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

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Thoughts on Flying Frogs and Human Performance – and some metaphors

Sometimes, you just have to jump.

Things come together to force you to do something and you need to act. And sometimes, it is easier to just step up and do things. Sometimes…

With plenty of things on my agenda, I opened an old email from an old friend in the UK. He sent me a story with the subject: “Saw this and thought of you.” So, I like what Geoff sent and jumped to do a blog post. Impulsivity is one of my behavioral traits.

Here is the basic story that Geoff sent me with a couple of minor changes:


Once upon a time, there was a man named Clarence who had a pet frog named Felix. Clarence lived a very modest life based on what he earned working retail but he never gave up his dream of being rich. One day, hit by sudden inspiration, he exclaimed, “Felix, we’re going to be rich! You will learn to fly!”

Felix was terrified at the prospect. “I can’t fly, Clarence! I’m a frog, not a bird!” Clarence, disappointed at the initial response, told Felix: “Your attitude isn’t helping matters. I think you can benefit from some training.”

So off Felix went to a three-day course where he learned about the history of aviation, the basics of aeronautical engineering (e.g., lift, thrust, drag, etc), gliders, parasailing and the lives of famous fliers. (For obvious reasons, the instructor did not mention Icarus, but they did talk about Why Geese fly in a V.)

After the training and on the first day of “flying lessons,” Clarence could barely control his excitement (and Felix could barely control his bladder). Clarence pointed out that their apartment building had 7 floors, and each day Felix would jump out of a window, starting with the first floor and working his way up to the top.

After each jump, Clarence and Felix would analyze how well he flew, isolate the most effective flying techniques and implement the improved process for the next flight. By the time they reached the top floor, Felix would surely be able to fly.

felixthefrog Felix pleaded for his life but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “He just doesn’t understand how important this is,” thought Clarence. “He can’t see the big picture.”

So, with that, Clarence opened the window and threw Felix out. He landed with a thud. They discussed and analyzed his performance…

The next day, poised for his second flying lesson, Felix again begged not to be thrown out of the window. Clarence opened his pocket guide to “Managing More Effectively” and showed Felix the part about how one must always expect resistance when introducing new, innovative programs. With that, he threw Felix out the window again. THUD!

On the third day (on the third floor), Felix tried a different ploy: stalling. He asked for a delay in the “project” until better weather would make flying conditions more favorable. But Clarence was ready for him: He produced a timeline and pointed to the third milestone and asked, “You don’t want to mess up the schedule, do you?”

From his performance appraisal feedback, Felix knew that not jumping today meant he would have to jump TWICE tomorrow. So he just muttered, “OK, let’s go.” And out the window he went.

Now this is not to say that Felix wasn’t trying his best. On the fourth day he flapped his legs madly in a vain attempt at flying. On the fifth day, he tried “visualization.” He tied a small red cape around his neck and tried to think “Superman” thoughts. It didn’t help.

By the sixth day, Felix, accepting his fate, no longer begged for mercy. He simply looked at Clarence and said, “You know you’re killing me, don’t you?”

Clarence pointed out that Felix’s performance so far had been less than exemplary; failing to meet any of the milestones he had set for him. With that, and knowing that there was one more floor, Felix said quietly, “Shut up and open the window.” He leaped out, taking careful aim at the large jagged rock by the corner of the building.

And Felix went to that great lily pad in the sky.

Clarence was devastated. His project failed to meet a single objective he set out to accomplish. Felix not only failed to fly, he hadn’t even learned to steer his fall; instead, he dropped like a sack of cement. Nor had Felix heeded Clarence’s advice to “Fall smarter, not harder.”

The only thing left for Clarence to do was to conduct an after-action-review and try to determine where things had gone wrong.

After reviewing all the records and giving the data much thought, Clarence smiled knowingly and said, “Next time, I’m getting a smarter frog!”


My friend Fred Nickols said this to me about when he used the story and asked participants these questions:

I first heard the parable of Felix the Flying Frog in the early 1970s. It appears in many places nowadays and its author is unknown. I think its staying power owes to the many points it illustrates – some subtly and some not so subtly. It has great utility as a discussion piece for use in reflecting on life in organizations – and life in general for that matter. Toward that end, you will find some potentially useful questions at the end of this version.

  • How did Clarence’s expectations get so out of line with Felix’ capabilities and how might better alignment have been achieved?
  • Why did Clarence reach so quickly for training as a solution?
  • What role did the power differential between Clarence and Felix play in shaping the course of events?
  • Why was Felix so compliant, even in the face of his own destruction?
  • What blinded Clarence to the role he played in the failure of his attempt to make Felix fly?
  • What talent did Felix possess that might actually have made Clarence and he rich and why didn’t Clarence see that?

There are lots of things to consider related to performance, capability, perspective, leadership and engagement. And Fred uses the parable in a great way.

And could Clarence have made some money by having a talking frog? He was too enraptured about flying…

The irony for me was when I read a LinkedIn discussion about, “Performance Management and Performance Appraisal differences,” with a group of young HR people chatting about what they think “performance management” is and talking about “managing performance.” It is my thought that a lot of managers think they fully understand the concept of people and work and motivation, but it feels like they are trying to teach Felix to fly.

Some said things like:

  • I see Performance Management oriented towards Indicators (much more quantitative) on the other side Performance Appraisals cover both, quantitative as well as qualitative, thus I see them as two different tools
  • Performance Management is a process, whereas, Appraisal is an activity (part of Performance Management).
  • Performance Management is a technique to measure the level of performance of an Employee. Its result is Excellent, Good, Average, Poor. Action is ‘IMPROVEMENT’  Appraisal Management is a technique to measure the result of a performance. Its result is used for ‘Salary Hike’ & ‘Promotion’
  • Performance Management is the policy guidance which will vary as per existing need, progress made and future demand of the company. Performance Appraisal is the periodical matching aspect of the prescribed criteria with the actual performance of the employee, for compensation and career planning purpose.

Me? I posted this up to explain that there are real differences in these things and that Performance Management has nothing to do with Performance Appraisal and that it was simply a substitution of words that were an attempt to cover up the appraisal and subjective evaluation and assessment of the person:

Performance Management was the term applied to the issue of Human Behavioral Improvement as used by people like Tom Gilbert, Aubrey Daniels, Ed Feeney and many others back in the mid 1970s to look at ORGANIZATIONAL performance. It was generally anchored to Skinnerian Operant Behavioral Psychology and applied systems for behavioral analysis (such as Feeney’s BEST Program: Behavioral Engineering Systems Training), the analysis of performance feedback programs, and the application of contingent extrinsic rewards to drive desired behaviors.

As pretty brief explanation is available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_management

Tom Gilbert’s book, “Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance” is one of the critical works in the field, comparable to Peter Senge’s work on “Learning Organizations.”

In the mid 1980s, the phrase was co-opted by Human Resource people to try to make the concept of “Performance Appraisal” less offensive and less emotional, kind of like how “Re-Engineering” was used in place of the concept of “Downsizing.”

I say this, watching the name of the company I founded in 1984 – Performance Management Company – undergo a shift in anchor points from my focus on systemic organizational and human performance improvement to having people think we did performance appraisal systems. You can read a lot of different articles on human behavior at www.PerformanceManagementCompanyBlog.com

Many of us Old Guard still work in the area of best practices, organizational alignment to goals and expectations, refining performance feedback systems and using extrinsic and intrinsic reward systems to drive performance improvement. We also know that performance management is a difficult process to accomplish. And it seems like a shift back toward organizational improvement is happening once again.

