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

Category: collaboration Page 2 of 4

Puppies and Performance Improvement – Random Thoughts…

Much of my thinking involves that metaphor of a wooden wagon rolling on Square Wheels with a cargo of round rubber tires. The reality seems that the wagon just keeps rolling along, with the leader pulling and the workers pushing and it thumps and bumps. The irony is that the wagon is full of round wheel possibilities.

Square wheels One and How Things Work ©

The most frequent use of the metaphor is for workplace improvement, with the cartoon used by a supervisor to talk about the issues of continuous improvement and to accomplish the critically important task of involving and engaging people in workplace improvement. And I expand on the reactions of participants in this blog link below:

SWs One - what you see is all border

If it is the participant wagon puller’s idea to make improvements in the way things work, implementation is an awful lot easier than if it is the idea of the wagon puller, since their involvement in problem identification or issue awareness generates a much stronger sense of ownership. No involvement often generates resistance to change.

Nobody ever washes a rental car.

So, there I was minding my own business watching TV yesterday than what appears are two advertisements, one asking for contributions to improve the lives of children living in poverty and another for improving the lives of animals that are confined to shelters. Cute puppies.

So, that generated me thinking about what motivates people and I had this idea to put puppies into the wagon — would that make a difference in the awareness of the wagon puller and pushers if the puppies were getting treated badly and being thumped and bumped around?

A few minutes of playing around and I created this:

Square Wheels One Puppies 2

I passed the illustration around to a couple of people and the reactions were, in fact, pretty interesting. Without a clear understanding of the metaphor that I was trying to communicate, they saw different issues and themes and had different questions, among them the thought that why would people treat a wagon with puppies differently than a wagon with a cargo of round wheels.

One person said if the situation were actually like that above, everyone would actually stop pushing and pulling and would play with the puppies, who would be running around everywhere…  My thought building on that is that they would then be forced to push and pull even faster to meet their goal, causing a lot more chaos with puppies bouncing everywhere!

For me, I see a good bit of indifference in the workplace to the ideas of the wagon pushers. So many studies point to the lack of involvement and their feeling that no one cares about their ideas to make workplace improvements. This results in dis-engagement or un-involvement and a lack of motivation. (see my articles here and here with stats on this here) and it seems to be an issue of how people are managed (see my article on Jim Clifton’s thoughts (Gallup) here). We can choose to do things differently.

So why not use puppies?

Anyway, the fun here continues. And I guess my next step is to add some butterflies to the whole thinking on people, motivation, behavior, performance and puppies. I mean, what could be better than an image of puppies and butterflies as it relates to how organizations really work?

Square Wheels are simply great tools

Ask us about our simple to use tools for organizational improvement,

For the FUN of It!

scott tiny casual

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

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

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

Perfect Play — How can an organization understand what it needs to accomplish to maximize success?

Thirty years of working with organizations may have taught me a couple of things. One is that a sense of teamwork is critical, along with a real understanding of the issues of alignment. Performance feedback is much more important than “reward systems” and extrinsic rewards. And there is no silver bullet about leadership — it is so much about clarity of expectations, required resources to support results, and an understanding of issues and opportunities.

What I want to do herein is to share some simple bullets that I feel link to the issues around optimizing performance. I also included a bunch of links to my other blog posts. My goal is to create one or two “Ah Ha!” moments and provide some ideas and maybe assist you in seeing how you might do one more things better or differently. The key is generating behavioral change and continuous improvement in how things are accomplished.

How does one even start… Let me begin with a key concept that seems to apply everywhere and that is on the framework of involvement and engagement:

Ownership Rental Nobody Toolkit icon 3

Yes, Ownership! If we do not allow people to have a sense of real ownership, we simply cannot realistically expect them to take care of something. That would simply be illogical, as Mr. Spock might say.

The cartoon above actually represents a number of key points that I would like to make:

  • The hard part is getting the wagon to begin to roll downhill. We push that thing uphill a lot more frequently and involving and engaging and building a sense of momentum is often the hard part for getting things moving.
  • If the wagon puller is not expecting things to move faster than they have been moving, or they have not been actively involved in the design and implementation process, they will feel that things are being done TO them and most wagon pullers will resist that, even if it makes good sense to roll forward.
  • We roll along on those very common Square Wheels, which work but do not work smoothly. Square Wheels are Everywhere!
  • Our focus on pushing and pulling will often result in a sense of non-awareness of those Round Wheels that already exist within the wagon, those things that could simply be implemented if we had the time and the tools to do so.

So, one message for anyone leading anyone is pretty darn simple:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz003

Simply stop, stand there, observe and consider. Get out of the way, if that will work. Involve and engage people. Ask for ideas. Talk about what is not working smoothly.

So, one thing that we offer customers is our Square Wheels facilitation toolkits, simple sets of instructions, powerpoint slides and worksheets that enable them to involve and engage people in discussions about what might be improved and how to get those ideas implemented. You can see some of the variety of offerings on our Square Wheels Facilitation Tools pages on the website. You can also read about these ideas on this blog.

In our flagship team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, we give teams “sufficient but not excessive resources” along with a challenge to, “Mine as much gold as we can.” We provide them with an attractive vision of the future and a specific goal, immediate feedback about their decisions and the impacts, and allow them to implement their plan for play. Every team does well, but some do “more better” than the others. And we share with them a framework for Perfect Play, what they could have done to optimize results if they had made different choices.

Generally, teams mine between 4 and 9 days of gold. But they could have done better if they made different choices and involved leadership and collaborated more between the different teams:

Perfect Play Game Screen

They could have mined as many as 11 gold. And, as we debrief the game and discuss the decisions and the planning and the inter-table interactions, our goal is to reframe the play of the Dutchman Game into the play of teams in the workplace. We want to open people up to discussing what is motivating and demotivating and what they could choose do do differently.

