Boots,  Highheels

What social work on sunday morning at 6am taught me

It is early sunday morning. Cold. Dark. Rainy. The group of people meets to work together for a few hours for a social cause. ‘How is the energy level’, the leader of the group asks and smiles into the tired faces. You can call a 5 on a 10 scale a good average. One person puts it quite nicely: “Now I am a 5, put I am here because I know that at the end of our session, I will be a 10.

Four hours and a lot of work later, the group gathers for the wrap up. Everyone smiles and is happy. The work ran smoothly, there was time to chat and all tasks were accomplished. Despite some tiredness, everyone leaves with the deep feeling of belonging, gratitude and fulfilment. They all contributed to something that it bigger than each one could achieve alone.

Every time I work with this team, I am amazed how much is possible. These are people who get up at 5am to do a work in addition to their day-to-day jobs without getting payed. There is something in us human beings that wants to be part of a team, a cause or however you want to call it, that can not be converted into a salary.

One team member mentioned an incident at work: he was on vacation, the boss called and asked whether he could come in and work due to an unplanned urgency. And the team member said ‘no’. He justified himself by saying how bad the atmosphere at work was, how much pressure and hatred was spread by the bosses that he would never consider walking any additional step for them. But the very same person gets up at 5am to do social work on a sunday morning unpaid. I am wondering, whether his boss is aware of what potential lies in his employee, if he was just willing to value the contribution of everyone.

As a leader of a team, it is your responsibility to create an atmosphere where people can grow, contribute and thrive. How this looks like for your team might be very different from other teams. Let’s be clear: you need to be the first one who sets the tone. You need to be the one smiling at people at 6am on a sunday morning – and you need to live with the energy level 5. You work with whatever your team brings to work. That is the starting point. And from there you are creating the working environment that you would like to have.

Here is an example: If you want an environment where people can learn from mistakes and are open about it, you are the one who stays professional even if your employee is doing something false or ‘stupid’ in your point of view. You ask why this happened and you give feedback what you would like to see differently and why. This requires you to keep your ego in check because it might be tempting to show your employee how stupid you think he is. Even if you feel entitled to act like a jerk, you refrain from it because you want to model a different environment.

Creating a working environment where people can grow, will cost you a lot. You need to model a behavior when no one is following. But the reward is amazing and worth the journey. Once your team gets to know your style, starts growing and thriving in their skills, they are willing and happy to walk the extra mile. They will even leave work with an energy level 10 although they have started out at level 5. And this is when you go home smiling, too.

Questions to think about: What are the key elements of the working environment you want to create? How are these elements visible to others? What can you do today to shape your working environment?

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