Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate CMOE’s Exploring Teamwork workshop for a Fortune 50 company. As a quick background, this company has open enrollment workshops. So, at this workshop, there was quite a mix of attendees; two senior vice presidents, one vice president, two directors, five managers, and six individual (hourly) contributors. This kind of diversity in a class is always fun and stimulating.
One of the Senior Vice Presidents introduced himself as a credentialed, experienced leader who had spent many years with the company. As the morning progressed, he chimed in frequently with comments of his experiences; which in some ways tried to contradict the lessons I was teaching in the workshop. Every now and again facilitators will end up with these challenging types of people, and these situations offer an opportunity for a very unique learning experience.
For the afternoon exercise, I decided to put this Senior Vice President with four individual contributors to see how they would handle the assignment. Watching this guy work with his team was like watching an Army Drill Sergeant with new recruits. It was nothing but one-way communication with the other members taking their marching orders and doing what they were told. About twenty minutes into the exercise I overheard two of the group members talking about a different solution than was presented by the “dictator” Senior Vice President. Sure enough these two members were discussing the correct solution, and more importantly they realized it was the right solution. I waited to see if one or both of the team members would approach the others on their team with the solution. A timid voice from one of these ladies said, “I’ve got the solution. Here is how we can do it.”
The Senior Vice President looked at her and said, “You couldn’t possibly have come up with a solution to this.” What he had said to her was degrading and hurtful. This Senior Vice President had two degrees from well known educational institutions. In his mind this person who voiced her solution had no college degree and was just an hourly worker. The Senior Vice President went about his business of trying to solve the problem on his own. In the meantime, his hurtful comment had rallied the other team members together. The four of them began working on the problem together, without the Senior Vice President and solved the problem in just a couple of minutes by implementing the solution presented by the other two members.
I will never forget her face when the entire class cheered after the solution was presented and it was learned that it came from this hourly worker. She had done what was asked; build partnerships within the team, communicate with each other, and build trust with the other team members. In essence she was the teacher and taught us the importance of teamwork that day. The other workshop attendees lined up during the break to shake her hand, giving her teammates an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
On the other side, the Senior Vice President was treated like a leper. He was very quiet the rest of the day and I wondered what was going to happen, as his demeanor had changed so dramatically. At the end of the day, I asked participants for at least one idea or concept they learned during the day that they could use in the future. Reponses were all positive, but I had left the Vice President until the very last of the discussion. I was stunned when he answered my question with, “You know Eric, I learned a great deal today.” I asked him if he would be willing to share any specifics. He concluded, “I learned that great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. You do not have to have college degrees and a lot of experience to be a valuable contributor to the team.” He apologized to his team for his behavior and said, “Today has opened my eyes about my ineffective leadership style.”
Since then, he and I have exchanged emails periodically about the skills he learned at the Exploring Teamwork workshop. He tells me that today, he is more inclusive, listens more, and is a big believer that teamwork really works, that it makes business easier and more fun.