Words to Live (and Work) by: Fairbanks Morse Books@Work Program Fosters Communication and Builds Strong Bonds in the Workplace

Friday, 30 Aug 2019

Fairbanks Morse strives to offer employees opportunities to build interpersonal relationships and develop a sense of community outside of their daily routines. Of the many resources available, our Books@Work program has been growing in popularity amongst employees. In this blog series, we would like to highlight the experiences of participants and encourage other employees to join in the conversation.

Overseen by the Books@Work organization, the program provides books, excerpts, and short stories for the group to read in preparation of a discussion session, which is facilitated by a local college professor. Employees are assigned to groups based on their department and the groups reading curriculum is customizable depending on what the group wants to achieve from the program. Employees of every level are encouraged to participate to provide an adequate mixture of experience and viewpoints for the discussions.

This month, Ian, a Senior Production Supervisor and 3rd generation Fairbanks Morse employee, shares his experience in the Books@Work program and how it has influenced him personally and professionally. A 10 year veteran of Fairbanks Morse, Ian has been participating in Books@Work for nearly three years. Initially skeptical of the programs effectiveness, Ian has become a vocal proponent of the program.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Ian. As a field engineer, the value of a group discussion platform was tenuous and “something I actually dreaded,” he noted. It wasn’t until he was promoted and required to attend his first discussion session that the program’s benefits became clear. Now, he sees it as a “fantastic community-building experience that allows everyone to form more personal connections and gain a better understanding of the team as a whole.”

Asked what book selection was the most meaningful, “”The Use of Force” piece led to the most impactful session so far,” he said. A short story by William Carlos Williams, it follows a doctor trying to give treatment to a sick, young girl while her parents helplessly attempt to encourage her compliance.

Citing an excerpt from the piece, Ian mentions that the group was “led to interesting conversations—personal stories—and a discussion of how we have preconceived notions of what certain activities are about in life.” The group was able to go in-depth about their own life experiences of similar presumptions and aversions and evolved into a discussion on “how people’s attitudes can influence how they are treated and how they treat others.”

In the story, for example, the doctor becomes frustrated with the uncooperative patient, so he attempt to physically force her to comply with his instructions, making the young girl more defiant. Ian shared that the more he read the story, the more he was able to relate to each character and apply the moral to his life.

“At work, when things aren’t going right—or how I think they should go—I tend to become more controlling and authoritative,” Ian admitted. The Books@Work program is designed to use stories to elicit personal reflections. With Ian’s realization, and in receiving honest feedback from the group, he realized “that my management style wasn’t really the best way to go about things.” Ultimately, the session led to further discussions on ways to work together and collaborate better.

Since that discussion, when stressful situations arise, Ian takes a step back and writes entries in his work journal, removing some of the emotion so he can give better direction to his team. In addition, Ian and his team have quarterly team-building activities, like go-karting, and has started scheduling one-on-one meetings to talk about each team members’ development goals. “The Books@Works program has truly changed the dynamic in the workplace, making it less of a hierarchy and more of a team atmosphere,” he said. “Before, there was an apparent divide between my salaried and hourly staff. Now, everyone feels comfortable enough to go talk to whoever they need to talk to, creating a more efficient workspace.”

“The impact on the team has been incredible,” says Ian, on how the Books@Work has changed his experience at Fairbanks Morse. By being a part of the program, Ian now allows himself to reflect on his personal improvements and develop personal relationships with his team. All of which will serve him well as he goes back to school this fall to pursue a degree in finance.

Books@Work continues to encourage the Fairbanks Morse mission of powering the world forward.

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