With companies equating innovation with longevity and financial success, the million-dollar question has become how to build a company culture that inspires new, out-of-the-box thought. Jerry Flanagan, founder and CEO of JDog Junk Removal and Hauling, already might be using the right formula.
The quirky tactics that work
The theme of surprise is one of the main quirks Flanagan, perhaps a bit ironically, makes routine. He often calls "emergency" staff meetings so everybody can offer their two cents on big decisions. Impromptu half days for something like a group pedal tavern happen, too, as does changing the furniture layout every other month. There even might have been a random puppet show, just to help Flanagan make a point.
"Nobody is safe in my office," Flanagan says. "Never knowing what I am going to say or do, it's truly [a] shoot-fire-aim environment and works great. My staff is always reading the company social media seven days a week, replying and commenting about our culture and the JDog mission. We are all paddling up the same river."
Flanagan also believes heavily in challenging each employee to do their best. But the challenge doesn't have to be strictly professional. It can help workers find out who they are and what they're capable of in a broader sense, too. That's where competitions like arm wrestling, drawing, staring contests, racing for the mail, describing coworkers with specific adjectives or not saying words written on a white board come in. Finding confidence through these victories can transfer over into increased motivation, more reasonable risk taking (including submitting innovative ideas) and better job performance overall. And even if workers don't "win" the challenges, simply participating with the group can foster a greater sense of shared experience and comradery that supports efficient, synergistic work.
Then there are Flanagan Fridays. Each week, workers get together for company updates. But they also talk about what they've personally accomplished and give shout outs to other team members who deserve them. As workers reflect on themselves and each other, Flanagan helps bring workers together even more with food. He'll cook the entire staff breakfast or grab sandwiches for everybody.
"I am the king of the open door policy," Flanagan adds. "I share just about everything in real time. When I have an idea, I yell for everyone to huddle around my massive 55" screen computer and show them what's in my head."
A positive response
Flanagan is convinced that, through his more non-traditional, casual approach, workers come to feel more connected, energized and happy. At the same time, he says, workers get the reassurance that they're each as important as the next person. His staff agrees.
"[Jerry] hasn't just created a company," says Lauren Lampe, JDog's director of marketing. "He's taken individual people from all walks of life and formed a family. We all would do anything for each other, and that's because of the atmosphere that Jerry created in and outside of the office. Now, we all would probably agree we know way too much about each other, but that's what makes us work so well together. Where one member leaves off, another one picks up with no hesitation, no matter the title. I can't imagine not having these crazy people in my life or working anywhere else [...]."
Lampe's comment has particular weight when you consider that modern workers often now spend more time with their coworkers than they do with friends and relatives. If you're going to be around your teammates for that many hours, it's beneficial both to you and the company for you to let go of the stress of faking it and to be comfortable enough to just be yourself.
"Professional" means connection
Flanagan's offbeat methods show practical ways any business leader can help workers relax and encourage their creative spark. They're a good jumping off point if you're not sure what to try. The larger picture, though, is that a "professional", innovative office is best defined by the strength of the relationships coworkers have and the positive influence those relationships have on the way the team collectively works. From that standpoint, you need to give workers opportunities to learn about and truly understand one another, regardless of whether you use Flanagan's methods or come up with quirky options of your own. Activities you might not associate with ties and corporate meetings might be exactly what you need to create the more substantial--and result-producing--bonds you want. So as long as what you do is safe and respectful, go out on a limb. Arm wrestle. Do whatever it takes to help each person on your team break free and become even more colossal than you are.
"I want every employee to become better than me," Flanagan says. "I want the team to one day out-think me, outshine me and become more valuable to the company than I ever could [be]. If I can achieve that, I will feel I have led by example and have made a meaningful company be more than just a job."