Archive for the ‘Team Intervention’ Category

Trust Fall

Oct 01, 2014 // No Comments » // Team Intervention



“TRUST – is the fundamental building block of a cohesive team…” I proclaimed firmly during a training session to a group of global talents gathered in Bonn, Germany.

Standing in the centre with the group sitting in a circle, all their eyes were on me as if saying “Nothing new said…so what?!”.

“But trust is not easy…let me do my level best to describe further but I would need a volunteer to help me demonstrate trust in its most basic form…” while I cast my eyes around looking for a volunteer, someone I hope will be challenged-by-choice and about my size. Matt, a bald, stout-looking young American smile, raised his hand and jumped out from his seat as if saying this is his show…and I gladly welcomed him to the centre of the circle.

Instructing him to stand back towards me with both arm outstretched, I encouraged him to fall back without looking back. In my 14 years using “trust-fall” as an activity to demonstrate leap-of-faith as a mindset of TRUSTING; no one has ever fall back so readily and freely as Matt, hence he caught me by surprised as his full body weight (he’s quite heavy, trust me!) came crushing down on me as I tried desperately to break his drop fully unto to floor, thereby resulted in straining my left knee ligament. Fortunately, Matt was tough as a nut and in fact he was more concerned about me as my faced grimaces with pain…as the rest bemused in laughter.

As I thank Matt for such bravery and spontaneity, I walked gingerly towards the flip chart and wrote this:

TRUST = Trusting + Trustworthiness

“A trust relationship can only happen when there is someone willing to act the ‘trusting’ with someone corresponding with being ‘trustworthy’, in which just like the leap-of-faith demonstrated a moment ago ‘trusting’ must happen first…If we are not willing to ‘fall’ or wait till it is worthy then trust may not happen after all…”.

I often gets strong reactions from participants from the above…the emotional and mental construct in which we understand TRUST always called for a good conversations.

How about you?

What’s your thought regarding the subject about TRUST? For example:

Do you know saying what you truly don’t know gain more trust from others than you thought? Or

Saying ‘trust’ takes time to build is a way in which we delay the needs for us to confront the unknown, the fear of rejection, the creative conflict that may lead to more discoveries.

Well, having said that I think Matt will be hesitant to take the “leap” the next time he sees me at the other end of the “fall”!!

The Myth about Team-building – Build What?

Jul 23, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Team Intervention

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Team-building has been within the theory and practice of Organization Development (OD), but from schools to non-profit organizations, sports arena to political scenes, it can be applied to almost any context. Almost everyone will be involved in some form of team-building in their lifetime wherever they play their roles…But have you ever ask the question:

“What really is team-building?”

“What are we actually ‘building’ when we team-build?”

“For what? Why?”

If you ask someone who has initiated team-building the reason why they do it you will be surprised with the many responses…

  1. To motivate them…so that they can perform to what’s expected of them.
  2. To build trust…so that they are able to resolve conflict and perform.
  3. To bond them…so that they can work well across their roles and function.
  4. To better communication…so that they can work well with one another and perform.
  5. To skill them in working in teams…so that they understand how to be a team member and perform.
  6. To “incentivise” them…after all they deserve a break! (after that, they better perform).
  7. To have fun…because we believe in having fun in the work we do. (so that we can perform better).
  8. To energize them…there has been a dipped in performances lately.
  9. To do what other teams have been doing…after all it is an “in” thing nowadays and we happen to have the budget!
  10. (Fill in your say…)

It is not difficult to realize that one of the key expectation for most team-building initiatives are about performance; there are many team or group performance/effectiveness/development model researched, selectively:

  • Tuckman’s Group Development Model
  • Tubbs’ System Model
  • Fisher’s Theory
  • Richard Beckhard’s Team Effectiveness Model
  • McGrath’s TIP Theory
  • Belbin’s Team Inventory
  • Drexler Sibbet Model and many more…

But have we really take a step back and ask…what have we done (team-building) in the past that we have yet to do? Have we seriously ask WHY we team-build before the how and what? Or maybe we seriously need to consider what’s there to be done before and after team-building? What can we learn from team-building? About our people, our people’s manager, our leaders, our system and processes, roles and accountability, our relationship with one another?

Yes, there is always a place for team-building to induce the fun and playful elements. What about using fun and playfulness to gain entry to the hearts and minds of the people? Would there be a time when people get tired of fun and playful team-building? Can team-building take a dimensional change of its purpose and intention? If we have a valuable window of opportunity to help teams develop using the context of team-building, would it be a pity to let that slips?

I was giving this a serious thought some years ago and compared a group/team to a pool of water forming and moving in a concerted direction to serve its purpose/goal. It may grows in size (new members), reduce (members leave), quench thirst (meet objectives) and so on…moving in the direction decided by the organization body. I realized that for the water to stay relevant and useful it should be examined and evaluate from time to time…The three stages that I discovered were:


At some point, the ‘group’ (water) need to stop doing (moving) what has been deemed useful or detrimental to their performances. By freezing, the ‘group’ may begin to examine the group elements by its actual size, volume, weight and shape.


