Buses and Lottery Tickets

“Our people are our greatest asset.”

We hear statements like this every day from companies in all industries.  Without people working together toward a common vision, companies would cease to exist.  We need to value our employees, take care of them, and– ultimately– ensure that they are entirely replaceable.

I know! That doesn’t sound like a compassionate thing to say! But I promise, it is.

For a company to survive, it needs to protect itself from all of the calamities that can put it out of business.  The top two that come to mind are buses and lottery tickets.

The optimistic scenario is that your employee wins the lottery and come in to work the next day… to wish you the best before they fly away to their new private island.  The pessimist’s scenario involves a bus coming along and– well, you get the picture. The result is the same for your company.  The person that used to do the work is now gone.

Who is going to do that work?  No one has been trained, the manual was last updated 6 years ago, and HR is bogged down trying to figure out how to remove the typing test from the interview process.

This is preventable chaos!  Not only can we prevent this chaos, but our organization can be stronger by focusing– not on resilient individuals– but on building a resilient system.

There are two practices that can make your organization more resilient against buses and lottery tickets.  Better yet, they can increase productivity and morale  of your team as well.  Let’s talk about both practices…

Pairing

Paring…two people, together, focused on the same problem, at the same time.  As knowledge workers, much of our time is spent “stuck”, trying to work out a solution to a problem.  Insert a problem solving partner and almost instantly, more solution ideas are generated, more learning happens, and often an even better final solution is discovered.

My most memorable pairing experience was with Bill Jones as we developed a new-hire program for recently graduated software developers (stay tuned for a future blog post on this topic).  Not only were Bill and I developing this new program, but we were also experimenting as paired managers, with each employee reporting to both of us. I can honestly say that the program I had in mind before we paired, and the program that was actually implemented were drastically different.  And the one we implemented as a pair was drastically better!

After the initial implementation, we continued our paired management experiment for over a year.  Then the winds of change started blowing, and I found another job in the organization: the proverbial lottery ticket!  How disruptive was it to the team, the new hires, or Bill?  Not very…because Bill knew everything I knew.  From the deep design of the program to the deliverables needed for next week’s meeting.  The lottery ticket risk was successfully mitigated!

So Bill and I both saw an increase in productivity (the speed and quality of work increased dramatically), but what about morale? During that phase of life, Bill was by far my best friend at work.  It was certainly a highlight in my career for many of the reasons pointed out in Why We Need Best Friends at Work, an article by Annamarie Mann.  I’m not saying that every time you pair you will get a best friend, but the probability certainly goes up! Pairing allows employees to form deeper connections with their pair partner, increases the speed of problem solving (no more sitting alone, trying to think of an answer), and decreases stress levels for the pair.

Ceremony

In addition to pairing, using ceremonies throughout your organization can increase the company’s resilience. Tom Meloche and Kyle Aretae give us four questions/criteria for a ceremony in their book “Ceremony: A Profound New Method for Achieving Successful and Sustainable Change“.

  1. What was the purpose of this activity?
  2. Did this activity accomplish its purpose?
  3. Was it worth the sacrifice (Time/$/Opportunity Cost)?
  4. How good is your emotional state at the end?

1-3 are answered on a fist-of-5 scale.   #3 is most important.

Ceremonies can be large like a company-wide annual planning session, or small like a daily stand-up. But they all share these four traits. People gather together regularly and accomplish work. The participants feel better afterwards, and think their time was well spent.

By creating ceremonies, we make work more self-sustaining, beneficial, and efficient.  Everyone knows their role and– more importantly– the role of others in the ceremony.  They fully understand the rituals of the ceremony and what the end result should be.

So if we create good ceremonies to accomplish our work, any time a new person comes into our team, they participate in the ceremonies and learn from the group.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do!  People come and people go, but the ceremony stays and the team maintains the consistency to enable ease of learning and working, no matter how new the team members are. You no longer need to create new-hire training for processes and procedures. The ceremonies are the training.

So when Bob picks six PLUS the powerball, the ceremony will continue, as will the work.

By the definition presented in the book, any ceremony should provide positive emotional energy, and if it doesn’t, alter the ceremony!  When teams have effective ceremonies, they are more aligned to a common goal and have a higher sense of “team” which drives higher morale.  (Side note – if you were to ask Tom and Kyle, they would say pairing is a ceremony…and likely the most important and effective one).

Conclusion

The people truly are the engine for any organization.  Organizations should do everything they can to build an environment for them to flourish.  But change is constant and when a change can cause work delays, knowledge gaps, or loss of revenue, an organization should find ways to mitigate the risk.  Begin pairing and build great ceremonies, and worry less about losing your biggest asset to the buses and lottery tickets.

If you have any examples of pairing or ceremony, please share in the comments so others can learn from your experience.  Or, if you have a topic you would like me to discuss in a future blog post or want to discuss these or other topics further, comment below or you can email me at Matt@EngagedAgility.com.

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