Article by Carrie Beckner
Not long ago, my colleague Cynthia created an engaging moment out of what could have been an ordinary meeting. In the process, she helped build long-lasting relationships at work.
Cynthia leads our brand and communications department. She planned a gathering to showcase a storyline and script that would be used to promote our business. We walked into the room expecting to walk through the storyboard in ho-hum fashion, but Cynthia had something else in mind.
Each wall in the meeting room was covered with poster-sized video slides and supplemental subtitles. Printouts of the script were on the table. Suddenly, participants were immersed in an interactive episode, feeling the presentation instead of reading about it in an email. Like unintentional performance artists, we were thrust into the unfolding tale. By the time Cynthia asked us for our feedback, we were ready to provide answers from our guts, not just from our intellects.
Certainly, Cynthia could’ve made planning this meeting easier for herself. She didn’t have to turn our team meeting into something so immersive, but she knew better. She understands that, as humans, we value experiences that help form our perceptions, memories, beliefs, and bonds.
Cynthia’s event wasn’t just about critiquing a branding and communications project. It was about reaching participants on a deeper level and creating lasting memories between them. Being able to forge genuine, collaborative connections with your coworkers — just like Cynthia did in her presentation — has become an essential workplace skill. This is especially true in people-driven companies.
Creating Lasting Moments From Ordinary Interactions
How can we all spark more meaningful professional relationships? The first step is to follow Cynthia’s lead and create multisensory experiences whenever we can. When all five senses are engaged in an experience, we’re much more likely to retain that information for longer. In fact, research from the University of Regensburg found that just having a tactile element during an event helps keep people’s memories fresher for longer.
This isn’t to suggest that every chance to connect with colleagues should be an elaborate, drawn-out event. However, if we all began to plan our interactions and communications ahead of time, we’d surely enhance each experience. Consider delivering bad news to a coworker. Doing so without a lot of thought is more likely to lead to a negative outcome than if the delivery had been carefully planned. When interacting with our coworkers, we should consider who else is around, the receiver’s personality, and the tone we use — not just the content of what we say.
We could also take inspiration from our favorite movie directors. After all, they stage scenes and moments conscientiously depending on whether their goal is to educate, entertain, or create an interactive experience. They mindfully consider how they want their audiences to feel. Only after careful planning do they go forth and achieve their artistic visions.
Setting the Stage for Stronger Connections With Colleagues
Big events, corporate retreats, and large meetings aren’t the only places to create lasting connections with your coworkers. In fact, you can use any opportunity to strengthen relationships.
In the consulting business, for instance, we often have informal “go-live events” for some of our technology-based service offerings. The lead-up to those meetings can be long and arduous, and it might take months (or even years) to get prepared. As the go-live event draws nearer, anxiety mounts for the key players involved in the project.
Although we’re all on the same timeline and share our project metrics, our experiences are as varied as our personalities. I might be wildly stressed out while the coworker in the cubicle next to mine is unbelievably calm. If we treat the go-live experience as its own “microevent,” we can start to guide everyone’s emotions toward a more positive place.
To do this, we try to create an entirely new environment to punctuate the moment and convey how significant and celebratory the go-live event really is. For example, we might pin up supportive posters around the office in the days before launch or have the CEO send an all-hands email about the momentous occasion. On the day of the event, our team might celebrate with a cookie cake, buffet, and balloons.
By intentionally developing a celebratory and festive theme during the experience, we all get to share in the spoils of our work. We’ll surely work harder on the next go-live project knowing there’s an experience that creates more positive working relationships waiting at the end.
Transforming Any Gathering Into a Memorable Experience
If you’re eager to make office life less about transactions and more about lasting connections, it helps to ask a few questions before planning certain social opportunities and experience-driven team interactions. Answering these should help you design experiences that are positive and transformative:
1. Am I Being Empathetic and Using My Emotional Intelligence?
Research suggests that when we feel uncertain and stressed, our ability to be empathetic decreases. Being more intentional about planning experiences might help participants remain more empathetic and less stressed, meaning they’ll also find connecting with coworkers much easier.
With this in mind, use your emotional intelligence and consider how you want your coworkers to feel before, during, and after an event or interaction. Do you want them to be as pumped as football players on game day, or should everyone be as calm and ready as an emergency medical technician? Make sure every measure you take is tied to the emotions you want to elicit.
2. Am I Giving the Right People the Right Attention?
Let’s say the theme of your next in-office experience is highlighting a few members of a department as the heroes of a certain project. You’ll need to make sure that you expressly communicate who the heroes are and how they contributed. That way, nobody will be in the dark.
Then, consider how you can make those heroes feel like they’ve saved the day. Perhaps you’ll literally pin a medal or focus a spotlight on them. Need a less showy idea? Depending on your company’s culture (and your hero’s personal preferences), consider using your company chat channel to issue a shoutout about each player.
3. Am I Using the Physical Environment to the Best of My Ability?
An interactive experience can definitely be defined by the space in which it takes place. Prepare to question everything from the room’s setup to the seating arrangement if you have the necessary leverage. An event doesn’t have to include everyone in one physical location if some people telecommute. With all this in mind, you want the backdrop to work toward your goals, not against them.
This is another reason to think like a director and stage a setting. You want everything to be on target, right down to the white-noise machine or the Bluetooth speaker playing mood-appropriate music.
4. Am I Actively Seeking Feedback?
Sometimes, you can plan an experience solo. Other times, you’ll need to develop a feedback loop before and after your event to ensure the best results.
Let’s say you’re a CFO who has asked for a skilled team to create a new budget-forecasting system. If someone asks you how you want that project team to feel after it has completed the work, you might say you want them to feel like stars for the day. But do your team members feel the same way? Don’t let your objective contradict what your teammates want, particularly if they want to be known for helping on the project but don’t want their names in the spotlight.
Receiving 360-degree feedback from key players — whether that’s before, during, or after an experience — ensures you’ll kick a field goal here rather than fumbling a punt. You can also use that feedback down the road to plan future events and interactions.
Building solid relationships at work certainly takes time and energy, but it’s well worth the effort. If you gear yourself toward generating unforgettable experiences rather than run-of-the-mill interactions, it becomes a much simpler process. When you make it a habit to ask the right questions, you’ll find that everything will fall into place much more naturally.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Carrie Beckner is the event management circle lead link at Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented, and people-first solutions. Carrie works primarily within organizational structure, management, and interpersonal relationships at Pariveda Solutions, where she’s been for more than a decade. Her portfolio includes leading Pariveda’s event management circle and assisting Pariveda’s CEO by assessing the workflows of activities throughout the enterprise and mapping out potential changes to increase effectiveness. Carrie is also trained in holacracy, a radical organizational system for companies that favor decentralized structures and self-governance. She holds a Certified Holacracy Coach certification through HolacracyOne.
Outside of the office, Carrie is an avid traveler, music lover, and foodie. She also dedicates time to her community by volunteering with Dallas CASA, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of at-risk children and leads discipleship trips.