I got a great question in an email this morning that triggered this post on how to implement improvements.

A training manager in a multinational pharmaceutical company in Vietnam asked me about using my Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit:  “As your experience, could you advice me that this session can be run for a group of  mixture all levels employees or better for managerial people only?
I have a Teambuilding event for 2 functions : HR and Finance & Accounting together – all levels to improve the working/operation cooperation among members, can it work?”

My experience and advice would be, “Absolutely and Positively.”

Square Wheels is a metaphor-based and flexible tool for improving communications and identifying issues and opportunities. It is a way of changing the language of performance to “The things that might be improved” without any kind of blame frame or value-judgement as to the politics or cultural issues that are involved in its current existence.

In other places, I have written extensively about how to facilitate with these materials. See, for example, the landing page at http://www.squarewheels.com/mainpage/swsmain.html for a lot of different ideas and links. (There is also a long list of basic facilitation ideas included in the toolkit itself.)

Without a discussion of the current political and cultural climate of the HR and Finance / Accounting groups themselves, I have consistently found it beneficial to get people with different perspectives into the discussion of the various opportunities for improvement, especially when one will focus on implementing improvements. With both groups participating, it minimizes the issues of one group feeling that another is pressing something onto them. Ownership of ideas is a critical component of getting things changed. Everyone needs to have some degree of active involvement and engagement.

Remember this simple reality:

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

Having a mixed group of managers and non-managers and senior managers might be problematic if the organization is political or if some of the managers are taking on an “everything is okay, here, people” kind of mentality and not wanting to implement change or improvement. If that defensiveness exists in a Most Senior Manager, the efforts of the group will not be accepted — what one MUST do is preempt that from occurring by getting their sign-off beforehand. You can even make that person an apparent supporter by giving them a leadership role in the session itself by allowing them to moderate discussions, etc. (careful with this and coach this carefully!).

A common view of Interdepartmental Collaboration

Overall Approach:

I would use the approach of showing Square Wheels One to the entire group and allowing them to play with the themes that they discover in the illustration, using tabletop discussions of 5 to 6 people (mixed). Depending on time, you can have them capture ideas on easel pad paper or simply “blurt” out their thoughts if time is short. Getting them to present their ideas sets the stage for later idea presentation.

Then, initiate a loose discussion of, “What might be some possible Square Wheels in our organizations” and allow them great latitude in generating IDEAS. You are not looking for Truth and Reality here, but allowing them to throw some mud at the wire fence and be creative, funny, insightful, participative, goofy and serious at the same time. You might want to give out candy for good ideas or the longest list or similar, just to get them firing up on the creative and innovative side of things. The idea is to have some fun and to capture ideas!

I would have them write ALL the tables’ ideas on an easel pad and put them up on the walls –make it into a contest on quantity. Funny is also good. But this is the set up to the serious work ahead.

Then, have each table look around at ALL the ideas and (ideally) select ONE Square Wheel that was NOT from their own tabletop’s creativity and work up three Round Wheel ideas that might help solve that problem. This generates a good bit of behavioral and creative variety from the group — ownership will push them to want to work on their own idea but that is somewhat self-limiting and you are looking for team building and improved communications inter-departmentally.

They can then post up their ideas and someone from each tabletop can discuss the issue and the perceived opportunity.

Now, the Most Senior Managers can play some role in requesting that people “sign up” to help implement those ideas. Since organizations differ so much in HOW this kind of thing is done, I will not offer any unsolicited suggestions about the style or construct of this part of the session. There are issues of recognition, intrinsic reward and intrinsic motivation, peer support, organizational necessity as well as issues of potential risk and exposure in certain situations.

If the culture is competitive, then you may have minimized some of the issues of inter-organizational collaboration by having the two groups work together. If the organization is political, you may have addressed some of the leadership gaps by having different levels of the employee base interactively work together to generate ideas, issues and opportunities. Finance might also naturally add some “financial impact qualifiers” to the mix in the analysis.

The Key is to use the metaphor of Square Wheels to attach to anything that might not be working smoothly — it may not be functioning efficiently or effectively while it is not broken. There are lots of process improvements that may help improve productivity or performance.

Heck, you can also use this for improving the creative innovation parts of the business. Round Wheels can simply mean small incremental improvements.

Hope that helps. Have fun out there.

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

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