Okay everyone. Get out your legwarmers, neon, and feather your hair. We’re heading back to the awful 80’s to talk about The Breakfast Club. Okay, maybe not that kind of breakfast club but one that can help improve your career and job satisfaction dramatically. I’ve been part of a few breakfast clubs over the years and have found them entertaining and useful.
So what is it? No, it’s not detention on a Saturday with Anthony Michael Hall (which would be entertaining as long as he’s not fresh out of rehab). No the breakfast club is simple. It’s a group of coworkers who regularly meet for breakfast. Wow. Insightful stuff. But you know the brilliant things in life are usually simple and elegant. This is one of them.
The first breakfast club I was a member of I also founded. We called it bagel call. There was a cool little bagel shop next door to our office building. We were all consultants at the time and usually spent the majority of our week on the road at client sites. It was sometimes difficult to stay connected with friends and colleagues. One Friday morning, I went around the office and grabbed about six people and dragged them to the bagel shop for coffee and a shmear. We discussed current client engagements, whose engagement manager was a taskmaster, family, sports, whatever. It was a nice break from the week and a pleasant way to reconnect.
The next Friday, a couple of people from the previous week came by and asked if we were doing bagels again. Of course I said yes. We had a couple of new faces join us. The conversation was more of the same only different. Shared client nightmare stories. Upcoming progress reviews. The cool post-consulting job opportunity someone had just landed. Once again, another pleasant Friday morning.
Eventually, this became routine. No one had to ask. We just showed up. The network became larger (but not too large which was a good thing about the bagel shop – it was tiny and only about ten of us could fit so by default it limited the size of the group). Our connection to one another grew stronger. We found ourselves staying in touch more during the course of the week via voicemail or email. Morale improved. New opportunities arose because we knew what each other was up to. I was able to help someone find some market data because I was more familiar with their work. Someone helped me locate an expert I was unaware of because the person knew I was in a pinch to deliver something to my client. Our aggregate performance improved.
Another dynamic of the group was we were the self-proclaimed proletariat of the firm. The partners and directors were the bourgeoisie and were not invited. We weren’t separatists but keeping the group confined to a peer level ensured an ease and comfort of conversation (we all know how group dynamics change when a senior person sits down at the table with the team – folks tighten up and become more reserved). This “worker” mentality defined us and gave us somewhat of an identity (plus it kept the higher-ups on their best behavior lest they become a topic of conversation at bagel call). It’s been seven years since I was part of that group but to this day, when I reconnect with an old colleague who was a member of the group, that’s usually one of the first topics that comes up in our reminiscences.
Another breakfast club I was a member of met at IHOP on a monthly basis. It was very small – there were six or seven of us in the “core group” and every once in a while a friend of a member would get invited to one of the sessions. We were all peers. Group Managers only (the semi-joke was once you got promoted to Director you were out because now you were one of “them”).
The topics focused on the old familiars – career, family, org changes, job challenges, frustrating bosses, etc. Since we all came from different organizations within the company, there were never any conflicts of interest or fears of someone jockeying by using what they learned at breakfast club to get ahead of you. There was an inherent base level of trust created simply by being from different groups. Members weren’t hesitant at all to push back on ideas or call you out if you weren’t looking at something correctly. We forced one another to be better leaders.
Was there gossip at these events? Almost never. More often it was “intelligence” about what was going on in one group and how it might affect our careers and our teams if there were going to be knock-on effects (e.g., if marketing was seeing a slowdown in customer growth, that had implications for the IT member of the team because he’d be doing fewer projects that year). Gossip was counterproductive and frowned upon. We focused on facts. It kept things civil and above-board. Gossip kills morale and we knew that hence the low tolerance for its presence at breakfast.
This is an easy career-enhancing-job-satisfaction-increasing-highly-entertaining-yummy-bagels-in-my-tummy practice to build (okay, so I’m hyphen-happy this morning… sue me). Go round up some peers and grab a pancake or a poppy seed bagel with cream cheese and lox. Make it a standing/recurring event and hold each other accountable for showing up. Keep the group to a manageable size (six to ten) and of similar tenures to make it as comfortable as possible. Give it a try. The worst that can happen is you have a few meals together and it doesn’t click. The upside of stronger work/personal relationships, having an informal advisory board, and getting sound job/career advice far outweighs the cost of building the breakfast club. These meetings aren’t encumbered by posturing or politics. They’re a chance to better yourself.
As Principal Vernon says: “You ought to spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people.” As much of a dweeb as he was in the movie, the guy has a point…
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC