By Jill Hinton Wolfe
There was a recent Quora thread asking, "What are useful social skills that can be picked up quickly?" I recommend heading over to the thread itself, because there are a lot of gems, but two things stood out to me as both critically important and easily implemented: Looking people in the eye and using their name in conversation.
Why are these two actions so powerful? Let's start with the science.
Authenticity Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
In 2015 the New York Times ran one of its most popular articles ever, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This." The article really is worth your time to read (whether you've found the love of your life or not), but the basic premise is this: the author had a romantic interest in someone she knew, and he agreed to sit down with her and ask a set of 36 questions — each one more intense than the next. They then stared into each other's eyes for 4 minutes. Spoiler alert: They fell in love.
(It's unclear whether they are still in love. I'm guessing from the book she released in June 2017, they are, and will continue to be.)
The science of eye-gazing starts as infants
At just two days old, babies prefer faces that return their gaze. Just four months in, we humans process gazing faces more deeply, and at seven months old babies’ brains process direct eye contact that's just 50 milliseconds (too fast to consciously be aware of it) differently from an averted gaze. Three and four year olds often believe they're invisible if they cover their eyes, or even just look away. Kids who have autism — which is often defined as having difficulty understanding emotions — often have great difficulty holding eye contact.
Great for babies and children — but what about grownups?
As adults, making direct eye contact immediately causes us to become more self-conscious (anyone who's been on a blind date can attest to that). Apparently, direct eye contact also takes up a more brain power than typical cognitive tasks. Which may explain why the people who are best at eye contact know when to take breaks to keep the situation from being too intense — we need that extra brainpower to think!
Now here's where we get into the good stuff:
The research also says that people who consistently avoid eye contact are seen as more insincere and less conscientious (especially if you're a woman — which sucks, but also isn't surprising given what we know about culture). Alternatively, we’re more likely to believe what people say when they maintain eye contact.
And there's the rub: Being believable, which is closely related to competence, is how we authentically connect to each other. I go to networking events and regularly reach out to new people for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it's because I want to be seen as believable. And eye contact does that.
I was recently listening to this Tim Ferriss interview with Uber Chief Brand Ambassador Bozoma Saint John. It's an incredible interview on a number of levels, but one topic that stood out is Arianna Huffington's uncanny ability to make you feel special, like you're the only one in the room. Ferriss and Saint John both attribute it to her eye contact — which directly conveys her presence.
And isn't presence — being present — what we're all striving for much of the time? Don't we want to give people the attention they deserve? Everyone wants to be seen, to be understood, to be heard. It's pretty much one of the greatest gifts you can give someone you just met.
Eye contact: it's one of those things that's actually BOTH as easy and as effective as people claim it is.
But what's another trick to making eye contact even MORE powerful? Keep reading.
The Power of Name Calling
Beyonce said it best.
Using someone's name when you greet them, and then sprinkling it (again, appropriately) throughout the conversation is a quick and easy way to demonstrate that you care about them, are interested in who they are and value their input. Saying their name has the double benefit of also helping you not forget their name.
But are you like me, and often have trouble remembering people's names?
My husband is actually a cognitive psychologist who does a lot of work in the memory field, so I asked him (nothing like having an expert sitting next to you on the couch when writing a blog post). I'll spare you the long explanation, but basically we have limited capacity to store stuff, which is why mnemonics can be so helpful. Someone once suggested to me that I should imagine a person's name written on their forehead — minimally effective.
But you know what really helps?
You guessed it: Saying their name. An even MORE effective memory trick is to say their name while introducing them to someone else. Now you're a networking ninja.
Now you have two very powerful tools in your networking toolbox — or your toolbox that you just use to make people feel valued and liked. So the next time you want to make a connection with someone, don't forget to stare them down and call them names (you know what I mean).
Throughout my seven years of rowing experience, I’ve learned one truly valuable skill: teamwork. Whether that be in the boat or on land, I have found profound value in working together with my teammates. These skills are now invaluable to me, as I can apply them not only to my sport, but to school, work and everyday life.
