Painting on walls gives employees a chance to express themselves


A few years ago, Davis & Company held our annual summer staff event. We were planning a fun outdoor activity (which was a secret to most team members.) 

So when the day started with a downpour, and the weather report was even more depressing (100% chance of rain!), people were disappointed—especially when they found out we had been planning a mini golf tournament. (Almost everyone loves mini golf.)

But we decided to make the best of the situation and have our party indoors. It helped that our office was under renovation, so our reception area was cleared out to prepare for demolition. The team in charge of post-lunch games had confidence we could still stage relay races and other activities inside.

Then, as we were finishing lunch, someone had a brilliant idea: Let’s have a graffiti session on the walls that would soon be torn down.

Once people got over their initial nervousness—“Can we really do that?”—everyone grabbed a marker and got to work. The graphic designers made beautiful pictures. The younger members expressed themselves in words. Someone charted people’s heights on a wall, like your mom did on the doorframe when you were little. There were methodical artists (filling a whole section of wall), whimsical artists (drawing butterflies) and pattern people (I made a regiment of squares). And there were those who got their main enjoyment from seeing what their co-workers were up to.

Writing on the walls was, quite simply, lots of fun. It unleashed our inner kindergarteners. We could be serious or silly. We could express ourselves in ways we don’t typically.

It made me think: We need to do more of this. At my firm, for sure, but also throughout employee communication. How can we do a better job of encouraging self-expression? How can we unleash employees’ creativity?

We may not be able to let people write on actual walls, but what else is possible?

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