Workplace culture is doomed to fail if it cannot convey a genuine sense of belongingness. When creating communities of connection, leaders must know how to lead with a heart. Erin Hyder, Assistant City Manager at the City of Durango, talks about building people-centric communities where each person can showcase their authentic self and feel accepted. She explains how to motivate different departments to work together efficiently and solve the biggest workplace culture issues. Erin also breaks down the benefits of using even the silliest icebreakers to nurture relationships among team members.
Welcome, everyone. We enjoy having you here with us at the show. This is the place where we engage, energize, and elevate your employees and your companies. Be it that you are an employee at a company, a leader or an HR professional, this is the place you come to talk about new and progressive people strategy forums and processes.
I’m here to introduce my team. I’m Char Miller. I’m a people strategist. I have many years of traditional HR talent management strategy background. I’ve also had the pleasure of running my business and coaching businesses. I utilize a lot of my people strategy forums. Joining me we have Wendy Graham. Wendy, you are a people strategist too more in the learning, development, and talent management space. Welcome.
Thank you for having me.
We have Howard Nizewitz, a rewards and system strategist, joining us all the way from New York. He’s an incredible mind and a genius when it comes to compensation and total rewards. Sam Reeve is a reward strategist as well. He’s also the Founder, Owner, and CEO of CompTeam, who has been the champion in sponsoring all of these events for many years now, going on to several.
Welcome, everyone. I’m excited that we have as our expert contributor, Erin Hyder. She’s the Assistant City Manager of the city of Durango. We have three of us from Durango, which is Wendy, Erin, and Sam. Erin, we are excited that you are a strategic leader and a very progressive human resources and business leadership in both the private and public sectors. You are a Culture Champion and a black belt-trained process improvement professional.
What I’m excited about most of all, and everyone that has heard me, is that you are going to be talking about leading with a heart, which is my passion. Everybody has known I’m all about HR with a heart. What you are here to talk with us about is creating communities of connection and how we create these types of cultures. Erin, would you like to introduce yourself? I would love to hear about the summit that you’ve gone to. How are you?
I’m doing well. It’s a great day here in Durango. I was thinking about my two teenage girls. If they even knew that someone labeled me as an expert at anything, they would probably be laughing at whatever they were doing. I can let them know that somebody thinks that I’m an expert at something. To them, I’m just an Uber driver but for the rest of my life, here’s a little bit about me. I have been here in Durango for twenty-plus years. I’m the Assistant City Manager for the City of Durango.
My previous experience has all been in leaving the people to function or providing support in a people-centric space throughout my roles in my career. I spent twenty-plus years in the ski industry. I had a brief adult internship in the global payment processing world, which was a great opportunity to do something different than the ski industry. I’ve moved into the municipality space and enjoyed the mixture of seeing how things worked differently in the public and private space but also how they work very similarly, especially with people.
My promotion to Assistant City Manager is recent. In that summit I referenced, I appreciate our city manager’s appreciation for highlighting and elevating the people’s path and experience that comes from leading people that I bring to the table as a complimentary in an elevated space of leadership for our whole organization. I don’t always have to come down the same path that we all expect to see in whatever space we come in. I’m grateful for that.
You come from a variety of diverse industries. You are an outdoor enthusiast, and so forth. I would love to hear two things. What has been your experience of being in HR and these different types of industries like outdoor sports and more of the laced-up financial industry of payments? It seems to be significantly different cultures but before we get there, what types of outdoor sports do you participate there in Durango?
I’m a big trail runner, admittedly. I prefer ultra-distances. I got into that because it was my way of escaping hearing, “Mom.” My whole theory around that is, “If I’m 15 miles away from the house, I can’t hear somebody asking for something that they could do for themselves.” I probably could have found something else to get into to avoid hearing that all the time but that became my escape to have some time for myself.
