Reality TV exploded in the late 1990s.

One of the gems it ushered into our lives was a BBC programme called Back to the Floor (the clip above is from series three).

You might remember it? The premise was simple.

The boss (managing director etc) would spend time working at the grass roots of their organisation.

There, they would gain a revelatory insight into the day-to-day workings of the company.

Problems on the ground. Challenges faced by employees. Unsung heroes who go that extra mile. Staff morale. And so on.

More recently, Channel 4’s Undercover Boss refreshed the format.

It makes compelling viewing. Particularly the light-bulb moments when a junior member of staff casually explains the solution to a problem that has hitherto baffled management.

Of course, the concept of leaders going back to the floor was around long before reality TV.

Sadly, the practice has started to be perceived as a little clichéd – viewed as an internal PR exercise to promote a sense of management being in tune with the workforce.

It’s a shame. Because going back to the floor can offer genuine benefits.

Working with one of our refuse-collection and recycling teams in Wrexham.

Working with one of our refuse collection teams in Wrexham.

I’ve been quietly spending time with front-line staff here at Wrexham County Borough Council for a while.

I’ve worked with our refuse collection teams, sorting out household rubbish and recycling.

I’ve worked with colleagues at Wrexham Waterworld, testing the swimming pool chlorine levels and getting stuck into other tasks at the leisure centre.

I’ve also helped look after the animals at one of our country parks –Ty Mawr – and spent time with staff at our schools

Helping to feed the animals at one of our country parks (Ty Mawr).

Helping to feed the animals at one of our country parks (Ty Mawr).

It’s proved useful for many reasons. Here are five.

  1. service delivery

It’s a chance to see how things are working on the ground.

Where are the problems? What can you do to help fix them? Are there things that might work well in other parts of the organisation?

  1. customer experience

Spending time with a front-line team can give you valuable insight into how customers respond to the service you provide…and what they really think.

  1. corporate values

When you’ve been heavily involved in shaping or communicating the key messages and values within your organisation, it’s easy to assume everyone else has the same level of awareness.

Going back to the floor can help you gauge whether those values have really filtered through and translated themselves into the everyday work of colleagues.

Learning how to test the water at Waterworld leisure centre.

Learning how to test the water at Waterworld leisure centre.

  1. comfort zone

Sometimes, it’s good to step out of your comfort zone into a situation where – for a moment at least – you’re not in control, and have to rely on the knowledge and expertise of colleagues.

It’s particularly true for senior leaders and managers. It helps you appreciate other people’s skills and reminds you that it’s everyone’s contribution that makes the organisation work.

  1. recognition

I think this is the most important reason.

The most important thing leaders and managers can reap from going back to the floor is the chance to find and thank those people who go the extra mile. Employees who bring commitment and dedication to their job, but somehow fall beneath the radar.

Seeing and celebrating skill, knowledge and hard work can make a real difference to an organisation. Because people who feel valued, feel motivated.

Every leader and senior manager should try and spend time working at the grass-roots of their organisation.

It might not be easy to find the time…but it is so worth it.

(If you liked this, you might want to read an earlier blog post called ‘M’ for Motivation).