'I don't have a task'
How High Performing Teams engender a sense of belonging by appropriate inclusion
Sometimes facilitators energise teams with fun ‘games’ – but those games always have a purpose. One of my favourites requires small teams of up to seven people to work together to share clues and then solve the puzzle based on those clues.
Two of the 30 clues begin with the words ‘one of your team’s tasks is to …’
A third clue states ‘your team has less than three tasks.’
Participants in the exercise are told that they can share what is written on their clue sheets verbally as often as they wish – but they cannot show their sheets to anyone else.
This particular day, the exercise began with the usual stunned silence until someone said ‘I have a task. ’ More silence followed. A second person said ‘I have a task,’ (note the inexact manner in which these two people ‘translated’ and relayed the information on their sheets – subtly, team tasks became individual tasks). Despite this people started reading out their clues.
Someone said ‘there are less than three tasks.’ This is a thirty minute exercise at most, but after 20 minutes I realised that this team was doomed to failure. Some facilitators jump in and help to get a team to a ‘nice’ outcome. I have always preferred to observe the phenomena at hand and see what happens in the debrief – the most essential part of these exercises. I knew failure was inevitable because after 20 minutes one member of the team had not spoken a word.
In his hand he held vital clues. In my thinking - worse than the fact that he had not spoken, was the fact that nobody had engaged with him for twenty minutes – nobody asked him what was on his sheet.
In the debrief he was asked why he didn’t speak. He replied (somewhat defensively): ‘because I didn’t have a task.’ As he came under attack from the team for his inability to understand the exercise I stepped in and asked the two people with the team task clues to read them slowly and clearly – ‘team‘s tasks’ being the operative words.
Defence now turned to attack and the hitherto silent team member likened this experience to his everyday reality – particularly his frustration at being overlooked when ad hoc meetings were called and he missed out on other communications. I moved to take his ‘grievances’ to an off-line chat and then a strange thing happened. His team leader gently interrupted me and asked him to continue.
She now facilitated a twenty minute team discussion of his situation in which it emerged (news to me, but they all knew) that since the recent restructure things had become even more difficult for him – he was located on a separate floor from the others! Meetings happened and decisions were made on a daily basis – some big some small – and, because he was on a different floor, he kept missing out. He’d just got angrier and grumpier at the feeling of exclusion - and who wants to invite a grumpy person to meetings?!
The exercise just showed him as his typical grumpy self – sullen, silent and not sharing his clues! Tea-break came as a welcome relief for the team. When they had all left the team leader apologised for overriding my facilitation (I told her that I was more than happy that she had). What she said next stays with me twenty years after this happened: ‘He is a real problem for me, but he just won’t open up when I try to support him. I’ve learned more about how he is feeling in the last twenty minutes than I have in the last year – thank-you so much.’ (True Story – Andrew Mountford)
People need to feel they belong. Appropriate inclusion develops a sense of belonging and ensures efficient and aligned action in teams. This is one of the key behaviours of the Fifth Force 4-D model. For more information about how Synergy has introduced 4-D into organisations to create measurable & sustainable improvement in leadership & team performance, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
*Ref: Dr Pellerin, CJ, (2010) How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists, Engineers & Project Teams, John Wiley & Sons, USA