Why Semco Committees Weren’t Always Serious

Companies thrive on ideas and problem solving, but rarely realize the treasure trove of human experience that they have right within their workplace. Forming employee committees makes it easy for companies to problem-solve and to allow employees to go beyond their jobs and pursue other interests.

These committees are formed to move towards a group interest or goal, whether it is a social project, like working on raising funds for a cause, or planning events like birthdays, workshops, festivals and so on. They are formed to benefit an individual or the whole organization. In other words, groups are formed to help an individual overcome a personal or professional crisis, and that same support is extended to anyone else going through something similar.

Committees Build Community
Of course, these committees needn’t exist for just solving employee problems; for serious CSR initiatives; or to organize the companies regular, formal events. Instead, they could also be formed to put together impromptu, fun, seasonal and informal events, like a Friday barbeque or the celebration of International Cuisine Day at work. Unlike the other internal committees, these groups could start small and exist temporarily - being dismantled as soon as the event is over.

When employees know that they have the full support of their colleagues if and when they face a problem, it benefits the morale of the whole organization. This kind of an approach creates a very supportive, light and positive work environment where feeling demotivated becomes quite rare.

Here are three ways in which Semco used internal committees to build its community and extend support and create an environment of happiness at the workplace.

Case Study 1: How Semco Used GPS To Navigate Sticky Situations
The Grupo de Participação da Semco (GPS) committee in Semco was a big part of everyday work. One of the ideas behind creating this committee was to help Semco employees with a personal or professional problem. For instance, when someone has a problem - like a harsh discussion with their manager; a disagreement with someone else on a certain point - it creates a sticky situation for everyone involved.

In such cases, if the person doesn’t feel comfortable enough, or if the organization isn’t transparent enough to allow them to directly take things up with the other person, the unresolved problem can morph into something bigger. The purpose of the GPS is to avoid precisely such issues from festering into deeper issues.

Creating The Safe Space
When someone approaches them with a conflict, the GPS members offer them neutral feedback and advice on how to resolve the issue. Later, they will also discuss the matter with the other party to hear both sides of the argument. Then, they facilitate conversations that can resolve the issue and act as a support system for either party when necessary. So, the GPS isn’t just a place to vent out issues - instead, it’s a bridge between two conflicting parties.

The committee is particularly handy for the very shy and introverted among employees who’d like to avoid confrontational situations with their colleagues or managers. The GPS, in such cases, acts as a safe space where even those who find it difficult to confront the issues they have, get some kind of resolution.

Finding New Solutions To Chronic Issues
Another benefit of having his committee is that GPS builds a history of complaints, issues, and challenges - and when they see repetitions or trends on certain issues, they begin working on a new program to provide better solutions to the whole organization. And, later on, in general meetings, the GPS members could propose new practices, programs or modifications on how things need to be done in order to completely resolve chronic issues.

To support their proposals, the GPS often provides examples or case studies without naming the actual people involved. Overall, the committee creates a climate of listening that allows for more awareness about different problems employees face.

Case Study No.2: How Semco Seeded Good Within Society
The committee responsible for organizing Semco’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives is known as Semear. Its purpose was to direct the employees at Semco to help external institutions that are in need of support. The idea to set up such a committee came from the employees themselves and wasn’t something that the management at Semco suggested or imposed.

It was a brand new committee of people who were part of such a group for the very first time. So, they had a director who was responsible for overseeing the activities undertaken by Semear. When he needed to leave, there was an election to find a new director.

The group name was born in a very collaborative way as well - they had an internal campaign to find a name and every employee could propose one. The whole company voted and Semear was chosen because “Sem” comes from Semco and the whole word “Semear” means “to seed” - so it was thought to mean Semco seeding good around different organizations.

Prioritizing Social Responsibility
In the beginning, they chose three types of institutions to support - one for children, one for the elderly and the third one for NGOs. They organized events every two months and worked with these institutions during their working hours - it wasn’t out of office hours. The company also provided locales, if needed, for the Semear meetings or events to take place.

