Read this before you organise your next Away Day or talk about changing your organisational/team culture.

The four day work week. Mental wellbeing. A course on how to communicate better with others. Time management seminars.

All sound fancy and good.

But do you remember the last time you walked in and felt great, then left and completely forgot? Or, made some change and went back to square one, following which you felt disappointed with yourself?

Do you remember a time when you nodded your head and agreed with everyone on how relaxed everyone felt . . except that you didn’t? And did you secretly freeze inside with wellness or time management as another thing that clogs your To Do List, with no tangible benefits?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more, I hear you. You’re not alone.

And so in the end, there’s little impact on the bottomline or yourself personally. Over time, we feel increasingly deflated in such scenarios, or what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness’.

If you have the responsibility of building culture, or organising your next Away Day, then here are some questions to mull over, using analogies from our personal lives.

Why are you doing it?

Just because everyone seems to be going for a meditation retreat, doesn’t automatically mean you should.

So on a professional and leadership level, just because everyone is adopting something, doesn’t mean you should.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge, what are the bigger pressures around you?

Is it about moving with the times? An industry-wide recommendation? Something the government is saying?

How is this an easy bandaid?

Slapping on a pair of Lululemon compression pants doesn’t take the problem away if you do not like your body. Sure, it may look good in photographs, but at the end of the day, we are deceiving ourselves about the real picture.

Similarly, before you think about any organisational intervention, ask yourself what you think this might be solving.

What is the real issue we are talking about?

How do you think this would change things? Where did you get that idea from, and how much evidence do you have to back it up. How suitable is it for your unique set of circumstances? Or is it a Hail Mary that you’re throwing?

To what extent would your envisaged change happen?

And, to what extent might this be the organisational equivalent of wearing compression pants?

How much will this cost us?

And I don’t mean in terms of just dollars and cents.

I mean in terms of employee fatigue and learned helplessness– that once again, another method does not work and everyone has no more time to spare. That simply incinerates even more cognitive energy, which compromises performance, morale and the bottomline.

When organisations say they don’t have enough resources and only want a one-off keynote to magically change things, this hurts everyone.

Your workforce is your resource– if they come in at 50% of their energy levels, then you are losing out on 50% of productivity, at a best case scenario. Because tiredness, disillusionment and anxiety affect the way people work together– from compromising psychological safety to making unwise decisions– you lose.

More importantly, to make any change, something has to be given up. What is it, in this case?

What will change management look like? What would need to happen?

How will we get people on board? What would appeal most to them, and what would be their biggest resistance.

What fears do we have about this change?

A simple example would be mental health initiatives in organisations designed to look out for each other and stay accountable, from leaders checking in to peers doing befriending services.

And with that comes the fear that one is not a trained counsellor, or would have to undertake further emotional labour.

Newsflash: You are not expected to counsel or provide professional psychological services.

And more importantly, hashing out fears is a good way to start, so we can debunk or manage them.

How realistic is this change?

“So I’m expecting that if I get coaching for my anxiety, I will not feel anxious ever again, and I will stop sweating the small and big stuff”, my former Type A+++ client once told me at the beginning of our work together.

Here’s where I laid it out– if your brain is wired to overthink, the only way you’ll magically become all zen is to have a personality transplant, or be possessed by an alien.

What we do instead, is harness this overthinking brain into what matters, and learn to cruise through the rest of life.

In the same way, a four day work week or ‘to stop having a fast-paced culture’  may not be realistic if your organisation is in a certain industry like trading.

Instead, other shifts can be made so everyone enjoys sustained healthy energy levels, and performs at their best as often as they can.

How will we sustain this?

After getting fit, you don’t suddenly binge on burgers everyday and live on the couch; that will get you back to square one, or worse.

Sustaining means we have a plan after any kind of intervention– we have targets, review dates and items to action.

Initially, we may practise the change more intensively, as with any new habit muscle we are trying to grow; then we take our feet off the metaphorical pedals.

We may also have action plans along different levels of:–

  1. Basic actions to take
  2. Medium actions (when we have more time and energy)
  3. Nice-To-Have actions (when we have even more headspace)

This means that instead of being overwhelmed and paralysed, we can prioritise what we need to do, and then tweak from there.

Know a leader who shares the above woes? Send this to them.