But Performance Management sure isn’t Performance Appraisal, much like preparing a Christmas dinner sure isn’t popping a frozen dinner into the microwave. (grin)


So, I understand that this Clarence / Felix The Frog Parable as linking right up into the issues related to performance and capability. Could Felix fly? Yeah, we have this new drone technology where we could strap that little guy into a helicopter and fly him anywhere we want.

But a Talking Frog? Now THAT is really something.


Let me end this with a brief discussion of the thoughts of W. Edwards Deming, one of those really key old guys in the quality improvement and people performance leadership literature.

Deming was really clear in his writings that he felt that merit pay, incentives, numerical targets without discussion of methods, quota systems, and annual performance appraisals are some of the most highly counter-productive management practices. He clearly thought that Performance Appraisal was one of the Seven Deadly Sins of management and lots of us have lots of good examples of how appraisals screw things up for people.

Deming said, “Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring.The sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.” (W. Edwards Deming, “Out of The Crisis”)

 

There are lots of issues with evaluation and being evaluated that do NOT contribute to organization improvement and operational effectiveness. Many of these are deadly when it comes to implementing teamwork and innovation. So find those talking frogs.

Get your people to talk. Get out there and talk about what things are not working well and what might be improved. The Round Wheels are already in the wagon! Just DO it!

SWs One 300 © green words

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Ph.D. CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC, but sort of retired…

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at scott@squarewheels.com and you can see his profile at LinkedIn

 

Announcing PMC LLC, a new organization arising from Performance Management Company

Founded in 1984, PMC WAS FOCUSED ON BRINGING SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE TOOLS TO IMPACT PEOPLE AND PERFORMANCE THROUGH ENGAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION.

Performance Management Company was founded in 1984 by Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., who was its Managing Partner. It operated with Scott and Joan Simmerman collaborating to provide consulting and training services to different organizations. Combining his work experience in business consulting and retail management with a doctoral degree in psychology and a university teaching fellowship from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Scott initially created Performance Management as an organizational consulting business.

By the late 1980s, Scott was presenting on service quality and change at global conferences and Joan was coordinating operations while he traveled to destinations like the Mideast, Africa and Asia.

Through the years, the company’s base had evolved from consulting and presenting workshops to creating and selling products supporting management and organizational development to organizations and individuals worldwide. PMC was dedicated to collaborating with a worldwide network of trainers and consultants to help create new ideas and different applications for two main products. One focus was anchored to a single cartoon called, “Square Wheels One

From that single illustration (below), Scott created the interactive Square Wheels® Illustration series consisting of over 300 line-art images packaged in many different toolkits, made available as complete turnkey training packages focusing on engagement and innovation. Scott also developed Square Wheels-based team building board-game exercises.

From that initial concept, materials continued to transform into LEGO-based illustrations, stop-motion animations, illustrated quotes and different “posters” and a variety of other things. One of Scott’s premises is that if people enjoy a learning experience they will more readily retain key learning points and these interactive programs around Square Wheels are incredibly memorable and easily targeted to real business process improvement applications around themes of innovation and creativity. Collaborative problem solving using these images, metaphors and themes directly link to motivation, team building and engagement.

Design Thinking and Implementation in the workplace of reality

Lost Dutchman

Our flagship product was the fun and fast-paced teambuilding exercise, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.

It was an interactive “board game” created to be a world-class organizational development tool, with clear links to strategy implementation, organizational alignment, inter-organizational collaboration and change management interventions. The design was such that it effectively ran with even very large groups of people and it was often used for programs of 200+ people. Serious learning points such as collaboration, communication and quality are entwined with participants having a good time. It has, hence, become one of the leading teambuilding experiential simulations in the world.

We sold it to individual consultants along with corporate trainers, and one guess is that we are probably approaching a million players. It is pretty amazing, actually.

You can find testimonials here:

testimonials for Lost Dutchman Gold Mine slideshare

 

So, in 2019, Scott decided to license his intellectual property to Joan, who organized PMC LLC. He moved to Cuenca, Ecuador and “retired.” And then COVID hit and the basic training business went through some radical shifts. Changes were needed and new materials needed to be developed.

So, Scott “unretired” and supported the shift of products to remote delivery and helped Joan form Performance Management Company LLC to handle the license for PMC intellectual property. Son Jeff then came on board to work with Joan and Scott — and Jeff did amazing work to develop Lost Dutchman Virtual with a pretty amazing interactive design. As of today (September, 2021), the exercise is playable and we are working with our colleagues at The TEAM Approach to fine tune the basic delivery and to develop both a general debriefing as well as one linked to the DiSC tools. (The game is that flexible!)

We still need to develop the training support materials, different debriefing approaches, and to create the online materials to introduce the exercise / instruct players how to operate the game interface. We release the game very soon for general play, being in the beta-testing mode at the moment.

 

As designed, one licensed Facilitator will be able to operate and debrief the exercise for up to 6 teams of up to 4 people each, with the interactions paralleling the wonderful features found in the board game version. The game can also play with multiple pods, allowing for a common debriefing of many more players that 24. One Master Facilitator will be able to develop their network of certified global instructors. We will also customize the development of materials for our corporate clients so that they can more easily align to their missions, goals and cultures.

We think that the exercise will be truly outstanding for remote workgroups, helping to build communications, teamwork and alignment to a group’s missions, visions and goals. Players will be remote, operating through the interface, but there will be multiple ways for individuals to collaborate as a team and for teams to collaborate with each other to optimize group results. The goal is, “To mine as much Gold as WE can,” which has always been the focus of play. It is not about winning, but about maximizing overall results and a return on the Expedition Leader’s investment of time and resources.

SO, PMC becomes PMC LLC and Scott gives way to Jeff and Joan for the continuing focus on team building and organizational development. For the moment, contact Scott at my email address and I can help you get more information about these products and services. AND, remind me to change that when I get the chance to retire again!

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at scott@squarewheels.com and you can see his profile at LinkedIn

 


Websites www.SquareWheels.com and www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com are the training and development websites for Performance Management Company LLC where Square Wheels toolkits and teambuilding games are sold and various exercises and links to other products are shared. All products sold and presentations come with a satisfaction guarantee or monies are returned. PMC works enthusiastically with purchasers of its products to help support their success and satisfaction.

Joan and Jeff Simmerman operate Performance Management Company LLC out of Greer, South Carolina, USA

Users of PMC products include a global mix of Fortune 100 companies and multi-national organizations as well as small businesses, schools, universities and independent consultants.

Scott is maybe available to do speaking engagements and facilitations for keynotes, conferences, workshops and retreats, but he now travels from Cuenca, Ecuador. People remember his presentations because they are unique, interactive and engaging. This adds up to his consistently being a top-ranked and internationally recognized presenter. His topics can include themes of Change, Team Building, Motivation, Productivity, Innovation and Communications, all within a general framework of leadership.

Since Scott began sharing Square Wheels and Dutchman, he’s delivered workshops, retreats and seminars in India, South Africa, Egypt, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and all around the USA — 47 countries in all.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company and the images are copyrighted by PMC.

What is Performance Management Company? (We do corporate teambuilding!)

What is PMC – who are those people? (And note that they now operate as Performance Management Company LLC.)

Founded in 1984, WE ARE FOCUSED ON BRING SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE TOOLS TO IMPACT PEOPLE AND PERFORMANCE THROUGH ENGAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION SINCE 1993.

