In the 1992 Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Phil Connors is trapped in a time loop that forces him to repeat the same day over and over again. It’s a seemingly absurd sci-fi premise — but not quite as ridiculous as you might imagine, particularly when it comes to our work life.
We frequently see managers and their organizations get stuck in similar repetitive loops where they are merely going through the motions, leading to low morale and a lack of creativity. This has long-term consequences for productivity and an organization’s ability to recruit the dynamic employees who are essential for a healthy company in today’s rapidly changing business environment.
If you’re a manager with team members stuck in a rut, here are a few ways to break free from your workplace loop and to rejuvenate your team — all without having an existential crisis in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Change the Environment or Schedule
Do you have team members that arrive at the office, get coffee and have the same conversations with the same people before heading to their desk? Are they so routine that it’s nearly robotic? To help direct reports avoid becoming your office’s version of Ned Ryerson, the insurance salesman who harassed Phil Connors every morning at precisely the same time, suggest making a few small changes to their routine or your team’s schedule.
When we talk about cultivating creativity, we often encourage people to get out of their usual work environment. This applies to managers and their teams as well. Workplaces stuck in ruts exhibit low energy and productivity, with team members who stop contributing in different and dynamic ways. Fortunately, making even small changes to the office routine can help infuse a burst of energy and new thinking among your team.
Start small. You and your team could still get your coffee when you walk in your door, but consider holding a group sync-up in a conference room or on the roof a few times a week once everyone arrives. Or perhaps on a Wednesday morning you could meet your team for brunch at a nearby restaurant to share ideas or catch up on what everyone has been working on.
These don’t have to be grand gestures or wholesale schedule changes. The idea is merely to break up the monotony, re-energize your team and create a workplace that people look forward to going to every day.
Try to shake things up once a week if possible, especially if your team is exhibiting signs of merely going through the motions. If weekly schedule changes are not possible — this could be difficult for larger organizations — try to impose a schedule curveball at least once a month.
Hold a Team-Building Day or Retreat
A tried-and-true way to break your team from a repetitive loop is to get team members out of their usual space and have them spend time together. This could range from fun outings to more intensive team-building tasks, but they don’t necessarily have to revolve around work. For example, a team outing to a bowling alley could give your employees a chance to interact outside the office and build a sense of camaraderie that could pay off down the road.
If you feel your organization is in need of more intensive work, arrange an off-site retreat for the team to focus on driving creativity and innovation, to resolve any conflicts and to align and refocus the organization. Consider partnering with an external facilitator to help the team create a positive path forward.
Help Team Members Hone New Skills
Encouraging employees to switch roles, join a new project, get additional training or learn new a skill are excellent ways to free them from a “Groundhog Day”-like loop that could be draining their creativity and morale. These new skills can be introduced through classes, webinars, e-courses, workshops, seminars or conferences.
Don’t underestimate your team’s thirst for new knowledge and skills. Perhaps you have an employee who uses basic technology regularly for their day-to-day work but wants to learn SEO or how to code. Sign them up for an online course and check with them regularly to track their progress.
Another common example is taking a high-performing team member who is extroverted and inspiring and introducing them to the sales side of the business, which would give them a new perspective for brainstorm sessions. We often see that project managers and team leaders are well-served by gaining additional knowledge of the organization’s finances, so sign them up for additional training or experiences that will give them insights into that corner of your organization.
To make this method work, you have to know your team, their skills and their strengths. Don’t be afraid to ask an employee if there is any subject or skill they’re interested in that they haven’t had a chance to focus on. If they mention something that is even partially related to their regular job duties, do what you can to to make it reality.
Even if they don’t become an accomplished pianist or chainsaw ice carver like Phil Connors, helping your team acquire additional skills and seize new opportunities is an effective antidote to the creativity-sapping loop of repetition that grips so many organizations.
If you’re looking for a meaningful team-building activity, retreat or workshop series, contact Chelsea Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team of consultants will create an experience tailored to the needs of your team and organization.