I love to ski. We are big boat people. We love to raft. We like to mountain bike. In everyday life, I’m unfortunately a pretty competitive rec game participant. If you want to have a corn hole tournament, if we are going to play ping-pong or horse, unfortunately, it has pros and cons. I’m there to win at some game that doesn’t have a whole lot of material impact on the world.
Tell us about your experience working in HR in these different industries. How is it different from working in the financial industry, outdoor sports, and municipalities? What is the core thing that you are seeing that’s different from your experience?
If I could pinpoint a difference in each different space, folks lead with what they know is the commonly held truth. If you’ve only ever worked in municipalities, you are used to it operating very one way. We operate within this box. The financial payment space is a little bit like that too but their box looks different. In the recreation and hospitality industry, the people working in the space depend on what level because it provides a diverse level of opportunities or jobs that are available to folks. You get folks that it’s their first job or are there for their affinity for whatever is in that space.
Working in the ski industry a lot of folks wanted to work there because they had an affinity for skiing. They weren’t necessarily there to make a career but on the other end of the spectrum of working with folks in that space, you do have the folks that it is their career. Being able to target your people strategies that address a diverse range of people’s needs at different parts of their career paths was the biggest difference.
The other ones are very much more in that seasonal aspect. That workspace does add a little bit different approach than a full-time year-round, “I go to work. This is my job for however long or forever.” Folks have different expectations of the support that goes along with it. I will say the similarities in all those spaces because that’s important, ultimately regardless of what industry you work in, what I have found is that people want to be seen, heard, and valued. That is similarity across all spaces.
That’s part of all of this. What we are going to be talking about is building those internal communities, the sense of belonging, and so forth that companies can provide. People are looking for it nowadays, especially after being isolated for several years in the crazy environment we had in the past few years. Connection is something that we are all looking for. You were a speaker at the local development summit.
I had a great opportunity. The La Plata County Economic Development Alliance hosts an annual summit every year. The theme each year shifts. In the last couple of years, I have been impressed with Mike French, the Executive Director, their team, and their focus on highlighting the power of people, how we leverage our people to achieve business achievements, how we build our businesses and grow our businesses, particularly here in the region, and how important the people are. The themes have been very people-centric.
I partnered up with Suzanne Phare, who is a leadership coach and facilitator with Real Ideal Coaching. We hosted a breakout session. I can’t remember the title of it exactly but it was like, “How do you leverage your culture to retain and recruit top talent? How are you combating the key reasons associated with the Great Resignation?” It’s a powerful conversation. It’s timely and relevant to what we are seeing in the workplace.
It’s one of the conversations I have been having a lot with clients because they are seeing a lot of pressure as far as pay across different industries. They are trying to keep up with it all. There’s looming inflation and a potential slowdown in the economy and certain industries and so forth. They are saying, “We have taken all we can take. We cannot keep up with these crazy offers that people are asking for in the marketplace. What else can we do?” That brings it into working on that employee value proposition, workforce experience, and how to establish that. In the breakout session that you went through, what were the key points?
I would love to chat about it more. We had a couple of great sources that we leveraged in those conversations. Dr. Donald Sull and Charlie Sull are father and son. They are researchers. They published a white paper through the Sloan Management Business Review. A lot of this is referenced. That’s a great source. What we talked a lot about is if you could identify the key reasons people indicated as to why they left their jobs during the Great Resignation or the Great Reassessment.
I heard compensation but compensation is in the top ten. It’s not in the top five. What we went over is what are the top reasons why people are leaving the organization that they are in. Culture is by far the number one indicator. They referenced it. It’s 10.4 times more powerful as an indicator than compensation to indicate attrition.Culture is the number one indicator of why people leave their organizations Click To Tweet
If we have culture, then we can go into what the components of culture are like high levels of innovation in organizations that have so much innovation. Although a lot of us are attracted to work for organizations that have innovation once we get into it, what it feels like to have the pressure of innovation, the constant changing of priorities, and the work-life balance associated with it. The lack of recognition or holding people accountable for not doing their job.