Performance Management Company was founded in 1984 by Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., who is its Managing Partner. Through the years, the company’s base has evolved from consulting to creating and selling products supporting management and organizational development to organizations and individuals worldwide. PMC was dedicated to collaborating with a network of trainers and consultants to help create new ideas and applications for products. Since 2019, Scott transferred its operations to Joan Simmerman, working as PMC LLC with son Jeff.

Combining his work experience in business consulting and retail management with a doctoral degree in psychology and university teaching from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Scott initially created Performance Management as an organizational consulting business. However, the focus of the business changed to designing and selling resources because of a single cartoon called simply, “Square Wheels One” and the subsequent development of a team building exercise that same year.

From that beginning, Scott created the interactive Square Wheels® illustration series in 1993, consisting of over 300 cartoons now packaged in many different toolkits and in different versions. These are available as complete turnkey training packages focusing on engagement and innovation. We also develop Square Wheels-based team building exercises.

Square Wheels team bonding image for team building and innovation

One of Scott’s premises is that if people enjoy a learning experience they will more readily retain key points.

Our flagship product remains the fun and fast-paced teambuilding exercise, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.” It is soon to be released in a virtual form for team development with remote teams. PMC will continue to sell its board game version of the exercise, a worldwide success since 1993.

Dutchman was created to be a world-class organizational development tool, with clear links to strategy implementation, organizational alignment, inter-organizational collaboration and change management interventions. Serious learning points such as collaboration, communication and quality are entwined with participants having a good time. It has, hence, become one of the leading teambuilding experiential simulations in the world. Below is a short video from SimuRise, one of our colleagues:

Teambuilding with interactive experiential exercise, Lost Dutchman

The main websites www.SquareWheels.com and www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com are the training and development websites for Performance Management Company where Square Wheels toolkits and our teambuilding games are sold and various exercises and links to other products are shared.

Scott and Joan Simmerman operated PMC as a home-based business for over 35 years, which kept our costs low. With Scott trying to retire in Ecuador (and still working more than 2 years later!), the ownership of the business went to Joan and their son Jeff, operating as Performance Management Company LLC.

All products sold and presentations come with a satisfaction guarantee or monies are returned. PMC works enthusiastically with purchasers of its products to help support their success and satisfaction.

Users of PMC products include a global mix of Fortune 100 companies and multi-national organizations as well as small businesses, schools, universities and independent consultants. Clients include AlliedSignal, EDS, Hongkong Bank, Maybank, IBM, Michelin, Milliken, Lucent Technologies, BellSouth, First Union, Hughes, Duty Free Shoppes, Nokia, First Chicago, Chase Manhattan, Burlington Industries, MCI, University of Wisconsin, AT&T, Compaq, Torrington, Emerson Electric and hundreds of others. Please refer to our client list elsewhere on this website for a more detailed account.

Scott also is available to do speaking engagements and facilitations for keynotes, conferences, workshops and retreats. People remember his presentations because they are unique, interactive and engaging. This adds up to his consistently being a top-ranked and internationally recognized presenter. His topics include themes of Change, Team Building, Motivation, Productivity, Innovation and Communications, all within a general framework of leadership.

Since Scott began sharing Square Wheels and his other products, he’s delivered workshops, retreats and seminars in India, South Africa, Egypt, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and all around the U.S — 47 countries in all thus far.

 

Have FUN out there!

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 who tried to retire two years ago!

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Note that we are soon to release our VIRTUAL version of Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, one that plays with online teams and focuses on teamwork, communications and planning. Contact Jeff Simmerman for more details.

Click here to see basic information about the virtual version of the simulation, one designed for remote workers and remote teams.

Innovation and Thinking – Continuous Continuous Improvement

Innovation and continuous improvement are increasingly important issues for today’s business, with engagement, motivation and the resulting implementation being among the most critical components of future profitability. But there is also a concept in behavioral psychology called the “post-reinforcement pause” which occurs after a successful event.

In quality improvement, we heard about this expressed as, “Yes, we did our continuous improvement initiative.” meaning that it was accomplished and there was no further need to do anything more, that the box was now checked on the annual performance appraisal process.

NO!!!

Continuous improvement IS continuous. And the improvements made today, that DO need to be celebrated and recognized and which should be supportive of more efforts tomorrow, often get PAUSED. The incentive to do more slows or stops and we rest on our laurels.

NO!!!

Here is my thought, expressed in my illustrated thinking style:

Round Wheels of today become Square Wheels of tomorrow

Continuous Improvement is Continuous.

There are many things we can choose to do that can have widespread impacts on organizations. My thinking is that by changing the language of performance and innovation, we can change the thinking of people about communicating about issues and opportunities. Remember that the Round Wheels are already IN the wagon.

Seriously, 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.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

See more at https://www.facebook.com/SquareWheelsIllustrations/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

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

Teams, Teaming and Teamworking

There have been a number of articles around the idea that teamwork does not work to improve organizational performance. Teambuilding is seen as a complicated and expensive endeavor that does not pay off.

And I can see why people might say that, given some of the team bonding kinds of activities that many people label “teambuilding.” Just because people are active in some activity does not mean that their actions will actually improve organizational performance or increase collaboration. Team BONDING is not team BUILDING, not by a long shot.

If you follow #baaadteambuilding through google or twitter searching, you can see some of the things that a few of us working with team building tools have found SO bad as to deserve special tracking in twitter.

  • A “Bubble Bounce” in which everyone bundles up in bubble wrap to bounce off the floor and walls?
  • A PediCab tour of a city (good if everyone is physically fit and not handicapped, maybe, but what about the disabled)?
  • Pub Crawling (as if the people might not embarrass themselves or do something really stupid on what is legally company time), or (seriously)
  • Pin the Tail on the Donkey?

Team building should have impacts on actual workplace behavior, framing up innovation or change or collaboration. It should be focused on observable improvements, generating the commitment to change, and maybe even have some measurable impacts on results. It should not be viewed as “fun and games” or as social networking. Those might be nice to do, but hard to use for measuring a return on investment.

Hey! I will admit a vested interest in the issue, since I design and sell interactive exercises focused on issues of engagement and collaboration between teams. But there IS a lot of crap “training” out there calling itself teamwork — my particular pet peeves are things like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes courses. There are lots of similar “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together, interacting to define things to improve, collaborating to fix problems, etc.

Golf as team building? Sorry. Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play in golf all about working together for shared results. (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole or doing that pub-crawl thing, but not during play of the game, most certainly. Heck, you are not even supposed to talk much of the time!

Bowling? Maybe.
Cooking? Maybe.
Darts? (NO!)
Cat Bathing? (just kidding on that one…)

And, just now in twitter, I see where a company is offering up, “Ireland’s largest inflatable obstacle course, The Big Daddy.” Seriously, we are supposed to believe that bouncing through some inflatable challenge course is going to make us work together #morebetterfaster ? Sure, that might be fun, but I am guessing they don’t want obese people, pregnant women, wheelchairs, or people who carry knives and swords. But, like go-kart racing, it is framed as teambuilding.

Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then expect people to work together and collaborate. In so many organizations, with lots of research supporting this, many of the people are not engaged. One should not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people who really do not care about their workplace or about shared results.

But we can motivate people in our organizations and workgroups. People want to work together if the situation can support it, and they want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing.

Motivate people through success

In high performing workplaces, you will also see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.

Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance, and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).

Think of all the activities that we engage in where real teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment.

And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.

Celebration plane color green

Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. And improvement is a continuous activity requiring visible support from the management team.

