We at Reach Partners are big Priya Parker fans. We devoured her book “The Art of Gathering” and even attended an event curated by her.
So when Parker penned an opinion column that ran in The New York Time before Thanksgiving, we paid attention. Titled “Abandon Your Thanksgiving Script,” the column addressed the need to think differently about holiday traditions during a year when nothing has been normal.
Parker challenged her readers to think imaginatively: “That begins with shifting our attitudes from fighting the current constraints to taking inspiration from them.”
As someone who studies and designs gatherings, she most often sees two responses to constraints on gathering: cancellation and rebellion. She encourages a third option: improv.
We’ve seen this play out in our own work and experiences over the last year.
We want to be the best human beings we can be. We strive to be transformed, so we read.
We read books about leadership, personal growth, and business. We appreciate lovely fiction and poetry. We read because it’s one way we can grow and empathize with others, to see the world and our actions from a different point of view.
Essentially, we read to be better human beings who will do good work with other good humans.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism (which we’ve benefited from) remind us that there is still much more we need to learn and understand. More than ever, we need to keep listening and learning from our Black friends, partners and neighbors.
My family and I recently spent a week together on vacation.
We hiked, toasted marshmallows for s’mores, and explored one of Minnesota’s lakes by boat. That said, it wouldn’t have mattered what we did.
We were together; we were present. Mostly.
It’s relatively easy to think about ways that rituals unite, connect and motivate us. Imagine the ways your family celebrates and recognizes holidays. Picture how a sports team carries out a certain behavior or chant before competition starts.
When done right, rituals are mindful actions that help us build community or identity. They create strong and long-lasting connections.
As such, rituals have a place in supporting a healthy work environment among both teams and at the organizational level. Fun rituals that solve problems and do no harm can help to build effective teams and make the meetings they hold more productive.
We have some news to share: our team will soon be a little smaller.
Sean Kelly resigned his position at Reach Partners. His last day with us is October 5.
Sean joined our team more than a year ago. During that time, he has been a passionate advocate for our work. He connected us to new partners in the community and kept our technical skills sharp. He also constantly filled an office candy jar full of good chocolate.
Never underestimate the pick-me-up power of a good piece of chocolate.
In all seriousness, we are grateful for the gifts Sean has brought to our team. He shares our values and supported our mission endlessly. We are sad to see him go.
Sean is taking his many talents (and chocolate!) to Click Content Studios, a part of Forum Communications Company. There he will oversee a team of videographers and coordinate the creation of video projects.
We wish Sean the best as he steps into this role. We know he will do well.
Thanks, Sean, for the good memories and the good work. We look forward to connecting for coffee soon!
In our work, we get some interesting requests.
One of the most memorable came from a client who regularly produces commercials. One afternoon we received a panicked call from the project manager overseeing an upcoming shoot.
The team had written the script, cast the talent, and ordered the props. The production team was scheduled and ready to go.
There was one problem. Because of unexpected circumstances, a major element of the set was missing: the walls.
The phone conversation went something like this:
“We need materials for interior walls, plus the wall constructed and installed at the set by eight a.m.”
“Give me 20 minutes, and I’ll call you back,” said Anita.
Within 10 minutes, Anita identified a solution. She found a builder and confirmed materials, building plans, and delivery. Less than 36 hours later, the set walls were delivered and assembled.
These types of requests are rare, but at Reach Partners we embrace the challenge of making the seemingly impossible become possible. In particular, we are thrilled when we can connect the right people at the right time to get a project done.
We can do this because we have good connections – a short list of go-to people whom will take our calls any time of day. These people have been in the trenches with us before and know how to work with us. We can skip formalities and focus quickly on what needs to be done.
Everybody needs these types of relationships – vendors, subcontractors, and amazingly talented people who can save your butt (and project!) when the unexpected pops up.
For many clients, Reach Partners is on that short list – mostly because we have those connections that can solve seemingly impossible problems. We recognize that these relationships and connections are among our most valuable resources.
Do you have a short list of go-to folks whom you rely on professionally and personally? Whom do you call when you needed promotional items ordered yesterday? Or your hair stylist moves to Texas?
If you don’t have a short list of go-to connections, now is the time to start developing one. Form a close relationship with a lawyer, editor, fix-it gal, restauranteur, graphic designer, printer, massage therapist, yogi, accountant, cook, talent agent, writer.
