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4 clues about teamwork by solving a murder mystery

What makes a good team? Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are a famous pairing. Our Shared Services team recently cloaked up for a team bonding activity at Escape Hunt in Melbourne. While being locked in a dark room for an hour surrounded by beer doesn’t sound too bad for some, we needed all our powers of deduction (and a few phone-a-friends) to unravel this puzzle. Despite being physically challenging for one 6’4 individual, we had a lot of fun and solved a few mysteries about teamwork in the process.

OUR PUZZLE: A brew master has been murdered. The motive – stealing a secret beer recipe. Our mission – solve the crime, locate the recipe and bring the perpetrator to justice. (Spoiler alert: this article may contain clues.)

  1. It is better to get help when you need it – Some people always seek help, others try to nut it out alone. Asking for help is really worthwhile when you can’t otherwise figure it out; knowing when to ask is the key. While it would defeat the purpose of the game if we were given too many clues, wasting time over every impasse is counterproductive.
  2. Teamwork is as important as individual work – Our combined efforts allowed us to progress to the next steps, and we were rewarded with more challenging clues. We found some clues individually, presented them to the team and brainstormed our ideas further.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask a ‘dumb’ question – I should have spoken up but instead I thought I had a ‘dumb’ question. In the last room of our murder mystery puzzle, I saw a torch on the table and was wondering why it looked a little different from the standard ones we were given. Fearing that I would be asking a dumb question, I kept quiet. Our team was unable to figure out by ourselves that it was a UV torch to illuminate hidden clues.  Yes, I should have asked that seemingly ‘dumb’ question.
  4. Sometimes we overcomplicate things unnecessarily – Often the solution is obvious. Our team was stuck in the last room of the final stage of the game for ages. I could feel the atmosphere amongst the group changing. We were all getting frustrated, uncomfortably cramped into a claustrophobic room.  With just two combination locks to go, we spent ages trying to multiply, add, subtract and rearrange six digits that were simply a linear code.

Holmes said, “Give me problems, give me work.” What have you learned about your work style through a team bonding activity?

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Posted in The world @work

Procrastination: Productivity killer or silent achiever?

Who hasn’t been guilty of being a bit tardy at work occasionally? Leaving a task to the last minute or putting the same job in the too hard basket for no good reason. In fact isn’t that how most of us got through school or university? I remember many late night cramming sessions, starting assignments at last minute… I’ll put my hand up now and say I am still a little guilty of procrastination. It’s a simple, human trait so pervasive that I bet you’re putting off something else while reading this.

Procrastination in the workplace is not only common, it’s part of our daily routine. It can be walking around the office with no specific purpose, having a casual chat with a colleague, getting a coffee you didn’t really need. Over the course of writing this article I will have checked my emails, called clients and spoken with candidates at the end of almost every sentence – that’s a lot of calls, not to mention a lot of cups of coffee!

So if this is a phenomenon that everyone engages in, is it really a problem? Well, a recent article published on an online business blog estimates that procrastination costs UK businesses over £76 billion (AUD $155 billion) per year. To put this into perspective, IBISWorld reports the entire banking industry in Australia has an annual revenue of AUD $168 billion. It seems like procrastination is a HUGE issue for business and the economy as a whole.

But before you leap to the conclusion that procrastination must be costing your company big bucks, spare a thought for those “lazy, useless, unproductive bunch of social parasites” the Brits at London Loves Business are referring to, wonderfully parodied by Ricky Gervais in The Office. How about those times you stay back late, or the hours you put in after work or on the weekend? I’d argue that the flexibility afforded by a few minutes here and there is much more valuable. Consider too the positive impact of reprioritising our ‘less important’ tasks (while stalling on this blog, I’ve been otherwise very productive).

Ever wondered where the time has gone when you’re hard-pressed to complete an urgent task? Deadlines stretched to the limit could be because you put off completing work when you knew you had the opportunity to do it, or simply because you stopped to listen to someone who needed your ear. Logically we tell ourselves that had we avoided those timewasting traps, we would have got through our ‘important’ work.

Naturally your decisions impact your team, the division, in fact the whole organisation. As a manager I can see the less tangible benefits of some internal PR with a colleague or getting some fresh air to refocus. If you’re looking for harder evidence, see our recent post on Three Scientific Reasons for Taking a Break.

Finally, before I get back to other work, here are five proven methods for beating procrastination courtesy of Business Insider:

  1. Start with easy tasks to build momentum
  2. Know your work style and preferences
  3. Break down complex tasks
  4. Find a reason to give your tasks purpose
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself

You found time to read my article, you may like to watch their video. In the meantime I’ll just grab another coffee.

What are some of your tips to avoid the traps of procrastination? What else have you achieved while procrastinating?

Mark Fischer

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Applying the 85/15 principle

What would your response be if I asked you to walk and run 100km in the Australian bush with me? You’d be part of a team of four and we’d be raising money for the Oxfam Trailwalker. Would you have thought you couldn’t do it? That the human body isn’t meant to do that kind of thing? It was mad? These were the kind of responses from most people… or that they happened to be busy that weekend!

I eventually found three others who were keen to take on the challenge. We formed a team and hit the ground running, so to speak. Not only is it a physically demanding event, all four team members must complete the 100km course together, everyone must check-in at all the designated checkpoints and make it over the finish line within 48 hours.

Leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning of Friday 10 April, the course started off at Wesburn Park and ran through the Dandenong Ranges, covering some beautiful country. We travelled over the mountains into Warburton, onto the O’Shannassy Aquaduct and along the flat section of the Warburton Trail. From there we moved up to the peak of Olinda, down through Ferntree Gully, Lysterfield and finally finished in Jells Park Wheelers Hill.

There were times throughout the 100km course where our bodies felt like they’d gone as far as they could, our brains were telling us to stop and the thought of a hot shower was almost enough to make you want to throw in the towel and raise a white flag. But, as with most challenging situations, whether they are physical, mental or both – we actually had a lot more in the tank than we realised. It’s called the 85/15 principle.

This principle was first introduced to me by a seasoned Oxfam Trailwalker participant, who has a background in medicine.  She told me the Oxfam 100km is actually a piece of cake, provided you do your training. When you think you’re near exhaustion at say 85% of your physical limits – ignore it. You’re actually at 15% and have 85% of your capacity in reserve. I was intrigued.

She said the human body is amazing in terms of its strength and underlying capability and sometimes we should ignore our natural instincts, reservations and doubts.  Those reference points to exertion and the physical boundaries we place on ourselves are in our minds and you actually just need to keep pushing through.

It can be the same in our professional and personal lives. Whether we are mentally challenged by solving a difficult problem, managing multiple projects with competing deadlines, or feel like we don’t have enough resources to successfully deliver – once you’ve solved the problem, delivered the projects and completed what you thought was unachievable, it reminds us we are capable of so much more than we think.

Our team of four completed the Oxfam Trailwalker together in 20 hours and 45 minutes, finishing at 4:45am on Saturday 11 April, and I’ll tell you what – we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our tired and grubby faces. While the event certainly took us out of our comfort zones, we all took on board a valuable lesson. Next time you’re confronting a serious challenge, try the 85/15 principle: When you feel like you’re at 85% of your limits, flip it around and know you’re capable of much, much more than you’re giving yourself credit for.

I think most of us have probably been guilty of underestimating our own capability at some point throughout our lives, as well as the true potential of what our colleagues, clients, friends and family can achieve. We are far more likely to achieve our goals when we ignore our doubts and just get on with it, while supporting others to do the same.

What challenges have you set for yourself to take you out of your comfort zone?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work