Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Powerful Lessons a Skull Candy Bowl Taught Me: Team Building, Conflict Resolution and Management


Back in my late 20s, I got my first job managing a team of creatives. With a rising sense of panic and feeling like “surely, someone must have made a mistake here,” my husband sensed my anxiety and gave me some solid advice:

“Get a candy bowl.”

“I am freaking out, stop making fun of me.”

“People are much less likely to be assholes to people who mainline them chocolate.”

He had a point, as he usually does. The candy bowl, what it represents, and how people behave when you give them sweet, delicious sugar at 3 pm (or 9 am, whatever, I am not judging) really provides you with some basic, yet powerful lessons about managing people, relationships and human behavior. Have a seat, let’s talk about how.

pernilla peterson rightpoint

Chocolate Networking and Finding your Village

While we all love technology and how it frees us up to work in ways that don’t always require in-person interaction, making an impromptu stop for some chocolate and a chat gives you small, built-in ways to get to know the people around you better (and quicker).

Beyond the superficial trappings of professional life with titles and responsibilities, these brief interactions are gold because they cut deeper—especially when you are new at a company.

My chocolate bowl has introduced me to some of my most brilliant coworkers and friends—as someone having very strong feelings about Almond Joy sparks completely different conversations compared to someone essentially just stating their bio. It allows you to more quickly find your village, your champions, your people. Later on in your tenure at a company, inclusive moments like this help you find people who you can lift up and advocate for. The chocolate bowl is like an analog, office-wide LinkedIn, just sweeter. 

Small Acts of Inclusivity

A few weeks ago, I attended a [email protected] panel at AIGA, where our SVP, Design & Strategy (and friend), Anamika Lasser, dove into what workplaces can do to be more empathetic and inclusive. How do we foster an environment where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work? How do we have continuous and open conversations about things that are hard to talk about and what does this have to do with a bowl of chocolate?

While I am not saying that Halloween candy substitutes for solid parental leave policies and diverse hiring, feeling comfortable being exactly who you are and in small ways offering some of that up to others, builds the foundation of a culture where people thrive and stay. An inclusive environment isn’t just about optics. It lives in the intangible ways people interact and express themselves. A skull chocolate bowl is just a tiny example of a small welcoming and inclusive gesture.

Those Who Chocolate Together, Stay Together

Our industry is stressful. We work hard, we have each other’s backs, we are deep in the trenches together but we don’t always agree. “You need this when? Are you out of your mind?”

It’s hard for others to come at you when you have consistently provided tiny, delicious peace offerings. And before you accuse me of sugar-fueled manipulation, did you ever see someone grabbing a fistful of Reese’s Pieces, tell the person who gave it to them to piss off, then storm away? Nope.

Human behavior can be complicated but it isn’t always. If you give me something without expectation of anything in return, you are, in my experience, more likely to get something in return. That return can be an apology, a deadline extension, a compromise, a laugh, a wonderfully awkward hug.

Those are some solid returns on chocolate investments.

pernilla peterson rightpoint

This Peanut Butter Cup is Authenticity-flavored

While a candy bowl shaped like a skull has always helped me to quickly get to know people and build some goodwill, it eventually morphs into something else. A small gesture for the people I work with, showing that I care.

Authenticity can’t be faked, which is why authenticity in the workplace, in whatever form it may come, is retention gold. Beyond retention, it just makes for a better place in general to be a human.

Rightpoint is built on the belief that it is imperative to recognize people and ensure they feel acknowledged. And while that certainly is and should be expressed in more literal ways, a chocolate bowl is really just another small expression of recognition of the people around you. 

Pause. Chocolate. Fika.

I was born and raised in Sweden. So was our Vice President, PMO, Madlene Olander. We have both lamented Americans’ struggle to take a break from working as evidenced by lunches at your desks and to-go cups. Recently, Madlene introduced the most Swedish of concepts to our Boston office: Fika. She’s cool like that.

The idea behind Fika is to stop what you are doing, leave your desk and sit down to have coffee, tea and some treats with your coworkers, once or twice a day. No to-go cups, no eating while walking. No laptops. Just disconnecting from work and connecting with your coworkers for 15-20 minutes. The more we can offer up low effort opportunities for people to stop and connect, the happier the work place.

A Parting Chocolate-Covered Nugget of Wisdom

As you may have figured out by now, this post isn’t about chocolate at all. It’s about finding ways to connect, reconnect, wind down and cultivate your “work village”, that will get you through. Kit Kats for everyone! 

Pernilla Peterson is Associate Creative Director at Rightpoint. Follow Pernilla on Twitter and LinkedIn.