HOT TOPIC #1: Team Building Workshops
HOT TOPIC #2: Executive Contracts
The Lost (and then found) Plotz Memos: Company Postage for Personal Mail
“Team Building” Programs – The Chef Has No Clothes
The January 13, 2007 New York Times ran a story that caught my eye: Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Teamwork Skills.
The piece describes a growing “fad” in team building … cooking classes.
The theory behind the team building cooking classes is that they break the ice between employees, break down traditional hierarchies as roles change during the cooking classes, and work cooperatively (or not) on something that has a tangible (and in this case edible) result.
Based on the comments in the article, the classes are fun, entertaining, and you get to see how your peers, direct reports and bosses act in a kitchen. But is that really team building?
In fact, many experiential team building classes are successful at being entertaining and fun, but don’t result in what clients are really hoping for: An observable improvement in how their teams communicate and work together toward team goals.
There are a few reasons why entertainment charading as team-building rarely works. All of these reasons will appeal to your common sense:
- Sustained Behavioral Change Takes Time. People don’t change in an instant, or during a class. In fact, the only learning that takes place through one experience is usually a trauma. Most of you probably know someone who changes after defeating a life-threatening illness, or going through a major personal catastrophe. Other than that, change generally takes place over repeated experiences over time, and usually because the person has some interest in changing.
- The “Frame” is Key. The work environment is a powerful context for behavior, with many cues, rules, and other elements of what is commonly called the company “culture.” That’s why people find themselves acting one way at work, and a different way at home. Experiential team building puts the person in a different “frame,” which is why we experience others in a new way at the offsite workshop, but then they revert to the way they were before, once you’re back at the office. And even though we may have learned something interesting at the experiential offsite, the frame at work is more powerful, so we got back to the way we were acting, too!
- Expectancy Confirmation. When teams go to an offsite, they expect to break out of their normal roles and comfort zones. The members know they are going to do something different, like a rope course, or a “trust fall,” or forming a circle by holding hands and moving a hula-hoop from person to person. There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy effect that occurs, because they are prepared for a new experience. Then they have one at the team building event. During the “debriefing” that usually accompanies team building exercises, the participants usually say that the experience was “unique” or “different” (because it was) and that they learned a lot (because they wanted to) and then they go home.
But it usually doesn’t change how they behave at work as a team, because the expectancy that is fulfilled at the off-site doesn’t carry over to the workplace. Why? Because, as you know, sustained behavioral change takes time and repetition to occur, and the frame in which the learning (if any) takes place in entertainment-as-team-building doesn’t carry over well to the workplace, where the frame is stronger and oriented toward high-level, complex goal achievement. Not deciding who will crack the eggs when you’re making an omelet together.
So how do you decide whether or not a team building program is worth the investment?
- Assess your team. Make sure you understand its strengths and areas in need of development, and pick programs that will address real needs.
- Look for programs that take place over time. If you truly want to change the dynamics of a team, you’re more likely to do that with a program that takes place in meetings over several weeks or months. Not during a half-day cooking class. Remember, sustained behavioral change takes time.
- Carefully check the credentials of the program presenter. If the team-building presenter has most of his or her experience as a family therapist, an outdoor adventure promoter, or some other non-business field, pass on the program. It’s easier to market a program than to prepare one that works. Look for program presenters who have longtime experience in understanding, assessing and working with teams to make them more effective. Check references, and make sure your team is ready to change. If they’re not, it’s likely that the reason they’re not performing up to expectations may reside outside the team.
- Evaluate the program’s goals over several months. Because change takes a significant amount of effort to effect, and generally occurs over a period of time that goes beyond the team-building program, do follow up evaluations in the weeks and months following the formal engagement. You’ll get a sense of the “staying power” of the program.
Teams are a powerful and effective way of accomplishing organizational goals. And managing them is a complex task. When you’re thinking about how to enhance the effectiveness of the teams you manage, consult with experts who know how to help assess teams and promote team growth. Unless you own a restaurant, cooking classes probably won’t accomplish your long term team building goals.
