ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - October 2001


Issue Highlight — A Day in the Life of a Fool
- A Day in the Life of a Fool asks whether
e-government will improve government or make
it more distant from those it is supposed to
serve without actually improving efficiency, as

The Big Bang Theory of Teambuilding and Leadership or Listen Up!
Teambuilding is Not an Unnatural Act

Successful teams and teamwork at work should be as easy and natural as breathing, walking and talking—shouldn’t they?
  Yes, they should but all of us hear about people having difficulty with some teams at work, or a particular team that is stuck. And we sometimes wonder: “Why the difficulty with teams at work?—it’s not as if being on a team or a part of great teamwork is an un-natural act, is it? Every day, outside of work, we see people, talking and listening, making plans about changing things. Every day, the newspapers, radio, and television are filled with examples of teams—good and bad—teams from NASCAR racing, football, baseball, rowing, even orchestras and bands are teams. So, the question is, “are teams natural or not?”
  To answer that question, a few years ago Canadian researcher Gervase Bushe and his colleagues reported their research* on forming and empowering teams. They found—what we all hoped to be true—everyone can work on teams successfully whether they volunteer or are assigned. So, teamwork at work is not an un-natural act—good. Then why do so many people still seem to have more difficulty with it than we would expect? What’s the problem? In search of an answer, we remembered that for ten years or more, we have been hearing about two brothers, who present themselves as Quiet Riot, who have had good success at helping people “get over” stuck or unconnected teams. Recently we talked with one half of Quiet Riot, Bill Mettler (David Mettler is the other half—the quiet half; Bill is the riot half of Quiet Riot). Talking with Bill, we learned, anew, that although listening is natural, it is not always done well or attentively. And we relearned that wanting to be “heard” and “being heard” are power packed issues for each and all of us. Read on and “listen up” to this dialogue on teams and teamwork.

* More information on teams and empowerment: Gervase Bushe, Stephen Havlovic, and Graeme Coetzer, "Exploring Empowerment From the Inside–Out," The Journal for Quality & Participation, March 1996.

NFC: I have this great picture of you holding up a "soft" planet earth. What do you use it for? What does it illustrate?

Mettler: That is a part of our most important story. We call it the "story of the universe." It’s a story about our earth from the first bang—the first explosion of hydrogen up to the unfolding of the human brain and our consciousness. The purpose is to show our interconnection with the universe, with the natural world, and with one another. It’s an introduction to the idea of interdependence—the new value for the new paradigm. And that has everything to do with teambuilding and leadership, with appreciating diversity and innovation—all of it.

NFC: When you talk about people being interconnected, or connecting folks as an important part of teamwork, what exactly are you talking about?

Mettler: When I take a look at a team or partnership, I see each person as bringing in their own particular bag of tricks, gifts, and attributes. My idea about supporting leadership and teambuilding is to make a container or make the environment of the team one of mutual regard, so that those unique offerings can come out. An environment with a minimal amount of judgment and a maximum amount of eagerness to accept difference, because the difference that every unique person offers is the answer to great teamwork. When I’m talking about connecting people, it’s with a respect that we show each other so that these contributions can flow freely.

NFC: You make a living asking people to have respect and regard for each other when they talk to each other at work. Why does having respect and regard for each other at work seem to be such an unnatural act?

Mettler: That’s actually a very good question. I like the question. I was just talking with a friend of mine about listening and about relationships. I was talking about my wife and myself. We’ve been married for 31 years and whenever we get in trouble with one another, it’s usually a case of not listening. I notice that I really have to be vigilant; to avoid formulating a response while the other person is talking. I have to let that go and just listen to what they’re saying — and that is the ultimate gesture of respect.

  We all want to be heard, to be seen and heard and our ideas respected. So, if I am talking with someone and there’s no assurance that I am being heard — the conversation just bullets on to the next counterpoint — then that fires up my counterproductive, competitive juices. That’s where I want to be right rather than getting in and solving the problem using both of our resources. So, it definitely is a competitive-defensive response.

NFC: So you’re asking people to come together to be productive and put aside some of their competitiveness.

Mettler: Yes, above all to just listen to each other when someone has something to say. The best way you can help a group become a high performance, innovative, agile team is to help them know that they’re going to be heard and heard well. Even disagreement, after being assured that you have been listened to, is not quite such a bitter pill to swallow because at least you’ve been heard and you know your idea has been considered.

NFC: Knowing that you have “really” been heard can be as important as having your idea or plan accepted. Can you share an example of “being heard” from your work with groups?

Mettler: We were doing a workshop in Montreal. I told a very emotive story about not being seen for who I was, and how that changed me. A very athletic-looking, senior executive told my brother, in an exercise after, “I don’t feel very close to what your brother, Bill, said about how he had been overlooked and disregarded. I feel like I’ve been very lucky and I don’t see the need for all this emotional stuff. What I try to do is help along the junior managers that come in that didn’t get as good a break as I have…and I try to mentor them.”
  David is listening to this, then he does what we were asking partners to do in the exercise. David says, “So Roger what I hear you saying is that you feel really lucky, that you got some good breaks and you were excellent in sports and were always included, that you were popular, and you look around you and you see that some folks aren’t as fortunate as you.” And Roger starts to tear up a little bit. His bottom lip is quivering and David says, “So your response to this is that you want to help these guys along, you want to give them the same kind of breaks that you had. People helped you and you’re passing that on, you’re helping them.” Roger’s wiping away the tears coming down his cheek. He says, “Yeah, I guess there is something to this emotional stuff. You heard me exactly. That’s exactly what I said.” Just the act of being listened to, even with the most crusty people who seem to have their say all the time, is very powerful.

