Like most training specialists, there are standard areas that I am engaged in on a regular basis, but recently I got to go back to something I haven’t done in a few years, team-building facilitation. In my early twenties, I had been trained in team-building and low ropes and through my connection with a camp, had done team-building sessions for teen and adult groups. Recently I had the opportunity to do that with some folks as a part of an all-day retreat. As a part of most challenges that I facilitate, I have participants take time to put together a plan and have them explain it to me. When they a ready, I ask them three questions:
- Do you have a plan?
- Does everyone know the plan?
- What is the plan? (asked of one participant)
Part of why I ask these questions is so that I can understand what the participants will be doing so that I can make sure it is a safe experience for everyone, make sure the participants have understood the goals, and also so that I can provide the correct support as necessary.
While I use these questions when I facilitate team-building challenges, these are important questions to ask any team that you are managing. As a good manager, it is important to know the approach the team is planning so that you can understand the direction, make sure it lines up with the goals, and be able to provide the necessary support.
In this recent experience, the participants were asked to cross a “rushing river” that was about 25 feet wide with the help of four magic turtles. The turtles would help them by allowing them to step on their backs and prevent them from being washed away in the current. The stipulation was that the turtles would only help if they felt needed, which the turtles judged by physical contact. As i as they were in physical contact with someone, they would stay and allow their backs to be stepped on, but if that physical contact was absent, they would swim away. After developing a plan and getting the green light from me, the group started to cross the river and they were immediately challenged when one of the turtles lost physical contact and swam away. As they made their way across the “river” the flaws in their plan became apparent and with some on the fly changes involving passing one person back and forth between the backs of two others, the first three people made it across. It had worked for these three but it became clear this was not going to work for the whole group. The participants then spent some time revising the plan and determining a new method to cross the river and plan two was born. This plan involved people working in pairs of two in very close proximity and the group got four more people across and there were only three people left to cross. Well this presented a new challenge because their system needed pairs…and plan three was born and the last of the group made it across.
While the group had a plan to start, it was their ability to adjust and develop new plans to meet changing circumstances that made them a success. This is also true of project teams in the workplace. A good team will be able to develop a working plan but also be able to react to changing circumstances and challenges. This became one on the points discussed when we debriefed this exercise.
It is essential that we create a plan based on the information we know but we must also be ready to react to issues that arise and changing circumstances. If we lack the agility to evolve that plan, success will rely on a perfect initial plan, something which rarely happens.