Teams, Teaming and Teamworking

There have been a number of articles around the idea that teamwork does not work to improve organizational performance. Teambuilding is seen as a complicated and expensive endeavor that does not pay off.

And I can see why people might say that, given some of the team bonding kinds of activities that many people label “teambuilding.” Just because people are active in some activity does not mean that their actions will actually improve organizational performance or increase collaboration. Team BONDING is not team BUILDING, not by a long shot.

If you follow #baaadteambuilding through google or twitter searching, you can see some of the things that a few of us working with team building tools have found SO bad as to deserve special tracking in twitter.

  • A “Bubble Bounce” in which everyone bundles up in bubble wrap to bounce off the floor and walls?
  • A PediCab tour of a city (good if everyone is physically fit and not handicapped, maybe, but what about the disabled)?
  • Pub Crawling (as if the people might not embarrass themselves or do something really stupid on what is legally company time), or (seriously)
  • Pin the Tail on the Donkey?

Team building should have impacts on actual workplace behavior, framing up innovation or change or collaboration. It should be focused on observable improvements, generating the commitment to change, and maybe even have some measurable impacts on results. It should not be viewed as “fun and games” or as social networking. Those might be nice to do, but hard to use for measuring a return on investment.

Hey! I will admit a vested interest in the issue, since I design and sell interactive exercises focused on issues of engagement and collaboration between teams. But there IS a lot of crap “training” out there calling itself teamwork — my particular pet peeves are things like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes courses. There are lots of similar “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together, interacting to define things to improve, collaborating to fix problems, etc.

Golf as team building? Sorry. Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play in golf all about working together for shared results. (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole or doing that pub-crawl thing, but not during play of the game, most certainly. Heck, you are not even supposed to talk much of the time!

Bowling? Maybe.
Cooking? Maybe.
Darts? (NO!)
Cat Bathing? (just kidding on that one…)

And, just now in twitter, I see where a company is offering up, “Ireland’s largest inflatable obstacle course, The Big Daddy.” Seriously, we are supposed to believe that bouncing through some inflatable challenge course is going to make us work together #morebetterfaster ? Sure, that might be fun, but I am guessing they don’t want obese people, pregnant women, wheelchairs, or people who carry knives and swords. But, like go-kart racing, it is framed as teambuilding.

Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then expect people to work together and collaborate. In so many organizations, with lots of research supporting this, many of the people are not engaged. One should not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people who really do not care about their workplace or about shared results.

But we can motivate people in our organizations and workgroups. People want to work together if the situation can support it, and they want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing.

Motivate people through success

In high performing workplaces, you will also see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.

Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance, and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).

Think of all the activities that we engage in where real teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment.

And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.

Celebration plane color green

Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. And improvement is a continuous activity requiring visible support from the management team.

Sure, individuals can excel, but only through collaboration and engagement and motivation can we get a group of people to high levels of accomplishment and performance that they can celebrate and then continue to impact.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

 

The Reality of Change, Innovation and Employee Engagement

Change is a constant in the workplace: there is always something…

Sometimes change appears to be happening too fast and sometimes it seems much too slow, given the business needs. Sometimes we are looking to make changes and sometimes we simply must make change to keep moving forward.

On my poems blog, I just posted up this illustration poster:

LEGO POSTER REALITY OF CHANGE

The simple idea is that the wagon wheel has broken, the team needs to get moving again, but the wheel needs to be replaced. With Round Wheels literally “at hand”, we put on a new Square Wheel simply because that is what we have always done. We roll on Square Wheels!

My “regular” line-art cartoons that we use in our toolkit on change, look like this:

SWs Reality of Change © yellow words

The related image that shows some improvement looks like this:

SWs Reality of Change 2 ROUND © yellow

Note the difference — the woman is now installing one of the ROUND wheels.

In the cartoons, overall, we see three people and some note the reluctance of the wagon puller to let go of the rope. Some viewers might comment that the guy at the far left is just lazy and not helping out. But you might also note that the wagon is up on the points of the Square Wheels, making it easier to install a new wheel but much harder to balance, which is the job of those two people.

One guy is lifting — we all know of those people who really put out the effort to help teams succeed.

Lastly. Many people simply miss the HORSE. The horse represents a completely different way to address the reality of moving the wagon. It is surprising how many people miss that aspect of the situation as they focus on the broken wheel. Heck, even the characters in the cartoon seem to have missed that!

What I have been doing for 20+ years is involving and engaging people to see things differently and teaching a VERY simple yet actionable model for understanding change, identifying leverage points and action plans and facilitating the process in such a way that the participants can identify things that they can do differently as well as engage others.

