Michigan Engineering News

Lessons from daringXchange

When a diverse group can make its own decisions rather than wait for a lone leader, the results can be more productive and more daring.

Author Ruthie Freeman is the professional development program manager in Resource Planning and Management at Michigan Engineering. This event follows other related events this year and last, including the cultureXchange and creativityXchange.

I’ve been reflecting on the March 14 daringXchange event, when Michigan Engineering students, staff and faculty filled the Duderstadt lower level.

I continue to think about the message on that “Pi Day” afternoon from keynote speaker and alumnus Richard Sheridan (BS CCS ’80, MS CCS ’82), Menlo Innovations CEO and author of “Joy Inc.”

He talked about how the typical structure of an organization – one person making decisions – means the gears of an operation come grinding to a halt until that person can take action.

He encouraged listeners to rethink what he called the “hero model” because it’s unsustainable, unproductive for the organization, and unhealthy for the people involved. This idea resonated with me as the new program manager for staff professional development at Michigan Engineering.

I work with different teams moving in the same direction: toward a healthier, more productive workplace for everyone. But only by including everyone in decision-making will a solution work for the whole group.

No team can go achieve its full potential, I realized, while some members are sidelined or underutilized. Michigan Engineering has too much talent to leave some folks out.

Following Rich Sheridan’s speech, organizers presented a challenge.

They gave each table a small paper bag, a handful of uncooked spaghetti noodles and some tape, along with a few other odds and ends. We had 10 minutes to build the highest tower, using the most number of these objects. Winners received a $100 gift certificate to M-Dining.

With no experts in spaghetti-tower design at the table, there was no individual with answers to direct their team. My table didn’t win, but I loved seeing what everyone produced.

Without a single decider, each group was free to engage with each other, and the task.

Without waiting for one “hero” to take action, everyone in the room dared to make their towers go higher.

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