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

Month: November 2012

More on The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

My friend and colleague, Chris Hartung, sent me an email a few minutes ago referencing a news article that he thought would be of interest. He likes my team building game and guess that the news article caught his interest because of the location and title.

The news article is entitled:

Body of man who hunted legendary ‘Lost Dutchman’s’
Gold Mine believed found in Arizona mountains.

(and it appears at: )

Frankly, I am not surprised that another person’s body has been found in this area. There have been a LOT of casualties amongst those who have hunted for Jacob Waltz’s lost mine in the Superstition Mountains, after all, they are roaming around in a really inhospitable place (much like Iowa, some would say with a grin). Jacob was known as “The Dutchman” and he brought gold back from the mountains for 30 years…

“We call ‘em Dutch hunters out here,” said Superstition Search and Rescue Director Robert Cooper. “They’re infatuated with all the lore and the history of the lost Dutchman mine and he was part of that.”

Like me, Mr. Caspan had acquired more than 100 books and articles about the Mine and the myth surrounding the death of Jacob Waltz in 1892. And like me, he believed that there was gold in the mountains just waiting to be found. After all, Jacob left a map.

Unlike me, he actually went out there looking for it in The Superstitions, while I simply invented a team building game focused on maximizing results based on collaboration between teams and good strategic planning. Guess Mr. Caspan’s planning was not all that great…

As Fox “News” said, “An untold number of prospectors have searched the Superstition Mountains for the mine. In the 1840s, according to the Denver Post, the Peralta family of Mexico mined gold out of the mountains, but Apaches attacked and killed all but one or two family members as they took the gold back to Mexico. Some 30 years later, Jacob Waltz — nicknamed “the Dutchman,” even though he was German — rediscovered the mine with the help of a Peralta descendant, according to legend.”

As for me, since this came from FOX, I believe that the Apaches or other gold hunters killed this guy to keep the secret and get the gold for themselves.

After all, we hear about an awful lot of bogus conspiracies from FOX. And I do have a copy of Obama’s actual birth certificate and Susan Rice didn’t tell all she knew about Benghazi, right? I mean, we NEED some good fake conspiracies every once in a while, don’t we, just to make things interesting?

We will keep on selling The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine to people — but for use in controlled environments with padded chairs and tables. It is a great team building game for those who are interested in impacting people and performance in their workplaces. Newest sales to The US Army and to a consultant in Egypt.

A customer sent me this testimonial on the play and debriefing of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building exercise:

Simply Superb! We use this program all over the country with our clients and it is ALWAYS rated as one of the best programs delivered. Works in all types of companies and drives organizations toward Collaboration and Teamwork! The debrief options allow you to fully customize the delivery to any audience. Well designed and easy to deliver. That, combined with all of the knowledge and support of Dr. Scott, and you have the best Team Building simulation out there… BAR NONE!

May the fun continue!

Yeah, you heard it here, for the FUN of It!

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

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Engagimentation = Engagement plus Implementation

Continued writing and reading and writing has been pretty interesting as I bounce different ideas off different people. A couple of conversational threads in LinkedIn, some emails to old friends, some unexpected reinforcement and the like has bumped my thinking once again. So I thank all for helping me work through what I think are some grounded ideas about actually impacting people and making improvements in the workplace that generate results.

I have completed the article,
I Quit! Never mind. Whatever…
Please leave me alone and let me work!

Download the article by clicking here:  I Quit Never mind Whatever

And I like how it flows. That is the anchor point for my new toolkit, since it is helping me to frame up issues and opportunities and thus guide my toolkit development and instructional materials. A friend emailed me asking for the final copy of the article and my response was that things are never final in how I work which is one reason why the toolkit is not done. Continuous continuous improvement is a double-edged sword in that one never quite seems to finish something. (I sent him the most recent final draft.)

I was chatting with a like-minded soul on LinkedIn about the issues we have both seen on the themes of empowerment, that the word acquired all kinds of bad associations about doing things to people, rather than acting on their needs. So, I shared some stats on this engagement work that I am doing and that gave me a new word:


No longer will we simply do “engagement surveys” and ask people for what is wrong since there is an overwhelming amount of data showing that nothing is accomplished but talking. (Employee engagement has actually declined from 24% to 13% in the past two years (Mercer, 2012) which is surprising since billions of dollars are being spent on the surveys!). Obviously, there is little visible impact from all this spending so this “engagement fad” may be doomed to go away.

