Snakes Alive

Last week I joined 40 people for a personal development retreat in a beautiful bushland setting. For five days we contemplated, cooked and ate together with no interpersonal communication. No talking, no passing notes and no sign language. Yet everything flowed comfortably, stress-free, like clockwork.

Photo of man sitting alone in a forest.

As you can imagine the planning to pull this off was impeccable. Steps for preparing each meal had been documented to a level that would rival the best franchise operations manual, and each person had a list of tasks to complete. Every detail had been considered so, when people were not doing their chores, they could sit quietly or take a walk without the need to distract others by talking.

Prior to starting the five days of silence there was an orientation meeting to align expectations and discuss how we might deal with various scenarios. It was emphasised that if everyone just did their bit, and trusted others to do theirs, everything would be fine. As we were in tropical Queensland, the point was also made that there were poisonous snakes about, and we should stay attentive when walking around. Someone then asked one of the organisers what they should do if they see a snake. Because most tasks had been specified in such detail, his response made me laugh. He simply said “Don’t get bitten”.

It reminded me that, while it’s important in our businesses to have agreed procedures and tasks, it’s more important that people are clear on the purpose behind these tasks. How often do we get caught up with to-do lists, but forget about the outcomes we are working toward?

Perhaps this obsession with tasks is linked to the feeling of achievement that comes when we tick things off. This of course can be an illusion, especially if we are focused on the wrong things, or, if you like, confusing efficiency with effectiveness. Rather than rattling off to-do lists, I encourage the FRI team to constantly keep in mind what they are trying to achieve and where they feel stuck. This puts the mind in a more creative state, enables others to contribute support if necessary, and promotes a growth mindset.

In a similar vein, our professional development work with franchise field consultants encourages them to keep in mind that compliance always needs to have a purpose. For instance, they need to be able to explain to franchisees the reason for insisting on certain policies or procedures. And if they can’t explain the “why”, they need to find out.

Keeping in mind our main responsibility when we see a snake is to not get bitten, we will naturally do what needs to be done. It’s also a reminder that we can’t do good in the world if we don’t look after our health.

You may be wondering whether anyone did see a snake. While there were some sightings, everyone took the advice and stayed safe. Furthermore, everyone collaborated in a relaxed, effective manner, without the need for a single word. It has certainly made me think about how much unnecessary noise we make as we go about our work. Hope you’ve started the year well and I look forward to keeping in touch with as few words as possible!

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