Does Your Workplace Resemble A Sand Box?

Surprising & Shocking Similarities

Sandbox toys chaosYou’ve heard the saying “everything I needed to know about life I learned in kindergarten?” It’s usually followed with some basic rules about being kind, playing nice and sharing. While these rules can carry on into adulthood, I’m upset by the number of people who fail to observe them in the workplace.

Following a recent workplace assessment, I met with the client, the CEO of the company. I described the problems staff was having and I realized it sounded a lot like I was describing children acting badly – more specifically, how kids might behave in a sandbox if they didn’t follow the basic kindergarten rules.

Some of the common themes in that discussion included:

  • Employees sometimes acted like kids.
  • Technology devices were often treated as toys.
  • Productivity and service delivery were dependent upon mood not skill, ability or requirement.
  • Departments were defined by tasks, but the differing personalities within those departments led to tension and conflict.
  • Supervisors took on parental roles.

It felt like a massive revelation because workplace issues seem surprisingly similar to those in a children’s sandbox. In both scenarios, we see challenges with people (personnel), performance (productivity), engagement (commitment), absenteeism (attendance), presenteeism (enthusiasm) and rules (management).

Regardless of the challenges, both the workplace and the sandbox should operate on a consistent set of standards and expectations.

  • work as a group . . . have a smooth running department
  • build great sandcastles . . . create good products and services
  • know what the goal is . . . operate to achieve targets
  • identify task or role . . . know the job and take responsibility
  • talk, laugh and share . . . communicate, have fun and cooperate
  • everyone does their share . . . a need for fairness

Yet while these are common expectations, we often see individuals in the workplace performing at less than these minimums or far below them. Storming off in tears can be brushed off in the sandbox, but it’s the sign of a larger problem and deterioration in the workplace.

To check the validity of my analogy, I explored a few possible scenarios and considered solutions common to both situations:

Who is in the sandbox and is everyone getting along?
It is never difficult to see who is not getting along on a team or in a department when a little observation is employed. Dig deeper by asking questions and examining work processes to identify if interdepartmental issues or personality clashes are hindering operations.

Are they just moving sand around or are they actually building castles?
There is no shortage of tools to measure productivity and sales. Setting targets and goals with specific numbers will often reveal if employees are just busy or if they are being productive.

Does anyone leave the sand box out of frustration or in tears?
Are staff not showing up, coming in late, leaving early or using numerous sick days? Management must not overlook these instances. They should discover the root of the issues so solutions will be more effective than those that wipe over the symptoms.

Are friendships and social teams being developed?
The term “corporate culture” is commonly used to describe the overall feeling and atmosphere in workplaces. A positive culture encourages fun, enthusiasm, appreciation, loyalty and presenteeism. Is there enough fun and social time being created to foster friendships in the workplace and beyond?

Do they look forward to playing in the sandbox?
Closely related to culture is morale. High morale in a workplace feels light, enjoyable, safe and trusting. It is filled with confident, comfortable employees. Poor morale feels weighed down with silence, tension, power struggles and poor supervisory styles. Has a morale check been done by closely observing and listening?

There are similarities between workplaces and sandboxes as well as with the people that work or play in them. Benefits will come from applying things that work in the sand box to the workplace:

  1. Use the KISS method – keep it simple sweetie.
    Drill down to basics and don’t get caught up in history, personalities or politics. Ask two questions: what is the problem and what outcome is wanted?
  2. Honesty is the best policy – but add respect.
    While it is difficult, encourage honesty – say what needs to be said and ensure it is done in a respectful way that is cognisant of other’s feelings. Discourage avoidance, holding back information or passive-aggressive behaviours.
  3. Play nice with everyone – be consistent. Put aside judgement, differences and preferences to achieve common goals. Treat everyone with the same level of respect and encourage working together as equals. When people feel valued and equal, they are more willing to give 100 per cent.

Although sandboxes and workplaces can be similar, each one still has its own unique differences because of the individuality inherent in people, business sectors and management structures. Therefore the problems and issues they experience will be distinctive as well, requiring solutions and change management methods tailored specifically to those needs.

Fortunately, diverse options and strategies exist to solve the problems, issues and gaps. Methods to create change should fit the company, be intensive and include individual and group options for coaching, mediation and facilitation. There should be multiple tools utilized for any one sandbox or workplace to function at its best.

Change your workplace into a sandbox where kids want to come, enjoy their time together, create interesting sandcastles and have fun being social while enjoying a sense of accomplishment. Contact us today at or 604-349-8660 to begin your strategy for change. You can also learn more about our Building Better Bosses Program.

This entry was posted by Pam Paquet and is filed under Business Assertiveness, Goal Setting & Motivation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.