The reality, though, is that this engagement stuff can really work — the issue is about implementation.  People have solid ideas about what can (and should) be done differently but it is the isolation of the leadership that often creates the problems. Call it courage, if you will, but most senior leaders refuse to let go of the rope and understand how things are really working at the back of their wagons. It looks like this:

And appears to the people in the workplace more like this:

The above may not be reality — it may be that the supervisor / Wagon Puller may feel that their hands are tied by the isolation of their managers and, thus, feel un-empowered and roadblocked to try to do things differently even when the managers and the survey both say improvement and involvement are needed.

Engagimentation is not a difficult concept. It is about generating and collecting the people’s ideas for what can be done differently and actually acting on those ideas in a way that generates visibility. Trust in this process can build up over time, but it is the residue of promises fulfilled.

I plan to share a lot more ideas about this but the article is a reasonable place to start. The crazy thing is that the solutions are not all that hard and simply require the active involvement and participation of the managers and supervisors to make change. The changes do NOT look like this:

Have fun out there and jump in if you have any comments, ideas or suggestions.

For the FUN of It!

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

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Africa – Issues and Opportunities for Productivity

I have been reading my friend Brian Paxton’s MBendi Newsletter for a couple of years, now. He is from Cape Town — a truly lovely city — and writes about the issues and opportunities that impact Africa as a continent. Bet you did not know this:

Most Africans now own a cell phone, increasingly a smartphone, and in South Africa, for instance, 70% of web traffic is estimated to be via cell-phones.

He generally amazes me with his writings and ideas and suggestions and seems to be one of the “Very Clear Minds” in my network of people. He is not a colleague and I really cannot remember how we first connected. But I completely respect his opinions on things and would suggest that you sign up for his materials (free). There is a ton of information, but it is his front section that I always read.

One of his columns is “The World After 2020,” which is fantastic “fortnightly” as he puts it. (I am really not sure what a fortnight is, but I like it when I get the newsletters!).

This recent one is about “government work” and one of the ideas he promoted was this Square Wheel / Round Wheel:

I’ve never understood why it takes a standard time, measured in weeks no matter where you live, to acquire a driver’s licence, passport, travel visa or identity card or to register a company. Clearly there are enough people on the job to keep up with the flow of applications coming in. And the business processes involved in checking for duplicate or fraudulent applications should be pretty straightforward. At the end of the process appropriate printer technology produces the final record of approval at the click of a button. Surely we can’t be far off submitting an application, preferably electronically, one day and getting the required document the next? Temporary extra resources could be used to clear the backlog.

I suggest you sign up if you are interested. One link to subscribe is this one:

and his website is at

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

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What I hope for: The Workplace

I was asked for a 500-word “wish” to be published by another organization and I thought to repost it in my blog.

My hope is for every workplace to be a better place to work.

Businesses are a key part of any community and community spirit as well as individual families are very directly influenced by the quality of their employers. If people are treated well and respected, that energy carries over into all aspects of how they live and their support of others.

What is distressing is to read about the low levels of engagement and morale in so many workplaces and the typical response from many senior executives and human resource professionals about how the workers don’t produce and their need for continuous management. Commonly heard are how much people resist change and training and that there are too many poor performers in the workplace.

For me, two things stand out. The first is that, “Nobody ever washes a rental car” and that we cannot expect people to take care of things if they do not feel any ownership involvement. Since so many feel that nobody listens or cares, why should they feel any sense of ownership? And the perception is the reality of that.

The other issue is that so many people are un-engaged and un-involvedwhen they could be involved and participating in the continuous improvement of their companies and their workplace.

I wish more companies would focus on Dis-Un-Engagement and do things to help the supervisors and managers do a better job of asking people for their ideas about how to make improvements. The wagons are rolling on wooden Square Wheels while the cargo is a lot of round rubber tires. But workplaces see themselves as too busy to stop pulling and pushing and to identify those things that are not working smoothly. If nothing changes, how will anything improve?

By involving and asking people for what kinds of things generate their feelings of un-engagement, we can allow them to generate some solutions and repairs. With the managers intent on fixing things, those efforts to remove those perceived roadblocks and problems will go a long long way toward improving workplace efficiency and effectiveness.

By demonstrating the care of listening to issues and ideas, we can make all sorts of impacts.

