Monday, 7 May 2012

Building Teams with Nails

I went on a team-building course with the day job. I won’t reveal, publicly, all my thoughts.
But there was one exercise that taught me a lot about myself.
In teams of five or six we were given a block of wood with a hole in it, a six-inch nail stood in the hole. We were also given ten other six-inch nails and told to balance them all on the head of the one nail in the wooden block.
What we were told at the end of the exercise was that the task was designed to develop and highlight certain aspects of our personalities that would eventually result in our solving the problem. At first we would organise ourselves and pool knowledge to see if anyone in the team knew how to do this. Next we would try to work through the problem, together, logically. After a certain amount of time the moderator would feed us clues from which we would be able to build on the knowledge and complete the challenge.

A colleague who had chosen to recuse himself from the exercise told me that when he first did this task his team completed it in three minutes.

Here’s what happened inside my head:

My first thought was – we do this in two minutes or we fail.

I knew the solution had something to do with cantilevers and getting the centre of gravity down below the nail head. I offered this and nobody in the team seemed interested. They were working on the assumption that they could magnetise the nails by rubbing them on their sweaters. So I realised I was working with idiots and decided that if I was going to solve this thing I was going to have to go it alone. So much for team-work.
While the others wore holes in their sweaters I tried to figure it out in my head. And no way would I be sharing.
Two minutes came and went. The first deadline. I had failed! I sulked.

But there was still a chance of beating the other teams, so I grabbed the nails and tried to figure out an arrangement that would have them hanging off each other. Couldn’t do it. Got really annoyed at myself. I mean, fuming. This was my thing. I should be able to figure this out.

Then the moderator came and offered the first clue. At this point we were supposed to build on her advice. I threw the nails down onto the carpet in disgust. I didn’t want help. I didn’t want clues. I wanted to figure out the bloody problem myself. I withdrew. No point trying now, was there. If I/we figured it out now it would only be because we’d been told half the answer and how could that be satisfying in any way.

One of the other teams completed and now there was absolutely no point in continuing. Even though the rest of my team redoubled their efforts, I just watched them. What was the point now? We’d lost anyway.

So I learned that I am not a team player. I learned that I am not a collaborator. And I learned that when good advice is given I don’t want to know, I’d much rather figure it all out myself. What I didn’t learn was that when I fail at something I sulk. Because I knew this already.

Even now, a week later, I am still furious at myself for not figuring out the solution to the problem. I’m angry at being shown the solution, because now I can never figure it out myself.
This is not a healthy state of mind. These are not useful character traits. They reveal a great deal about why I am where I am.
I will try to change.

And in the interest of sharing (and as a spoiler for anyone else who might want to try and run this course) here’s a video of how to do it.

I wonder how many of you will reach for a bag of nails before watching it.

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