Is Employee Engagement all about free drinks, team lunches and the occasional Job Satisfaction poll? A quick online sweep for what the world defines as ‘workplace engagement‘ uncovers a plethora of different views. We explored this in a past blog citing ‘Engage for Success’. Mercer’s Engagement Model defines it as “…a psychological state in which employees feel a vested interest in the company’s success and are both willing and motivated to perform to levels that exceed the stated job requirements.”

But this is the thing: while employee engagement is for everybody in the organisation; a “one size fits all” solution can be counterproductive when imparting information. We are in an age where information is (still) power; and “middle management” is tasked to be- by definition- ‘in the middle’ of staff and the Executive Team.

Thus the occasional conundrum…

With structural, cultural and all manner of sub-cultural factors involved, how can upper management’s actual hopes and aspirations for the company be shared and engaged with? How can teams keep the message from getting lost? What needs to be done to avoid a muddled company culture? Foosball comes to mind. It’s a fun game that elicits competitiveness. And although no one wants to be that guy – that stiff foosball player spun around and used to define a culture as ‘playful’ in real life– the game itself lends us 5 key lessons…

Five Plays on Winning Employee Engagement – Foosball Style

A good quality foosball table

There is nothing wrong with spoiling them a little. Foosball requires a good table in order to learn how to master the game. Equally, your staff need the right tools to win for the team. Chances are your Designer does need a Mac (but can live without it being the latest top of the line model). And perhaps the right ergonomic chairs suggested by Health and Safety can be both practical and a great way to share a little love.

As shared with us by Iain Martin, Moonpig’s MD in a recent interview “…it’s never gonna work if your employee engagement activities are just ‘lip service’ or 5 words written on the wall. We spend good money on decent chairs, a pingpong table, grassy areas, popcorn machine and a decent coffee machine…But the chairs that cost hundreds of pounds, I still get Thank Yous for those!”

Pick a single shot to master

Good foosball players have a single shot. Don’t try to be a jack of all foosball shots because you will never master them all. Not in one go anyway. So when it comes to implementing engagement we found an excellent Guidebook from Dale Carnegie: 50 Employee Engagement Ideas and Tips – that’s almost one shot to master every week (except for Christmas)!

Foosball strategies

Foosball is as much a mental game as it is physical. Think not only about how to master your game, but about how your competition is thinking. And when it comes to defining who the competition is, anyone that takes mindshare is someone to compete with (or learn from).

Look up what others are doing and choose some that are scalable and suited to your company culture. The Sunday Times has an interactive online site for Best Companies to work for in 2014 which ranks companies by categories like “wellbeing” and “Giving something back”. While feeling really competitive, there’s also London Stock Exchange’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain.

Foosball Catching Technique

Learn to stop or “catch” the foosball – One of the keys to foosball is catching because it allows you to maximise your amount of possessions and ball control. What are we saying on this one? Listen. Catch on early with any internal challenges and feelings of doubt from the team. Feelings of doubt can be attributed largely to a lack of transparency in an organisation.

According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, making a conscious effort to be as transparent as possible is key. “When companies try to hide things, whether it’s work on a new product, impending layoffs, a struggling division, or internal tension, it doesn’t just produce leaks. It makes people worse at their jobs. They feel less appreciated, less trusted, and less motivated.”

Play to win and have fun

Classic game stopper: a game is only a game, really, when it’s a decent challenge. Foosball can be quite a competitive game that follows a set of rules that all players should adhere to. If you don’t know them, ask. And no spinning! Spinning is defined as the rotating the foosball men around at more than one rotation. Playing to win does not include cheating, not if you’re a good sport of course.

For businesses of any size. there are many resources and innovative ways of thinking to incite the same passion that drives people to join your team in the first place.

The key thing is: If you convey passion to them, they’re more likely to feel it too. As aptly put by our personal hero Richard Branson, “We spend so much of our lives working to stay fresh and creative, we need to bring a sense of play and entertainment to the office. Your employees’ continuing enthusiasm will pay off as they stay on for the long term, build their skills, contribute their ideas, and take a real interest in the business.

Mastering anything worthwhile takes time. Foosball can be thought of as a table game, or an actual sport. It can be an icebreaker or a team-building exercise. It can take years to develop all of the right mental and physical skills to become a professional player in any team sport. Your dream team is worth the time.

Published Sunday January 26, 2014