This can involve discussions and personal choices, as well as team-based effectiveness and

LD Debrief triad 1

LD Debrief Triad 2

I find that “Perfect Play” comes from repetition, from stepping back and looking objectively at what decisions were made, what was accomplished, and what alternatives were available. It comes from having great performance feedback and flow. It comes when people are involved and engaged. And, ideally, playing again and again and repeating the cycle over and over.

When I was working in quality improvement initiatives, we called it,

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz004

Good leaders and top teams are always looking to expand their knowledge and improve their performance and doing the same thing over and over simply produces the same result.

Rat Cage More Better Faster


We think our tools and our approach are top-shelf. The materials are easy to use and the cartoons easily generate perspective and involvement. Our team building games are designed to generate the behaviors that link to real workplace performance opportunities and our games such as Collaboration Journey and Innovate & Implement are really easy to play for small groups.

We’ve been selling and supporting Lost Dutchman for 20 years now, with a really great reaction and long-term use by so many people worldwide.

Max DePree - cannot become

Have FUN out there, and see what you can do to generate some Perfect Play in your organization.

square wheels author

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

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

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


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Team Building and Poems on Performance – Cute Visuals on Collaboration and Goal Setting

Teambuilding is about generating alignment to shared goals and visions and also about involving and engaging people in collaborating for optimized results. The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is our tool to teach along the lines of competition and collaboration as well as planning and doing. Basic to its unique design is that sharing information and resources helps tabletops to optimize overall results for the group.

To set the stage, understand that the goal is to mine as much as WE can and optimize the Expedition Leader’s Return on Investment (ROI). The role of the Expedition Leader is to help teams be successful. We feel that these two factors model the desired outcomes of most leaders operating in most organizations. The reality is that teams more often choose to compete rather than collaborate and that they seldom ask the leadership for help, advice or even resources to generate maximum results.

LD 2 slides - We Can and Help teams

So, with this as a basic entry point, here are some poems and illustrations that help to illustrate the issues and opportunities. Teams can make better choices in a variety of different ways. So, here goes…


expedition leaders lead expeditions

collaboration is a key to decision making

So, the planning now completed, teams begin to play the game and see the results of their planning and their choices. The goal is to mine as much gold as we can.

strategic planning lends itself to performance

teamwork is essential to optimized results

teamwork policies and procedures

Now, the play is almost done and teams are looking about and making comparisons about their performance to the performance of other tabletops. Some chose to collaborate, some chose to get advice from that Expedition Leader and some might have even asked for some resources to help optimize ROI for the table and for the group.

intrinsic motivation is about succeeding

my team, my team, my team

LD Celebration is key poem

So, now we can take the time to reflect on things and turn the game into a powerful learning event where we discuss past choices for the game and future choices for the organization. It lends itself to reflect on things that are done well and things that need to be improved. It is a chance to reaffirm the goals and directions, share the visions and to pull things together.

reflection on choices

challenge is to mine gold

what did you learn from your experience

Have FUN out There!

celebrating success and results

Scott Debrief

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

Is HR the Puppet Master or the Puppet?

There was a great post this morning by Dan Rockwell on his blog, part of which I reproduce here simply because it is a great subject as well as a target of some of my cartoons.

Dan wrote (some snipped):

My worst experience with HR is a broken confidence. She smiled and listened and within an hour violated my trust.

Human Resource personnel are among the most criticized people in business.

HR is criticized for:

  1. Treating humans as resources.
  2. Not understanding positions they’re filling.
  3. Managing paper better than people.
  4. Subservience to policy and procedure.
  5. Defensive, CYA postures.
  6. Lack of operational experience.
  7. Working for the C-Suit, not the people.

New potential:

HR matters because people matter.

“I don’t know about you, but I love HR.” Dr. Vik (Doc) in “The Culture Secret.”

“They are underrated, over-criticized, and underutilized.” Doc says, change the name from Human Resources to Human Empowerment (HE). The job of HE is, “Maximizing human potential.” Doc goes on to say, “HE could be the single biggest champion of your companies Culture.

New ideas for HE:

  1. Focus more on development.
  2. Become more human. Since when does serious work prohibit smiling?
  3. Sit in the seats of workers and do their jobs.

My take is that HR pretty much does what the C-Suite instructs it to do. I wrote:

Well, as they say, “Good Luck with all that.”

It is NOT HR’s fault, it is the C-suite that does to them what it wants and focuses them on the psychopathic side of running a business. Our Generally Accepted Accounting Practices treat people as a cost on the ledger of life. That crap all cascades down.

Over my 30 years, I have seen some attempts to address it in one company or another. The average company will SAY something like, “Our people are our greatest asset,” but then go look for some of that.

Because senior managers like extrinsic rewards, the whole operation works that way. Because senior managers like golf, they do teambuilding around a golf resort. Since people are often disposible, they treat them like paper tissues (I will go no further in that description).

I once had the CEO of a company at a retreat with his top managers blurt, “Asking employees for ideas is like asking the vegetables to design a refrigerator.” (He was not trying to be funny…)

Executives are SO far isolated from the workers that they have little clue as to who they are or what they do. Why should they treat them with respect?

How can a chain of 5000+ retail stores operate with none of the workers qualifying for any benefits — no health care in a company that labels itself a pharmacy?

Look at the people on minimum wage – 80% work for billion dollar companies that are profitable. Some even help their new hires apply for Medicaid and other government benefits designed to help the poor — and these are the new hires.