The key is to focus on employee engagement and ownership. If people are involved, they are more likely to be engaged and feel some sense of commitment to getting things done.

I use a simple tool, my Square Wheels illustrations and metaphor to set things up.

SWs One WHY USE © 2014 green
The wagon rolls on a set of wooden Square Wheels carrying a cargo of round rubber tires. The process continues this way because of a few different factors, such as the square wheels actually working (just like they always have), and the lack of perspective (“Don’t just DO something, Stand There!). 

The reality is that stopping the process and implementing improvement takes time and is not always successful. Plus, the round wheels of today will invariably become the Square Wheels of tomorrow.

The intent of this facilitation is to involve people in stepping back from the wagon and seeing the obvious – the round wheels already exist and should be implemented to make long-term progress and not simply to meet the goals for today.

Sometimes, I introduce the concept of Mud, the glop that gets in the way of moving forward. This can include organizational restraints (perceived and real), politics, culture or simply the difficulty in changing. I then show the wagon and the people up to their “axles” in this mess and how hard it is to make progress. For me, “mud” is a great metaphor and I use it with the theme, “Get out of the ditch and up on the road” to introduce the issue of choice and choices. We choose what we do. Deal with it. (“If it is to be, it is up to me!”)

(“Mud” can also be grinding paste, cement, and other things. On my website at http://www.squarewheels.com, you can also find recipes for making Gack out of things like Elmer’s Glue and borax – Gack is a gooey mess — a “colloidal suspension.”)

“The best “Mud Managers” do things differently. What is it they do?”

This is a great question to ask, since it generates alternative behaviors and alternative thinking in their discussions, often anchored on best practices of the exemplary performers in the room at that time. (Peer coaching!)

At some point in the design, we will move toward my model of change, involving the current level of discomfort with the way things are now, the attractiveness of the vision of the future, the individual or groups’ previous history with change and the peer support for improvement.


All four things are actionable and under control of the manager. Change can involve teamwork or simply group process techniques for identifying issues and opportunities. But once something (a process, generally) is anchored as a Square Wheel, it almost always generates an implementable round one — this nicely taps into the cognitive dissonance model of Festinger.

Change does not have to be done TO people and is best done WITH them, having them involved in the different aspects of environmental and social support. This is why the illustrations work. We get people actively involved.

If you want to read more about this, you’ll find my article that includes these ideas, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” at:

http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/articles

Plus, if you’d like to make any comment or discuss any of this, it would be most welcome.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of the The LEGO Group

Why do teams choose to compete rather than collaborate?

People continually make choices, selecting responses from their existing set of “behavioral alternatives” and often simply choosing to do what they have done before. The book, Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman does an excellent job of sharing the research on decision making and thinking. (I share a little of this in my article on Square Wheels and decision-making.)

LDGM Why do teams choose to compete wordsWhy DO teams choose to compete?

Teams and teamwork are simply about choice and choices. Teams will often choose NOT to collaborate if they feel that competition offers them more positive benefits and impacts and this is especially true if they have competed in the past — it is the fast decision that does not require much thinking and consideration. Competition may also simply be More Fun!

But does competition really do much to support overall organizational results? Does competition really make results better when you look at the overall impact? Does competition between sales and operations really help things?

More often than not, the answer is that competition measurably sub-optimizes organizational results. Clearly. This is grounded in my work in implementing performance improvement and customer service as well as in a variety of other contexts — it is much easier to generate inter-organizational competition than it is to develop real trust and collaboration.

I tried to collect some of the key articles around performance and teamwork in this annotated blog of my best posts on our team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. You can see some of these sources by clicking on the image below:

LD MAIN Goal is to Mine

We often ask tabletops to discuss various real world perceptions after playing this team building exercise. Below are some thoughts of participants after playing The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses directly on issues of inter-table collaboration and communications:

As you will see from these responses, there are a lot of systemic issues that block teamwork and there are also lots of experiences in “playing the game of working” that will get in the way of simply choosing to do things differently. Breaking the patterns is why an exercise like Dutchman works – people play, make choices, and see the impacts of their behavior on the play of others and in the overall sub-optimization of results.

Why do teams compete when collaboration obviously offers more impacts and benefits?

  • Evaluation and Reward Systems do not support it
  • Organizational objectives are unclear
  • Human Nature – we are competitive
  • Past Experience precludes collaboration and has rewarded competition
  • Lack of a Trust or Relationship with others
  • It takes extra time and effort to do it
  • Benefits of collaboration not supported by leaders
  • Impacts and payoffs are not obvious
  • Conflict may generate discussion of realities and produce creativity
  • Teams do not have a history or experience with doing collaboration or generating better impacts by it

What did you learn about teamwork and communications from playing the exercise?

