This year, we have been experimenting with the creation of a Sparkle Studio to house and produce a “Make Meaningful Work” show. The creation of this platform would enable us to produce a series of mini-events, including this show, throughout each year.
We want to invite people around the world to participate in the show, discuss various topics relevant to making meaningful work; and experience together the drafting, discussion, rehearsal, and making of the show. We want to create a place where people can experience and reflect on their learnings from the practice of making something meaningful together.
This is an experiment of sorts that aims to move beyond traditional training formats toward one in which we can start making together, then reflect on the relevant practices from that making rather than considering the theory of making first. In this article, we’ll describe and reflect on that experience in its making.
Lacking a Culture That Provides Meaningful Work
Some people have never experienced working on a healthy, well-functioning team so don’t know how it feels to work within such a culture. They might never have experienced a supportive, caring, pleasant culture at work.
Perhaps they might have experienced a collaborative environment on certain teams or working with specific people; or during an external event such as a team offsite, retreat, or training session. However, once they return to work and get busy, they quickly forget all the best practices and intentions they’ve learned outside the workplace. They revert back to their industrial, transactional ways of working and delivering results, contributing to the dehumanization of their culture at work.
The Sparkle Studio Make Meaningful Work Show
The Make Meaningful Work show encourages the creation of spaces and environments in which people can do the following:
Experience the making of a show and understand the roles that are relevant to making it happen.
Prepare stories and do practice spotting to derive the practices that are part of making a show together.
Take explicit moments for reflection to better understand those practices.
Take deeper dives into the practices that are contextually relevant to the team.
Experience meaningful work—both as an individual and as a team—in a fun way.
The Meaning Journal: Building Community and Codifying Practices
Each show participant receives a Meaning Journal in which to record observations. Doing this helps participants to navigate the show experience successfully and provides explicit moments at which to stop, be present, and reflect on and document what they’ve learned as a result of the experience of working with other people during the making of the show. Over time, the Meaning Journal helps people identify patterns for themselves and their teams, revealing either positive or negative practices.
The Meaning Journal comprises the following key tools:
character cards—These cards describe who you are and the people with whom you’re working—that is, your characters. Creating character cards helps you reflect on what you’ve learned during the making of a show and refine your understanding of what matters to you, your team, and others with whom you work and why it matters. You can use these character cards to understand the character of the guests you interview on the show. They’ll help you to see multiple dimensions of these people as they share more about their background in the form of stories.
story cards—Sharing project stories is a good way for you and your team to get to know each other. Through observation and curious inquiry, you can determine the people, roles, interactions, intentions, practices, and behavioral motivations that are present in the story. Creating story usually cards reveals what is happening under the surface of each role, or character, in the story, where their real behaviors and motivations live. It also shows whether the culture within which the individuals and the team are working is experiencing sleepwalking or sparkle.
practice cards—Practices derive from the stories. Depending on the people who are making the show and the language they prefer, similar practices may have different names. These practices are valuable, meaningful, and purposeful, and they rely on particular soft skills. The practice cards inform what practices you need to stop and help you to reflect on the modules on which to do deeper dives as you make a show. Practice cards also reveal which people are particularly interested in specific practices and who could be a great practice lead.
community map—As people get to know each other better, where people intersect and how they relate to characters, stories, experiences, and practices becomes clearer. These intersections show what practices connect and bind different roles and disciplines together. As the community’s bonds become clearer, document them on a community map. Creating a community map gives you an idea of the strength of the relationships between certain people and show what those people value as a result. Discuss what these relationships mean for the people making the show and their practices.
learning portfolio—Creating this portfolio helps you understand teach-and-learn moments. The name of this tool comprises two words that have the following meanings in this context:
learning—Creating continuous momentum or movement toward learning and promoting the idea that there is something to learn or iteratively refine every day.
portfolio—A record of the knowledge you’ve gained by investing yourself in learning.
meaning canvas—Creating a meaning canvas lets you aggregate and summarize your learnings from using all of these tools and refine the elements of whatever is meaningful to you and your team, as follows:
values—Internalize what values represent how you want to treat others and how you want them to treat you. Understanding these values also demonstrates your intentions and what related practices would embody them.
capability gaps—Identify what capabilities might be deficient. What practices do you need to strengthen to help you do meaningful work?
behaviors—Decide what positive behaviors you want to encourage and what negative behaviors you want to avoid in the way you treat each other.
meaning—Write a clear statement of what is meaningful to you and your team and find a way to visually represent this.
