say thank you with cake

Group dynamics fascinate me.  Groups are like a deck of cards, you get dealt a hand,  place it face-up than  ask what can you make with what you are given?  You may not have a full house, but perhaps you can re-arrange the cards so that you can bring something of value to the table.

Oftentimes, web teams are assembled the same haphazard way–you’re dealt a hand with with varying degrees of competency and specialized skill and have to utilize what you have to make the web work. You might have a web-savvy yuppie who can code circles around everyone yet not even be old enough to rent a car, and on the other hand you might also have a wizened business veteran who can brilliantly strategize overall web direction but struggles just to open their inbox everyday.

We never get exactly what we want nor enough people to do the job. We can be  hopeful, but we need to be realistic.  More than likely as a team, you’re stuck together for the long-haul so  being able to work in a group is a vital and necessary skill for everyone’s sanity and stability. Yet, surprisingly, many people struggle with basic everyday group etiquette.  Therefore, no matter what size your web team is–65 or 6 members strong–here’s a few rudimentary tips I’ve learned over the years that make life much more pleasant for everyone:

Meet everyone properly: Learn their names and exchange contact information. Don’t give people nicknames unless they self-label–otherwise it’s just lame (‘The Vault’  would  fall in this category). And it’s a bit awkward.  Find out people birthdays (in a non-creepy way) and bring a cookie or two on the appointed day. People will tell you they don’t want others to know about their birthday, but really, they’re lying. It’s kind of like when your wife says she doesn’t want anything for your anniversary… HINT: she’s lying too.  But really, this type of recognition is an easy way to say, “hey, we remember you and we’re glad you’re on our team!” Guestures like that go a long ways.

Find something you have in common: If you can, try to make it un-work related.  If you have an inability to do so, this may be indicative of larger social problem. For instance, I work with all men so sports is a natural rallying point. Music is always a good fall-back. If nothing else, you can at least talk about the weather.

Bring food: This is a great ace to pull out whenever you just need a reason or morale seems to be sagging a bit. Everyone eats, and food attracts even the most reticent of individuals from their cubicles (Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Rockstar).  Just make sure it has lots of sugar because sugar brings on endorphins, and endorphins make people happy thus, you can begin to establish a pavlonian connection between yourself and your team members: you = happiness. Finally, do it in random, unexpected intervals and people will begin to enjoy your presence a little more, because even if they don’t really enjoy you, at least everytime they see you, they think you might have cake.

Say thank you with cake: This ties into the idea above, but is valid enough to stand on its own. Words are dandy but people also like to eat gratitude. Case in point: I got a new MAC and initially needed lots of help  from IT in the set-up and understanding the user interface.  As a thank you, I made brownies. Suddenly, all my subsequent trouble tickets seemed to be given much higher priority. I even scored 4 gigs of  “free” RAM when I complained of slow processing speed. It wasn’t my intention, but when I needed it, IT was more than willing to help come up with a solution.  Moral of the story: don’t manipulate, just appreciate.

Let everyone talk: Yes, you may have the most brilliant idea since the advent of  toaster strudels, but please don’t finish other’s sentences and try not to interrupt (I still suck at this but at least I can self-diagnose).  And fyi: talking louder or faster doesn’t make your idea any better.

Check your ego at the door: When you discuss ideas, label them and write them down. Don’t assign an originator, just keep to the facts.  And ask around. Because as smart as you think you are, there is always someone smarter. There are such things as stupid questions, but what’s worse is ending up with a stupid result because you never asked…(ahh Mr. Skittles, I wish I had come to you sooner…)

Praise each other: I can’t emphasize this enough. People get beaten down enough everyday, so does it really kill you to offer a nice word every now and then? Even the worst ideas have a silver lining if you look hard enough. The only caveat is to do so genuinely–nothing is worse than an insincere  affirmation. To do this well, one must be able to read social cues with sharp accuracy and deliver using  impeccable timing. But even if you lack both these skills, say it anyway. At the very least, I’ll appreciate it.

Phrase alternatives as questions: Instead of “we’re going to do A, not B,”  try “What if we did A, not B?” This allows people to offer comments instead of defending their answer. It’s amazing difference in response you’ll get. Mr. Skittles is the master at this technique. I am only the peon when it comes to this jedi mind trick.

Look at people when they are talking to you: Yes, you have a million things to do, but at least have the decency to look people in the eye when they are talking to you. Better yet,  turn you whole body towards them and face them as they speak. This indicates the person has your full attention. It take’s only a split second to swivel around, but I guarantee this small gesture is noticed and deeply appreciated. By doing so, you’ll also win quick and easy respect points without ever having uttered a word (thanks mr. latte, i owe you for this one).

Look for the best in everyone: This is beautiful advice my dad once gave me and I was just taken with the way he put it. “If you wait long enough,” he said,  “people will surprise and impress you.”  As I’ve gotten older I realize the deep meaning behind this statement: when I’m frustrated with people, when I’m angry or I let my emotions overrule my judgement, it’s usually because I haven’t given people enough time. It may in take great patience, even years, but in the end people will show you their good side. And even if you never are a recipient of this good nature, there are always lessons to be gleaned from a prolonged encounter.  Not everyone is a great team player or possesses the same amazing qualities as you, but  as subordinates or teammates,  it’s our job to carry to torch for one another. We need to have each other’s backs, even if that superior or a teammate is crouched over and vulnerable and in need of someone else to carry their load. Because a time may come when you find yourself exhausted, tired, and weak and are in need of that exact same grace.

Again, these are tips I’ve put into practice that have done wonders for building a sense of respect and unity among individuals–some are kindergarten fundamentals  that seem to have been forgotten in the rush to grow up, while a few are traits I’ve observed in others and  hope to emulate myself.

Ultimately, lasting respect comes from much deeper things like work ethic, humility, and the job competency. But it’s amazing how a simple piece of cake can open the door and remind people of the need to come together.

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  1. […] messenger was dispatched with a cupcake peace offering in hand.  Because as we’ve seen, icing opens doors. It worked and Mr. Corner Office put his foot down and effectively ended all internal discussion. He […]

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