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

Month: May 2013

Flying by the seat of your pants – NOT the way to Engaging Employees

In the process of writing a new newsletter on the criticality of supervisors in organizations, I was looking for some statistical anchors. And while doing that, I got invited to be on the board of the IAPPD, the International Association for People and Performance Development. So, I recommended a couple of other people for them to consider for a similar slot and that got me using Bing to search for those stats — who pops up but David Zinger, one of the two people I recommended. Yeah, a small world…

And that link took me to an article that I really liked from July of 2007, one that I repost in here with a link back to his blog.

An Employee Engagement Six Pack

Are you flying with a six pack of employee engagement?

In this case, I don’t mean half a dozen beers.

The essential instruments in a light aircraft are often referred to as the 6- pack:

  • airspeed indicator flight-instruments
  • attitude indicator
  • altimeter
  • turn coordinator  
  • heading indicator
  • vertical speed indicator

Do you monitor 6 strong “indications” of your employee engagement to get you successfully to your destination?

  1. Airspeed indicator – how fast can you move towards your goal?
  2. Attitude indicator – is everyone maintaining a strong and positive attitude and avoiding too much wobble?
  3. Altimeter – how high can you climb with fully engaged employees?
  4. Turn coordinator – are you responsive to change to turn back to employee engagement if you begin to drift off course? Can you feel exhilarated while making a steep turn?
  5. Heading indicator – do you stay vigilant about where you are headed?
  6. Vertical speed indicator – how quickly can you climb to new levels of employee engagement?

Grab a coffee, jump into the workplace cockpit, and prepare to take off with these indicators of employee engagement. Of course, you could also grab a six pack of beer or root beer and have a down-to-earth discussion about employee engagement with the team of people you work with.

Simple and clean. Having the right instruments and measuring the right kinds of things is important for managing people and performance. Knowing where you are and where you are going allows you to align the right resources and provide the right levels of support and training to accomplish your goals.
My thinking increasingly leans toward the criticality of the supervisor in generating workplace improvement and overall performance. I sense that we can do a much better job of this, and that we need to focus more attention on the initiatives to dis-un-engage and actively involve so many more people in our workplaces.
 Scott small picDr. 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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Avoiding Deep Vein Thrombosis and Death by Powerpoint

Exciting and Engaging and Large Corporate Event are phrases that are seldom linked together. Put 200 people in a room and all thoughts of interactivity are gone, even though there are some simple and effective ways to involve and engage people that would be a big benefit for most organizations.

Time is Money. True. For a half-day meeting, you have the cost of salaries, transportation and lodging, meeting venue, meals and all that stuff. So that justifies punishing them with a lecture that they will not remember? And, is any of that information presented not available in some other format like a webcast or a podcast or a downloadable presentation of some kind that did not involve all of the above costs?

And sitting. Lots of research says that almost every one of us does it way too much. I sit at my computer a good bit, but I also make it a point to hit the kitchen for coffee, move about when on the phone, hit some pool balls, work on my other  computer on a stand-up desk, and similar. Heck, when I finish drafting this, I have a lawn to mow…

Big Company Cultures are hard to change, and many are very much into the stand-up lecture by a Most Senior Manager plus some Big Name Presenter, with a name like Rick Pittino, there to tell everyone how to manage people, not to really step back and see that he “manages” a group of elite athletes of 20 years of age who are all trying to make it to the Pro ranks in basketball. Better yet, get some comedian or comedienne so at least people are laughing and writing down some of the jokes.

My view is that these events are unique, and thus represent really unusual opportunities to do things that cannot be done through email or conferences. So, I will try to add some key thoughts about making these large events more effective. Frankly, there seem to be a lot of strange and sometimes seemingly irrelevant things done in the name of team building and organizational development. 

Death by Powerpoint is such a common concept that it must have a high degree of commonality and truth. Bing showed 177,000 results for “death by powerpoint” and google showed 266,000. One thread in one LinkedIn group had over 250 individual comments a while back around the issue and with examples of awful presentations — at least they were memorable for something, right?