To discuss your team building needs or questions, please contact Dr. Weiman at (610) 642-3040 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hollywood’s Message For Executives:
Check Your Contract
By Michael H. Rosenthal
The dispute between book publisher Judith Regan and News Corporation’s Harper Collins publishing house highlights the thorny issues that can crop up when a top executive is fired. Regan is preparing to file a lawsuit against News Corporation for wrongful termination and libel, according to her attorney.
The wrongful termination claim is a breach-of–contract matter that will turn on whether Regan was fired for “cause.” News Corporation alleges that Regan made anti-Semitic remarks in the wake of the O.J.Simpson “If I Did It” book debacle.
Apparently, it is those remarks that News Corporation will rely on to support its claim that Regan was fired for “cause.” Regan claims she never made the remarks. But if she did, there may still be an issue whether her alleged statements constituted “cause” for firing her under her contract.
Typically, “cause” includes such behavior as dishonesty, theft, sexual harassment and similar conduct. Depending on the contract language, however, the term “cause” can include a range of other conduct that might be more open to interpretation such as “immoral conduct” or conduct that otherwise “injures” the employer. Whether Regan’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks, if she made them, are sufficient to constitute “cause” will depend on how her contract was drafted. Millions of dollars are at stake in that dispute. When a contract is drafted, each party seeks to protect its interests to the maximum extent possible.
Naturally, an executive would want the contract to include the narrowest possible definition of “cause” while the employer seeks an expansive definition that gives it more leeway to terminate employment without having to buy-out the contract or pay severance.
Check your contract to see how “cause” and “good reason” are defined. For example, you have stronger protection if the employer can invoke the “cause” provision only if the challenged conduct is “intentional” and the adverse consequences are “material.” By contrast, terms like “discretion” or “in the employer’s judgment” give the employer more room for subjective decisions.
The flip side of “cause” is your “good reason” to terminate the contract and still receive severance. Good reason typically includes such events as a material reduction in responsibilities or duties, but there are many other potential triggers as well. Sometimes the contract will provide a time limit for you to invoke a “good reason” termination once a triggering event occurs. Be mindful of the time limit if you think you have “good reason” to terminate your contract.
About the Author: Michael H. Rosenthal’s Executive Advocacy practice focuses on the legal and economic issues executives and professionals face as they move through their careers. Please contact Michael if you wish to arrange a consultation to discuss your situation. Phone: (215) 496-9404. E-mail Michael@MichaelHRosenthal.com. On the web at http://www.michaelhrosenthal.com.
The Lost (and then found) Plotz Memos:
I recently came into possession of a dusty carton of memos written by CEO Max M. Plotz. If you’ve never heard of him (and I suspect you haven’t) Plotz was a mercurial but compassionate man who ran Consolidated Candies (with plants in Lahaska, PA and the Mayfair section of Philadelphia) from the 1940s through the early 1970s. He was well known for the memos he wrote to his staff. Those memos were often terse, sometimes funny, and always filled with valuable wisdom. I have received permission from the Plotz family to reprint his memos in The Weiman Consulting Letter. I hope you find them as valuable as I did.
To: The Staff
From: Max M. Plotz, CEO
Date: January 20, 1973
Subject: Company Postage Machine
As we all know, there is a postage meter in the mail room.
I know it’s there because I bought it.
I know you know it’s there because we regularly get incorrectly addressed mail back from the post office that was mailed in company envelopes but apparently for personal mail.
For example, last week we had mail returned that was addressed to Uncle Phil (a birthday card), S&H Green Stamps (requesting a blank booklet) and the Burpee Seed Company (placing an order for dahlia bulbs).
Please use the company postage machine for business correspondence only. And please write your initials in the upper left corner of the envelope, so that we know who sent any items returned to us from the post office.
It’s only 8 cents a letter. But it’s the company’s 8 cents.
As always, you have my thanks.