  • There is a need for networking
  • Small teams work better than committees / larger teams
  • Someone needs to take on the role of team leader
  • We must compromise individually and collaborate collectively to succeed
  • Don’t dominate – listen to others views
  • THINK COLLABORATION and Trust
  • Share a common goal
  • Share Ideas and Information
  • Plan before Acting
  • Have a division of labor and roles and think creatively
  • Initiate support from others
  • Have Empathy for others
  • Identify others’ needs
  • Be Creative
  • Be a good listener
  • Build on others’ ideas
  • Recognize Interdependence
  • Move quickly, take some risks
  • We probably have sufficient resources – use them wisely

In this game, most people do NOT ask for help, which also happens in the workplace. Why don’t most teams ask for or get the active leadership of their managers?

  • We are conditioned by education, bad experiences and culture
  • Personality (we’re not proactive but quiet)
  • We’re too involved in our own work and forget the existence of the “Expedition Leaders”
  • We’re afraid of losing time, thus we suboptimize results
  • We are really not clear of our roles or the Leader’s role
  • There is a fear of losing Face (ego, insecurity)
  • There is an assumption that not asking means we get all of the     praise and recognition for our good performance / ability
  • “Us and Them” mentality — Leader is not part of team
  • No access to them – can’t get their time so why ask
  • It’s not part of the rules of how we play
  • Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled

Some Key Learning Points for engaging and involving people in performance improvement:

  • Visions are critical for motivation
  • Motivation occurs when people share risks, goals and objectives
  • Teams are “naturally” competitive and processes must actively drive collaboration and cooperation
  • Teams only reluctantly ask Expedition Leaders for advice.
  • Leadership must clearly communicate with directness and honesty.  They need to be perceived as supportive.
  • Justify the need for collaboration as it influences corporate profitability and improvements in systems and practices.
  • Identify the mud that is bogging teams down and wasting resources.
  • Insure that each participant knows his or her role on the team and their importance to the overall results — make sure each team member feels that their efforts are of value.

How does this exercise and debriefing link to improving organizational results?

  • Collaborative, overall effort is needed to achieve Company Goals
  • Plan – Do – Check – Action
  • Collaboration is essential
  • Manage your processes with effective allocation of resources
  • Do It Right The First Time – there are few second chances in reality
  • Highlight the internal customer concept – we depend on each other
  • All of us is better than Some of US!

The competitive aspect of the game:
How might it be harmful in an organization?

  • Not sharing information for personal reasons will sub-optimize overall results
  • Damaging relationships and trust
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Not utilizing resources in best or optimal way
  • Sub-optimization — Not seeing whole picture
  • Undermining the efforts of others

Overall, competition is harmful because it is not maximizing company results nor the performance by the largest number of people. Competition works for the competitive and not for everyone. Discussing these issues and opportunities in the context of collaboration and communications offers the chance that people may choose to behave differently, or at least be more aware of how they are influencing others in their workplace.

So, a key to organizational improvement comes directly out of debriefing on ideas and reflecting on choices so that different choices can be made in the future that would allow for a culture shift of some kind.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is a fun and powerful way to learn more about teambuilding and collaboration

Find our articles on organizations and performance

We support all kinds of innovation, motivation, engagement, team building and other aspects of people and performance through the sale of our simple tools for facilitating change and improvement. You can find out more about these by clicking on the link below:

Performance Management Company website for team building

For the FUN of It!

Scott DebriefDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

 

Teamwork Works! Teambuilding has Positive Impacts.

There have been a variety of articles and posts on different leadership development groups taking the position that teamwork does not work to improve organizational performance.

Huh? Seriously?

I would be hard pressed to think of one situation where some kind of teamwork wasn’t necessary to produce an optimal result in some relatively complex situation. Teams and teamwork are how things get done, so taking a position that team building does not have any impact on results and performance seems a bit goofy, right? There are troubles with teams and they do not always work smoothly, and creating a team is not always the best solution to solving a problem, but it is certainly a good one, in general. There is no question that diversity of perspective and ideas gives a better result on most problems in most situations.

Yeah, sometimes we have situations like this:

Square Wheels and competitionbut that is not to say that teams do not work!

But maybe it is the kind of team building training that is the issue behind few observable improvements? Maybe there are some less effective approaches in play.

Last night, I saw an advertisement for Booking.com that was about “The Annual Company Retreat” — It is pretty much a hoot! Click on the image below to see this 30-second commercial (by Booking.com).