Hang around the ballroom area of any large hotel and when the doors open up, you will see lots of people sitting, just sitting there inactive. It reinforces this notion of Death By Powerpoint, or at least death by non-involvement. One wonders why there are not warnings about deep vein thrombosis for some of these presentations!

Wikipedia showed one of the causes as, “inactivity and immobilization, as with sitting, travel, bed rest, and hospitalization.” I thought to go onto the site and add, “Large Business and Corporate Meetings” and “Powerpoint Presentations” to that list…

People at came across my blog while researching Team Building and sent me a link to one of their articles. The title was, “How the Top Companies Take On Team Building” and I liked the way it started, since I pretty much agree with this:

Few corporate-culture business phrases are as potentially groan-inducing as “team building.” Visions of cheesy performances and “inspiring” activities like coal walking and trust falls immediately spring to mind.

If you have a group of people, why not put them to work? Why not get them involved and engaged and giving YOU ideas on issues and answers, on problems and potential solutions? There are all sorts of questions that are  best asked through team-based conversations and that would benefit from open communications and group problem-solving. You can make people feel like their ideas are valued and that they can make impacts on how things are done.

Let’s take Fast Networks as a simple interactive approach. Set up the session with round tables of 6 people. This is so much better than auditorium style meetings or classroom sets that simply remind people of being in school, which for many is not a highly positive memory!

Ask  each table to come up with a question or theme or something related to why the group has assembled. This could be along the lines:

  • Best idea for innovating systems and processes
  • Best idea for a new product or service
  • Ideas for improving teamwork within the organization
  • Best ideas for improving collaboration
  • Ideas for increasing workforce motivation or decreasing turnover
  • Ideas for implementing a new strategy company-wide
  • or pretty much any general theme of some impact. 

You can tightly anchor this to some of your real business issues, where the ideas and involvement of all of the participants are of interest and benefit and where some level of engagement might make things better.Let each table come up with ONE idea to work on, to present to the whole group.

Then, announce the process of Fast Networks, where everyone will get out of their seat and move around the room for three minutes, asking at least three other people to share their thoughts on that tabletop’s main idea. Since each table will have something different, in all likelihood, the sharing of ideas among the people will occur and people would get some different ideas to bring back to their tabletop.

The tabletop then has 5 minutes to discuss all the ideas and come up with ONE or two recommendations to share with the group and to transfer onto some document for collection and review.

The time limits are not “tight” in that three minutes might become five if the energy is high. The tabletops should have enough time to do a good job of summarizing and prioritizing but they will generally take all the time you allow them, with most of the work being done in the last minute or so…

Then, allow them to select a presenter to share their ideas with the group.

This kind of activity gets ideas as well as involvement from the group and can be a way to get at information that few other processes will allow. The ideas tend to be non-political and innovative, also.

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I have used this Fast Networks process many times and it works great in any size group – the time limits force energy and focused thinking. It is simple and requires no accessories other than marking pens and paper to enable some brainstorming and idea collection, and we generally post the work on the walls as evidence of the group thinking. It can be fabulous!

Me, I will continue to suggest organizations use effective large group team building simulations such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Innovate & Implement — these are fun, controllable, inexpensive and directly link directly to workplace collaboration and performance improvement. We know that it has a lot of long-term impacts on participants and gets everyone involved and engaged. All of our programs are also designed for very large groups of 200 or even more.

Team building exercise, Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

We also suggest that our Square Wheels illustrations can be effective tools for generating alignment as well as new ideas for organizational change and improvement. They are an unusual and unusually effective way of generating divergent thinking and ideas for innovation or simple process improvement.
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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Thoughts on Team Building – Cross-Cultural Impacts of Lost Dutchman

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine really works well cross-culturally and I was reminded of this when my associates in India sent me their new marketing flyer. In the past year, they have developed a great base of multinational clients and have delivered both leadership development workshops as well large group events.

I was really impressed when they sent me their new flyer for the game.