Sure, individuals can excel, but only through collaboration and engagement and motivation can we get a group of people to high levels of accomplishment and performance that they can celebrate and then continue to impact.

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. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

 

The Reality of Change, Innovation and Employee Engagement

Change is a constant in the workplace: there is always something…

Sometimes change appears to be happening too fast and sometimes it seems much too slow, given the business needs. Sometimes we are looking to make changes and sometimes we simply must make change to keep moving forward.

On my poems blog, I just posted up this illustration poster:

LEGO POSTER REALITY OF CHANGE

The simple idea is that the wagon wheel has broken, the team needs to get moving again, but the wheel needs to be replaced. With Round Wheels literally “at hand”, we put on a new Square Wheel simply because that is what we have always done. We roll on Square Wheels!

My “regular” line-art cartoons that we use in our toolkit on change, look like this:

SWs Reality of Change © yellow words

The related image that shows some improvement looks like this:

SWs Reality of Change 2 ROUND © yellow

Note the difference — the woman is now installing one of the ROUND wheels.

In the cartoons, overall, we see three people and some note the reluctance of the wagon puller to let go of the rope. Some viewers might comment that the guy at the far left is just lazy and not helping out. But you might also note that the wagon is up on the points of the Square Wheels, making it easier to install a new wheel but much harder to balance, which is the job of those two people.

One guy is lifting — we all know of those people who really put out the effort to help teams succeed.

Lastly. Many people simply miss the HORSE. The horse represents a completely different way to address the reality of moving the wagon. It is surprising how many people miss that aspect of the situation as they focus on the broken wheel. Heck, even the characters in the cartoon seem to have missed that!

What I have been doing for 20+ years is involving and engaging people to see things differently and teaching a VERY simple yet actionable model for understanding change, identifying leverage points and action plans and facilitating the process in such a way that the participants can identify things that they can do differently as well as engage others.

The key is to focus on employee engagement and ownership. If people are involved, they are more likely to be engaged and feel some sense of commitment to getting things done.

I use a simple tool, my Square Wheels illustrations and metaphor to set things up.

SWs One WHY USE © 2014 green
The wagon rolls on a set of wooden Square Wheels carrying a cargo of round rubber tires. The process continues this way because of a few different factors, such as the square wheels actually working (just like they always have), and the lack of perspective (“Don’t just DO something, Stand There!). 

The reality is that stopping the process and implementing improvement takes time and is not always successful. Plus, the round wheels of today will invariably become the Square Wheels of tomorrow.

The intent of this facilitation is to involve people in stepping back from the wagon and seeing the obvious – the round wheels already exist and should be implemented to make long-term progress and not simply to meet the goals for today.

Sometimes, I introduce the concept of Mud, the glop that gets in the way of moving forward. This can include organizational restraints (perceived and real), politics, culture or simply the difficulty in changing. I then show the wagon and the people up to their “axles” in this mess and how hard it is to make progress. For me, “mud” is a great metaphor and I use it with the theme, “Get out of the ditch and up on the road” to introduce the issue of choice and choices. We choose what we do. Deal with it. (“If it is to be, it is up to me!”)

(“Mud” can also be grinding paste, cement, and other things. On my website at www.squarewheels.com, you can also find recipes for making Gack out of things like Elmer’s Glue and borax – Gack is a gooey mess — a “colloidal suspension.”)

“The best “Mud Managers” do things differently. What is it they do?”

This is a great question to ask, since it generates alternative behaviors and alternative thinking in their discussions, often anchored on best practices of the exemplary performers in the room at that time. (Peer coaching!)

At some point in the design, we will move toward my model of change, involving the current level of discomfort with the way things are now, the attractiveness of the vision of the future, the individual or groups’ previous history with change and the peer support for improvement.


All four things are actionable and under control of the manager. Change can involve teamwork or simply group process techniques for identifying issues and opportunities. But once something (a process, generally) is anchored as a Square Wheel, it almost always generates an implementable round one — this nicely taps into the cognitive dissonance model of Festinger.

Change does not have to be done TO people and is best done WITH them, having them involved in the different aspects of environmental and social support. This is why the illustrations work. We get people actively involved.

If you want to read more about this, you’ll find my article that includes these ideas, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” at:

http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/articles

Plus, if you’d like to make any comment or discuss any of this, it would be most welcome.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. 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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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

Why do teams choose to compete rather than collaborate?

People continually make choices, selecting responses from their existing set of “behavioral alternatives” and often simply choosing to do what they have done before. The book, Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman does an excellent job of sharing the research on decision making and thinking. (I share a little of this in my article on Square Wheels and decision-making.)

LDGM Why do teams choose to compete wordsWhy DO teams choose to compete?

Teams and teamwork are simply about choice and choices. Teams will often choose NOT to collaborate if they feel that competition offers them more positive benefits and impacts and this is especially true if they have competed in the past — it is the fast decision that does not require much thinking and consideration. Competition may also simply be More Fun!

But does competition really do much to support overall organizational results? Does competition really make results better when you look at the overall impact? Does competition between sales and operations really help things?

More often than not, the answer is that competition measurably sub-optimizes organizational results. Clearly. This is grounded in my work in implementing performance improvement and customer service as well as in a variety of other contexts — it is much easier to generate inter-organizational competition than it is to develop real trust and collaboration.

I tried to collect some of the key articles around performance and teamwork in this annotated blog of my best posts on our team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. You can see some of these sources by clicking on the image below:

LD MAIN Goal is to Mine

We often ask tabletops to discuss various real world perceptions after playing this team building exercise. Below are some thoughts of participants after playing The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses directly on issues of inter-table collaboration and communications:

As you will see from these responses, there are a lot of systemic issues that block teamwork and there are also lots of experiences in “playing the game of working” that will get in the way of simply choosing to do things differently. Breaking the patterns is why an exercise like Dutchman works – people play, make choices, and see the impacts of their behavior on the play of others and in the overall sub-optimization of results.

Why do teams compete when collaboration obviously offers more impacts and benefits?

  • Evaluation and Reward Systems do not support it
  • Organizational objectives are unclear
  • Human Nature – we are competitive
  • Past Experience precludes collaboration and has rewarded competition
  • Lack of a Trust or Relationship with others
  • It takes extra time and effort to do it
  • Benefits of collaboration not supported by leaders
  • Impacts and payoffs are not obvious
  • Conflict may generate discussion of realities and produce creativity
  • Teams do not have a history or experience with doing collaboration or generating better impacts by it

What did you learn about teamwork and communications from playing the exercise?

  • There is a need for networking
  • Small teams work better than committees / larger teams
  • Someone needs to take on the role of team leader
  • We must compromise individually and collaborate collectively to succeed
  • Don’t dominate – listen to others views
  • THINK COLLABORATION and Trust
  • Share a common goal
  • Share Ideas and Information
  • Plan before Acting
  • Have a division of labor and roles and think creatively
  • Initiate support from others
  • Have Empathy for others
  • Identify others’ needs
  • Be Creative
  • Be a good listener
  • Build on others’ ideas
  • Recognize Interdependence
  • Move quickly, take some risks
  • We probably have sufficient resources – use them wisely

In this game, most people do NOT ask for help, which also happens in the workplace. Why don’t most teams ask for or get the active leadership of their managers?