I guess that is the essence of my thinking and my wishes and hopes. Maybe everyone can get some of the above as a present for the year-end holidays: A bit more positive feelings about their role in their companies and a better sense of belonging and ownership. People are no longer just, “hired hands in the workplace.” Workers have brains and thoughts and ideas, too!

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

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Kernels of Wisdom — by Lucy Freedman

Sometimes the most profound lessons come in small packages. A quotation that gets only a ho-hum response at one point in time may pierce to the heart at the moment you need to hear it.

(Editor’s note: Lucy Freedman is an old pal of mine from so long ago that it is hard to remember (but she is much younger than me!). We connect every so often and I always respect what she has to say.  The content below is from her new email newsletter and I thought to republish it here. Hope you like it.)

Much of what we teach in SYNTAX (her training company) can seem obvious–once you know it. We deal in the currency of everyday life, how we communicate and behave.  Every moment has potential for an aha, which sometimes can make a difference for the rest of our lives.

Here are some thoughts that remind me to pay attention, to go deeper, or get back on track. I hope you enjoy them and perhaps take a moment to reflect on how you are taking these into account in the way you communicate.

The first one comes from a little book called One Hand Haiku by Avi Bob Markman:

“What I understand is not what you understand. Understand?”

It’s so simple and so much of the basis for our continuing efforts to find mutual understanding.

Another kernel of wisdom that has served me well came from Ramona DiDomenico of Lake Tahoe.  When I ask someone whether they want to do something, and they dance around it, I remember her saying,

“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.”

I can often acknowledge it and let them off the hook. This doesn’t apply in every single situation, and when it does, it really helps. Many people aren’t good at saying no so you can help them by voicing it. Also you are then free to move on and get what you need another way.

A longtime favorite at (Lucy’s company) SYNTAX  acknowledges our human limitations and reminds us to document what we were thinking:

“It seemed obvious at the time.”

I can be a lot more forgiving when I remember that whatever decision people may have made, it must have seemed obvious at the time.  Nothing is obvious the same way later on. So we write it down.  Or inquire into the thinking that made this the obvious choice.

I was having trouble deciding between the next two kernels of wisdom so I am including both. They support each other.

One is the totally obvious truth that we forget over and over again. I thank Daniel Kahneman for emphasizing this in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. He calls it

“What You See Is All There Is.” (WYSIATI)

We can benefit from reminding ourselves that if we don’t know, we don’t know that we don’t know. The most important behavioral choice that comes from this piece of wisdom is to listen with as open a mind as possible. Most of us listen by relating what we hear to what we already know. Seek what lies beyond!

Last kernel of wisdom for today, from SYNTAX lore, that opens doors with all kinds of people. Especially since what they see is all there is,

“Meet people where they are.”

It’s so easy to fall into expecting people to come to where we are. After all, it makes so much sense. Well, turn your attention to what makes sense for the other person, from their point of view. Meet them there. Practicing this will provide all the personal growth you will need for a while!

  • Do you already know and use these kernels of wisdom in how you communicate?
  • Any new insight here?
  • What other reminders help you succeed every day as a communicator?

Lucy Freedman


Lucy would love to find out what helps keep you conscious and on track. Let us know your thoughts. You can email her by clicking on this text or at



scott tiny casual

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.


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Decision-Making – Research shows Worker Bees get it Right

One of my favorite quotes and anchor points for my presentations is adapted from a quote from a John Le Carre book, something from which I generated two different cartoons. Now, I have solid research to back this up.

The quote:
A Desk is a Dangerous Place from Which to View The World.

The Cartoon:

Some interesting research on decision-making and teamwork comes from research on worker bees. You know, the ones that get all the work done. The research is done by a biologist named Thomas Seeley and it relates to 20 years of research. The subjects? Worker bees. Yes, real ones. The situation is wonderfully described in the March 2012 issue of Smithsonian and can be viewed at

But let me digress and come back to my initial quotation. My direct experience with Square Wheels cartoons led me to ask Roy Sabean, my artist, for an illustration that looked like this:

Making a decision by yourself might be fast, but it also might be wrong. Or, it might lack a bit of data or the perspective of others like those in other departments that it impacts of those in the chain of command that it might impact negatively.


Yes, there IS a chain of command…

So, this article about how bees make a decision is most fascinating. The situation is that there is a swarm of bees that need a new home — and the optimal hive requires about 10 gallons of space or it will not allow the storage of enough honey for survival plus it needs a small opening that can be defended. It takes from a couple of hours to a few days to make a decision.