Let’s not place all the blame on HR. Lots of guilty parties making a lot of financial decisions to support the stock prices, not the people. Are there good exceptions? Surely.


Addendum: It is about Money. That means it is about Taxes and reducing costs. Does that really seem like a good base for building people skills and investing in organizational development? Any wonder why “Re-Engineering” took off and the focus changed from improving the processes to reducing headcount.

I always liked this: “How long can we go lean and mean until we become gaunt and dead?” (source unknown)

to which Dan responded:

Seriously, I think you’re nailing an important component of this issue. It seems to boil down to the idea that HR is the “puppet” of people at the top. We know people are reluctant to give up power once they have it.

I think that many organizations run something like this:

Puppet Master One color yellow

and larger organizations tend to look more like this as the control cascades down from leadership:

Puppet Master Two color yellow        Puppet Master Three color yellow

And things can get really crazy as top managers try to gain even more control over how things work and who does what when.

Puppet Master Four color yellow

So, what is the role of HR in all this? Is it to simply help senior managers control the behavior of the employees or is it to help the employees generate a sense of self-worth and to create some engagement and involvement in what happens in their workplaces? Is HR there to help the corporation control “all things people” or simply to help keep costs under control and manage “Human Resources,” you know, the people who do ALL of the Actual Work in the organization?

It is an interesting paradox, for sure.

manager puppet poem

BIG manager puppet poem

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitator

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Thoughts on Millennials, Workplace Aging, Conflict, and Innovation

Three different articles this morning got me thinking about the workplace. One was by Lisa Woods about ideas to manage conflict in the workplace. It is posted up in her Managing Americans blog at this location and was referenced in a LinkedIn posting. It focuses on positive ways to look at and deal with conflict as it occurs.

The second piece was about the aging workforce. It referenced a book called The 2020 Workplace, which is about how the workplace will look.  It is by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd.  The basic point is that our aging workforce will push 5 different generations of workers into the workforce soon.

I also recently posted on the issues of team performance, collaboration and managing workforce age diversity in my blog. In it I focused on some ASTD research about how people are choosing not to retire and how that is impacting the workplace, which is actually getting OLDER rather than younger as people deal with the economic uncertainties of our times. (Read this blog article here.)

It says, in part:

And. according to a new survey by the Conference Board, two-thirds of workers between the ages of 45 and 60 are now planning to DELAY their retirement and work longer. That’s a 20-point jump from 2010 – when only 42% of workers had plans to put off their retirement. Job losses, low salaries, and declining home values are some of the main reason why Americans can no longer stick to their retirement plans and plan to keep working.

The new workplace will apparently have 5 tribes, each bringing their own technical and cultural perspectives and each with its own worldview. These groups will have to co-exist and also collaborate in order for companies to generate desired outcomes and results. Think about the elderly customer who calls into customer service and gets the young kid, or the young kid that calls in and gets one of us Oldsters to handle their problem. There are all sorts of opportunities for mismatching and poor communications. The Millennials may see their co-workers as simply elderly:

Millennials have different views of Traditionals

While the older workers may not appreciate all that the younger workers represent:

Millennials may appear to be Potato Heads

Getting the younger workers to get up to speed on how things work may be an interesting challenge, since many workplaces have traditional ways of structuring and managing transactions.

Are training people really ogres?

“Traditionalists” are probably a bit more resistant to new technologies — teaching my mom how to use a cell phone has been interesting. Using the remote control is sometimes even a challenge when the one-button push gets out of synch and some devices are going on while others are going off! Coaching over the phone is fun. So, imagine the Traditionalist calling in and being told they need to give their pin number and access their account online in a conversation with a person who has been online and had a iPhone since they were two.

While the younger workers feel like so much is old-fashioned and not up to modern standards, some questions may arise as to whether we are using the newest of technologies:

Questions always arise if we are using new technology

Similar issues arise as systems and process get upgraded and no longer work like they used to. Some of the older workers may simply feel pressed to adapt to new technologies that are uncomfortable, so there may be some issues of resistance:

Defense wagon yellow 70

To make progress we need to consider workplace conflict a GOOD thing. It generates discomfort with the way things are now and also helps generate “considered alternatives,” things that might be done differently if we choose to do so. But, if an alternative is not considered, it cannot be implemented — it is good to have people thinking out of the boxes we are in… Conflict supports that, for sure.

Having a workplace in some level of conflict is what generates creativity and innovation and forces changes in how things work.

At the same time, a clarity of mission and vision, alignment of measurements and feedback systems to support the generation of desired results, plus sufficient non-direction and the ability to build intrinsic reward mechanisms is important.

We cannot just bring new workers into the workplace and set them free to do what they do. After all, they have no idea as to how we got to where we are and what our history looks like. We have, in so many workplaces, a long history of successes.

Cave Wall yellow 70

And we have a management team that has helped to bring us to our current point. Consider that good, but that it also represents a solid opportunity for a lot of organizational and leadership development. We need some new tools and some new approaches to getting things done.

Cave Wall Writing yellow 70

The reality that there will be FIVE generations of workers in the workplace by 2020 is mind-boggling, and that the workplace will actually keep AGING as people keep working instead of retiring (all sorts of drivers). I posted up some thoughts and statistics about this before: ( ).

So, let’t look to drive MORE conflict and chaos, but let’s make for some effective conflict managements to help direct the focus and energies in our workplaces. We do that by being tight on missions and goals and purposes but being a little looser on processes and procedures. And keep people throwing mud at the wire fence — it is the only way to see what might work.

Conflict is good. Manage it well.

And let’s figure out how to get there from here!