Members of the group could go out during work hours to purchase whatever was needed for the institutions, or meet the children and so on. In other words, they could do operational committee tasks during regular work hours.

Volunteers Were Always Welcome
They also organized programs, the celebration of national holidays and organizing blood donation drives, during the weekends in these institutions. It meant taking their engagement with these CSR initiatives beyond working hours. For example, if Children’s Day fell on a weekend, they would go to the institutions and organize activities, distribute gifts and celebrate with children.

They identified projects by mapping what kind of support was really needed for specific institutions - and they often took suggestions from other Semco employees. Although the group was responsible for organizing the whole event, it was open for other employees to join in on any campaign or initiative.

Case Study No.3: A Committee For All Things Fun And Creative
The events committee was formed because there were a few employees who liked being in charge of parties and events - but, it took a lot of time out of their day to organize these events. By forming a committee, the office was able to bring together all these people across departments and form a team of people that could help each other and provide great ideas.

The group needed at least one member from each department and they delegated roles and responsibilities to ensure that the workload wasn’t too much on any one person. It started as a 4-member committee but quickly grew to have 12 members.  The idea behind having people from different departments was to have enough representation; to create diversity in the ideas, and, to satisfy different needs and angles and point of views.

Fun Takes A Lot Of Planning
The events committee had quarterly meetings to define ideas and a roadmap of activities around the year. They were responsible for organizing both internal and external events. For example, during the Festa Junina parties, which are typical celebrations that take place in Brazil in the month of June, people usually dress up, sing specific songs, eat certain types of foods, men dress up like women and so on.

So, these celebrations were often organized at an external location - like at the countryside home of an employee where there was a lot of outdoor space to build the venue for the celebration. They also organized indoor events to take place within Semco or an external location. These events could be themed around international holidays or important events and holidays that are typical to Brazil. For instance, they organized parties for the weekend or one Saturday at a location outside Semco - where the families of the employees could join as well.

Creative, Inclusive And Improvised
And for those who couldn’t join the external party, they would organize mini parties at the office after requesting the concerned partners or managers to slow down the workload and free up a little bit of time on a Friday afternoon. For such events, they would decorate the office, bring in some food, organize some activities, get dressed up and play quick games.

They were creative with their themes and conducted many competitions between women and men, and this proved to be a great team building exercise. The whole workplace became a happy, positive place during these parties. The group was also quite creative about how they financed these internal events.

Sometimes, when it was a larger event that involved hiring a DJ, doing grand decorations, constructing a dias and people working as waiters - they could approach the leadership with a proposal for budget and funding and receive help. Other times, they would gather funds by organizing lucky draws or raffles that people had to pay money to enter. And the winner won a prize.

The Power Of Connection
They also minimized costs involved by the power of collaboration - like identifying family members and friends who could help reduce the cost for something. For instance, a family member who knew a DJ could bring him/her in at a reduced price and so on.

When the funds were not enough, they sold tickets to the event with the intent of breaking even. So, they were priced just enough to get the money needed for the event - like, a day-long event with food and drinks would cost $5 per employee. Although they charged a fee, it was kept very accessible and affordable.

Apart from big events and parties, the group also did pop-up breakfasts or evening coffee breaks where people could just come in and have a bite to eat or drink a cup of coffee. For this, the team would put in little amounts or hold a potluck instead.

By the People, For The People
Forming such groups strengthens the bond among employees and creates a space for transparent and open discussions. Since employees are free to talk their mind, these on-demand groups become extremely good at problem-solving. They help nurture a positive, supportive environment at work where people remain positive and highly productive.

But, the most important aspect of these internal committees is that they are for the employees, by the employees. There’s minimal or no interventions from the management - except when solicited. So, they’re inherently different from the official HR department and exist for the sole benefit of fellow employees.


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