The last dance?

I was privileged to be able to talk about tummeling again this week, this time to an (fairly small but enthusiastic) FM audience. This post is a re-working of a post for the Leesman Blog, taking on board some of yesterday’s post-session thoughts.

The search for the magic dust that makes a wonderfully designed, beautifully constructed brand-reflective workplace, underpinned by an extensive and inclusive change management programme, finally come to life has been torturous…. for the most part due to not really having any idea what I was looking for.

I am still not convinced that many are familiar with, or fully understand, tummeling – the active process of doing things differently and talking about doing things differently – that is this vital ingredient. If you are new to the idea there is a pecha kucha length explanation here.

Part of the difficulty of grasping the concept relates to the perception of community. A fundamentally important aspect of considering the importance of tummeling relates to our very perception of community. There are two broad types.

In most new workplace projects, we unfortunately accept a static community. That is to say, we recognise a small difference between the interactions of occupants from the previous to the new environment, and the use of the various spaces we have provided, however “activity based” our solution (a misnomer in itself, as all environments are inherently and by definition activity based – just possibly the wrong activity). Our Post Occupancy information shows an increase in satisfaction levels. All of the indicators are positive. Job well done. Big beer. Next.

However in most respects we miss the point. Communities need to be active. Not managed, as some may have it – that is the very last thing that needs to happen – but stimulated, invigorated, challenged. A community needs to develop a self-sustaining life, using the complexity of the human component of the workspace provided, to grow and change. It needs the presence of people that understand tummeling, and what is needed. They may be already employed by the organisation, they may need to be brought in from outside and given a free role.

Considering the expense, that brought the workplace into being, that’s a small price to pay, Unfortunately it doesn’t sit easily with large organisations – just paying people to be around to do things differently, and talk about it. 

Picking up on a question yesterday, tummeling is not simply about the social spaces and the interaction they offer, it’s not about our unhealthy and facile obsession with people stopping what they are doing to drink latte and chat. It’s actually about people at work, in the sense of the activity itself, as broadly and loosely defined as possible – the doing of work and work-related tasks differently, and talking about the experience – and in many ways bringing work-related tasks into the fold of our understanding of work itself.  

The static community will, in time, whither and stagnate. The finishes may hold up, the furniture operate within its warranty, and the branded sparkle remain. Visually the experience may still appear fresh(ish) several years later.

Yet in terms of the origin of the word tummel, the dance will have stopped. If we have not identified or implanted, set free and empowered the people required within the workplace to ensure that the community actively continues on its journey, what was it all for?

One thought on “The last dance?

  1. I was one of the lucky few to hear your tummelling talk at the FM Event. It obviously struck a chord with the audience and I think that the part that we struggled with initially was the application ‘at work’ rather than the obvious idea that it is a ‘water-cooler’ thing.
    I’ll enjoy thinking about it further and teasing it out.

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