Annual company paintball teambuilding retreat booking dot comI think this pretty clearly shows how a LOT of people see teambuilding combined with paintball — does teambuilding need pain, suffering, losers and winners?

Hey! I will admit a vested interest in the issue, since I design and sell interactive exercises focused on issues of engagement and collaboration between teams. And there IS a lot of crap training out there calling itself teamwork — my particular pet peeves are things like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes and other similar “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together, interacting to define things to improve, bonding together to fix problems, etc. Sure, the events themselves are challenging, but does river rafting really build a team of people focused on improving the business?

And Golf as team building? Gimme a break — Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play is crucial to their overall success (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole, but not during play, most certainly. Bowling? Maybe. Cooking? Maybe, if one is running a big commercial kitchen in a restaurant or hotel…

Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations, IMHO. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then expect people to work together. In so many organizations, and lots of research supporting this, many of the people are not engaged and many are DIS-engaged. One might not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people.

But we can motivate them. People want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing. We need to get them to a new place, mentally.

Motivate people through success

In high performing workplaces, you will see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market Sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.

Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).

Think of all the activities that we engage in where teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment — sports is but one endeavor. And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.

Celebration plane color green

Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. And improvement is a continuous activity.

Sure, individuals can excel, but only through collaboration and engagement and motivation can we get a group of people to high levels of accomplishment and performance that they can celebrate and then continue to impact.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Lost Dutchman Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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What is Performance Management Company

What is PMC – who are we?

Founded in 1984, PMC is dedicated to collaborating with an international network of trainers and consultants to help create applications to impact engagement, teamwork and organizational performance.

Performance Management Company was founded in 1984 by Scott Simmerman, Ph.D., who is Managing Partner. Back in the old days, performance management referred to “behavioral engineering” kinds of applications, focusing on alignment, feedback and contingent reward systems to generate peak performance for individuals and organizations. That is our heritage, continually looking for what we can choose to do differently to improve performance, generally through increased employee engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Through the years, the company’s base has evolved from consulting to creating and selling products supporting management and organizational development. Sales are worldwide, to organizations and individuals looking for simple tools.

PMC is dedicated to collaborating with a network of trainers and consultants to help create new ideas and applications for products. I continually try to do more than the customers expect, which comes from my 20 years of working on service quality improvement.

The more formal bio says something like this:

Combining work experience in business consulting and retail management with a doctoral degree in psychology and university teaching from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Scott initially created Performance Management as an organizational consulting business. However, the focus of the business changed to designing and selling resources because of a single cartoon called simply, “Square Wheels One.”

From that, Scott created the interactive Square Wheels® illustration series consisting of over 300 cartoons now packaged in different Square Wheels® toolkits, available as complete training packages. Also developed were two different Square Wheels – based team exercises.

Square Wheels One copyrighted V1 small

One of Scott’s premises is that if people enjoy a learning experience they will more readily retain key points.

The fun, fast-paced, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” game was created with this belief in mind. Serious learning points such as collaboration, communication and quality are all entwined with participants having a good time while playing this team building game. It has, hence, become one of the leading team building exercises in the world.

Our materials can be readily reviewed at the Performance Management Company website. My older site — www.SquareWheels.com — has a lot of articles and other supporting information, but it is also a bit dated and not maintained. And, in addition to this blog, I also added the “Poems on The Workplace” blog where I am approaching 200 different poems, quips, business quotes, haiku and all sorts of other simple things about people and performance, illustrated with cartoons and other images. Check it out!

Scott and Joan Simmerman operate PMC as a home-based business since the late 1990s, keeping our costs low and work environment conducive to high quality and responsiveness. All products sold and presentations come with a satisfaction guarantee or monies are returned. PMC works enthusiastically with purchasers of its products to help support their success and satisfaction. And, we get great testimonials from users as well as clients:

Speculand LDGM Testimonial

and

Client Testimonial on Dutchman team building game

Users of PMC products include a global mix of Fortune 100 companies and multi-national organizations as well as small businesses, schools, universities and independent consultants.

Total PMC Client Logo Compendium

Scott is only occasionally available to do speaking engagements and facilitations these days, but people remember his presentations because they are unique, interactive and engaging. This adds up to his consistently being a top-ranked and internationally recognized presenter. His topics include themes of Change, Team Building, Motivation, Productivity, Innovation and Communications, all within a general framework of leadership. Visit his presentation website at www.ScottSimmerman.com.

