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

Category: Brain and Behavior

Team Building and Learning – How to make changes

Experiential exercises have significant impacts on individual and organizational learning. Participating and practicing is 15 times more impactful than sitting in a classroom, based on a good bit of research. Being involved and engaged is, well, being involved and engaged. The visual, auditory and kinesthetic anchors for memory are all hooked up and operating.

Motorola University in 1996 published an interesting chart that I reproduce here not knowing how to get permission for use:

Learning Pyramid

Me, I would have built it upside down, so that Teaching Others was at the top. But that is MY learning and memory preference showing up, I guess.

Learning, linking and understanding are neurologically determined — the brain is what controls the process and it is good that it is semi-automatic since if it required much thinking or typing, not a lot of us would ever get it! Our brain uses chemical and physical changes in proteins and membranes to build the electrical circuits that make all this “living large” stuff possible. It works pretty seamlessly, and when it doesn’t, we all realize the consequences (Alzheimer’s, dementia, coma, and the like).

What our brain does is encode our experiences. If there is some boring lecture going on, guess what is probably not going to be recalled? If you are energetically participating in some challenge, doesn’t it make sense that more things will be remembered? Knowing that something might be useful later adds a personal touch — helping someone hang a backpacking hammock works quite well when you know that you will be hanging your hammock the next day. Learning to start a fire with fire sticks or a flint striker is remembered when you know you will head off on a survival venture that afternoon.

It is about storage and retrieval. It is about encoding and categorizing and accessing the meaningful information later.

In some of my deliveries, the group might have been through a course or a series of lectures on something or other. Let’s say that the subject is Project Management and the participants are shown a methodology for gathering information prior to planning a program. When we play The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, the funny thing is that these skills are often NOT transferred to the information gathering required to produce high levels of game performance.

So, in the debriefing, we review the choices made, generate discussions as to how the tools could be used, and then often project future scenarios or even do some problem solving whereby those tools are used. This kind of process generates a motivation to learn and the kind of VAK needed to anchor the skills in place. We also encourage a diversity of ideas and reinforce differences in thinking styles, since these generate better options so often. The debriefings often focus on divergent thinking and questioning ideas.

Most people in most organizations are not observed to actually apply things they learned into workplace performance change and improvement. This is a pretty common problem with classroom training — people KNOW how to do things but choose to keep doing them as they did before. Implementing change without changing feedback and measurement systems is pretty hard. Coaching can work, but coaches are often not available immediately after training has occurred.

What we suggest is a game activity to involve and engage people, one that sets up a solid discussion of behavioral choices made along with thinking about possibilities. That activity might include projection, team-based agreement on desired future behaviors, some discussions about how improvements might be measured, personal commitment to doing things differently combined with some level of followup and coaching, and other things to help to anchor in the learning as well as generate new, sustainable behaviors in the future.

Generally, people remember their own behavior, and they tend to remember their mistakes and bad choices a bit more easily than all their good reactions and responses. In Dutchman, we try to generate energy and emotion in our activities by adding pressures of time and scarcity of resources or some level of competition. Ideally the competitive situation has a balance of collaboration and cooperation built in.

If organizations can better use these kinds of engaging activities, they can expect more learning to occur and more commitment to change to result.

Some ideas:

non-agreement bliss poem

Thumbs Up teamwork poem

My team, My way poem copy

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

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Decision-Making – Research shows Worker Bees get it Right

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

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

The Cartoon:

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

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

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


Yes, there IS a chain of command…

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

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

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

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

Have fun out there! Bee there!!

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

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Ideas and Images – The Brain Sees New Possibilities

I’ve been interested in illusions and creativity and brain functioning since the 1970s and have collected a lot of images that look like one thing until you look more closely. Consider this image, for example:

Illusions stimulate brain creativity

It appears to be a tree, until you look more closely. And the more you look, the more you see. (How many faces are there in this image?)

Similarly, one can be shown this image and asked, “How many squares are there in this diagram?”

How many squares in this square illustion and answers

Take a minute with both of these illustrations. (My answers are below)

So, your brain can see a lot of things, if it is given the time to process the information and consider possibilities. A quick peek at the square above will NOT show you all that are there — you need to spend a few minutes on it to get an actual count and you need to think, “out of the box” to find all the squares.

The same things occur in the workplace. People that are hands-on and doing the job will spend a lot more time thinking about the tasks and processes that are involved in that job. Their level of analysis can be pretty high, especially if they are motivated by thinking about possible improvements.

And this one is new, as I update this older post:


What do you see? The parrot? Well, take a really hard look at this painting. The painting and picture are called, “Color us confused.” (Courtesy Johannes Stotter Art) and it came from this website and this article on how illusions confuse the brain.

The parrot is a woman, posing. Her left foot and leg are the tail. Her other leg is raised up and her elbow forms the top of her head, with her hand being the beak! Yeah, it took me a long while to see that one, too! Artists see things differently, and they often understand how to fool the brain. Magicians take it a step farther, even, but that is outside the scope of this writing.

In practice, our Square Wheels One illustration accomplishes many of these same kinds of brain challenges, getting people to consider possibilities and opportunities for improvement. But more than a simple cartoon, our illustrations can provide a context for facilitated discussions about implementation of these ideas. Implementation is the key to getting things done.

Square Wheels One How Things Work ©

Illustrations and illusions are great tools to play with how people think and to generate some creative energy about identifying and implementing improvements. They can generate teamwork, innovation, and intrinsic motivation to improve results.

(Answers – I see ten faces in the first illustration, 5 on each side and you can count forty squares in the second — see this page to see an animation of the answer: )

We sell simple to use toolkits to actively involve and engage people in the workplace to use their brains and the collaboration process to generate new ideas. Simple and easy. Bombproof, too!

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

You can find another article that shares other illusions by clicking on the image below:

escher ring

For the FUN of It!

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

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