We’re All In This Together

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I was talking to my husband about what he wants in a team. He’s worked in a number of companies, with a number of different teams, and I was wondering what he’d say. The first thing he said was he wants team members who are professional – and one of the points he made was that professionals care more about the success of the project than they do about benefiting themselves.

I think this is an interesting, important, and often overlooked piece of working in teams. People often want their ideas to be implemented without any change, because they like their ideas and want to be The One With The Ideas. Or, they want recognition, or praise, or a promotion, for what they contribute, so they want their contributions to be separate and recognizable. This is human nature – there’s nothing wrong with it! The only problem comes when the desire for recognition or power comes before the good of the project.

Part of the benefit of working in teams is that a good idea can become better when many people share their perspectives. A good recipe blends the ingredients, and relies on all of them to make the food taste good, without any one standing out. If the rosemary says it won’t cooperate unless the sage withdraws its contribution, everyone loses. A good team with a supportive leader will recognize all the flavors, not just the ones that stand out, and the individuals will all feel like they contributed to something amazing, and larger than anything they could do alone.

I actually like to take this approach to life in general, not just work. We’re all in this life together. We could step on each other to try to get ahead, but then we end up with a lot of hurt and anger. Why not support each other along the way? Why not treat life like a project we are all trying to make better, without individual egos getting in the way? It feels good to help others, and it feels like a relief when others help us. There’s something very powerful about knowing that everyone on the team has each others’ backs.

The idea of having another person’s back is an interesting one. It makes me think about that moment in a meeting when you have to choose whether to speak up or not. Have you ever been in this situation: you talked with your friend at work about a new idea. Your friend spoke up in a meeting about the new idea, and the boss shot it down. What do you do? For most of us, the survival instinct says don’t challenge the alpha. It’s not worth it to align ourselves with a sinking ship. But then, will your friend trust you? If you still think it’s a good idea, will you say so? It takes courage to speak up when you know the boss is against the idea in order to back up your friend. Really, it’s also backing up yourself and your ideas, but it’s also threatening a sense of survival and safety.

This is why I help teams create safe spaces to speak up. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will get shot down for speaking up. I want to help groups decide together whether an idea is worth following without making anyone feel stupid, or unsafe, or unworthy. For the project to be the focus, not the worth of the humans who have the ideas.That’s one reason I use LEGO® bricks in my workshops – it puts the focus on the ideas as modeled in LEGO®, rather than on the person who built it. People aren’t trying to solve people any more.

What do you look for in your teams?

Perspective

I chatted with an audience member after my speaking gig yesterday who had some issues with diverse personalities within her sales team. This morning when I went out for my walk I let my  mind wander, and started thinking about how often conflict arises because of the way we think. So I thought I’d share some of these ideas with you.

 

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Hierarchy

There is one way of seeing the world where everyone is either one-up or one-down from everyone else. (Or maybe several-up or several-down.) This tends to be more common with men than women, but it’s not tied to the ability to grow a beard. I find it exhausting when I get into this frame of mind – always trying to figure out where I stand in relation to others, usually feeling like I don’t measure up. Some people find a sense of worth from being one-up from others, but this runs the risk of treating others as less-than.

 

 

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Equality – One Path

Another way, which is more common in women than men but isn’t tied to femininity, is to see everyone as equal in rank because we are all people trying to do the best we can. Some people may be farther along the path, but we are all walking the path together. I prefer this view (and I’m a woman, go figure), since I can relax and not compete. It lets me see the best in others and wish the best for others, since we are all striving for happiness and fulfillment, rather than beating someone else.

Now, if you are a competitive sort, and like pitting yourself against others, the equality view might feel boring. It might feel unbalancing, like you don’t know where you stand if you’re not one-up or one-down. But if you’re treating others as one-down it could make them feel angry or less-than or sad. And if you treat others as one-up it may keep you from offering your gifts to the world because you think you’re not worth it.

 

All of these pitfalls are based in perspective, in how we see the world. There may not be any change necessary in the people on a team, other than a shift in perspective. It takes a deeper conversation to find out what perspective team members actually hold, and a lot of today’s post is based on my own brain meanderings. Often we don’t know there is another perspective available until we talk to someone who holds a different view.

One last point today – if you need to shift your perspective, you could do worse than go for a walk. Walking helps your mind process stuff while it exercises your body, and often helps shift stuck emotions and ideas.

I’m A Tree!

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When you are running a meeting, is this what you see? Yawns, people propping their heads up, glazed eyes, side conversations? What can you do to get people refocused?

