Working your M.A.G.I.C at Work

When work starts to work again, it becomes a place where people want to be.

Creating a thriving workplace where people want to be, voluntarily, requires us to take a different perspective to the “productivity” approach that our workplaces once swore by. In today’s modern workplace, focusing on fostering a sense of community is at the forefront.

Today’s guest is Sharon Darmody. With a background in Occupational Therapy, Sharon is a Organisational Consultant, Mediator and the Founding Director of Strive Occupational Rehabilitation.

With over 25 years consulting to organisations she identified a recurring theme, leading her to develop her M.A.G.I.C model to help businesses, teams and individuals rediscover what makes work, work for them.

In today’s conversation Sharon and I delve into;

  • The foundations of what she’s observed to foster community within organisations
  • We explore her M.A.G.I.C model and how you can explore aspects of this within your business
  • The challenges and opportunities that organisations have to fostering community
  • How simple Ground Rules, can support individuals, teams and organisations to thrive
  • Plus she shares a personal story of how humanising a workplace and building an authentic community puts people first and the ripple effect of this on individuals, families and their surrounding communities, changing lives.

If you’re looking for ways to re-engage and ignite your teams, you’re going to enjoy this episode!


TRANSCRIPT - Working your M.A.G.I.C at Work

Mel: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Work Life by Design. Now, this is our first guest episode today for season six, which is all about fostering the creation of communities. Now, when work starts to work again, it becomes a place where people want to be. So creating a thriving workplace where people want to be voluntarily requires us to take a different perspective to the productivity approach that our workplaces once swore by. In today's modern workplace, focusing on fostering a sense of community really needs to be at the forefront.

And Darmody agrees. So with a background in occupational therapy, Sharon is an organizational consultant. A mediator and the founding director of Strive Occupational Rehabilitation. With over 25 years consulting to organizations, she identified a recurring theme, leading her to develop her magic model to help businesses, teams, and individuals rediscover what makes work, work for them.

So in today's conversation, Sharon and I are going to dive into the foundation of what she's observed to foster communities within organizations. We explore her magic model and how you can then explore each of these aspects within your business, the challenges and the opportunities that organizations have [00:02:00] in fostering community and how simple ground rules can support individuals, teams, and organizations to thrive.

Plus, she also shares a very personal story about how humanizing a workplace and building an authentic community really puts people first and the ripple effect of this on the individuals, the families and their surrounding communities and how it really does change lives. So if you're looking for ways to re engage and ignite your teams, you're really going to enjoy this episode.

Now, one other thing I want to mention to you before I jump into today's episode is that the doors to my Workplace Dynamics Blueprint program are going to be opening again soon. So if you're ready to learn the art and science of creating your next workplace, then jump on in and join the waitlist. We know that creating our workplaces really is a complex task, and it requires.

The input of multiple players from across your organization and the expert guidance of so many specialist consultants, but it does also present an incredible opportunity for your organization. Now, typically businesses only go and refresh their space once every 10 years, and that's a long time in today's fast paced world.

So many changes have happened from technology to the way that we operationally deliver on our projects and our clients, the organizational structures, the ways that we work and so much more. Optimizing this unique opportunity really does require a plan. And so in this self paced program, you will learn about the five pillars that underpin the dynamics in your organization, how you can leverage them against your organization's strategic objectives and gain the confidence you'll need to embark on this journey armed with the knowledge.

And the know how to optimize your next workplace, enabling you to inspire the human potential in your organization. So join the wait list. So you are the first to know when the doors are opening. I'm very excited about this one because it's taking our workplace dynamics blueprint and I'm sharing with you the foundation.

of what forms that so that you are [00:04:00] armed and ready to dive into your next workplace. Enough about that. Let's jump into today's episode with Sharon Darmody.


So good morning and welcome, Sharon. Thank you so much for joining me here on the podcast.

Sharon: Oh, I'm excited to be here Mel.

