Are the most interesting work stories shared during smoke breaks?

You don’t have to hang out with the smokers to discover stories employees really want to hear.

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I was interviewing the CEO of a Silicon Valley company as part of an internal communications audit. “How does knowledge move most effectively through your organization?” I asked.

He pondered the question for a minute, then said, “If you really want to know, step outside and hang out with the smokers.”

I haven’t had a cigarette in 20 years, but I remember well the outdoor smoking circle. Four or five times a day, I’d congregate with eight or 10 people, most of whom didn’t know each other, around the ashtray—and it was a different eight or 10 people every time. With only work in common, we wound up talking about work. Each of us learned what was going on in other departments.

As that CEO said, “Among frontline employees, they know more about the company’s overall operations than anybody else.”

What strikes me, in retrospect, about those in the smoking group is that they weren’t giving each other reports about their projects and departmental activities. They told stories. Today, if I were looking for content for the intranet or the Web, I’d ask myself every time one of those smokers told a story, “Is this a video? Is this a blog post? Is there an infographic in there?”

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