How to lean in to team building at work and at home.

I come from a large family. Actually, I come from two large families. My Dad is one of twelve children. My Mom is one of nine. Both sides of my family have made family a priority. Not only have they committed to a lot of procreating, they have committed to a lot of recreating too. Both The Albrechts and The Spraus have made pilgrimages to the Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, which has been rated as the #1 location in America for family reunions. Although how one mountain in Colorado is known as Snow Mountain confounds me. Don’t all of Colorado’s mountains have snow?

Bonding and Building

Family bonding and team building are the focus (or is that foci) of our reunions. We stay in large family cabins that house 40 to 80 people each. We play together, eat together, and enjoy general togetherness together.

On one of the days at each reunion we participate in organized team building exercises. The ranch offers a wide variety of activities that require you to learn how to work with a partner, or an entire team, in order complete a challenge.

One of two 40-person cabins we occupied at the Not-So-Snowy Mountain Ranch

The Cable Walk

One of my favorite challenges is the partner cable walk. In this challenge two partners stand on separate cables suspended 18 inches off the ground. Facing each other, the partners have to move as far along the cable as possible without falling off. The kicker is that the cables are arranged in a V-shape, so they spread farther and farther apart as you walk.

Taking Notes

When we took on this challenge several years ago with my Mom’s family, I sat back and observed the other pairs as they navigated the cables. I studied what worked and what didn’t. The best performance (farthest distance traveled) was from my brother-in-law Uriah, and my cousin Jacci’s husband, Mike. If you laid Uriah and Mike end-to-end (which to my knowledge we have never done) they would be close to 13 feet long. All things being equal, height was a major advantage.

But wait…

But all things were not equal. I quickly spotted what I thought people were doing wrong. All of the pairs who went before me held hands and started inching down the cables. While holding on to each other seemed like a good strategy, I could tell it was not the best strategy. And eventually it became a limiting strategy.

Our Attempt

Finally, using the insights from our observations, my wife Dawn and I took our turn. Unlike everyone else, we didn’t hold on to each other. Instead, we leaned against each other. As we started, we looked as if we were doing standing push ups against each other. Or maybe we looked like we got caught playing Patty Cake with crazy glue on our palms.

As we made our way along the v-shaped cables we became a human hinge, with our hands forming the connection point. As the cables formed a large and expanding V-shape, Dawn and I also formed a V-shape that allowed us to match the angle of the cables. This made all the difference. In fact, our lean-on-me technique enabled Dawn and I to travel twice as far as any other pair. Or pear. Or Pierre.

Dawn and I basking in our glory, while being shot by a very short photographer.

The Difference

It is easy to think we are teaming with others when we are in the same office, or on the same court or field. But proximity and contact are not enough. You have to reorient yourself to rely on your partners or teammates to do their jobs. You have to sacrifice your individual posture in order to create an even stronger team, machine, company or partnership.

Applying This At Work

As we grow the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I know we need to continue building and operating as an interdependent team. In order to thrive we need to create a scalable organization that gets larger and broader and deeper to accommodate the increase in demand. Which means that each of our members must do what is best for the entire team. And each of us must be able to trust our teammates to do their jobs, without handholding. It is the only way to achieve our ambitious goals.

Key Takeaway

In order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, we can’t simply hold on to each other. We must lean on each other. We must trust that our teammates will lean back on us. By creating this dynamic, we create a structure of support that can produce much greater results than we could ever create on our own. This is true at work, in athletics and in families. It is certainly true within our marriages. 18 years ago today Dawn and I had our very first date. Ever since then, we have been leaning on each other, and accomplishing more together than we ever could have on our own. Just like we did on the partner cable walk at the family reunion in Colorado.  

 

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5 reasons brainstorms are a waste of your time and money.

I have an idea. Let’s not do brainstorms anymore. Most organizations believe brainstorm sessions are a great way to generate a lot of ideas quickly. While you may feel like you see a lot of new thinking in these sessions, you don’t see what you don’t see. As a professional creative thinker, I consider the brainstorm session a highly visible, but highly inefficient way to develop new ideas. I thought about hosting a telethon to raise awareness of this problem. But I didn’t know where to find ten landline telephones. So this post will have to do.

Dissecting the Brainstorm Problem

One of the reasons brainstorms are so popular is that in a one hour session you can generate a visible collection of new ideas. But the pile of ideas you leave the meeting with is misleading. Because brainstorm sessions are like gathering 100 horses and only generating 50 horsepower. You would be better off letting those ponies run alone.

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 5 Problems With Brainstorms

1. Brainstorming is made for extroverts.

Brainstorming is a game where you rapidly blurt out half-baked ideas in front of a small crowd. For extroverts this is good sport. But to the other 50% of the planet this is an uncomfortable and unnatural activity. The quieter half of the population thinks more than they speak. They generate a lot of ideas on their own. Which means that the brainstorm is simply not their natural habitat for idea generation.

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2. The 80/20 Rule

In line with the core tenants of the 80/20 rule, 80% of the good ideas in a typical brainstorm come from 20% of the people. Brainstorms give the false impression that everyone is birthing ideas. But this is not the reality. If you conducted a brainstorm in a petri dish, and observed it under a microscope, you would see a small population of valuable idea generators, a larger collection of evaluators, and a smattering of cheerleaders and spectators. Of course, they would all be wondering why you were staring at them through a giant microscope.

