What did you want to be when you grew up? I dreamed of being a summer camp counselor. I found it fascinating how, as a kid, I was thrown into this completely foreign environment, yet in a matter of weeks, came out thriving. Overnight, strangers turned into family, tents turned into homes, and I learned more about myself (and frogs) than I could possibly imagine. No matter how uncomfortable the sleeping bag was or whether the weather got in the way of activities, everyone was just happy (to be together).
I never did end up becoming a summer camp counselor – the patience and energy required to work with crazy kiddos faded in my twenties. I chose the realm of Human Resources, instead.
How does my dream of being a camp counselor relate to HR, or staff meetings for that matter?
Tuesday, 8:30 am. Day Two of my first HR gig straight out of university. The weekly staff meeting. My university peers had forewarned me ‒ “it’s just a rendez-vous of updates that have nothing to do with you or your work.”… “It’s a podium for ego-boosting.”… “Prepare your eyelids for a tremendous battle against gravity.”… So, I braced myself and came equipped with a triple shot of espresso.
I should have known better though. Had I learned anything from Day One, where prank wars had been declared and a sense of community was immediately noticeable, this company didn’t quite do things the way you would expect.
The “business talk” – a quick briefing of company news and major departmental updates ‒ only lasted a matter of minutes. Then, we went on to participate in an interactive activity that would last the remaining 30-45 minutes of the meeting. It seemed odd ‒ we weren’t working, we weren’t being productive… we were simply like kids sitting around a campfire sharing stories and laughter while participating in the activity. This whole experience ran contrary to everything I expected from a staff meeting.
Method to the staff meeting madness
I soon learned that there was method to the madness. The staff meeting is the one time a week the entire Jonar team all get to be together. Instead of wasting our time on pompous ego boosts or boring lectures, we use this time as an opportunity to build genuine connections, experiences and friendships. It’s our time to disconnect from our departmental silos, our task lists and our computers, and connect with each other, as people, instead.
So, what exactly do we do during these weekly meetings? We’ve had staff members act as Trump and debate against Mother Teresa, Marie Curie and O.J. Simpson on why he should get the last seat on a life vessel to an alternate universe, because the Earth was about to be destroyed. We’ve done activities where you worked as a team to build connecting bridges and igloos against deadly snowstorms. Some activities require strange props like time capsules and blindfolds. Some activities are done as one large group, while others break the staff into smaller groups. Sometimes the activities require staff to act. Other times they draw. Sometimes we have to collaborate. Sometimes we compete. But most importantly, every activity requires openness, engagement, and the willingness to sometimes step outside of your comfort zone.
Catering our activities to our people and connecting them to our values
Because we’re big on building a genuine collaborative culture, we spend a lot of time planning and building these activities in house. We always want to make sure that our activities are in some way tied to our company’s values. We’ve often been inspired by activities that are already out there such as scavenger hunts, murder mysteries and game shows like Minute to Win It and The Amazing Race. But we’ve also created our own uniquely Jonar activities, like asking our team to cut images out of magazines to create collages that represent our company or to design a company coat of arms.The goal is always to make sure the activity is meaningful by connecting it back to our core values.
See one, do one, teach one
After a few short months here, the torch was passed to me. I had seen how they were organized. I had participated in a few. Now, as the final step in our learning philosophy of “see one, do one, teach one,” it was my turn to start organizing and coordinating them. And so to some extent, my dream to become a summer camp counselor came true.
At the end of the day, our staff meetings aren’t really about the activities themselves at all. They are about learning, interacting and shared experiences. So, if, like my childhood self at summer camp, each team member walks out of our staff meetings with a little more than what they came in with, I’d say that’s a win.