  • We are conditioned by education, bad experiences and culture
  • Personality (we’re not proactive but quiet)
  • We’re too involved in our own work and forget the existence of the “Expedition Leaders”
  • We’re afraid of losing time, thus we suboptimize results
  • We are really not clear of our roles or the Leader’s role
  • There is a fear of losing Face (ego, insecurity)
  • There is an assumption that not asking means we get all of the     praise and recognition for our good performance / ability
  • “Us and Them” mentality — Leader is not part of team
  • No access to them – can’t get their time so why ask
  • It’s not part of the rules of how we play
  • Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled

Some Key Learning Points for engaging and involving people in performance improvement:

  • Visions are critical for motivation
  • Motivation occurs when people share risks, goals and objectives
  • Teams are “naturally” competitive and processes must actively drive collaboration and cooperation
  • Teams only reluctantly ask Expedition Leaders for advice.
  • Leadership must clearly communicate with directness and honesty.  They need to be perceived as supportive.
  • Justify the need for collaboration as it influences corporate profitability and improvements in systems and practices.
  • Identify the mud that is bogging teams down and wasting resources.
  • Insure that each participant knows his or her role on the team and their importance to the overall results — make sure each team member feels that their efforts are of value.

How does this exercise and debriefing link to improving organizational results?

  • Collaborative, overall effort is needed to achieve Company Goals
  • Plan – Do – Check – Action
  • Collaboration is essential
  • Manage your processes with effective allocation of resources
  • Do It Right The First Time – there are few second chances in reality
  • Highlight the internal customer concept – we depend on each other
  • All of us is better than Some of US!

The competitive aspect of the game:
How might it be harmful in an organization?

  • Not sharing information for personal reasons will sub-optimize overall results
  • Damaging relationships and trust
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Not utilizing resources in best or optimal way
  • Sub-optimization — Not seeing whole picture
  • Undermining the efforts of others

Overall, competition is harmful because it is not maximizing company results nor the performance by the largest number of people. Competition works for the competitive and not for everyone. Discussing these issues and opportunities in the context of collaboration and communications offers the chance that people may choose to behave differently, or at least be more aware of how they are influencing others in their workplace.

So, a key to organizational improvement comes directly out of debriefing on ideas and reflecting on choices so that different choices can be made in the future that would allow for a culture shift of some kind.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is a fun and powerful way to learn more about teambuilding and collaboration

Find our articles on organizations and performance

We support all kinds of innovation, motivation, engagement, team building and other aspects of people and performance through the sale of our simple tools for facilitating change and improvement. You can find out more about these by clicking on the link below:

Performance Management Company website for team building

For the FUN of It!

Scott DebriefDr. 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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

 

Teamwork Works! Teambuilding has Positive Impacts.

There have been a variety of articles and posts on different leadership development groups taking the position that teamwork does not work to improve organizational performance.

Huh? Seriously?

I would be hard pressed to think of one situation where some kind of teamwork wasn’t necessary to produce an optimal result in some relatively complex situation. Teams and teamwork are how things get done, so taking a position that team building does not have any impact on results and performance seems a bit goofy, right? There are troubles with teams and they do not always work smoothly, and creating a team is not always the best solution to solving a problem, but it is certainly a good one, in general. There is no question that diversity of perspective and ideas gives a better result on most problems in most situations.

Yeah, sometimes we have situations like this:

Square Wheels and competitionbut that is not to say that teams do not work!

But maybe it is the kind of team building training that is the issue behind few observable improvements? Maybe there are some less effective approaches in play.

Last night, I saw an advertisement for Booking.com that was about “The Annual Company Retreat” — It is pretty much a hoot! Click on the image below to see this 30-second commercial (by Booking.com).

Annual company paintball teambuilding retreat booking dot comI think this pretty clearly shows how a LOT of people see teambuilding combined with paintball — does teambuilding need pain, suffering, losers and winners?

Hey! I will admit a vested interest in the issue, since I design and sell interactive exercises focused on issues of engagement and collaboration between teams. And there IS a lot of crap training out there calling itself teamwork — my particular pet peeves are things like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes and other similar “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together, interacting to define things to improve, bonding together to fix problems, etc. Sure, the events themselves are challenging, but does river rafting really build a team of people focused on improving the business?

And Golf as team building? Gimme a break — Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play is crucial to their overall success (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole, but not during play, most certainly. Bowling? Maybe. Cooking? Maybe, if one is running a big commercial kitchen in a restaurant or hotel…

Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations, IMHO. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then expect people to work together. In so many organizations, and lots of research supporting this, many of the people are not engaged and many are DIS-engaged. One might not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people.

But we can motivate them. People want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing. We need to get them to a new place, mentally.

Motivate people through success

In high performing workplaces, you will see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market Sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.

Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).

Think of all the activities that we engage in where teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment — sports is but one endeavor. And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.

Celebration plane color green

Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. And improvement is a continuous activity.

Sure, individuals can excel, but only through collaboration and engagement and motivation can we get a group of people to high levels of accomplishment and performance that they can celebrate and then continue to impact.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Lost Dutchman 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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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What is Performance Management Company

What is PMC – who are we?

Founded in 1984, PMC is dedicated to collaborating with an international network of trainers and consultants to help create applications to impact engagement, teamwork and organizational performance.

Performance Management Company was founded in 1984 by Scott Simmerman, Ph.D., who is Managing Partner. Back in the old days, performance management referred to “behavioral engineering” kinds of applications, focusing on alignment, feedback and contingent reward systems to generate peak performance for individuals and organizations. That is our heritage, continually looking for what we can choose to do differently to improve performance, generally through increased employee engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Through the years, the company’s base has evolved from consulting to creating and selling products supporting management and organizational development. Sales are worldwide, to organizations and individuals looking for simple tools.

PMC is dedicated to collaborating with a network of trainers and consultants to help create new ideas and applications for products. I continually try to do more than the customers expect, which comes from my 20 years of working on service quality improvement.

The more formal bio says something like this:

Combining work experience in business consulting and retail management with a doctoral degree in psychology and university teaching from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Scott initially created Performance Management as an organizational consulting business. However, the focus of the business changed to designing and selling resources because of a single cartoon called simply, “Square Wheels One.”

From that, Scott created the interactive Square Wheels® illustration series consisting of over 300 cartoons now packaged in different Square Wheels® toolkits, available as complete training packages. Also developed were two different Square Wheels – based team exercises.

Square Wheels One copyrighted V1 small

One of Scott’s premises is that if people enjoy a learning experience they will more readily retain key points.

The fun, fast-paced, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” game was created with this belief in mind. Serious learning points such as collaboration, communication and quality are all entwined with participants having a good time while playing this team building game. It has, hence, become one of the leading team building exercises in the world.

Our materials can be readily reviewed at the Performance Management Company website. My older site — www.SquareWheels.com — has a lot of articles and other supporting information, but it is also a bit dated and not maintained. And, in addition to this blog, I also added the “Poems on The Workplace” blog where I am approaching 200 different poems, quips, business quotes, haiku and all sorts of other simple things about people and performance, illustrated with cartoons and other images. Check it out!

Scott and Joan Simmerman operate PMC as a home-based business since the late 1990s, keeping our costs low and work environment conducive to high quality and responsiveness. All products sold and presentations come with a satisfaction guarantee or monies are returned. PMC works enthusiastically with purchasers of its products to help support their success and satisfaction. And, we get great testimonials from users as well as clients:

Speculand LDGM Testimonial

and

Client Testimonial on Dutchman team building game

Users of PMC products include a global mix of Fortune 100 companies and multi-national organizations as well as small businesses, schools, universities and independent consultants.

