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How To Turn Fun With Coworkers Into Social Change

By December 10, 2015One Comment


Organizers for Chinese Progressive Association San Francisco (CPA-SF) know that creating real change takes a lot of hard work. When they partnered with Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus to win an historic $4 million dollar back pay and benefits settlement for 280 current and former employees at a popular Chinese dim sum restaurant in San Francisco, the staff were passionately organizing for over a year. They conducted house visits, convened meetings early in the morning and late into the night, and provided support to the workers they were representing.

With everything that needed to be done, why did they take time off to hang out at a science museum?

Like a growing number of nonprofits, CPA-SF has discovered the benefits of fostering friendship between coworkers.

The Value of Friendships in the Workplace

Research shows that workplace camaraderie can increase employee happiness by 50%, and productivity by 25%. Feeling close and connected to coworkers also increases employee effectiveness by making people more creative, more committed to quality, and better decision makers.

Most importantly, fostering friendship within an organization can make employees more engaged in their work, a benefit that can translate into something pretty big for those of us in nonprofit work: longer-lasting change.

Fun Days Lead to Big Wins

Along with field trips to museums, CPA-SF aims to hold two “fun days” a year. In the past, they’ve had badminton tournaments, massage days, and a cooking class taught by one of their worker-members. Rainforest Action Network (RAN) recently had their own historic victory against the coal mining sector, and frequently has staff-wide outings, including going to baseball games, in-house film screenings, and even a trip to Tahoe.

And of course, here at Rockwood, we kicked off the year with a trip to a goat farm, and ended it having launched 5 new fellowships and 14 public trainings.

So how can you start building this level of partnership into your organization’s culture? Here are a few ideas to get you started, but don’t be afraid to get your team together and brainstorm things they’d like to do:

  1. Get out in nature.

There are classic outdoor team-building experiences like hiking, obstacle/ropes courses, camping, and (of course) hosting a cookout, but you can also enjoy nature together with group art projects, meditation, or writing exercises.

  1. Get active.

Get your team together for dodgeball or softball, in-office yoga, or maybe even a dance class. You can also try more casual physical activity like bowling, skating (roller or ice), or just taking a walk together.

  1. Get goofy.

Karaoke is an instant goof-maker (if people are self-conscious, try renting a karaoke booth), as are games like charades and Pictionary. You can also go out of the box and take your team to get glamor shots (or intentionally awkward family photos), learn clowning techniques like juggling and making balloon animals, or rent a photobooth with props.

  1. Get smart(er).

Visit museums (try a scavenger hunt for a team-building exercise!) or take classes in things like glassblowing, public speaking, or coding. Act like tourists in your own town and visit places of historical interest, or check out local art galleries and events.

  1. Get Entertained.

Is there a movie everyone wants to see, or maybe a new show at a local theatre? Get everyone together and go! You can also check out concerts, spend a day at a festival, or visit a comedy club.

  1. Get Together.

This is the simplest way to start fostering friendship within your organization… just make time for everyone to be together! Try monthly or quarterly potlucks, a book club or TV show (re)watch, or a weekly 15-minute meditation moment. Even just eating lunch together can boost morale and productivity.

Special Thanks to CPA-SF Executive Director Alex Tom and Amanda Starbuck, the Climate & Energy Program Director at Rainforest Action Network.

How does your organization promote friendships among co-workers?


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