Last weekend approximately 40,000 people showed up for the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia, the largest 10-mile race in the United States. This iconic run spans a large swath of Philadelphia neighborhoods from the northern Olney and Logan sections, all the way past Temple University and culminating through South Philly and the sport stadiums. What's most interesting are all of the novice and rookie runners - and walkers- who participate. Cicely Peterson-Mangum, a non-profit management consultant, has enjoyed the run for the past three years because it is "meditation in motion". She also gets uninterrupted time with her teenage son while running and loves how the Broad Street Run truly captures the sense of place that is Philadelphia: "You get the band when you run by Temple, and then the attitude and energy of South Philly. It was even more special last year after we had won the Super Bowl!" says Peterson-Mangum.
And last week I showed up for my very first rookie practice of Dragon Boat racing on the Schuylkill River. It was something I'd observed from afar for years and finally signed up with the encouragement of a friend. It was awesome. Joining a group of over 60 women, ranging in age from 30 to 70, being on the water, in the sunshine, with the Philly skyline just in front of us made me feel a part of my city in a totally new way.
My Dragon Boat rookie practice mirrored the experience of novice runners who show up for experiences like the Broad Street Run. Being new at something surrounded by an encouraging community has lessons for the type of organizational culture we can build in our work environments.
1. Learner's Stance
When we are beginners we are more humble, alert, and willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions that stretch us. This fresh eyes stance develops an openness to others and to ourselves that we should carry forward in our work to see old things in a fresh light.
Getting splashed on and wet with the river water took me back to more playful days of my youth: summer camp, playing tag with kids from the block, and outdoor recess. For those two hours I did not take myself seriously, at all. That is is a really important attitude and skill set to have on call, especially during times of work stress.
3. Gift of the Crowd
The support, enthusiasm and encouragement of the crowds, really buoys you. Cicely felt that along her Broad Street Run, and I felt that surrounded by the uniform counting of strokes from my boat mates, and the cheering from random people from the shore line. Community is the lifeboat that keeps us going when we feel like giving up. So designing in multiple touch points when our work community comes together in the middle of difficult tasks to help us carry on is super important.
4. Sticky Community
Having veterans present along with the newbies was essential. Those of us new to the Dragon Boat racing sport had models for learning and helpful advice from those with more experience. Such proximity to diverse perspectives are equally important in our work environments. How approachable are senior level people in your organization? If junior people don't feel like they can literally reach out and touch them, then that is problematic.
5. Celebrations of Tiny Accomplishments
As Woody Allen once said, "90% of success is showing up." That is probably the first accomplishment to celebrate because you never know who you'll meet when you try something new. with whom you'll strike up a conversation. Even better is the awards that are given out at the end of events like the Broad Street Run. It's important to acknowledge people's intentions and efforts. This creates an energizing feedback loop to continue to show up and try again and again. Just as more work environments are realizing that feedback has to go beyond the annual review to monthly or even weekly sessions, positive celebrations of accomplishments and shifts go a long way in energizing a work community.
Consider these 5 perspectives of the rookie if you are trying to refresh your company or your organizational culture. And even better- require your colleagues to learn something new outside of work, develop the muscle memory of the rookie, and bring in that fresh perspective to revive your organizational culture.