Meaningful Work Environment Is Built Through Discussions and Dialogue

Paula ViikariEarly morning trains are my cup of tea, as silence is the unwritten rule there. No talking and no invading other people’s personal space – everyone can just sulk and take their time to wake up. Furthermore, I’m not the type, who can easily mingle and banter with just about anyone. But when I do, it always requires some extra effort, conscious presence and focusing on the essentials. On this basis, some of the challenges I face at work might be of a different sort one could imagine. For engaging in conversations and genuine listening are things I do at work every day.

Meaningful work environment is built through shared agenda, which consists of shared discussions. Questions like, how do I perceive the world, how do you perceive the world, and what is the direction were heading together, are being unraveled in the discussions. The sulky attitude of the morning train is not the way I want to act at work, but admittedly I have to try my best at times to be present during the normal working days. In my opinion, leader’s central role in building the work environment is to make dialogue and the creation of the shared agenda possible. In order to open the discussion, you have to be aware of and acknowledge the limits of your own understanding and accept that for all of us, even for the managers and leaders, there are questions we do not know the answers to.

In my work, I’ve familiarized myself with the book First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. One of its biggest offering for me has been the following checklist of 12 questions of things that should apply to all of our work.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

I believe the biggest challenge for most people – not just for us sullen commuters on the morning train – is to be able to start the discussion. What should we talk about in order for it to make sense? What should I know about your perception of the world? The 12-step checklist is a simple yet revealing tool for all of us. It’s way too common to get the first negative answer already during the first three steps or at the fourth step at the latest. Can work then be meaningful and efficient? What about the remaining eight steps?

It’s easy to have fun at work, when business is running smoothly. It’s much more challenging to take care of oneself and others, when things don’t turn out as planned. These days few things do. I firmly believe that especially during the hard times, every leader and manager should stare at the above-mentioned list closely. The market situation, unpredictable crises or other major events should not have an effect on the working environment we build and maintain. We can’t afford to use only half of our performance or focus our energy on job dissatisfaction and other irrelevant details.

Now is the time to engage in conversation. Now is just the right time to take care that the basic building blocks of work are done right. Tomorrow shines bright on us.

Writer is the Plant Director of a juice factory at Valio Ltd.