Ditch the PowerPoints and make way for play and Jenga blocks. Every month or so, we invite new and current employees to a three-hour get-together called The Friendship Haven Experience to introduce or remind team members of The Friendship Haven Way. 

We have 10 basic principles we expect all team members to practice when they are working. 

It’s not rocket science; the lessons are basic, really. Regardless, in our experience, we’ve found it’s important to remind employees why they are here, what they do is important, and how team members conduct themselves matters. 

Each year, we try to freshen things up to keep people interested in attending. This year, “play” is front and center. 

We all learn better when we are having fun. Lessons stick. Relationships grow and time doesn’t drag on. Plus, if the teacher is bored reading from a PowerPoint, chances are everyone else is too!

It’s been a fun challenge to try and come up with something new to teach the same core principles each year. This year, it has been fun to lean into “play.” 

A focus on fun

In case you are wondering about the 10 standards we expect each day here, they are: attitude, respect, teamwork, leadership, customer service, communication, appearance, ownership/accountability, mission, vision, values and FUN. 

That’s right: we expect people to have fun while they are working. Sometimes, this is a challenge; our work is serious, and the expectations are high, but all of that can happen regardless of whether there are serious moments or fun involved. 

This year especially, our focus must be on all the good we do. We cannot keep hiding behind the pressure of the work. As Joe Maddon reminds us, “Never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.” 

This work is extremely rewarding. We get to enter people’s homes every day and make their day. We get to know them, love them, share a laugh with them, and help create meaningful moments with them. Sure, there are tasks involved. We need to do those well and professionally. But we can have fun while doing that. 

Team-building experience

So, back to The Friendship Haven Experience. Play is our focus this year, and the first Experience was a success. I was surprised, though, at how many team members didn’t know how to play Jenga. Maybe it’s a generational game. We grew up playing it, sitting on the edge of our seats, trying not to be the one to knock the tower down. As some of us got older, there was a more, shall we say, “alcohol-y” way to play. If you know, you know. 

I didn’t give the rules this time, which was a mistake since many hadn’t played before. That said, it was interesting watching them trying to figure it out. Each time a block was pulled, there were reminders of our expectations written on the blocks. This prompted great conversation and reminded each of them of the expectations. We didn’t have to be so serious; the points were made, the reminders were there, and the lessons were learned, all while having fun. 

We introduced other fun, playful activities to teach and remind team members of how and why we do what we do. Overall, it was a worthwhile afternoon. One team member, who was starting her second day with us, thought it was a great example of seeing our culture in action. She talked about how she genuinely felt our mission, vision and values and how the afternoon proved to her that we put our ideas into action. What a great compliment. 

We don’t have it all figured out, and we can certainly improve in many areas. Like many of you, we are a learning organization committed to constantly doing and being better.

Play will continue to be a part of our 2024 game plan, not only for our team members but also for the residents we serve. Playing is an amazing way to learn, remain in the moment, forget about the past, and not worry about the future, even if just for a few minutes. 

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a LeadingAge Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and an alumna of LeadingAge’s Leadership Educator Program. She can be emailed here.

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