Who ordered the spoons?

Co-Founder, Sally Nettleton shares the importance of working in collaboration and considers how in taking care of others, we’re also taking care of ourselves.

Co-Founder and Director
7 Nov

Have you ever heard the parable of the long spoons?  It’s told in many cultures and depicts two versions of a feast, one in heaven and one in hell. 

In Hell, guests starve because the spoons have handles so long that although there’s plenty of food, the people find it impossible to put it into their own mouths. In heaven, the feast is identical but the scene is completely different. The guests have the same long spoons, but everyone’s well fed and happy because they’re using the long handled spoons to feed each other. 

I remember the first time I saw this illustrated and it really made me think. Okay, so maybe my first question was “Who ordered the spoons?” That’s a catering cock-up right there and it wouldn’t happen at a Toucan event. One of our crack teams would be checking the tables and rushing off to IKEA (other homewares stores are available) to ensure no guest would go hungry due to poorly chosen cutlery. Equally, the scenario falls apart if you ask “Why don't they just eat with their hands?” But, even with those parable spoiling questions, the story still makes you think, because it’s about the power of collaboration. By taking care of others, we’re taking care of ourselves.

I suspect that each of us has experienced a hellish work environment at some point in our careers and the murmurings of unrest can begin quite subtly and then quickly snowball if left unchecked. An atmosphere of resentment and despair can take hold if respect between colleagues breaks down at any level for whatever reason. Team leaders have an incredible impact for better or worse and I’m stunned by Team Stage who discovered in a survey that in the US only a third of workers receive weekly recognition for their work. That’s two thirds (I’m a maths genius) who get no praise or recognition for their work. No wonder people look for new opportunities and take their talent somewhere else.

Business leaders bang on about the importance of company culture and statistics show this is for good reason. Team Stage state that it’s no surprise to hear that millennials prioritise ‘people and culture fit’ above everything else (we never let them forget it), but the reality is 88% of all job seekers say that a healthy culture at work is vital for success and a great culture attracts high-calibre employees who can increase revenue by a third. A third!

So what if something isn’t working. What if, somewhere in the fog of rapid growth or painful contraction a once well-oiled machine of happy teams is worn out with change or demotivated because despite consistency of effort they feel ignored or taken for granted. Can a culture be created if none exists? Actually, that’s a trick question, if your company feels soulless, operates in silos, if there’s a lack of trust, a sense of ineffectiveness, or systemic burnout among employees – that’s not a company without culture, that’s a company with a toxic culture that has grown unchecked until work is a nightmare and it’s probably costing the company extortionate, never ending recruitment costs. So, can a lousy culture be rehabilitated? Can a positive new culture be put in place? Yes, absolutely, but it takes leadership and a commitment to collaboration.

McKinsey & Company share their experiences in Breaking barriers: Unleashing the power of collaboration in a global legal department. They reflect that not only is collaboration powerful, but discuss how they guided themselves through the most strategic ways to be collaborative and how they asked themselves the most valuable questions to get the results they were looking for.  

Recently, I was fortunate enough to facilitate a group of highly motivated proactive senior leaders as they grappled with the challenges of rapid growth and change. They had layers of complexity communicating ideas across a global company with intricate and siloed operational areas and so we paid attention to key questions that would draw on their insights and used the power of stories to show how effective storytelling can be at the heart of effective communication – and their level of collaboration was pretty inspirational!

When people come together, lean in and commit to supporting each other, that's a great culture. We’re not just trying to shove the spoon in our own mouths, we’re feeding each other and, by taking care of others, we’re taking care of ourselves.

So next time you’re thinking about getting your people to understand collaboration, my 3 top tips are:

  • Make recognition and praise part of your culture
  • Ask the right questions and empower people to solve their own problems
  • Take care of each other

Toucan harnesses the power and magic of storytelling to deliver the impact our clients need to realise their ambitions. You don’t need a brief to start the conversation. Contact us today to get your story started.

Sources: Wikipedia, Team Stage, McKinsey

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