Looking for a strategy to boost morale, strengthen interdepartmental collaboration, and have fun in the workplace? Consider this example from the City of Clearwater – “A P3 Like None Other!”
In the summer of 2014, Assistant City Manager Jill Silverboard created a “secret society” program that “initiated” a team of departmental champions to work from within the organization to improve teamwork, co-worker appreciation, and self-development. The inaugural program consisted of twelve champions selected by Ms. Silverboard who secretly served as “Grand Master.” These high-performing management level employees did not know who was behind the effort. This mystery program added an element of fun and a concept of belonging to a “secret society.” Throughout the course of a year, the program initiates were given projects in the categories of Play, Progress and Purpose. Each “P” was intended to address cultural change from a different approach, and participants were provided significant latitude to interpret the method and implementation of each P3 assignment.
To kick-off the program, Ms. Silverboard sent anonymous letter invitations to each of the selected employees inviting them to participate in the “society.” The invitations also included puzzle pieces which the participants were told to bring with them to the first meeting. During the first meeting, the employees had to collaboratively work together to create a finished puzzle. Logistics of when to meet and a group selection of a chairperson were also determined during the meeting. It was interesting to note, that many of the members were curious as to why they were chosen, and spent significant time on guessing who the “Grand Master” might be. At the conclusion of the initial meeting, the initiates were given their first “P” assignment:
- PLAY – Using these 3 objects, paper clips, napkins, and pom poms, create and complete 3 separate activities to improve team spirit, make employees smile or otherwise engage them in a “fun” way.
One member of the group used the paper clips to create a method to anonymously recognize fellow employees. Another initiate and his department co-workers used pom poms to create a portrait of their department director. Some of the “play” activities were conducted entirely within the department of the member, while other activities creatively involved multiple departments and multiple locations. In almost all cases, employees responded positively and enthusiastically to the activities and were eager to see what came next.
The second “P” assignment was based on:
- PROGRESS – Identify, propose and/or complete efficiency improvements within the following 3 categories:
- Physical Environment (space utilization, work environment enhancement)
- Practices (working smarter)
- Pizzazz (Making a “big” impression)
Many of the projects for the “Progress” assignment identified revising policies and practices to work smarter and improving the physical environment of his/her department. Examples of activities that were created included: holding a “surplus sale” that gave departments an opportunity to either dispose of items no longer needed or find items to put to use; putting work areas, closets, bulletin boards in better shape for more efficient use of space; purchasing stand-up desks to increase productivity. The progress activities seemed to impact the largest number of employees – employees could see the difference in their work areas and appreciated being asked to help find ways to be more productive or effective. The stand-up desks were a huge hit with office support employees and the initial purchase from within one department “snow-balled” into purchases for several other departments. These activities not only increased the morale of employees but also their productivity.
The final “P” assignment focused on identifying ways for self-improvement:
PURPOSE – Establish goals for self-improvement within the following 3 categories:
- Personal Health & Wellbeing
- Professional Development
- Personal Fulfillment
Some activities for this assignment included weight loss, healthy eating, and reading motivational/inspirational books.
Each of the “P” assignments provided instructions and approximately three months for completion. Activities had to be documented and presented at each class meeting. The meetings began with fun, team-building activities and prizes were awarded for best activities, improvements and initiatives. The “Grand Master” developed the themes, activities and provided team awards for each meeting:
- “A Day at the Races” - members were given various objects (and vegetables) and divided into small teams. The task was to build a race car with the objects. After completing their “cars,” the teams raced against one another and the winning team received a prize.
- “Academy Awards” – teams were given cans of play dough and a random movie title and were tasked with building a movie set using clay for that film. Teams went to each station to guess what movie was represented. (Pictures provided – Silence of the Lambs won the grand prize)
- “A Day of Comics” – members had to create a personal comic strip with their self as the main character based on the three purpose categories. (Picture provided of Grand Master Jill Silverboard and candidate Jen Obermaier participating in a “Stick It To ‘Em!” fundraiser for United Way with Jill Silverboard playing the part of the “Duchess of Duct Tape,” as one of her personal fulfillment activities.
At the end of the program series, the participants were inducted into the cultural change initiative called “Clearwater Cares.”
The Clearwater Cares program brought together City leaders in a completely new way and built stronger communication and collaborative working relationships among the class participants. The initiates used the assignments as constructive team-building, environmental improvement opportunities within their own departments or in combination with other departments.
The Clearwater Cares P3 program completely bypassed all standard purchasing and supervisory channels. Directors were not selected as initiates by design. The P3 assignments, given to participants by the unknown “Grand Master,” completely disrupted the status quo for work assignments. Fear of the unknown, skepticism about the program concept, and even the thought of employees having “fun” on work time, raised some concerns for the participants and their co-workers. Even the reactions from the Department directors varied, illustrating a cultural improvement opportunity separate and apart from the assignments!
A participant survey was designed and completed by all 15 of the initial class participants. Change was measured based upon the overall ratings by category with the P3 category of Progress reflecting the highest level of participant satisfaction, although the category of Play was second by only one point. In determining how to move forward, participants were asked to consider whether the program had merit for continuation. After discussing the time and resources required for continuing the program, we have identified the following approach.
Each of the initial Clearwater Cares Masters identified an employee for the second class, which is now underway. The existing Masters are working collectively to develop the program for the second class, which is replicating the P3 categories of Play, Progress and Purpose. Once the second class is initiated, they will serve as mentors and facilitators for the third class and so on until we have cultural change agents throughout the organization.
Organizational Culture is defined as “the way we do things that affects how people feel and behave.” The Clearwater Cares P3 series was conceived upon the idea that changing organizational cultural is a “pyramid scheme” that flows from the top down. As one person positively influences co-workers, those employees in turn will influence others until the work culture becomes saturated with people who are energized to perform well and invested in the City’s performance as a service provider.
Organizations are continually searching for ways to create a positive culture and do so in a cost-effective way. The Clearwater Cares program was implemented without the use of a consultant or any defined budget – the success of the program was dependent on the creative thinking of the Assistant City Manager and the energy, enthusiasm and flexibility of the employees she chose to be members. Although the group did not calculate actual “savings” of the program, the operational efficiencies and networking opportunities that were created, made it a positive experience for the City
6 Qualities Linked to Innovation Impacted
- Inclusive Leadership
- Relentless Creativity
- Extensive Internal Partnerships