Since Scott began sharing Square Wheels and his other products, he’s delivered workshops, retreats and seminars in India, South Africa, Egypt, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and all around the U.S — 38 countries in all thus far.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Performance Management – what it is (and isn’t)

WAY back in 1978, I started consulting after a short career as a psychology professor. It just seemed that the college teaching was not what I really wanted to do, so I took 9 months and rolled around the USA in my 1973 yellow Volvo 145 station wagon. And, 26,000 miles later, I wound up in Westport, CT working for Ed Feeney and doing BEST.

Behavioral Engineering Systems Training was written by Tom Roth, who graduated from Allegheny College a few years earlier than me and who took some of Tom Gilbert’s ideas and made them into a very understandable and usable three-binder training system.

Binder one was full of analysis stuff, defining “outputs” and qualifying them into different categories and comparing current level of average results with exemplary levels of performance as well as impacts to generate some priorities. Module Two was about designing feedback and measurement systems and Module Three was a very Skinnerian-focused extrinsically-focused reward-focused reinforcement design program.

Most people found Modules One and Three to be the most interesting, while Module Two focused simply on implementing. My view and experiences over the past 30 years has consistently been by far the most important.

In the early 80s, after formally founding my business in October of 2004, slowly but surely, “Performance Management” became  an increasingly used euphamism for performance APPRAISAL. Appraisal was a bad word, implying judgement and judging people, grading on curves, focusing on the negative and all those things. So, instead of calling it appraisal, they called it “management.”

Well, I guess it was management in a way, but it still retained appraisal as its main focus and technique. It has been a while since I have looked at these kinds of “performance management systems” but I sure do not like how they took a good concept of working to make the environment more productive and obliterated it with the much-disliked appraisal metaphor.

My company will always be, Performance Management Company even though many people will not understand that it is about people and performance, engagement and best practices, feedback systems and innovation.

Ah well…  Think I should rename it? Something like

  • Games and Frames
  • The Square Wheels Company
  • The Round Wheels Company
  • Teambuilding Games and Square Wheels Company
  • Scott Simmerman & Associates (how awful is that!)

Nah. Just remember that MY understanding of Performance Management isn’t what they think it is!

Have fun out there.

You set YOUR price for our Facilitation Toolkit – Square Wheels Roll!

Square Wheels illustrations have been used worldwide for almost 20 years as tools for presentations on managing and leading change and involving and engaging people to make commitments to improve the workplace and others. Using these cartoons, you can make a powerful impact and leave a lasting memory — as people remember these presentations decades later! Time after time, I’ve received verbal and written proof of this.

Update: We never seemed to get any traction with this offer, so we pulled it. Maybe I did not blog about it enough or people felt that the retail price was a good value. One person actually paid MORE than retail, which was really appreciated as a great gesture. If you are curious about this whole thing, drop me an email at scott@squarewheels.com.

The metaphor of the Square Wheels Wagon is useful and bombproof. You show people a cartoon and allow participants to think about it and then discuss their ideas in small groups. You allow people to project their beliefs onto the cartoon to help build their ownership images and then allow them to apply that image onto their workplace through identifying the things that do not work smoothly along with their ideas for improvement.

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How things roll in most organizations and most workplaces

You can download a complete Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit from our website and get the PowerPoint illustrations, instructions for use and for facilitation, in general, and worksheets you can print and use to have an effective 30 minute meeting or set the stage for a series of meetings focused on identifying, solving and implementing workplace improvement ideas and building intrinsic motivation of your people.

Heck, you can just use the handouts and not even need any LCD projector or other supporting equipment and be just as effective in involving and engaging everyone. And you can name your own price in the shopping cart — you can pay us for what you think the toolkit is worth (yes, you need to pay something or the shopping cart will not work and you cannot download the toolkit — but you can pay fair value for our tools).

We do this so that you can try the approach of letting people self engage, and they will. You can see how identifying something as a Square Wheel pretty much guarantees that they will find some Round Wheels, because that is just how our brain works. And you can see how the tabletop discussions generated allow people to gain some peer support for actually implementing the ideas.

Millions of people have never tried the simple act of facilitating with our Square Wheels cartoons and we think that they all represent potential users. My own presentations using these materials in 38 countries along with hundreds of testimonials from consultants and managers, worldwide, allow me to feel quite confident that you can use these illustrations in your improvement initiatives in the workplace, and elsewhere, for coaching improved performance and impacting organizational and personal momentum. So, go ahead and set your own price for this unique tool!

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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Selling Lost Dutchman – some discussion tips

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is about mining goldWe have a lot of users of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine worldwide, and many people are really good at connecting the play of the game and the team building dynamics it generates to the issues of organizational improvement of their clients and prospects.

