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

Month: June 2013

Tons of Good Writings, so why is improvement so hard? Part Two

This is the second of two articles that hammer on the issues around supervision and how they affect engagement and performance. Spending billions for decades, why can’t we actually make improvements in organizations?

It must be about organizational cultures and about our models of what good leadership must look like, or at least how most people view the role of a Manager.  It must be about how organizational measurements and competition between departments drive competitive behavior so that we do not find much collaboration. It must be competition driving away engagement, and extrinsic reward systems not being meaningful to everyone.

Something must be wrong and it makes sense that we need to do something differently. My thinking says it is the interface between worker and supervisor that needs to be fixed and that so many things that interfere with that interface need to be changed. The issue is one of communications.

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I do not want to put an anchor point here to “leadership” because that means so many different things to so many people. And I do not think that the issue is “Supervisory Skills Training” since that says that people must be trained before they can exhibit behavior to improve that connection.

Over the past year, Gallup interviewed nearly 150,000 Americans in all states and industries and discovered that a stunning number are miserable in their jobs. More specifically, only 30% of the nation’s working population today admits to being fully engaged at work and 52% admit to being disengaged in their jobs with another 18% being actively disengaged.

Why are 7 in 10 workers discouraged, and more importantly,
why does no one seem to actually do much to improve this reality?

To a degree, I blame company cultures. They are not working yet they are totally resistant to change. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, so doing things differently is very often punished. And if we keep doing things the same way, why should we expect anything to change? But let’s do another million-dollar survey to be sure of our thinking…

Numerous studies have shown that engaged workers display greater initiative, approach work more passionately and creatively–essentially do all they can for their organizations. Gallup’s report specifically states that engagement drives greater productivity, lower turnover, and a better quality of work. Organizations in the top 10% of engagement outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share and have 90% better growth trends than their competition.

Gallup, a survey organization, suggests that you measure engagement everywhere. My thought is why? What good are measurements when you won’t do anything to change in a meaningful way? Research shows that we’ve been doing a LOT of research and not making any impact, so why do more research? People are un-engaged so why not do something to engage them – that is most assuredly NOT another survey!

Gallup assumes that people do not know that people are not engaged. I suggest this: Walk into a workplace and stand there. You can tell the level of engagement just by looking and listening.

Companies have been doing surveys on engagement for 20 years and results will show that things are getting worse, if anything. Things are not getting better even though many organizations report they are “working on engaging people”: Employee engagement has declined from 24% to 13% in the past two years (Mercer’s 2012 Attraction and Retention Survey). If your spouse was “working on something” for 20 years, would you not also be frustrated and non-trusting?

Why not spend the money in different ways and get the managers away from looking at survey data to actually doing something differently. Improving engagement is just that – getting people to focus on improving things in their workplace and feeling more of a sense of ownership involvement.

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There are a lot of bosses who foster un-engagement. The classic quote is Samuel Goldwyn, the G in MGM, who said,

“When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”

He also said, “If you don’t disagree with me, how will I know I’m right?”

Yeah, he would have be an engaging boss, for sure. NOT. Then again, boss spelled backwards is self-explanatory, right?

A Parade magazine survey in 2012 found that 35% of U.S. workers said they’d willingly forgo a substantial pay raise in exchange for seeing their direct supervisor fired. A Florida State University survey in 1997 found 40% think they work for bad bosses. The irony is that bad bosses are often insecure, which probably makes their bad behavior even more prevalent…

Okay, enough on the negative — what can we do differently?

Gallup sees solutions in more measurement and more employee development spending. My take is that while improving skills is a good thing, it is future-focused and not immediate. More immediate things will result in more immediate improvement, and tons of surveys focus on listening, team building, making workplace process improvements and even dealing with poor performers more effectively (coaching is often a good and effective solution).

I am reminded of this old quote:

We judge ourselves by our intentions;
We judge others by their behavior.

What we need to do is build teams and align people toward roadblock removal and process improvement. We can provide more effective performance feedback, build more workplace collaboration and add coaching and mentoring on a one-on-one and a team-based perspective.

It’s hard to care for customers
if you don’t feel the boss cares for you.