Rainbow Wagon green 70

Our Square Wheels toolkits and our team building games offer some powerful, bombproof and inexpensive ways to improve teamwork and impact organizational effectiveness. Talk is cheap, but directed focus on issues and opportunities is effective in generating alignment and collaboration.

Spring of improvement and change poem


Addendum – from an article at

Older workers doing better than younger counterparts, study suggests
(by Joe McKendrick in SmartPlanet, with Scott’s rewriting)

There has been a lot of discussion about the plight of older workers and their supposed disappearance from today’s hyper-competitive economy. Anecdotal stories of age discrimination abound. A study funded by the Social Security Administration, however, shows older workers are more educated, more productive, and make more money than ever before. And with the increasing numbers of Baby Boomers hitting age-60 mark, these trends are accelerating as few choose to retire because they can’t.

Older workers also earn premiums over younger workers, and tend to have the same educational levels. 20 years ago, only 20% of workers who were high-school dropouts remained in the workforce past age 60, versus 60% of those with doctoral or professional degrees. This metric stays essentially the same for men, but has risen for women. Plus, since average educational levels are rising for older workers, greater labor participation rates are coming with it for non manual labor workers.

Employees between the ages of 65 and 69 have had 30%-point gains in income between the years 1985 and 2010. In addition, 70-to-74-year olds saw their income grow at least 28% points higher since 1985. The issue is that they are not allowing for a lot of hiring of younger workers

Incomes of workers 25-29 dropped 7%, and those in the 45-49 group dropped 1% since 1985.


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Here is a bit more interesting information: This from

A new survey of employers finds the cost of replacing a ” Millennial” employee — an individual in his or her 20s — ranges between $15,000 and $25,000.

Cost to replace a Gen-Y employee: up to $25,000

by Joe McKendrick

That’s the conclusion of a survey conducted by Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, and, an online career service.

Actually, the cost of replacing any employee across the generational spectrum is high. A recent study by the Center for American Progress puts this number at about 20% of anyone with a salary up to $75,000 or less. By this estimate, assuming a Millennial employee is making about $50,000, this means a $10,000 replacement cost — a little more conservative than the Millennial Branding estimate, but still something to ponder for organizations.

What adds to the Gen-Y replacement cost is their greater proclivity to job-hop: the Millennial Branding study finds that the average worker under the age of 30 changes jobs every two years, compared to the five-year job-hopping rate of Gen X-ers (30 to 50 years of age),  and seven-year-itch of Baby Boomers (50 years or older).

The major costs associated with replacing employees includes training and development, interviewing, job posting/advertising and on-boarding.

Also, as Millennial Branding put it: “Considering that approximately 40% of companies currently employ 50 or more millennial workers, these costs are expected to rise dramatically over the years to come. With current data showing more than 60% of millennials leaving their company in less than three years, employers are facing a very expensive revolving door.”

What can be done to keep to attract, rather than repel, needed talent?  Some thoughts:

Don’t compartmentalize the solution within a “program”: Millennial Branding states that some companies have “retention programs” to keep employees in the fold. However, keeping people engaged and excited about a company means a cultural change across the board, a different way of looking at management — or even better, a more management-free workplace.

Promote entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship: Nothing creates passion and personal responsibility more than being able to build one’s own business. Provide ways to ensure incentives and rewards for innovation. Don’t be afraid of employees even proposing disruption — creating a product or service that turns the mainstream business on its head.

Remove the barriers between employees and customers: Organizations that remove employees from meaningful engagement with the customer risk souring those employees. As a great example, look to the customer call-center function — a hotbed of turnover. Those companies that provide career tracks, training, and decision-making discretion to customer-care representatives see far less turnover than those that just want warm bodies at the call stations. At another level, employees caught up in a bureaucracy — and are far removed from customers — also are likely to be disenchanted.

Use social media: In its report, Millennial Branding points out that while 62% of HR professionals use job boards and corporate websites to recruit millennials, only 9% use LinkedIn, 3% for Facebook and 1% cited Twitter as a resource for recruiting purposes. You have to go where they live.

Some testimonials about our Team Building Exercise, Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

We think that The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is an absolutely great team building exercise that allows anyone to help their organization focus on issues of collaboration, optimization of overall results, and improving how organizations implement change and strategy. It links to our Square Wheels tools, elegantly, and thus is a great tool to use for building employee engagement and the implementation of creative ideas for improvement and innovation.

And we are not the only ones that feel that way. Here is one from an internal trainer, one from a international consultant and one from an executive assistant who ran the game with her company’s senior leadership team (and got rave reviews from them!)

Kyla LD testim 100

Andi LD testim 100

Assistant LD testim 100

We find that people who have used some of the competitive products in the marketplace (and by competitive, I mean that they DO generate competition when they should be generating collaboration) are either much more expensive or not as flexible or just not as good (or all three). You can click here for a comparison of Dutchman with Gold of the Desert Kings, for example.

If you want to learn more about the exercise, please visit our website. Or, better yet, give me a call at 864-292-8700. I generally answer my phone most hours of most days and would love to chat about this stuff.

Russ LD testim 100

Herb LD testim 100

Greer LD testim 100

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Extrovert, Introvert, and the Power of Quiet

Brian Remer sent me an email years ago with a connection to his neat online newsletter and I thought to kind of reprint some of that again with some of my own comments, ideas, and resources. Brian starts out discussing Susan Cain’s book called, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, abstracting the contents and going on to add a few of his personal perspectives, productive frameworks and exercises.

Reading it, it seemed that it related nicely to our team building work using the Square Wheels images and our various team building simulations.

The basic idea is that everyone has ideas and perspectives and something to add, but that the dynamics of a group may be such that people appear to be uninvolved or non-contributory, even when they have great ideas that would be beneficial. They simply have a different style of working with other people’s ideas and working in a group, often when they do not have sufficient time to thoroughly consider ideas.

