murder of roger ackroyd cover

How can Agatha Christie help your workplace skills?

Valuable learning outcomes from team building – what’s that got to do with Agatha Christie?!

I love quizzes, and whenever I get the chance to join in with one I always like to gather a trusted team together, whom we have named Agatha Quizteam – a tenuous link to the queen of crime herself but nonetheless I like to think it brings us some luck (we often win!)

It would be difficult to run a business with Murder Mystery at its roots without being a fan of Agatha Christie, and of course I am. I inherited this from my mum, who still has all of her 50-year-old copies which I used to delve into on a fairly regular basis. She always enjoyed it when I read one of her favourites, so that she could continually ask me throughout the process ‘have you got to this bit yet’? or ‘who do you think did it?’ When I let her know my latest thoughts on the matter, she would give me an infuriating look, giving nothing away and leaving me doubting my detective skills so far. She was already in the know.

I’m afraid I wouldn’t class myself as a ‘proper’ fan – by no means have I read all of the books and even *shock horror* didn’t like some of the ones I did read.  Some, however, gripped me so effectively that I can still remember the feeling to this day – reaching the final few pages of the absolute classic The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Knowing that I had to leave home to go to my shift at the local pub before I actually found out what happened was murder (if you’ll pardon the pun!).

I was 15 at the time, had to be at work at 10am to start chopping up lettuce, I was lying on my parent’s sofa (covered in a William Morris print, green) and with dad sitting in the adjacent chair reading the paper. The memory is that clear, and it was 27 years ago.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Penguin Edition by Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
The cover of this book terrified me when I was a child…

Workplace Skills

I’ve developed certain skills through reading and writing murder mysteries (by Agatha Christie, amongst others), and it’s only now that I realise how important they have been for me whilst going about my daily working life.  It’s why my business is moving in the direction it’s currently taking;  I wish to help others improve these skills, and show them how they can be transferable to the workplace.  In short, team building and training through murder mysteries!

When I read a detective novel (or participate in a murder mystery) I want to work out who did it.  I want to investigate all of the avenues to piece the information together to come up with an effective conclusion and leave no loose ends.  In a workplace environment these skills come to the fore in every job I have been employed in; I want to find solutions to problems, to come up with systems and approaches to make processes easier and more efficient, and to ‘finish’ a project satisfactorily, leaving no loose ends.

Critical Thinking

One of the skills I’ve acquired is that of critical thinking, which can be described as:

The ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas. Critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.

According to this website, critical thinkers are

able to approach problems in a consistent and systematic way

I realise that this describes very accurately my approach to working and that I can put a certain amount of this down to my years of yearning to find out the answers, solve the mystery, reach a conclusion.

There are many ways in which critical thinking skills can be improved, not least by questioning assumptions and thinking several moves ahead.  When participating in any murder mystery based team building, these skills are regularly tested and must be put into practice in order to be successful in the given task.

Active Listening

Another useful skill is that of active listening.  Many people simply hear what others are saying to them, without fully concentrating on what is being said but rather just passively hearing the message of the person talking to them.

Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding

It sounds simple, and it is; if you are tasked with finding the solution to a problem (or in our case, crime or murder) then you simply must actively listen to all around you in order to gain an understanding and glean as much valuable information as possible.

One way to improve your active listening skills is to pretend that you will be tested on how much of what you heard and understood when someone is talking to you.  With our team building exercises there is no need to pretend; you’re tested throughout in your ability to actively listen and come up with a solution to a problem.

It is extremely rewarding to see this put into practice in the workplace. Who hasn’t had the frustration of fully explaining a procedure, only to witness said procedure carried out incorrectly because your colleague simply wasn’t actively listening to you when you explained it to them?

Back to Agatha

Some might say that Agatha Christie is ‘old fashioned’ and without substance, and indeed during the 1970s and 80s many of the films made based on her books were more a showcase for famous actors of the day.  Death on the Nile starring Bette Davis and Mia Farrow or Evil Under the Sun featuring Dame Maggie Smith, James Mason and Diana Rigg, whilst being entertaining films, are prime examples.

I always remember a quote from the Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopaedia, which is a classic example of my student sense of humour in the 90s (I still read it today and laugh out loud).   However the quote which sticks in my mind (and which I was irrationally annoyed about at the time) was the following entry:

Art Deco; all that 1930s furniture and stuff that makes up for the lack of plot in Poirot.

They sort of had a point though; some of the adaptations back then were, to my mind, an example of style over substance and didn’t truly showcase the writing.  In more recent times however, a sort of reverence has been placed on her stories, with ever more gritty and ‘true to the original’ adaptations being made.

The recent And Then There Were None adaptation of her best selling book (over 100 million sold) was dark, dramatic and gripping.  On the back of this the BBC are planning 7 more adaptations over the coming months and years and of course even Hollywood is getting in on the act with a plethora of famous names being linked to a new version of Murder on the Orient Express in progress.

Sophie Hannah has written two new Poirot books (which I haven’t read yet – I will!) and sums up Christie very well in this article entitled:

No one should condescend to Agatha Christie – she’s a genius

In it she says:

Each of her novels demonstrates a profound understanding of people – how they think, feel and behave.  Christie knew detail mattered; she knew that those who ignore the apparently minor have little or no chance of understanding greater truths.

The whodunit is enjoying a resurgence, and in placing employees in situations where they will be required to develop, improve or enhance their attention to detail, actively listen to others, think critically to solve problems and of course, understand the people around them how can this fail to help produce an engaged and productive workforce? Get in touch to find out how we can help.