Performance Management Company Blog

Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Category: team motivation (Page 2 of 5)

LEGO, Square Wheels, and Teamwork – Celebrating Success

Let me illustrate my thinking on issues of corporate performance, innovation, teamwork and the basic issue of alignment, since I think that some people get this wrong. And, as usual, I will try to keep this as simple as possible!

Let me take a really simple approach using some stuff out of the attic and constructing some ideas on teamwork:

First, there is the issue of how things normally work, people-wise, within an organization:

LEGO Chaos of People

The Chaos of Un-Aligned People

Then there is the issue of teamwork, getting people going in the same direction and in alignment to collaborate and push forward together:

The team, facing forward and ready to go.

The team, facing forward and ready to go.

And then there is the rigid alignment that some people think is positive, with people in lockstep and overly aligned:

We can be TOO aligned and rigidly structured.

We can be TOO aligned and rigidly structured.

If there is too much rigidity and structure in the system, people will spend more time keeping people in line and maintaining control and the innovative and collective collaboration of the group will suffer. Keeping a balance between alignment and chaos is where we are likely to find the highest levels of motivation and engagement and the sharing of ideas. Control will limit intellectual collectivity; some level of chaos will help generate innovation.

Since I got that old box of LEGO® out of the attic, I might as well start messing around and creating some stuff. I’ve now taken about 150 pictures to use these LEGO to illustrate some of the Square Wheels concepts in a slightly different way, visually. Expect to see many more in here…

You can see some of my colleague Hakan Forss’ work at

Please also note that I have a whole big bunch of LEGO based exercises — free — on my other website. You can go to that page of game designs by clicking here:

Some LEGO-based exercises

Some LEGO-based exercises

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman, Surprised

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

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

LEGO® is a registered trademark of The LEGO Group

The Actual Impossibility of Engagement – An Organizational Reality

Check me on this if you can, but we keep talking about improving workplace performance by the active involvement and engagement of people doing their jobs. There are lots of reasons as well as lots of data that support this as a REALLY good idea because of the widespread impacts on results.

Just back from ASTD and after conversations with colleagues, both there as well as in a variety of email connections, it seems that this engagement idea is a non-starter and doomed for failure in so many organizations. In a simple illustration, let me anchor down my thoughts:

Square Wheels Supervisor leads teams forward Rat Cage words

Does anyone really think that HR is going to be able to do some kind of training event or lead some kind of organizational improvement initiative to involve and engage all the workers? Maybe, and I can think of a couple of organizations that have the culture to pull that off. But the day-to-day reality of the supervisory environment would suggest that improvement generated by active involvement and participation is a high-risk activity for most supervisors in most organizations.

After all, are they not already busy right now? Are they not up to their eyeballs in tasks and reports and meetings and reports and tasks? Do we simply expect that they would be motivated to do some “public speaking” and set up meetings where they involve people to share ideas about workplace issues and problems (and then expect some resolution and improvement) or is it a lot safer just to continue to do things the same way.

What is the Reality of this (from their perspective)?

Lee Ellis popped up a nice blog post here that I summarize:

Three strong indicators of an unhealthy organization are:

• A lack of trust leading to poor teamwork and alignment.
• A lack of clarity about mission, vision, and values.
• A fear of conflict. People are not allowed to say what they really think.

A healthy organization, alternatively, has management who:

1. Build Trust
2. Clarify and Over-Communicate
3. Create a Safe Environment and Encourage Debate
4. Are Courageous

All this stuff is fine, well and good, but anecdotal conversations continue to support the very basic idea that supervisors are incredibly busy with what is already expected of them (they do not even take all their earned vacation days, it seems and they work while they are off the job with emails and calls, etc.).

So, can we really expect them to add the risky activity of asking about the problems that their people feel exist and be expected to implement some solutions? Sure, they could implement teamwork, but that is a whole different set of worms…

Do most of them really want to start up performance improvement teams and use up even more of their time and the time of their people? And, a lot of supervisors are fearful of teams because of the potential loss of control that they perceive might occur. Plus, they often need the support of their managers and maybe even HR.

So, is engagement of people for workplace improvement even a reality for most organizations doing things the same way and expecting things to change and improve?

I think that there are good possibilities for change and improvement and we sell some very simple tools to generate ideas in a pretty safe and effective manner with our Square Wheels toolkits. This one on basic facilitation is cheap and easily used.

An organizational motivational reality might look like this:

Square Wheels One poem Always Do Pretty Rotten

And thus, my basic suggestion is pretty simple:

Square Wheels One Don't Just DO Stand red border

Make things happen. Your choice.

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

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

We also sell a powerful team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. You can view a slideshare overview of the exercise here:

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine prices

On Teamwork, Trial and Error Improvement, and Blame Frames

Organizational improvement and teamwork. The ideas are pretty simple but the reality of actually designing and implementing workplace improvement tends to be a little difficult. When we add in issues of corporate power and politics, of sensitivities to criticism and perceived failures, and the framework of collaboration between departments to get things done differently, it looks a bit more like this:

Mud and Square Wheels image

And, organizationally, it can sometimes look like this:

Square Wheels and competition

In the “Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging” blog, I shared a cartoon that we call, “Trial and Error”:

square wheels image of Trial and Error

Take a moment and look at the above image and react to what you see before moving on, please. Just consider what might be happening with the people and their workplace.

When I show this illustration to managers and ask for their reactions, we generally get a ratio of about 8 negative reactions to each positive one. In other words, eight reactions focused on the negative and what the people in the cartoon did wrong for every one positive thing about the situation. This is often called “constructive criticism,” but I am not sure what good it serves to continually point out what others are doing wrong. It does not build teamwork or increase engagement and it serves to smash down any intrinsic motivation that might have been occurring.

Managers should be trained to look for business improvement opportunities and to look for things that can be improved. This serves solid business purposes. But when this gets expressed as Non-Support for Change and Risk-Taking, we cannot expect others to just go along with that.

What we commonly see looks like this:

We embed the good with the blame and the people are more likely to run over the top of the hill and hide than come back to the wagon and continue to make improvements. Sure, their first attempt was pretty quirky and maybe they missed an idea or two about how they could get things done better.

But they also added a horse to the situation — more horsepower, as it were. And YOU probably have not considered whether this might actually work. What if the next step simply looked like this:

Square Wheels images by Scott Simmerman

The Round Wheels are in the wagon. Carrot’s, too!

Allow people to do things and celebrate their successes.

Square Wheels Celebration Haiku good ideas

Improvement is a continuous process, one that requires celebration of what is accomplished and continued reflection on possibilities and potential shifts in resource utilization. One might think that there is a train in their future?

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Debriefing Teams for Optimizing Impact – some thoughts on facilitation, planning and debriefing

I have been supporting the use of my team building board-game simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine since I started selling it to consultants and trainers back in 1994. Because I am so familiar with how it works and because I have done it so many times, I simply forget about the learning curve and the challenges faced by a new facilitator. So, I thought to share some ideas on keeping things simple and bombproof.

The exercise comes with a variety of instructional supporting materials plus the oft-repeated notion that the user can readily contact me by phone, email or Skype or whatever. But I would guess I actually hear from maybe 15% of the new users. More often, I tend to hear from the experienced users looking to spin the game off into a different direction or that have some delivery constraint they would like to solve. You can find some ideas around those issues in other places in the blog.

• Read about some general key learning points about team building and collaboration on the blog that is found here (Learning Lessons from Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.)

• You can find some ideas about how to run large group team building events here. (This is focused on Dutchman but applies somewhat generally.)

