In my (now) twenty years building workplaces around the world, despite the visual and practical success I have witnessed, there has always been something missing. I have never been able to put my finger on it.
This has been more intense with the completion of a project last Summer that I moved to and now sit in for the greater part of the week. It is highly functional, beautiful, crisp, clean, sharp, open, and respectful of the human condition and needs. But.
The puzzle is now mirrored in the virtual, in social networks internal to organisations such as Yammer that end up as ridiculously safe and benign environments where no-one talks to one another or shares anything worthwhile, fearing to tread.
The phrase “build it and they will come” omits to state that they will understand it, embrace it, actively get involved, and that their lives will change for the better. Why do we expect that having built it, people will just “get it”? Communication is not enough.
In the workplace profession we create environments, bring people together, and believe we are creating “communities” – we complete the project, engage and communicate, and sit back and – phut. Nothing. We observe the same things happening in the same ways, with perhaps some minor change around the frayed edges. Then everyone involved runs off and gets the obligatory award, leaving a ghostly void where the community might have been.
Having been made aware of the concept of tummeling over a year ago – thanks to Lloyd Davis and his role as social artist at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (#c4cc) – it has taken a second most helpful mental prod last week from the very same visionary to finally make me realise what it is. There is something about enlightenment. It’s really rather enjoyable.
Tummel is a Yiddish word. A tummeler is a person who catalyses others to action, traditionally hired at Jewish weddings to encourage everyone to dance. It originates from the German tummeln, which means ‘to stir’. It is so underused that it even fails the spellcheck. It owes its modern incarnation to Kevin Marks, Heather Gold and Deb Shultz, and is alive in their superb http://tummelvision.tv/. The concept deserves a far wider airing in all fields associated with work, because it can teach us a great deal.
In the social world, people lie at the centre of business, technology and culture. And so the modern workplace needs – as Lloyd puts it – people doing things differently, and talking about doing things differently. It needs people in the workplace able to impart the art and skills required to engage in the social world. They may be existing employees – they may be people brought in for the purpose. The workplace needs – indeed requires – tummelers. We may have to hire them, we may have to identify them, we may have to give them a freer role with the space to act. This requires that we are able ourselves to identify tummelers, itself requiring an awareness. For those in workplace and HR this is a significant challenge.
We spend a huge amount of money building and operating workplaces, and filing them with employees. Funding the vital role of tummelers is barely a rounding error in relation to the investment, yet is vital.
When did you last buy a car without an ignition key?