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3. The Brainstorm Bottleneck.  

In a polite and orderly brainstorm session you have one person speak at a time. This is also a necessity when you have one scribe capturing the ideas and mounting them on a giant flip pad. The flip side of that orderliness is that when one person is talking, no one else is contributing ideas. There is simply not enough air time for all the ideas that should be generated by just three productive thinkers over the course of an hour.

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4. Invisible Clay Pigeons:

There are not supposed to be any bad ideas in a brainstorm. Participants are not supposed to evaluate or criticize ideas. But there are a whole flock of less-obvious ideas that never get tossed to the group because the thrower is afraid their idea will get shot down in the minds of the other participants. Even if the group adheres to the rules of brainstorming during the session, participants will still feel judged by the group, in silence.

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5. Great Brains Storm On Their Own

Great ideators generate ideas at a faster pace, with greater range and push more boundaries when working alone. A good thinker will quickly gather the low hanging fruit. Then they get to work on the rest of the tree. Then other trees. Then other orchards.  Then they harvest fruit on other continents. And finally, on other planets. You are far less likely to get a bushel basket full of Uranus Apples in a traditional brainstorm.

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The Solution

To generate the most, best and broadest range of ideas, people should always think alone first. Give your team members a quiet place, a pen and a pad of paper. The ideas will flow and fill the pages. Only after the team has thought on their own should you bring them together to share their sparkly new brain gems. During The Thinkers Reunion, you experience the Reece’s moment, when people can get their chocolate in someone else’s peanut butter. The mash-ups, surprise combinations, epiphanies and amplified ideas at this stage are far more valuable.

Key Takeaway

Stop wasting time and money on brainstorm sessions. They are not the Holy Grail of idea generation they are thought to be. Work in isolation. Then pour all the ideas together. You’ll get more and better ideas every time. If you have other idea-generating ideas  you’ve thought of on your own, please share them in the comments section.

The most common phrase you should never say.

At the Perfect Agency Project we have a fairly obvious goal. In case you’re not great at reading comprehension, the goal is to create the perfect agency. And at the perfect agency people collaborate and are nice to each other.  Which means they don’t do or say jerkilicious things.

That’s why we are banning a very common phrase you probably hear or say all the time. Ready for it? Still ready?  Further ado. Even further ado  Okay, here it is:

I don’t disagree.

Please stop saying this.  This is one of the jerkiest statements we can make to each other.  It paints your reaction in a negative light. Both don’t and disagree are negative words.  Which makes it a double negative.

As most of you don’t not know, the double negative actually makes a positive. So this statement actually says, I agree.  But it states it in the most negative, reluctant, non-affirming way possible.

Instead let us say things like I agree. Or You’re right.  Let us support each other. Let us acknowledge our alignments positively. And most importantly, let us eat more lettuce. Now if you agree with me, please respond to this post by saying, completely don’t disagree with you. It won’t make me not laugh. But it will let me know who read all the way to the end.

I Owe My Career To The Vanilla Ice Philosophy

I have a philosophy about philosophies.  It’s that everyone should have one. I believe we all need something to ground our actions, beliefs and decisions. It is our philosophies that create the bedrock of our character and our personal brands.

I also have a philosophy about the work I do as a professional creative. It encompasses why I believe advertising and marketing exist. And I stole it from Vanilla Ice. Yes, I am an evangelist of the Vanilla Ice Philosophy. What? You’ve never heard of it?  Right now consultants at Deloitte, Accenture and McKinsey are looking at each other asking, “Do you know what hell he’s talking about?” (And I know you guys read this. #analytics!)

Allow me to explain. The Vanilla Ice Philosophy was first introduced 25 years ago in Mr. Ice’s hit song, Ice Ice Baby. The philosophy emphatically states, “If there was a problem, Yo! I’ll solve it!”

It’s that simple. And it reminds me that there is only one reason agencies exist: To solve our clients’ problems. Fortunately for us, our clients always have problems (some more than others).  Sometimes they are really difficult challenges. Sometimes they are good problems to have.  But they are always there.  And solving them puts food on our tables.

I also love the attitude of this philosophy. You know, the “Yo! I’ll solve it!” part.  Because like an athlete who wants the ball, puck or frisbee when the team needs a big play, I always believe I can find a solution. So throw me the problem! Business is now my competitive sport. And I build teams full of people with the same competitive mindset.

Clients constantly warn us of big challenges or tight deadlines that make their problem difficult to solve. But our team never flinches. We’ve seen too much and overcome too many challenges. In short, we are hard to scare.

So what makes the perfect agency good at solving problems?  Again, we turn to Vanilla Ice. He doles out important instructions in the opening line of Ice Ice Baby. Because he knew in his infinite icy wisdom that the key to solving problems is to collaborate and to listen.

Collaborating means we work together. Our agency huddles together to put the best minds to work as one. We also collaborate extremely well with our clients. By representing all perspectives in the solutions we know we come up with better options than we ever could alone.

Listening means we hear the real problem to be solved. We listen for understanding. We listen for insights. We listen to hear the key problem we are trying to solve. In corporate America too much time is wasted by not hearing, identifying or responding to the real problem.

So thank you Robert Van Winkle. Over the past 25 years you’ve made great music. You’ve made us dance. And you have penned some solid philosophy that I follow every day. Word to your mother.