Every organization has one. That sticking point. That thing that people always complain about and no matter what you do it is never fixed. Maybe its parking spaces, or maybe it’s the line for the microwave, or maybe it’s the lack of conference room space. But there’s always something.
A friend of mine started a new job recently, and one of the first things she was asked to tackle was the milk issue. That was the sticking point for this organization. In short: the office provides free coffee, but no milk. It was too much to keep up with everyone’s special requests, so they opted to not provide milk. People are welcome to bring their own, which sounds like a reasonable solution, but it became that sticking point issue that just wouldn’t die.
Now, my friend is very clever and not one to take a traditional approach to problem-solving. This was during March and she decided to create a playoff bracket, just like March Madness, to pit the different kinds of milk against each other. The winning dairy and non-dairy would then be supplied by the office.
Here’s how it worked. After collecting the information on all the different types of milk requested, each week a dairy and non-dairy milk were provided in the café. The performance was measured by how much milk was remaining at the end of the week. And it sparked engagement throughout the organization. There were signs cheering for the favorites. One group even brought in cereal, but you were only allowed to have some if you used their preferred milk. At the end of the month, the two winners were declared: whole milk and oat milk. The issue is solved, but more importantly, there was some team building as well.
I think there are so many lessons to learn here that we can apply to events. Here are a few:
- It was fun! Never discount the power of fun. People want to enjoy themselves. All things professional do not need to be serious and stale. And the fun doesn’t always mean ball pits either. Strike a reasonable balance of introducing fun into your event, whether it is a game from the main stage or just music in the hallways as people move between sessions.
- It used a familiar cultural touchstone and format to communicate what she wanted to achieve. At the end of the day, my friend just needed to know what milk was the most popular. She could have just done a survey, or some type of voting. But given that it was March, it was easy to find a parallel to take it to the next level. Even if you don’t follow college basketball, nearly everyone understands the bracket format. And, it has built-in excitement and drama. There is a story to follow, instead of just clicking a link and checking boxes, and getting the information at the end. This draws you along and compels you to engage. What if instead of just posting an agenda, we used voting and a bracket format to show which sessions and topics were the most desired each week?
- People could see themselves represented in the context of the whole. If you love pea milk, but you are the only one, it would be obvious at the end of the week when your carton was still mainly full. It didn’t discount the individual wants and needs, but it showed how they lined up with the group wants and needs. This idea of making the collective more important than the individual is fascinating to me, and I think it’s a way we can bring a new level of transformation to our events.
Unpacking the situation, we can see that even something that seems silly on the surface can accomplish a lot if it checks the right boxes for intentionality and community building. Keeping these things in front of mind while designing our events helps us to make them indispensable and irresistible.