Mel: Wonderful. Now, look, as you know, this season, um, that we're rebooting the work life by design podcast with is all about fostering community. And that's something that I know that you know a lot about. And so I'm really excited to dive in today.

One of the conversations that I've been hearing a lot about is, organizations that are mandating return to the office, these new workplace policies about how many days we should be in the office. And one of the things that I think is really missing the point here is the fact that if we are wanting people to come back into our workplaces, we need to create places where people actually want to be, they want to volunteer their time.

They want to you share their skills. And I think that really comes down to what it means to be the foundations of actually being within a community. And I'd love to know, how are you seeing that showing up in the work that you're doing?

Sharon: that there's been so much flux in the world really, you know, in the last four years still. I think we are wanting to be tethered to something cause that feels secure. , we know that our brains like to be in control. , and so now we've come back to work, but we've got this flexible working arrangements, but we still want to be tethered to something.

And I think workplaces probably haven't been able to figure out quite what that's going to look like yet. That's still the open question.

Mel: Yep. So do you, when you say you're thinking about them being tethered to something, is that a physical thing or , ephemeral? How are you seeing that?

Sharon: Well, I think it is some sort of connection. Now that might be connection to the meaning of the work you do, connection in terms of, yeah, how you connect with your tribe at work, , connection in terms of feeling that there are some. Routines, rhythms, rituals that [00:06:00] you are really clear about in your workplace.

that sort of gives us, as I say, in a time when the transition and change is so fast, it makes us feel a little bit safer and that feels good.

Mel: Okay. So some level of routine that we can anticipate. We know that these are our standard operating procedures, our working rhythms, things that I can count on to know that they're not going to change. Okay.

Sharon: Yes, absolutely. And I think as I say, we're moving fast and I appreciate that. Like, I think there's lots to be done and I think, actually quite like fast, you know, that's sort of my modus operandi sometimes. But I think we also need that platform of stability because there are a lot of moving pieces.

And as I said, if you go back to the neuroscience, our brains like certainty and we haven't been getting a lot of it.

Mel: that consistency. And I think that's one way that our workplaces actually create that sense of grounding because it's this solid physical space it's, immovable in many ways, unless we're relocating. And that creates a whole nother sense of change and uncertainty that we need to deal with. But that's an anomaly.

It's more the fact that we've got this space that we can come to, we know it's there and it becomes this central hub for us to be able to connect back into. Okay. And like you said, a lot of those routines and rituals really actually stem from that space. How have you seen some of those routines and rituals transition?

Because I believe that routines and rituals are actually very much one of the bedrocks of creating. And fostering community within our organizations. And unfortunately, I don't see many organizations giving them the weight that they absolutely deserve to create that stability that you're talking about.

How have you seen organizations shift that? And particularly we're thinking, you know, pre pandemic, the way that our routines and rituals looked to now, and what's working in the organizations that you've seen?

Sharon: sure. I've got a framework in my book, Work Your Magic, , and that's the third pillar, which is called ground rules. And I [00:08:00] like to describe it that when you're a kid, you stand on a seesaw and in the middle of it, and it goes up and down, it feels great. it's exciting, but as an adult, that's just exhausting.

But that's how our workplaces often feel. And if you put the blocks under each end of the seesaw, then in You can sort of drop your shoulders and you can be relaxed. And they're the professional ground rules and then the personal ground rules. So from the professional ground rules, I think we have to go right back to square one.

How do we meet? How do we communicate? What happens when there's conflict in the workplace? How do we address that? Like, let's talk about these things that happen regularly. As I said, if every workplace really started with meetings and say, how are we going to do our meetings? Because I think there's a lot of scattergun approach there.

Whereas as I say, people knew really clearly when we come together, it's the meeting of the minds. It should be where you really create the magic. But you know, people don't, I think, use that time really well.

Mel: And I'll have the consistency or the knowledge. Cause the other thing that I see a lot of is, you know, again, we're wanting people to come back into the workplace, but we're not defining why or what is the type of activity that we're meant to be doing here? Or we say, we're all going to come in as a team on a Tuesday, but then we're all off at meetings and we're all doing our own things.

