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

Tag: workplace improvement

Implementing Round Wheels to fix the Square Ones

People often talk about things that do not work smoothly in their workplaces, the things that frustrate them and lower productivity. And this frustration and dissatisfaction about improvements causes all sorts of negative spins to impacting intrinsic motivation. It can send the message that what the workers see is important and what the management sees as important are two different things — that is most likely not going to lead to any sort of workplace engagement and performance improvement.

But the problem is often related to how the problem is presented.

Reasons include:

  • People do not fix or care that much about ideas that are not their own.
  • Bosses are busy, or at least too busy to spend time listening to ideas
  • Improvement may not be measured by the company
  • The improvement is not related to your job or their job
  • The value and impact of the improvement is not thought out or defined
  • Everyone has different perspectives
  • The idea not well presented or framed as a business proposition
  • The idea not seen as cost effective
  • Some interdepartmental collaboration may be required (needs IT or another department or something similar to implement)

SWs One Dis-un-engagement choice

What we suggest that supervisors and managers do is to ask people for ideas. But first, we want to engage and involve them and get them to “step back from the wagon and think out of the box” a little.

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There” and “The Round Wheels are already in the wagon” are two of the main operational metaphors. The process depends on people actively engaging with the metaphor and generating their own ideas about issues and opportunities.

We accomplish this by using the a general projective tool, the SWs Brainstorm Sheet:

square wheels brainstorming mind mapping worksheet

What we do is show them the main illustration and ask small tabletops of 5 to 6 people to brainstorm a bit. What they do is project their beliefs onto the illustration and the group process gives them lots of personal involvement and support and lends itself to more creative thinking and brainstorming. The idea is to get them actively involved and working together around ideas.

You can read a bit more about this theme by clicking on the worksheet icon above to go to another blog post on possibilities thinking.

What we want to do is move the discussion from the general ideas about how things work to some specific issues that they see in their workplace and to then brainstorm more about potential solutions that might be implemented. We eventually move toward a worksheet like this to take specific Square Wheel issues and generate some round wheel possibilities:

Once we define the issues and opportunities, refine our thinking about how an improvement would impact people and performance, and do some discussion about costs and timelines and the required involvement of people, processes and procedures, we can make a good case for change. It is that kind of detailed thinking that needs to be cascaded upward in the organization. People can earn the right to do more as they roll down the road…

The key is to get our wagons rolling downhill a bit!

Square Wheels image Intrinsic feel really good PG

Hope that helps,

For the FUN of It!


Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT 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

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Innovation, Strategy and Motivation

I am sitting on the bed in Mumbai, looking at emails and thinking about how well the strategy improvement / implementation session went that I helped deliver on Friday. We used the Square Wheels illustrations linked to issues of alignment and vision and change to frame up how leadership could best communicate a new strategy down through the organization and engage people to try new things and share ideas as to how to best apply these strategies within their job activities.

It was my first presentation on this specific theme and the session flowed neatly and with positive reactions by all of these senior managers. For a basic framework, I used my friend Robin Speculand’s basic approach to strategy implementation and organizational alignment. Robin has recently opened his Implementation Hub website, one that offers a wide variety of tools and information about the issues and opportunities. You can find that here.

My approach would focus more on engagement and alignment than most strategy management books that I read, since I focus a lot more on the people side of the alignment process than I do on the mechanical side of things. We showed the Dan Pink RSA animation of his TED presentation on the negative impacts of extrinsic rewards on most organizational development tasks and the need for using intrinsic motivational strategies to implement successfully. That generated a good bit of discussion and challenged the typical organization’s extrinsically-driven motivational approach.

I was also going through some of my LinkedIn group correspondence and one question was about designing a one-day program for management team building.

Most of the other responders had good ideas, but one said that it was a good idea not to reinvent the wheel… Of course, that pin hit my balloon and I thought to post up something that spun around that point and made some other points about implementing changes. So, here is what I said (might as well post that post it entirely than re-inventing the wheel, right? ; ) :

Unlike the other responder, I WOULD try to reinvent the wheel!!

As I was reading the thread, I was thinking about all the innovative ideas for workplace improvement that I have encountered over the years in my work on continuous improvement and productivity and motivation. Yes, people ARE innovative and cultures DO suppress and often actively inhibit the good ideas that already exist, creating what I call Spectator Sheep. Those are the ones that stand around, disengaged and disenchanted and voice their opinions, “Naaaaaaaaa, Baaaaaaaaa!”

Spectator Sheep are not involved or engaged but they will express their thoughts verbally: Naaaaa Baaaaa

I show the Square Wheels One cartoon, which depicts a wooden wagon rolling on 4 wooden Square Wheels with a cargo of round rubber tires. It is presented as, “How might this represent how things really work in most organizations?”

Square Wheels One, by Performance Management Company © 1993

Square Wheels represent the way things work in most organizations. Round wheels already exist!

That challenge always generates engagement and interactions and dozens of thoughts on issues and opportunities.

What we find are that there are lots of Round Wheel possibilities that already exist and that could simply be utilized by more people in the workplace. For those not already using these round ones, this represents innovation and process improvement and sometimes drives resistance to change (a whole ‘nother issue).

Some of the ideas are simply Best Practices, while the session can also focus on new ideas that are not yet created — Here is a Square Wheel we deal with; what are some round wheel possibilities?

Similarly, a problem or challenge can be presented to the group as a Square Wheel and one can use a variety of creative, group-oriented processes like Dot-Voting and Fast Networks and other activities to generate some energy and cross-functional discussions. Thiagi and many others have simple exercises that can work to accomplish this engagement.

Dan Pink’s summary of research in creativity (the book is Drive but click here  (“Dan Pink RSA”) to see a 10-minute animated discussion of his key points) says that EXTRINSIC Rewards directly inhibit creativity and the research is really clear on this. I would TOTALLY avoid the use of any “completion rewards? and just allow the INTRINSIC, self-generated motivation to solve problems to drive ideas and possibilities.

This can be done at the workgroup level for small problems or led at the top levels with strategic or product-related “Square Wheels” to engage focused energy.

As others have stated, we need to be clear about the desired outcomes before we can roll forward or downhill.

You can see some writings and tools and similar at

We do not focus on innovation directly in our workshops to improve team building and organizational performance, but innovation and improvement are critical factors in any plan to engage and motivate people. Continuous Un-Improvement is not such a hot idea for any workgroup!

chaos confusion haiku 2

Hope that helps.


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