Since I first started consulting on behavior and performance back in the late 1970s, I was struck by the differences in what people SAY they do and what they actually CHOOSE to do. Often, these represent large gaps between theory and actual behavior, a gap that often needs to be closed to actually change organizational cultures. People have a hard time being congruent, acting as they think they do and seeing their personal behavior objectively. This is one of the primary reasons why 360 degree feedback can be useful.

Managers might talk about listening to their people and having an open door policy, for example, but the actual reality is that they are always too busy, they screen their calls and their visits, and they have people run interference for them. Surveys will demonstrate such gaps pretty regularly, in actuality. They might talk about “skip-level management” but they always want people to move issues and ideas up the normal chain of command. New data on Respect shows a similar gap (blog to be published tomorrow).

I believe you know what I am referring to, since lots of surveys show lots of such gaps and we have a lot of personal experiences with others that we can recall. And these two quotes sum up the situation:

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


A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. (John LeCarre)

A friend who does teambuilding wrote about doing team development training with senior leadership in Kuwait and that the participants in two workshops challenged the models in his book and put him to the task defending his thinking.There were probably some cultural differences in play but these were also senior managers who often think they know about the intra- and inter-team interactions in their organizations but who generally see filtered data.

(For an example of “filtered data,” you will probably find this blog post to share a funny but true accounting of how Mission Statements get developed! The story is called, “In The Beginning.”)

It is obvious from the pictures that my friend shared that people attending had fun and that team bonding probably occurred. But these activities, by their appearance, did not seem to have a lot of construct validity insofar as being business decision-making and business problem-solving or related to issues of process improvement. Nothing appears measurable and inter-organizational collaboration seems difficult to generate, from appearances.

Given that there were apparent difficulties in the attendees relating to the high performance teambuilding model that was shared,  I also wonder if a different delivery framework for the actual exercises, something with tighter ties to business improvement realities, might have generated different outcomes and discussions. A good model will help leadership better understand what they can choose to do differently, to help change their behavior and the organizational culture they manage but only if you can link to behaviors, not trying to change attitudes or beliefs.

Too often, people from different perspectives and orientations TALK about what they do and how their managers and teams perform and will challenge models based on their beliefs about how things work. We all have such a sense of reality about things like this that it sometimes makes us blind to other possibilities. Simply using a group of people to solve a problem is NOT always relevant to making improvements in business processes and managing people and performance. Problem solving challenges are related, but different. Teams do not just solve problems, they must implement solutions!

kuwait team building pictures

These are the kinds of challenges commonly used in so many team building programs, but are they BUSINESS problems that relate to organizational improvement issues?

And it looked (above) as if my friend used activity-type exercises that are engaging and challenging but that might not have tightly represented business models of how things work.  And this is where some of the conversational conflict may have arisen — how does working with string directly relate to managing and improving high performance teams?

One of the things that I have found to eliminate most of that kind of divergent chatter among executives is to put them into a problem situation and get them to choose and behave and then debrief around ACTUAL behaviors observed, focused around optimizing organizational performance results. Simply talking about how they think things work is not really useful — and the focus is on beliefs and not behaviors and decision-making. We all have beliefs, but not all beliefs represent objective reality.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is one kind of activity that actually drives team and group behaviors in an observable and measurable way, and is one such approach to reality and choice. The exercise also focuses on the inter-table play and decisions, the competitive side of things that get in the way of collaboration and the larger issues of teamwork. It focuses on time limits and limited resources and the need for understanding a complicated set of rules for play along with issues of strategic planning, intra- and inter-team alignment to a shared goal, and the implementation of ideas.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine information and overview link
High Performing Teams do not just solve problems,
they implement solutions that impact results!

If you can get people to make choices and perform in a complex situation demanding teamwork and collaboration and planning, you now can focus on those choices and the observed behaviors and link those things directly to a model for organizational improvement and change. I think arranging knives in a unique creative manner is a great bar trick but the leap from that to organizational improvement is a long one.

What do YOU think?


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.

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