Staying healthy through exercise is not the easiest of tasks as it takes time, dedication, and discipline. Here at the Motley Fool, we’ve created a new culture of wellness with the focal point being exercise. As the Wellness Fool, I try to encourage a well-rounded strategy for personal wellness, but exercise and fitness remain at the heart of my intensions. However, the common thread through all fitness-related activity is collaboration. Although I do personal training with the individual Fool occasionally, our weekly schedule revolves around group exercise activities from our flagship Foolish Fitness classes (boot-camp style classes), to our Yoga classes, Zumba classes, and our twice-weekly open gym runs where we enjoy basketball, floor hockey, soccer, and volleyball.
Getting healthy is the primary goal, but a powerful secondary benefit comes from the collaboration amongst Fools from all over the company. I’ve led over 350 of our Foolish Fitness classes now, and we have Fools from our tech department, helping Fools from our marketing team, pushing Fools from editorial – all for the collective gain of the individuals, and company as a whole. Although we are not a large company, there is a chance that some of these Fools might never have said more than a friendly, “Hi” in the hallways if not for these activities. You get to know someone’s real character when they’re sweaty, tired, and pushed to their physical/mental limits. And to come out together, smiling, and pumped-up through a common struggle brings us closer together.
So recently, a group of 12 Fools got together and started training for the Tough Mudder, a 12-mile obstacle course challenge, where you are pushed to your breaking point in order to complete the challenge. Now I call this event a challenge and not a race because you are not timed and are encouraged to simply finish the course. We all came away with cramps, cuts, and bruises, but yours truly ended up splitting my temple open at mile 1. We trained so hard for this, and I wasn’t going to quit on my teammates. On the other hand, I felt bad for delaying my fellow Fools while waiting for the medic to arrive, so I encouraged them to go on without me and I’d try to catch up. Once again, we trained so hard for this that they weren’t going anywhere without me, and we finished the challenge together.
The old cliché remains true that if exercise was easy, everybody would be doing it. The reality is, staying healthy and active is not easy and is downright uncomfortable at times. However, if you are going through a common, shared struggle together, the journey seems less daunting, and everyone is better off for it.
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.
After only two months of training, I stood before 150 people for my class’ first improv comedy performance. We were far more anxious that anyone in the audience might have noticed, but one thing that helped get me through was the group of Fools who came to see the show (and, admittedly, the nerve-calming margarita they joined me for before I got on stage). Improv is a serious team-building activity, and I learned a lot of lessons I can apply at work.
When fellow Fools took time on a Sunday to support me, I realized a really awesome thing about this company: We’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders!
Fools don’t just care about what our coworkers can do for us during the work day. We’re multi-dimensional people – actors, dancers, artists, writers, athletes, photographers, world travelers, and musicians. We have outlets for expressing ourselves in our free time that make us more creative, more innovative, bolder Fools at work. What’s more, Fools are welcome to share their passions at work, either by teaching a class or leading a club. Fools cheer each other on at marathons, check out each other’s art shows, and rock out at each other’s concerts. They teach each other how to knit or fill out an NCAA March Madness bracket. We always say we’re a learning culture – part of that is teaching new software, or running investing cohorts so Fools can experience the same stock-picking decisions our members make – but another part of that culture is teaching each other about the fun things we love to do in our spare time.
Sadly, a lot of companies have a culture where employees are looked down upon when their lives outside of work spill into the office. At the Fool, we take an interest in our coworkers’ hobbies, families, and friends, and we love to have a great time with lots of laughter. With improv, we got the best of both worlds.
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.