"Politeness is the poison of collaboration." – Edwin Land

Yes to team intervention, no to teambuilding

The client, CMO of a reputable Forex company, approached us for teambuilding, for his marketing team. According to his perception, despite all of them being strong professionals, there was a lack of focus in the air and a big downpour of sheltered ideas and a lackluster “best practice” type of formulated creativity. Over-politeness was dictating the actions and contributions of most team members. Too nice to want to ruffle any feathers, challenge the status quo, and all that. Diplomacy was killing creativity and collaboration.

We quickly said no to teambuilding. We don’t believe in it. It’s a non-event, in our eyes. You build better teams, not by playing “pull the rope” or kayaking in worrisome waters, but by promoting respect for one another, enhancing honest communication, and increasing responsibility for one’s own actions. The team needed a wake-up call.

In a village far, far away

Our Team Dynamics Boot Camp is a teleport of the team into the beautiful mountainside village of Kalopanayiotis in Cyprus, where we incorporate the entire village into our learning playground mindset.

The date was set. They flew in from interesting corners of the world. They got on a bus and made their way up to the mountains to meet us. And as we greeted them upon arrival, one by one, we noted their apprehension and unrest. No one had an agenda of what was to happen.

Hey, neither did we. Our only goal was to break them down into the individuals they are, and to build them back up as solid team members of a true unit. Day 1: Break them down. Day 2: Build them up.

After a cool speech by the CMO, we told them to step outside into a problem-solving exercise; to work together to accomplish something. Doesn’t matter what. It’s the behaviors that surfaced that mattered. No one willing to put themselves out there. No one willing to hold themselves accountable for taking an action that might appear as forceful or direct to others. To be expected. Politeness was poisoning their collaboration efforts.

Is this the best you can do?

Exercise over, we pull them under a magnificent olive tree.

Facilitator: “You know that what you just showed us, wouldn’t cut it in the real world, don’t you?”

Team member: “But it was just an exercise …”

Facilitator: “If you all performed this poorly on a simple exercise like this, then what happens back at work? (Talking to the rest of the team:) Does this person always wait for other people to take the initiative back at work, before getting started on something?”

Team: “Yes.”

Facilitator: “And how about this person? Do they usually rush ahead to figure out things by themselves while the rest of you are discussing and trying to understand a problem?”

Team: “Yes.”

Facilitator: “Well, I’m not picking on anyone. You’re all guilty of doing this. And it’s a double-edged sword, these behaviors. Sometimes, they show you are good team players. And this might be your intent. But sometimes, it turns everything to (bird caws in the distance). Like we just saw.”

Team: “But we …”

Facilitator: “Let’s start from scratch, shall we? Let’s reset this. If what you just showed us, is the best you could do, (Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad), then let’s all agree we’re on level 0. Because frankly, this is level 0. Can we all agree you can be better? Can we all agree you can work better together?”

Hot chairs, exercises, and a glimpse of the future

We then spent some hours, in between exercises, taking turns in a hot chair, an impromptu exercise we devised, where people would sit, face their team, with a vote on their personal problematic behaviors taking place on a screen behind them. They would turn and view the results. And then defend their behavior to the team. A big semi-circle of inescapable behavioral reality. Lengthy discussion. But no one wanted it to end. And they wanted more.

The hot chair carried over into the next day. Dinner was a blast, by the way. We caught several innuendos flying around the air. Great. So, day 2, we introduced the real “remarks” we heard throughout the dinner.

Here's to new beginnings

More exercises. More problematic behaviors. More feedback. And a push from us to make people responsible for their actions by setting up tasks to be carried out when back at work. We even got the CMO to commit to some new initiatives. “Yeah? This is really a problem for you? Then, what are you going to do about it on Monday?”.

And wouldn’t you know it?! Exercise by exercise, hour by hour, these professionals were starting to resemble a team.

Sometimes, it just takes a proverbial “slap in the face” to wake people up and tune them into what they are doing wrong and what they need to do right.

If this sounds like an experience your team needs, click here to find out more about our Team Dynamics Boot Camp.

P.S. Four years later, and we got an email from the team with an attached photo of a group hug, moments after they resolved a conflict using a hack they learnt from our time together. Now that’s what we call retention of learning!