Long time ago, almost in another century, while still a young student, I got hired as a software engineer at a software company. I was a junior working with seasoned engineers.
The company was located in a large house with a nice garden. When I joined, I was given two options for where to have the office. One was in a quite corner of a small room. The second one was in the lobby which was rather windy due to the several windows and doors, and rather noisy given that this was the place everyone was traversing through. I chose the second one.
After poking around a little while, I decided that I want to introduce some new things in the company. And, I did not make it a secret either. Of course, not many took me seriously. I was still a student still struggling with my final exams.
I knew I could not do it alone, so instinctively, I started to look for allies. To find them I needed first to construct a map of what was going on in the company to understand who has what skills. The first strategy was to ask around, but proved to not be successful because talking was perceived as a waste of time, and as everyone had real work to do they did not have time to talk with me.
So, instead of asking for something in particular, I decided I will simply listen to whatever they will have to say whenever they will want to say it, without me pushing any agenda onto them. To get them to do their talking around me, and not in another place, I installed a honey trap. Only it did not have any honey, and it was not a trap.
My formula was: peanuts and coke. Every day, I brought with me a large bag of salty peanuts and a couple of bottles of cold coke. As my office was in the lobby, I simply put the bag on my desk and invited passing people to have a bite. Peanuts are special because of two reasons. First, you spend more time working on getting the peanuts out than you spend on chewing. So, what do you do in the meantime? You talk. Second, you can hardly eat just one. You have to have more than one. And if you combine their saltiness with a bit of cold sweet coke, you simply want more. And so, in the end, you talk more.
This might seem like quite a manipulative trap. But, it is not so if you tell it openly. Every day I told them that I give them the peanuts exactly because I want to listen to what they have to say. I even explained how it works. And they still continued to choose to be there.
Not everything they said was important, but interesting enough everyone did have something interesting to say. After a short while, eating peanuts from my desk became a small thing and people would form groups to do it. In about a month I built my map, I found my allies, and together we started our little grass-roots projects to introduce concepts like automatic builds, continuous integration or project planning.
In about a year, people changed significantly the way they developed software. Do not get me wrong: It is not because I changed them. It is because they changed. I merely started the process by proposing alternatives.
The moral of the story: I am not sure if peanuts and coke are essential, but given a chance, people do seem to want to be listened to. And, it is also apparent that listening to people is a good start towards finding ways to improve the situation. Especially when it is them that have to finally carry on with the improvement.