Working in Pairs; the Most Powerful Productivity Tool Ever!

I shared before that I hit a patch of serious “burn-out” last summer. Writing became paralyzing; it was a miserable process. As a result, Brian (president of SOAR® and my husband) began to write the weekly newsletter. Soon, Jessie, our summer intern, jumped in to help him. They did a great job, but they too, became quickly overwhelmed.

A colleague challenged us. “Find some way to make the newsletter fun! If it’s fun for you, it will be fun for your audience!” But, Brian and I just stared at each other blankly. We were so burned out, we couldn’t imagine it ever being fun.

working in pairs

Working in pairs, our small team transformed a draining task into something fun, far more productive, and produced better results.
Here’s a few of us on a recent Writing Day, which we’ve also themed. (If you can’t tell, this was “Sports Day.”)


We were invited to spend a day at Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, MI. Menlo is a software design company and a global pioneer in improving workplace culture. We didn’t know what to expect, but…

The visit transformed our company! Menlo’s work process centers on “pairing;” their employees work in teams of two. They have found it far more effective – in terms of time, revenue, and quality – to have four eyes coding software, instead of two.

“We still have room for improvement in some areas. But, I’ve come to realize our weaknesses are in places where we aren’t working in pairs.” explained Richard Sheridan, founding CEO and our trainer for the day.

A man sitting next to me shared, “You’d think pairing would diminish productivity. But, it’s actually a multiplier!” He was on his third visit to Menlo, so he clearly had discovered the magic of pairing.

Back at the Office…

We began pairing immediately. Our first “experiment” was a runaway success! Brian and Jessie tackled a long list of things to clean out of our database. They expected the process to take one full week. Instead, it took only one day!

Five days of work done in just one day! The real value wasn’t even in the time saved; it was in the sanity saved! Jessie said, “If I had to do this by myself, I would have been miserable after just a couple of hours! Instead, we actually had fun!”

“The quality of our work was far better, too!” Brian added. “This project was so tedious, we caught each other making small typos, and clicking the wrong settings. In retrospect, the second set of eyes on was absolutely necessary to ensure the quality of our work!” Since, we’ve also used pairing to fix website issues, train new staff, and manage projects.

Writing in Pairs

The Monday before Christmas, we cleared everyone’s schedule and declared it “Writing Day.” Brian and I began by sharing our style and content guidelines. Then, we all brainstormed relevant topics. Finally, we identified a specific purpose for each article, as we recommended in the SOAR® curriculum. Then, we broke into pairs and began writing.

The results were amazing! The quality of insights, ideas, and content that emerged was far better than anything any of us would write on our own. A new team member, only with the company for five days,  was a little intimated when she learned about Writing Day. But by the end of the day, she was on fire with confidence and excitement about all that we accomplished.

“This worked so well, we should have a ‘writing day’ every month!” Jessie suggested. So, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Our third writing day is under way, now, as I type. Ironically (as odd man out), I’m writing solo today – but I am really excited to share our learning process with you!

Going forward, you will see that most of our newsletters will continue to have two authors. However, the content will represent the collective input from our entire team.

Pairing in the Classroom

How does this apply to you, in the classroom? The best way to answer this question is with a story.

The weekend after our first writing day, my parents were visiting. I told them about the great momentum shift we experienced from this process. “It’s a world of difference from where we were just a few weeks ago,” I explained.

“That’s amazing!” replied Mom.

Dad added, “Now you need to add a new chapter to your book… on social writing!  You’ve got a major breakthrough there, discovering the value of writing in pairs!” Hearing those words from my father struck a deep chord within me. We’ve had several discussions about how painful writing was for him in school.

“Oh my gosh, Dad! Imagine if you could have done all of your writing with a partner… someone to help refine ideas, someone to help you find words? I mean, speaking is your superpower!”

His response was poignant. “Aw, God! I would have rather slit my wrists than write a term paper; that was just hell for me!  Working with a partner would have been such a relief!”

My challenge to you: find one way to incorporate paired collaboration into your classroom in the next week! See what a difference it makes in your students… and in your energy level, too!

Pairing in SOAR®

In the SOAR® curriculum, pairing would be useful in several different ways:

  • After a lecture; work with a partner to create “summary questions” from notes.
  • Pre-read with a partner. Before reading a textbook, partners can “read the pictures” together, as we lay out in the SOAR® curriculum.
  • Study for a test with a partner. Study groups are fairly common in college; why not have students find a study partner to help them before a test?
  • In math class, have students talk through a process with someone else. They will understand it faster and better! (Remember, “pairing” is a multiplier!)
  • Writing… As I’ve already mentioned, students can work in pairs to do all, or even just parts, of the writing process. The possibilities are endless!

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy future issues of our newsletter from our team: Brian, Jessie, Jenn, Renee, Kevin, Emily, and Rachel! We all sincerely hope you find as much joy from pairing as we have!


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