Poetry and business are seemingly disparate subjects: The former, an often flowery, always sentimental genre of literature, and the latter, a numbers-driven field known to prioritize the bottom line. But for one Wellesley, Mass.-based firm, the two couldn’t be a better match.
While National Poetry Month is officially celebrated every April, it’s safe to say that the Biondolillo Associates’ squad lives the other 11 months in the same spirit. The company, which helps nonprofits create branded events like walkathons, is a big believer in the power of the spoken word to bring teams together.
That is in part due to the fact that the firm’s founder, Steve Biondolillo, happens to be a published poet and a life-long lover of the English language. Biondolillo puts both his literary prowess and consulting expertise to work in team building exercises built around – you guessed it – poetry. Or as Biondolillo has come to call it, a “performance poem.”
Rolling your eyes at the notion of bringing some Shakespeare or Keats into your place of work? Biondolillo, as well as his clients Fidelity National Title, Fallon Community Health Plan and the American Cancer Society, would press you to pause. From telecommuting to texting, many of the ways in which we communicate are turning digital; while that may make life easier, those shifts also make fostering genuine connections with teammates’ tough, said Biondolillo.
“Poetry is a short-form of communication, and it’s incredibly powerful … how can you get people to open up in three hours? It’s the poem that creates a safe space,” added the businessman.
We asked Biondolillo a number of questions surrounding his poetry seminars.
BostInno: What were employees’ initial responses when you told them that they were about to do poetry team building exercises?
Steve Biondolillo: Poetry is a tough word … [laughs]. We say we’re going to use a performance poem to queue up the questions we want the team to weigh in on. People don’t like the word “poetry,” and don’t respond well to the word “poetry.” People think it just sounds senseless and useless … We learned that the hard way — so we put it in the correct context.
I read the poem. … We don’t require people to write their own poetry, it’s just to start the conversation and get them to open up emotionally and connect. … But a lot of people have written their own poems and sent them to me after the seminars. I don’t even tell them to do that! But they mostly all do, it’s just based on inspiration. I love it!
What have the benefits been from doing the poetry exercises?
The effect is that you just get to know the raw data about other people – what they love, what their safe spaces are. More importantly, you’re learning where people come from emotionally, and what makes them tick.
And just having the space to layout your personal and professional challenges in a safe space, that’s very important and helpful. It’s the feeling of not having to posture.
What’s the funniest or most awkward moment you have shared while doing the exercises?
There is that moment when you know someone could wind up in tears. Three out of four times I do these poems, one person in the audience bursts into literal tears, which has me very respectful, careful and deliberate, when I read. … We do have a couple of pieces that when you read them, the people will give you a standing cheer. But, in delivering a poem, you can actually hit the wrong note. If you have the words right, but hit the wrong note, you make people uncomfortable.
Does poetry positively affect your personal work? If so, in what ways?
If there’s a single word in terms of communication that describes poetry, it’s precision. My involvement with poetry throughout my life and in the workplace – and I think this is a very valued skill in business – is being precise. We’re all leaders and precision has a big, big value in communicating. … It can be the big difference in getting your point across and keeping teams motivated.