Long-term, we can look to improve hiring practices, provide more skills training and support for workers, increase compensation and similar kinds of things. In the short term, we can focus on doing things differently and doing the things that will dis-un-engage people and performance.

Mentoring words green

Good articles are plentiful out there and there are a lot of good stats, but I disagree with many of the conclusions. Many articles talk about better hiring as the solution — yeah, great idea, but it will do nothing NOW and that new “great hire” will tend to be pressed to regress to the average within 6 months (Sirota Research). Peer pressure toward “normative behavior” is really powerful and there are tons of studies that show that.

Clear expectations is another oft-seen solution. And that should probably be part of a solution but good performance feedback systems are not so common. (see my article on improving feedback here)

Give people the right tools to perform as a solution? Sure. But if you put a gun to their head, could they do a better job right now? Sure! (Bob Mager’s work on performance is useful – another blog post on managing performance is here).

Being generous with praise and recognition. Also a good idea. But 80% of minimum wage people work for large (profitable) multinationals. Praise and recognition are good, once people feel that they have some minimal sustainable level of overall compensation. It’s little things like HEALTH CARE that make a difference. When more than half of bankruptcies are for medical problems and happen to people who HAVE healthcare insurance (around 75% of them HAD coverage), we have a really tough situation for people to feel comfortable about…

Look at things this way:

Could ONE supervisor make a difference for ONE employee? Would that make a difference?

Could that one supervisor make a difference to another employee on a different day? Would those differences begin to add up?

Could ONE manager make a difference for ONE supervisor? Would that make a difference?

Could that manager make a difference for another supervisor on a different day? Would those differences begin to add up?

The reality, in my view, is that people are un-engaged and working in un-engaging workplaces managed by un-engaged supervisors working for un-engaged managers (it goes higher than that…). (You can read more about the general state of workplace motivation here)

One solution is to focus on DIS-un-engagement, helping one person and one group at a time. This involves the removal of real and perceived roadblocks, generating a feeling among people that someone is listening and actually cares about how things are going, and that people can make better CHOICES among considered alternatives, things such as “best practices” and the like.

We seem to have solved some of the issues around the Higgs Boson sub-atomic particle by using the Large Haldron Collider and smashing particles together. The Higgs Boson was initially theorized in 1964 and confirmed in March of this year, confirming the Higgs Field and all this being pivotal to the Standard Model and other theories of particle physics. Since we could do that, can’t we somehow figure out what is de-motivating people in their workplaces and make some considered changes in how we do things?

Can we finally understand that performance appraisals are detested for some pretty good reasons by every worker and manager (well I guess the top 10% like them) and that extrinsic reward systems just do not work (except for that top 10% who get them) and that most people are un-involved and dis-engaged?

I mean, really?

We can put a satellite into the sky that goes 500,000,000 miles to circle a small moon around Jupiter. Heck, we know that when Earth and Jupiter are at their closest to each other they are 628,743,036 million km apart and at their most distant, they are 928,081,020 km apart.

We can’t figure out how to motivate ONE worker in one workplace? Seriously?

This model, by the way, is wrong. It is NOT how to motivate people. I was kidding when I had it produced!

How to motivate people color red

We CAN motivate people by simply involving and engaging them in their workplace. Sorry, Gallup, but we do not need to spend any more hundreds of thousands of dollars on another survey that asks people if they are involved because they AREN’T. Ask their supervisors what they could do differently.

We might simply ask people what things do not work smoothly, and get them involved and engaged in solving workplace performance issues.

What are SWs image worksheet

This stuff ain’t particle physics or rocket science. It is about doing some simple and straightforward involvement and listening. (And then implementing!)

You can see Part One of this two-part series by clicking 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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Communications, Pressure, and Stepping Back from the Wagon

We use the metaphor of “Stepping back from the Wagon” as a way of saying that perspective and distance are often very useful tools for managing change and improvement and improving communications. If you are always seeing things from what NLP calls the “First Person Perspective,” it is very difficult to see things clearly and to identify opportunities.

In my work, I use the Square Wheels wagon and the image below as a tool to get people to look at things from a “Second Person Perspective,” from the position of a viewer. It’s the basis of our various Square Wheels Toolkits.

SWs One green color thin

And we play with different ways of seeing things, adding other metaphors and themes.