Folks indicated purely even the response to COVID and what was their company’s response to COVID. How they were treated, particularly in that timeframe, was one of their key reasons for leaving. We acknowledge the culture, particularly the toxic culture. Sometimes we have to talk about culture in the inverse because, for a lot of us, that’s resonating. You can almost identify what it feels like in a toxic culture to work backward. When we talk about culture and how critical it is, the five components that drive culture are things that you would expect like inclusion, respect, integrity, and ethical organizations.
What’s interesting is when we talk about siloing between departments, teams or people where it moves from normal siloing to where people, teams or departments are intentionally trained to harm another department or a cutthroat environment, so you can’t get something done. Finally, there’s poor management. We all have heard the saying, “People don’t leave companies. They leave bad bosses, poor managers or leadership.”
When we think about those things, what I find powerful when I reflect on them is the description of the key components of culture. To me, that’s what it feels like. They all inflict a very emotional response to what it feels like if it’s not inclusive, if you are not respected or if somebody is not doing what they say they are going to do. Sometimes we think about workplace culture, work-life balance, performance management or career opportunities.
Those, to me, are all very much the what but when I think about culture and what creates a toxic culture, it’s the how, what it feels like once we are in it, and why we don’t want to stay in it. We all have those things at work but probably not in your CompTeam world. Maybe things at work are annoying but it’s when it moves from annoying to where it is so unmanageable that it becomes that toxic nature, and then somebody chooses to leave that environment. We talked a lot about the cultural aspect.
To your point, as organizations, we have two different paths that have to be addressed concurrently. There’s our system’s path, “Are we competitive? Is our structure defined? Is how we operate defined?” That’s, to me, a system. The other path is our culture. We can’t wait to address all of our systems things and then address our culture because if somebody joins our team and they get into our system but our culture sucks, they are not going to say it. We are going to repeat the cycle of churning through people. This is something so quantitative. It has a quantitative outcome that we have to put as much focus and attention on our culture and how we do things as we do with the systems in our framework.
I hear a lot of times too that people are like, “It doesn’t matter how cool it is to work for us because if I don’t pay them, they are not coming anyway.” We are very much in a point-in-time problem. Long-term, we have to be addressing both. Culture is not ping-pong tables or pet insurance. It’s those things we talked about. It’s inclusion, respect, and ethical inter-departmental cooperation. It’s effective people leaders, not effective task managers.
I had a unique opportunity. I would like to share a quick story because we learned it’s good to tell stories. I was hired by a majorly known organization to be a transplant in the HR department because they were having a problem working with the IT department. It was eye-opening out of all my 25-plus years of working in HR and talent management, to see exactly what you were talking about. A big-system project needed to be rolled out. A big system impacted every employee in the organization but they had a roadblock because of the cultural differences between the two departments.
I found out that it wasn’t my “lack of IT experience” the reason why they brought me into that organization. It was to identify culturally what was going on. Ultimately, people felt threatened because there were shadow positions in both departments doing the same job. There was an aspect of new positions being created to do what other people in other departments already do.
I noticed that sometimes some companies hire tons of project managers because the two departments can’t work together. Project managers are liaisons to try to help departments work better together. We would end up with 200 project managers across the organization, which is such a waste of resources and everything. It’s serious business. Major system projects can’t move forward if we have this cultural issue going on, sabotage or whatever you want to call it culturally, between the two departments. You hit the nail on the head with that, Erin.
I have witnessed dynamically different business outcomes that you’ve seen come from a team that’s united and has a sense of purpose and a bomb culture versus a team whose culture has bombed. It’s the exact inverse. You can see exactly the difference in a lot of those key pieces. You mentioned a lot of those things like trust. Is the focus on the sense of self or their sense of team? Are they not trusting that person or the shadowing people because of their lack of capability or integrity? Ability, to me does not mean popularity but instead a cultural fit. Do they align with cultural values? Those are all key components.