Some of these same concepts and thoughts appear in a different article, “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…” that focuses on the benefits of better engaging the 50% of the middle of any organization. (Click here to download that article.)

I Quit Article Icon

Brian’s abstract can be seen on his newsletter page at, focusing on generating the more active involvement of the more quiet people in the workplace. He reviews Susan Cain’s concepts of introverts in the workplace. What I somewhat disagree with are these comments:

Cain criticizes what she sees as an excessive use of teams in education and business saying it puts introverts at a disadvantage and reduces the number of creative ideas. She recommends giving people time to work alone, providing private space for contemplation, and using online brainstorming in which sharing ideas by text slows everyone’s thinking to a more thoughtful rate.

Is there really an excessive use of teamwork in education and business? (Wow. I did not see that coming.) My 30+ years of working with people and performance would suggest that many of the “teambuilding” and “Icebreakers” are simply delivered with a lot less focus on “team” such that the more effusive extraverts and faster information sorters tend to simply conversationally overpower the others.

My approach has always been to use smaller groups of 5 to 6 people and to give “quiet contemplation time” to the tabletops, to help those participants to consider ideas before they are discussed within a larger group. This provides people with more thinking time as well as allowing more generative solution and processing. We also use facilitated exercises such as, “What are some Square Wheels that our organization needs to address,” as discussion templates for these group discussions.

In my view, not everyone wants to be The Stand-Up Presenter of the tabletop’s ideas — most would rather have someone else do it.

But I do find, and my observations support, that everyone in these small groups will participate without much prompting — and it is natural for everyone to contribute. The reality that everyone with part of the task will participate to contribute to the group’s successes.

In our Lost Dutchman team building exercise, tabletops have assigned roles and tasks for each of the players and, with these small groups, it is impossible for people to not be involved and engaged. Each person does feel that they contribute to the tabletop’s efforts and our debriefings are more powerful because of this. We simply need of this active involvement and participation in more of our organizations.

Check out Brian’s writings and read some of his suggestions about how to approach the issues and generate some productive silence. Solid stuff, for sure.

And, you can see our newly created pictorial overview of how The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine works to involve and engage everyone in the effort to Mine as much Gold as WE can! Find that Pictorial here.


For the FUN of It!

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

See the powerful new teambuilding game, The Collaboration Journey Challenge

You can reach Scott at
 See his poems and performance haiku poems at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company




We all impact everything. Your impacts on the Space Time Continuum of Work

We impact others. Butterfly wings and all that. Connectivity. Dealing with chaos in the workplace as performance improvement opportunities.

And enlightened (and unenlightened) people everywhere seem to agree that, “The Square Wheels are everywhere!”

Thus, we take our discussion to another dimension, connecting our current reality to that of how things really work in most organizations as well as The Universe.

Wikipedia does a nice job of explaining the basic physics as a mathematical model that builds space (3-dimensions) and time into a single concept of connectivity of everything. From the model, one can imply a large number of theories about impacts on performance of sub-atomic particles, super-galactic interations and people and performance (ya think?).

As written in Wikipedia, in non-relativistic classical mechanics, the use of Euclidean space instead of space-time is appropriate, as time is treated as universal and constant, being independent of the state of motion of an observer. But in relativistic contexts, the notion of time cannot be separated from the three dimensions of space, because the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the object’s velocity relative to the observer and also on the strength of gravitational fields, which can slow the passage of time.

In PMC’s cosmological luminous model, we see things operating in a single universe where there is an inter-relatedness of all things where events are all connected, so it looks like this:

the connectedness of things in the workplace

Your thoughts?

  • What can you choose to do to differentially impact YOUR workplace universe?
  • What can you do to involve and engage people in change and improvement?
  • What Round Wheels already exist that people can choose to change?
  • How can you better motivate the wagon pushers?
  • What can you do to share a perspective on your journey forward?

Need tools for engagement? Take a look at our Square Wheels illustration toolkits and our team building games, such as, Lost Dutchman. Let us know how we can help your organization better manage your space time continuum.

Square Wheels are Everywhere.
But the Round Wheels are already in the wagon.

Have FUN out there!

News Release: Elves offer Santa a deal on Engagement and Implementation

This just off the presses:

Elves Santa News Release

Yes, the Elves see that process improvements can be accomplished and that Santa needs to stop doing what he is doing and listen to their ideas. A Strike was not discussed, but the Elves could certainly be happier, more engaged and involved, and more productive.

And it is NOT just listening to their ideas that they want — they want results, a concept they are calling Engagimentation.

Santa will, of course, listen, act and support. Christmas is near.

scott santa 2008Dr. 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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Engagement and Involvement: What Would Santa Do? Engagimentation!

I thought you might like this little story about Santa and the Elves and his reindeer and how he put together some teams to improve motivation and innovation.

dull Santa1This is a research report from an arms-length investigator and all facts and details can be confirmed by contacting Mrs. Santa Claus, Administrative Manager, Santa’s Workshop, North Pole. No email was made available to us at this time…

Santa Surprised

Santa wasn’t so jolly upon finding his Sleigh not ready for its Big Day!
“So,” he demanded from his Reindeer, “How’d you let it get this way?”

“We asked the Elves to help cause it’s too banged up to fly with ease
but they told US to fix it, they were busy, and then ignored our pleas!”

Santa went straight to the Elves and asked why they hadn’t heeded
his Reindeers’ concern about his Sleigh; the work it needed.
In reaction to this, the Elves yelled, “Because we’re overworked!”
And it was at that exact moment that Santa became mightily irked!

