So, what’s with the sock puppets? Sock puppets, like banjos, are a running gag. Can coaxing coworkers to make sock puppet self-portraits of themselves for the agency newsletter create community? Or is it just going to get us lynched?
I’m sure we can get away with pulling people’s socks off, gluing some hair on them (the socks), some googly eyes, and maybe throwing in a tiara or two and then have them pose with their doppelgänger for everyone to laugh at. But where is the community building in that?
It’s a leveller, for sure, like that satanic activity called the “chicken dance” that workshop facilitators insist on inflicting on participants in the name of “breaking the ice.” But it’s more than that.
This is our third fun feature for our agency newsletter, the first being People and Their Pets and the second being When We were Young. The first was fun because people always enjoy showing off their favourite creature. The second I found touching, seeing all those little kids we once were. Some were sweet, some had talents we didn’t suspect they had, some were endearing four-year-olds with big sunglasses, and all had big innocent smiles.
But so what? How did community happen?
How Community Happens
A community can be just a group of people who share some psychological space, but community building, among other things, is usually about getting members to value one another more. In our case, I believe it happened in the coaxing for the pictures. We sent out memos and we informed program coordinators and we got some response that way, but the real participation didn’t happen until we started to connect with people individually and tell them we wanted to see photos of their pets or photos of themselves as children.
The pet campaign almost didn’t happen but was rescued by a gregarious coworker with a smart phone who just started calling everyone she knew in the agency. The second campaign was looking sad too until I followed my coworker’s example but went one further and went out of my way to look people in the eye and say, “We want to see you when you were little.” Other newsletter committee members did the same. We had great participation and great reader response. It was the most popular issue yet.
We Value You
The critical point is that someone went out of their way to say, “We value you.” Memos did it for a couple of people, word of mouth for a couple of more, but someone telling them personally is what worked far better. And the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the photos from the rest of the agency proved to them we were right. The rest of the agency was delighted with what the participants had shared.
Now, making sock puppets will be more work than just tracking down an old photo — a lot more work — and we will have to stand in front of more people convincing them that others really want to see these, but it’s in that work of connecting personally that community is being built. That’s the big deal about sock puppets.