I’ve been thinking about not knowing what to do.
It’s long been known that any plans can go out of the window in an instant, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that in an extended period of uncertainty a vast, creeping inertia can overtake us. We wait for a change. We set store by mythical future dates… July… October… the New Year… and now Spring, when a new miracle vaccine will return us all to the state we knew before.
In the meantime ideas are formulated, programs initiated, ideas are tabled, but, as somebody once said, “when all is said and done, a lot more is said, than done.” I can think of two excited conversations I have had with people who had plans for bouncing back in their organisations that petered out, overwhelmed by the enormity of uncertainty about the best course of action.
This is why we at Colour; Noun think businesses and individuals can benefit from applying the principles of improvisation to the worlds they inhabit. Learn to love the uncertainty, and, to quote a client with whom we have just worked, get comfortable taking a leadership lesson from jazz and “say yes to the mess”.
Why do I think this? I have come to two broad conclusions:
There’s an account of a woman who was in one of the World Trade Centre towers on September 11 who, after she had felt the building rock and smelled burning jet fuel, waited with her colleagues for someone to take charge. Her most dominant thought was what personal belongings on her desk she most wanted to take with her…
In their book Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe list a commitment to resilience – a dedication to keeping a struggling system operating rather than letting it seize up – as one of the Five Elements of Mindfulness adopted by High Reliability Organisations…
Medical professionals will talk of picking their way through the uncertainty of treating an unexplained condition – especially those in children – in terms of taking small, incremental steps from which they can easily retreat…
Any action taken creates possibilities.
I won’t deny that there is a duality at play here. On one hand, you might commit to doing something that has no apparent benefit; on the other hand doing something is better than nothing. The difference, and the opportunity lies in something that sits at the core of improvisation – making, noticing and accepting offers. Saying “yes” and finding joy in the potential that results.
I will leave you with an image that sums up how I feel about operating in a time of uncertainty. It’s an image that graces the cover of one of the books I possess on the topic of improvisation. It is the tarot card of The Fool.
It depicts a figure carrying a small bundle, gazing at the heavens as they are about to step off a cliff. Are they foolish because they are not looking where they are going, or are they so entranced by the wonders of the universe that the small matter of stepping off a cliff is of no consequence? Either way, there is no hesitation in taking that next step.
Fight the inertia. Say yes to the mess. Take the next step.
Humans are social animals. From the earliest beginning of our evolution, we’ve functioned at our best when we’ve operated in social groups.
It’s not just important to have people around you; the connections you have need to be good ones that allow you to get the best out of them, and for them to get the best out of you.
Especially in the current climate, where many people are still working from home and groups of people who usually interact in an office environment are disparate across the country, it can be hard to feel connected to your team.
We've taken our own personal experiences, alongside the best business thinking, book references and case studies, to create a short guide to help you and your team stay close- even if you're far apart.
Read our "How to Keep Your Team Connected" guide below.
Want to download the guide instead? Click here for a downloadable version!
In a world where video calls are back-to-back and few people have seen each other in person for the last 6 months, there's a drive to put the "fun" back into team meetings.
Teams and organisations are now looking for interventions to slot into their face-to-face and virtual events, to shake up the energy and help people to reconnect. However, with safety and distance an imperative, it's not always easy to bring in external facilitators to deliver these activities, especially with budgetary considerations in place.
Along with lots of other providers, we've started to offer our in-person and virtual team exercises as "workshop-in-a-box" style packages, taking all of our years of event expertise and bundling it up in an easy-to-use pack for you to use at your events yourself.
So, here's a few reasons why you should consider a workshop-in-a-box for your next team meeting or online event:
1) It's cost-effective
This is the big one for most people. A workshop-in-a-box offering means you're paying for the exercise itself alone, rather than combining it with the additional fees of facilitators running the exercise on the day- which makes a big difference in price.
You also won't be paying the provider for their design time, as the exercise is pre-designed and "off-the-shelf", ready for you to use. This includes all the instructions, materials and facilitator notes, as well as a call to run you through everything to make sure you're ready.
2) It's reusable
With a workshop-in-a-box approach, once you've purchased your chosen activity or exercise, there's no limit to you using it again. Whilst you may be paying a one-off fee for the activity or session, you'll then have everything you need to run the session at your next meeting- at no extra cost.
It also means that if your event is cancelled or postponed, you'll still have everything ready and paid for for when it can be rescheduled.