There's no collective time together, or there's no pattern of behavior there around we'll. Why am I even here? What's the point of all of this? And I'm sure you're probably saying something very similar.

Sharon: absolutely. I think you have got to be really intentional. And that takes time. And sometimes people don't like to hear that, but that takes time to say, no, we are, this is why we are coming in. , and when we're together, this is the time we're going to take a side to be together as a group, because we know we do better as a tribe.

You know, we know we're going through a loneliness epidemic. one in four Australians are feeling lonely at any one time. That's, directly related to our health outcomes. So if you want a healthy organization, connection is going to be key to your people actually being well.[00:10:00]

Mel: Yeah, yeah, and I think you raised another important point in your book when I was reading that through too, is that we've had this way of working, you know, our workplaces have seen, been seen as these productivity machines and, you know, I've certainly worked in those types of organizations.

You show up, you do your hours, you do your time, you've got your output, you know, you're ticking all the boxes. I think there's been a real shift in terms of, and potentially even the power balance around. What our organization's responsibilities are to our people. And hence the reason we're starting to think about them as organizations, as communities.

How have you seen that shift in transition? And no doubt you've seen the good and the bad and the ugly. what does that look like? And where are some of those really bad examples, like some of the, the things that have really needed a lot more support and how has that transitioned and where are those, those good outcomes coming from?

Sharon: Well, I think actually to take a step back, the reason we're really needing this now as well, apart from what we've just talked about and maybe the flux and the change and the transition in our lives, but also, globally, 61 percent of people still engage with the workforce in some capacity, be it virtually or in person.

And a lot of our other traditional groups have dropped off. Like people maybe aren't going to church groups or to scout groups or to rotary. Yeah, a lot of people don't know their neighbors these days. So this is the, it probably does place for good or for bad, maybe some more emphasis on workplaces as being a place for connections.

I, I like to think of this as almost like a public health issue that we can, this is where if we really put the education in, we can make a big difference in terms of our overall health and well being. Because I would take it a step further and say that, you know, when, People come to work and they feel good.

They're connecting. They, and as I say, we do better in the tribe. Then they go home. They have a better time with their families. Maybe those kids go to school the next day and the teacher has a better day with those kids. So, you know, it's a much broader impact. And then more directly to your question.

I think it's about being intentional, as I said [00:12:00] before. I think it's about drilling down into small things. And this is again, what I talk about in my framework, what I see a lot of people know that work's not working and they make lots of changes quickly

Without actually assessing what's wrong first and then making changes.

one or two changes and then going back and assessing those and going, did that work? Do we need to tweak that? And as I say, it's that scattergun approach. It's like, okay, we've made lots of changes. Everything will be great now. And then they're disappointed when everything isn't great.

Mel: yeah. And I see that happen a lot too. Organizations is diving and go, we're going to make all these changes and it doesn't quite translate to outcome. Absolutely. So tell us a little bit more about the framework in your book and how do you feel that that's actually supporting the formation of communities within these organizations?

Sharon: As I said, I feel that people were making, you know, one of the things that led to the book was I felt people making lots of changes without an assessment tool. Like what are the, Pillars that they really feel will drive health and wellbeing and healthy organisations, healthy people. cause I had a client, a client of mine come to me and say, What you're saying really is making a difference.

You should write it all down. And I started to write it all down and then I realized I was able to categorize it. And that's where the framework came from. So it's meaning as I said, being tethered to something authenticity. So feeling like you can be yourself there, which is part of connecting and community.

So. For a lot of people, they feel like they need to put some sort of, mask on to go to work. But it's about saying we can be authentic at our workplace. Uh, The ground rules that we've [00:14:00] talked about. I is for interaction. It's I interaction, which again, I think that's something we're doing now, and it can feel clunky at the beginning, but you've clunkiness, because when you get it right, um, and you might get it wrong first, it feels really good.