If two senior leaders can’t communicate and have respect for one another at the top, it is going to ripple all the way through. Employees are very smart. They know. They can see if there’s an issue or a personality conflict with the senior leader, the VP of this area, and the VP of another area. If there’s a cultural conflict between those, it’s going to ripple throughout your whole organization.
When you talk about leadership and when we are leaving teams, pockets of toxicity are directly correlated with the leadership associated with the teams. In whatever level of leadership that we are in, what we tolerate, we advocate. Whatever we allow to continue to happen and what we are demonstrating for others is what’s going to be demonstrated as, “This is the acceptable way of how we do things.” When you tie that back to poor management as a key indicator of a driver of culture, we know how powerful our influence as leaders is on our team and our organization. It’s powerful. We could talk about this topic probably for a couple of days but I don’t know if we have that much time.
I was talking to a biology person once. They described to me, “A company is like the human body. Every single organ in that body has a function. Every single cell in that body has a function and everything in between.” If one aspect of that body is ill, it’s going to impact the entire body. That’s why each area needs to be looked at from a healthy standpoint. It’s all about the heart in the middle of it all because every organization is an actual human being, I know every single department’s culture is.
In the story you shared, the heart is the connector across all the different functionalities of the system. When I think about the components that I described and that were highlighted in that study, it’s the inflicted an emotional response but when you look at it from a much bigger topic, we are talking about how well people feel like they belong and how powerful the sense of belonging is.
Most of us join an organization or a team because we want to be part of something bigger but at the same time, by doing so, we don’t want to lose our individuality or be recognized for either our individual contributions or our perspective that is different and should be different. How many billions of individuals we have on our planet, we have the same amount of individual perspectives, experiences, and what we bring to the table.
The powerfulness of the sense of belonging is how we ensure that you get to be you and that you are part of a group but when you are part of a group, you don’t have to check yourself at the door. If you show up as yourself, there’s no fear that you are going to be kicked off the island. Belonging is that you are not like everybody else but instead, you get to be yourself. There’s an acceptance to it. There’s no risk of not being part of the group anymore because you are yourself or you show up as yourself. The whole concept and discussion around belonging, how we create a sense of belonging, and how important inclusion, respect, and integrity all flow into that bigger topic.Belonging is being yourself without the risk of not being part of a group anymore. Click To Tweet
With all these different things that you are talking about, the heart is the center of the organism overall. One of the pieces that we need to do to create an organization with connection is to feel safe and so forth. How do we go about doing that in an organization, making people feel safe as a way of being part of that community?
You mentioned safety. A lot of people want to know what’s the secret sauce to a high-performing and engaged culture. It’s psychological safety. How do you get to be yourself and feel safe in that space to do so? If we delve into connection, how do we feel connected to others? Connection, to me, is the best engagement strategy that there is. Once again, we are facilitating and creating opportunities for a connection. We are accelerating trust and building rapport among people that may not necessarily have regular interactions with each other.
It does create that safety across cross-functional teams, cross-department teams, or folks that you wouldn’t normally or necessarily engage with. That’s what we talk about a lot. It’s recognizing all those things. These are topics that are all messing with each other. What we talk about a lot here and what I talk about is how we are, as leaders, actively participating and facilitating opportunities to create communities of connection.
How do we do that? What does that look like? It can show up in many different ways depending on your team and what’s most meaningful for your group. It’s important to recognize too that sending somebody an anniversary card or taking an individual out for an anniversary lunch for their work anniversary might not be as meaningful as how we have a social event where everybody is involved. We have to respect that people also want to feel connected to people in different ways.
Having an arsenal of different ways of creating communities connection is important too. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. If we try to approach people with a blanket approach, we all recognize that it doesn’t necessarily work. Taking that step of finding out what’s meaningful and what motivates groups of people or individuals themselves is when you say, “How do I do this?” That’s what we have to do. We have to make it targeted.