3) It's easy to use
One of the simplest things about this format is that it just arrives on your desk- or doorstep, or even in your inbox- all packaged up and ready to go. There's no back and forth with external providers to get everything ready, ask questions and have drafts and revisions of exercise documents sent over, no conference calls, no endless meetings with committees of people to decide what to do. You just select your exercise(s) and away you go!
4) You're in control
Sometimes, it can be intimidating or tricky to hand over an entire section of a day to external facilitators you don't know, especially when it comes to team building! With a workshop-in-a-box, you're in complete control of the session. You know the makeup of your team, how long you've got to run the exercise and what you want to get out of it. You also get to take on the facilitation role yourselves, keeping the focus on you and your team whilst giving you lots of facilitation kudos!
5) It's fun!
Perhaps the best reason why you should take the plunge is, quite simply, because it's fun! Buying a workshop-in-a-box is a safe and effective way of being able to bring your team together and reconnect- taking the time to re-energise and motivate your team is crucial, especially given the uncertainty of the last few months.
So there you go- a couple of things to think about if your budget and resources are tight but you're still looking to bring some energy to your next event.
More information on our workshop-in-a-box offer and our FAQs available here.
Full disclosure: If the people on your team don’t get on, have long-standing disagreements or personality clashes or if the leadership of the team is flawed you will not put it right with a “team building” activity, however much fun it is.
There, now that’s out of the way we can work on our relationship. That might be hard because you don’t know me, or it could be that you have doubts about my knowledge or experience. Bit like the problems you might have between individuals on your team.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, what we won’t be doing is building a raft, walking on fire, learning how to survive in the woods, go paintballing or booking a round of golf. I could go on at length about each of these, but done badly they amount to variations on compulsion, workplace bullying, appealing to misplaced macho cultural posturing or creating an environment that excludes others. Similarly, we won’t be insulting you with some pointless, time-filling “busy time” that will be retro-fitted with vague “what did you find out about each other while you did that” questions.
That last point is something that has come up many times for us. The conversation goes like this:
“We have a morning of content from the team leaders that carries on until just after lunch, but we need a fun team building exercise for about two hours at the end of the day.”
“I see. So, what areas would you like to look at?”
“We just want to bring them closer together and let them have some fun after a lot of being talked at.”
You don’t want a “team building exercise” because you have no concept of where any team dysfunctions might be sitting. What you want is a two-hour filler because you have run out of content and you don’t want to send them to the bar that long before dinner.
That gripe aside, let’s assume that you genuinely have a sense that all is not well in your team dynamic, or at least it could be better. An off-the-shelf activity is unlikely to address that, much less put it right. If you could build a team in such a short period, we would all be successful football managers and pre-season training could start a couple of days before the first scheduled fixture.
The reality is that the team building exercise is not the thing that will build your team. The insights and the conversations that happen while it is going on are where the magic happens. The point where somebody realises what they are saying and doing, or not saying and doing, is having an effect on the people around them and the success of the activity they are undertaking.
To get to this point you need something that in some way replicates the area where you think the team are not operating at their best. Do they have trouble trusting other people? Give them something that requires trust and delegation. Are their hand-offs between departments and individuals suspect? Let’s explore that then. Unless you work for Robin Hood International, Sharon from Finance won’t understand the pressures of Dave from Procurement by bonding over a team archery challenge.
The secret to a good team building activity is understanding the roles, pressures and characters in your team and finding ways to help each person express how these factors affect them in a safe and non-judgemental, non-confrontational environment. That doesn’t mean to say that you have to turn up with detailed psychological profiles of each person and a breakdown of their workflows and interactions. In fact, if you did, they would probably be wrong. They would be based on your external perspective, not the team’s lived reality.
The trick is to have an activity or an exercise that is close enough to the high-pressured world of work that they know but is fun and light-touch in the way that it is presented. You then run it, let people play in this safe world and then – crucially – let them talk about what they saw, felt and experienced and help them apply these insights to make their team stronger.
In our considerable experience we have found that by avoiding suggestions that “team building” is a thing, and instead giving people an engaging activity framed by our approach of context (“this is why we’re doing this”), experience (the activity itself) and reflection (“what made the task work better or worse”) your team can enjoy a shared activity, lose themselves in it… and in so doing find things out about themselves, their colleagues and their relationships that build them as a team rather than foist the notion of “team building” on them.
There’s a subtle difference.