Marius, head of engineering for a midsize software company, fed more digital kibble into his digital pet not-really-a-dog that was his go-to method for calming down. Life was just too much right now. Ever since the acquisition rumors had taken hold, his staff was variously excited about the change, ambivalent about what a new employer might mean even as they were jazzed by the predicted wonderfulness of being part of a company with a much bigger budget, and horrified by the idea of not being one hundred percent in charge of their company. Plus a hundred other reactions. They all apparently knew way more than he did. He hadn’t heard anything about an acquisition.
And that was just one of fifteen hot-button issues people kept pestering him about. His door was locked, right? Good. With his computer locked and notifications turned off on his phone, he could keep hiding for at least another ten minutes.
A minute later, though, he heard all kinds of hooting and hollering start up outside his office. What in the world? He’d better check it out. Marius sighed, put down his digital pet, and left the quiet sanctum of his office for the chaos his engineering department seemed to have become.
Nancy, one of his directors of engineering, saw him exit his office and headed over. She knew he was feeling pretty stressed by how often he had been locking his office door. “Maybe I can prevent a coronary,” she told herself.
“Hey, Nancy,” Marius greeted her. “What’s all the hoopla?”
“This is our scheduled chaos period.”
“Our scheduled chaos period. Most of my staff have been feeling completely powerless lately, what with the hundred different acquisition rumors, including the ones saying we’ll all be laid off, and several big customers demanding changes that don’t fit with our product vision, and the quality issues with the last maintenance release, and, well, everything. We all decided to turn the tables on the chaos by creating it ourselves for a change. So, for the next half hour, anything goes. The only two rules are one, nothing and nobody gets hurt, and two, people clean up after themselves.”
“A little warning would have been nice,” Marius grumbled.
“We’ve been posting notices in the all-company channel all week. Most of the company has decided to join in.”
No wonder it was so loud, Marius thought. “I never pay attention to that channel,” he told Nancy. “It’s too much noise. Besides, I should already know everything anyway.”
“You’re missing out on some really good stories, then.”
“I always hear about all the big sales wins.”
“Not those. Well, yes, those go in the channel too. But the stories I’m talking about are the ones that come from us, describing the wins we’ve had personally.”
“Definitely too much noise, then. I get plenty of updates on ‘baby’s first words’ and ‘I got a new job’ from the posts my family retells over the dinner table.”
“Those aren’t what I’m talking about. Hold on.” Nancy tapped out a few quick messages on her phone. A few minutes later, three people exited the chaos and headed toward Marius and Nancy: Mark, one of the first engineers hired back when the company was just starting up; Betty, a recently hired engineer who was tearing things up; and Sam, who Marius knew was the engineer every salesperson wanted helping debug problems their customers were having.
Nancy led Marius and the others into a nearby conference room and shut the door. “Marius thinks the stories we all post in the all-company channel are just so much noise,” Nancy informed Mark, Betty, and Sam. “You’ve each posted amazing stories in the last few days. Will you please tell them to Marius so we can disabuse him of this silly notion?”
Fifteen minutes later, Marius’ stomach hurt from laughing. Sam turned out to be quite the raconteur and had kept them all in stitches as they retold their story. Mark and Betty had held their own, not attempting to match Sam in presentation yet capturing Marius’ attention nonetheless. His eyes were a little teary from Mark’s story, in fact.
“And people post stories like this every day?” Marius asked in astonishment.
“Yep,” the others chorused in unison.
“How can we have so many happy stories? We should publish our own ‘Chicken Soup for the Corporate Soul’-type of a book.”
“They’re not all happy or funny,” Mark said. “Some are quite sad. And while I personally find every one inspiring, I know not everyone does.”
“The point isn’t to make us laugh,” Betty added. “The point is for people to have a safe space to describe what’s going on for them right now. Where everyone else can let them know that we hear them, and support them, and are right there with them.”
“Even me?” Marius wondered to himself. “I could really talk about what I’m dealing with, and people wouldn’t fire me for being incompetent?”
This must have shown in his demeanor, for Betty said, “Even you, boss. No one will think less of you for sharing where you are.”
“We can all tell you’re feeling stressed,” Sam added. “But none of us know you well enough to ask about it.”
“Let us in,” Mark said. “You don’t have to go into gory details if you don’t want. Just share what you’re comfortable with sharing. It’s taken most of us a while to feel comfortable telling our stories.”
Marius didn’t believe he could really share everything. He still felt pretty sure he’d get canned if he told his team everything he worried about. “But, I can take a first step,” he thought.
“Okay,” he said to the group. “It feels pretty scary to even contemplate, let alone do. But, I will. I’ll start by relating this experience.”
“Sounds like a great story,” Sam beamed at him. Betty and Mark each added their thumbs-up.
“You’ll do great, Marius. I can’t wait to read it,” Nancy said. “Now, how about a tour through our chaos party? Or is that too much change for you all at once?” she asked with just a bit of teasing.
“That may be too much,” Marius admitted. “But, why not? If I faint from overstimulation, please do your best to make sure I don’t hit my head on the way down,” he said with a bit of a grin.
Nancy made a mock salute. “You got it,” she said.
As they all trouped out of the conference room and headed into the bedlam, Marius thought, “Finally, I have a story for the dinner table.”