This lack of teamwork had Santa feeling stumped!
He needed a way to get them collaborating and pumped.
So, he used teambuilding he’d heard through the grapevine
called, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Santa to the LDGM Mine

Reindeer and Elves were mixed together and put into teams
and played Dutchman with energy, competition and beams!
By game’s end, they realized that their tendency to compete,
gave them less ‘Gold’ than if collaborating had been their feat.

Santa sled, just starting to fly color

Invigorated with a solid commitment, as a team, they turned
to fixing Santa’s Sleigh as they talked about what they’d learned.
“Since now we know working together benefits all,” said a Reindeer,
“Let’s show Santa his sparkling sleigh to bring him Christmas Cheer!”

Act finally together

What Santa did and needs to continue to do is Engagimentation. This is the process of engaging people with their ideas for improvement and then working with them to implement those same ideas. An inexpensive Square WheelsToolkit is available.

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.

Check out The Square Wheels Project, our LMS for teaching Square Wheels facilitation skills to supervisors and managers.

You can reach Scott at
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group
Poem by Joan Simmerman and line art by R. Sabean

Thoughts on Optimal Team Sizes and Intrinsic Motivation for Results

Andrea Goodridge posed the following question in a LinkedIn discussion:  “What is the optimal team size? Does anyone know of any evidence which demonstrates a team’s decay of effectiveness and productivity because of its size? (I am interested to hear if a team of 12 on one site will be more productive than 2 teams of 6 on two sites.) How DO you approach assembling a team or teams that will actually generate results and have organizational impacts?”


To this, I shared some of my thinking and perspective, noting that my experiences are varied on this, but that I have been playing with these same kinds of issues for 20 years (yeah, more like 35 actually…). I am not sure that there IS an answer to the question. (Andrea actually does go on to add some research data in her comments and discussion with me.)

No doubt teams of 5 to 6 people can form up more quickly and identify and solve problems quickly. But do they have the “steam” to actually get things done politically? Is there enough power there to do more than talk? So, a real question is around the issue of real and perceived management support for risk and initiative.

The makeup of the team is also critical — do they have a vested interest in the outcome, are they some of the engaged workers who self-selected onto the team and do they have any previous success with improvements? Note that previous failures are most likely seen as de-motivators of future performance. The organizational culture is also important: Does it support change and improvement and will it allow the group to become a team and actually take action?

Large groups can have more position power and can include some people who will actually do little but who have the juice to say, “get this done.” The problem is that those large groups CAN play the political / appearance game and be on the team for “resume purposes” or to protect turf or whatever.

It is amazing how many managers do NOT really want changes and improvements to occur, feeling that if a team can come up with something better and implement measurable improvements and results, then they make that manager look bad for not doing that before. Yep — I have seen that crush a plant-wide performance initiative because “Frank” was retiring in a year and he thought of himself as, “The Best Plant Manager in the Whole Entire Company.” My work in a whole bunch of pilot programs clearly showed improvements were possible but, as soon as I left the project, you could hear the screeching sounds of brakes being applied — success was NOT possible.

You can spend lots of money on team surveys and all that — plenty of offerings to “help improve teamwork.” Me, I am a GFNJ * 

The key is to have a really effective team leader or moderator, to take good notes, to set dates and standards and report accomplishments and insure that the infrastructure works to allow teams and team members to succeed. I have always liked that metaphor of a good team as a good jazz band, where everyone gets some solo time but where the group is recognized for its overall results.

Becoming an orchestra is an awful lot harder to accomplish.

Small teams. Engaged. Collaborative. Focused on improvement. Dis-Un-Empowered and Dis-Un-Engaged. In a culture that will actually support implementation!

Git ‘er Done!   ( * Guy From New Jersey)

Andrea Goodridge then added some good comments that I simply copy below:

AndreaThanks for your comments Scott – over the last few days I have done some research into this very question – below is my output: 

M Ringelmann discredited the theory that a group team effort results in increased effort, by analysing the pull force of people alone and in groups as they pulled on a rope. As Ringelmann added more and more people at the rope, he discovered that the total force generated by the group rose, but the average force exerted by each group member declined. Ringelmann attributed this to what was then called “social loafing” – a condition where a group or team tends to ‘hide’ the lack of individual effort. 

Researchers (Hackman and Vidmar, Richard Hackman, QSM, Klein, Wheelan) identified a general preference for a small team, containing less than seven members, showing: that as a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate; and teams comprising between three and six members are significantly more productive and better developed than those made up of between seven and ten, and those with 11 or more members. When teams get over eight or nine people, it is cumbersome and the team breaks down into sub-teams. 

J Mueller explored the question of small versus large teams and noted in larger teams, people may not have the time and energy to form relationships that really help their ability to be productive; and also higher levels of stress were revealed for members of larger teams than for smaller teams. On a smaller team, people knew what resources were available and felt they could ask questions when things went wrong. 

Espinosa, Lerch and Kraut state as projects and teams grow in size and complexity, tasks and member dependencies become more numerous, diverse and complex, thus increasing the need for team coordination. It often means less cohesiveness and less participation from group members, and often the opportunity for “social loafing”. 

Wheelan reports that smaller groups are more likely to pass through all four stages of group development, and highly developed groups are more likely to be productive. 

Overall, small is the better way to go when forming a team!

So, you have my subjective thoughts on this along with the research that Andrea cited. I cannot imagine where I would build a large team, but I might have a larger “steering committee” or some such political body that would give a stamp of approval to the efforts of the smaller teams.

I do note, though, that many automobile manufacturers and similar kinds of design groups are using social networking and crowd sourcing to help generate ideas for improvement. I am guessing that the implementation teams would be small to be effective, however.