And the last pillar is curiosity. And I think curiosity, is really important for community because curiosity allows us to ask questions and be open and not feel defensive as well. So it brings us together when, when we know that, we're better as a whole. Better with all the ideas, even though maybe someone thinks a little bit differently than us.

Mel: yeah, just circling back to the eye when you said it feels a bit clunky. Can you give us some examples of what that looks like and, what good then feels like?

Sharon: Oh, I was born in the seventies people, you know, we didn't do shout outs and things like that.

Mel: Yep.

Sharon: you know, you just went and you worked. I definitely started working that productivity was key. And the KPIs, but you know, even my own organization we bookend our meetings.

So we've got some activities at the beginning of our meetings and some activities at the end. So people are really clear about when the meeting begins and the meeting ends. And I think that is really important. And one of the activities at the end were shout outs for people. You know, doing well. And at the beginning I was like, Oh, yeah, is this going to be genuine?

Is this going to be authentic? But it's turned out to be a fantastic activity. And I would say more broadly as an organization now, uh, we've been doing this for some time that people are genuinely And we'll, you know, send out a message on teams thanking someone for helping them with reports, thanking someone for jumping in just saying, you know, I saw this person do this training and it was amazing.

And I think that evolved from something that maybe did feel a bit clunky at the beginning.

Mel: So it just takes practice.

Sharon: Yeah, like any other skill.

Mel: Yeah. So. Some of the things that, you know, we've both talked about observing here are that, you [00:16:00] know, organizations are making these big scattergun approaches or we're giving people an enhanced level of flexibility working in, you know, these more hybrid and remote ways, but we're probably not giving them the tools to be able to actually.

Thrive in those environments, because this is all new to us. Like we were just talking about, we've all worked in this productivity area, and now all of a sudden we've got this flexibility era that we are in charge of our own time. We've got more control and autonomy around what we do and when we do it.

Yet, I think that's a skillset that many of us perhaps don't have, unless you've kind of worked your way up into management and that's when you kind of get thrown in the deep end and you figure it out, but But now that that opportunity is afforded to everyone, how are you seeing that play out in organizations?

Because I've seen some of the effects of that where some of the more inexperienced or junior team members just don't know how to organize their day. They don't know where to be. They don't know what kind of work they should be doing when, because they don't understand their own work patterns. They don't understand what type of environment's going to best support the type of work that they need to do.

How are you seeing that play out with the clients that you're working with?

Sharon: I think it does take time, but if you put in the, groundwork and you help people to establish that platform. And it is going to be individual. So it's very much understanding that going back to that authenticity, understanding the person you're working with. You're not working with a group of 10 people.

You're working with 10 different people with 10 different working styles. So if you understand that person, you can help them to set up their Personal ground rules. And then as a team, you've got to, as a group, decide the professional ground rules that will help you to be efficient and that you can all work to.

As I said, it takes time, but if you put that time in, you'll reap the rewards.

Mel: Yeah. So as organizations are looking to start somewhere to be able to transition towards this outcome, where would you suggest to be the first place that they start thinking?

Sharon: well, there'd be a couple of places that you could start. I think that starting [00:18:00] with meaning, like understanding why you're there. And I can promise you, because I do this exercise regularly with people and in groups where some of the work I work with, I work in a lot in social services.

So sometimes you think, Oh, people would be doing it for this reason. Well, I can tell you in a group of 15, every person has their own reason. And it's fascinating to know why people are coming in and why they're doing the work they're doing. So I think that you can have that. looking at why people are doing the work.

And also people can have personal reasons for doing the work as well, as well as the actual profession, but also what's bringing your group together in terms of their meaning.

Mel: Yeah. That collective

Sharon: I think that, yeah, you want to be a sense of something bigger, not just, you know, if you're doing a jigsaw puzzle, not just your little piece, but what's the big picture.

Mel: The ultimate outcome that we're trying to

Sharon: Yeah. Yeah.