• Here are some thoughts and ideas about delivering cross-cultural kinds of learning and team building events. (See more about cross-cultural frameworks for leadership development using Lost Dutchman here.)

• Here are some thoughts about getting through Day 1 of the exercise, when you are going to have a crash course in banking the game and also teach the Team Traders their role. (Find the blog about Surviving Day One here.)

• You can find some ideas for operating The Trading Post here. This is about how to “bank” the exercise. (Click here for Provisioner Training blog)

Generally, if you will search the blog with the search term “Dutchman,” you can find a variety of abstracts about many different articles on delivery.

Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine THE Games for Teambuilding PMC Home Page icon 2

I recently got a most excellent email from a new user, a person who I think is relatively junior in his organization of team building experts but one of the few who speak English. They purchased the Pro Version of the game and that game comes with a huge variety of play and debriefing possibilities. So, he asked me some questions:

Opening to my email reply:

Basically, I do what the client needs me to do to generate the desired outcomes they want. From their goals and objectives, I “automatically” adjust many of my leadership behaviors to align with their goals.

Please do understand that there are a few different aspects to all things about Dutchman, from small ideas that can be stressed in some client situations and not in others as well as differences in how the exercise is functionally facilitated. One can deliver the game and make people stick tightly to the rules and timelines or one can allow tabletops some flexibility.

Like cooking a meal, there are various ways to put it together. I do NOT play tight with the Beacon Card, for example. I do NOT take half of the gold from the team if they ask for help. That would embarrass them, in my opinion. So, the Beacon Card is simply a relief valve for the stress of planning and playing = they can always get help if they mess up and it takes the fear of “death” out of the play. I simply use that process to ask the players at the tabletop what choices they made and what they might have done differently and I relate it to their business practices if I can.

I try to go out of my way to explain how the exercise works and how to frame the game to optimize outcomes. Here is a post I did a while back as a specific reply to some questions about linking the play of the game to some issues for a large global senior manager meeting. (That delivery went extremely well!) My goal is to share the best ideas I can with my user-customers.

•GAMES link for homepage

On Mar 28, 2014, (new customer) Robert wrote:

Please give us a feedback on the Debriefing: – There are many debriefing formats. Is there any order to which we can review them?

There are many dozens of ideas and discussion topics in the combined debriefing slide files. And there are many different styles for debriefing — I would guess that every facilitator using the game has evolved into doing things in their own unique way based on their personal style, their experience, and the audience.

This is over-viewed and discussed in some new video recordings I made available and I have included the links to these. When you get to the debriefing, there are all sorts of possibilities. I generally start my debriefings with the use of a series of cartoons, which allows me to comment visually on some of the key observations and make connections to desired outcomes.

MY style tends to show a question that I know is directly relevant to the client’s goals and outcomes. It is a high priority slide both in discussion time required and in its intended impact, for example. I show the slide, ask the question and then allow time for each table to discuss the issue. I will often move around through the group, listening to ideas they are discussion and possibly commenting or supporting or suggesting that they mention that to the larger group (when I allow the more public individual comments during the group discussion time on that question.)

My selection of which slide to use is also a fairly complex decision process, since I will never have all the time I would like for debriefing.

Plus, if we were doing a general debriefing after the session and returning back in the afternoon for a WORK session to define specific ideas to be implemented and to form work teams interested in implementing those ideas, my two debriefings would be somewhat different.

There is NO “Best Debriefing” and no ONE Debriefing. That is why so many different debriefing slides are included with the exercise.

Personally, I think I do a good job with my facilitation of the debriefing. But Thiagi would do something totally different, as would other users like Jeff Taylor or Gregg Baron. Each of us has our own style and every client is different. AND NO ONE WOULD DO IT THE WAY I TOLD THEM TO, ANYWAY!!! (grin)

There is a kind of script with that video link that I mentioned above but even that is not a fixed script. I simply talk about what I saw in the context of what the client wanted in the flow of the cartoon series. Some things are somewhat constant and consistent while some other slides generate wildly different comments from me.

I do have some notes included within the comment sections of some of the slides and there are some written discussion debriefing ideas in various places.

If you are debriefing a game focused on generating ideas about how to improve your personal facilitation of the game, you would do a much different debriefing than if you were running a session for the most senior managers of Samsung who were interested in the implementing of a new strategy, right?

The funny thing about your questions to me is that you are providing me with no real context other than “debriefing.” If I do not know what you are trying to accomplish with the debriefing itself, it is really hard to help. That is why I engage the client in clearly defining their desired outcomes; it helps me focus all things toward those goals.

I do not use the formal paper debriefing handouts that are included in different versions in your toolkit. Others might. It depends on the use of the handouts and what they are to accomplish. If people feel that they will be collected and analyzed and that they are personally responsible and accountable for what they write, you would get a much different outcome than if they were told that they were just simple worksheets on which they might capture their ideas.

There is no one way to cook a meal. And, since you are in Korea, there are many styles of kimchi with every chef doing things differently.

Basically, we are not some solution looking for a problem, but a tool that can be skillfully used to generate behavior and discussions of choices and the planning for different desired outcomes. These are two very different frameworks.

My approach to delivery is as a Facilitator, not a lecturer. My goal is to generate thinking and considered alternatives.

But this is all a result of facilitating organizational improvement initiatives since 1978. I am still learning…

For the FUN of It!

 Scott Simmerman Lost Dutchman 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

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

Lost Dutchman – Thoughts about Day One of the exercise

One of my new users ran The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for the first time and had a question about the design of the game board and how it all plays out with the weather. I thought that my thinking about how this should work and why we designed it this way might be useful for other users. Here is what he said:

If you look at the first cell after Apache Junction, it is connected on all three routes!

  • This will allow a team to move from one route to the other without having the teams to come back to base – Is my understanding correct?
  • In that case, shouldn’t the weather pattern be the same on day one for all the routes?

I understand that this is a bit tricky, especially when teams can move out on Day 1, 2 or 3 based on them taking the videos and I would love to hear your thoughts on the same.

Here is the game board and the area in question:
Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine Apache Junction Map

And here is my thinking about how this works and why:

YES, if they leave Apache junction, the start up point, they go into a block that surrounds AJ and that connects to all three routes.

Leaving on Day One, with the rainy weather pattern on that day, they get punished for not planning and getting a Video. They use up an extra Fuel Card and they can see that will happen before they commit to actually leaving.  There is no way around that weather — they are OUT and in a block that is “muddy” in how it is drawn with the light brown dirt and the squiggly lines.

The rules say that this Mud does NOT occur on the High Country or Plateau Trails. But if you look at the map, the signs marking those trails start on the NEXT block and not this one.

Having one large surrounding block enables a team to take ANY route on Day 2 — they can change their mind at no cost and simply go a different way. If they had planned to go on the Low Country Trail and Day One is MUDDY, one might expect a logical team to question that decision (they just got some new negative data!!) and take another route. This, of course, never happens!!

They could also get information from teams that get The Videos and choose to go up to the Mine using the High Country or Plateau Trails on Day 2.

The weather for Day One is the same for all three routes — Yes. Day One is Day One and they are in a block that is colored muddy, lined as muddy, and is clearly their first step out of AJ. If they stay at AJ, they consume 1 and 1. If they leave it is 1 and 2.

PLUS, there is Rule Number One

Rule Number One and Rule Number Two

The reality of being in charge is that the weather and the consumption of resources IS what you TELL THEM it is! Some might argue. Some might simply be confused so you explain the rules again. Some might try to cheat and save a fuel. But it is simple: If they leave on Day One, the cost is an extra Fuel Card!

