Last week we had interesting program looking at creating a matrix team strategy and synergy. Since it was a PCL program it got strong reviews, not as high as some of our recent PCL programs but well above the cut-off to measure success and failure.
We took an unconventional approach to synergy the second day by focusing on beliefs that limit individuals from working their best in any team environment. Since finishing my NLP cert a few years ago there is a stronger presence of belief and limiting belief material in my training and facilitation material. I like to think this sets us apart from other trainers and consultants, but truthfully there are a number of us out their who focus a lot of their intellectual power on beliefs. One prime example of this Chris Barclay over at unboundedlife.com who prolifically covers beliefs and their impact.
We kicked off the synergy/beliefs session with one of my favorite new activities, the Marshmallow Challenge. If you want to learn more about the Marshmallow Challenge check it out over at http://www.marshmallowchallenge.com. To be fair Sino Associates Partner Ben Massen turned my onto this one and it has quickly become a staple of workshops. So thanks Ben!
I decided to try something a little different with the front-load this time around. Prior to the activity I had everyone work out some basic beliefs:
- Will your team succeed or fail? Why? How do you know this is true?
- Of the groups listed below which group usually performs poorly? Why? If this is true what else would you expect to be true?
- Which group usually performs well? Why? If this is true what else would you expect to be true?
List – Recent Business School Students Grads, Lawyers, Recent Kindergarten School Grads, CEOs, CEOs with Admin/HR Executives
For those of you who are Marshmallow Challenge purists you will notice that I left architects/engineers of the list. Seems a little too easy on the “who will perform well” list for the sake of this thinking activity.
For those of you new to the Marshmallow Challenge I’ll give you the overview. Teams of 4 have 18 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure possible with one marshmallow, 20 sticks of spaghetti, one meter of masking tape, and one meter of string. I am a bit liberal with supplies as the US instructions are designed for 1 yard rather than meter, but no one here knows what the hell a yard is. The Marshmallow must be on top and the structure must be standing without assistance at 18 minutes.
Sounds easy enough right? After all the success rate is around 50% globally (anecdotally in China I have done this with now with about 300 people and the success rate is probably about 40%) and the average height is about 20 inches (51 centimeters for you non-Americans). So the odds of success are pretty good right?
Here is where things get tricky. PCL is hands down one of the best operating companies I have seen in China. Their success rate for this activity with four teams participating was only 25% Their highest structure (I let two team make quick fixes and break their towers to manageable heights giving them a post-project success rate of 75%) about 18 inches. So what went wrong?
Let’s back up a step and see who PCL teams thought would perform best and why. Teams were split among three group of potential under-performers, Lawyers, CEOs, and Kindergarten Students. CEOs were thought to be too egotistical to perform well. Lawyers were suggested to be too verbose and wordy. The arguments against the Kindergarten kids were a laundry list long including, poor team skills, poor focus, a tendency to play too much, and that Chinese Kindergarten students would be too passive to succeed at a western designed activity. I can’t vouch for the difference between US and Chinese kindergarten student but all my instincts scream to me that the last argument is inherently faulty.
Among the teams that they identified as successful the Biz School Students and Kindergarten Kids got the two highest groups. Kindergarten kids this time got high marks for creativity and low egos. Biz school students were praised for planning style, team skills, (surely this is taught biz school right?) and of course creative problem solving.
So what group do you think does best?
According to the official website the top performers are thankfully Architects and Engineers. For all the right reasons, they generally have the specialized skills to make it work and understand the physics of the challenge. After that… CEOs with their Executive Admins who are credited with smoothing over egos and having superb facilitation skills. It’s nice to see that facilitation skills count for something.
Here, of course, it were it gets interesting. Somehow Kindergarten student snuck into third place with an average height of nearly 30 inches! Surprised? Judging by the exclamations from a couple people in the workshop they were and they weren’t ready to buy-into the data I was sharing.
Who performs poorly? Well at the bottom of the heap are the Biz School students who average a paltry 10 inches and the lawyers who come in about 15 inches.
So what is it that separates B-School grads and Kindergarten students? If you said that it boils down to planning, or more appropriately the lack of you would be right. On the other side if you said Kindergarten students were better at execution you would probably also be right.
B-School graduates (and many companies in China who seek their best and brightest with B-school backgrounds) love making one masterfully crafted plan that leads to one big pay off moment. In MC terms this is waiting until the last minute to put the Marshmallow on top and not having time fix the tower or at best knocking down half its height before time runs out and the tower breaks apart. When it works people celebrate when it fails (and it does 60% of the time if not more) people talk about they didn’t have the skills to pull it off.
Ironically information shows us that people do have these skills but between going to work in B-school theory dominated workplaces and when they were 5 or 6 years old they forgot them. Kindergarten students inherently prototype. They put the marshmallow on top at 3 or 4 minutes in and see if it works. They then build up from bellow to get it as high as possible, continuously testing for success.
Who knew kids were so damn clever?
What struck me here was that the feedback I gave them was based on data collected. No theory involved. I had one person basically shout out that this simply wasn’t possible. It isn’t and won’t be the first time that data and beliefs clash.
We went through the rest of the day exploring how our beliefs and values create rules for us to be successful or unsuccessful. The human brain is economical and our basic beliefs keep us from being paralyzed by indecision and make sure we get through the list of tasks we have to face from day to day.
For this group the challenge is and will continue to be how their beliefs will impact their success as a team that is basically extra credit work at this point. It will be interesting to see what they do with the tools we shared with them. I’ll keep the results updated here periodically.