Guess what? I’m going to advocate for play. Aren’t you surprised? 😉

I’ve talked before about word games at meetings, but you need something more active when people are starting to nod off. Get people up and moving, as well as thinking about something different. Here are some options for games to play that get everyone up and out of their seats, and giving them a new perspective on things.

Now I See You, Now I Don’t

Get everyone on their feet, and divide the group randomly in half. Get everyone walking around the room randomly. Half the group should look others in the eye while they walk, the other half should avoid eye contact. After a while, have them switch.

When you stop, debrief their experience. How did it feel to look or not look at people? Did their posture and attitude and confidence change? Does one feel more natural than the other?  What were they thinking? I like to talk about how changing our body posture affects how we feel.

Triangulate

In this game, get everyone in the room to silently choose two other people in the room. Without talking, or indicating who they are connected with, ask them to stand equidistant from both people, so they make a triangle. There will be lots of movement, as people realize they have to shift position when their targets shift position, but eventually the group will settle. When they are still, ask one or two people to move to the far side of the room, and the whole group will have to shift and settle again.

When you debrief, in addition to asking for their take on the exercise, make sure you tell them that every group is a system, and whatever affects one part of the system affects everyone.

That’s The Way The Arrow Points

Cut out a paper arrow, or if this is spontaneous, just use your arm. Stand in front of the group, and have them face you. For the first round, ask them to both point the way you are pointing, and say the direction you are pointing. For the second round, ask them to point the way you are pointing but to say the opposite direction. For the third round, ask them to say the way you are pointing, but to point in the opposite direction.

I don’t have any specific points to make in the debrief, just that this makes people use their brains in an often uncomfortable way.

Interruption

For this, get people in a circle facing each other. For this game, one person takes a step into the center and starts talking about something. Any topic they like. When someone else hears a word they want to talk about, they step in, repeat the word, and start talking about that. The first person steps back into the circle. Then when someone else hears something they can talk about, they step into the circle, interrupt, and start talking about the new word. You may need to start the group off.

For example: Person A says “I was walking my dog on the beach the other day and he ran into the water and got soaking wet. Then he ran back to me and shook himself off…” and Person B says “Shook. I shook hands with someone at a networking event last week and I had never felt a dead fish handshake before but this person really had no grip whatsoever…” and Person C says “Grip. I’ve always wondered what the grip does for a movie production. And does the Best Boy grow up to be a Best Man? I’ve always wondered…” Try to get everyone to interrupt at least once.

This is very hard for some people, but hopefully it will help encourage even shy people to step in. You may need to encourage the more aggressive members to hold back to give the quieter people a chance to step in. Be sure to ask people for their feedback after the game to see how they felt and what was hard or easy for them.

I’m A Tree

Start off with everyone roughly in a circle with space in the middle. One person goes in and stands with their arms overhead and says “I’m a tree.” Another person goes in and holds one arm and says “I’m an apple on the tree.” A third person sits down by the first person’s feet and says “I’m Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree.” You are now in a tableau. The third person to join the tableau chooses who stays. Maybe this time it’s the apple. The other two people leave, and the person who stays says again “I’m an apple.” Now a random person from the circle comes in and poses in relation to the apple. Maybe they’re eating the apple? A worm in the apple? A lunchbox around the apple? A third person joins the tableau and announces who they are, then picks who stays and the others leave. And so on. This can go on for quite a while, and it can be very funny. In the end, try to get them back to having someone say “I’m a tree.”

Debrief asking about what was hard and what was easy, why you did that exercise, how people had to pay attention to each other, that sort of thing.

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What other energizers and games have you played? I’m always eager to learn more. Have fun with these, and let me know how they go!

You Thought Your Boss Was Bad…

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This employer is sitting at a game table in Vegas gambling his payroll money to try to increase it enough to cover payroll.

And you thought your boss was bad.

I love learning people’s stories through LEGO® bricks!

 

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This is the co-worker everyone wants to work with. She has a solid grounding in reality, and her shoes are high enough to keep her out of the shit. She has a good head on her shoulders, able to see where she’s going, where she came from, and what’s going on around her. Plus a great hat that keeps the shit off her head, should it fall from above. And her walking sticks keep her balanced and help her get shit done.

I love how vivid a story is when it’s based on a model! And the person who builds the model needs to tell the story, or we might interpret this person as a blockhead and a propeller-head who is nerdy and not good inter-personally. But the real story is better.

 

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This is the client from hell, but I see similar themes when people build bosses they don’t like. In this case the client put herself on a pedestal and gave herself a crown. She thinks she’s so much better than the woman there to serve her, represented as a lowly pair of eyes. It’s not so much fun to serve those who come across as arrogant and entitled.