There is nothing “tricky” about any of this. It is very simple and straightforward. It is highly congruent with my thinking and the benefits of planning to their individual team success and to the overall success of the group…

Note that you can always simply do what makes the best sense for the expedition at any time. That is simply good leadership of any expedition in any workplace – do what makes sense. Having a Rule Number One is certainly helpful! (grin)

There are a number of similarly elegant little nuances to the map, like the movements around the Supply Depot near the Mine and the use of a Turbo for movement there as well as the actual number of days from AJ to the mine with the other resources available. Some of these features were simply the result of luck on my part and some were thought out — this one with the design of the block surrounding AJ was a planned one!

We think that this game is pretty tight and easy to deliver. Over 20 years, we think that we have very congruent rules that make it easy to tie to themes of project management, strategic planning, team collaboration and inter-departmental collaboration, and to all sorts of issues around organizational alignment, leadership development and strategy implementation.

It also seems to generate the same kinds of play and debriefing discussions. The above was from a user in India, but it could have been Germany or Dubai.

Oh, did I mention that a major goal is to also have fun?

You can find more about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine by clicking on this link that takes you to our overview on Slideshare.

Slideshare Dutchman icon

Clicking on the link that is the image below will take you to an overview of the games on our website.

LD What did you learn

You can also see the many articles in the blog about the game by clicking on my image below.

For the Fun of It!

Scott LDDr. 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

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

Followup, Followup, Followup — The Only Way to make Improvements

Guilty of it myself, much more often than I would like.

We do some training and expect things to change.

What is wrong with this picture is that while we might impact knowledge, we do not really implement any change or improvement in results.

Gosh, I know that feedback is the critical part of performance (not reinforcement per se) and that changes in feedback are the ONLY way that anything will change for any length of time.

(You can read more on performance feedback here)

What I have been doing lately to impact the effectiveness of the play of our team building exercise that focuses on collaboration is to further develop our debriefing cartoons to include some anchored to poems and that could be used to keep people thinking about issues and opportunities and about the commitments they made to do some things differently.

Obviously, without some way to measure change and improvement, we will not have much sustainability from any training event. But, with the leadership team asking about changes and improvements and ideas, it does keep the issues and opportunities more in the forefront.,

I do NOT have a silver bullet for making all things right. But we do offer some simple, elegant tools like Lost Dutchman and Square Wheels to help organizations implement improvement.

Here are a few of the series, that is still under development. If you are a Lost Dutchman owner-user, pop me a note and I can assemble the illustrations for you and send them along,

LD boots in rain poem question

LD Grub Stake 2 poem and questions


LD Chaos Confusion poem and questions


LD Land Rush feather poem question month




I trust that you like these. Feel free to bounce back with your own poems and suggestions, and note that I have about 50 of these right now, with more to come,

For the FUN of It!

Scott LD

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

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


<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>


Thoughts on thinking about decision-making

Decision-making and motivation, two related but pretty complex issues. If you read some blogs, you might think that there is some silver bullet to get a grip on these thing. But in my thinking,

It is Dangerous to Know The Answer.

Dangerous only because once you think you know, then you will stop looking… (You can see a lot more about this paradox in my article on managing and leading change, along with a joke and a surprising set of punchlines. Click here to see that article on change and thinking.

And sometimes, it is simply hard-headeness and stubbornness that gets in the way of making better decisions about things. We select ideas from “considered options” and if we already know the answer to something, we are not often willing to spend the time and energy looking for alternatives.

A blog I read recently said,

Over fifty years of scientific research has revealed that there are three distinct styles of decision-making. Each of us can make decisions in all three ways, but we tend to develop a preference for one more than the other two. This preference becomes a subconscious force, affecting the decisions we make on a daily basis and shaping how we perceive the world around us and ourselves. The three decisional styles are personal, practical, and analytical.

Well, that sure seems like a simple answer. Gee, only three styles… And there may be some truth in that. (You can find the blog post here.)

My experience lends me to believe that things are a bit more complicated than that. In a LinkedIn thread on this subject, I responded with this:

There are a variety of patterns of decision-making and I will take a position that no one assessment would possibly cover them all, but that it might give some clues as to patterns and preferences.

From the NLP literature, there are different “convincer systems” that operate to confirm a decision prior to action. I am a kinesthetic decision maker — I gotta feel that it is right “in my gut” before doing things. But I am also an auditory processor of information, so that my self-talk about it is good.

We all have different sorting styles for dealing with information, which is another thing I like from the NLP literature. I prefer fast, big-chunk, random possibilities sorting, which others would prefer to sort things in a slower, smaller unit, sequential way looking for outcomes. (There are 7 other patterns that are used, like sorting for I, You or Us, for example.)

From the old Kepner-Tregoe literature, there is a flow chart for decision making. (It is now called something else) but there is a logical and “scientific” framework for dealing with information.

From the work of Ned Herrmann is the HBDI tool, which gets into how individuals and teams think.

You have the Six Thinking Hats of Ed DeBono, which is really easy to teach and to do and which generates a variety of different teams.

LD Thumbs Up teamwork poem

Some organizations, like the Nuclear Power Institute, teach their teams to always appoint someone who functions as Devil’s Advocate, whose role is to ALWAYS challenge every decision from different viewpoints and positions, to insure that people have thought about it from all sides.

Gene Calvert wrote a book called High Wire Management years ago that looked at decision-making from a risk management viewpoint, and how most really successful managers look at and deal with risk (with some surprising findings, actually).

It is a rich literature about how individuals and teams make decisions, one that will insure that you will want to use a team process for so many complex decisions about things. And that is just the decision-making side of all this.

The “motivational” side of things gets even wilder. I have a doctorate degree in that kind of stuff but will basically say that if anyone give you, “The Answer” to all this, run yelling…

Dan Pink’s stuff is pretty good. You can see a great video, one that animates the key points and is 10 minutes long, by clicking here.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, is absolutely the best thing I have read in a long time. I will be writing a lot more about his work and how it impacts performance in other blogs – I exchanged my library copy and purchased one for myself.

Lastly, don’t get confused. Just understand that you don’t know how all this really works and that you don’t need to. Work to involve and engage other people, give the process some time, and realize that you do not need to be either a Hero or a Victim in all this!

SWs One - things you will see border

Yeah, there are a LOT of models out there and they all serve different purposes. As that statistician George Box (who was repeatedly quoted by Deming) said,

All models are wrong.
Some models are useful.

And I like the Kahneman model, which I adapted as follows about “What I see is all there is.”

SWs One - Things I need to do more celebrate 100

I think any framework can be useful as a way of understanding the things that operate around us. I will just repeat myself and say that when it comes to people and brain functioning, it gets a bit more complex…

Thinking Hats green

We’re made up of a lot of different individuals and there will soon be FIVE different generations of workers in the workplace, as I write about in this post. You can rest assured that decision-making and motivation will continue to increase in complexity.

What I see is a continuing need in the workplace is for simulations like The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and the different Square Wheels games like Collaboration Journey, tools that get people into a decision-making mode and where teamwork and interactions lead to opportunities to discuss decisions and thinking and collaboration and all those things that are necessary for top performance.

Find out more about our simple Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit at this link:

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

People perform better when they are aligned to shared goals and common visions and where they have some trust in each other. Our programs are designed as tools for that kind of team improvement process,

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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

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


X-Teams and Improving Team Performance

Some thoughts on optimizing collaboration, building leadership and clarifying Visions through alignment and team building.