In our organization here, we have tried a couple of different things. We do a couple of different things to create those communities of connection. If you talk about hosting Zoom meetings or even regularly scheduled agenda meetings, how do you make those feel like you don’t get people in? We are here to do our business and get out the door. How do we recognize, acknowledge, and accept the full humans coming to the meeting, not just the work humans?
A tool that we have given out and encouraged our folks to use, and I use it, is this. On Zoom meetings, we all start a meeting with a silly question. It doesn’t have to be silly but it’s like, “Wendy, we are going to talk about everybody’s favorite type of ice cream.” Wendy is going to tell me that she likes avocado lime sorbet. I’m going to tell her, “That’s gross but I respect that. Instead, I like peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.”
We use a tactic to start the meeting with a human aspect. We get to have that connection. Maybe I will see Wendy down the street, and I will be like, “Are you getting your avocado lime ice cream?” You are creating conversation. You can jump into the work. It allows us to ground ourselves a little bit as humans before we jump into the work. That’s a way to do it, especially in this space where a lot of folks still have a hybrid work environment. We have a remote work environment.
The city is operating very much in person with a lot of our meetings. It’s important to still at least start with something beyond, “Agenda one, we are going to achieve this.” That’s a powerful way. You are creating a conversation. It allows people to show up as themselves. Even though I don’t like avocado lime ice cream, I’m not going to vote her off the island. I’m going to acknowledge it. We can have some banter back and forth about it. Wendy, I don’t know if you like avocado-lime ice cream or not.
Wendy, I know that you have a lot of these types of icebreakers too that you use in your meetings.
I use a free tool called Mentimeter. There are lots of other great ones like Poll Everywhere. There are lots of these free tools. You can use them to have a conversation, especially if you are in person. It could be related or it could not be related but to Erin’s point, it’s first of all, a way to clear the slate. Whatever you’ve come from, now you are fresh. You are connected. This is when we talk about cross meridian getting our right brains and left brains to sink up to the moment and not be thinking about what happened, worrying about what’s going to happen, or thinking about, “What are we going to fix for dinner?”
It brings you into the moment. It has the effect of getting to know someone on the team, getting to know each other, and building a little rapport. If I come and leave my personal self over there or behind the curtain, it’s like unzipping a little bit. It’s building a little bit of trust. Hopefully, they don’t heckle me too much for eating avocado lime sorbet. I haven’t tried that but I will probably love it because avocados are nature’s miracles. That’s my vote. I love lime and lemon. How could I not like that?
That’s powerful. Brené Brown, in her book, Atlas of the Heart, talks a lot about connection. She talks about what you can learn about people that you wouldn’t learn by showing up to a staff meeting. What would I know about you? How do we create those opportunities to get to know about you and what you are willing to share that’s appropriate? That’s creating a connection. How do we get beyond the work surface of the human and get to know the human?
Here’s another powerful thing we did back in the summer of 2020. I was still in the ski industry. Regardless of your position, you probably have some affinity for being outdoors, you have a passion or you are not used to wanting to be stuck at your desk in front of a computer screen all the time. It’s recognizing that there was this appetite for some connection beyond computer screens and balancing a safety perspective and people’s comfortability for a meeting.
I hosted Coffee in the Parks. They were all small groups. I probably should have had a permit because that was in the parks but don’t tell anybody. There were five people. The first people were like, “What is this Coffee in the Park thing?” There was no agenda. It was a way that we could meet outside. I would bring coffee, and then we would chat. It would draw folks.
It was intentional to ask people from different departments to come. It was powerful not to have an agenda because it forced general conversation and connection. We could also learn what each department was doing, what obstacles they were facing, particularly as we were responding to the pandemic, and what they found success in. People got to relate. I didn’t even have to drive the conversation. I happened to be there. If the conversation got stuck, I could move it along.
