concern, naturally. Would people really want to spend two to three hours solving puzzles? When the plan was announced, a common response was, “Do I really have to do this scavenger thing?” (I knew it wasn’t really anything like a scavenger hunt, but there was really no way to explain it to people, until they experienced it themselves.)

So for the next month and a half, I worked with a team of dedicated Fools to put together a truly memorable event. Here’s how it worked:

Fools were divided into teams of five people each. In my experience, this is the ideal number for maximizing involvement and productivity. Fewer than that and you’re not taking full advantage of the “wisdom of crowds.” And larger than that? Well, some people start tuning out and you start to see inefficiencies creep in.

Teams started by receiving a set of company cards, each with the name of a fictitious company, such as Tickerwaster or Wahoo!  Teams had to trade companies with other teams in order to build the highest value portfolio. The catch was that they didn’t know all of the rules of the game. However, they could trade rules with other teams in order to learn all the different ways that portfolios were scored.

Teams also received a map with the locations to five puzzles. When they solved a puzzle, they received additional cards and rules. And so on.  At the end of the event, the team that turned in the most valuable 10-card portfolio was the winner.

And the puzzles? Well, I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but here are some highlights:

  • A real-live Shakespearean troupe performing versions of popular financially themed movies (Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, Trading Places, etc.).
  • Building a sandwich out of ingredients printed on transparencies (which when stacked correctly revealed a secret message).
  • Matching 10 bandanna pieces according to clues printed on the edges (which then formed a recognizable shape).
  • And so on.

And the teams absolutely loved it. So many people told me later they were skeptical about the event, but once they got into it, they had a great time. Of course, I was elated.

It was clear that everybody had a good time. But it was also clear that people got a lot out of it. They bonded with co-workers. They overcame initial fears of feeling stupid, and ended up feeling much smarter as a result. And they learned to work efficiently and productively with a group of fellow Fools that they didn’t really know that well – which was my hope from the beginning.

The Great Foolapalooza Hunt (Part 1)

Foolapalooza team figuring out a puzzle

Foolapalooza team figuring out a puzzle

My very first task as the newly appointed chief collaboration Fool was to run a big team-building event at our annual company meeting – what we loving call “Foolapalooza”.

This came as no surprise to me. In fact, it was my idea.

For a long time, I’ve been a fan of real-world treasure hunts. The kind you see in the movie National Treasure, where you solve a clue that leads to a new location, at which point you find another clue, and so on … until you reach your final treasure. At least that’s the hope.

Traditionally, the first afternoon of Foolapalooza had been reserved for group outings and activities such as softball, canoeing, paintball, wine-tasting, etc.  And this was very popular. So it was with a little trepidation that I proposed we abandon this plan and instead have the entire company participate in a custom puzzle hunt of my creation.

Why change? Well, I thought there was some real value in conquering challenges as a team and on top of that, doing so with a group of people you normally didn’t get to work with. I also felt like I had the chance to have them experience something they had never done before.

When I pitched the idea to the planning committee, I figured what better way to demonstrate the kind of puzzles I was talking about than to have them solve one. And that’s what I did.

I handed them nine cartoon drawings of marine life: fish, crabs, whales, etc. A number and an English word were written on each animal:

1. SALOON

2. SCRIMP

3. MERLIN

4. HEARING

5. SHANK

6. TUBA

7. GULPY

8. CUD

9. BASE

The instructions? Well, the only thing I told the group was that this puzzle had a single phrase as its answer. And that was it. They had to figure out what to do.

At first the team looked at the words and tried to scramble them into other things or identify the fish and so on, but there wasn’t much success. But then they had their first “aha!” moment.

“SCRIMP is very close to SHRIMP. In fact, it’s one letter different.” To which somebody else added, “Yeah! And TUBA could be TUNA!” And so on until the team had identified nine ocean-related animals:

1. SALMON

2. SHRIMP

3. MARLIN

4. HERRING

5. SHARK

6. TUNA

7. GUPPY

8. COD

9. BASS

“Is that the answer?” they asked?

I shook my head no.

They studied the fish again. Finally, somebody said, “Well, wait, what if we look at the letters that changed?” Slowly they began to unearth a message. O-C-E-A … OCEAN! B-L-U … BLUE. OCEAN BLUE?

“Correct!”

The group members high-fived each other, happy in their success. I then explained to them that in the Foolapalooza hunt teams would solve five or six challenges more elaborate than this, many of them Fool-themed. And in the process, they would have to think outside the box, listen to each other, be open-minded, deal with failure, and hopefully ultimately succeed.

And that was how the first ever Great Foolapalooza Hunt was green-lighted.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2, where I explain the structure of The Great Foolapalooza Hunt!