(You can print out this article at and you can find a variety of other articles and tools at )

Ancona and Bresman’s book on X-teams (2007) generated some interesting thoughts as I considered the components they discussed. Basically, they talked about improving the external focus of teams and how that could be so beneficial to overall organizational collaboration.

Maximum team effectiveness comes from aligning people to work together on shared common goals and providing them with the information and resources to get things done. And today’s organizational complexities generally mean that only people working together and across departments will generate optimal results on critical improvement issues. Complexity makes it very difficult for even highly effective leaders to motivate people and effectively implement improvements with team involvement. It takes team perspective and alignment to get things done in most cases.

Drawing Board Two green

Caption:  Working together to put new ideas into place and test how things really work. All of us know more than any of us and this is a great time to step back from the wagon to look for new ideas. Don’t just do something, stand there and take an analytical look for new ideas and opportunities across the organization.

Developing strong and effective teams and generating focus on key issues and opportunities can have extensive positive impacts of many kinds and there are compelling reasons to use teams to implement improvements. And while improvement goals often seem clear at the top, those same goals are often muddled in the middle and fuzzy at the bottom back of most organizations.

In The Dilbert Principles, Scott Adams wrote:

A Mission Statement is defined as “a long awkward sentence
that demonstrates management’s inability to think clearly.”

 All good companies have one.

And I remember an old story about Visions and Implementation:

In the Beginning was The Vision

And then came the Assumptions, but the Assumptions were without
Form and the Vision without substance. And Darkness was upon
the faces of the Workers as they Spoke amongst themselves, saying:
“It is a Crock of Crap, and it Stinketh.”

And the Workers went to their Supervisors and Sayeth unto them:
“It is a Pail of Dung, and none may abide the Odor thereof.”

And Supervisors went to Managers and sayeth unto them:
“It is a Container of Excrement, and it is very Strong,
such that none may abide it.”

And Managers went to Directors and sayeth unto them:
“It is a vessel of Fertilizer, and none may abide its Strength.”

And Directors went to Vice Presidents and sayeth:
“It contains that which aids plant Growth, and it is very Strong.”

And Vice Presidents went to Executives and sayeth unto them:
“It promoteth Growth, and it is very Powerful.”

And the Executives went to the President, and sayeth unto her:
“This powerful new Vision will actively promote the Growth and
Efficiency of our departments and the company overall.”

And the President looked upon the Vision and saw it was good.
And the Vision became The Reality.

Author unknown

A clear sense of vision and purpose is essential, and clear communications are critical in getting things started. But there is also a need to allow at least some of the participants to be hands-on kind of people who know specifically what is thumping and bumping along. In many organizations, there are tops-down directives that may limit how the teams operate or that direct them toward very specific outcomes. Isolation from the actual work being done does not lead to effective solutions for most workplace problems.

As John LeCarre once clearly said,

 “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

Okay. So what do we DO about this?

One key for optimizing effectiveness is to understand the choices and possibilities that exist around the improvement initiative. The choices teammates make need to align well with the overall context of their business as well as the specific issue(s) on which they are focused. But generating such a team focus is problematic in many organizations. There is a lot of literature and anecdotal experiences that focus on problems with teams and teamwork. For many, the words “cross-functional teamwork” or “interdepartmental collaboration” are oxymorons – words that do not fit together like “jumbo shrimp” or “live recording.”

An article in the International Management Review back in the 1990s still stands out for me. It was entitled, “The Trouble with Teams.” In it, Jack Gordon takes the position that, “Teams may be the antidote to bureaucracy, but do we really know the antidotes for wayward teams?” There are proven benefits for organizations to use teams and teamwork to identify and implement ideas for improvement but also problems with delegating authority to teams. Identifying effective team leaders and giving them the tools they need is one of the critical ones. He expands on the common issues most organizations using teams discover and offers some logical solutions and perspective on ideas and options for maximizing impact.

Patrick Lenconi’s 2002 book, in novel form like Goldratt’s The Goal, gets into how teams work and how they could work better. His book (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) works through a pyramidal model of team dysfunctions including issues of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, low accountability and inattention to actual results. In conclusion, he contrasts how dysfunctional teams behave by comparing them to a cohesive team in the case of each of these dysfunctions and provides suggestions and insights.

Part of this difficulty with generating teamwork reflects the changing business environment. In the good old days before the year 2000, being a good teammate meant being able to work with others because the focus was on “team dynamics.” Billions of dollars were spent on the personality inventories (MBTI, DISC and hundreds of similar tools) because organizations believed that a focus on The Team was where the energy needed to be spent and individuals would improve if they simply knew more about themselves and each other. Workplaces became more diverse and Consensus decision-making, group dynamics, styles and preferences were what was taught and hopefully learned. (Billions are still spent on personality inventories!)

Belbin Hats green

Different folks need different strokes. And all of us know more than any of us!

But things changed. Working together as a team no longer meant co-location and collegial relations. Team player became a less important value than team contributor and rapid change became the norm. More and more, initiatives like Lean Manufacturing, value-chain improvements and globalization meant that these old successful team-based approaches no longer applied. There was more pressure for performance and productivity. Technology allowed for more dispersion of people while organizations downsized. Older employees with a breadth of experience, knowledge and perspective retired. And, more significant payoffs were found with larger multi-departmental, inter-organizational or supply-chain kinds of cross-functional improvements.

Many of the low hanging fruit have already been plucked from the branches as the focus on efficiencies with initiatives like quality improvement and lean manufacturing made dynamic inroads and taught tools and approaches to different kinds of improvement initiatives. At the same time, computers caused work to become more dynamic and complex and speed gained leverage. Rapid change became the norm and individual and organizational survival was a real issue. And these factors came to a head to stall a great deal of improvement today.

Ancona and Bresman’s X-Teams book (2007) offers some excellent insights into why some teams perform at very high levels and why others fail to generate desired results. Essentially, the authors believe that teams that focus more externally get better and faster information and operate more effectively than teams internally focused, a belief that is at odds with how most teams in the past were trained and supported.

The book offered many examples of high team performances and its link to issues of communications, organizational improvement and leadership development. It takes a straightforward approach to suggesting how a refocusing of effort from within the team members to a more collaborative and broader organizational focus can deliver higher impacts.

Simply stated, the “X” in the X-team concept means being externally oriented, with people working both inside and outside the boundaries. “While managing internally is necessary, it is managing externally that enables teams to lead, innovate, and succeed in a rapidly changing environment.” This is the differentiating driving force for maximum success.

An X-team finds it necessary to go outside the team to create effective goals, plans and designs. The team must have high levels of such external focus as opposed to simply a focus on the people and the processes. That focus can be on the customer and their expectations, for example, with the realization that these expectations and needs are often changing continuously. A team not focused broadly will find it working on outputs that may not be as relevant or impactful for the organization over time. So, X-teams combine productive external activity with extreme execution within the team, developing processes that enable a high degree of coordination and effective execution. Some examples used were meetings and presentations to and discussions with senior managers of their organization, combined with feedback to all members of the team about reactions and necessary changes. Not continually looking for such support was detrimental to outcomes.

Managing change was a primary success factor; business situations would change and the team would need to change with it seamlessly and quickly, a characteristic of effectiveness. This was not the case with a lot of internally-focused teams who never saw the handwriting on the wall. So, a major quality of the X-teams was that they were also flexible in their approach, engaging in exploration, exploitation of talents and information, and exportation where they transferred their learning and experiences to other teams. (Yes, the authors did get crazy with their Xs!).