It was a way, an outlet, and a venue for people to connect because they were looking for that way to connect but not necessarily on a focused item. That was something we did that worked well then. I still host those here for the city. We have almost 400 full-time employees here in the city. It’s a way for me to get to have great conversations with folks that I don’t generally get to interact with on a daily basis. I get to hear different perspectives. I keep them small. That’s how I like it because then you can have a more meaningful conversation around it.
Can you dive a little bit more deeply? I would love to hear how those start out. When you are creating this event in the park, and so forth, I would be thinking, “Are we going to show up there and let it flow?” What’s your way of getting it going?
As the facilitator, there are two pieces here. In communication, you have to give enough guardrails so that people have an idea of what this could be like. I had to say, “There’s no agenda. I’m not here to be a complaint center.” That’s what I mean. I’m there to solicit feedback but I had to frame it, “This isn’t a complaint session. I will answer your questions if you don’t have a way to connect with leadership throughout the organization. I’m happy to answer your questions and point you in the direction. We can talk about the weather if you want.” Outlining what the expectation is upfront has worked well.
At first, it took a couple of times for folks to be like, “What is this?” and to sign up but then at the end, I always ask them, “If you found this beneficial, please go ahead and share with other folks within your team, so when these invites come up, they would want to sign up for them.” We had one. I like to take advantage of the nice long seasons we have of beautiful Durango weather when we can be outside even now. We had a mixed group. We had someone from the library, parking, utilities, community development, and then engineering. Talk about a diverse group that could be in that setting.
We started it off by talking about the queen. My youngest daughter’s name is Lunch Pie. Lunch Pie is pissed about Charles being the new queen. Sarah is on our parking team. She’s originally from Britain. The conversation evolved. Sometimes it’s leading with something that I’m willing to throw out there. The conversation starts once people also get more comfortable with the conversation. What I find almost always is that about halfway through, people become more comfortable. They belong.
I started with the queen, who I know nothing about but it connected with someone. The conversation evolved and snowballed a little bit by halfway through. What I see a pattern of is that people are more comfortable with either asking a question about an initiative or maybe they have a question about a people’s decision that’s organizational-wide. They were like, “Should I ask this? Should I not ask this? Am I comfortable to do so?”People within an organization are more comfortable asking questions about an initiative or an organizational-wide decision. Click To Tweet
It creates an environment where people feel like it’s safe to have those conversations and talk about the things that folks are talking about back in the departments. They can ask right there even if they were scared to in the first place. Some people show up with lists. There’s no doubt. That’s great too because then we can be like, “This is awesome. We’ve got a list.” It takes a little bit of work. It goes back to how you are intentionally and actively engaging and facilitating the community which you want to see.
I’m going to pick on Wendy. We had a team building where our colleague Becca coordinated the botanical garden. We all were outside. Wendy and I got a chance to partner up. I’m going to pick on you, Wendy, because it was all about looking. It was a scavenger hunt. Wendy and I were tripping off in the botanical gardens. We are looking for all these flowers, plants, trees, and sculptures.
I don’t know Wendy that well. We worked together at CompTeam but it’s not like we hung out a lot in the park together or anything. I looked over at Wendy. She’s like, “We found this and that. Don’t look it up on Google because that’s not following the rules.” I finally said, “Wendy, I’ve realized you are the competitive one, and I’m not. I’m the one that wants to walk around, smell the flowers, and socialize a little bit. I don’t care about this list. You are the one that wants to get everything checked off the list.”
I have been told that I’m selectively competitive. That means I’m selectively competitive about dance. Don’t even take me on in a dance competition because I will win. Apparently, I’m good at scavenger hunts. I have been working on my application for this TV show called The Amazing Race. You go around the world. It’s a giant scavenger hunt around the world. I’m putting that out there in case the producers of that show want to skip the application process and pick me because, for some reason, I’m competitive about scavenger hunts.