Total PMC Client Logo Compendium

Scott is only occasionally available to do speaking engagements and facilitations these days, but people remember his presentations because they are unique, interactive and engaging. This adds up to his consistently being a top-ranked and internationally recognized presenter. His topics include themes of Change, Team Building, Motivation, Productivity, Innovation and Communications, all within a general framework of leadership. Visit his presentation website at www.ScottSimmerman.com.

Since Scott began sharing Square Wheels and his other products, he’s delivered workshops, retreats and seminars in India, South Africa, Egypt, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and all around the U.S — 38 countries in all thus far.

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. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Performance Management – what it is (and isn’t)

WAY back in 1978, I started consulting after a short career as a psychology professor. It just seemed that the college teaching was not what I really wanted to do, so I took 9 months and rolled around the USA in my 1973 yellow Volvo 145 station wagon. And, 26,000 miles later, I wound up in Westport, CT working for Ed Feeney and doing BEST.

Behavioral Engineering Systems Training was written by Tom Roth, who graduated from Allegheny College a few years earlier than me and who took some of Tom Gilbert’s ideas and made them into a very understandable and usable three-binder training system.

Binder one was full of analysis stuff, defining “outputs” and qualifying them into different categories and comparing current level of average results with exemplary levels of performance as well as impacts to generate some priorities. Module Two was about designing feedback and measurement systems and Module Three was a very Skinnerian-focused extrinsically-focused reward-focused reinforcement design program.

Most people found Modules One and Three to be the most interesting, while Module Two focused simply on implementing. My view and experiences over the past 30 years has consistently been by far the most important.

In the early 80s, after formally founding my business in October of 2004, slowly but surely, “Performance Management” became  an increasingly used euphamism for performance APPRAISAL. Appraisal was a bad word, implying judgement and judging people, grading on curves, focusing on the negative and all those things. So, instead of calling it appraisal, they called it “management.”

Well, I guess it was management in a way, but it still retained appraisal as its main focus and technique. It has been a while since I have looked at these kinds of “performance management systems” but I sure do not like how they took a good concept of working to make the environment more productive and obliterated it with the much-disliked appraisal metaphor.

My company will always be, Performance Management Company even though many people will not understand that it is about people and performance, engagement and best practices, feedback systems and innovation.

Ah well…  Think I should rename it? Something like

  • Games and Frames
  • The Square Wheels Company
  • The Round Wheels Company
  • Teambuilding Games and Square Wheels Company
  • Scott Simmerman & Associates (how awful is that!)

Nah. Just remember that MY understanding of Performance Management isn’t what they think it is!

Have fun out there.

You set YOUR price for our Facilitation Toolkit – Square Wheels Roll!

Square Wheels illustrations have been used worldwide for almost 20 years as tools for presentations on managing and leading change and involving and engaging people to make commitments to improve the workplace and others. Using these cartoons, you can make a powerful impact and leave a lasting memory — as people remember these presentations decades later! Time after time, I’ve received verbal and written proof of this.

Update: We never seemed to get any traction with this offer for setting your own price, so we stopped it. Maybe I did not blog about it enough or people felt that our regular retail price was a good value. One person actually paid MORE than retail, which was really appreciated as a great gesture.

If you are curious about our toolkit, drop me an email at scott@squarewheels.com.

The metaphor of the Square Wheels Wagon is useful and bombproof. You show people a cartoon and allow participants to think about it and then discuss their ideas in small groups. You allow people to project their beliefs onto the cartoon to help build their ownership images and then allow them to apply that image onto their workplace through identifying the things that do not work smoothly along with their ideas for improvement.

You can download a complete Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit from our website and get the PowerPoint illustrations, instructions for use and for facilitation, in general, and worksheets you can print and use to have an effective 30 minute meeting or set the stage for a series of meetings focused on identifying, solving and implementing workplace improvement ideas and building intrinsic motivation of your people.

Heck, you can just use the handouts and not even need any LCD projector or other supporting equipment and be just as effective in involving and engaging everyone.

You can see how identifying something as a Square Wheel pretty much guarantees that your people will find some Round Wheel solutions and workarounds, because that is just how our brain works and people are much better problem solvers than problem identifiers. And you can see how the tabletop discussions generated allow people to gain some peer support for actually implementing the ideas.

Millions of people have never tried the simple act of facilitating with our Square Wheels cartoons and we think that they all represent potential users. My own presentations using these materials in 38 countries along with hundreds of testimonials from consultants and managers, worldwide, allow me to feel quite confident that you can use these illustrations in your improvement initiatives in the workplace, and elsewhere, for coaching improved performance and impacting organizational and personal momentum. So, go ahead and try out one of our very unique tools!

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

 

Selling Lost Dutchman – some discussion tips

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is about mining goldWe have a lot of users of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine worldwide, and many people are really good at connecting the play of the game and the team building dynamics it generates to the issues of organizational improvement of their clients and prospects.

But people have been asking me for some tips. Some key words and phrases might include:
• Improving employee engagement
• Focusing on collaboration to optimize overall group results
• Measurable behavioral outcomes
• Debriefed to business goals and objectives
• Leadership is explicitly there to help teams be successful
• Played worldwide with top management as well as front line workers
• Memorable and engaging, Colorful and Fun.

But remember, Dutchman was designed not as a fun game but as a business improvement simulation / exercise to generate discussions about the issues of workplace competition and the benefits of collaboration between operational units to optimize overall results.

It is much different than one of the little “ropes course” kinds of “team challenges,” not that those are bad, but they are not really all that good when trying to tightly link to organizational improvement, in my direct experience.

Firewalking – a team event?
Paintball is goofy for team building – why not use real guns?
Acid River and the Spyderwebs and The Wall and similar are nice little problem solving exercises, and fun to solve, but
• Do they have real connections to work and workplace improvement?
• Do they have measurable outcomes?
• Do they focus on how to motivate people?
• Do they link to any sorts of skill improvement or improving decision making or strategic planning?
• Do they link to organizational risk-taking?
• Do they tightly focus on what people can do to optimize company performance?
• Do they generate ideas for changes in culture or motivating teams?
• Are they really worth the cost of taking people away from work?

We use Lost Dutchman as an experiential business simulation. The design makes it easy to link to performance improvement.

Hope this helps.

Motivation, Collaboration, Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment*

Dis-un-empowerment: The removal of those performance-influencing factors (real or believed) that are thought to be un-empowering by the individual or individuals.

And we can define Motivation as the absence of de-motivating factors.

The concept of empowering people is really a difficult one – lots of things have been written about it over the years but it requires the active involvement of senior managers, a whole lot of trust between managers and employees, and often some significant changes in workplace culture.

Plus there is the reality that one cannot really empower someone else – try it with a teenager if you need any proof of this!

I posted my first article on this subject back in 2006 and got a lot of interesting feedback about this simple but effective approach to involving and engaging people in an activity to improve morale, motivation and real performance.

We take the simple and somewhat obvious position that most people are far from actually being empowered or more properly, acting empowered. There are tons of statistics that support this notion.

So what are we actually talking about here? Let me start with a few simple examples of engaged and motivated people:

1) At a major hotel chain, employees are wearing buttons that say, “Yes I can.” I ask the front-desk clerk if she could give me a button because I am speaking that next morning on customer service and she says, “No, I can’t.”

She really did want to give it to me, but she said wearing the button was required as management’s policy, that they were expected to have one on, the hotel didn’t have extras and that she would be yelled at by her boss for not having a button. Caught in a dilemma, she was not able to do what the company or customer wanted her to do. (I did persuade her to give me the button and I used it in my session, explaining the dilemma she faced. Heck, I even invited her boss to sit in for free (but he did not!)).