Discover the Road haiku

The idea is to generate a good learning opportunity and a chance to see things differently.

David Zinger sent out an email to his Employee Engagement membership that I thought was really pretty neat. It also hits on this theme of perspective. It is about a conversation and listening skills, too. Click on the image-link to see this short video

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It’s Not About the Nail is from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

One of my favorite exercises on the theme of organizational improvement, motivation and feedback builds similarly. I show leadership or managers the following illustration and ask them to brainstorm about what is happening, so they can share their thoughts on the situation:

Trial and Error 2

Take a minute and think about this.

What invariably happens is that the group will focus on all the things that are apparently done wrong or that should have been done differently. I elaborate on this theme with other illustrations and content information in this other blog post, but the idea anchors to these simple thoughts:

  • The reality is that we need perspective
  • The reality is the improvement is often incremental
  • The reality is that success will generate more success
  • The reality is that punishment or criticism will stop most improvement
  • The Big Ideas are often close at hand

A great deal about organizational performance improvement is simple to understand. People need goals and achievable goals are motivating. Coaching for incremental improvement is important and people require positive feedback in order to improve results. A focus on the negative will cause people to quit or simply stop trying. Teams can self-support the individual team members but the leadership must also support the team.

It is all about getting more done and continuous continuous improvement of the ways things work.

That is the approach we suggest for people using our Square Wheels cartoon toolkits and our team building simulations,

For the FUN of It!

Scott and I&I w title

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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Dot-Voting and Square Wheels for Innovation Ideas and Improved Shared Ownership

There is a real need to generate active involvement and engagement and to link that energy to innovation and continuous improvement. So, I wanted to share some ideas about how to get many things accomplished using a great interactive tool that I call “Dot Voting.” There are a bunch of ways to nuance it, but the basic thought is that it is all about actions to generate ownership of ideas.

The impetus to post the blog was a call from the CEO of an engineering company that had great participation from his people in general but he was hearing that better overall alignment needed to occur. He, of course, thought the mission and vision were clear but he also was perceptive enough to understand that everyone was working hard but not in perfect alignment. He was looking for some ideas to build a better sense of consensus among his 23 people.

We discussed his use of my Mission Statement Exercise, which is designed to generate a shared sense of ownership and help develop a clearer sense of goals and values. This is a complete toolkit that we sell on our website. It includes a simple Square Wheels powerpoint set and an explanation of a Fast Networking exercise designed to generate involvement and ownership across all the tabletops.

That Mission Statement development exercise is designed to get their ideas and to accomplish that quickly and efficiently. The discussions that result are powerful approach to clarifying expectations and discovering if expectations, goals and measurements might be incongruent to the overall desired outcomes in a framework that encourages everyone’s thoughts and participation. Involvement is a key to all this. After all,

Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car,
If you don’t know where you are going,
any path will get you there!

Geese Flying is about organizational behavior

Things are really simple most of the time. When you see geese flying, they work together but you also might notice that one side is longer than the other. Do you know why that is? Simple: there are more geese on that side…

So, the Mission toolkit lays out ideas for how one can pretty quickly get everyone on board and aligned to a common vision of the future and even feel as if they have played a part in that.

There is another tool that works great with large groups to get ideas and opinions and that can help drive a sense of consensus and that is Dot Voting, which also goes by Multi-Voting, cumulative voting and even dotmocracy. The concept and approach are quite simple and straightforward and there are different forms of use and delivery. As you might gather, it is democratic and evenly weighted in terms of individual opinions.

Some of the benefits include:

  • People get to browse a lot of data and information processed by other people
  • They get a chance to give their vote or votes to items on which they agree
  • It works with small tabletops as well as large events
  • Lots of ideas and information are collected and processed, allowing for an immediate “read” on the results as well as continued study and analysis. 
  • Everyone participates and everyone is engaged
  • The manager or facilitator can stay neutral and allow for peer pressure and peer support to bring ideas and potential actions together
  • One can reach an immediate decision, if things are structured that way
  • It works exceptionally well for brainstorming and for Square Wheels idea sessions

The basic rules are as follows:

  • A facilitator is needed to run the session and keep things moving. That can be a manager or supervisor, but they would need to be neutral on the content and focused on allowing the session to flow.
  • Each person gets a certain number of colored sticky dots. All people get the same number.
  • People vote on the ideas or work done by a group of people at a tabletop. 
  • People cannot vote on their own work.
  • You may have multiple rounds of voting, each using different dots meant to indicate different things (discussed further, below)
  • You share a time limit for voting – and you ring a bell to suggest that there are only 30 seconds left for voting
  • You want everyone to have sufficient time to look at the work of many or all of the other tables. You want them to see how many good ideas there are as well as have a vote in what happens
  • Some closure or summary is needed. This can be done by the facilitator or by people who speak for their tabletop’s work or by a senior manager who has the position power to do things. 
  • All votes and ideas and work are anonymous
  • You may drive for some immediate action, or actions can be deferred. You can allow people who want to work on that “popular” item to form self-managed teams and go stand by or sign their names to that sheet of ideas.
  • You can always also provide a Parking Sheet for collecting other good ideas that did not get represented in this immediate work.

Some attempt may be made to insure that each tabletop is working on something different than the others and we generally use the Square Wheels metaphor about how organizations really work to set up the language and process of improvement. A sample worksheet looks like this:

The Square Wheels problem solving worksheet of Scott Simmerman

In a typical Square Wheels® session, for example, we allow tabletops to share 3 to 5 Square Wheels on worksheets and/or easel pad paper. Then, we first give each table one Large Colored Dot to stick on one of the Square Wheels that they would like to work on, with the goal of developing two or three real solutions or approaches to implement Round Wheels.

Before the tables can then start to work, we review the overall selection to see if any of the selected Square Wheels are the same as others (since one list might have a similar item as another and two different tabletops select the same one). Or, you can just let the process flow. The idea is to allow each tabletop to select an issue that they want to deal with, one that they will have some degree of ownership of.

You can also allow each table to vote more than one time on the finished ideas. You might give each person 4 red dots to vote on which idea is the most critical one to address or give them yellow dots to indicate which would be the most politically or culturally difficult to implement, or green dots to indicate which might have the biggest financial impact on the organization.

Dot Voting SWs 7

I will generally give out blue dots to allow people to vote on which issues they want to see fixed immediately.

Even with a really large group (200+ people), a round of dot-voting will only take 5 or so minutes. What you also get are people looking around at all the other ideas of the other tabletops. (Heck, sometimes people ask me if they can have more dots — I take that as a very positive sign and I do give them extra dots!)

Dot Voting SWs

This is a great kind of informal team building session in that you can allow people to really get involved and working together for improving the workplace. You can see that some issues definitely attract the attention of the group, while others seem less critical.

You can also combine this approach with a Roadblocks Management activity or the Mission Development mentioned above.

(Another beautiful aspect of this approach is that it tends to suppress that “Pet Peeve” kind of thing that one worker might have about something. They might be complaining about one thing for years, but if it gets NO dots, then there is a message there that they sometimes receive. At least, in the future, you can talk about it as not getting much actual support from others in the workgroup!)

Hope this is useful. And try out our tools for involving and engaging people for workplace improvement,


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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

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


Engagement, Fulfillment, Performance, Perfection and Excellence

I was reading an article by Shep Hyken on his thinking around 5 steps to achieve employee fulfillment. He speaks on customer service improvement and I thought the ideas were okay, but that they were not going to have any immediate impact on results. And it is a reality that taking the long-term view is good, but maybe not optimal for a variety of reasons.

He started with this Aristotle quote, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

He then suggested 5  simple steps that ultimately lead to happy, fulfilled, and engaged employees:

  1. Hire the right person for the right job.
  2.  Create fulfilled employees – Part One.  While you may make the right hire, the employee has to love what they do.
  3.  Create fulfilled employees – Part Two.  Create a positive environment of leadership and support to build satisfaction.
  4.  The pursuit of perfection.  He frames this up around meeting attainable goals.
  5.  Employee Engagement.  While Shep talks about the impacts, he does not share much data around this concept. There are plenty of articles supporting the reality that engagement links to productivity and performance in my blogs.