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From the beginning, I have always seen Lost Dutchman as a simple tool for organizational development, one that links to some of the real issues of interdepartmental collaboration, leadership and alignment, and how to motivate people to work together for improved results.

It is always great when other people also “get it.”

I just finished a significant update to all of the handout materials and our debriefing slides. If you own an older or smaller version than Lost Dutchman Professional Edition, you would find these materials of interest, since they are not included in the materials furnished with the game. There are a lot of new files added to the handouts, also.

If you are just simply interested in ideas for facilitating teamwork, you would probably also find these materials helpful, since they represent different templates and frameworks for generating engagement and involvement in general, and they focus on the ideas that we use within all of our team building games for generating perspective on issues and opportunities for improvement.

You can download these materials at this location on the Performance Management Company website.

Take a look and see if these materials can be useful for you.

Have FUN out there!

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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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” occasionally 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 an 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 and can be developed. 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. Balance is a critical factor in sustaining flow.
  • Engagement within the activity itself is really 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.

You can reach Scott at

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And please note that PMC has developed a new, online version of the Dutchman exercise (Jan, 2022) that can be used with remote work teams that links to optimizing performance, collaboration and engagement, and fits into leadership development and organizational development programs.

The new, virtual version of the team building game for remote teambuilding

Teamwork, Communications and Optimization of Performance

My friend Lou Carloni has been sharing ideas about people and performance for many years and a post I received from him this morning was one that got my full attention. The focus of it was on the issues of team communications, and, of course, I will add my normal spin around experiential learning and organizational performance.

Lou’s firm was hired to study communication needs in the Baltimore-Washington Region and they interviewed, surveyed, and held focus groups with over 1000 business professionals. The question asked was,  “If your organization had only enough money, resources, and time to perform training in one area of communications which area would it be:  Reading, Writing, Speaking, or Listening?”

  • Reading and Writing combined received 5% of the vote;  
  • Speaking received 40%;  
  • Listening received 55%.  

I agree with Lou on suggested solutions. One of them was to Get There In Person.

It is not just words, it is how those all come together to drive involvement and engagement, how the issues are framed and how possible solutions are discussed. It is really hard for most leaders to truly understand all the current issues faced by performers working to meet and exceed expectations of management and customers. It is just too easy to keep doing things the same way they were done before, what I always refer to with this illustration:

SWs One green color thin

The real impacts come from managers who get in front of people, asking about issues and opportunities. Lou suggests that words alone account for only 8-10% of the message in interpersonal communication; the spoken sounds account for 30-40% of the message; and the non-verbal elements account for 50-60% of the real message you are trying to send. While you might agree or disagree with the numbers, the presence of the manager up front, listening and supporting is the key.

We accomplish this with our Square Wheels approach and offer a variety of tools and toolkits to assist in the process of facilitation. I have blogged often about this in here and you can find inexpensive Square Wheels Tools on our website. We also support a variety of different team building exercises like Collaboration Journey and Innovate & Implement that are designed to involve and engage people in problem solving. All these products can be delivered by managers with their work teams.

Lou also talked about Gaining Power With The Person. To this I would also add, The Team, since people do work collaboratively in most workplaces. This connects to developing rapport and trust. One way to accomplish this with individuals, teams and groups is through our team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. In this design, the Expedition Leader exists as a person interested in optimizing ROI and results.  The expressed goal of the game is to Mine as Much Gold as WE Can!

The reality is that the tabletops do not plan well, do not collaborate and communicate with other teams, nor do they bother to ask the Expedition Leader for advice or assistance. The game leader, just like the workplace leader, exists to support individuals and teams, but the choices people make are more often to go it alone and not ask for help. In the game, and in the workplace, this measurably sub-optimizes results.

We sell a variety of different Dutchman games, at different price points, for repeated organizational use. You can find out more information about the Lost Dutchman game by going to our website.

Performance feedback is a critical component of good performers and good results, but my work with organizations has continually shown that a wide variety of improvements can be made to impact performance results. You can find a free Feedback Analysis Tool through this blog post.