LESSON 1: Get in Synch:
In rowing, one of the keys to success in the boat is being able to synchronize as a crew. Being capable of taking every stroke correctly and together is a vital part of any successful boat. Following one another and working as a unit is a great lesson for everyone, especially in the workplace. Being able to collaborate with others and work as a group is important in any business setting.
LESSON 2: Build Bonds:
Another form of teamwork that rowing has taught me is how to create close bonds with my fellow rowers, and how important those bonds can be when it comes to success. The better cohesion our boat has, the more we’re capable of success. Is raw strength important? Is determination important? Of course. However, without a connection with your teammates, there can be unwanted conflict that will only hold you back. The same is true in the workplace. While working on a project or a committee with your co-workers, it’s important that you get along with your teammates.
LESSON 3: Keep Passion Alive:
Although rowing has been a passion of mine throughout my seven years involved in the sport, there have been times when I asked, “Why do I do this? What draws me back in?” Practices are long, the work is hard, and tensions can be high. What makes all of this hardship worth it is remembering the moments that drew me into the sport in the first place. This lesson has certainly transfered into my everyday life. Work, school and day to day tasks can become mundane or frustrating, but looking inside myself and finding the passion that originally lit my internal fire helps me to stay motivated in everything I do.
LESSON 4: Friendships Grow Through Shared Adversity:
Physically working out everyday and racing next to the same people I call my friends has showed me that mutual adversity can create friendships that are stronger than the average connection. By working together through hard times, I have learned to motivate and support my friends more than any other experience I’ve ever had. The same is true in the workplace. Completing a shared project can bring you and your co-workers together, not only by building memories but also by creating a shared sense of accomplishment that will last way beyond the completion of one’s project.
Synchronization creates success on and off the water. Overall, rowing really has taught me many skills that I apply everyday in my world outside of athletics. I encourage anyone to try rowing and learn exactly what I’m talking about, as I truly feel that everyone can benefit from spending at least a little time rowing in a boat and learning how to sync up with those around you.
-Elliot Rieth, Go Scavenger Hunts Intern
Proving the ROI on the time and money that you invest into team building can be tricky. Sure, you shared a nice hour or so with your colleagues — but is that really making your department more productive and effective? And how long will the effects of the team building really last?
Regardless of the team building activity you use, it turns out there are scientifically-proven ways to boost the effectiveness and lasting benefits. Apply these methods to your next team building event, and you'll see your ROI increase significantly.
(Of course, we'd love it if WE were your next team building activity — where we automatically build in all of these strategies.)
1. Talk about how failure can actually be a good thing — before the event.
"There's no such thing as failure, only feedback," is a common phrase in today's uber-connected, social media-saturated world. Although failure can feel like one of the worst things to happen to us, it's how we learn and build resilience. So it's worth reinforcing to your team that you understand failure is often part of the process, and you want them to practice at it during this team building activity.
Remind them that Babe Ruth set the record for most career home runs in the same week he set the record for the most career strikeouts. Ruth knew that his success was inextricably tied to his failure.
2. Offer positive incentives in the form of prizes.
Psychologists say this technique encourages an “approach motivational state” — in other words, it enhances motivation. When your team is in an approach mindset, they focus on reaching outcomes that are positive (i.e. the incentives) for gain. To encourage this state, offer prizes for the team that wins the most points, or wins the most votes for their final result — but you can also reward prizes for best effort, or most creative. Scientists know that this mindset works particularly well in creative settings, so this technique may work best in painting or cooking classes, as opposed to the high-ropes course.
3. Get outside.
For our hunting and gathering ancestors, survival was dependent on being close to water, food and our tribe. So plan team building events that take advantage of the great outdoors for maximum effectiveness. Several studies have found that nature has a rejuvenating effect on the brain — sitting indoors with emails and meetings all day takes its toll on your employees' ability to creatively solve problems, so make sure your next team building event has everyone outside, breathing the fresh air.