NFC: So, step number one is modeling and creating exercises for listening, or enabling people to be heard, because for the people you’re working with listening is an “unnatural act” at work?

Mettler: Yes, that particular workshop is called “Enhancing your Voice.” In a performance for a large group, when there isn’t the opportunity for everyone to pair up and go through the listening exercise, we do a performance that uses William Glasser’s work. He says there are four values or qualities that a good team, a team of mutual regard and high performance, would have. Those four qualities are:

• Belonging
• Choice
• Fun
• Respect

  We tell stories, or do theatre pieces around those four qualities to illuminate them. To set them in the minds of the audience so they can go away with them in their bones. We emotionally charge each one of those presentations for each of the values so that the retention is excellent and people remember the feeling and the value.
  When those four qualities are in place, it makes for a team of goodwill where effective conflict resolution can happen. Also, with the four qualities in place, it’s a great container for creativity. A team with those four values is most responsive to change and can work like a polished team of bricklayers to accomplish the job that’s in front of them.

NFC: How do you try to ensure that what is learned doesn’t end up being like jelly nailed to a wall…after a few days what you’ve learned starts to slide down the walls of your mind and you can’t remember what the instructor said or did, or what you should do?

Mettler: One thing that sticks in people’s minds (we’ve been told long after we’ve gone through) is our temperaments work. We do that in conjunction with things about choice. We use a four-temperament model that we have adapted, or changed from its original form over time. I act out all four of the temperaments after the audience has had a chance to take a written exercise to figure out which is their dominant temperament. The four temperaments we use are:

• Director
• Integrator
• Communicator
• Thinker

  They learn what it is that they’re after most of the time—the thing that they need. If they’re a Director, they need control, or they’re after control. If they’re an Integrator, their challenge is taking a stand on an issue rather than always being the facilitator or negotiator. If they’re a Thinker, they see that they need data and time to write their interview or whatever they’re doing. If they’re a Communicator, their contribution to the team is that they see the big picture and they get excited about the possibilities for the team.
  People get to see that each temperament offers something unique and each one has the best strategy to relate to. And each has their particular challenge. What makes those memorable is that people remember watching me act them out, taking the test. That sticks with people because they get to figure it out first on paper, then they see the kinesthetic solution, and they get a little wheel that summarizes the types to take with them.

NFC: When you get up in the morning, after 23 years of doing this work, are you still excited by your work? You sound as if you are—are you?

Mettler: I am. I have a passion about where we are in time right now. We are in a great transition time. The entire human family is in transition and I think it is the most exciting time to be alive.

NFC: Do you think this is like being in Renaissance Italy—the best and worst all at once?

Mettler: Yes. Look, we have this superb technology that has brought us unprecedented comfort and it has also pushed us seriously close to ecological catastrophe. This technology that has given us both comfort and a perilous position has given us lenses to see into the natural world on a macro or micro perspective in a way that was never possible before. Our scientific culture is beginning to see the interconnections between everything. Mystics have been talking about those interconnections for eons but now we can empirically see the connections. It is really exciting to be involved with this shift in consciousness.

NFC: Let’s go back to listening for a bit. Why do you think it is so important to teamwork?

Mettler: The reason why we offer a workshop in listening is that listening cuts through all four of the qualities a team needs. The belonging, choice, fun, and respect. When people feel free to voice their hunches or voice their solutions or ideas, then the team is ultimately resourceful.
  In our show, we’re demonstrating how to set up the most effective team possible. Our work is about setting up the best container out of which that work can move. If I were in one of those teams, the next step beyond establishing mutual regard is sharing dreams. That is, sharing your vision of what could be, and you need good listening to do that.

NFC: Often, when you go into a workplace it seems there is an “invisible work culture sign” over the front door that says “no emotion allowed inside, focus,” those sorts of things. So you ask people to share their vision or expose their feelings, their hopes, but you’re “not supposed” to do that at work?

Mettler: Ah, that’s part of the listening exercise. We ask them to tell the listener one thing that’s of importance that has occurred to them in the last couple of days—it can be from work or from home life or whatever. This is after we have made a big deal about listening and that the listener has the highest position of honor, that it is a privilege to listen. Then, we tell them they are going to be responsible for feeding back what their partner tells them, and then they’re going to switch roles. The result of knowing that they will be switching roles is that they listen with everything they’ve got.
  It’s incredible afterwards. People will say this is not—it’s like you were saying—this is not like “work,” I really felt respect. I felt like I’ve told this person about something that was on my mind that has been affecting my performance or has been needling me or whatever. I’ve told this person and I was heard. In the process, just in talking, I’m able to see the next step. Or in his talking to me, I began to see solutions to my own particular conundrums or challenges.

October 2001 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
The Big Bang Theory of Teambuilding and Leadership or Listen Up!
Just a Little Suggestion
Highly Satisfied Customers
Gotcha! Office Politics at Work

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Brief Cases

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