MeetMe is always offering its employees opportunities to better themselves and to have fun. From having a game room to providing everyone with a subscription to Lynda.com, it is quite apparent that skill development and enjoyment are key to the company. Other than the retreats and team building activities that upper management and HR organize, there are also clubs that some employees have taken upon themselves to form. As a female with some social anxiety working at a tech company, it can be hard to come out of your shell. But having activities and clubs which are supported by the company can really make a big impact. I recently joined in on a couple of these and found the positive results to be quite substantial.
The first one is the book club. This had been tried in the past, but fizzled out due to the chosen books only being relevant to a small percentage of the company. This time around it was decided to focus more on general skills and self-improvement. The first book chosen was How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, an updated version of the book originally written by Dale Carnegie. We met for one hour per week to discuss what we had read in the specified chapters. Since this book was a more general topic, there were people from all different parts of the company interested in it. We had participation from the Engineering, Advertising, Management, and Member Services teams.
A lot of the discussions that take place are people sharing personal stories. Whether you want to or not, you’re going to get to know these people better, and depending on how much you share, they’re going to get to know you too. This definitely helps to make it less awkward when passing in the halls or waiting for your coffee to brew in the kitchen, especially when it comes to people you don’t work with on a regular basis (or at all). At one meeting, there was even a diagram drawn of the appropriate distance to say “Hi” to someone when walking towards each other down a long hallway. It was nice to hear that other people tend to overthink these situations the same way I do.
Since the books we’ve been reading are generally about self-improvement, it seemed like a great time to work on bettering myself. I tend to be rather quiet, especially when it comes to talking in groups of people. While I definitely felt reserved at the first meeting, I soon realized I had relevant things to say and started contributing to the conversation. It was a small group of people all with the same interest of discussing a book we were reading, which made it seem less intimidating.
After already discussing one book with generally the same crowd, my comfort level was slightly elevated. We had a meeting before starting our second book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and when asked if anyone wanted to lead a discussion, I volunteered. While the thought terrified me, the obligation would force me to face those fears.
I have always enjoyed reading, but don’t do it as often as I would like to. While being a part of the book club forces me to read more in general, there was definitely once or twice that I hadn’t completed the required reading before the weekly discussion. Whether it was an extra busy week, or I just couldn’t pull myself away from binge watching Daredevil on Netflix, the item that usually got the boot was the reading. However, knowing that I was leading the discussion disciplined me to read even when I didn’t want to. And not only read it quickly to get it done, but take the time to understand it. I have a hard time concentrating when I read a book and my mind tends to wander, so this was forcing me into the practice I needed. I took notes as I read, which really made me pay attention and absorb what I was learning. I found it to be quite amusing that I was reading a book about deliberate practice, while deliberately practicing.
The discussions themselves are always interesting. Everyone has their own point of view, so it’s compelling to see where they intersect and where they diverge. Everyone has something engaging to contribute, whether it’s a deeper thought about a topic, or an exemplary anecdote from their own life. After much sweating and nervousness, I made it through leading the discussion and I felt proud for putting myself out there. All my effort had paid off and I had successfully accomplished doing something I never would have imagined doing even a year ago. I have since continued to lead discussions for the book club and it has absolutely helped me to feel more comfortable when it comes to speaking in groups of people and sharing my thoughts.
The other group that I joined was the group of people who play board games during lunch. Prior to this, my knowledge of board games had been along the lines of Monopoly and Scrabble. My mind was blown that there was a whole other world out there to explore. I knew there were people who did this, but I always assumed the games were long and confusing and difficult for a newbie to learn.
Then one day I ended up talking to a couple coworkers who were about to play a game during lunch and they invited me to join. I accepted the invitation, and it was the start of something big. We played Dominion that day, which is played with cards in which you buy skills and try to earn the most points. Not only was it easy to pick up, I thoroughly enjoyed playing it. In the following days I would play it again, purchase it, and continue playing other games including Splendor (which I now have the app for on my phone), and Pandemic (which I also now own).
It all started out as just a fun way to spend time during lunch, but I soon started seeing there were other benefits. Much like the book club, I was interacting with people that I normally wouldn’t get the chance to connect with. Playing board games with people helps take the pressure off of having a conversation. You have something to focus on, and silence is understood as people plan their strategy. You don’t have to desperately be trying to think of things to keep the conversation going. For someone like me whose brain immediately goes blank at the prospect of having to come up with small talk, this is perfect. Usually discussions start up, or stories get told, but nothing feels forced. Conversation is not the focus.
Sure, they have the word “game” in the name, but board games can also be quite a practical tool. You’re not only having fun, but you’re working on problem solving skills, team building, and thinking outside the box. Pandemic is one of my favorites, because everyone playing is on the same team. It’s the people vs the game. You have to work together and come up with the best way to save the world against four viruses that threaten to annihilate the global population. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but either way, you do it as a team. You celebrate together, and you commiserate together. It’s also great for people who are apprehensive about learning a new game. There isn’t any pressure on them to make the right move, because you’re basically all deciding what to do together. The first few games I played, I was more of a spectator than a participant, but once I started understanding the rules and picking up some strategies, I was able to start suggesting tactics along with everyone else.
Sometimes you’re stuck in a rut trying to solve a work problem and the best thing for you to do is walk away and clear your head. Playing a board game gives you something completely different to focus on. Instead of rehashing the same thing over and over, your brain is exercising itself in an alternate way. Many times that break is all you need to figure out where the problem in your code is. Maybe you even win the game, and your defeated mood has now turned into a much more positive one, and it was the boost that you needed to get over the hump. Board games can provide a distraction just when you need it the most.
One of the biggest things that I have really enjoyed is being able to share this newfound love of board games with other people. I have either bought or borrowed many games to play at home with my husband. He has enjoyed them just as much as I have and it has given us something completely new to do together. While we both enjoy watching reruns of The Office, it’s always fun to do something new. Just as it helps team building with coworkers, it also helps team building with significant others. Also, having friends over for game nights allows us to still be social while not having to go out to a crowded bar where we drink overpriced beer and can’t hear each other talk (yes, we’re getting old).
It’s great when you can combine having fun with building skills, and these two groups are excellent at doing both. Working at MeetMe has provided me with these great opportunities to learn new things, challenge myself, and get to know coworkers better. From providing the books for the book club and giving us company time for the discussions to designating a room specifically for board games, MeetMe will do what they can to bring to life your interest or idea that will benefit employees.
I wanted to share my experiences, because I was pleasantly surprised at how two things that seemed rather inconsequential ended up having such a positive influence on me. Sometimes you have to take the initiative to get the most out of it, but it’s well worth it in the end. I hope other people will try them out or find something else that has a similar effect for them.