The paradox is that management is telling her to act one way while asking her to follow a policy that blocks this request.

2) At McGuffey’s Restaurants, employees and managers wore buttons saying, “The Answer is Yes.” Unlike the above, ask anyone for a button, and they’ll give you their very last one, knowing this response is the expectation of top management. The employees are simply trusted to act appropriately. This attitude infected all kinds of behaviors, with waitresses making a quick run to McDonalds to buy a customer’s kid a Big Mac, raising money for charities or driving to the grocery store to buy anchovies for my Caesar salad.

Top performers, the ones who build positive long-term relationships with customers, will often bend rules and make decisions for the long-term good of the customer relationship when necessary. They tend to retain customers and build loyalty. At the other end of the spectrum, many people will blindly follow policies, procedures, systems and all those constraints that they believe are imposed on them from all over the place, significantly impacting performance.

Many people in the workplace are un-empowered and thus un-responsive and roadblocked by their perceptions of what the organization wants. Or they are roadblocked by their own beliefs about their capabilities. Or, they simply do not know how to get things accomplished.

My answer to performance improvement is simple and straightforward – let’s remove those things that individuals and groups feel are blocking their responsiveness and performance. That is not to say that we change all the policies and procedures, but that we discuss the approach of the top performers in the context of the organization.

If people are un-empowered, then let’s remove the things that might be blocking performance. Let’s work to limit the perceived roadblocks and provide some useful strategies and tactics to work around things inhibiting better results, on an individual and group basis. Thus,

Improvement is all about people; people dis-un-empowered to make decisions to the benefit of the customer and the company. And we know from decades of behavioral research that peer support can work wonders on individual performance, if we allow or encourage it.

What is Dis-Un-Empowerment and how do we Implement?

There are two issues to dis-un-empowerment, the organizational ones and the personal ones. Personal dis-un-empowerment issues are sometimes less clear, while it is easy to get consensus on common organizational ones.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter gave a nice analogy about walking in space. Years of training, simulations, and practice in weightless conditions as well as hundreds of hours of discussion and preparation did not adequately prepare him for the reality of standing in the doorway of the spacecraft with black infinity in every direction. He thought he could do it, but he froze. Wouldn’t you? There are direct parallels to dis-un-empowering people.

The American Society for Quality Control reported that while two in three workers said they had been asked to become involved in workplace decision-making, only one in seven felt they had the power to make those decisions. And if they don’t feel dis-un-empowered to make decisions, they won’t make them. And a Sirota Survey of 2007 found that 85% of employees say their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job. 

Why don’t most people feel able to make improvements? Because they are uncomfortable doing things differently than they have done them before. Most people will resist change.

“The only change people like is the kind that jingles in their pockets.”
my friend, Jerry Brown

“Change is good. You go first.
Dilbert Principles

Note that almost every organization has a few top-performing employees doing exactly what is necessary to generate results. They are the people that have the highest productivity and profitability.

Exemplary performers manage roadblocks much more effectively and tend to have clearer perspectives and focus on what your customers require. They also tend to focus on doing the small things that truly make a difference in building a client relationship with the customer. But also recognize that they often bend the rules to do what is right — thus delivering the highest perceived value.

A few years ago, Frank Navran had the opportunity to observe the role that perception plays in people’s ability to manage obstacles. Frank was involved in a performance improvement project and asked to observe a work group to identify the behavioral, attitudinal and/or skills and knowledge differences between the exemplary performers, average performers and poor performers.

The intent was to identify those differences so that an intervention could be devised to make the average and poor performers more like their exemplary peers to raise overall unit performance levels.

What ensued was rather frustrating for the consultant and the client. Aside from the actual performance results there were no noticeable behavioral differences. The only apparent difference was the workers’ response to the question, “What is keeping you from performing at a higher level?

  • The exemplary performers said they had fewer than 3 perceived roadblocks to higher performance levels.
  • The average performers identified 6 roadblocks each.
  • The poor performers cited 12 or more reasons why they could not perform at a higher level.

Their significance was twofold:

1. As all employees worked under near identical conditions nothing differed except their perception of the number of obstacles to exemplary performance facing them.

2. The differences seemed to be more perceptual than real. This lead the consultant to the hypothesis that in this client’s organization the performance difference might be related to the employee’s perceptions about his or her own power to remove the roadblocks to higher level performance.

Further testing proved him right. In addition, the consultant observed that employee perceptions fell into four sets or categories that could be generalized and applied to other cases. These can be drawn as a Square, of course:

Category 1 – BRICK WALLs

Some roadblocks are truly unalterable. There are things in the real world facing people that inhibit their performance which they are not likely to change: the effectiveness of a foreign competitor’s product, the slumping national economy, the international exchange rate, the organizational structure at the organization, the funding and paperwork processes for new product development, etc. These are all factors which affect employee performance but are well beyond individual or collective control. Characterize these as brick walls: immovable and real.

Category 2 – PARTITIONs

The second category of roadblocks are those that can be managed through with effort, time, money and/or additional personnel, or other resources. The individual employee might make some degree of progress in overcoming this particular inhibitor to performance. Often a small group of employees can make even more progress collectively. And, most importantly, this type of roadblock can be managed in large part or totally, if supervision or management gets involved. This type of roadblock is characterized as a partition, since a partition, if pushed from the bottom, might move slightly, but if pushed from a higher level will often topple. These are real roadblocks which the employees require assistance to remove.

Category 3 – PAPER WALLs

The third category was reminiscent of a football game where the home team burst through a paper barrier to the cheers of the crowd at the start. Until tested, this roadblock often looks impenetrable. Workplace examples are common, and include the belief that the boss will not approve, that it won’t be supported by another department, that it is “policy” or the way things have always been done, etc.

But people discover that these beliefs aren’t true when they test these perceptions. Others have done things differently and are doing things differently. But, unless tested, this roadblock is just as effective in preventing performance as the first two. These are manageable, but also real.

Category 4 – MINDSETs

This type of roadblock is the most troubling to management. It represents the untested beliefs and perceptions. When people believe they can’t, they are correct. These roadblocks are de-actualizing and restrictive, yet arbitrarily so in that they really do not exist. Interestingly, these are generally the most common of all the different types and the ones that block the below average performers from improvement.

Using the Model

It is always fascinating to observe how different employees manage the different roadblocks they face. Top performers, as a group, are generally not impeded by many of the things that get in the way of average or poor performers. Their model of how things really work appears to be more proactive and behaviorally-oriented. They are generally more willing to test the roadblocks to see which are which and are often quick to refer the Category 1 and 2 roadblocks to management whereas they push through the 3s and 4s.

Average performers, on the other hand, are sometimes stymied by roadblocks in many cases. Some may stubbornly push the 1s and try to get them to move even though they do not have the power to do so. They may often spend a lot of individual time on the 2s, trying to generate change and feeling good when they manage to get past them; this behavior, while well-intentioned, may not be time and energy effective!

Poor performers can generate long lists of roadblocks that get in the way of getting things done. They face innumerable hurdles in their everyday job and can constantly point out the things that cause their performance levels to be low.

How to deliver the theme:

So, here’s an empowering exercise that you can easily do to help reshape the thinking of the poor performers and generate new alternative behaviors among the average ones.