Together, these 3 elements of external focus and activity, extreme execution and flexibility form the principles by which such teams guide themselves – and they do take a significant amount of autonomy in how they approach and attain their desired outcomes. The key here is recognizing that the continued external focus and exploration of the environment were important for the teams to adjust and succeed.

Of course, three “X-factors” provide the structure and support such teams need to operate effectively. These include extensive ties to useful outsiders, expandable resources of people and information (involved as needed by the core team) and exchangeable membership–the ability to add new people who come into and who leave the team as warranted by the situation. The authors liken the effective teams to externally focused operational groups who work together, cross boundaries and get access to the people and resources they need to be successful.

So, how does an organization generate higher levels of awareness of these issues and opportunities for improvement and generate changes in focus and more successful implementation? A first step is to create awareness of these issues and opportunities and to give teams a chance to discuss and focus on strategies and tactics to focus more externally. We should also know that simply talking about these issues will not lead to much change and improvement, while a more experiential, active-learning approach offers more impact.

My personal belief, backed up by a lot of testimonials from users, is that our interactive team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, offers many benefits to an organization looking to readily impact people and generate the motivation needed for workplace improvement. This is PMC’s flagship team development exercise that focuses on inter-team collaboration and the optimization of results, a game generating a fun and unique fast-paced learning environment that allows direct linkage of game behaviors back to the issue of optimizing inter-organizational results.

In Dutchman, the Expedition Leader charters each team with the goal of managing limited resources and time to, “Mine as much Gold as we can.” Teams are given a clear goal with a measurable outcome and a deadline for getting this project accomplished. Teams can access additional information but this requires them to not take immediate action but to first plan the journey – we find that the impetus to get started generally overweighs the (charter) of gathering information external to the team. Teams can talk to other teams that have additional information, but the reality is that teams with this information may choose not to share it freely, keeping it for their own competitive advantage.

The participants should view leadership, in any improvement initiative, as supportive, but this is often not the case because of trust and other issues. In Dutchman, that message is repeated within the instructions and the behaviors of the delivery team are congruent with support and help. “The role of the Expedition Leader is to help teams be successful and maximize ROI” (return on investment).

Observation of team behavior however shows a consistent tendency for the teams to behave independently of outside help, often to actively exclude knowledgeable others in their planning and execution. Even though these people can provide additional perspective as well as other resources of information and value, teams tend to go into a “My Team, My Team, My Team” mode of operation – one at odds with the X-Teams findings of continually looking outside the team for information and resources.

my team color 2

Teams appear to want to avoid any semblance of “Command and Control” from the outside, and thus put the Expedition Leadership people at arms length rather than including them in the team activity. This distributed leadership requires some additional dialog and possible realignment caused by new information and thus might appear to be in conflict with what the team already knows and wants to do, therefore, causing that outsider to be rejected, even when they can add great value to the task.

Good teams can fail when they are not aware of all the information available and when they reject the support offered by or available from outsiders to their team. “My Team, My Team, My Team” is a powerful motivator of peer support, teamwork, good performance and member camaraderie, but it is not the strategy that high-performing teams need to survive and prosper in today’s rapidly changing performance-based landscape.

The key here is that the debriefing activity will focus the discussion on the behavior of the teams, behaviors that are often self-limiting and non-optimizing in the context of overall group effectiveness. Teams make choices in narrow ways and their awareness of the impact of focusing on collaboration is often overshadowed by the energy resulting from a competition with other groups. It is this paradox that we address, the desire to compete and succeed balanced with the contribution that collaboration will have on the organization overall. Competition cannot be the primary motivator.

(A great discussion on the negative impacts of competition on individuals and organizations comes from Alfie Kohn in his book, “Punished by Rewards” and his other writings. Consider that having one “winner” also generates a number of “losers.” Some people tire of losing and simply choose not to participate, a deadly situation in most organizations and something often not recognized.)

It is an issue of shared missions and community goals – the focus must be on the Big Picture and the contribution of individuals and teams to the overall organization rather than their focus on simply succeeding in a more circumcised and limited way.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a great tool to generate the process and discussion of these issues and the possibilities for improvement. It is guaranteed to be effective and memorable and to generate real discussion of alternatives to current team behaviors to move toward a more successful future.

(You can print out this article at and you can find a variety of tools at )

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Some funny thoughts on outdoor training and team building

David Worthington, a writer for SmartPlanet, posted this up and I thought it was worth repeating, since I often write about outdoor training activities as they relate to team building kinds of organizational development initiatives. I thought that this was just too good to pass on, kind of like me writing about the Dave Barry article on the Burger King employees who got their feet burned at a firewalking event. (Yes, click here for that blog post!)

I think that the basic research makes sense based on my experiences, and the fact that this was published in a peer-review scientific journal should make this legitimate. But the irony of the situation, sweaty men playing video games that require teamwork does sure lend itself to workplace applications. Wonder what results one would get if it were sweaty men and women playing games, but that is for others to research and contemplate, I think.

So here is the article, and the accompanying illustration that David used:

A man’s perspiration can influence the behavior of other men to become more cooperative and generous, a study says. Men with higher testosterone levels are more susceptible to suggestion from their clammy compatriots.

timthumb(image credit:

University of Turku in Finland published the study this week in PLOS ONE, an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal focusing on the effects of the pheromone androstadienone. The study’s participants played dictatorial and ultimatum themed decision-making video games together with and without androstadienone present. The sample was relatively small (n=40), but did use a double-blind control group. It combined pheromone research with behavioral game theory of experimental economics.

The results were fairly conclusive. Androstadienone was found to influence male decision-making behavior:

“…the androstadienone receiving group accepted significantly lower offers as Responders, and the difference between Proposer offers and the minimum acceptable offers was significantly higher than in the control group (meaning that participants offered more and asked for less). There was also a tendency in the androstadienone receiving group to make larger offers as Proposers and as sole decision makers in ultimatum. Thus, it seems that androstadienone increased cooperation in ultimatum and dictator.”

Future research will examine the relationship between androstadienone and attractiveness. That would help determine whether “an attractive and dominant male can be a valuable potential mating partner for a female,” or a “competitor for another male.” The root cause could be evolutionary, the study hypothesized.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that androstadienone directly affects behaviour in human males,” the researchers wrote. They acknowledged that it was difficult to simulate realistic quantities of the chemical in a lab environment, but the study clearly suggests that the pheromones influence more than just the mating behaviors of humans.

We now know that men may form “bromances” with other sweaty guys regardless of their sexual orientation. But if you want to succeed in business, gentlemen please don’t spare the deodorant.

(from )

Okay, then! The obvious conclusion of this is that if you are doing an outdoor team building event and you want to optimize collaboration and results, you should encourage all the participants to NOT use deodorant and for them to get really sweaty. Pick a hot summer day and find a place with no shade. I have heard that this can be a common framework for many of these kinds of events.

And, yeah, the above is another one of those reasons that I much prefer doing indoor, board games focused on measured results and desired behavioral outcomes in a non-sweaty, air-conditioned environment. We can offer people cushioned chairs, access to coffee and drinks, and even provide them with a ready supply of cookies. No spiders or bugs, no rain, no wind: just a nice hotel ballroom or training facility…

If you would be interested in seeing a variety of different serious ideas about indoor and outdoor training, optimizing large events, and similar, this blog is loaded up with articles. Search under “outdoor” or “event” to see some of my thinking.

We have a variety of effective team building exercises and organizational involvement tools at

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.

