R U OK – Sustainable pace in the workplace and Stress Busters

Earlier this month, I was asked to present for R U OK day at one of our clients sites. It was a day where we drew attention to the need to check in with friends, family, and co workers on a regular basis not just once a year. I thought it would be good to understand a little about working with a sustainable pace and to have some fun with Stress Busting activities to help individuals and teams have a bit of fun with their work.

I started talking with teams about two words that we encounter a lot in an agile environment — “efficient” and “effective”. Everyone, especially managers, loves efficiency. They love seeing that everyone is 100% utilised across multiple projects. They love seeing everyone being “busy”. Unfortunately, it’s not the smartest way to work. 

Take the agile practice of “Pair Programming”. Many people new to this way of working will call out “2 people working on 1 machine, that’s not very efficient!” and they are 100% correct. It’s not efficient. What it does, though, is produce a high quality, high value product sooner. In that way, Pair Programming is highly effective. Efficient falls down because it doesn’t focus on the outcome, just the tasks involved.  Effective focuses on the outcome and the end result of knowledge work.

A lot of the activities we do to relieve stress may not be efficient, however they are very effective at keeping people and a team being productive at a sustainable pace.

Understanding and achieving a sustainable pace does take time. We talked through my experiences with one team who had been together for approximately 3 months. They had just started to find their feet when a significant, urgent deadline emerged, and they were asked to double their output. Agile teams call this “hero work”. They did as they were asked, did some overtime, and delivered. The impact, however, was significant. Team members took sick leave, the whole team’s output decreased by 1/2, and they showed signs of stress and burnout over the next few weeks. Had the team kept the same, sustainable pace, however, they would have produced more over the same period of time.

With deadlines, hero work is sometimes, yet what we need to acknowledge the impact that has to the team and whether we truly want to achieve short term objectives at the expense of long term goals.

“If you can get today’s work done today, but you do it in such a way that you can’t get tomorrow’s work done tomorrow, Then you lose.”

– Martin Fowler

The rest of the event was spent with some energising games to use with teams to bring some fun into meetings i.e. “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Champion”! and “The IKEA” game. We also looked at some ways to help individuals with mindfulness activities, giving Kudos, finding laughter, and getting some time outside.

The event was met with enthusiasm and excitement and I hope that they will take some of these activities back to their teams. Hopefully, you too can do the same.


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