Mel: you've got a very personal story of the impact of community with your grandmother. Would you like to share that story with us?

Sharon: Yeah, look, this has been a really nice part. I've been lucky enough to talk about the book a lot. And I told my grandma's story and this has been a lovely part of it that it's out because she, passed away a long time ago, but she was remarkable, really. So, she, when she was eight months pregnant with her fifth child she, my grandfather was the railway master at Gympie railway station.

They had just. Traveled all around Queensland with the railway in Roma, in Herberton. So they've been everywhere. Kingaroy. Then they ended up in Gympie. And unfortunately, my grandfather passed away very quickly. I, he had his appendix out. And so she was, I said, eight months pregnant with their fifth child.

And so she wrote to Queensland Rail and said, you know, my husband has been a railway master. We've devoted 10 years as a couple. Would you please give me a job? Because when her husband passed away, two of the boys were taken to state care as it was in those days. And my father and my aunt stayed with grandma and then she had my uncle [00:20:00] Tom.

And then, Queensland Rail did, did, uh, give her a job. Uh, and they gave her Bald Hills railway station and she was the station master there for 20 years. And so with that the boys got to come back because she had a house as part of the railway job. And they were all reunited. So I've lived, when workplaces see beyond, just the work and see the person.

Mel: Yeah, what an incredible story. And big shout out to Queensland Rail there for really espousing some of those community values there. And, that really starts to look at the person beyond the role and the organization.

I think it's just a beautiful story and no doubt it's inspired much of the work that you do and the generations that have followed your grandmother.

Sharon: Yeah. And the opposite side of the coin is they had a very devoted, loyal, hardworking staff member for 20 years because grandma started work at 4. 30 every morning.

 and she was very well known. I think people in that era definitely knew Darmody. So, you know, there's the benefits as well.

Mel: Yeah, you get that commitment from your people and return that loyalty. Absolutely. What a beautiful, beautiful story. And I think that really starts to sort of illustrate what we can do as an organization when we're putting people front and center in those

Sharon: yes, absolutely.

Mel: piece that there's a quote in your book and you said, when work starts to work again, it becomes a place where people want to be.

And that's something I absolutely love. A hundred percent agree. And it's really interesting in the work that I do, because a lot of organizations come to us originally and they say, we want to create a new workplace. They've usually got a lease that's expiring, they've outgrown their space, or they're looking at reducing the footprint, all the dynamics in their organization have changed.

It's probably been 10 years since they last did a fit out. So the metrics of everything that were being measured at that point in time to what they're doing now, technology, like there's so much has changed. And. They come to me and they, we start going through this process of designing a workplace. But what they quickly [00:22:00] realize is that this project is far bigger than actually just being this physical environment that we're creating.

We're changing culture, we're changing systems, we're changing the way the business operates. We're All because we are taking a new fresh approach to looking at how everything functions in order to be able to put it back together in a more aligned way with how they're actually doing business now or how they might be doing business in the next five years.

And so all of a sudden the type of work that they need to be thinking about is extending far beyond. You know, the four walls of designing this physical workplace. We're having to start to talk about culture. We're starting to talk about systems and processes and all these other elements that come together.

And all of a sudden it becomes quite overwhelming for clients because they go, Oh, we just thought we were going to build something. And now we've got all of this ripple effect that we've got to take into consideration. And a lot of the time they haven't. Thought to think that far ahead because that's completely foreign and something never occurred, which also then means they haven't potentially got the budget to be able to implement all of this work.

So I think there's a stepped approach that can be taken to this. And I also wanted to highlight that, creating a beautiful workplace as much as, you know, that's. Big part of what I love to do. It's not the be all and end all. There are so many other facets to actually creating a thriving workplace and a thriving community within your workplace.

And I think that's a lot of the work that you're doing. And as a background in an OT, can you just sort of explain, what that actually means, how you work with clients and, and how you've got to working with the clients the way that you do today as well?