You can reach Scott at
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group


Thoughts on building a high performance environment – Teamwork and Flow

Flow” is a simple concept that relates challenges to skills, with the understanding that the two are integrated and that they can dramatically affect performance. A good manager is aware of the relationship, and can structure the work environment to maximize results by keeping things in adjustment.

I expand on this in a long article on my website. You can find this and other performance-related articles and download them by clicking here. Or, you can simply click on the link below to download a pdf file directly. High_Performance_Team_Flow

The concept is based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model for improving individual performance that blends Challenge with Skills and helps people to frame a process for optimizing performance, both theirs and others. Overall, the situation looks like this:

Flow - Issues Graphic

Low skills in a highly challenging situation generate stress and sometimes fear. High skill levels in a low challenge situation generate boredom. It is not a complicated notion and most of us can readily think of situations where this has occurred.

His model takes these issues and puts forth a different proposal for how to improve performance. That looks like this:

Flow - Image Graphic

“Flow” might be described as becoming absorbed in an activity and tapping into that energy field to perform at a high level. 

A high performance state is where individuals and teams operate most effectively and find that state intoxicating. People who have played my team building exercise, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” often experience flow toward the end of the planning period when everything comes together very rapidly – or not, depending on how their team was working!

Skills and Challenges are important, but environment also counts.

How does one structure the environment to generate flow?

The overall environment generally needs to be supportive to reinforce the positives and minimize the negatives. The key is to set up an environment that helps to engage people and drive such a state of thinking and behaving. The components of a team-based, workplace environment design might have many or most of these components:

  • Clear goals, missions and purpose, where expectations are specific and processes and procedures are understood. Goals need to be perceived as achievable and the individuals must feel they possess adequate skills and abilities. The involvement of the team in the situation can also support flow.
  • Concentration and focus with a narrow field of view. Flow is more likely to occur if focus is on a narrow band of things rather than a broad one. Think of Bob Beamon’s thoughts on that record long jump in the 1968 Olympics. Avoiding distractions and disruptions is very helpful, although sometimes difficult to arrange and influenced by personal concentration skills.
  • Effective Performance Feedback is a critical factor, and one that many people do not well understand or implement (click here to access Scott’s Performance Feedback Analysis materials). To support high performance, feedback needs to be nearly immediate, positive, demonstrate trends in results, be narrow and specific and generally be self-measured and self-produced. When delays are introduced, it is like learning to play the piano when one cannot hear the notes for 30 seconds, a most difficult task.
  • Sufficient resources must be available so that external influences are felt to be minimal and a sense of “local control” exists about what is needed to succeed. Having to wait for equipment or permission is not conducive to a flowing workplace. A sense of control over the situation or activity lends itself to improved results; an internal focus-of-control generates better flow than a reliance or dependence on outside influencers.
  • Mental skills training is important. People should be using skills such as   dissociation, meditation, visual rehearsal or projection, positive self-talk (opposed to the constructive criticism so often used as a leadership technique by management!) and other creative skills that can benefit individuals. People should be able to access high performance mental states and also avoid distractions, both mental and physical. Teams using thinking processes like Ed DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats and other brainstorming or mind-mapping practices can add thinking skills to a problem-solving situation. Self-generated stretch or push goals for performance can create the need to expand and improve results and productivity.
  • A focus on success, rather than avoidance of failure, is important for most individuals. While some may employ a fear-of-failure strategy as a motivational force, it is generally not something that will drive peak performance. Having a focus on achieving success and meeting goals is much more rewarding than avoiding failure or lack of success. Intrinsic rewards support sustained performance much more than any added extrinsic rewards might generate. Achieving the goal and generating immediate positive feedback are powerful motivators and help sustain flow.
  • Balance between ability levels and challenges presented for the team (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult) is a key factor and something that managers and key leaders must attend to for best results.
  • Engagement within the activity itself is important, especially when it is a group or team situation where there may have been some past negativity surrounding this activity. Sharing risk can help minimize distractions and contribute to the feeling of support. Organizations DO have histories, as do individuals.
  • A situation of ownership can help, whereby teammates are enlisted in a shared challenge. This generates peer support for the perceived risks as well as support for the needed efforts. As I have said many times, “Nobody ever washes a rental car.” Having a sense of ownership can help reduce distractions as well as providing overall support and a decreased sense of risk. Individuals who do not have a sense of ownership involvement will not often create a sense of flow.

All of the above represent manageable environmental factors that managers can influence or control and any of these will help improve performance. And making people aware of the concept of flow is also helpful – the awareness can change how they deal with their thoughts and ideas and the choices they make about their performance.

And Remember, Fun is a helpful addition to almost every team building, high performance or organizational developmental situation.

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

The Illusion of Innovation – Some ideas about creative thinking

Like everyone I know, I love to see those different illusions and to see how people so cleverly trick my brain. There are a lot of different styles and frameworks, not including the really neat stuff about how magic works and how the brain can only process one thing at a time because of its hardwiring. We have the different “gorilla walking by” and all sorts of slights of hand that are truly amazing.

But for me, it gets more pragmatic. How can we use our knowledge of how the brain works to improve the workplace, generate more intrinsic motivation and impact people and creativity. These things are all related, after all.

First, a bit of trickery and eye-foolery, since our world is often not how it seems:

circle and dot 1

Focus on the dot.
Then. move your head forwards and backwards.

I mean, we get movement in the above from what cannot be moving. (Maybe this is what is preventing senior managers from doing things, since they think things are moving, ya think?) Or maybe we can continue to do the same thing but have others think that we are actually making progress as we show both above as well as below!

Circles not spiral

And, similarly, take a good look at this one, above. Think things are spiraling forward toward the center? Think that things are getting closer and closer to The Singularity? Well, things aren’t. Those spirals are actually circles and it is the alignment of them that makes things appear differently. It is the same kind of paradox that happens when we set up Divisions and then expect collaboration. Ya think?

And here is one on headcount. The black dots represent people performing!

count the black dots

Yeah, those darn things just keep appearing and disappearing. Some things are just not easy, and HR often seems to have a hard time with this one. If performance is counting the black dots, go ahead and perform!

We can have some really good performers in our workplaces. And we can also have a lot of people who simply disappear. Finding and motivating people to perform is often a tough task, as shown below:



mottled horses

It is often the case that motivating and engaging people to perform is a pretty tough task, even though the boss says it is pretty straightforward, like eating an elephant, you know that old, “One bite at a time” one-liner. But finding that elephant and making sense of things just isn’t all that easy… Take a look and see what I mean:

elephant legs

And it is even tougher figuring things out if you have more than one elephant to manage:

elephant legs - multiple

Let HR do all that stuff. But, I digress:

What is that old joke, Managing things  here is a lot like mating elephants:

— It is accomplished only at high levels.
— It is accompanied by a great deal of stomping around, trumpeting and other noise.
— It takes two years to produce any results.
—   And then you have a baby elephant to take care of…

(Elephants, by the way, are the only mammal that cannot jump. Do not ask me why that is important, but it just is…)

Sometimes, we just think or simply hope that we can sail away from the problems of the workplace…

escher boat arch

A look back would indicate that we are pretty solidly anchored to the past. But, if only we could build our workplace world to be more circular:

escher ring

Yeah, just go ahead and build it! We can focus on doing the following, though when it comes to people and performance,  it takes some perspective and coaching to really accomplish:

LIFT black white

But for Me?

