Encouraging a Bring Your SELF to Work Day with your teams

Most of us work in teams. We go to work and see the same folks each and every day. We check in when we fill our coffee mugs, and we offer a “see ya tomorrow” when we leave. In between, we work with them – either as a group, in pairs or quasi-independently with occasional interactions. We might spend more waking hours with these people then we do with our family and non-workplace friends.

But how well do we know them?

If you’re working with or on a team, you have a vested interest in getting to know each other. Doing so develops trust, openness, respect, courage and commitment – many of the values we prize in Scrum and Agile. So here’s an exercise that you might consider: throw a “Bring Your Self to Work” Day. (I’d seen this listed as a topic at an open space, but I wasn’t able to attend, so you’re stuck with my imagination.)

Before you laugh it off and say “don’t we do this every day already?” or roll your eyes at a seemingly trite concept, hear me out. I’m not about to preach being fully invested in being 100% present in your own daily activities (though that’s a noble goal). Rather what I’m proposing is a team-based exercise, whether on-site or off.

In fact, despite the name, you might opt to meet at a restaurant or other non-work location. Holding an event after working hours sounds ideal, but it could be hard to pull off if co-workers have their own family- or commute-based constraints. And given the choice of having the whole team participate vs. a convenient time for most of the team, I’d choose the former.

Here are a few suggestions for pulling this off.

Keep it Social – meeting at the office always carries connotations of work. Heck, even the word “meeting” is so charged that you might consider referring to the gathering by another name. If budgets allow, consider social activities such as bowling or karaoke – making sure, of course, that the activity is something that all are able to take part in. And even if getting out of the office isn’t feasible, try to find a space far enough away from your work area that there aren’t the normal distractions.

Share a Meal – something we all have in common is the need to feed ourselves. Whether you and the team decide to brown bag it out at a picnic table or in a bright conference room (preferably with natural light), or you head to a food court or restaurant, the gesture of “breaking bread” together is powerful and commonly accepted. If you splurge and have food brought in (bonus points if it’s not pizza), odds of participation increase greatly 😉

Start Conversations Small – setting things in motion with a firm demand for all to open themselves up completely is the quickest way to kill the mood. Instead, begin by asking small, basic questions like:

  • what movies are good this season?
  • what was your favorite thing to do as a kid?
  • what was the worst thing about school?
  • hobbies / books / interests / etc.

You can be creative – more creative than I am – but the point is to get people talking about themselves, maybe even laughing with each other. When this happens, we start to find unexpected connections and create or reinforce our bonds.

I’ve done this with just about all my teams, and my favorite questions usually relate to our childhoods. Living on the west coast, I find that these teams are so diverse in terms of where they’re from and when they grew up, so the stories from our early years are always filled with new things to learn. Many remarks of “Oh, I remember that/those!” pepper the conversations, and people really open up and respect others more.

Ask a Keystone Question – if and when the team is comfortable with the conversation, I encourage you to ask a deeper and more meaningful question, something that gets to the heart of your SELF. It doesn’t have to be too deep or serious, but it should allow for each member to see that they’re truly part of a trusting group. Something along the lines of “what’s one thing you have (talent, interest, experience) that you haven’t told anyone at work?”  I’ve heard answers ranging from “I used to sing opera” and “I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal” to much more intimate stories of personal loss or achievement.

Again, the point isn’t to put people on the spot and be too vulnerable, but to show that it’s safe to share with this group, to show a bit of our true selves. You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) force connections and respect, but these connections are meaningful and usually happen as a result of honest and open conversation.

Treat the Team as a Family – after the day is over and we’re back in our work routines, it’s very important to keep these bonds alive. Treat your team as an extended family. You don’t have to bring up the stories that were shared, but try to keep that emotion and connection with your co-workers as often as possible. It enables stronger, more natural collaboration and clearer communication. When appropriate, celebrate individual achievements as a team and help each other out with personal goals by occasionally checking in.

And don’t make this a once-a-year activity. Anytime the team changes adds (or loses) a member, or if the group needs a collective pick-me-up, break out the invitations to another “Bring Your Self to Work” Day.

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