Linear Locomotion and Staff Bonding: a Chimpanzee’s Perspective
From the average chimpanzee’s perspective, human office locomotory and other motor interactions must seem rather peculiar, if not loco.
When we are not simply silently or otherwise sedately sitting at some distance from each other (without mutual grooming, playful physical interaction or pursuit, spinning in circles, unpredictable scampering and darting maneuvers or arm flailing and hugging), we seem content or constrained to move in straight lines or otherwise remain motionless—for the entire day, every day.
Walk down the hall to a meeting room, walk over to somebody’s desk and back, walk to the coffee machine and back, sit at the desk, etc. Missing from all of this dull linear parading and immobility is the core element that defines chimpanzee locomotion and interaction as social: the magic of bonding through motion and locomotion.
Now, some corporations and other organizations are at least as smart as chimpanzees and take institutionalized steps and measures to facilitate bonding in their workforces or audiences through periodic organized activities that require or encourage physical or at least non-linear interactions more akin to those of a typical chimpanzee troop. If (s)he could speak, an observer chimpanzee would be likely to recommend that the rest at least consider doing the same.
Note the whooping, jumping, clapping, prancing, singing, swaying, cheering, excited running (up to the stage to get an award), etc., typically incorporated and promoted in pumped-up motivational workshops, rah-rah orientation sessions, TV quiz shows, and wilder annual or seasonal corporate parties, e.g., this very non-linear Apple 2010 Christmas party. When these activities include team sports and other physical games, things get very non-linear, indeed.
Now, locomotion and motion are not the same thing, the former being a subset of the latter. Thumping your chest and wildly spinning are forms of motion, but not locomotion (which is moving from one place to another); yet what they have in common is their capacity to express and elicit emotion—including feelings of connectedness that fuel or define bonding.
Set aside the chimpanzee perspective for a moment and revert to a human take on linear locomotion: Consider couples walking side by side, especially in a “romantic” setting, such as Vancouver’s famed sea wall, which stretches about a dozen kilometers entirely along a glistening, vast ocean panorama on one side and lush forest and cliffs on much of the other. The couples and everybody else move in straight lines—left-right-left-right-left-right, all indistinguishable from the others in the rigid linearity of their lock-step locomotion (which, to a chimp, must seem odd, if not also boring).
It’s hard to imagine what makes that trajectory romantic or at least bond-strengthening in terms of being either “special” (which romantic things are always expected to be) or engaging (the way the playful chasing, hugging and cavorting of chimps is). It is equally difficult to imagine what the appeal of it is to those hoping to bond with their companion(s): “Ooooh! Look at how straight (s)he walks!” Well, that’s great if you have to pass a roadside sobriety test. But, otherwise, it’s boring (with the only offset being whatever merits the tandem conversations have—gasping conversations, at that, if attempted while jogging or otherwise loping side-by-side).
One Exception: a Real Parade
Intriguingly, there is one exception to the linear=boring and unbonded rule: a real parade—the straight-as-an-arrow march down Main Street kind of parade, costumed or not, with or without helium floats, marching bands, uniforms or confetti. Somehow, the linearity not only is not boring, but also seems to express or create a bond among participants and spectators alike. The large numbers of participants moving in (approximate) formation and even if merely shuffling along manifests a “participation mystique” or a group mind joined together at some kind of collective hip.
Perhaps one reason for this is the large-scale seeming synchronization that suggests mutual and group commitment, unlike the shuffling throngs flooding through jammed subway exits, who define only a disjointed aggregate, rather than a cohesive group.
Adversarial and Competitive Bonding
Recall the first “Rocky” film and the strong bond created between “Rocky Balboa” (Sylvester Stallone) and “Apollo Creed” (Carl Weathers) after their brutal slugfest. Although it is unlikely that they would have bonded so strongly if neither had laid a glove on the other, it is worth asking whether the clearly non-linear, non-sedate locomotion and motion, e.g., circling, bobbing, weaving, darting and swinging, made any contribution to the bonding process and result. An affirmative answer may be suggested from the phenomena of animal courtship, e.g., among bird species that incorporate into their mating rituals elaborate locomotory displays, e.g., so-called “intention movements”,such as intense wing flapping without flight to demonstrate flight fitness.
Purely romantic, mayhem-free movies suggest that non-linearity may indeed cement relationships, as the happy, infatuated couple whirl, zigzag, roll, splash and prance along a deserted beach for two and strengthen that budding bond.
This is not to suggest that staging boxing matches between Apple and Microsoft staff will lead to cartel-like collusive price-fixing and a sense of common company purpose, but it does support and explain the practice of staging in-house competitive games for the workforce (of the sort that both Apple and Microsoft have utilized to foster a sense of corporate community and commitment).
Such practices are clearly at least motivated by the goal of creating team spirit, regardless of how effective they are. But what more can organizations do, besides injecting more non-linearity into the workplace, to facilitate bonding among their staff? I can think of at least one step.