4. Remind your team of an important project or goal — then tell them to forget about it.
Our subconscious can solve some really tough, complex problems — when we allow it to do it’s best work. But that only happens when our brain completely stops working on those problems and instead gets involved in other, completely unrelated activities. Scientists have found that while conscious attention (thinking) is limited in capacity, our unconscious mind is much better at processing large amounts of information at the same time. Scientists have also found that unconscious thinking is also when we tend to do our most creative thinking. So having fun and completely disconnecting from work may be the best thing your team can do to effectively finish a project!
The next one is one of my favorites:
5. Encourage healthy competition.
Play is the most fun (and effective) when there’s something at stake, which often means competition. Cognitive researchers have found that when we’re competing, we’re better at collaborating and working as a team. Competition requires that your employees use focused communication to work together to overcome challenging tasks. The fact that they’re doing it together motivates them to work harder to clearly understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to best get along with other team members. Knowing that the other teams are also working to reach those the same goals forces teams to be better, more cohesive collaborators. So let the games begin...
6. Let's get physical!
Participating in physical activities can be intimidating for some employees, but the research is very clear: the best way to fire up the brain is to get the body moving. A 2005 study found that treadmill walking for just 30 minutes boosted creative performance — and that boost lasted for more than 2 hours. Exercise also improves memory and other cognitive functions. A 2004 study found that on those days when employees went to the gym at lunch, most of them reported more interaction with colleagues, better time management and that they were better able to meet deadlines. You don't need to run a marathon or climb a mountain together to reap the rewards of physical activity — walking around a city or museum together can do the trick just fine.
Which brings us to the next strategy:
7. Put away the smartphone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of us check our phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when we don’t notice our phone ringing or vibrating. That takes its toll on our creativity! In fact, some researchers have started calling compulsive phone-checking "the new yawn" — because it’s that contagious. Powering down your phone helps decrease feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and also reduces FOMO (one of millennials' key anxieties). Although our scavenger hunts do require the use smartphones, we do it in a way that doesn’t increase the anxiety of constantly checking to see if you’re measuring up on social media.
8. Schedule smaller, more frequent team building activities over big, annual events.
To boost happiness longevity, science says we need to engage in smaller, more frequent moments of happiness over big but rare moments of happiness. For example, we know that smaller weekend getaways over the course of a year are more effective than one big two-week vacation. This may be the single best way to increase the effective longevity of your team building activities — making sure you don't lose your investment by not consistently scheduling them out over the year.
So now you've got the tools — here's what's next:
Now implement them!
Ready to implement these eight scientifically-backed strategies? We're happy to help. Whether you want to get outside, encourage some healthy competition or get your team's super-charged subconsciouses working, any of these techniques will improve the effectiveness of any team building activity, even trust falls (which we don't recommend)!
Whatever you choose, leave a quick comment below right now. We want to know what strategies you think will work best for your team!
Planning an office holiday party that everyone is excited about can be REALLY HARD.
Or is it?
Actually, it turns out that there is one activity that is easy to plan, cheap to implement and involves everyone from the CEO to the intern in a way that feels inclusive but not forced: an office holiday scavenger hunt. You can plan one in less than an hour, and it will cost you NOTHING, except for the cost of running the copier.
In this post, I'm going to give you 12 ideas that will help you throw an office holiday party scavenger hunt that people will be talking about for months. You can even use the examples I give you as inspiration for other scavenger hunt questions!
1. Recreate the company logo using holiday candy.
Grab a bunch of red and green M&Ms, red hots, candy canes, marshmallows, Red Vines, peppermints or whatever else you find in the candy aisle. Then have each team recreate the company logo using their candy. You can even award bonus points for the best logo.
Or if this is really last minute, and you don't have any holiday candy, have the teams use supplies from the breakroom. Bet you didn't know that creamers and swizzle sticks can be artistic media!
2. "Pay it forward" to get in the holiday spirit
If you're just playing in the office, you can have teams think of ways to do something nice for their co-workers. Maybe it's cleaning out the break room fridge (it could happen!), or just leaving a colleague a simple a note thanking them for the work they do. A little appreciation goes a long way in creating a happy corporate culture.
