To really get to know your employees, try speed dating with them.

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As the “boss,” I knew that meeting me for the first time would be intimidating for many employees. But unfortunately, the employee engagement I fought so hard for was suddenly stopped during the pandemic. And I know I’m not alone.

According to Gallup research, in early 2022, employee engagement in the US fell to its lowest level in seven years, with only 32% of employees engaged in their work and 17% feeling disengaged. Throughout 2022, engagement levels remained relatively unchanged. With employee stagnation being one of the greatest threats to a company’s productivity and profitability, I knew we needed something special to reconnect with our team.

So, to take the pressure off (and keep things fun), this past summer my 100-strong team got together for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them were new hires I’d never met in person – and who didn’t really know anything about me. To break the ice, my co-founder/husband and I tried the speed dating technique.

Related: 3 ways to learn more about your team and how they work

We researched how to make it work and set it up as follows:

We set long, narrow tables side by side and arranged chairs on either side. There were 50 people seated at the tables, 25 on each side. We set a time limit of two minutes to “meet” the person across the table. Our DJ kept reminding us when two minutes had passed and then it was time to move to the next chair to meet the next person.

To be authentic, there were no discussion points or “rules” to follow. Instead, the goal was to spark organic conversations so everyone could get to know each other.

Fortunately, our quick “Meet and Greet” experiment was a success! Employee feedback was more than positive. They said it meant a lot to them that we took the time to get to know them, showing how much we care about them and the company.

This event also taught me some valuable lessons that I want to share with you:

  1. It goes a bit far. The success of speed dating has shown that you don’t need to go overboard to show your team how special they are. As your business grows, it’s even more important to maintain a small business vibe by communicating with each employee on a regular basis – even a quick text, email or phone call reminds them how vital they are to your business.
  2. Invest in your team. By default, many employees assume that as a busy business owner, you are unaware of their responsibilities and skills and how much they contribute to the company’s growth. Speed ​​Dating allowed us to understand each employee’s motivations and interests, and learn more about their skills and goals so we could track and nurture them.
  3. It’s not about money. Today’s employees want more than just a good salary. The excitement and camaraderie of our summer get-together showed me that people want to work where they feel they belong, in a work culture that feels like a second home. Ensuring a culture of diversity and appreciation that celebrates differences is key to attracting and keeping happy employees.
  4. Show your humanity. Speed ​​dating has also taught me that one-on-one contact with employees matters. Just saying “Hey, I care and I’m listening” has a significant impact on employees and their work performance. No matter how big your company is, showing humanity to your team helps protect the company from toxicity and creates an engaging and supportive work environment.
  5. Take the first step. After the speed dating event, contact staff about what you talked about or learned about them.
  6. go around. Managing by walking around helps maintain that connection. Make these walks meaningful by celebrating milestones, expressing appreciation for a job well done, and asking questions. Interacting with employees keeps them engaged.

Related: Why team building is essential to your business success

Go to quick date

Speed ​​dating should not be a one-time event; is a great year-round integration activity. Schedule regular speed dates or look for situations that could benefit from one or two rounds of speed dating, such as:

  1. New work places. Once you’ve added a few people to your team, speed dating can help break the ice.
  2. Boiling friction. How is employee morale? Negative attitude spreads like a virus. Speed ​​dating can help clear the air, increase camaraderie, and increase productivity.
  3. Do your remote employees feel left out? Online speed dating (brainstorming?) can bring employees closer.
  4. Quiet departure. Are some of your employees restless? Team building with speed dating can make them reinvest in your company.
  5. Strengthen the company culture. Speed ​​dating can help you build a workplace full of trust, respect and fun.

Related: Reinforce Your Turnover With These 4 Team Building Ideas

Mix unguided and themed speed dating sessions. Some possible topics might include overcoming challenges, changing one thing about the company, or being a better co-worker.

After recovering from the pandemic — which is making it difficult for many companies to build relationships in the workplace — in-person or virtual speed dating is a great way to bolster company culture, build morale, and bring your team together.

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