They’re called the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer for a reason. It’s the season most of us associate with vacations, sunny afternoons by the pool, picnics in the park and evening barbecues. Problem is, the promise of freedom and fun that beckons just outside your company’s office windows doesn’t make for the most productive employees. In fact, your team might even be behaving a bit like kids out of school – sleeping in a little late every morning and taking it a little easier than they do during the other three seasons.
If you’re at your wits’ end, tired of trying to convince your team that summertime is not synonymous with “down time” and that the current recession means they should actually be working a little harder than usual, Kimberly Douglas is here to help. While she concedes that it’s very tempting to give in and slow down during these summer months, she’s adamant that you can – and should! – use this time to get your company’s creative juices flowing.
“Yes, summer is a slower time for many companies,” says Douglas, author of The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-43832-9, $24.95). “A larger percentage of employees are taking vacations, and those who are in the office don’t tend to be idea-generating machines who are boosting productivity and the bottom line with every tap on their keyboards. However, there’s no excuse for allowing your company to fall into the classic summertime slump!
“Especially in the midst of this economic downturn, you can’t afford to let those summertime blahs get the best of you and your team. Now more than ever, companies need to regroup, re-engage, and re-energize their employees. There’s probably no bailout money coming your way, so for your organization, innovation is the ticket out of the recession and into prosperity.”
Contrary to what some leaders may have concluded, summertime can actually be a highly productive time of year. It’s very possible to inspire your employees to overcome their warm weather lethargy and get energized and innovative. The key is to show them that innovation does not equal drudgery – in fact, it’s a great way to break up the monotony of the same old same old.
The heart of innovation, of course, is people working together eagerly, intelligently, and productively. When this synergy happens, ideas pour forth, as Douglas puts it, like fireflies showing up en masse at dusk. Innovation is all about good teamwork. It’s really that simple. And it’s what The Firefly Effect is all about.
In it, Douglas teaches leaders how to discover and apply creativity within their own teams to get results. She uses a firefly metaphor (perfect for the summer!) – the image of children working together to catch these glowing creatures – to illustrate how successful teams use their individual talents collectively to focus on critical business challenges.
“Yes, cutting costs and operating on a shoestring budget may keep your company out of the red,” says Douglas, “but those things won’t catapult you into problem-solving mode or make your organization more productive. For that, your people need to be energized and passionate about what they are doing. And that makes upping your organization’s focus on innovation a natural fit for summer.”
If you are ready to banish the summertime blahs at your office and get your employees into the firefly mind-set, read on for some tips that will make this summer sparkle!
Plan the party. Call your team together and ask them, “What can we accomplish this summer to improve our company?”
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, so don’t put pressure on yourself or on your employees to come up with a brand-new product or service,” says Douglas. “Something as simple as improving or streamlining a process can make a big difference in your company’s productivity and in your team’s morale!”
Up the wattage of your meetings. Even if you don’t hold a special meeting to specifically discuss potential improvements to your company, take steps to make your regular meetings more productive. Nothing squelches creativity like the same old boring routine! Remember, a big contributor to the summer slump is the longing to be outside having fun instead of inside doing work.
It’s up to you to show your employees that just because they’re stuck at work doesn’t mean they can’t also have some fun. For example, you might bring a creativity toy or two to your next meeting – something interesting enough to engage someone’s hands but not so fascinating that it distracts them from the reason for the meeting. You could also introduce techniques like mind-mapping (for left-brain thinkers) or brain-writing (for right-brain thinkers) to get creativity flowing.
“Boredom and drudgery do not facilitate innovation and problem solving,” says Douglas. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re holding light, fun, engaging meetings that people actually want to attend. Remember, if they don’t want to be there, they won’t be in the right frame of mind to accomplish anything worthwhile.”
Let’s take this thing outside! Face it – your employees aren’t the only ones who stare longingly out the windows or count the minutes until quittin’ time. Sometimes you do too! So go ahead – give in to your urge to escape and take advantage of what summer has to offer. Take an office field trip. Excursions can ignite your team’s creativity and boost their ability to work together.