And there does seem to be good support for the reality of organizing small mobile teams rather than big ones, IF you give them the room to operate and the resources they need to be effective.

For the FUN of It!

DScott Simmermanr. 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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Big Company Team Building Events

This blog post is about what Big Companies do for team building events and the kinds of programs for team building and organizational development that exist. It is also about Big Events for companies, I guess, and focused on some key thoughts about making events more effective. Frankly, there seem to be a lot of strange and sometimes seemingly irrelevant things done in the name of team building and organizational development.

Hang out at a large hotel and wander about the meeting area and you will see a lot of people sitting, just sitting there inactive when the doors are opened. It gives rise the notion of Death By Powerpoint, or at least death by non-involvement. One wonders why there are not warnings about deep vein thrombosis for some of these sessions!

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

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

I’ve posted up before on some of the more ridiculous or hard to seriously consider team activities such as golf, paintball or fire walking — maybe there are some positive individual impacts from that but I just do not see the team aspects unless we get into the discussion about peer pressure forcing people to do things that they don’t really want to do. (Sorry, I meant “encouragement” instead of coercion or force in the above…)

Heck, even Dave Berry weighed in on Burger King’s toasty experience with that firewalking kind of activity — see my blog post on that here.

But the OnlineMBA article mentioned above is a pretty good one. It talks about some different activities that DO have positive organizational impacts, many of which are not costly. Some are a bit off the wall, like hiring a comedy troupe to come in and cause people to laugh. I have actually seen that backfire but that is a whole ‘nother conversation. And they talk about doing Personality Tests as a team building exercise — I guess that could work but it does not sound like a lot of laughs. Maybe they could let the comedy troupe do the testing?

Me, I will just stick with offering games such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Innovate & Implement that are fun, controllable, inexpensive and actually link directly to workplace collaboration and performance improvement. We know that it has a lot of long-term impacts on participants and gets everyone involved and engaged. AND, it can be used for very large groups of 200 or even more.

Team building exercise, Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

You can find user review survey about Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine impacts here. The feedback about the effectiveness of the exercise is pretty amazing,

For the FUN of It!

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

You can reach Scott at
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

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


Motivation and Dis-Un-Engagement

I got engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn, on a discussion page for HR professionals, where the question focused on, “How one can keep an employee motivated.”

The comments, again from HR people, focused on motivating employees through appreciation and recognition, having “a good environment,” having good morale where motivation, environment, management and employee relations affect things – and also having monetary benefits, having a speech to inspire them (and that they cannot always be motivated), and that they should be happy to work for your company (I am not sure if the latter meant that they should he happy to have a job or that they should be happy while working for your company).

The contributors also thought that one should also analyze each person personally and be sure that the employee is properly placed according to their strengths and expertise and that they should be assigned, “challenging work that would keep the passion burning.”

Lastly, I thought that this was also an interesting comment:

“Motivation sparks from self. A self-motivated person enjoys everything in life. Other people can just inspire the person. A person who enjoys his or her work can only stay motivated. Money, appreciation, recognition, environment along with work & personal life balance are some factors which helps only after the person is self-motivated. Its my personal view.“

All this is fine well and good. And it makes sense. BUT, will any of these thoughts actually impact work and productivity or quality or anything? My response was as follows:

There is a really great short video by Dan Pink on the theme of defining INTRINSIC motivation — it is animated and 11 minutes long and you can see it here:

So, motivation is one thing that is actually pretty well understood. The issue is that organizations tend to focus much more on EXTRINSIC (applied) motivators rather than create a workplace that is engaging. Much of this comes from the work of BF Skinner on animals during the 60s and 70s and those who followed him (like me). It got into schedules of reward and all sorts of things, including superstitious behavior (blowing on the dice to roll a 7, for example).

People like Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards, etc.) showed many of the downsides, but businesses today spend about 1% of revenues on such extrinsically driven “reward systems” that half of the employees do not even know exist. Obviously, there are mixed levels of effectiveness.

A better approach is to focus on improving the workplace to do a better job of NOT de-motivating workers. Much of my recent writings have been on themes like Dis-Un-Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment, focused on getting “leadership”  involved to do more to REMOVE those things that workers and work teams find de-motivating.

This kind of initiative can help generate alignment and teamwork and motivation and engagement / involvement to make things better for each and all.

The research shows that people are not engaged, in general. Spending money on a survey that tells you that you have a problem seems a bit foolish — if I were to ask four or five people the same questions, the dis-engagement would be obvious (either theirs or that of others they work with).

A LOT of this stuff ain’t Rocket Science and HR ain’t gonna fix it.

Some things need to be accomplished locally, at the interface of worker and manager; only there will improvements be made. (The exception might be if the feedback and measurement system were changed, since that helps drive behavior. Feedback drives results.)

YOU simply cannot MOTIVATE ME or anyone else. People motivate themselves and offering some “reward” for improvement is going to be a very short-term solution for maybe half of the workers.

As a joke, I could also offer them 10 cents if they were to reply, just to see if I could make my point!

A lot of people think that this is how things work in the workplace, insofar as motivating people for performance:

Needless to say, it might work in the former case until people want and expect even more, and it will certainly work in the latter (until the boss turns his or her back). The latter also generates Compliance, which translates to “very average” performance and there is no motivation to excel.

What we need to do is to remove the things that the people see as getting in the way of them excelling. Almost everyone WANTS to succeed. Let them.

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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Moron Engagement – The Concept of Dis-Un-Engagement

Dis-Un-Engagement? Really? Yep!

