Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Redefining Success: Wobbling Towards Excellence

Being a facilitator at Dynamix is a unique privilege.  First of all, it’s my job to play games all day.  It’s hard to beat that.  But my favourite part of facilitating is the lessons that come out of the games.  On the best days, the kids take home something new, and so do I. 

Let me share a story:

It’s about a team of accomplished teenage leaders.  They had cooperated solidly for the majority of our three-day retreat.  Their challenge, with me, was to make the Oreo, a humongous tire attached to yellow ropes, walk forwards.  They discovered a strategy in a matter of minutes.  Most groups had needed several rounds of trial and error.  I was extremely impressed.
But then, something happened.  The students noticed the wobbling of the tire, how it wasn't moving in a straight line, how it tilted slightly. They began to nit-pick, to adjust small things, trying to move the tire perfectly.  Within seconds, the team’s cohesion dissolved.  They criticized each other’s methods, barked orders at one another.  They even yelled at each other for not communicating properly.  I stopped the group. 
“Talk to me,” I said calmly.  “What’s going on?”
They began to list their mistakes:  Not enough listening. Not enough strategy.  Not enough using our resources.  Not enough.
And then, being experienced in the ways of leadership education, they preempted my next question: What do we do differently next time? There was no shortage of ideas for improvements. 
The team was in consensus: The Oreo challenge had been a flop.  But that’s not how it looked to an outside observer, like me.
“What did we do well?” I asked them.  No answers.
“How many of you think that we were successful today?” No hands.
“Does anyone remember what the goal of the challenge was?” Silence. 
Then, one student answered: “To get the Oreo to move.” 
“Exactly,” I said.  “And was the Oreo moving?”
A chorus of yes’s.
“Then were we successful?”
Some tentative nods.
“We did what we set out to do,” I reminded them.  “Can we take a moment to give ourselves a round applause for that?”
The conversation that followed was about the importance of celebrating our successes, however small.  It’s important to work towards excellence, but that doesn’t mean forgetting to acknowledge the fact that we’ve accomplished something.  The road to an optimal solution can be fraught with struggle and setbacks – these are good things, they help us learn.  But they can also be frustrating.  That’s why we have to stop to say, Was the oreo moving? To remind ourselves that, yes, it was.

Dynamix: Team-building for Kids and Teens, since 2002.

Photo taken from Google Images, source: 

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