Scouts go out and search around and then return. They dance. They dance in a circle, climbing on top of the swarm where the angle of the waggle and time time they spend dancing give direction and distance information to others, who also go out to check the location. So, one bee informs and engages others, who return and repeat.

Enthusiasm also conveys information by engaging more others to check things out — call it recruitment and swarm intelligence. So that scout goes back and forth, communicating each time. But the number of dance repetitions might decrease if the site is not all that good, which helps the swarm to differentiate good sites from mediocre ones. The test found that the swarm will select the optimal site 80% of the time (based on controlled conditions). Think any manager makes isolated decisions that good in your organization?

The research makes some analogies between bees and brain cells. It relates to leadership, since the Queen Bee in a swarm actually supports the swarm but makes no apparent decisions, especially as to selecting a hive that will work to sustain the group. And they all pretty much share the same goal with the same alignment and a high level of engaged enthusiasm, working together. They propose lots of ideas, get lots of involvement and make group decisions that incorporate a great deal of information on their Big Decisions.

Have fun out there! Bee 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

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Teamwork, Peer Support and the idea of Dis-Un-Engagement

People need support.

On the playing field, the players have each other pushing them in their efforts, being congratulated when they make a good play and cheering for them, often along with thousands in the stands, cheerleaders, students in their classes during the week, etc. Players also have coaches, videotape analysis of their efforts and practice.

(Maybe Alan Iverson did not have to practice every single day, because he was one of the very best basketball players of all time — and I still think that this is one of the greatest candid interviews in all of sports:  Alan Iverson Press Conference on “Practice.(It gets going around second 52, IMHO).)

And players on teams get LOTS of other kinds of support from those around them, along with continuous feedback and ratings, and often skilled coaching — all things designed and installed to support high performance.

Now, I am not one of those people that think sports metaphors are good for business — I actually think the opposite. I do not liken the sales force to a team of baseball players or use soccer/football as a metaphor for innovation or gymnastics for dedication (and practice?). Yeah, I will admit to liking rowing as a metaphor for teamwork, though, and even have a $20 series of cute cartoons for that.

But the workplace reality seems quite different. We have measurement and appraisal systems that focus more on the individual performance and not so much the overall results in many workplaces. There is some level of fear as to job security for many. And there are often a wide variety of factors that are de-motivating and dis-engaging. This occurs for workers as well as their managers, who often find themselves working in a somewhat non-supporting environment.

The reality, however, is that one can get the support of co-workers — real honest encouragement to succeed. And one can build a sense of team among the people, if they are focused on external competitive factors and share a common goal and have the tools that they need to improve (plus a lot of other things not discussed herein).

Individual performance improvement requires effective feedback and measurement systems, something often lacking or sometimes overdone in organizations (see this blog post for my thinking on performance feedback, along with an analysis tool you can use with your team to discover and implement ways to improve).

Individual and team performance improvement requires that one make the workplace more motivating. Our games, such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, focus on issues of collaboration versus competition, since we need some of both to generate and sustain high performance. Play of the game allows the group to discuss the issues and problems currently faced along with future-paced discussions about what things could look like if changes were implemented.

And so will discussions of Roadblocks and the sharing of individual / group ideas about what is un-motivating or de-motivating in the workplace. Discussions of those kinds of issues can be readily facilitated and tools are available such as our toolkit on Dis-Un-Engagement. By generating thoughts about what is in the way and doing a good analysis of solutions for each, one can engage the group on solving the problems and implementing good solutions — as a team in many cases.

These kinds of workplace discussions facilitate real involvement focused on the importance of continuous continuous improvement. One can never stop making changes — some incremental and some major but all significant to the people involved — and thus remove the things that are de-motivating and dis-engaging.

People are much better problem solvers than problem identifiers — they need help on the latter and also need to feel that their real opinions and ideas can be shared with the others. Some have off-base and unimportant ideas that the group will help them realize. Many are not using best practices and the little tweeks that allow top performers to perform — and those can be shared on a continual basis. We can build peer support for high performance.

  • If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.
  • If it is to be, it is up to me.
  • If not you, who? If not now, when?

I trust that some of these thoughts are useful to you. And remember that it is the workers around you who get things done.

Remember that the Manager is the Motivator,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, Ph. D., CPF – “The Square Wheels Guy”
Performance Management Company – 864-292-8700
3 Old Oak Drive    Taylors, SC 29687

– Tools for Training and Development <>
– Scott as Speaker <>
– Tools, games and presentation materials at
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

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Dr. Simmerman is a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF)

Motivation, Training and Icebreakers. Keeping It Real!