But people have been asking me for some tips. Some key words and phrases might include:
• Improving employee engagement
• Focusing on collaboration to optimize overall group results
• Measurable behavioral outcomes
• Debriefed to business goals and objectives
• Leadership is explicitly there to help teams be successful
• Played worldwide with top management as well as front line workers
• Memorable and engaging, Colorful and Fun.

But remember, Dutchman was designed not as a fun game but as a business improvement simulation / exercise to generate discussions about the issues of workplace competition and the benefits of collaboration between operational units to optimize overall results.

It is much different than one of the little “ropes course” kinds of “team challenges,” not that those are bad, but they are not really all that good when trying to tightly link to organizational improvement, in my direct experience.

Firewalking – a team event?
Paintball is goofy for team building – why not use real guns?
Acid River and the Spyderwebs and The Wall and similar are nice little problem solving exercises, and fun to solve, but
• Do they have real connections to work and workplace improvement?
• Do they have measurable outcomes?
• Do they focus on how to motivate people?
• Do they link to any sorts of skill improvement or improving decision making or strategic planning?
• Do they link to organizational risk-taking?
• Do they tightly focus on what people can do to optimize company performance?
• Do they generate ideas for changes in culture or motivating teams?
• Are they really worth the cost of taking people away from work?

We use Lost Dutchman as an experiential business simulation. The design makes it easy to link to performance improvement.

Hope this helps.

Motivation, Collaboration, Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment*

Dis-un-empowerment: The removal of those performance-influencing factors (real or believed) that are thought to be un-empowering by the individual or individuals.

And we can define Motivation as the absence of de-motivating factors.

The concept of empowering people is really a difficult one – lots of things have been written about it over the years but it requires the active involvement of senior managers, a whole lot of trust between managers and employees, and often some significant changes in workplace culture.

Plus there is the reality that one cannot really empower someone else – try it with a teenager if you need any proof of this!

I posted my first article on this subject back in 2006 and got a lot of interesting feedback about this simple but effective approach to involving and engaging people in an activity to improve morale, motivation and real performance.

We take the simple and somewhat obvious position that most people are far from actually being empowered or more properly, acting empowered. There are tons of statistics that support this notion.

So what are we actually talking about here? Let me start with a few simple examples of engaged and motivated people:

1) At a major hotel chain, employees are wearing buttons that say, “Yes I can.” I ask the front-desk clerk if she could give me a button because I am speaking that next morning on customer service and she says, “No, I can’t.”

She really did want to give it to me, but she said wearing the button was required as management’s policy, that they were expected to have one on, the hotel didn’t have extras and that she would be yelled at by her boss for not having a button. Caught in a dilemma, she was not able to do what the company or customer wanted her to do. (I did persuade her to give me the button and I used it in my session, explaining the dilemma she faced. Heck, I even invited her boss to sit in for free (but he did not!)).

The paradox is that management is telling her to act one way while asking her to follow a policy that blocks this request.

2) At McGuffey’s Restaurants, employees and managers wore buttons saying, “The Answer is Yes.” Unlike the above, ask anyone for a button, and they’ll give you their very last one, knowing this response is the expectation of top management. The employees are simply trusted to act appropriately. This attitude infected all kinds of behaviors, with waitresses making a quick run to McDonalds to buy a customer’s kid a Big Mac, raising money for charities or driving to the grocery store to buy anchovies for my Caesar salad.

Top performers, the ones who build positive long-term relationships with customers, will often bend rules and make decisions for the long-term good of the customer relationship when necessary. They tend to retain customers and build loyalty. At the other end of the spectrum, many people will blindly follow policies, procedures, systems and all those constraints that they believe are imposed on them from all over the place, significantly impacting performance.

Many people in the workplace are un-empowered and thus un-responsive and roadblocked by their perceptions of what the organization wants. Or they are roadblocked by their own beliefs about their capabilities. Or, they simply do not know how to get things accomplished.

My answer to performance improvement is simple and straightforward – let’s remove those things that individuals and groups feel are blocking their responsiveness and performance. That is not to say that we change all the policies and procedures, but that we discuss the approach of the top performers in the context of the organization.

If people are un-empowered, then let’s remove the things that might be blocking performance. Let’s work to limit the perceived roadblocks and provide some useful strategies and tactics to work around things inhibiting better results, on an individual and group basis. Thus,

Improvement is all about people; people dis-un-empowered to make decisions to the benefit of the customer and the company. And we know from decades of behavioral research that peer support can work wonders on individual performance, if we allow or encourage it.