In reality, I use a very simple illusion to get people talking about what they perceive is happening in their workplace. I use this inkblot kind of reflection about how things really seem to be working and ask them to generate their ideas and thoughts about how things work and what Round Wheels might exist that might be implemented. It looks like this:

SWs One - How Things Work

The human brain is an amazing tool, one that can be incredibly creative and innovative if we allow ideas to flow and provide an environment of support and encouragement.

You can find another blog of my thinking on thinking here.

If I can get them thinking and talking and involved and engaged in creatively thinking about how things work and what might be done differently, I can generate the cognitive dissonance and the motivational thrust to push things forward more effectively.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Debriefing and Facilitating for Organizational Improvement – Games versus Exercises

Fun versus Value. Activity versus Learning. Age old mysteries…

Maybe I have been at this consulting and training stuff too long, but in a conversation with a prospect the other day, it really got me thinking about the reality of team building and organizational improvement and the VALUE of what we do. I have posted up before many of my thoughts on issues of impact and cost and time, from discussions about why I do not like icebreakers all that much in this article and in this one.

I have also shared a lot of ideas about outdoor training kinds of events, a few of which I like but many of which I view as problematic, such as a paintball game with a group of people who may have some physical impairments. One, on fun and learning can be found here. Another discussion is found here.

There have been a string of article focused on how to improve the impacts of training, such as this one focused on Motivation and Processes or this one talking about how training cannot improve work processes and thus performance.

And there have been LOTS of articles on engagement and dis-un-engagement and the process of involving people for intrinsic motivation and performance improvement purposes. If you search “engagement” on the blog, you will find more than 20 articles playing all around the theme, with statistics and ideas and frameworks.

My favorite post is on extrinsic motivation — in it, I link to an article that is called “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever.” This focuses on the ignored part of the workforce, the quasi-motivated reasonably good performers who show up and put in time but do not perform to their capability — the 50% in the middle. You can download this article on engagimentation and motivation by clicking on the image:

I Quit Article Icon

What stimulated this post was a discussion with a prospect who has great experience facilitating teambuilding for organizations. His view was that a lot of companies do NOT want a fun learning event but would rather choose to simply do something fun. They do not want the session to relate to organization performance or work-improvement issues but simply want to throw some money out to a vendor to show their people that they care! The are looking for no ROI.

It is kinda like what I see when I look at the “Team Building Offerings” of a place like Dave and Buster’s. They actually frame this dinner plus play on the machines as Team Building. Apparently, they think that they can meaningfully relate that arcade games like slotball and shooting hoops and coupons somehow relates to workplace improvement and claimed that teambuilding is one of the specialties of our staff and corporate event planners. I mean, really?

Most of these activities are framed as competitions — and I will write soon about my thinking on the difficulties of turning competition into collaboration in any meaningful or substantial way. A client had me look into this for them and I saw it as fun, but not of much real value for the investment of time and money. Why posture and call it a team building? And what if someone falls down while running to exchange their coupons for “great gifts and prizes” before the clock wound down…

For me, I feel that if a company makes the investment of money, people and time into some event, there should be some impact. An internal HR person in Jacksonville summed it up nicely in a testimonial he sent to me:

Best “Learning Game” I have ever used…  We purchased Dutchman for an offsite meeting to discuss Resource allocation and Collaboration. It was a breeze to facilitate. The participants loved it and more importantly, walked away with lessons that they were immediately able to apply back at the office. The slides and materials allow you to guide the group in almost any direction imaginable. I am still getting comments weeks after the session about the impact it made on the business and the improved performance. A small investment that generates huge results.

I mean, the fact that it links to the workplace issues and that it apparently motivated his people to choose to do something differently is why I designed the game in the first place! And why I think it is a much better tool that so many of the other activities out there. (See a comparison of my Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine game to one of the most well-known games in the team building marketplace by clicking here)

LDGM 1 80

But there is another reality that I wanted to mention, and that is the post-game debriefing activity that should connect the play to the real world of organizational improvement. Yeah, fun is good and all that, but how do we help people make the connections and help them to make better choices in the future.

I have always talked about my exercises like Dutchman and Collaboration Journey as “excuses to debrief.” I want the game design and embedded metaphors to directly link to clean themes for improvement. Turbochargers become a metaphor for Best Practices, for example, and, “The goal is to mine as much gold as we can,” is really focused on the WE and optimizing overall success, rather than focusing on competing to win. Where there are winners, there are many more losers!

So, I absolutely LOVE it when people say things like this:

The feedback from the participants was fabulous.
I led the Dutchman’s Gold Mine game for our Store Manager development as part of their annual conference.
During the game, there were a few “aha” moments but what really brought the point home was The Debriefing. There was a lot of great debriefing material to use and I focused on how the game paralleled our business and how much better the results could be if we collaborated better as an organization.
Scott was extremely supportive and was always available to answer my questions or give me suggestions.  I recommend this game to anyone that wants to build collaboration among and between teams.  It is fun and effective!
After renting the game to initially test it with two large groups, we bought the Professional Edition to run this company-wide

This feedback was from Kyla, a trainer with a large retailing organization, who is rolling out the exercise through her whole company. That is really cool! For $8000, their cost of delivery is about $1 a person…)

So, I like HARD questions that focus on the organization’s future. I like discussions that relate to choices people make in the game and then in the workplace. When I ask about what energizes, I relate it to what the managers could do differently. When I focus on Gold, I focus on choices to make improvements in results. The game was about maximizing ROI — that comes from optimizing communications, sharing resources, and working together.

Dutchman Debrief Triad

I would love to hear responses to this, both on the question of fun versus fun learning, as well as on the issue of debriefing activities. I often find so many of the latter so lightweight, so devoid of connection that all comments will be forgotten as soon as the next activity starts. I know that the facilitators think they are doing a great job because there are often smiles all around, but it also seems like nothing gets done after such sessions. One client long ago did one of those firewalking events — a couple of years before the Burger King fiasco * — and people DID talk about doing it. But it was always focused on doing the firewalking and never on anything that happened as a result of that BIG expense to the company…

*Firewalking done by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in a “team building and personal growth” session with 12 getting burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his. (you can read more here.  (Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)

Games are fun and I like games. I like fun. I like to kayak and play pool and all that. But I think that a corporate learning event should be just that, a learning event. I like Dave and Buster’s food — I am just not sure of their impact on organizational improvement. Frankly, I think the teambuilding programs where you actually cook a dinner would be more impactful than simply playing, but the home page of D&B’s says that they have conducted thousands of these events.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Military Team Building Games – some thoughts on alternatives

Good Governance, rather than autocratic leadership, is one of the keys to creating value and improvement for organizations and society.

Dutchman is Teamwork

Organizations of all types are looking for tools to help improve collaboration and teamwork and they sometimes are looking toward military models of operations, since we tend to view SEAL groups as highly organized and effective. Thus, many view the use of some kind of “military model of leadership” as a tool to improve performance in their own organizations.

And remember back in 1986 when everyone was going toward “Top Gun” kinds of training programs and employee improvement actions because of the popularity of the Tom Cruise movie and the apparent thrill of flying a jet fighter? Ah, if organizations could only work like that! Zoom Zoom! They were printing Top Gun Baseball caps for everyone, it seemed.  (But if you actually remember the movie, the leadership and congruence among the teams sure was not that smooth and everything was a competition, which sometimes nearly got people killed. There was constant conflict and often a lack of coordination, Boss-driven compliance, demotions and all that…)
Stealth SWs yellow

I am sometimes asked how our teambuilding and collaboration products can be used for a Military Team Building Game or similarly themed-exercise, either as a game with a military theme or one that can be used by a military unit to teach practical leadership and teamwork lessons. And there are a bunch of anchor points to generating good results and impacts.