Opportunities to increase motivation abound in every organization. So many things one can do to improve intrinsic reward systems and improve performance feedback. Discussing training and development with a couple of people, the conversation moved toward making training fun, and it triggered my responding that training should be fun, but that training is NOT just fun. Companies are paying a lot of money for learning, to a degree, but more for results and impacts and behavior change.

Training should be fun, but not JUST fun. That is not Training!

So often, line managers see training as a waste of time, their time and the time of their people, at least insofar as how HR Support runs programs. The issue of Value of Time is often ignored by trainers; the cost of time seems to often be an irrelevant value to the training department.

Sure, learning is a good thing and Learning to Learn is a requirement for any kind of future success since everything keeps changing and learning demands are continuous. Heck, I have trouble keeping up with changes made to my cell phone and computer operating systems these days, along with all the gee-gaws in my new Hyundai Genesis. And “Voice Control?” Maybe later… (although it does seem like “Navigation Guidance Off” is the only way I can get the GPS to stop talking and stop tracking). Two years later, I still do not use VOICE control in the Genesis or Siri on my iPhone. But I digress…

Fun. I think of it more like involving and engaging people in the learning activity. I think the fun should be directly linked to the desired outcomes and that time spent in activities needs tight anchoring to organizational issues.

So, then I get to Icebreakers, as popularly defined and described in the training literature. I captured some names of sessions. You judge whether these sound as though they would meet the professional view of close linking to organizational issues and if they would fit to comfortably use with Most Senior Executives of a multi-national company:

  • Amoeba
  • Autograph Bingo
  • Banana Pass
  • Bigger and Better
  • Big Wind Blows
  • Blanket Name Game
  • Bowl Game
  • Capture the Flag
  • Celebrity Game
  • Commonalities and Uniquities
  • Couch Game
  • Dragon Tag
  • Ghost in the Graveyard
  • Giants, Wizards, Elves
  • Hodgy Podgy
  • Hot Seat
  • Human Knot
  • Human Sculptures Game
  • ID Guessing Game
  • Kemps
  • Killer Wink

and the list goes on and on. And then we have some like these:

Sticky Beak  –  With a small roll of masking tape sitting on the end of their noses, individuals attempt to ‘steal’ other people’s tape by gently pushing against the latter’s nose.

Jump In Jump Out – Holding hands in a circle, facing the centre, a group jumps in, out, left or right of the circle in synch with their leader’s instructions.

Elevator Air – People cross to the other side of the circle in which they are standing in the manner of various ‘mind-states.’

The Mintie Game – Starting with 10 treats each, people aim to earn more treats by causing as many people as possible to say the word “YES” in their ensuing conversations.

If you were the operations manager and one of the trainers sat down with you to talk about the training program agenda and started by saying that they would first spend 20 minutes doing Sticky Beak as a warm-up, wouldn’t you lose the momentum to do this program immediately? (“Let’s see: 20 minutes x 20 people is 400 minutes or 7 hours of productive work time that is spent doing what???” “Killer Wink is going to help me HOW?”)

I have written about Purposeful Meeting Openers in a previous post on the blog that shares some thoughts about using that time productively. But, for the most part, I just do not understand why these stupid things are so popular with professional trainers.  And I remember running for the door when, at a conference in Singapore, the organizers wanted 200+ people to stand around the outside of the room, hold hands, and sing some sappy song. (I was g-o-n-e and I came late the next day!)

Apologies if I offend anyone who has invented one of these listed icebreakers and they are probably fun for some. But I cannot imagine sitting with the CEO of a Multi-National Corporation and the leadership team and saying, “Okay, to start off the session and loosen everyone up, we are going to do The Sticky Beak Exercise so everyone take a piece of masking  tape and put it on the end of your nose…” I mean, really?

As Scott Adams said in The Dilbert Principles, “Change is good. You go first!”

Me, I am going to continue to use my Square Wheels One illustration as a tool for getting people to start working together and talking about the things they see in the illustration and projecting those ideas about how their workplace operates into the tabletop discussion. Why? Because Square Wheels work extremely well as a problem-solving-based icebreaker.

Keeping it real, I think, so let’s get it together

I write more about icebreakers and being purposeful with trainee time here:

Blog Icon for Purposeful Icebreaker link

For the FUN of It!

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

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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



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