I was reading all the comments on a long LinkedIn thread – “I’m looking for ideas on how to improve employee engagement? Any ideas will be greatly appreciated” and saw Judi Adams’ starting comment, “As you know, each person has different needs so there is no one bullet solution” and I had one of my occasional “odd thoughts.”

“Bullet” reminded me of a gun which linked over to Bob Mager’s work on performance and one of his test questions as to the need for training or something else:

“If you put a gun to their head, could they do it?”

The context of Mager’s thought is that if they COULD do it, then it is not a skill that needs to be trained but a behavior that needs to be “motivated.”

Thus, I wonder if we could “put a gun to the heads” of the “dis-engaged” and come up with THE relevant and actionable list of all of the things that would need to be present for people to feel more involvement, engagement and ownership. And we should do ONE list for each supervisor of a workgroup or each manager of a department get their people together to brainstorm ideas. Having HR generate an overall list of these things for the company would be totally inappropriate and would actually work against the un-engagement process that I suggest, Let each workgroup have the ownership – involvement of putting their list together. No other way will really work; they need some “sweat equity” involvement in this initiative to become engaged in the process and involved in the implementation.

Doing things TO them will not get them involved. Do things WITH them.

I do something similar with my concept of Dis-Un-Empowerment feeling that one cannot empower people, that many people feel “un-empowered” and that managers can do many things to address and remove perceived and actual roadblocks and, thus, “Dis” them into irrelevance. Thus, Dis-Un-Empowerment.

The approach serves to get the “bad” ideas of the dis-engaged mixed in with the good ideas of the top performers with the result that we build in a lot of peer support among the group for making improvements along with getting involved because we have made improvements and visibly addressed those issues brought up as dis-engaging. Thus, we involve and engage the un-engaged!

I am wondering if a similar approach might be taken with the Un-Engaged, asking them what kinds of things are getting in the way of them feeling more ownership involvement and commitment and then using that list as a “To Do” list for the managers to address and change or improve.

Why can’t we simply be direct with the issue(s) and ask people for the Square Wheels that are not working smoothly and the Round Wheel ideas that already exist in the wagon?

I posted up something last June on this idea and wonder if anyone else has supporting ideas about how to accomplish this. I see it very closely aligned, from a facilitation standpoint, to our Roadblock Analysis process.

The idea is to get the whole list, process the list into actionable categories (sometimes having to delegate upward in the organization to solve) and generate the energy and involvement of the individuals to form teams and address, suggest and even implement ideas and solutions. It is a facilitated, group-oriented process that is involving by its very design.

By going onto the website and searching for “roadblock,” you can find all sorts of information, articles, tools and similar. See more that way.

Improve Your Engagement of People: The Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit!

If you are looking for a simply toolkit to impact people and workplace performance improvement, here is a great solution. Using our Square Wheels illustrations as part of an interactive discussion about issues and opportunities is really straightforward and quite easy, actually.

My little company, Performance Management Company, has been focusing on improving results through team building and employee engagement, involvement and ownership activities for decades. Since 1984, it has been offering its tools and simple approach to companies everywhere and offers a high impact toolkit in an unusually collaborative way.

PMC is supporting collaboration with its customers by offering our easy to use, bombproof and powerful Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit. It is a flexible and engaging set of simple tools to get people talking about issues and opportunities.

This complete training package sells for $49.95 and contains:

  • A Facilitation Guide with clear and simple instructions for use
  • A PowerPoint file containing 64 slides of images, notes, and ideas – ALL you need to roll forward (more than you need, actually!)
  • Ready-to-use handouts for generating involvement and engaging participants in the concept, including:
    • –a Worksheet for mind mapping ideas generated by the main Square Wheels idea
    • –a Round Wheels Worksheet for identifying opportunities for improvement
    • –a Key Learning Points Summary Handout of Square Wheels themes for implementation
  • The “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” article by Scott Simmerman, focusing on managing and leading change for organizations and individuals. This is background as well as an optional handout.

You can see more about the toolkit and its contents in a one-minute video here.

The approach is anchored to the Square Wheels One illustration that is a proven, powerful tool for promoting a participative learning approach, the concept pushes people to “step back from the wagon” and disclose their views about how things are really working, engage each other in a creative discovery process and use the diversity of ideas and perspective to generate thinking, innovation and communications. It’s a great facilitation tool for leadership development skills, employee engagement, team building and motivation.

We can use the Square Wheels theme to set up all kinds of discussions.

RWs Sig File iconWe can also use the themes to get people to discuss possibilities and generate ideas for improvement, discuss ideas for implementation, and improve their active involvement in making changes occur:

Intrinsic Motivation color green

Facilitating Square Wheels is an easy process, something that we discuss in detail in the supporting documents in the toolkit. It is simple for a manager to use the materials to engage the workers on innovating ideas they have for workplace improvement. It changes the language of innovation and change and sets up cognitive dissonance — an unwillingness to allow things to remain as they are.

You engage and thus motivate people to make some of
the changes they feel will improve their performance!

You can see a 2-minute video about why Square Wheels work so well here.

It’s my ardent belief that “Nobody ever washes a rental car” and that people become more engaged and motivated if they feel a sense of ownership in the journey forward. Therefore, it’s my hope that by your setting the price for this Toolkit, you’ll enjoy a keener sense of ownership/motivation for its use as well as discover, first hand, how this simple cartoon can create an empowering situation for participants as it stimulates  communications, ideas and improvements around workplace issues.

Intrinsic feel really good downhill PG

You’ll find the Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit (an Asian version is also available with some of the illustrations more “Oriental” in appearance) on our website at or go there directly with  this link.

Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Performance Management Company and has presented his Square Wheels Illustrations series for Organizational Improvement and Team Building Games in 38 countries.

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 easily reach Scott at

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