Some of my client colleagues who do these kinds of team building events in various military organizations all say pretty much the same thing. Russ, for example, said, “The only thing I have to say is that military has the same issues as civilian, local focus, lots of distractions, different risk levels,…. Nothing jumps out as specific or different for Military applications.”

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine remains my flagship product and one that we are proud to offer to clients of all types, profit and non-profit, who are interested in generating more engagement and collaboration across organizational barriers. The focus is on the overall result of the group, not any one team. And the applications toward idealized Military Efficiency are pretty straightforward.

My personal beliefs are that an exercise themed on a military team building would tend to be too focused on competition / violence, something that might not sit well with a female audience or one that an objector might find distasteful. My “Military Might!” exercise, for example, is one that my son and I designed initially for his high school Air Force ROTC organization to teach the criticality of planning and attention to detail. As Corps Commander, Jeff needed to improve how things worked and improve attention to detail, as in taking inventories and similar functions.  But Might! game is about planning to kill terrorists – and I am reframing the design to become an oil exploration exercise with many of the same learning points; just a different message medium.

So far as generating compliance because or ordering people to do things, it is common that people commanded may not complain, they may simply do. But the distaste for being told will remain. And compliance does not generate a lot of desired outcomes in general.

And the basic theme of a “military game” may generate unanticipated consequences*.  I have a friend who still suffers from PTSD from his activities in Vietnam. He remains an out-patient in the VA hospital and attends group therapy. If he were one of the players of a military-style game, he would have fun, but there would be a residue left behind from such an event and it would probably trigger a lot of negative memories and emotions. The problem is that one can never really predict what will trigger what in other people…

* (My lawyer friends say that nothing is actually “unanticipated” but that due diligence would discover the unexpected problem and prevent it from ever occurring! “Saying” that it is unanticipated does not remove one from the responsibility for the unintended consequences…)

A colleague in the DC area and who regularly delivers programs for military leadership development and communications courses had this to say about military-themed team building and leadership training in general (in blue):

For decades there’s been a huge emphasis on collaboration information sharing across units and services (between Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy). Collaboration is an important and real issue today between these groups, not to mention between our security services like Homeland, NSA, FBI, CIA and local police forces. There remain a wide variety of teamwork and communications issues that directly impact public safety.

The phrase “joint operations” is used frequently (a similar phrase is “going purple”). This is about reducing the historic inter-service rivalries, and increasing effectiveness through the concept of one, joint fighting force. This kind of military team building exercise can also show up on the local level. It is also related to Emergency Preparedness, where interdepartmental and turf issues can show themselves clearly.

[As an aside here, my personal observations of such joint operations at a local high school among the fire, police, state police, EMS and Public Health Services was so inefficient and ineffective to be almost comical. A big laugh for me came when one of the demolition guys took a great deal of time and space to set off his “explosion” to mark the beginning of the terror-response activity. It was a real “guy moment,” in my view and had nothing to do with the exercise other than the fun he had blowing stuff up! Heck, they had difficulty choosing the radio channel to use for communications among the divisions!]

Dutchman also contributes to understanding these concepts and their power.

– Today’s military and government agencies face a variety of pressures to be more nimble, fluid, change on the fly as conditions change.

– And today’s military members fill roles they haven’t played before, in place like Iraq and Afghanistan – nation builder, mentor, friend, teacher, diplomat, as well as warrior.

Interdepartmental Collaboration is not good

Joint military teamwork can look something like this

Those are a lot of different roles, so feeling part of a team and developing one’s leadership and collaboration skills is a critical component of any developmental initiative. Getting groups to work together across natural competitive lines is a powerful tool to implementing new missions and visions and optimizing results.

So, to the extent that Lost Dutchman helps people see the importance of what I mentioned, in the above, it can help you convince folks in the military of its utility for them.

(You can see more of Russ’ thinking about things here:

We think that we have an excellent leadership development exercise in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. It links to the real issues of aligning people to a shared mission and vision and it supports collaboration, even when teams choose to compete. And while it is not a military team building game, it accomplishes all of those things that such a design would need without resorting to attacking others or creating damage or some such thing.

Dutchman is about leadership and collaboration and sharing goals and objectives. It is about optimizing results with limited resources, planning and gaining strategic information that is critical for overall success of the team and the group.

Our many user testimonials say that Dutchman is a great team building game – see some of them here at our other blog

Scott banking LD

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Some testimonials about our Team Building Exercise, Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

We think that The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is an absolutely great team building exercise that allows anyone to help their organization focus on issues of collaboration, optimization of overall results, and improving how organizations implement change and strategy. It links to our Square Wheels tools, elegantly, and thus is a great tool to use for building employee engagement and the implementation of creative ideas for improvement and innovation.

And we are not the only ones that feel that way. Here is one from an internal trainer, one from a international consultant and one from an executive assistant who ran the game with her company’s senior leadership team (and got rave reviews from them!)

Kyla LD testim 100

Andi LD testim 100

Assistant LD testim 100

We find that people who have used some of the competitive products in the marketplace (and by competitive, I mean that they DO generate competition when they should be generating collaboration) are either much more expensive or not as flexible or just not as good (or all three). You can click here for a comparison of Dutchman with Gold of the Desert Kings, for example.

If you want to learn more about the exercise, please visit our website. Or, better yet, give me a call at 864-292-8700. I generally answer my phone most hours of most days and would love to chat about this stuff.

Russ LD testim 100

Herb LD testim 100

Greer LD testim 100

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>

Collaboration and Teamwork and dealing with Mud

People and Performance — Here are some simple poems and frameworks to get people thinking about issues and opportunities. The goal is to generate one good thought or insight into doing things differently.

Let’s start this with a simple poem to embellish the theme with a bit of my thinking about how things often work. So, here is an image / poem which stimulated the overall design of an illustrated article. Isn’t that how innovation really works for all of us? Anyway, here we go:

Mud Jeep yellow poemThis cartoon image comes from our team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and is an integral part of our debriefing package. Players must deal with all sorts of mud to generate their successes.

In the game, mud on one of the selected routes to the mine causes teams to use extra resources and energy, just as it does in the real world. They know that it will cost that extra Fuel, but they are surprised by that nevertheless. Mud is the glop that people have to deal with so often in the workplace, taking the form of bureaucracy, politics, culture and the other things that do not support innovation and improvement. Mud simply bogs one down and costs extra energy to deal with it.

Mud also occurs when people choose to compete rather than collaborate, since one group will often create problems for another group that shares the same overall goal. This happens clearly in the Dutchman game. It also happens all the time in organizations — we call it Interdepartmental Collaboration! Mud is a pain to deal with — some might find it to be cement while others find it to work more like grinding paste, that grit that wears things out.

So, that first poem then got me working on the next few little ditties:

Alligators and sharks totally wired poem

They are out there too, like Spectator Sheep:

Spectator Sheep poem

So, things can then look something like this when it all comes together:

Mud Jeep RWs Alligator Sheep poemWe can make improvements. We must make improvements. Solutions abound. Ideas are everywhere. We just need people to consider other alternatives and choose to collaborate and cooperate and look to do things differently.

But progress forward requires employee engagement and involvement, leadership perspective and a team effort. We simply have to get the conversation rolling forward smoothly, along with shared goals and teamwork:

Spring of improvement and change poem

(Yeah, I do have fun with this stuff!)

For the FUN of It!

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 easily at

Page 2 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén