Something very beautiful and remarkable happened during some recent workshops. To my mind, it goes to show how when the right environment creates the right attitudes, people demonstrate great values and powerfully positive behaviour.
The first incident happened at a workshop for the senior management team of a well known telecom company.
One of the major activities is a contest that helps to deliver learning in areas like, how natural teams handle competition, how they celebrate success, and deal with failure. The contest involves one person from a team coming up, picking up a piece of paper which has the name of a character written on it. He or she then performs that character without using sounds, props, words, or dumb charades. The team members cannot talk to each other either. Whoever understands what the primary actor is doing must come up and join him or her and become other parts of the same situation. There are various rounds of this activity at increasing levels of challenge, with increasing scores, and penalties for breach of rules. As the contest gets more and more intense, the desire to whisper or in some way break the rules to make the others understand is so high, and so instinctive, that it requires a great deal of will power and discipline to play by the rules of the game.
During the incident that I am referring to, the game had reached a high level of difficulty. The primary actor from a particular team who had been chosen to lead in a tough round came up, picked up the paper, and started performance. The team waited, watching intensely and trying to figure out what their primary actor was doing. After some tense moments, when no one seemed to understand, most of them got up and rushed to join the primary actor. As the first team member reached him, the primary actor could not resist whispering the name of the character.
The competition is intense and the whisper was noticed by a competing team and they instantly cried out,
“Foul!! He whispered, he whispered . . .”
The person to whom the primary actor had just whispered raised his hand and admitted,
“Yes. He whispered. We are disqualified”
and started walking back to his seat.
There was a moment of silence across the teams as the team on the floor waited looking around helplessly, wondering what to do. Then they too walked back to their seats. The primary actor was left alone looking totally lost and dismayed. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him and his team. I asked him,
“Why did you have to whisper? Your actions were very clear and I am sure the others understood.”
His instant, childlike response was,
“I was not confident”.
At this point all the other competing teams spoke up,
“Give them marks. They deserve a bonus for the honesty”.
The team was given 50% of the points and everyone applauded.
Look at the amazing values here, as well as the learning.
• The honesty of the person who was whispered to • The honesty of the primary actor in admitting that he was not confident • The nobility and graciousness of the competing teams who insisted even while competing fiercely, that honesty be rewarded
In terms of learning, something very interesting emerges. If the primary actor had focussed on doing his best and trusted the team’s competence, they could have probably scored much more. His commitment to the team was very high, but his confidence in the team was low, and this led to the unfortunate situation.
The second incident happened while working with the students of a management school as part of their induction programme on the very first day of the course. This is typically a time when everyone is trying to project themselves as competent leaders.
The batch of 40 was divided into 3 different teams and each team was asked to do a theatre production with sets, props, costumes, and make up. Time given from seeing the script to performance is only 30 minutes. Obviously, there is a lot of pressure. The group has to find each other’s competencies, create resources, manage time, rehearse, and get ready to perform. In one particular team, within the first few minutes itself, one lady student emerged as the director. She went on to direct one of the most moving workshop productions that I have witnessed with stunningly powerful and evocative characterisation, emotions, period costumes, and excellent use of space. The production left the audience made up of competing teams, speechless.
What was remarkable was that the director was not visible anywhere during the actual performance. She was behind a screen with only her arms visible holding up a vital prop.
During the processing when her role as the director was explained to the group, there was a spontaneous burst of admiring applause.
Here again, there is superb example of ‘enabling leadership’. She empowered the team to deliver a brilliant and powerful performance and did not feel the need to project herself in the process. Had it not been announced, the group at large would not have known about her valuable contribution to the best production of the day. Only her own team would have known.
Such ideal value based dynamics and self-aligned leadership is not an exception. It is consistently and unconditionally reinforced as instinctive behaviour as soon as the 3 pillars of a natural team are experienced. Though the workshop is experienced on a simulated parallel platform, the tensions, the pressures, the celebration, and the disappointments, are very real. This is human behaviour, and if the 3 pillars can be captured in the workplace by appropriate team definitions, goal definitions, and the right appraisal and reward policies, the same values and dynamics can be tapped in the workplace on a sustainable basis as part of the work culture.
Imagine the benefits! Fun at work can become practical reality.