This past weekend we had the joy of keeping our 9-year-old grandson. As part of our weekend adventures, we made the highly anticipated dinner stop at a local McDonalds – the one with a great outdoor playground, of course! As we sat watching our grandson participate in a version of extreme tag with the other youngsters who were there, I suddenly realized they had morphed their game into a rather sophisticated “Cops & Robbers” game, with some pretty intricate rules, specific locations for safe base, jail, etc., and clearly identified roles for the players. I was even more amazed to notice that, as new children arrived on the scene, they were quickly and easily integrated into the game. Somehow it seemed the rules and roles were instantly telecommunicated to the newcomers!
As I watched this diverse group of children create such a perfect activity with no adult intervention (other than an occasional warning not to climb on the equipment rails!), it struck me that we can learn a lot from youngsters at play related to employee engagement at work. Here are my five biggest take-aways I invite you to consider integrating into your leadership style as you build an environment conducive to engagement and commitment:
1. Let the rules of the game emerge in process. It was amusing to watch the style of communication that the children used to set up their game. They jumped right in and yelled out an idea, which was either instantly incorporated, enhanced, or ignored. There wasn’t a lot of debating back and forth. The rules emerged as the play continued, and no none seemed to care whose ideas were accepted. It was all about the game!
2. Let the team deal with disenchanted players. Anyone who didn’t support a rule that was generally accepted by the team was simply folded into the game anyway, and before long they were back on board! There was so much activity and commitment, there wasn’t any space for pouting or fighting. Not once did a parent have to jump in to resolve an issue.
3. Bring new players on board quickly, and get them actively involved. I was in awe at the ability these youngsters had to include whoever happened to show up. The game didn’t stop while they explained the rules. Instead, they quickly asked what role the newbies wanted to be (i.e., DO you want to be a cop or a robber?). Without thinking, the new player would instantly choose one, and they were integrated into the play. They figured out the rules as they went along. (Note: Me, the adult on the sidelines, was worried that the newcomers would feel left out or might need some instruction about the game to feel like they were a part of it. But no worries! These kids did not need any hand-holding! They were part of the team in no time! Imagine if we could do that in the workplace!)
4. Honor your natural leaders. It became obvious very quickly that some of the children were just natural leaders. IT wasn’t because there was a vote about who would be in charge … and it wasn’t the result of bullying or fighting. Some just naturally rose to that role, and were accepted by the others. And the leadership shifted for different segments of the game.
5. Celebrate when the game is over! As with everything, there came a time when we had to go home. But just like the rest of this magical evening, the wrap-up seemed to come at about the same time for lot of the children playing. As we gathered up our trash and rounded up our grandson to leave, we noticed the children all cheer that the cops and robbers had all successfully completed the game and had fun together. Lots of cheering, laughing, and high-fiving before we left for home.
Obviously children don’t always play this perfectly together, just as teams don’t always gel immediately. But imagine what would happen if we incorporated these ideas, and allowed our high performers and highly engaged employees to emerge as our greatest supporters. What kind of incredible results might your teams enjoy?