What is Dis-Un-Empowerment and how do we Implement?

There are two issues to dis-un-empowerment, the organizational ones and the personal ones. Personal dis-un-empowerment issues are sometimes less clear, while it is easy to get consensus on common organizational ones.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter gave a nice analogy about walking in space. Years of training, simulations, and practice in weightless conditions as well as hundreds of hours of discussion and preparation did not adequately prepare him for the reality of standing in the doorway of the spacecraft with black infinity in every direction. He thought he could do it, but he froze. Wouldn’t you? There are direct parallels to dis-un-empowering people.

The American Society for Quality Control reported that while two in three workers said they had been asked to become involved in workplace decision-making, only one in seven felt they had the power to make those decisions. And if they don’t feel dis-un-empowered to make decisions, they won’t make them. And a Sirota Survey of 2007 found that 85% of employees say their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job. 

Why don’t most people feel able to make improvements? Because they are uncomfortable doing things differently than they have done them before. Most people will resist change.

“The only change people like is the kind that jingles in their pockets.”
my friend, Jerry Brown

“Change is good. You go first.
Dilbert Principles

Note that almost every organization has a few top-performing employees doing exactly what is necessary to generate results. They are the people that have the highest productivity and profitability.

Exemplary performers manage roadblocks much more effectively and tend to have clearer perspectives and focus on what your customers require. They also tend to focus on doing the small things that truly make a difference in building a client relationship with the customer. But also recognize that they often bend the rules to do what is right — thus delivering the highest perceived value.

A few years ago, Frank Navran had the opportunity to observe the role that perception plays in people’s ability to manage obstacles. Frank was involved in a performance improvement project and asked to observe a work group to identify the behavioral, attitudinal and/or skills and knowledge differences between the exemplary performers, average performers and poor performers.

The intent was to identify those differences so that an intervention could be devised to make the average and poor performers more like their exemplary peers to raise overall unit performance levels.

What ensued was rather frustrating for the consultant and the client. Aside from the actual performance results there were no noticeable behavioral differences. The only apparent difference was the workers’ response to the question, “What is keeping you from performing at a higher level?

  • The exemplary performers said they had fewer than 3 perceived roadblocks to higher performance levels.
  • The average performers identified 6 roadblocks each.
  • The poor performers cited 12 or more reasons why they could not perform at a higher level.

Their significance was twofold:

1. As all employees worked under near identical conditions nothing differed except their perception of the number of obstacles to exemplary performance facing them.

2. The differences seemed to be more perceptual than real. This lead the consultant to the hypothesis that in this client’s organization the performance difference might be related to the employee’s perceptions about his or her own power to remove the roadblocks to higher level performance.

Further testing proved him right. In addition, the consultant observed that employee perceptions fell into four sets or categories that could be generalized and applied to other cases. These can be drawn as a Square, of course:

Category 1 – BRICK WALLs

Some roadblocks are truly unalterable. There are things in the real world facing people that inhibit their performance which they are not likely to change: the effectiveness of a foreign competitor’s product, the slumping national economy, the international exchange rate, the organizational structure at the organization, the funding and paperwork processes for new product development, etc. These are all factors which affect employee performance but are well beyond individual or collective control. Characterize these as brick walls: immovable and real.

Category 2 – PARTITIONs

The second category of roadblocks are those that can be managed through with effort, time, money and/or additional personnel, or other resources. The individual employee might make some degree of progress in overcoming this particular inhibitor to performance. Often a small group of employees can make even more progress collectively. And, most importantly, this type of roadblock can be managed in large part or totally, if supervision or management gets involved. This type of roadblock is characterized as a partition, since a partition, if pushed from the bottom, might move slightly, but if pushed from a higher level will often topple. These are real roadblocks which the employees require assistance to remove.

Category 3 – PAPER WALLs

The third category was reminiscent of a football game where the home team burst through a paper barrier to the cheers of the crowd at the start. Until tested, this roadblock often looks impenetrable. Workplace examples are common, and include the belief that the boss will not approve, that it won’t be supported by another department, that it is “policy” or the way things have always been done, etc.

But people discover that these beliefs aren’t true when they test these perceptions. Others have done things differently and are doing things differently. But, unless tested, this roadblock is just as effective in preventing performance as the first two. These are manageable, but also real.

Category 4 – MINDSETs

This type of roadblock is the most troubling to management. It represents the untested beliefs and perceptions. When people believe they can’t, they are correct. These roadblocks are de-actualizing and restrictive, yet arbitrarily so in that they really do not exist. Interestingly, these are generally the most common of all the different types and the ones that block the below average performers from improvement.