There’s no end to the skillsets and networking – the value – that these connections can bring to your work and life.
A few years ago my daughter Olivia was attending a week-long foreign language camp for the first time. A week! They were going to mostly speak Norwegian! Dad was nervous: how in the world was she going to make friends?
My wife and I helped her arrange her things in the cabin and completed the final check-in at the medical station. As we prepared to leave, Olivia ran up the steps to grab something from her bunk. She was back in less than 60 seconds. “You guys should go now. I made a friend while I was upstairs,” she said.
Making the First Move
In the work world, it’s tougher to make friends this fast. As we go about our work, we all run into situations where we need to initiate contact with people we may not know well. There are times when we need to bring a group together that hasn’t gathered before.
To help warm up the conversation, we often turn to icebreakers. After all, taking time for deliberate activities leads to a more cohesive group and people learn more when they feel connected.
Yet, we’ve all been in situations where an activity certainly didn’t help to break the ice and, in fact, may have even chilled the room.
Time and time again, I’ve learned that icebreakers tend to produce results equivalent to the thought put into designing them. In other words, choosing an ice breaker as you walk down the hall to the conference room is not going to end well.
Just because a get-to-know-you activity worked well with one group does not mean it will be a good fit with the next one.
Choosing the right type of icebreaker is vital.
Fun and Games Icebreakers
Ice breaker games can be the most fun, but they also can be the most stress-inducing for some participants. This type of activity works best when you have a group gathering for a social purpose, or if you already know most of the personalities in the room.
The goal of this ice breaker is to bring some fun and offer a welcome break during long meetings or training sessions.
Two Truths and One Lie: This icebreaker is usually quite popular. Each participant in the group says three things about themselves — two are true and one is a lie. The other participants guess which one is the lie and share why they think so.
The Best Week of the Year: Each year I refer to the week my family spends at a rented lake cabin as “Best Week of the Year.” What would your best week consist of?
Finish the Sentence: Write sentence starters on slips of paper and place these in a bowl, basket, or bag. Have adults sit in a circle. One person pulls a slip, reads the sentence starter, and completes it. Some sample starters:
This type of gathering activity gets names out into the open plus some snippets of information that help make a connection.
The size of your group probably determines what type of activity you do here. One of my favorites for larger groups is the “2 Minute Circle.” For this activity, pair people off and then form two circles, with one partner of each group on the inside circle, facing the other partner. Each pair shares their name and something about themselves. Then, after two minutes, the inside circle rotates one person to the left.
I attend a weekly meeting where we introduce ourselves like this each time. We often share some piece of info that is related to the week’s topic. Recently, the speaker was talking about a local beer and burgers festival. We were told to introduce ourselves and share our favorite beer or burger. I had a nice conversation that day with Mark, who simply liked my answer: “My favorite beer is whatever one I’m drinking while I grill burgers in my backyard.”
This icebreaker is best when you want to get directly relevant information from participants.
With this type of activity, I have always found it useful to establish one firm ground rule: this is NOT a time for discussion. It IS everyone’s opportunity to share their thoughts.
I often think back to staff meetings I led and wish I had, even in that small group that knew each other well, opened with activities like this. As a meeting leader, the insightful icebreaker allows you to check the temperature in the room right when you start. I usually ask participants to provide three things: their name and department/organization, what they hope to get out of the day, and what is the most interesting thing that COULD happen as a result of the meeting.
An example: “My name is Sean Kelly, with Reach Partners. I hope that we walk out of here today with a firm vision of what our priorities over the next six months should be. My wildest hope is that we come up with an idea for a plan that includes more sidewalk cafes under brightly colored awnings . . . because my daughter and I love to visit places like that! If we did, I could tell her ‘Dad helped make this happen!’”
Right there is everything you can hope for in an icebreaker: you know who’s talking and conversation can flow from it. You might even remember who said it.
After all, who doesn’t want to be the guy who wants bring colorful awnings downtown to make his daughter happy? Choose the right icebreaker and you just might be him.
Thanks to technology, we have many ways to communicate when members in a group don’t live in the same geographic region. Conference calls, email conversations, webinars, video conferencing, and other tools make it possible to participate in the same conversation without being in the same room.
