The pandemic did much to disrupt our ways of working and for many organisations this has led to positive shifts in business models and ways of working, creating a learning opportunity out of a crisis. But how can we continue to change and grow without a pandemic to provoke us?

“It is a sackable offense not to refill the coffee pot”.  I’m sure you can imagine Jack’s surprise when he was being shown round the office on his first day (back when such things happened) and was taken to the coffee percolator machine in the kitchen and told, “It is a sackable offense if you don’t refill it after you, when there is less than one cup remaining.” A bit harsh perhaps? Or actually a major signal about the culture of this particular business?  A workplace where showing consideration for others in the team is highly prized, where an empty coffee pot is a learning opportunity.

The benefits of kindness

This  recent HBR article looking at the power of kindness at work suggests two reasons why refilling the coffee pot could add so much value to the individuals.

First, because it triggers positive emotions in the person who does the act of kindness. Knowing we are doing something that will bring pleasure to others is a gift to ourselves as well.  At iTS Leadership we begin each monthly meeting by giving ‘honks’ to others in the team, acknowledging any action which has been especially helpful. I always feel great when I give a ‘honk’.

Secondly, it helps life feel meaningful when we take action to help others, even in a small way. The Daisy Awards at University College London Hospitals (ULCH) are an excellent example of this, where a nurse or midwife  who has shown outstanding clinical skill and compassionate care can be nominated for the Daisy Award. This opportunity to acknowledge another’s kindness and care helps give meaning to illness for patients and families and strengthens bonds with colleagues.

I think there is also a third positive to be gained: when we arrive at the coffee pot and find it full, it can help us to feel cared for at work, to know that others are thinking of us. Yet this is the one we are least likely to recognise because we so easily become habituated to what is already there. It’s only when the coffee pot is empty or there is no milk in the fridge that we are provoked into noticing the things that others have been doing for us routinely.

Being provoked in business

This provocation to really notice something and see it as a learning opportunity is what also happens when major disruption occurs in a business, be it due to a product recall, the mismanagement of an IT failure or the departure of a new appointee to the board just weeks after arriving. Such is the power of habituation in humans to tune out non-essential information and focus instead on things that demand immediate attention, that we tend to ignore the red flags that were gently waving, signalling that something needed looking into.

This is why there is such value in using any major disruption as an opportunity to learn. Such disturbance means the fog of normality is lifted for a while and real clarity about the business context can be gained. The three issues mentioned above all led to AARs which we facilitated on behalf of organisations, who chose to get as much value from their problems as possible, by treating each situation as a learning opportunity. Our AAR Facilitation Service is there to help you as well.

And what about your coffee pot moment today? What will you notice that you normally take for granted?  I’ve just noticed that someone has washed up all the teacups I’ve used at home today. I’d love to hear yours.