Changing times demand change solutions. We know there are no exit interviews in the 4/5 regional health services, so how about taking a leaf out of the Globe and Mail in California. The Doctors Mess was a private area for juniors to let their hair down and tell risqué jokes with black humour central. There was often a snooker or table tennis table. A bar might be out of keeping with the modern world of work, but soft drinks and a darts board might not be. Demand for such relaxation has reduced since the gender bias towards women in medicine, but this could be corrected. Encouraging teams to compete within workplaces, fostering honesty and reducing tribalism (competition breeds respect) is all appropriate, as is the exit interview….
Melody Adhami is president and chief operating officer of Plastic Mobile, and writes as part of a Leadership Lab series:
When Plastic Mobile first opened its doors in 2007, I aimed to do things by the book.
Individual performance reviews, standard vacation time and office perks like complimentary breakfast and ping pong tables.
Ultimately, I began to find that it these tools lacked the excitement and motivation to really drive the team. I thought back to my time before founding Plastic Mobile working in the corporate world, and how we often cared more about our individual performance and growth over team performance and results. So I thought, what could Plastic do differently?
The idea came to me one late night at the office, looking around at desks filled up with takeout and team members opting to sleep on the couch, where someone fell into their chair and exasperated, “I really need a vacation.”
“If we hit our goals this year, I’ll take you all on vacation,” I offered.
I wasn’t kidding.
I set a goal of achieving 50 per cent year-over-year growth. Fast forward 14 months and we had exceeded our goal, meaning the team was on our way to our very first annual retreat Jamaica.
Since then, Plastic Mobile has continued enviable yearly retreats, from circus school and Cottage Country weekend trips, to a an all inclusive trip to Costa Rica this year. There are a few reasons why this tactic works, and why I think other businesses should follow suit.
Enhancing extrinsic motivation
When it comes to achieving a company wide goal, no one person can do it alone. Every member of the team must work together to meet timelines, produce quality work, take initiative on new ideas and win new business. By creating a common goal, we have developed a sense of accountability throughout each department and team member that goes beyond the sales and new business team. We also keep motivation consistently high throughout the year and combat the inevitable lulls that all businesses face.
Preventing the “agency life” burnout
Contrary to popular belief, productivity is not a function of how long or torturously one works. The source of true productivity is a refreshed and energized mind. While glamorized by popular television shows Mad Men and Silicon Valley, it’s common knowledge that agency life is stressful. Known for long nights and demanding schedules, it comes as no surprise that the industry is fraught with high turnover.
Even more so than a reward, the retreat allows our employees to unwind and relax, after working as passionately as they do. The trips have full buy in from my executive team, allowing these getaways to have a “no work allowed” mantra, which is vital to preventing burnout experienced.
Driving a culture of problem solving and collaboration
While we do not subject the team to hours of trust falls, team building and bonding is still an important part of the retreat. Carefully crafted activities such as trapeze, white water rafting and building boats with nothing but cardboard and duct tape center around many of the same problem solving characteristics as building great products for clients. If our team consciously spends time together problem solving and collaborating, eventually, they’ll be amazing at problem solving and collaborating. The activities are almost irrelevant, it’s building the skills and driving the culture that’s important.
Building psychological safety
Google recently shared their multiyear research on building the perfect team, and out of it came the importance of psychological safety, by definition “a shared belief held by members of a team that each individual is safe to take risks.” For Plastic Mobile, it’s important that everyone has that sense of confidence and cohesion. Observing employees following each trip, I see the team tear down barriers of communication and speak up without fear of judgement. Retreats have helped Plastic develop an atmosphere of inclusion and respect, where even the newest employees feel comfortable walking into anyone’s office to ask a question or even simply chat about what’s new. If you are able to talk to someone at a swim up bar, discussions behind a desk are no problem.
Creating a halo effect for office morale
Time away from the office is exciting whether it’s with family and friends or with all your colleagues. Setting yearly goals keep the team’s morale and work ethic consistent throughout the year. In fact, a goal meter on the wall allows the team to visualize their performance and serve as daily reminders. Meeting the goal gets the team excited about planning and going on retreats. Following the retreat, vacation highs and memories remain intact. Even years after our trips to Jamaica and circus school, I often catch the team reminiscing, sharing stories with a smile on their face.