Lou also talked about Skills versus Attitudes, and I am not sure that these two things are operating against each other or part of a series of competencies that are all important. I am working up an article on Flow for the blog and for the articles section of my home page. Skill is important and there is a continuum of them and skills interact with the perceived challenges people face. Flow is when these mesh together…

I will not reflect herein as to how I see differences between Lou’s thinking and mine on this other than to say that I prefer the way Bob Mager deals with the question. Lou’s website is:

Hope you found this of interest and use,

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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Psychopaths tend not to “procrastinate or take things personally”

The title comment was a one-liner in a SmartPlanet post by Charlie Osborne entitled:

The key to business success: Becoming a psychopath?

It is an interesting thought. You can read her whole article here.

The basic idea covers some research by Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton and his work on success and behavior. He argues that adopting some psychopathic tendencies could be beneficial to your success in life. But remember, this leadership stuff is all about balance!

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Ruthlessnessfearlessnessself-confidencefocus,mental strengthcharm and charisma are all traits of a psychopath according to Dutton and the reality is that these factors are also all competencies for a successful business career.

The tipping point where you become a problem is when, “all these traits are turned up too high, and that’s when you start getting individuals who are dysfunctional.” It then can become an issue of control:


Adopting certain psychopathic characteristics can help many managers improve their performance. Psychopathics, for example, tend not to, “procrastinate or take things personally,” and don’t wallow in regret or sorrow if something doesn’t go according to plan. A lack of empathy can also be useful in certain jobs such as surgery and Human Resources!. (Just kidding about that last comment, I think!)

Dutton believes that many people with these characteristics in balance are suitable for high-profile careers, including CEOs, medical professionals and lawyers — they are necessary for demonstrating confidence and making hard decisions are key to the role. But not everyone goes along with that concept and these people tend not to be good team players as a general rule.

The full article that Charlie references can be found here:

And the picture the BBC uses is this one:

BBC 67648885_135159603

with the comment: “If this is your manager’s normal behaviour, you may want to consider your career options”

My view is more like Dutton’s in that balanced sociopathic /psychopathic is not that unusual in society, and that some of the more manipulative and power-hungry people DO demonstrate some of these same behaviors though slightly less “enthusiastically.” People normally expressing these kinds of behaviors just have a different way of looking at things and reacting to events and others. They can be “highly functional” in psychological terms — but just not “normal.”

“Successful” politicians will display these sociopathic traits, as these “elected representatives of the people tend to be remorseless at implementing policies in the face of reasonable judgement and doing things like preventing universal healthcare or cutting food stamps or Medicaid benefits to the poorest Americans. Cutting social security, given that more than half of the elderly get most of their income from that program? Not allowing an increase or even eliminating the minimum wage? You be the judge if the discussions of Benghazi (and Clinton) are more important than focusing on improving jobs and the economy.

If you have ever read a text in abnormal behavior, understand that most of us see ourselves as mostly everything crazy. Guess that is only normal. It is only when these kinds of behaviors move to the extreme that there tend to be problems.

Are you hearing voices yet? (grin)

My suggestion is that teambuilding and group processes are very useful in building more normative behaviors and commitments to overall workgroup performance. We offer some of the best team building exercises in the world focused on shared visions, shared goals and collaboration among individuals and workgroups. Check out The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, for example, at our website.

I guarantee you will find it to be a powerful and effective tool for your organizational improvement efforts,

For the FUN of It!

Scott small pic

Scott Simmerman, Ph.D. — a psychologist by degree — 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 are The Square Wheels Toolkits and why do they work so well?

Since 1993, we have been working with interactive “cartoons” and sharing the related tools as worksheets in seminars and powerpoint-based toolkits downloadable from our websites. My conference presentations most often include a free set of these materials that the participants can use back on the job. My focus has been on the themes of continuous continuous improvement and the active involvement and engagement of people in workplace performance.

