As my family, friends and neighbours can attest, celebrating Halloween is a pretty big deal at our house, as seen in the picture above that provides a partial glimpse of what our Halloween display was like this year.
While it may last for only one day, I’ve always approached Halloween as an event that can have a lasting impact, not just on the children in helping to create a fond childhood memory, but on the community at large by providing an opportunity for people to connect, and showing that we care about what matters to the children in our neighbourhood.
When seen from this lens, we can discover a number of actionable steps leaders can implement to foster a sense of community within their organization and with it, measures to ensure that your employees not only succeed, but thrive as members of your organization.
1. Provide opportunities for your employees to interact outside of their roles
Every Halloween, my wife and I take shifts going out trick-or-treating with our kids and staying home to greet the numerous children who visit our Halloween wonderland. We do this because we want to share both the experience of witnessing the children’s reactions to our Halloween display as well as being a part of our daughters’ Halloween experience and memories.
Wandering around our neighbourhood with my daughters as we search for decorated houses, it’s hard not to feel a greater sense of connection with my neighbours as I greet them on the street or thank them for their part in celebrating Halloween with my kids. In many ways, it feels like a neighbourhood party where we go from being strangers to sharing a smile with one another as we watch the kids excitedly parading about in their costume get-ups.
While on most other nights we might not pay attention to those who live down the street from us, Halloween gives us that opportunity to connect and bond over a common goal – of continuing the tradition of creating a special and memorable night where kids can be kids.
In today’s faster-paced workplaces, it’s easy for leaders and their employees to limit their interactions to various meetings and one-on-one encounters. However, it’s vital that leaders facilitate gatherings where employees can connect outside of their roles and functions in order to better understand one another and the common goals and shared interests they have.
With fewer resources and greater demands being placed on them, it’s not surprising that misunderstandings and misplaced assumptions arise which create roadblocks and obstacles that impede your employees’ abilities to collaborate, share and grow together. Encouraging your employees to develop a sense of belonging and community will ensure that trust and respect prevail over suspicion and ambivalence, enabling your employees to look for opportunities to help each other to succeed.
To quote Meg Wheatley, “there is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
2. Allow those you lead to take ownership of your shared efforts
As you might expect, every Halloween we get a number of compliments from parents and their children about our decorations and how much they enjoy them. And yet, the best compliment we get each year is when a child tells us ‘thank you for decorating your house for me’.
It’s the best compliment because it shows that they’re taking our efforts personally; that they see all of this effort being done so that they could have a wonderful Halloween, which is only fair since without the neighbourhood kids, we wouldn’t have anyone visiting our house to celebrate this fun night with.
Likewise, in your organization, it’s important that you ask yourself why we do what we do because it helps to frame your objectives in a manner that allows your employees to take ownership of their shared efforts.
After all, just like our celebrating Halloween, your organization couldn’t accomplish what it does without your employees. So what better way is there to tap into their discretionary effort than to encourage them to be owners of your organization’s shared efforts instead of passive contributors to the process.
We have to remember that while it’s important that your employees know that you care about what matters to them, it’s equally important that they care about what matters to your organization. Key to bridging these two needs is encouraging your employees to feel a sense of ownership in their shared efforts and with it, the drive to see each other succeed and grow.
3. Make sure you understand the legacy you want to leave behind
A few years ago, one of my friends asked me why I put so much effort into decorating my house for one night, especially given how much there is to dismantle and put away afterwards. I told him about one of my fond childhood memories of Halloween where one of my neighbours created this wonderful Halloween display.
Now I don’t remember what it looked like, nor do I remember what they gave out as a treat when we visited their house. But I’ve never forgotten how special they made Halloween feel for us that year.
So as much as I want our neighbourhood kids to have a wonderful Halloween night, I’m also hoping that like my old neighbour, I might create a happy childhood memory that they can look back on fondly and hopefully for some of them, that it encourages them to create a similar experience for the children that will live in their neighbourhoods when they become adults themselves.
In most of today’s organizations, it’s clear that the focus is so much on the short-term that many leaders view any discussions about their legacy as being a luxury to be dealt with when things improve. However, what your legacy will be has less to do with you and more to do with what you’re creating to help your organization grow even after you’re gone.
Your legacy is about addressing the kind of future your employees want to create or build through their shared efforts; of communicating where you hope or plan your organization to be thanks to the efforts your team has made over the course of your leadership.
As much as we all care about what happens today, we also need to understand how our efforts in the present connect with where we want to be in the future. More than anything else, that’s what your legacy should serve to inform and guide those under your care.
4. Honour the journey your organization has taken to be where it is
While I’ve always had this vision of creating a Halloween wonderland for the neighbourhood kids and my daughters to enjoy, the setup we used to celebrate Halloween in those first few years after we bought our house was understandably quite ordinary.
It’s taken several years for us to create the elaborate and intricate display we now use, in part because some years were leaner than others and spending money buying new Halloween decorations just wasn’t financially sound for us.
In that light, our display reflects our family’s history of when times were good and when we had to tighten the belt, and in its own way creates a unique character and display which now greets the neighbourhood children every Halloween. Although the children and families who visit our house can’t see that history, it’s visible to us and helps to connect what we do today with where we were before.
Similarly, when it comes to your organization, it’s important not to cherry-pick those moments in your organization’s history where you were riding high, but to remember and honour those tough times – times when you had to let some of your best people go because your market was drying up, or when you faced uncertainties over the success of a new product or service when you hit that plateau that’s often found at the half-way mark in the creative process.
As much as our wins help to drive our motivation to achieve more the next time, those hard times are also important for how they shape our character and the values by which we carry ourselves forward.
By recognizing and honouring the journey your organization has taken so far, you will remind your employees that you are a team and community connected around a shared purpose with the collective drive to push ahead despite what might stand before you.
While Halloween comes but once a year, as leaders we have the opportunity every day to demonstrate to our employees not only that what they do matters, but of our genuine interest in creating a sense of community and belonging that will engender a drive to help each other to succeed.
By connecting what you do with the higher purpose found in each of your employees, you can ensure your organization is not only successful, but that it has the means and purpose to thrive both in good times and bad.