 

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Sometimes a client can be both best and worst at the same time. This one he knew by the shoes. This client has very expensive shoes. Which means they have a lot of money. But it also means they will be very demanding with lots of ideas. So on the plus side, a big lucrative job, and on the minus side, lots of work and lots of accommodation.

If you had to build your best or worst boss or client, what would you build?

Cost of No Play

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Fifty years ago a man named Charles Whitman killed more than 30 people before being killed himself. The reason he snapped? No play. No play in his childhood, no chance to try  out different responses, or let his aggression out through play.

Rats that smell a cat run and hide. This is self-protective, and appropriate. But the rats that aren’t allowed to play when they are young never come back out again, and starve to death. They never learned to manage risk through play.

Children who get more recess do better in school. Body play helps stimulate the cerebellum and create more neural connections. Object play helps strengthen the frontal lobe, where executive function lives, and increases metaphorical thinking. Playing in one’s preferred way increases the intrinsic motivation to keep going, and develops a person’s engagement and persistence in the face of adversity.

I had the great good fortune to hear Dr. Stuart Brown speak yesterday at the First Annual Bay Area Play Symposium. He has been studying play extensively for many years, and has proven the scientific backing to support more play. He is now in his 80’s and looks a couple decades younger. He wrote the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, and is the founder of the National Institute for Play.

 Play helps people develop trust, belonging, safety, and rapport. When there is time to play, people are more effective and efficient at their jobs, and work together better because of the bonds they built during play.
What are you doing to bring play into your life today? Into your community? Your workplace? Your home? Scientific fact: we all need more play.

Why creativity takes courage

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We as a social species like to belong to the group. There is safety in belonging. There is security in knowing who is in my clique and who is out. We tend to dress like the people with whom we feel we belong. We tend to agree with what they say, since disagreeing means risking being thrown out of the group. Even the idea of being thrown out can give us a visceral fear, like a punch in the gut, real terror we might not survive.

There is a deep satisfaction and comfort in mirroring other people and being mirrored. Being too much out of phase with the people around us makes us deeply uncomfortable. We often don’t know why we’re uncomfortable, which gives our fertile imaginations a chance to make stuff up. What we make up is usually dire – we will lose our jobs, that person must be a terrorist, we will lose our homes, we will die.

So we hire people who are like us, and we are comfortable on a team with people who are like us, and we all prefer to think in a similar enough way that we can be familiar with each other. And then – we need a creative idea.

How much courage does it take to voluntarily stand up and give an idea that’s never been done before? How much more courage to offer a brand new sprout of an idea, one that hasn’t grown yet and is vulnerable to squishing? Even people who practice creativity in their daily lives might hesitate before risking humiliation, exile, and death.

This is why we need facilitators who bring in toys. We need our normal to be shaken up to allow for new to grow. We need a chance to see that our MSU (Making Stuff Up) is incorrect and no one wants us to die or even feel embarrassed. We need a chance to play around and see what happens without being judged or feeling like we are being judged. This is why we need play.

Worst Boss Ever!

I did a team building workshop with St. Mary’s College staff last week, and people were able to express a lot with the models they built. These models all show the worst boss these people had. Can you tell from the pictures what made them so bad?

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Can you tell whose worst boss peered over the cubicle divider to watch her work? Can you tell who was too scatter-brained? Can you tell who wore too many hats? So much can be expressed with just a few LEGO® bricks!

I mentioned last week that a model can hold your story, so you don’t have to hold on to what you want to say in your head. This frees you up to listen to what other people are saying, and to make creative connections between ideas. Can you see from these pictures how well they hold ideas? I will never mistake that creeper boss on the top for anything other than someone peering over the wall at me. I don’t need to keep that boss’s name in my head, or remember anything else about him, that image will remind me of what I wanted to say.

Interestingly, sometimes models help people tell even richer stories. The scatterbrained boss could have just been scatterbrained, but this boss was credited with being colorful and exciting, as well as being tarred with being unpredictable and full of empty promises. Sometimes having a lot of detail in a model can give you more of a skeleton to hang your story on, so your story gets richer in the telling than you expected it to be when you built the model. This is helped by not rehearsing in our heads what we will say, but letting it come to us in the moment while we are explaining what we built.

So much creativity and fun comes out of these workshops, as well as a greater understanding of who you are working with and what they need. Everyone feels better understood and appreciated and heard. What team can you think of that could use some better communication? Who do you want to build as your worst boss? Come play!