By keeping a Meaning Journal during the making of a show, the participants gain the following benefits:
a much clearer understanding of themselves
experiencing how an open, safe workspace feels
a deeper understanding of the people with whom they’re working
practical methods, in the form of practice cards, that help them to continue these practices going forward
We want these participants to experience the following:
Being part of a community of practice around the show.
Connecting to the content so they can continue to follow others who may have interests in similar topics, practices, or themes.
Continuing to apply any practices they feel strongly about.
Understanding their capability gaps and what they need to strengthen.
Planning a Make Meaningful Work Show
As the production team discusses what to plan, they should consider the following elements:
pre-show invitation—Create an invitation letter that explains what people need to prepare prior to arriving on set.
stories—Most importantly, participants must bring their own stories from work—or, for kids, from their school.
roles—Outline specific roles you want participants to experience and draft role descriptions to give them an idea of each role’s key tasks and responsibilities and enable you to discover who would connect with a particular role during the making of the show.
guides—Create a guide for each role that describes your expectations for that role. These guidelines should be present on the set when you describe the environment because many people have never prepared or recorded a show before.
practice spotting—Use practice-spotting sessions to help you discover the practices that are implicit in project stories, make them explicit, and reveal behaviors that contribute to either sleepwalking or sparkle for individuals and teams.
The key desired outcomes of the Make Meaningful Work show are for people to have fun playing their roles and making the show and to determine, through practice spotting, the practices that are relevant to participants and their team.
Usually outcomes from the learning program, which we’ll discuss next, naturally reveal the vision, values, practices, and underlying motivations of the team making a show. Instead of your having to define these up front, they naturally fall out of the process of making, as team members have fun rotating through the various roles.
The Learning Program
When people first enter the studio, the Meaning Journal guides them through the overall learning program. It enables them to do the following:
Build meaningful foundations. Gently encourage people to be aware that they are in a studio environment. They have walked into a space that is neither home nor school. Describe how you want people to work together. Ask participants to introduce themselves and share why they’ve come together as a small community to make meaningful work. As people settle in, ask them to start sharing the stories they’ve prepared, then walk through the roles that are necessary to make a show. This gives people an opportunity to gain comfort and confidence that they can do what is necessary to make the show. It’s also a good way for people to get to know each other. You can sense who has particular leanings or strengths for specific roles and the implications for people making meaning together. Focus and reflect on the practices necessary to build a foundation, including but not limited to safety, trust, authenticity, belonging, respect, and active listening. After doing this, people should feel more relaxed about making a show together, independent of the quality of the show’s content. This should also help them to withdraw their attention from the transactional part of making meaningful work together and focus on the meaning they can glean from the experience.
Foster meaningful team cultures. Next, turn your attention toward both the roles and the content. Give people an opportunity to swap their roles when filming and telling the stories. This lets people look at roles from various perspectives—whether script writing, directing, audio, video, hosting, or being a guest. People become more comfortable with making a show and their confidence grows. They can then dive into the key practices that are at the heart of meaningful work and begin to reflect on the key practices. (We’ll share some examples later.) People naturally start to think of other people from their own communities who would be good practice leads. This instigates discussions about expanding the community map beyond the people present in the studio.
