The day it snowed in Jozi warmed my heart

When you work in a corporate environment, you come to realise that stress, politics and work pressure are part of everyday life. I have found the past few months particularly tough, not only for me, but also for my colleagues.

I have searched for many ways of encouraging them. Out of desperation, I have even proposed a rather cheesy idea to the head honcho of the department, hoping it would bring a spark back to people’s faces. But no luck. When people are down and demotivated, it’s very difficult for them to see anything positive in whatever you do.

But something magical happened today. Something unexpected. It snowed in Jozi.

At first, staff would casually walk up to the windows and look down. But as it became heavier and heavier, excitement grew and more and more people gathered together at the windows. It took one person to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play in the snow!” for everyone to grab their jackets and head on out. The excitement and giggling was electric.

What a sight to see hundreds of people from other departments all with the same idea, queuing at the ‘cattle gates’ to get passed security and out of the building.

Once we got out, we laughed and giggled and stood in the snow with massive smiles on our faces. I looked around and saw colleagues having fun. I saw them laughing and hugging and taking photos of each other and acting silly. We were like kids! We didn’t care if it was cold and we didn’t care how wet we were getting. It was awesome. But for the 5 minutes we stood out there, it was as if all the problems disappeared.

I realised that the snow was for me, more than them. You see, although I’ve been part of a project team where the focus is on “people” and changing that cold, hard corporate culture, I have also felt incredibly ‘responsible’ for their happiness in the office. It’s been a bit of a burden on my shoulders and a lot of my stress has been frustration in not seeing a change in culture and a vibe remaining so negative.

But today was different. Today came out of nowhere. The lesson I learnt was that laughter and fun will come at the most unexpected times. But also, that sometimes, I’m not the one that will bring about the change. I just need to be present. But most of all, I need to start laughing too!

A corporate challenge doesn’t necessarily need to be a challenge

It was in November last year that I approached management with the idea of entering a small team of runners from our department to partake in the J P Morgan Corporate Challenge.

An email was sent out late one afternoon to gauge the appetite for it and by 8am the next morning, 70 people had put up their hands, eager to participate. To be honest, I was quite surprised as this was an evening event which involved physical activity.

I immediately realised that I could in fact make this into something more than just a 5.6km race and potentially use it to bring the team together. Well, that was my plan anyhow…

So here’s what I did:

  1. I sent weekly emails with running, exercise and healthy-eating related information to the team. You’ll be surprised how people soak up information when it concerns their weight and general well-being (especially us women!).
  2. I made as if we were all training for our first marathon and distributed training schedules. Experienced runners among the group scoffed because to some of them, 5.6kms was a mere warm up. However, majority of the team had never run that distance before and were genuinely nervous.
  3. I slipped mini facts in to each email about different team members to allow people to get to know one another. So-and-so does aqua aerobics at the gym after work. So-and-so completed Half Ironman so speak to her about training. People were in awe once they started to learn more about their colleagues.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the emails, but people started to talk back. They started to share their stories with me. They’d pop past my desk to chat about running. They’d confess their sins if they had bought take-out on the weekends. They would report back if they managed to take the stairs instead of the lifts. I started to see shifts in behaviour and excitment for the race growing. Even I got nervous!

After 3 months of building up to the race it turned out to be a stunning evening! Together with 530 other runners from Standard Bank, we were proudly announced the 2nd largest entry!

If I look back, I realise that I personally gained so much out of the experience. I took a chance. I exposed myself to a bunch of people without knowing what their reaction would be to my constant communication. I discovered that a simple email, which honestly did not take more than 10 minutes to write, could contain so much influence and motivation behind it.

But I guess the biggest lesson for me is that team building doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes, we under-estimate people’s willingness to just get involved and have a bit of fun.