How things roll in most organizations and most workplaces

How things roll in most organizations and most workplaces

What makes our toolkits unique:

If you purchase one of our toolkits, you get a complete training package, with ideas and instructions for facilitating discussions and generate the necessary involvement to help implement change. I firmly believe that,

Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car

and that if people are not involved, they cannot be expected to have any commitment for success. Often and commonly, people will resist things done to them when it comes to change and improvement. So, our unique illustrations get people involved and engaged in discussing issues and opportunities.

With a one-time cost, you get slides around the package theme along with handouts that help capture attention and ideas. Most things are designed for small group facilitation, to generate teamwork and shared ideas. Everything is based on the tools and approach that I have personally used to address some issue. And each toolkit has plenty of ideas and instructional support — plus you can connect directly with me, for free!

I sell facilitation; you generate engagement.

And all this for a one-time cost = Cheap! You get the tools and the materials gain exposure  to future managers and prospects. After 20 years, the nature of the referrals we get are surprising and rewarding; it’s nice to create materials that can be remembered for improving effectiveness.

Why should you take a chance on using the illustrations?

Because they work. You can easily develop an interactive training program focused on team-based problem identification and problem solving. They generate involvement and teamwork. They get people thinking about issues and opportunities.

Because they are easy to use. There is really not much downside to showing the illustration and asking for ideas. They do not generate any defensiveness (they actually spark some humor) and do get everyone contributing when done as small-group discussions. They are easily used by new supervisors and grizzled senior managers. They work tops-down and bottoms-up as good communications tools.

Because they are complete. Most people get the tools, use the tools and then sometimes contact me, not with questions about using them but to talk about how well they worked. These are complete toolkits, with all sorts of facilitation ideas and potential uses explained.

Because they are bombproof. Their nature is engaging and they are shown as a general framework of how things really work in most organizations. They start as silent contemplation followed by group discussions followed by room insights and ideas. They frame issues as Square Wheels and possibilities as Round ones. There is never any defensiveness, since they are telling you their ideas.

Because they are flexible. There is no underlying specific or rigid model; it is just a cartoon or a series of cartoons. You use these to ASK people for their thoughts and ideas. They anchor to your organization’s key issues and opportunities.

And because of their general nature, people will project their ideas onto the illustrations. They will see what they see and think about the organizational realities. They give you their ideas and you can generate their commitment and involvement. They can help you link lots of issues to commitments to improvements.

Square Wheels are Really Good Stuff.
Easy to use. Highly effective.

I’ve used them with thousands of people in hundreds of venues on dozens of different organizational issues, in 38 countries so far. But that is simply for testing. You can do this yourself.

Lastly, we completely guarantee your satisfaction. 

You are buying simple to  use materials from me, personally, and I take pride in their effectiveness. Call me if you would like to chat – 864-292-8700 or chat with me on Skype – SquareWheelsGuy

And if you need a new and different approach or toolkit, let’s develop one,

For the FUN of It!

Elegant Solutions

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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Kill The Paperwork – Improve Effectiveness

Who out there among us does not have too much “paperwork” or “paperwork responsibilities?” How can you improve morale and motivation? How can you improve efficiencies and engagement? How do you keep things in balance?

Balance Easy Peasy poem

There are some pretty good ideas out there about how to make lemonade out of lemons, how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness. It is not about inventing new solutions but about understanding the issues and the opportunities.

Here are a couple of ideas from my experiences on organizational improvement that you might adapt to your own purposes.

1 – Accountability

Working in a big organization with a great president, he and I were focused on organizational results and people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and an awful culture under the former president. It was clear that “staff” had the power and we were not focused on many of the right things — one indicator was that our store manager turnover was more than 250%! We had inventory problems, service quality issues, bad morale, high “inventory loss” problems, etc.

In talking with store managers, it was clear that they were overburdened with things. WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” to handle rather than focusing on actual store operations, so we looked for ways to impact that. As Senior VP Operations, I pretty much immediately tried to clone the 13 young District Managers into my kind of people, changing their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou asked his admin, Becky, to start a clandestine investigation herself — she was charged with collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two 3-ring binders that quickly filled up. We basically got a grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to the stores and the demands that were being made of store managers for reports, etc.