Sustain meaningful work cultures. The consistent repeatability of good practices is essential. The Meaning Journals that participants have been keeping during the making of the show draw attention to what people have specific practice strengths; who has the willingness, the intention, and the motivation to keep on making shows; who has interest in a specific role and the desire to do deeper dives into the relevant practices for that role; and who is thinking about creating their own Sparkle Studio and Show to create their own content about making meaningful work. Explicitly create a space for learning and making going forward and foster communities for making meaningful work together.
As the program progresses, participants continue to use, refer to, and record thoughts in their Meaning Journal. They may sketch their observations, use key reflection moments for deeper dives into the practices that are relevant to making meaningful work, and discover contextual practices for the group they’re working with.
Practice Cards for Making Meaningful Work
Let’s look at some example practice cards that are relevant to the program we’ve described in this article and to building foundations for meaningful work by fostering and sustaining team and work cultures.
Practice Card 1: Self-Reflection
Taking a moment to consider your thoughts and actions on your own or with others. Discovering what you would like to improve and why.
stopping to consider the present, past, and future
asking questions that lead to continuous learning
discovering deeper painpoints
prompting the discussion of topics that are important to you
Write down three questions whose answers would advance your own personal development.
Identify three people with whom you can discuss problems and note why you’ve selected those three people.
Write down three topics to include in your learning portfolio and why those topics are important to you.
Building Meaningful Local and Global Communities of Practice
In most organizations today, work is still primarily about transactions and delivery, which can be very challenging for people. Such workplaces and cultures do not encourage learning, and it’s challenging to find learning partners to participate in well-articulated learning programs that help you to improve professionally and personally over time. This is not to say that such learning programs do not exist in some workplaces, but they are very rare.
From our years of research, we have discovered that functionally siloed workplaces that comprise disconnected departments result in either a fractured community or very little sense of community. Therefore, while community might exist within silos, functions, or departments, these departments rarely intersect or connect around learning, with practices taking center stage in their conversations. Thus, diverse perspectives are lost.
Whenever cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary learning does occur between project spaces, the learning outcomes are rarely recorded or codified anywhere that has permanence or the potential for sustained impact.
Our Intention for the Make Meaningful Work Show
We’ve created the Make Meaningful Work show as a place where people can create community and actively learn more about making meaningful work. Visit the Sparkle Studio, where you can get involved in making shows or writing programs and modules that promote conversations and deeper reflection on key practices that people within workplaces often overlook.
The intent of the Sparkle Studio is to create a space in which we can encourage the building of communities of practice. Where people from different and diverse backgrounds can come together and share their work stories; contribute practices to an open-source, practice-card library; and help people determine what practices they need when facing a specific scenario. Our goal is to help communities answer this question: How can we make meaningful work?
Call to Action: Looking Toward 2020
We aim to apply this model to ourselves, to our work with our clients, and in our interactions with the public as we seek interesting people to interview, from whom we’ll capture learnings, and create a show from which we can derive practices that everyone can use. You can find more content on Make Meaningful Work. We’ll be launching the show, the program, and the practice cards in 2020. If you want to be part of this vision, have a project or work stories to share, and would like to participate in the Make Meaningful Work show, please add a comment or contact us.
Originally from Australia, Dan has been based in Hong Kong for over 20 years. He is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. Dan has been involved in the field of User Experience for more than 20 years. He has lectured on user-centered design globally and is the co-author of two books: Global UX, with Whitney Quesenbery, and Usability Kit, with Gerry Gaffney. He is a founding member and Past President of the UPA China Hong Kong Branch and was a co-founder of the UPA China User Friendly conferences. Dan holds a BS in Information Management from Melbourne University Australia. Read More
Jo is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. She grew up in the multicultural city Hong Kong, with her Chinese-Burmese father and Chinese-Indonesian mother. Fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, Jo collaborates with global teams, conducting design research and usability testing. She is passionate about the environment, political and economic systems; and discovering how we can live healthier, happier lives without adversely impacting less fortunate people. She is a member of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) Hong Kong Chapter. Jo attended Melbourne University, completing a Bachelor of Social Science Information Management. Read More