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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Fun at Work

This week my wife and daughter are on holiday in Italy, leaving me and our menagerie of pets to our own devices! Harper has finished school for the summer and Mrs Davies has a week off as she transitions between jobs so they booked a trip at short notice and off they went. I had lots of work scheduled this week and I also am currently without a passport (this is a sore point, so don’t ask!) and so it’s meant that I’ve found myself with loads of spare time in the evenings and over the weekend.

As well as extended walks with Flora (aka FloDo Baggins) our Cavapoo puppy and mowing the lawn, I’ve made use of the time to catch up on some reading, including revisiting Tim Gallwey’s classic The Inner Game of Work. Gallwey has written some classic coaching texts, both for sport (The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Tennis) and this title which is business specific, but utilises the same principles he developed when working with athletes. It's often prescribed reading on coaching courses and I can highly recommend it!

In the middle of this book, he talks at length about enjoyment of work, a topic I’ve touched on in previous blogs and something I've reflected on a lot through the years. When I was growing up, my dad worked offshore, was was pretty common up in the North East of Scotland, with the North Sea oil boom which really took off after a couple of oil crises in the 1970s. As such, he was away for about half of the year, sometimes more at times, which was a significant sacrifice to make, especially by the end of the 80s when he had three young children. The oldest and youngest of his kids were a bit rubbish but the middle one was awesome, so I can only imagine the feeling of having to leave that guy behind as he went off to work! A few of my friends have gone done the same road, working in the oil industry, either in the North Sea, or further afield in Africa or the Middle East and as they've gone from young and single to having partners and children, I've seen how challenging that can be on the family dynamic.

One thing that helped make the situation bearable, was the fact that my dad, on the whole, loved his work. He had some clients, some jobs, some companies over the year who he liked more or less than others, but the content of the work; engineering, solving problems, fixing things, overcoming challenges, was hugely fulfilling for him. Even today, several years into his retirement, I love quizzing him on jobs he did, places he visited and challenges he overcame. His recall of people and machinery from decades ago never ceases to amaze and he talks with such passion and energy, it's hard not to be captivated by the stories.

I've long chased that same feeling, that same excitement and enthusiasm for my work, even when I didn't realise it. But there's more to that feeling of connection and engagement than immediately meets the eye.

In The Inner Game, Gallwey talks the Work Triangle, a simple diagram of an equilateral triangle with Performance, Learning and Enjoyment at the three corners. In his seminars, he draws the triangle and quizzes the audience about the factors making it up, with the point being that the three elements are in a relationship. The need to be considered collectively. In many situations, organisations (for many reasons) try to push performance at the expense of learning and of enjoyment. The result is, certainly over the longer term, the opposite of that which they're hoping for. If performance is the only focus and people stop learning and don't enjoy themselves, their performance ultimately suffers. We've all been in the 'flow state' where we're doing something we love and time seems to slip by, unnoticed. When that happens, learning and performance are almost a given - we get better and we achieve great things, without even realising it's happening.

In my career, I made the mistake of chasing 'performance'. Attainment, achievement, promotion, performance ratings and bonuses. Those were the conventional measures, within my organisation of someone who was doing well, so much of my focus was on what I needed to do or where I needed to go, to get hold of these. When I finally got to a stage where I was at my most miserable (and my performance was unquestionably at its worst), I was given the burning platform of being put at risk of redundancy. From here, I put my energy into finding a job I really loved the sound of, and my career turned around. I focussed on learning and doing things I enjoyed and without any attention, my performance rose and rose.

If you find yourself in a place where you're at a career crossroads, this can be a useful tool, but even for those who are just on a plateau, performance-wise, there's value here for you. What can you do, where you are right now, to turn up the dial on the learning or on the enjoyment of your work. Take on a new project. Mentor someone. Bring a passion into the workplace. Enrol for a course. What about that Masters you've always spoken about?

Instead of chasing results, try chasing those things for a little while, and see what happens!

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