“I’m not talking about the stereotypical ropes course exercises,” says Douglas. “I’ve been privy to off-site team-building exercises in many different settings, from a visit to the zoo to a tour of a plane manufacturing plant to a yacht sailing excursion. They’ve all been incredibly fruitful. These adult ‘field trips’ yield fresh insights on teamwork and help you think about problem solving in a new way. Trust me, everyone will enjoy getting out of the office, and the change in scenery will help you and your employees up the creative ante.”
Leave summer school to your kids. Just as fireflies’ lights fade when they’re held captive, a leader who dominates and controls his or her team will squelch creativity. That’s why you must take deliberate steps to make sure your employees don’t feel like they’re stuck in summer school with a stuffy taskmaster as their teacher.
“Here are some things to keep in mind,” says Douglas. “During meetings, don’t sit at the head of the table. In your innovation meetings, everyone is equal and all ideas are given equal consideration. Use positive reinforcement (both verbally and nonverbally). Telling an employee, ‘Great job!’ always goes a long way. But something else you might want to consider, at least during the summer, is finding some other, fun, way of acknowledging great work. You might have a luau-themed party when a goal is reached or a beach ball that is passed around to employees who’ve reached an individual accomplishment.
“And remember, don’t focus all of your attention on your most productive employees. Even if it’s your least productive employee, find something good to say about the job he’s doing. That one positive comment could influence him to up his productivity in other areas.”
Make sure quieter fireflies have a chance to glow. You’ve no doubt noticed that certain people naturally dominate the discussion while others tend to hang back and go with the flow. Problem is, if your big talkers and “star employees” are always allowed to verbally run over the quieter/less visible members of your team, the same ideas and solutions will always get implemented. As your fireflies begin to glow this summer, take steps to prevent extroverts from taking over and to keep introverts (who may have some brilliant ideas under their hats) from getting overlooked.
“Insist that everyone jot down their initial ideas in silence and then share them, round-robin style,” she suggests. “Impose a time limit so that no one is able to outtalk her quieter teammates. Sometimes, simply moving a predictably dominant person away from the front of the room and parking her next to a more reserved team member can change group dynamics dramatically.”
Don’t be a one-summer wonder. Even the most energetic, productive meeting means nothing if people don’t follow up the decisions they reach with action. Be careful not to let the summertime sizzle you’ve created fizzle out as fall approaches. As a team, create a common picture of what personal accountability looks like. Then, delegate very specific assignments to very specific people. Finally, set a date for a follow-up meeting in which everyone must report on whether they fulfilled their commitments, and if not, why.
“Uncomfortable as this may feel at first, it shows everyone that lame excuses won’t be tolerated,” says Douglas. “Remember, you should be holding yourself to the same standard as your employees. If you fail to meet a goal, you should be under just as much scrutiny as they are!”
Starting now, make it your goal to help your employees recapture the enthusiasm they felt chasing fireflies as children and make this down economy summer one of the most productive and innovative you’ve ever had.
“Ignite the glow of creativity in just one person, and you’ll be amazed by how quickly it spreads throughout your whole team,” says Douglas. “When they’re encouraged to take an active role in moving their companies forward, everyone feels more invested in their work, valued by their leaders, and motivated to keep improving.
“Just because we grow up doesn’t mean that we lose our desire to have fun, and our longing to cut loose is almost always strongest during the summer months,” concludes Douglas. “Implement regular brainstorming sessions now, and chances are the ideas they give life to will long outlive the warm weather. Who knows? You might look back on this summer as the point at which innovation truly became an integral part of your company culture!”
About the author:
Kimberly Douglas, SPHR, is president of FireFly Facilitation Inc., a firm specializing in the design and facilitation of high-impact initiatives, including leadership team effectiveness and strategic planning. She has facilitated results for more than 25 years in a broad cross-section of industries and organizations, including Coca-Cola, AT&T, Home Depot, UPS and the U.S. Marine Corps. She holds a master of science in industrial/organizational psychology. Prior to founding FireFly 10 years ago, Kimberly was an organization effectiveness manager for Coca-Cola, a director with the Hay Group, and served in HR leadership roles in the healthcare, telecommunications, and hospitality industries. Her book, The Firefly Effect, was published by Wiley in April 2009.
About the book:
The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-43832-9, $24.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, visit www.FireFlyFacilitation.com.