Sharon: I think is such a broad profession. I feel very lucky to have done it. Many moons ago, but essentially it's looking at occupational therapy is how you occupy your time and just make sure that people thrive in the way they occupy their time. So I guess the way that I've specialized in that is how they occupy their time at work.

And that is as an individual, that is as a community, as an [00:24:00] organization and then as a culture, you know, so it really can, encapsulate a whole lot, but it essentially comes back to how do you spend your time and hopefully that you can thrive and you stay engaged.

Mel: Yeah. And when you're working with clients that are, lacking that engagement, what have you found to be some of the greater motivators to kind of encourage that re engagement with their work?

Sharon: Look, I think it is about making sure that people don't feel like they're just on an island, you know, you've got to talk to all the different players so you can't just make one change. So it is about maybe. Looking at the individual, but looking at the team and looking at the whole culture.

And luckily here at Strive, we've got, organizations we work with that are really happy to say, yeah, this is a systems approach. it's not just about the person. It's about the team and about the whole culture that makes a difference. So they're happy to have those broader conversations.

Mel: Yeah. Okay. And you mentioned curiosity before, and obviously that's a big part of having these conversations. What are some of the best ways for people to kind of approach their work or approach a situation with more curiosity? Do you have any sort of mindset tips there that you could share?

Sharon: one thing I say to people is feed it with facts. So often people come to me and where they've got to is full of assumptions. You know, for example, one person who I saw at the end of last year, they came to me and they were really distressed, losing sleep, quite unwell with something they thought was going to happen at work.

And I said, well, do we have enough information? And they were like, no, and then I'll just short track it for you because it was a longer conversation. When they went back, seven out of the 10 things I thought were going to happen were never going to happen. But again, we're moving very fast, both from a personal perspective and an organizational perspective.

And sometimes that communication doesn't really land properly. And so people do, as I say, make up stories about what might happen. So I say, feed it with facts. You know, I think Brene Brown says, do you have enough [00:26:00] information to freak out? You know, and for this person, they really didn't, you know, so feed it with facts.

And the other thing I always have is, I say to people is have a question in your back pocket. So something that you can say that if something, which happens to us all at times, something shocks you, you can say, rather than maybe getting defensive, which is sometimes what we do and coming back at a person to go, I didn't see it like that.

Can you explain that a little bit more? Oh, gee, that hadn't occurred to me. How did you get to there? So just get to a space that maybe even gives you a bit of breathing space to collect your thoughts. If you've been really stunned or shocked by something, but also does open up the conversation rather than shut it down.

As I say, as we can, when our adrenaline runs, we can go into That defensive mode and that can really shut any collaboration down.

Mel: yeah, absolutely. Look, that has been a fantastic conversation for today, Sharon. I've really enjoyed learning a little bit more about it all. If organizations are wanting to work with you, what's the best way to approach you and where would they start and what kind of things would be the best for them to kind of reach out to you about?

Sharon: Look, I love this work and I'm always happy to talk about it. So if people want to contact me, I have a website, Sharon Darmody. I'm also on LinkedIn under Sharon Darmody So as I said, always happy just to have a chat and to see where things are at.

Mel: Yeah, awesome. And of course you've got your book, Work Your Magic, create a better business community that works for everyone. And that's available, I'm assuming on your website as well.

Sharon: Yes. Yes. And in bookstores and booktopia. So I've been really lucky that it's been really well supported.

Mel: Oh, fantastic. Now that's brilliant. And, um, really some practical tips and takeaways in there. Some great little workbook sheets and things for you to be able to practice some of the items that Sharon's been sharing in there with you as well. So thank you so much, Sharon. It was lovely to chat [00:28:00] with you today.

And, um, I'll be sure to put all of the links to those contact details in the show notes for people to contact you as well.

Sharon: Yeah. Oh, thanks Mel. I love your podcast. So I was really delighted to be able to talk to you.

Mel: Oh, lovely. Well, thank you very much. It's been lovely.

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