Once the elements have been evaluated, the group will begin to unfreeze (a calculated process) by asking important questions such as why, who, what, when and how the team can perform well again.


A collaborative and effective teams with intentional leadership are able to refreeze at specific point of time to regroup and collect and change to a new form of water with renew goals, roles, processes and relationship.

Many of my peers and senior practitioners that I shared with have agreed that team-building has taken an ambiguous positioning in the context of OD. From event company to hospitality industry, many would claim that they are able to help you to “build-team”. Therefore I urge you to re-examine the purpose and reason for you to send your team for team-building program.

Ask the question: “Why? For what?”. If you are unsure of the purpose for your intended team-building, let’s have a conversation.

From Compliance to Commitment – What’s underneath it?

May 24, 2010 // 5 Comments » // HR Insights | Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold | Team Intervention

Hierarchy of Commitment

Hierarchy of Commitment - ConversationCircles

Two recent news and current affairs got my attention.

For one, I read with interest this morning news about a man who has been arrested in connection with a power blackout at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino last Wednesday. He is believed to be a disgruntled engineer employed by a subcontractor of MBS.

The other, the passing of Dr. Goh Keng Swee. His story, past speeches, his contribution as 1st generation founding fathers, political achievements and driving many government’s nation building initiatives into the modern Singapore today, were widely reported over the past weeks. One such report quoted his last speech before he retires from politics; Dr. Goh said (quote): “You are coming into this. You are joining a holy order and your job is to build on what we have done, not treat it as a pinnacle, but as a foundation to make it better”

I thought the two reports have put both Commitment and Condemnation into perspective…

If Commitment is the pinnacle pursuit of our Human Capital work, have you ever ask what it takes to reach there? What comes before that? How do we know?

In 2005, I facilitated a teambuilding program for a group of 30 staff from a not-for-profit organization that has several establishment such as healthcare, pre-school and family-care centers. The leadership team faced tremendous challenges to embed the values of commitment and sense of ownership with the team. At the end of the two-day session, when we all sits in a circle and I drew the Hierarchy of Commitment on the floor with white-chalk and asked:

“For a question that I do not need an immediate answers but your deep reflection on where you think you are on the level of commitment to this very organization that you call home. Where are you?”

I invited the team to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, spent about 3 minutes of silence in the circle.

We spent the next 45 minutes debrief with tears, laughter, confessions and affirmation. When I left the group, many still continue their conversation in small groups, in pairs and in self deep thoughts.

Are you ready to talk about Commitment?

Mastering the art of ‘Agreed to Disagree’.

Apr 12, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

Woody Allen – Acclaimed Screenwriter, Film Director, Actor and Comedian (not in that particular order of merit).

Billy Graham -  American Christian evangelist, is best known for his worldwide evangelistic crusades preaching the message of Christianity to more people than anyone in history.

What can we learn from them about  the art of agreed to disagree? Quite a fair bit I thought after chanced upon this interview video clip on YouTube. A few excerpt to highlights:

Woody (0:10) – “Whether you agree his (Billy Graham) point of view or not on things…extremely interesting to talk to…I don’t agree with him on many of great subjects…”

Billy (0:40) – “It’s very nice to be with you Woody and I like to say there’s some things that I don’t agree with you on…”

Woody (0:46) – “Yeah…but the question is which one of us will be converted by the end of this conversation…”

Alright, I hope this is enough to wet your appetite for this clip. But the point I would like to bring across is not really about the interview per se but the manner both gentlemen carried the dialogue with strong disagreement and conviction of certain values and assumptions and how they brought their thoughts across yet with space for each other to be ‘touch’ and listen to. I thought there was much ’learning’ from the dialogue.

David Bohm (1917 – 1992). Renowned physicist and theorist who was one of the most original thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century says this:

“…people can share the frustration and share their different contradictory assumptions and share their mutual concerns and stay with it – if everybody is concern together, and looking at it (the concern) together – then you have a chance of common consciousness.” (On Dialogue, p38)

ConversationCircles’ vision is to enable organization and community the ability to create meaningful, collaborative and authentic conversation. We are only at the beginning of this dream and we hope that YOU are in this journey with us.

I have also included a facilitator guide for an experiential activity titled “Fall Out Shelter Problem” that help team to work on learning the skills of agreed to disagree.

Download HERE. Do feel free to drop me a note if you need further help on the guide.

Note: if you really enjoy the clip, go to YouTube and catch the part 2 and see how they end the conversation…Have fun!

Same but Different – Helping team to unearth differences.

Apr 09, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

I first learned the phrase “Same Same but Different” many years ago from my friend and mentor Francis Tan (Principal Consultant – First Touch Consultancy). I loved this phrase so much that I have been using it many times in my facilitation session.

