Talking Louder or Slower Doesn’t Solve the Disconnect November 28, 2010Posted by integrityintegrated in Uncategorized.
“People go where they are welcomed, remain where they are respected and grow where they are nurtured.” Bill Leaver, CEO of Iowa Health System shared this quote recently with our MBA Leadership class as he talked about the “Art of Leadership and Cultural Transformation.”
The timing of the above quote was synchronistic as it came on the heels of an insightful experience with a new client. I was working with a team of 10 people around communication. We used one of my favorite exercises to shed light on communication challenges. The group was divided into two groups of five and then each subgroup was given bags of Legos. Each Lego bag had exactly the same Legos as their teammates on their subgroup. Simply put, the task was to sit in an arrangement where they couldn’t see each other and through verbal communication only, work together as a team of five and have each person on the team put together the exact same structure, using their Legos. Oh, and they had to use every one of their 30 pieces, be as creative as possible and finish in 30 minutes or less.
I watched one of the teams engage, communicate and generally have a great time. The other team was a stark contrast. As that second team organized themselves and their pieces, one person took the lead and began explaining where the place the first pieces. One member of the team that struggled (I’ll call her Ann) was raised in another country and had never used Legos in her life. I watched Ann grab the correct pieces but she was continually holding them upside down and trying to follow instructions that were clearly not making sense to her. As I continued to watch the team dynamics, each member of the team tried to describe in their own words how to position the first pieces. Still no success. After 10 agonizing minutes, I did something I’ve never done before in the 10 years I’ve used this exercise. I walked over to Ann, turned the pieces right-side up and helped her arrange the first four pieces in accordance with their instructions. Finally, success! From that moment forward, things were easier (not easy, but easier).
Having watched this game many times, I have seen many people “check out” when they get frustrated. To the credit of everyone in this group, that didn’t happen. Everyone was generally trying hard and sticking with it. But the overarching question is “What could have been done differently in order to make this more smoothly?”
In the debrief I offered a suggestion. Rather than having everyone else in the group attempt to describe things from their own perspective, it would have been best if they had stopped and said to the person who was struggling, “Ann, tell us in your own words, what you are looking at? How do you have the pieces put together right now?” This was clearly a case of good intentions by all in the group, but those intentions also kept them inside the box as opposed to seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. What transpired from there was a good discussion about how this also applied to areas of their work and missed opportunities to truly understand one another in the rushed objective to get work done.
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