(Is all this still too much work? We can plan, design & run the hunt for you!)
3. Snap a photo of your best Grinch face.
Have teams snap a photo of their best Grinch face and text it to you. You can require that everyone in the photo be wearing their Grinch face, or just have the team vote on who does the best impression of the guy who's heart is three sizes too small, and send that photo. Collect all the photos at the end for a holiday cheer slideshow! So great, right?
But wait — it gets better!
4. Build a snowman.
If you happen to be in a location where there's snow, encourage everyone to get outside and build their best snowperson. You can either give the teams the hat, eyes, scarf, etc. they need — or even more fun — have the teams use found objects (things they have in their cube or lying around the office) to personalize their snowmen/people.
If you don't happen to have real snow, teams can create one out of shredded office paper, candy/food or draw one using dry erase markers on either whiteboards or even the office windows. Award extra points for creativity!
5. Have each team member share a unique holiday tradition.
We all come from different backgrounds and families, so ask each team to have its members to go around and share something unique about how they celebrate the holidays. The team can then vote on the best tradition, and snap a photo of everyone pointing to that person. After the hunt is over, you can have everyone share their favorite traditions over snacks and whatever libations you happen to be serving.
6. Sing Jingle Bells using found objects as accompanying instruments & shoot a video.
Almost everyone knows Jingle Bells, and it's pretty easy to play using improvised drums and maracas. And the videos could be pretty hilarious too.
7. Sing Christmas carols to a stranger and have them rate you.
Even if you're just hunting around your office you can find a stranger (or maybe even the receptionist) to serenade. Have teams sing at least one verse, then snap a photo of the "judge" (with team members also in the photo) holding up fingers to rate you on a scale of 1-10. Another one for the slide show!
8. Create your own "naughty & nice" list.
You could set this up a bunch of different ways: either have teams made up of each department, identifying the things that went well (and not so well) this year for that department specifically. Or if you're mixing the teams up, you could just have everyone self-identify which list they're on, and have them line up separately showing which team they're on (i.e. thumbs up vs. thumbs down, "nice" sitting under the conference room table and "naughty" on top of the table, etc.).
Still not convinced? Here's a crafty one for all you artistic types:
9. Make a garland to decorate the office.
This is another challenge that can be customized depending on how much time you have to plan: either have some pre-popped (non-buttered) popcorn with some needles and dental floss, or some red & green construction paper to make ring garlands with a stapler, or just have people string paper clips together. Give bonus points to the team with the longest garland!
10. Awkward family photo
One of our favorites! We're always impressed by the photos that our teams come up with for this challenge. Since lots of family photos will be taken over the holiday, have teams think up awkward family photo ideas and snap a photo. (You may have to promise that none of them will appear in the company newsletter ahead of time!)
11. Pretend ________ is a Christmas tree.
Maybe you choose an office chair, or a co-worker or maybe you have an actual Christmas tree somewhere in the office. Although this one takes a little pre-planning, bringing in some tinsel, ornaments and lights is a really fun way to get some cool holiday photos for this challenge.
12. Recreate the nativity scene.
This final challenge may or may not be appropriate for all offices, but for those who can make it work, the photos from this challenge could be a lot of fun. Alternatively, you could ask people to recreate a scene from a classic holiday movie.
What will they use? Scarves as head coverings? Shredded paper for the hay in the manager? A coat rack for a shepherd's crook? Oh my goodness, PLEASE send us these photos if you take them!
Holiday parties don't have to be lame!
With a scavenger hunt, you can get everyone involved, have a fun afternoon of moving and being creative and it doesn't have to break your party-planning budget. What other office holiday scavenger hunt challenges can you think of? Let us know in the comments!
Want to make it EVEN EASIER? Have us design & run your hunt for you!
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. Nov. 9, 2017 -- The Michigan Women's Foundation awarded GO Scavenger Hunts $5,000 as the second place winner in the growth category of its annual West Michigan Dolphin Tank pitch competition for women-owned startups.
