Finding Fire Starters at your workplace to build employee networks

Let’s explore how employees can support one another. 

Let’s travel back a while – a long while, to the days of early humans wandering the earth. Who was the most important person in the tribe? Some might argue it was the Fire Starter – the individual(s) who knew how to both start and maintain a fire. With fire, we could cook our food; allowing our bodies to efficiently process calories for better health and cognition. With fire, we could stay warm, we could ward off predators, and we could shape tools – all critical steps in our cultural development. Ultimately, those who could create fire were more adaptable to their environments. They did more than survive, they created the foundation for their cultures to thrive. 

In today’s world, the role of a Fire Starter is no less important.

They may not start literal fires, but their abilities to influence the many informal networks that make for effective organizations is critical. When nurtured, Fire Starters are the figurative match that can light up a workplace; first by helping build effective networks and then amplifying their impact on workplace performance.

Traditionally businesses have focused on how employees share information. This has led to a plethora of tools, from Slack to Sharepoint, that all are designed to propagate effective knowledge management.

More recently, new theories on measuring the effects of social networks in organizations have taken hold. Some of the most interesting work has come from Nicholas Christakis and his work on the formation of social nodes (both in work and outside work) and their influences on both individual and group behaviors.

At Aduro, we’ve been considering these frameworks from a different lens: How do we find Fire Starters who can build resilience and well-being within organizations, and then how do we disseminate their energy and capabilities throughout our client organizations? This issue is critical because, now more than ever, organizations must quickly adapt to rapidly changing external conditions and, just as importantly, must ensure that employee resilience and well-being don’t crumble through the process; something we’re skeptical that traditional top-down hierarchies (i.e. your typical org. chart) are able keep up with.

This is where Aduro’s work is blossoming – not just nurturing Fire Starters via our six interrelated aspects of life but supporting our clients in amplifying the influence of these individuals on networks in the workplace.

Develop Wellness Champions

To date, these approaches have started small. In Phase 1, for example, we work with clients to develop roles for “wellness champions”– individuals in offices, departments, or teams that volunteer to be the faces and voices of the benefits team’s wellness efforts. These individuals may rally a group for specific initiatives like group walks or various challenges, communicate incentives or wellness benefits, and act as informal feedback loops.

Peer-based Group Support

We’re now beta testing Phase 2 within our own workplace, and with a couple of key clients: peer-based group support. This allows us to utilize our strong bench of expert Coaches to facilitate group discussions that are often not about traditional “well-being” programs, but ones that are important to employees. From there, we can start to build a list of Fire Starters who have the interest, energy, and capabilities to further expand these concepts within the organization. Two recent examples of peer support that have been popular are centered around being a working parent during the COVID-19 pandemic and maintaining resilience as a manager when your team is dealing with chronic stress and poor mental health.

Using Data to Find Fire Starters

Phase 3 is also in the works: Using our well-being and behavioral health data, along with our clients’ work performance data, to formally map these influence networks. From there, we can locate, train, and nurture each client’s next generation of Fire Starters. 

The easiest way I bring this story to life with my peers is to ask them a simple question, “Who are the people in the organization you go to when you have to build a cross functional team for a special project?” The answers invariably include people who have:

  • A capacity to think differently
  • To work in impromptu networks
  • To actualize outcomes with thoughtful guidance and feedback but not supervision

These teams are the most adaptable, the most resilient and the most likely to light a fire that can change the trajectory of a project in spite of what’s going on around them.

My follow up question to these managers is…

What do you think your company could do if you could clone that team again and again?” The answers are almost always “Just about anything we wanted!” 

The Intersection between Well-being and Work Performance

Finding the intersection between well-being and work performance is more than a catchphrase. It’s the work associated with understanding the drivers, and pressures today’s employees feel and then nurturing the employees who can help others not just survive but to thrive. As the effect of these networks are further amplified with the right programming and leadership support, companies will start seeing the compound effects of employees’ success metrics on their own business success.

Learn more about Aduro’s approach to employee well-being in our eBook ‘Bringing Humanity Back to the Workplace.’

Sean Bell is Aduro’s Chief Operating Officer. He brings 20 years of experience leading high-growth startups. Bell is dedicated to helping companies navigating the “new normal” of the intertwined work and home lives many of us are facing today. For more articles and to follow Sean Bell, find him on LinkedIn.