The “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was most interesting. This was the first time that anyone saw how much paper we shipped to stores — it was inches a week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Other stuff was weekly order sheets for inventory. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under a couple-of-days deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone could type something up and send it to ALL stores.

The product group might send out an inch of paper a day — since some of the people were sharing news of the industry and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long. Nobody at corporate had a clue as to how much stuff was being sent out…

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written: Specific reasons for sending. Stores not needing information were not to get lazily copied. And, random reviews of all memos by Lou and me and Barbara (VP Stores). If the memo needed more than one page, it required special approval to send from Lou (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read” and managers could now find time to actually look at what was happening, manage store inventories, train new hires on best practices, and actually focus on customers! Manager morale went up immediately!

Note: This example occurred BEFORE today’s email system was established and, in today’s world, the onslaught of being overly burdened with too much email happens all of the time. Therefore, whether it was paperwork needing attended then or email needing to be read and responded to today, it can all be better managed and the volume turned down.

Suggestion: Have some simple and direct conversations with your operations people about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities..

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked these Department Heads what kinds of things prevented them from doing their jobs most effectively. A bunch of things were discussed, with some Best Practice solutions offered by their associates. Many of them were unintentional inter-departmental kinds of issues, with non-congruent measurement systems interfering with collaboration, for example.

The most interesting were the external influences. A while back, their organization had been acquired in a merger and there were now “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete this or that data analysis within three days, for example, something that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager sitting there listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were numerous. So, he made a pretty surprising Policy Decision. From that point on, any request from Corporate that was not an obvious priority or that was not aligned with the plant’s goal of Producing Product was secondary to plant operations and could be ignored or rejected.

If that corporate person justified the importance of the request and gave a reasonable deadline that did not interfere, fine well and good. But any “stupid request” should be forwarded to the Plant Manager and probably tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The Plant Manager said that he would handle the politics and that Corporate would need to develop relationships with the Department Heads to build some teamwork.

A year later, I checked back and this actually worked extremely well. If some analyst really needed data and it had an impact on the company, they could get what they needed. If they were just “making some report,” they needed to do more than send some demand letter. The Plant Manager, after all, was responsible for generating operating profitability and  not “reports for some clerk,” as he put it!

Suggestion: Look closely at what Staff requests or requires from Operations and be sure that there is an alignment to the Mission and Goals for all of that. Staff needs to support Operations and not vice versa.

Square Wheels Toolkits are a simple and effective way to generate discussions on what things are not working smoothly and what ideas exist that could make improvements in the journey forward. Check out our performance improvement support products on the website and sign up to receive the blog posts at the right.

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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 – Going Viral on People and Performance

Jonah Berger’s recent book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, is about why things go viral in today’s social media world. He is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business and in 2009, his team conducted a study of the most-emailed articles in the New York Times over a 6-month period. Berger compiled those findings, along with other information research on building brand popularity, to generate 6 key principles for going viral.

So, the challenge is to figure how to roll out the Square Wheels. (Do I need to put Obama pulling with The Clintons pushing or what? Do I need to do some little graphic images that everyone can share around? Do we do a Square Wheels video game like Angry Birds, where workers can shoot down Square Wheels and bad bosses? Do I need a One-Minute-Manager book on motivation? How can we move this forward?)

Berger’s 6 principles are:

  • social currency (peer popularity of the idea);
  • triggers (daily reminders of the idea or product);
  • emotional resonance (how much the idea or product inspires a deep emotional reaction);
  • observability (high visibility of a product essentially sells itself);
  • usefulness (we want to share useful information); and
  • storytelling (a narrative surrounding the idea or product provides stickiness.) 

Sounds like we have a pretty solid anchor point with something like this:

Perception of how things work SWs One

And the theme certainly sets the stage for usefulness and observability. After all,

  • The Square Wheels really ARE Everywhere! and 
  • The Round Wheels are already IN the wagon!