My third point in defense of myself is that I felt like Becca had done so much work to put this amazing scavenger hunt together, bring our team together, and explore this beautiful garden. That’s also one of our clients. It’s a cool way for us to get to know our clients on a deeper level and what they do and gets even more passionate about them. I felt this pressure to take it seriously because this is her passion, plants. Her passion also is building our team. In defense, I didn’t want to come back and be like, “We didn’t do it.”
Did you notice Wendy at the end that she didn’t even announce the winner?
I didn’t care about being a winner but I wanted to at least show that we tried. The truth is that if we had a walk around the park and gotten to know each other, that would have been successful. That would have been the whole purpose of it. I felt like it would have also mattered to her that we cared about the questions and stuff like that. That’s all I can say in defense of myself.
Another thing that’s important that you mentioned, Wendy, is that when we get connected to our colleagues, we start caring about their personal initiatives. Flowers were important for Becca. Howard is a great lover of music and so forth. These things are important. They bring color and fun to the workplace.
That’s key. Personally, I like to have fun. At work, there should be some aspect of fun or enjoyment. Making things fun is simple too. I have a whole list of different ways that are anything from formal to informal ways of how we create communities of connection. If I were sitting here and thinking, “I want to do this but I don’t know how I can do it,” it doesn’t have to be complex.
Start simple, even by starting with a question at the beginning of a meeting. Your team could write a card to somebody when there’s a meaningful anniversary or event happening and extend a genuine and authentic personal appreciation and acknowledgment for a person. You are creating a community connection right there. You could be one-on-one. It doesn’t have to be a larger group.Community connection can be created even by extending genuine appreciation and acknowledgement on a personal level. Click To Tweet
That’s a big takeaway. It doesn’t have to be super formalized. It doesn’t have to be an organization-wide recognition program. Communities of connections are not recognition programs. They are how we are engaging with our team and making sure that we have this sense of belonging. That’s going to leverage our workplace culture, what people stay for, and what they want to come for too.
I want to jump in because this is so important. One of the things we do here at CompTeam is use a tool called TMA. It has an assessment piece. People know StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs, and Predictive Index. There’s a wide variety. It’s not just an assessment tool. This is a big event for somebody who does not get their energy from big events. That does not feel good. That’s the opposite of feeling part of a community. That feels like I’m being pressured to do something that gives me anxiety.
We think about how people naturally prefer to operate. Some people prefer one-on-one or a small group and that thing. It’s an important thing that you are saying because we also need to know our audience. We need to know what motivates them and how they want to participate in the community. There’s the pressure to do something after work. We don’t know what’s going on with them, their home life, and their family.
It’s being able to find times at work. Maybe it’s too stressful for them to have it happen during work because that’s their work time. Maybe they want it outside of work. Everybody has different things. A couple of things that popped up for me as you were talking is that you are connecting with lots of different people in lots of different areas that you don’t normally interact with to try to hear from them. What do they want? What do they need?
It’s knowing our people and genuinely caring about them. It was the perfect project for Becca. She cares about team building, plans, and our clients. It was an amazing combination for her. It was a shining moment for her to be given the opportunity to create that scavenger hunt, bring our team together, and organize that. Finding that little nugget with each of these people and where they can shine is so great.
How do we leverage our folks’ gifts? All of our gifts come and look a different way. When we talk about hosting events, maybe not everybody wants to be part of a large group. They don’t necessarily want to be on display. They won’t have an active part. How do we create other tasks involved with that larger group where we can then leverage other people’s gifts?
Let me give you an example. A long time ago at the ski area, we tried to have a social event in the middle of the day during the off seasons or the shoulder seasons as a way for everybody to gather but I didn’t want to cater food and cook food for 150 people. We came up with this idea. We were going to host a chili cook-off. The gathering was set. It’s a way to get around cooking the food. We need at least ten people to sign up to submit their chilies. We paid for all the ingredients.