Use a flip chart and masking tape and start a meeting with the question, “What are some of the roadblocks to getting things done around here?” or similar. Allow the group to brainstorm and write everything down.

(Note: You might want to set the Rules as, “All comments are okay, everything gets written down and we discuss the specifics of each idea when we complete the list. No negative reactions are allowed in this part of the meeting.”)

Capture all of the ideas without reframing or rewording, since changing wording might change the meaning or it may be perceived as a “put-down” to an employee with less than perfect language skills who might then not participate any longer. You can also ask for clarification after you write it down, making notes on the page.

Ask individuals, if necessary, to generate the participation of everyone, but expect more roadblocks to come from the average and poor performers. Write them all down. You may also prompt, when the going gets slow, by saying something as, “How about the interdepartmental things?”

Post up the sheets as they become filled and do not be surprised to get 10 or more pages (my personal record: 22 pages!). The more the better. Really!

Once the list is essentially complete, share the model of Roadblock Management with them, describing the categories and the general frameworks of each.

Now, go back through this list and have the group categorize, as best they can, the nature of each of the roadblocks. Let THEM do this — that way it is their list and not yours!

What you will discover is that 80% of the roadblocks will be 3s and 4s and that the top performers will often offer everyone suggestions as to how to manage the 2s more effectively. The Category 1 roadblocks are those that you should volunteer to escalate and some of the 2s might be addressed by a team of your people, including some of the poorer performers.

Celebrate any ideas for improvement and attempts to address specific problems. And be sure to get out of the way as the group and individuals now engage in some dis-un-empowerment.

© Performance Management Company, 1998 – 2010 All Rights Reserved.

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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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Thoughts on Teamwork and Engagement

This is about issues and opportunities around people and performance.

Maximum organizational effectiveness comes from aligning people to work together on shared common goals and providing them with the information and resources to get things done. In most cases, organizations function reasonably well within departments, with managers meeting goals and expectations. There are issues, but they are not departmental because shared goals and measurements as well as group expectations by management tend to give reasonably good levels of performance and innovation. People tend to be good problem solvers and will work together fairly well.

There are a variety of statistics clearly demonstrating that team-based behavior can offer a wide range of positive impacts on organizations of all kinds:

  • Globally, only 1 of 5 workers is giving full discretionary effort on the job. We often call these “exemplary performers” but they are simply engaged
  • Almost 4 of 10 workers are disenchanted or disengaged – they are not performing to their capability
  • In the US, only 3 in 10 feel engaged and the same number feel disenchanted or disengaged – they are not contributing much nor getting satisfaction in their jobs
  • Only 1 in 10 respondents agreed that senior leaders in their companies actually treat employees as vital corporate assets
  • The more engaged employees are more likely to stay with an organization, but 40% are “passive job seekers.”
  • Fully half of the disengaged have NO plans to leave the company nor are they even passively looking for other employment! (scary!)

There are strong connections of engagement to company results:

  • Companies with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and a 28% growth in earnings per share
  • Companies with low levels of engagement saw a drop in operating income of 32% and a decline of 11% in earnings per share  (from a TP one-year study of 50 companies)

Moreover,

  • Companies with high engagement had a 3.74% increase in operating margin and a 2.06 net profit margin
  • Companies with low engagement had a -2.01% decline in operating margin and a -1.38% net profit margin (from a TP study of 40 companies)

Can we hear a Thump Thump? Are we really making progress?

There are lots of statistics around clearly demonstrating why we need to improve. In other posts, I will share some ideas for making things improve. There are many things we can do.

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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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Thoughts on Teamwork and Engagement Part 2

This is about some ideas and solutions around people and performance and it is about Teamwork and Collaboration!

Typical recommendations about what to do tend to go along the same lines, like these Top 10 Drivers of Employee Engagement Globally (from TowersPerrin, 2009):

  1. Senior management sincerely interested in employee well-being
  2. Improved my skills and capabilities over the last year
  3. Organization’s reputation for social responsibility
  4. Input into decision making in my department
  5. Organization quickly resolves customer concerns
  6. Set high personal standards
  7. Have excellent career advancement opportunities
  8. Enjoy challenging work assignments that broaden skills
  9. Good relationship with supervisor
  10. Organization encourages innovative thinking

Note that the above says little about how teamworkand especially cross-functional or interdepartmental teamwork, can help involve and engage people in shared goals and missions.

Yet we know that people working together – actively engaging with others to focus on accomplishing an important result – is a very strong motivator of individual performance and something which generates collective engagement. Peer support is a powerful driver of accomplishment, so doing things to generate more acceptance and a shared mission among people can be really helpful. Corporate team building is a missing ingredient in many organizations work process improvement strategies.

What is surprising as well as disappointing is that 42% of US HR executives – today — still have “reducing headcount” as their top priority!  (from Deloitte’s Talent Pulse, July 2009) We hear this in reading about the lack of senior management support for recruitment efforts, for example. We see it in the way training for workplace improvement is budgeted.

“Improving organizational performance” was not even on the list of things to do! Yet 65% of these HR Execs are highly or very-highly concerned about losing high-potential performers in the year the recession ends and many see it now (26%) and many employers have done NOTHING to plan for when the economy recovers and few HR execs seem to understand the negative impacts! (Deloitte)

Companies are spending on new hire training to get them up to speed on systems and processes. Little is being spent on workplace improvements and little is being done to involve people in generating ideas for improvement. The former National Association of Suggestion Systems is now the Employee Involvement Association (http://www.eianet.org) and the website was copyright 2006 and no meetings were listed on their website. It still exists, but there does not appear to be a LOT of activity around involvement and improvement.


Collaboration generates better ideas as well as engagement 

Employers need to demonstrate to the workers that people are important in their organizations and that it is important that people feel part of the team. Pay and all those other attractors are important, but as attractors. To generate performance, people need to feel that their efforts are appreciated and recognized.

The real leverage comes from improving teamwork and collaboration between departments. That is where lots of improvements in overall effectiveness can be found, but capturing these opportunities and implementing change and improvement is difficult as well as political, in many cases.

Interdepartmental Collaboration is an oxymoron – two words that do not go together well.

Interdepartmental Collaboration color yellow

Interdepartmental Collaboration is an oxymoron in most organizations

Today’s organizational complexities make it very difficult for even highly effective leaders to motivate people and effectively implement improvements with team involvement. It takes team perspective and alignment to get things done in most cases. But pressures to produce will often lead to tops-down initiatives driven into the workplace – behaviors known to generate resistance and a variety of other negative impacts.

What to do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Discover some initiatives that support inter-disciplinary or cross-functional teamwork and engage people in a vision and focus on accomplishments.
  • Ask people to define what inter-departmental initiatives might have significant performance improvement impacts.
  • Identify the key steps in implementing results and develop some form of checklist of critical activities. A variety of these exist but the best will generally come from an analysis of the key steps taken in the most successful previous successes in your own organization. Each culture is different and there is no silver bullet in terms of how things get done within each company. The best predictor of future success is the successful past behavior.
  • Minimize the perceived risk of involvement and allow the activity to generate peer support and recognition
  • Provide for a variety of intrinsic motivators. Do not just rely on extrinsic ones.
  • Look for a myriad of ways that management can show support – both the managers of the group as well as the managers of the managers. Get lots of recognition for the activity of trying to improve.
  • Look to manage the roadblocks and anticipate the problems that they might have in implementing changes.
  • Find some budget for support. Don’t allow financial needs to delay movement forward, since momentum and enthusiasm will be lost.

What are YOUR ideas about making these improvements?

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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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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