We appreciate the ease of bringing together people who live in Bismarck and St. Paul and knowing that everyone will make it home for dinner. Touching base through Google Hangout on a snow day? Yes, please.
As much as we love the efficiency of virtual conversations, however, we recognize something is missing.
We believe meaningful relationships are best nurtured when we meet face-to-face. For collaborations and conflict resolution, in-person conversations are critical. Looking someone in the eye or shaking their hand is valuable in any situation.
We thrive on helping our clients improve their in-person interactions, whether it’s a meeting, an event, a conference, or a gathering.
The reality is human interaction is nuanced. People communicate more than what their words convey. In fact, only about 7 percent of what we communicate is through actual words. The way words are spoken and facial expressions provide most of the clues for what is being said.
When we meet virtually, it is more difficult to read body language, sense the emotional intelligence of others, and gauge another’s engagement in the conversation or activity. Video-conferencing solves some of these challenges, but it is still possible to miss subtle gestures.
We are programmed to feel closer and connected to someone who has touched us. When we meet face-to-face, we do more than gather in the same room. We shake hands, we touch a shoulder. We may even offer a hug.
These brief touches contribute to our own health. Researchers have discovered that touch “strengthens friendship bonds, triggers more positive emotions, and encourages people to be more responsive to others’ needs,” according to a Psychology Today article published in 2016.
There are heavy social pressures to participate when we’re face-to-face. In these situations, we are typically more engaged in the conversation and less apt to step away. Our posture, vocalizations, and non-verbals cue others that we’re listening (see above), and active listening is an important way we build trust with others.
When trust increases, better discussion occurs. People are more willing to share and build upon each other’s ideas. As in a classroom, we learn from more than just the presenter or leader. We may learn just as much or more from the others in the room, not only when interactions are smooth and comfortable. In face-to-face interactions, questions and rapport build off each other. These moments of spark aren’t interrupted by low bandwidth, connection delays, or distance.
We know that face-to-face interactions aren’t always possible. But taking the time to make them happen is always worth the effort.
P.S. Looking for a way to jump-start your next face-to-face event? Download our free Event Strategy Worksheet.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we LOVE the color purple.
Since we began, our Reach Partners identity has been represented by shades of the color. We think purple perfectly represents our values of gratitude, integrity, beauty, possibility, and empathy. Plus, it makes a powerful, but accessible statement.
We are big believers that good food, good drinks, and good conversations go hand-in-hand.
Imagine a gathering of friends without snacks or a decadent dessert. Picture the family gathering at Thanksgiving or Christmas without turkey, lefse or a fine wine and egg nog.
Can’t do it, can you?
Neither can we.
This is why a year ago we decided to be more intentional about having in-person conversations with prospective and current partners. We also wanted to insert some creativity into those connections.
Networking lunches and meetings are valuable, but we wanted to do more than meet people. We wanted to build relationships.
And so we began CCC – Coffee, Cheese Plates, and Cocktails.
The concept is straight forward. Every week we set aside time to connect with people – in person. Sometimes that means scheduling a coffee meeting during traditional working hours. Other times it may mean initiating an after-work gathering over a cheese plate and cocktails.
To be clear, we’re not against enjoying other beverages or appetizers (Note: Anita doesn’t even LIKE coffee), but CCC gives us a framework. An excuse to gather, if you will.
One of the great pleasures of doing project management work is that we get caught up in the excitement (and share in the apprehension) of our partners’ ventures. We are energized by the collaboration and connections that happen naturally when you work toward a common goal.
We believe in carrying those connections beyond project management work.
Conversations over coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails give us an opportunity to learn and empathize in a stress-free, safe setting. Relationships can develop and deepen over several coffee connections (and maybe a couple of cheese plates). Time spent together builds trust and true partnerships – those values that are important to us at Reach Partners.
In our world, a cup of coffee is more than a vessel for caffeine. It’s an invitation to get to know each other, and that is something valuable indeed.
So, get to know us. Schedule a get-together with one of us by clicking below. This will take you to our calendar where you can choose a time to meet us for coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails. We look forward to it!
Schedule a CCC with Anita: calendly.com/ahoffarth
Schedule a CCC with Rachel: calendly.com/rasleson