His basic concept is a basic one: People who are fulfilled and find pleasure in their work will strive for perfection.  They will strive to meet and exceed their goals.  You can read his article at this link.

My reaction to this was good, and I did service quality management things for 25 years, so the issues and anchors are solid. My posted response was a pretty simple and straightforward reframing.

Here is what I posted up as my comment:

These days, most companies are pretty staffed up, so hiring new people is not the solution for today. AND, the research shows that new employees are pretty much like the old employees after 6 months (Sirota) and that if you do not start things up differently with new hires, they will not give you what you want down the road.

Perfection is a lot like Excellence, if I read you right. I liked that old concept a LOT and there used to be dozens of good programs using that anchor point. Six Sigma seems to be today’s buzzword for it, but it really only occurs in manufacturing and production and not so much in areas where people have to respond differently so much, like customer service or other kinds of personalized work.

For me, I reframe what you said around two basic ideas:

1 – “Nobody ever washes a rental car” — It’s my quote on the importance of ownership to performance. If people feel a sense of active ownership and involvement, they will treat things differently. Ownership is a key issue in excellence and striving to improve.

2 – Dis-Un-Engagement — in any workplace, stats show that more than half the people are un-engaged and un-involved. Somewhat related to ownership, what managers can choose to do is to identify the things that are un-engaging – list them in a brainstorming session – and then look for ways to address each and every one of them, one at a time. (You can read more about Dis-Un-Engagement here.)

You can form teams, share best practices, escalate issues to other departments (yeah, I do know that “interdepartmental collaboration” tends to be an oxymoron for most organizations (or silos) but they can be addressed (The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is one exercise that focuses neatly on this issue and rewards those who collaborate).

It is always the case that, “The Round Wheels are already in the wagon” and that there is little excuse for continuing to operate on the Square Wheels.

SWs One green color thin

The best performers are already doing things differently than the worst performers, so sharing those best practices is a no-brainer way to improve things. When you can build that around your roadblock management, you are improving teamwork, improving skills and performance, and enabling more intrinsic motivation.

Ya think?

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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Some funny thoughts on outdoor training and team building

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

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

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

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

timthumb(image credit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from )

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

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

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

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

For the FUN of It!

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

You can reach Scott at
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

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


IRS needs Large Group Team Building instead of $27,000 Innovation Speakers

Lessons Gained from the IRS about Team Building, Training and Development

On hearing that the IRS is coming under scrutiny for the high price of its various and, perhaps in this case, probably not effective, team building programs and outrageously paid speaker presentations, one can’t help but reflect on why these kinds of things come about. 

Two links to news shows that detail some of what I am referring to:

I’m not one for piling on, but seeing that the IRS spent ALL that money for speakers standing there talking about things like innovation or talking about leadership while demonstrating how to paint pictures of Michael Jordan, Abe Lincoln and Bono for $17,000 – I wonder who got the pictures? —  sure seems like a waste. (And I am a MJ FAN!)

The planners actually took people off the job to “train” them how to line dance and to do the skits, that were professionally recorded and packaged. You can even find the IRS videos online (!)

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with the people participating actually complaining on the video about the waste and irrelevancy of it all! Amazing! And the woman with the broken leg? They infer it was dance-related!!

Ya think that maybe the IRS might sell those three pictures at auction? I am guaranteeing that they would fetch a huge price, especially now! Boehner would love the one of Lincoln, I am sure, but maybe not the one of Bono…

Years ago, Burger King did a Firewalking team building program and it made headlines because one of the participants in the event was burned and hospitalized. As I read about this IRS leadership conference stuff and also learn about the IRS and its many issues now coming to light, I can’t help but reflect on why it’s always been a crucial point to me to develop team building games and do presentations that are more than just fun and engaging but give something of value to the participants while also adding value to the workplace.

In the case of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building exercise, for instance, I designed it to include a debriefing that would give the players an opportunity to see how their method of playing the game could impact how they perform their jobs within their organizations. People come away from this game feeling that they actually learned some important behaviors toward increasing workplace performance and outcome. For about one third of what they paid the painter, they could have bought and run the game for ALL of their people and then discussed the real issues and opportunities they face. Think that happened with that presentation?

