Why “Strictly Come Dancing” is good for more than the BBC’s viewing figures

Dancing, acting, singing, crafts, and wearing funny wigs are all typical components of ‘Learn a Thing’ days for the Systems and Service Design (S+SD) team in the BBC’s User Experience & Design (UX&D) department.

The S+SD team work on ensuring the tools and systems used by BBC staff, from logging in to applications to editing video clips for the 6 o’clock News, are designed to support what they are doing. With hundreds of tools in our remit, our team of approximately 20 are often working on different things in different locations. However, to make change happen, and create an easily understood and cohesive experience of using the BBC’s tools, it is vital for us to share some important attributes as a team. Empathy, communication, confidence, resilience, compromise, creativity, and supporting one another are vital attributes for a successful service design team to develop, but these things are not easy to learn on a one day training course.

When people have fun together, barriers to success are removed and we can nurture those attributes as part of our team culture. You are less likely to feel awkward, shy, annoyed, or confused amongst friends, because you have broken downs barriers and learnt about each other. If we can lower these barriers at work, then we can get much more creative and innovative stuff done, and make work a happy and successful place to be!

This is where ‘Learn a Thing’ day comes in.

Once a month, we spend a day together, learning from a subset of the team who volunteer to organise. The day can be about anything, but it is always fun. The emphasis is not only on learning technical skills, but also playing and laughing together, because this is what will truly help us to develop our culture and succeed.

2019’s first Learn a Thing day — ‘Learn a BBC Thing’ encompassed many fantastic rounds of BBC themed team competitions including “Strictly Come Systems and Service Design”. Participants were taught the Cha Cha Cha before choreographing their own dance to various BBC theme tunes for Craig, Bruno, Shirley and Darcey A.K.A. our colleagues in masks. We always plan our activities to be inclusive so those who couldn’t dance were wardrobe assistants or choreographers.

Dancers in action

Here are 5 reasons why Strictly Come S+SD was particularly great for developing our team. And it could be for yours too!

1. You have to hold hands

That’s awkward isn’t it! Who actually does that at work!!

Physically holding hands is a must for the Cha Cha Cha and instantly takes us out of our comfort zone into an unknown world where we have to make physical contact with our colleagues. In trying to avoid treading on toes, the awkwardness is overcome, and before you know it your ability to approach that person and ask a question about their project is going to seem so much easier!

2. Put politely — everyone is a bit rubbish!

Unless there is a sneaky dark horse who has been taking a weekly salsa class, the likelihood is that no one will be very good at the dancing. This puts everyone on a level playing field, whether you are new and junior, or the team leader that’s been in the industry for years — for these few hours you are all just humans laughing at a silly dance. You learn more about each other’s personalities, ways of working, and problem solving approaches when your domain knowledge, experience and perceived seniority don’t get in the way. This can help you to pick up on your colleague’s skills, strengths, and abilities so you can call on them for help or support when your work requires it!

3. You literally have to work together

When you’re Cha Cha Cha-ing up and down the room with a partner there is absolutely no escape from teamwork in order to avoid stepping on each others toes. It is the perfect forum for practicing those skills of empathy, communication and compromise, which are essential for successful teams.

4. It’s fun!

As with the majority of our Learn a Thing days, Strictly S+SD descended into fits of laughter, we made memories that will last for a long time and contribute to our culture — part of our shared story. Showing your team that being happy and having a good time is a part of working life, and that you are prepared to allow them the time to do that, will make them more productive and help you retain them.

Of course, there are some people who will be less comfortable with this kind of an activity. Recognising this is just as important as dancing around in a silly wig, and by encouraging people to go outside their comfort zone, their personalities and vulnerabilities are exposed in a safe environment where everyone is having a good time, and you don’t feel too embarrassed! This is being human, not just a working robot. Through this shared experience we learn how to behave around one another, and get the best out of each other when you are back getting down to some serious work.

5. Dancing is healthy

We have all heard slogans about healthy employees make healthy businesses and dancing is so good for you that the NHS will soon be prescribing dance lessons to combat both physical and mental health conditions. Since the BBC reported that ‘Dance classes and art lessons should be available on prescription’ in March 2018, the idea has been formalised through a ‘Social prescribing’ scheme within the NHS.

Particularly for those who spend a lot of the working day looking at a screen, getting up, moving around and practicing the good posture that dancing requires can only be beneficial!

The effects of Learn a Thing days last far beyond when the Strictly theme tune ends. Having fun together really is a serious part of enabling all teams, not just designers, to achieve great things and if you want to try Strictly Come {Your Team} then get in touch!

Keeeeeep dancing!