How did this picture of a crack smoking, heroin shooting, beer drinking guy become a central figure in a project rescue workshop?


Rescue workshops are amongst my favorite ones to facilitate as they are usually scheduled when multiple teams are at odds and everyone has, for the most part, given up on a successful resolution. This kind of no-win scenario is to me the most fun, because I don't have to spend time and energy persuading them that alignment is the most valuable deliverable that can come out of the effort. Each team already walks in knowing that, the difference is that they want the opposing side aligned with them.

The much too happy fellow in the picture was used as a metaphor in trying to communicate between two teams that had, at that time, lined up against each other. Both teams were responsible for the overall performance of a web application and there was some question to where effort should be placed to address a performance issue.

Each of the illustrated vices represented a shortcut that had been taken on the road to project completion, and now that the project was about to launch the combination of shortcuts had become too much to bear. It was clear to both teams that the project, now beleaguered with performance issues, was in serious jeopardy.

One of the two teams was advocating a "quick-fix" that the other team would make assuring that all would be well if they would do this one thing. This is when the big-guy entered the room. Hearing the concerns of the second team, I drew the above picture and pointed out that their solution was akin to "switching to bud light" as the fix for our chubby friend. Aside from painting a very visceral picture that everyone could attach to, it gave some needed levity in an otherwise tense context.

With this rather humorous model in hand, both teams were a little more willing to investigate the holistic set of efforts that could be made to bring the performance numbers in line and to judge each effort on its merits and cost.

The Invaluable and Intangible Deliverable

If momentum is gold inside the enterprise, alignment is platinum. Alignment is the spark that makes the fire of momentum possible. Whether it is a simmering feud between two or more parties in a project rescue workshop or the cornucopia of voices of differently motivated groups and individuals in a strategy workshop, alignment is far and away the most valuable, and least quantifiable, deliverable that can come out from the group therapy sessions referred to as facilitated workshops.

When I'm not using obvious buffoonery and drawing crazy cartoons, my preferred methods for creating alignment between seemingly divergent parties is to, in no particular order, illustrate uncertainty, build empathy and uncover and point out common ground.

To the credit of my similarly minded partner in workshop hijinks, Stephen Taylor of Human Spark, I've become enamored with the rabbit-duck illusion first posited by the 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I show the above video and explain (in not so esoteric terms) that subjectivity and perspective fool us -- both as individuals and as groups -- into illusions of objectivity and certainty. This video is a mildly entertaining means to help people not only own up to the possibility that their view may be flawed or incomplete, but also that, both seemingly mutually exclusive perspectives could somehow be simultaneously right. Once people are opened up to the possibility that their preconceptions are subjective, the hurdles to gaining alignment become tractable.

Removing Defense to Allow Alignment

Another little gem for allowing alignment to emerge is to remove the conditions that allow defensiveness to arise. It is with this in mind that I tell the story of Scotty and Spock.

Captain Kirk sits on the bridge of the Enterprise surrounded by Klingons warships. The ship is damaged and the Captain knows that their situation is dire.

Kirk opens the comm line and says: "Scotty! Full power to the shields!"

Scotty replies: "I'm giving her all she's got captain! It will take an hour to get the shields back to 100%."

Kirk snaps back: "There will be no ship in an hour if we don't have the shields in a minute!"

Kirk closes the comm channel and orders Mr. Spock to go down to engineering to help Mr. Scott.

Spock leaves his station with un-Vulcan like haste and enters the lift to go down to engineering.

Spock exits the lift in engineering and Scotty sees him. Do you know what Scotty doesn't say?

He doesn't say "What the hell are you doing here?" He also doesn't say "Captain Kirk thinks I'm not any good at my job." He definitely doesn't say "Don't you have things to manage on the bridge?"

Do you know what Scotty says? Scotty only says one thing: "AWESOME! Spock is here!"

I Have Shown Mine...

Beyond common place mind mapping exercises, what facilitation tools and stories have you used to bring people closer together? Please take a minute, write your favorites down and share with the larger community.

Editor's Note: Check out another great Stephen Fishman Article: Customer Experience the George Costanza Way.