All told, the IRS spent $135,000 on 15 speakers for their  Leadership Development event and you have probably seen the Gilligan’s Island skit that they had produced for $50,000. They have reportedly spent nearly $50,000,000 in support of these “developmental conferences” with no accountability or even any defined outcomes, from what one can gather. I mean, a “happiness speaker” for $11,000? They could have just given out chocolate bars!

Not sure how much their line dancing lessons cost but for $10 including food, you can go to a place locally and do all of that you want. I am guessing that the senior leadership and the conference design people’s underlying thinking was, “We cannot spend too much money on having fun, can we?” 

Well, it appears that they can. And to a great degree of overall embarrassment to one and all. And I wonder what outcomes they got from all this; what documented ideas and opportunities for action resulted from these sessions and all that spending?

When doing presentations using my Square Wheels illustrations, yes, there is humor involved but the bottom line is that people are given tools that they can take back to the workplace and actually use to make a difference in how the people they manage, perform. This is good for both the individual and the organization.

Anyone who is interested in doing a team building program or having a speaker present at an event, should want to receive value for the cost involved. Another pet peeve I have regards the cost of doing a workshop or program. A company can pay high prices to get what they might perceive as an interesting program or speaker. To me, high prices do not have to be part of the mix to getting a solid program in place. This is another reason that I have designed products that are reasonably priced, especially considering that users feel they are a great return on their investment.

Team building games and exercises should be high quality and high impact, certainly, but not all are. Many are simply fun events that cost a lot of money (can I hear “Golf at Pebble Creek?” for example?)

When a situation occurs where we hear about the seemingly ridiculous scenarios that happen out there with companies using programs that seem to have no benefit, what it does is hurt the credibility, in general, of programs that are worth the investment.

Not all team building is bad at all… Some can really focus on organizational change, engagement and involvement in people,  spark new ideas and improve actual job teamwork and collaboration.  Unfortunately, the IRS seems to have not prospered so well with choices they made.

Have Fun out there, but also learn something!

Scott small pic

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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Improving Leadership Effectiveness = Dis-Un-Engagement

I got involved and engaged in a LinkedIn thread this morning, one that I had actually been trying NOT to be involved in! But they wore me down so I posted this up around the theme that some leaders actually make things worse by being involved.

I will just post up what I thought about the situation and what I wrote:

My focus for many years has been on the issues of organizational performance, individual motivation, involvement and engagement, and issues of teamwork and alignment. Toward that end, I have presented on a wide variety of topics in 38 countries thus far and I sell my toolkits inexpensively and globally. All that is simply meant to anchor the following thesis:

Most managers are un-engaging their people.

If we look at any of a very wide range of data, it is clearly evident that most people in most workplaces are dis-engaged and uninvolved. I share some viewpoints and data and other people’s ideas in two blogs referenced at the end of this.

With all that data supporting un-engagement, like Sirota Research saying that 85% of new hires regress to “average” motivational levels within 6 months, it all begs the question as to whether managers and supervisors might simply CHOOSE to do some things differently. Might they look to focus on something I will call Dis-Un-Engagement.

Simply put, why can’t / won’t they focus on removing the roadblocks that their people face in doing their daily jobs. People report that no one listens to their ideas (and have been doing that for the past 70 years, it seems) and that feeling more of a part of things is a powerful motivational tool.

Most people are not REALLY roadblocked, as most coaches will tell you; they are simply perceiving that they are, or they are somehow choosing to be. They could do things differently and will often do so when involved in some problem-solving team situation. Peer pressure / support is a powerful tool for generating change.

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world (John Le Carre)

Yet most decisions seem to emanate from that desk rather than the hands of the workers who try to push the wagon forward every day. If all they see are boards and hands, no wonder they don’t show up motivated and engaged.

Dis-Un-Engagement — a corollary of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” methinks.

You can see some writings here:

I think that ANY one leading any group in any organization can IMPROVE their overall leadership effectiveness. There will still be that average curve of skills ranging from low to high because that is just a statistical reality of any population of people. What we CAN do is move that median score upwards to improve overall effectiveness of the population…

Dis-Un-Engagement. It does not even sound that hard…

Have fun out there! Elegant Solutions

I think that this is just another example of a simple, elegant solution!

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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. 
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