Through the years, I have observed that one of the key struggle for most team relationship is their inability (or reluctance) to identify and acknowledge differences in the comfort of sameness. We are more comfortable when others shared the same opinion and thoughts, arguments are not stretch beyond personal convictions. We wince at the slightest disagreement (though we are mostly good at concealing it), disapprove unorthodox ideas and course of action.

A strong team-base relationship has to be built on the bedrock of respecting differences; not at coddling sameness.

If you would like to facilitate an experiential activity that could arouse your team members to start thinking about the above, you may like to download it HERE.

Do give me your thoughts about the above topic or email me any questions with regard to the attached facilitation guide.

Team-Building or Team Intervention

Mar 29, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Team Intervention

Picture source: Wishard_of_Oz via Flickr

Picture source: Wishard_of_Oz via Flickr

Some well-meaning trainer friends recently commented:

“Allen, it will be difficult to get people to show interest about your Team Intervention work. You can’t even ‘google’ team intervention on the web.”

“You have to tell people that you are good at team-building. You have to accede to the mainstream.”

“You got to do what the clients want…not what you think you want.”

Well, I intended to stay the course…but let me explain.

The idea of team-building can be trace back to the year 1920s-30s with the now classic Hawthorne studies. These involved a series of research activities designed to examine in-depth what happened to a group of workers under various conditions. After much analysis, the researchers agreed that the most significant factor was the building of a sense of group identity, a feeling of social support and cohesion that came with increased worker interaction.

My sense is that most mainstream ‘team-building’ events are designed specifically to address the above bolded factors:

Sense of Group Identity – the event are usually high in energy, competitive or challenging activities to arouse collective sense of group identity. The team/group may leave with recollection of what their purpose is and new found camaraderie at the end of the day.

Feeling of Social Support - the sessions tend to give maximum opportunities for supportive action (holding one another, belaying and supporting in low/high adventure learning settings etc), brainstorming and problem solving, discussion and cheering for one another when the chips are down. The idea is to let team members rekindle the feeling of social connection again.

Increased Worker Interaction – Not the least, a typical team-building event will have team members spend maximum time eat, sleep, have fun and suffer together usually at an off-site location far away from their workplace environment. They will usually have group presentation, role-plays and activities like amazing race, river-rafting and building anything using lego bricks to cooking together in a posh kitchen and even spraying paint ball at each other.

Don’t get me wrong, my points above are perfectly alright and legitimate for building a team. In fact, I have been doing this for the last ten years and still enjoys doing and think that it does impact team development to some extend…Here’s my problem, I constantly question myself;  is that what team-building is about? I have seen enough sweat and laughter with the team during the event but at the end of the day when I watched them walk out of the room, I doubted the “feeling” they have just acquired was sustainable.

ConversationCircles want to do more and deeper work with team that goes beyond just sense, feeling and interaction.  We want to intervene right from the beginning during consultation, listen to your real issues and challenges that is facing the team and together take some calculated risk to provide CIRCLE solutions to group intervention that may be sustainable.

We are prepared to intervene…are you ready?

Be Disturbed

Feb 10, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

Picture source: Amanda_Mac via Flickr

Picture source: Amanda_Mac via Flickr

I once facilitated a program for an IT technical service group of 30 staff. They are a team of diverse specialist good at what they do best in smaller groups but struggled to collaborate as a team.

The day started with helping the team to realized how good are they working on their own and in smaller group but as the day passed, they begin to realize the importance of skills and attitude needed to work together. The day ended with a large group activity that focused on the need to communicate expectation, accountable for other’s successes, and agreeing on ways to do things differently.

At the conversational circle, two questions were asked:

  • What has happened that you find interesting for your learning?
  • If indeed a learning, how can that apply back at your work environment?

“It’s all about planning. We did not plan well in the beginning and we struggled to find a way to solve the problem.” shared one participant.

“We underestimated at certain staged of the activity and don’t really have a leader to spot the problem.” enthused another.

“But we also work well as a team and did not blame one another at times of failure.” concluded another.

I responded: “If I may invite you to think about your learning, your personal ‘aha’ moment, what would that be?”

After a long pause of silence, came a rather weak respond from a petite lady: “To be honest, I came with very little expectation from the learning viewpoint but I thought I am really disturbed by today’s event.”

“Thank you for being honest. Would you like to share more about what you meant by being disturbed?” I sensed a rich vein of possible learning from her…

With a moment of staring blankly, she responded: “Umm…I meant I observed many behaviors of myself that is congruent to the behaviors back at the workplace. I am disturbed…and I did not know that I am like that at work until now…”

“And if there is one change that you may choose to make happen back at work, what would that be?” I invited her response with my eyes connecting sincerely.

“To actively respond to others…I hope.” she ended with her eyes downward.

Have you been disturbed lately?