Over 100 companies applied to be part of the competition, and nine startup companies delivered live pitch presentations to a panel of leading investors, academics and entrepreneurial innovators during a day-long event focused on entrepreneurship and supporting women-owned startups.
GO Scavenger Hunts (GOSH), a women and veteran-owned company, is a people-centered, business-to-business strategy and corporate culture development firm based in Grand Rapids. It offers an attractive alternative to typical team building, fundraising and family celebrations, using the powerful combination of a smartphone app with real-world interaction to help companies like Pfizer, John Deere, Mercedes Benz and BDO build trust and reward employees. GOSH has expanded nationally beyond Michigan in the past three months to run hunts across the country, in places like Philadelphia, Times Square, St. Louis, MO and Richmond, VA.
"The caliber of companies we were up against was truly phenomenal, and I imagine the women we met through the competition will remain close allies," said Jill Hinton Wolfe, co-founder of GO Scavenger Hunts. "With this prize money, we'll be able to fund a booking software upgrade that will help fuel our growth for the next five years."
"This is a great honor, and we want to thank the Michigan Women's Foundation and Consumers Energy for hosting such a successful event and recognizing the impact that GO Scavenger Hunts will have on the Michigan economy,” said Carol Distel, co-founder at GO Scavenger Hunts. “Our innovative approach helps people connect in real-time over shared experiences that boost trust, creativity and problem solving. Thank you again to MWF for all their support."
We all love good food, great movies, inspiring music and well-written books. These things add meaning to our lives, help us relax and give us a way to connect with others. So it only makes sense that we should bring these things in the workplace? We promise, it won't ruin them. In fact, experts call these creative activities that we do just because they're fun or interesting "strategic distractions."
WHAT IS STRATEGIC DISTRACTION?
Strategic distraction may sound like the latest Silicon Valley buzzword, but it's a very real competitive advantage you can bring to your team — if you do it right.
If your employees are constantly exposed to the same, boring workspaces, ideas and people day in and day out, their creativity starts to dry up. More and more organizations want more intentional and built-in ways to add more curiosity to employees' work life. Get creative! Instead of forming just another same-old wellness program, how about starting a book (dinner, movie, music) club at work?
WHY WOULD I START A CLUB AT WORK?
Work is work, and personal is personal, and never the 'twain shall meet, right? But ask any Millennial and they'll tell you you've got it all wrong. This generation has perfected the art of bringing their (almost) whole selves to work in order to make their jobs more meaningful and satisfying. That's a win for the organization as well, because research shows engaged employees have increased trust and job satisfaction, leading to lower costs, increased productivity and fewer turnovers.
One of the best ways to increase at work engagement is to start an employee book club. We recommend that you even call it the "No Judgement" book club (or something similar). Once a month, employees can have lunch and discuss the ideas and themes of the book. Those who read it can offer insight and perspective; those who didn't can find a quick summary online that will give them some background on the ideas presented. Have one person facilitate the conversation with a list of questions, like "What were some of the most important themes for you?" or "How can we apply the author's perspective to our own department?"
NOT JUST ANOTHER BOOK CLUB
Want to make it even easier on employees? Create a monthly TEDTalk group, or even a lunch & learn group, where you bring in a speaker or someone from a local nonprofit every month. Anything that brings people together to talk about big ideas is going to foster creativity and connection. It doesn't cost an organization much to do this kind of thing; in fact, you might find employees investing a lot of their own resources into the group once it gets going.
TIPS & TRICKS
Regardless of whether you make it a book club or food club, it's helpful to establish a few guidelines up front:
Once it's up and going, let the employees decide how it evolves. You might be surprised at where they take their food/movie/music club, and the cool ideas and concepts that arise out of it.
Want to learn more about adding culture to your workplace?
Co-founder Jill Hinton Wolfe is a communicator, entrepreneur and Army veteran who is passionate about the outdoors and designing surprising and unique challenges for all sorts of clients, all over the world.