We also have a good storyline around the perception that the above is like most workplaces, as shown by the lack of engagement by a majority of workers, along with their feelings that no one is listening to their ideas. Involvement is a key motivator, for sure!

RWs Sig File icon

or maybe a Haiku of some kind:

Discover the Road haiku

This IS a storyline around people and motivation, around involvement and engagement, and around continuous improvement of the workplace. It is about involvement and engagement and about intrinsic motivation and performance feedback. But it raises a question of reality:

Intrinsic Improvement Haiku

The cartoons are sold in simple-to-use toolkits at our website, complete with ideas for facilitation, handouts, powerpoints and all that stuff. You can also buy coffee cups and refrigerator magnets with the the message about possibilities for improvement.

After all, managers should see lots of performance coaching opportunities as they work to develop their people. They should be looking at potential as well as dealing with issues and opportunities for improvement, something that looks like this:

Mentoring Color Icon

We all can support, coach, mentor and try to support the caterpillars as they struggle to become the butterflies of the future.

Like this. Share this. Help me make these Square Wheels more visible so that we can try to put more Round Wheels into play around the world,

For the FUN of It!

Elegant Solutions

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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Simplicity – Thoughts of Da Vinci, Einstein, Rockwell and Simmerman

In a blog post “Simple Isn’t Simple” by Dan Rockwell, he said:

Any fool can create complex. Complexity leads to confusion. Confusion leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty produces cowardice. Cowards never take meaningful action. Simplicity: Longfellow said, “… in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” John Maxwell said, “The leaders job is reducing rather than adding to complexity.” (Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2013) Lousy leaders confuse – exceptional leaders clarify.

Dan’s posts often inspire lots of reader comments, mine included. So, it all got me thinking about organizational behavior, teamwork and intrinsic motivation. (Most things get me thinking of those things, actually!)

So, my posted response aligned pretty well:

My approach is to view pretty much everything through a simple lens: my Square Wheels One wagon.

Guy pulls with rope.
People push from back.
Wagon “rolls” on wooden Square Wheels.
Cargo of wagon: round rubber tires.

Most everywhere one looks, things thump and bump along. Most customer service transactions. Most company call directories. Most systems and processes.

Perception of how things work SWs One

Pretty much everywhere, there exists an Exceptional Performer, someone who simply does things better. They use Round Wheels in this Square Wheel World.

So, identify and clarify. Discuss. Share. Support. Implement more broadly if that make sense.

CONTINUOUS continuous improvement of best practices that already exist, which applies to personal leadership practices (modeling) and organizational performance improvement (team building, engagement, intrinsic motivation, etc.).

Issue: You will / should never be truly satisfied with anything. Get over it.

Have FUN out there!


The research I started on quotes led me to Leonardo da Vinci, who had a couple of good ones about people and performance:

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.

But the one that was attributed to da Vinci in Dan’s blog is one that is disputed: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. (There is apparently no source for that…)

And all that got me looking for one Albert Einstein quote I remembered and turned up a whole lot of different ideas that he had on the organization of all things. So, I thought to repeat some of them herein.

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience. (from “On the Method of Theoretical Physics” The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933).

This is the quote attributed to Einstein that may have arisen as a paraphrase of the above, commonly given as Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. or “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  The latter one is apparently not Albert’s; it is normally taken to be a warning against too much simplicity which is useful. DubbedEinstein’s razor, it is used when an appeal to Occam’s razor results in an over-simplified explanation that leads to a false conclusion.

I believe in intuition and inspiration. … At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. 

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. (from Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931))

Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open, and that in his youth, and so try to test his ideas on reality.
(ibid Cosmic Religion)

If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, play is y and z is keeping your mouth shut. (Said to Samuel J Woolf, Berlin, Summer 1929.)

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. (Said in a letter to his son Eduard , 5 February 1930.)

Yep. Have FUN out there and certainly keep things rolling!

