Team Building Using Your Water Cooler Gang

Very rarely do we as leaders acknowledge our water cooler gangs. For the most part we have taken great strides to limit the grouping of individuals around, or in, a common place for very long to just chat. But, even though we have tried through building pantries, varying break times, monitoring staff time usage more vigorously, this small group just seems to be there. And, for those die hards that still meet we more or less just ignore them.

What is a Water Cooler Gang

The unique feature of a water cooler gang is that they don’t have the normal caste system that is found in other parts of our business or organization. They are comprised of members of all departments, staff groups and general workers throughout your business. The other unique thing about these groups is that they seem to be drawn together as information seekers and sharers, not for a specific purpose or limited time.

The gang is primarily composed of an information seeker, an active listener, a negative personality and an information sharer as well as members who change roles depending on the subject being discussed.

Using the Gang for Team Building

This group of people shares information throughout your organization faster than any newsletter, email or verbal distribution method. Because they come from all different departments and groups across the organization, the information that they get from their group “meetings” is shared with staff across the board. For the most part these individuals are not gossips, however they are speculators. If you are not getting accurate and timely information to your staff, the water cooler gang will speculate on the most logical answer to a question based on the input of the entire group.

Water cooler gangs were the original model of team building. People of different job classifications, skills and abilities working together to gain new, or more information and then distributing and sharing that information with their co-workers. One of the perks of using these groups is that it is not only extremely cost effective but, when directed properly, an excellent tool in your team building efforts.

What Do the Water Cooler Gangs Talk About

These folks talk about anything and everything that affects your business, their job or changes in the company. This can be very detrimental if at least one member of the WCG does not have accurate and updated information or reasons for why certain events are taking place. For the most part if there is a knowledge gap the WCG will collectively fill in the gap and many times the speculation that results from filling in the gap is the “fact” that gets to your staff and employees before the official announcement that you may have been working on for weeks.

The WCG does not meet to complain, they meet to problem solve and share information. This is to your advantage and can be very helpful in both team building and implementing change management.

How to Use Your Water Cooler Gang Effectively

Whether you have one WCG or many, this is an invaluable resource for knowing what is going on in your company and spreading news throughout.

The first step, as leader is to identify who the members of each WCG are. Once you have identified them, invite the information seeker/sharer(s) to join your Team Building Group as well as any committees that require personal buy-in from your entire staff. This person(s) will be able to bring ideas to the table from throughout your business as well as share concerns and questions that may not have even been identified at the management levels yet. The added perk to this method is that you will be able to dispel some of the negative speculation that inevitably arises when staff are not kept informed throughout an organization.

Your WCG member will take accurate information back to the gang, who will then share that information within their areas of the organization. In addition, the WCG member can bring questions and concerns back to the committees and many of the problems which become negative deterrents to change management or team building can be addressed before they become problems. If nothing else the member can at least share that an issue is being addressed when a committee has not yet made a decision which will dispel the speculation factor.

Utilizing your Water Cooler Gangs actually provides two positive results for you with minimal effort on leaderships’ part. First, we are acknowledging the existence of these groups and the fact that they are not going to go away. Secondly, we are proactively working with the groups in an inclusive way to address concerns, share information and include them in the leadership process in a totally non-threatening way.

Conclusion

By acknowledging the existence of informal employee groups, such as the water cooler gangs we are proactively including a vital component of our company in our implementation efforts from the bottom-up. This action, in and of itself, will promote active participation and buy-in from your staff and will afford you the opportunity to discover the unique take on information sharing that your staff actually have on your change management or team building efforts.

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