We had a team that was going to cook. That was their gift. They enjoyed the competitiveness and having their name known. We needed a team to sign up to be judges. They were good at eating all the different kinds of chili, which sounded brave to me because I’m not going to eat ten different kinds of chili. We needed a team of judges. We needed a small team that was good at organizing the event.
You talk about the folks that are like, “I want to be in the middle of a group but I want to have a piece. I want to be involved and have a piece of that event.” We could leverage their gifts of organizing the back of the house, communicating, and creating. We had scorecards. That involved a pretty diverse group of folks in a larger gathering without everybody feeling like they have to be social or show up in a way that’s not necessarily aligning with who they are.
I’m not there anymore but I’m pretty sure they have the annual chili cook-off every year still. Somebody was in charge of going to the thrift store and finding a trophy that they can turn into a cheesy trophy that gets passed along every year. The intention was, “How do I get out of having to put this on myself as an obligation to a social event?” Years later, it’s still an ongoing fall tradition for the ski corp up there or for that team in particular.
That’s a little bit more organized but we were going to try it. If it didn’t work, that’s cool. We are not going to do it next year. That’s the other piece of this. You have to be willing to try things. Not all of them are going to work. Some of them are going to flop but sometimes there’s fun in the flop. You have a piece of connection that you can all talk about, hold onto, and laugh about. Wendy, to your point, it’s the variety. It depends on what works for the team.
We used to do some silly stuff too in financial services in a very stressful environment. We would have these silly contests and invite the whole HR department to participate. One was moving M&M’s from one plate to another plate using a straw. Whoever moved the most M&M’s won. We do fundraisings like bake-off contests. We had a pastry chef from one of the New York City restaurants come in to do the judging. We sold the bake to the whole company, raised money, and donated it to a charity. There are a lot of interesting and fun things that you can do.
When it starts to work is when people see the benefit of a better business outcome from the connection they have created with their teammates or their cross-departmental teammates. We can highlight how these aren’t fluffy things we do to make work fun. It’s not something new we do. It’s what we do.
You are building different kinds of relationships.
When there’s a stressful situation or a difficult project, you can highlight how well the team came together based on the teamwork and the connection that has already been built. The foundation has already been built. You could leverage that when the situation requires it. You weren’t trying to do it in a stressful situation. Instead, you had that foundation to build upon.
This has been a great conversation, Erin. If people want to get ahold of you and learn more about creating these cohesive communities, how can they get ahold of you?
I know that you are an avid reader. You have a couple of books on the shelf that you are looking at. What are you reading?
I like Ultra Running Magazine on a personal level because if I could absorb the capabilities and the skills through osmosis of becoming a better ultra-runner, that’s my goal. It hasn’t worked out quite yet because it seems like you have to do the work to make that happen. In preparation for the summit, the theme of the summit was called Leading With Heart. The keynote speaker at the end of the day was Edward Sullivan, who is one of the authors along with John Baird. It’s called Leading With Heart by John Baird and Edward Sullivan.
I read that in preparation for the summit to ensure we are aligned with the discussion. I found it powerful. They outlined five different conversations we should be having either with ourselves or others to unlock the culture and results of our teams through a people-centric approach. I highly recommend it. The things that they have to say in there are pretty powerful. There are lots of great tools in there too for creating connections throughout our teams.
Thank you so much for sharing that and sharing your wisdom. It has been a great conversation of learning how to be more cohesive as an organization and developing those communities internally. Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me. I’m also going to have my teenage kids hear that I have some wisdom.
That’s a good plan. Thank you, everyone.
Erin Hyder is a strategic leader with over 15 years of progressive human resources and business leadership experience in varying, complex workforce environments in both private and public sectors.
She is a Culture Champion and Black Belt trained process improvement professional driving a high-performing workforce with a high degree of business savvy and financial acumen, alongside a passion for mountain activities and an outdoor lifestyle.