SWs bicycle

Better yet, involve and engage a whole group to get rolling along in some other direction,

Bicycle Racers

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

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Favorite Workshop Quotes from Dr. Scott Simmerman – Part One

Over the past 30 years, I have presented a lot of workshops and seminars and have a standard set of quotes that I use all the time. I even embed many of them into the toolkits that I sell that other people can use.

So, the thought struck me to put some of them out for more general availability, since so many supervisors and managers are looking for ideas and tools to improve their communications. Sometimes, having a one-liner can fit perfectly into a workplace discussion around issues and opportunities.

My most favorite quote has been used many times in my blog posts — I used it yesterday, actually. This one is from Joseph Heller, author of the book, Catch 22. In the first couple of pages of his sequel, Closing Time, Heller writes:

“Nothing made sense, and neither did everything else.”

So, I thought to post up a few of them in the start of a series of posts. And I will leave them as unformatted, so that you can simply copy and paste. Let me also mention that my most favorite closing story, The Moose Joke, is available to download from my website — there is a pictorial flipbook on this page but you can actually download the powerpoints with speaking notes by signing up.

Here are a few:

Between the idea and the reality,
Between the motion and the act,
Falls the Shadow.
   TS Eliot    (Question: What are some Best Ideas for managing The Shadow?)

 The First Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.

 A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that require the use of his superior skill. (Old Aviation Proverb)

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
         Mark Twain

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.
         Doug Floyd

Ships in a harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.
         John Shedd

If a man knows what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.

Any one can hold the helm when the sea is calm.  (
Publilius Syrus)

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. 
- Max DePree

When what you are doing isn’t working, you tend to do more of the same and with greater intensity.
– Dr. Bill Maynard & Tom Champoux Heart, Soul and Spirit

Luis Polonia averaged .293 in 13 years of professional baseball. On his second trade from the NY Yankees, he said:  “The Yankees are only interested in one thing. And I don’t know what that is.”

To get rid of the corporate mummies, you have to get rid of corporate pyramids first.         (Advertisement for Origin in Wired Magazine 3.12)

Irish Poem:
May those who love us, love us

And those that don’t love us, may god turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles,
So we will know them by their limp.

Don’t pay any attention to the critics – don’t even ignore them.
         Samuel Goldwyn

 Nothing is ever as dangerous as having “The Answer.”
       (That’s “the” as in “duh.”)

Descartes:   To do is to be.
Voltaire:   To be is to do.
Sinatra:   Do be do be do.

If caterpillars were meant to fly, god would have given them wings.

If you like these, let me know and I can post up some more of them,

For the FUN of It!

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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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Thoughts on communication – Nothing Made Sense…

A favorite quote is from Joseph Heller, author of the book, Catch 22. In the first couple of pages of his sequel, Closing Time, Heller writes:

“Nothing made sense, and neither did everything else.

For me, that explains a lot about how things work in so many situations. It just does not make any sense sometimes. Some of the other great Heller quotes, from Catch 22 include: 

  • “He was never without misery, and never without hope.”
  • “He was a self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody.”   
  • “There is no disappointment so numbing…as someone no better than you achieving more.”
  • “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”
  • “He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”   
Anyway, I was messing around this morning and came across another one of those “funny videos about communications.” This one with Bill Cosby talking with a woman living near Philadelphia that was from North, South Carolina. She describes the location of North as 90 miles Southeast of Due West. North is south of The Capital in Columbia. (Yes, that is actually true.) Again,

“Nothing made sense, and neither did everything else.

North South Carolina woman CosbyYou really need to check out this 6-minute conversation to see how it parallels a lot of the issues that people have in communicating with others:

This also got me looking at some of my other favorite funny videos around communications and of course you will remember Abbott and Costello — celebrating their 75th anniversary of “Who’s on First.” You can see a couple of versions at:

Lastly, there is a really funny parody of George and Condi discussing world affairs — you can see that at
Communications are always interesting. And that is one of the reasons I find Square Wheels to be such a good communications tool, since it allows people to explain their issues and opportunities pretty clearly.
Intrinsic feel really good downhill PG

FUN out there fixing things!
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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:

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