Wizards in the workplace

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Last July we embarked on a family trip to the United States. I dubbed it the “parks and parks” tour as the first half was spent in some of the famous national parks. The second half was spent in Orlando’s theme parks.

One of the highlights of the trip was Universal Studios, and the undoubted winner was the Harry Potter attractions. All of my children are Harry Potter fans, and Universal has three major Harry Potter attractions.

The queues were long, as we were there during the American summer holiday. We avoided most of the queues by investing in Universal’s fast pass system, but these were not accepted on the Harry Potter attractions. We planned our approach to the children’s favourite ride – the Gringotts. Go early and make this our first ride.

We got to Universal just as the park was opening and we went straight to the ride. We saw the miles and miles of roped walkway where they herded the queues to the ride. They were empty. My heart soared – the strategy seemed to have worked.

As we joined the back of the queue I looked forward to see the thousands of people who were before us. I noticed the time to wait marker just in front of me. Three-and-a-half hours! I actually quite like Harry Potter, but I don’t like him so much that I wanted to stand in a queue for over three hours in 32 degree heat and 90 per cent-plus humidity with three tired teenagers.

Time passed and we slowly edged forward. The children were chatting away to each other and to the people around them about their favourite Harry Potter characters and themes, and everyone was having a great time. This continued all the way to the entrance of Gringotts. I saw the next wait sign. One hour to go! No one else seemed to notice.

I actually quite like Harry Potter, but I don’t like him so much that I wanted to stand in a queue for over three hours in 32 degree heat and 90 per cent-plus humidity with three tired teenagers.

The ride had broken down. They were working on it and would advise us as soon as new information came to light. We waited another 30 minutes.

Then finally, it was our turn to go on the ride. Four hours waiting, three minutes on the ride and as soon as we got off, all the children wanted to do was go again!

As I stood there in the queue for what seemed like forever, my mind drifted several times to how my children – and everyone in the amazing queue – were incredibly very happy, very patient and a pleasure to be with during the wait. There was no angst or drama of any kind.

Mainly young people were in the queue and we tend to characterise them as being unruly, the ‘I want it now’ generation, difficult to manage and impossible to lead. Yet here they were happily waiting for hours for a three-minute ride.

I explained my amazement to my wife. Her response was immediate: “Well, what does that tell you about your workplace then?” Ouch, but she had a point though.

It got me thinking about that experience and how this may contrast with our workplaces.

Waiting in that queue had a really high level of perceived value for my children and no doubt to most of the people in the queue. They were participating in a story they loved and connected to deeply. How do you connect with what’s important to your team?

Universal brilliantly managed our expectations. There were regular signs letting us know how long we would be waiting. The signs were very accurate and when they had an unexpected issue, they communicated clearly to us. How well do you manage expectations and communicate to your team, especially when things don’t go well?

Everyone in that queue was there because of choice and they could leave any time. People knew that they were in control. To what extent is your team in control of what they do and how they do it? Do they get to choose?

Generally, we don’t do these things in our workplaces very well. Maybe we need to lift our game if we want better engagement, commitment and performance from our team, but particularly our growing Gen Y members.

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Owen McCall is an experienced management consultant and CIO, and a member of the editorial advisory board of CIO New Zealand. Reach him through owenmccall.com

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