When we ask co-founders about how they communicate with each other, many have good answers. They share how they give feedback in one-on-ones, weekly meetings, and during quarterly reviews. They talk about how they plan out times to express gratitude and how they have specially-designed rituals for appreciation every week. Often, we’re impressed with how intentional and planned they are. But the more structured we become, the harder it is to meaningfully connect with our peers.
There is a coffee shop one block from my house called Rivers and Road Coffee. It’s owned by a couple named Mike and Desiree, and they roast their own coffee and bake their own cakes, muffins, and breads, all right there. Before COVID, from time to time they would heat up a few of their banana chocolate-chip muffins, cut them into quarters, and walk around to those of us working in their space and offer free samples. It didn’t happen every day, or every week, or even every month. There was no way to plan for it or expect it. Just on some days you would show up and they would be giving out a quadrant of a warm, gooey banana chocolate-chip muffin. The surprise and unexpectedness of it was utterly delightful. It is stuck in my memory and somehow it speaks to their spirit of generosity and hospitality more than if free samples were a planned, regular event.
All of this has me wondering if we’re over-engineering and over-scheduling our times for connecting with the people we work with every day. Instead of your co-founder or direct report knowing that it is the Wednesday meeting and this is the time when everyone goes around and expresses gratitude to one another, is there a more unexpected way to recognize someone, to have them feel seen, for them to feel like they’re deeply valued? The call out of the blue, the handwritten card, the affirmation when they least expect it. When so many are burnt out, worn down, and tired of the Zoom screen and the homebound routine, the smallest unexpected delight can be the grandest gesture.