Lessons from 1 D Wednesday

Photo courtesy of chinamarine.org

In 2006 and 2007 I attended a Marine Corps school and one of my fellow students was a fantastic Australian special forces officer named Paul Burns. “Burnsie” inspired all of us with his great stories, his sharp intellect, and his even sharper wit. One of the many things I learned from him was the power of the “1 D” (also known as “One Drink”). Burnsie explained the simple rules governing 1 D as follows: the event took place at the end of the work day but still during working hours so as not to interfere with family time; everyone gathered together to have one drink of their choice (beer, soda, water, etc); they were free to leave once they finished that drink; and they could talk about anything except work. The central idea was to get to know each other – to connect on something other than work.

I came to find out there’s real magic in this simple formula.

I experimented with the idea for several years after Burnsie taught it to us, and finally mustered the courage to fully implement it after I took command of 7th Marine Regiment in December of 2015. I decided to give 1 D a shot because of some initial feedback I was receiving as I met with the Officers and Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, or SNCOs (the senior enlisted Marines), of the regiment’s staff. The headquarters had just returned from a deployment, and the leadership was spread across several locations on the base, which meant that a lot of the staff were struggling to build relationships with everyone, particularly with those working in a different department.  I checked with my leadership team and we decided Wednesday was the best day for us, hence the name “1 D Wednesdays”.

My biggest surprise came almost two years later, when I returned with the Headquarters group from a nine-month deployment to find that 1 D Wednesday was stronger than ever. It had developed its own organic momentum. I knew it was achieving my goals of improving personal relationships amongst staff members, especially across functional lines. Although I never prompted anyone, almost every Marine I spoke to in later exit interviews identified it as something to continue. Plus, I could readily see the enthusiasm everyone had when they attended 1 D Wednesday, the volume of the conversations in the room sometimes made it hard to hear. But, I never expected it to take on a life of its own.

Looking back, these are some of the lessons I learned from my 1 D Wednesday experience:

1. The majority of communication is non-verbal. To truly help people get to know each other, and to develop trust, there’s no substitute for meeting in person. Our leadership team also communicated non-verbally when we committed to Burnsie’s rule of scheduling 1 D Wednesday at the end of the day but also during working hours. This sent the implicit message that we believed personal relationships were important elements of a healthy team environment, and that we would invest time in building them, without taking away any of their personal time.

2. As Yuval Harari writes in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, social cooperation amongst people is an enormous competitive advantage. In addition to the positive feedback I received during exit interviews, our team could see performance improvements across the staff due to improved relationships. As 1 D Wednesday evolved, we frequently invited others from outside the regimental headquarters to attend – the new relationships that formed often led to creative problem-solving.

3. Time spent on purposeful team-building is worth the effort. In large organizations, it’s the leader’s job to help his or her people solve problems, to make sure they’re organized correctly and that they have the right tools to do the job. Breaking out of stovepipes often unleashes creativity. Sometimes increased comfort with picking up the phone to ask a co-worker a quick question speeds up problem solving, too.

For more than a century the 7th Marine Regiment built a well-deserved reputation as a great outfit, and this was certainly true when I joined them in December 2015. My challenge was to listen carefully and then find a method to take a sound organization to the next level. I’ll be forever indebted to Burnsie for the “1 D” idea, it helped me make a good team better – simply by creating an opportunity for the people on the team to develop deeper relationships.

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