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Posted by on Dec 17, 2014

An Organization Knitted Together – by a Mustache

MustacheFederal agencies are by their very nature complex organizations with a wide variety of highly specialized functions that often do not interact with each other as part of day to day work. This creates the perfect environment for unintended silos and a workforce that doesn’t feel connected with others working somewhere else in their agency.  My organization has found a way to remedy this type of situation by building stronger, broader networks through community awareness activities.

Our #Movember team recently completed our month of unabated facial hair growing. For those who are not aware, Movember is a movement that encourages men to grow mustaches (or other facial hair) to help raise awareness of men’s health issues: this year’s focus is on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and depression.

Men typically aren’t comfortable talking about these ailments, and so this is a way of encouraging them to get screened annually, or otherwise managing these and other men’s health issues. If you looked around, you may have seen more facial hair than at other times of the year during November. If you did, it may have been because others are participating in Movember.

Word of mouth is how our Movember team was built.  Human Resources sent out an email announcing my co-worker Ethan’s interest, and asked if anyone was interested in participating. As Ethan walked around the office doing his regular work (providing IT support), he reinforced the message and did some light recruiting. “Hey, you look like you need a mustache!” he said, or, “A beard would go well with that caterpillar.” Ethan can be pretty engaging, and pretty soon, we had a team of nine men from across the organization, plus a few outsiders, participating in this year’s facial hair grow-a-thon.

What is interesting is how the team came together. I have seen most of the guys in the hallways, recognized a few, know some by name, but didn’t really know them well because most of us work in different divisions. Now, as the Movember challenge winds down, we recognize each other in the hallways, comment on the progress being made or make friendly jests about progress not being made), and generally greet each other with a smile. Relationships are being formed – nascent ones, I’ll grant you, and based only on the willingness to try and grow facial hair and raise some money for a charity, but all relationships start somewhere.

And that is the point.. Someone with a bird’s eye view of the entire organization served as the catalyst that drew us together, regardless of where in the organization we worked.  Who can predict how this experience may pay dividends to the organization in the future, when an opportunity calls for us to work together on a new initiative.  Because of Movember, I met colleagues whom I did not already know, and may never have met without this experience.

Bottom Line:  Informal social projects can help create a sense of community, and that may help grow the organizational culture into one that is more collaborative, engaged, and fun.


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