Using the Model

It is always fascinating to observe how different employees manage the different roadblocks they face. Top performers, as a group, are generally not impeded by many of the things that get in the way of average or poor performers. Their model of how things really work appears to be more proactive and behaviorally-oriented. They are generally more willing to test the roadblocks to see which are which and are often quick to refer the Category 1 and 2 roadblocks to management whereas they push through the 3s and 4s.

Average performers, on the other hand, are sometimes stymied by roadblocks in many cases. Some may stubbornly push the 1s and try to get them to move even though they do not have the power to do so. They may often spend a lot of individual time on the 2s, trying to generate change and feeling good when they manage to get past them; this behavior, while well-intentioned, may not be time and energy effective!

Poor performers can generate long lists of roadblocks that get in the way of getting things done. They face innumerable hurdles in their everyday job and can constantly point out the things that cause their performance levels to be low.

How to deliver the theme:

So, here’s an empowering exercise that you can easily do to help reshape the thinking of the poor performers and generate new alternative behaviors among the average ones.

Use a flip chart and masking tape and start a meeting with the question, “What are some of the roadblocks to getting things done around here?” or similar. Allow the group to brainstorm and write everything down.

(Note: You might want to set the Rules as, “All comments are okay, everything gets written down and we discuss the specifics of each idea when we complete the list. No negative reactions are allowed in this part of the meeting.”)

Capture all of the ideas without reframing or rewording, since changing wording might change the meaning or it may be perceived as a “put-down” to an employee with less than perfect language skills who might then not participate any longer. You can also ask for clarification after you write it down, making notes on the page.

Ask individuals, if necessary, to generate the participation of everyone, but expect more roadblocks to come from the average and poor performers. Write them all down. You may also prompt, when the going gets slow, by saying something as, “How about the interdepartmental things?”

Post up the sheets as they become filled and do not be surprised to get 10 or more pages (my personal record: 22 pages!). The more the better. Really!

Once the list is essentially complete, share the model of Roadblock Management with them, describing the categories and the general frameworks of each.

Now, go back through this list and have the group categorize, as best they can, the nature of each of the roadblocks. Let THEM do this — that way it is their list and not yours!

What you will discover is that 80% of the roadblocks will be 3s and 4s and that the top performers will often offer everyone suggestions as to how to manage the 2s more effectively. The Category 1 roadblocks are those that you should volunteer to escalate and some of the 2s might be addressed by a team of your people, including some of the poorer performers.

Celebrate any ideas for improvement and attempts to address specific problems. And be sure to get out of the way as the group and individuals now engage in some dis-un-empowerment.

© Performance Management Company, 1998 – 2010 All Rights Reserved.

Scott small pic

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Thoughts on Teamwork and Engagement

This is about issues and opportunities around people and performance.

Maximum organizational effectiveness comes from aligning people to work together on shared common goals and providing them with the information and resources to get things done. In most cases, organizations function reasonably well within departments, with managers meeting goals and expectations. There are issues, but they are not departmental because shared goals and measurements as well as group expectations by management tend to give reasonably good levels of performance and innovation. People tend to be good problem solvers and will work together fairly well.

There are a variety of statistics clearly demonstrating that team-based behavior can offer a wide range of positive impacts on organizations of all kinds:

  • Globally, only 1 of 5 workers is giving full discretionary effort on the job. We often call these “exemplary performers” but they are simply engaged
  • Almost 4 of 10 workers are disenchanted or disengaged – they are not performing to their capability
  • In the US, only 3 in 10 feel engaged and the same number feel disenchanted or disengaged – they are not contributing much nor getting satisfaction in their jobs
  • Only 1 in 10 respondents agreed that senior leaders in their companies actually treat employees as vital corporate assets
  • The more engaged employees are more likely to stay with an organization, but 40% are “passive job seekers.”
  • Fully half of the disengaged have NO plans to leave the company nor are they even passively looking for other employment! (scary!)

There are strong connections of engagement to company results:

  • Companies with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and a 28% growth in earnings per share
  • Companies with low levels of engagement saw a drop in operating income of 32% and a decline of 11% in earnings per share  (from a TP one-year study of 50 companies)

Moreover,

  • Companies with high engagement had a 3.74% increase in operating margin and a 2.06 net profit margin
  • Companies with low engagement had a -2.01% decline in operating margin and a -1.38% net profit margin (from a TP study of 40 companies)

Can we hear a Thump Thump? Are we really making progress?

There are lots of statistics around clearly demonstrating why we need to improve. In other posts, I will share some ideas for making things improve. There are many things we can do.

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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