2014 CascadiaIT Lightning Talk: Girl Scout Cookies as Motivators

I was randomly conversing about my experiences in motivating project teams with several people in the lobby of the beautiful Hotel Deca at CascadiaIT, and one of them said, “You should give that as a Lightning Talk!”

So even though I’d already submitted one Lightning Talk, I signed up to give a second one.

Here are my notes, and some additional thoughts, from that second talk. These are just my thoughts and experiences, your mileage may vary, etc etc etc.

Girl Scout Cookies as Motivators

  1. food as motivator (shoutout to MikeC and timtams!)
  2. additional motivators: tech toys, gold stars, gift certificates, positive reviews to management
  3. girl scout cookies
  4. find parents with kids
  5. difficult meetings
  6. icebreakers (minus the thin mints)

I asked the room who’d taken a class from the phenomenal MikeC, because he hauls entire suitcases of different varieties of Tim Tams all the way from Australia to give out during his tutorials for folks who ask good questions.

About half the room raised their hands. Go MikeC!!!

Those who’ve never taken a class from MikeC and who do not know the wonderfulness of Tim Tams, I strongly recommended that they come to the USENIX LISA conference! It’s in Seattle this year!

It’s important to note that I (we) use the word “cookies” a lot, and sometimes we mean actual cookies. Actual cookies can be a wonderful and appropriate motivator… get to know your project team to understand if actual cookies are a good idea for them.

Sometimes “cookies” can mean tech toys, (big! cardboard!) gold stars, gift certificates for a local movie theater, gift certificates for ThinkGeek.com…

And sometimes “cookies” can mean positive reviews to management. When someone really made a very positive difference, sincerely thank them, in writing, and cc their supervisor. Such letters of thanks can make a difference during annual performance reviews.

General notes of thanks to everyone who participated in a project are good; getting into the habit of writing those, and then writing additional specific, honest and brief thanks to a small group of people who were absolutely instrumental to project success is an even better habit to foster.

I’ve used Girl Scout cookies a lot as motivators for my project teams… as one tool in my motivator toolkit (among many) to encourage people outside my management chain who are working with me toward the success of some technical effort at work.

Be aware of people’s dietary restrictions and preferences ahead of time!

And think about other things which may be like cookies, regarding motivation…

I buy my Girl Scout cookies from co-workers who are parents, rather than getting them at the sidewalk tables near my grocery store or other markets. You can make a lot of friends by easily filling those co-worker parents’ children’s sales quota for cookies, chocolate brittle, or whatever they’re selling.

Difficult meetings go more easily when folks have good food to eat, and cookies (or other non-edible motivators) can put everyone in a better frame of mind when you’re having stressful conversations as a group.

Thin Mints seem to have been the most popular Girl Scout cookies for difficult meetings, in my experience, followed by the chocolate-covered peanut butter cookies (which seem to actively slow down the pace of meeting conversation!).

However… if you’re bringing together a large project kick-off meeting where many participants do not already know each other, set the most popular treats aside (in my former places of employment, this meant “hide the Thin Mints!”), then place a variety of treats on the various tables in your meeting room.

Scatter a couple boxes of each flavor around so they’re not all together.

In my experience… people will abandon their orgchart groups and forsake their co-worker friends to sit at a table with an unopened box of their favorite Girl Scout cookies.

Those people will then strike up conversations and form positive connections with other people across orgchart boundaries, departmental silos, and levels of seniority or experience. Just as importantly, their introduction to each other will involve talking about a positive thing they immediately have in common: their favorite Girl Scout cookie.

And then they will open the boxes of cookies, and you can start your meeting, and your project team members can associate their favorite tasty, happy-making cookie flavor with your very important project.

Think outside the box, think inside the (cookie) box, think of positive motivators…

Cookies!

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