Not long ago, my colleague Cynthia created an engaging moment out of what could have been an ordinary meeting—one that helped build long-lasting relationships at work.
Cynthia leads our brand and communications department, so she planned a gathering to showcase a storyline and script that would be used to promote our business. We walked into the room expecting to walk through the storyboard in ho-hum fashion, but she had other plans.
Each wall in the meeting room was covered with poster-size video slides and supplemental subtitles. Printouts of the script were on the table. Suddenly, participants were immersed in an interactive episode—feeling the presentation instead of reading about it in an email. And like unintentional performance artists, we were thrust into the unfolding tale. By the time Cynthia asked us for our feedback, we were ready to provide an answer from our gut (and not just from our intellect).
Certainly, Cynthia could’ve made planning this meeting easier for herself. She didn’t have to turn our team meeting into something so immersive, but she knew better. She understands that as humans, we value experiences that help form our perceptions, memories, beliefs and bonds.
Her event wasn’t just about critiquing a branding and communications project. It was about reaching participants on a deeper level and creating lasting memories between them. And being able to forge genuine, collaborative connections with your co-workers—just like Cynthia did in her presentation—has become an essential workplace skill. This is especially true in people-driven companies.
Creating Lasting Moments From Ordinary Interactions
So how can we spark more meaningful professional relationships?
The first step is to take Cynthia’s lead and create multisensory experiences whenever we can. When all five senses are engaged in an experience, we’re much more likely to retain that information for longer. In fact, research from the University of Regensburg shows that just having a tactile element during an event helps keep memories fresher for longer.
This isn’t to suggest that every chance to connect with colleagues should be an elaborate, drawn-out event. However, if we all began to plan our interactions and communications ahead of time, we’d surely enhance each experience. Consider delivering bad news to a co-worker. Doing so without a lot of thought is more likely to lead to a negative outcome than if the delivery had been carefully planned. Instead, we should consider who else is around, the receiver’s personality and the tone we use—not just what we say.
We could also take inspiration from our favorite movie directors. After all, they stage scenes and moments conscientiously depending on whether their goal is to educate, entertain or create an interactive experience. They mindfully consider how they want their audiences to feel. Only after careful planning do they go forth and achieve their artistic visions.
Setting the Stage for Stronger Connections With Colleagues
Big events, corporate retreats and large meetings aren’t the only places to create lasting connections with your co-workers—you can use any opportunity to strengthen relationships.
In the consulting business, for instance, we often have informal “go-live events” for some of our technology-based service offerings. The lead-up to those meetings can be long and arduous, and it might take months (or even years) to get prepared. As the go-live event draws nearer, anxiety mounts for the key players involved in the project.
Although we’re all on the same timeline and share our project metrics, our experiences are as varied as our personalities. I might be wildly stressed out, while the co-worker in the cubicle next to mine is unbelievably calm. But if we treat the go-live experience as its own “microevent,” we can start to guide everyone’s emotions toward a more positive place.
To do this, we try to create an entirely new environment to punctuate the moment and convey how significant and celebratory the go-live event really is. For example, we might pin up supportive posters around the office in the days before launch or have an all-hands email sent from the CEO about the momentous occasion. And on the day of, our team might celebrate with a cookie cake, buffet and balloons.
By intentionally developing a celebratory and festive theme during the experience, our team can share in the spoils of our work. We’ll surely work harder on the next go-live project knowing there’s an experience waiting at the end that creates a more positive working relationship.
Transforming Any Gathering Into a Memorable Experience
If you’re eager to make office life less about transactions and more about lasting connections, it helps to ask a few questions before planning certain social opportunities and experience-driven team interactions. Answering these should help you design experiences that are positive and transformative, so use them as guidelines to drive effective meetings and interactions.
1. Am I being empathetic and using my emotional intelligence?
Research by the University of California, Berkeley suggests that when we feel uncertain and stressed, our ability to be empathetic decreases. So being more intentional about planning experiences might help participants remain more empathetic and less stressed, meaning they’ll also find connecting with co-workers much easier.
With this in mind, use your emotional intelligence and consider how you want your co-workers to feel before, during and after an event or interaction. Do you want them to be as pumped as football players on game day, or should everyone be as calm and ready as an emergency medical technician? Make sure every measure you take can be traced back to the emotions you want to elicit.
2. Am I giving the right people the right attention?
Let’s say the theme of your next in-office experience is highlighting a few members of a department as the heroes of a certain project. You’ll need to make sure that you expressly show who the heroes are and how they contributed. That way, nobody will be in the dark.
Then, consider how you can make those heroes feel like they’ve saved the day. Perhaps you’ll literally pin a medal or focus a spotlight on them. Need a less showy idea? Depending on your company’s culture (and your hero’s personal preferences), consider using your company chat channel to issue a shoutout about each player.
3. Am I using the physical environment to the best of my ability?
An interactive experience can definitely be defined by the space it’s in. Prepare to question everything from the room’s setup to the seating arrangement if you have the necessary leverage. An event doesn’t have to include everyone in one physical location if some people telecommute. With all this in mind, you want the backdrop to work toward your goals—not against them.
This is another reason to think like a director and stage a setting. You want everything to be on target, right down to the white-noise machine or the Bluetooth speaker playing mood-appropriate music.
4. Am I actively seeking feedback?
Sometimes, you can plan an experience solo. Other times, you’ll need to develop a feedback loop before and after your event to ensure the best results.
Let’s say you’re a chief financial officer who’s asked for a skilled team to create a new budget forecasting system. If someone asks you how you want that project team to feel after it’s completed the work, you might say: “like stars for the day.” Don’t let your objective contradict what your teammates want, particularly if they want to be known for helping on the project but don’t want their names in the spotlight.
Receiving 360-degree feedback from key players—whether that’s before, during or after an experience—ensures that you’ll kick a field goal here rather than fumbling a punt. You can also use that feedback down the road to plan future events and interactions.
Building solid relationships at work certainly takes time and energy, but it’s well worth the effort. If you gear yourself toward generating unforgettable experiences rather than run-of-the-mill interactions, though, it’s a much simpler process. When you make it a habit to ask the right questions, you’ll find that everything will fall into place much more naturally.
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