Wednesday, December 18, 2013

EMERGE 2013 Session IV Takeaways

Guest post from EMERGE 2013 participant Andrea Genevieve Michnik, reflecting on the November 21 EMERGE program day on teaming with others. Andrea is a social media consultant and blogger at

If you would have told me a month ago that as part of Leadership Austin I would get to play with toys and watch movies, I would have thought you were joking.

However, for the fourth Leadership Austin EMERGE class—as we moved away from learning about ourselves (the "I") to learning about working in a group (the "we")—our activity did involve toys and watching part of the movie Apollo 13.

Guest lecturer Keith Lewis of VeraSpark opened the class with the following clip to get us thinking about teamwork:

We each wrote down a list of the challenges, character responses and leadership styles presented in the clip. Then we compared this scenario to the workplace and surprisingly found many similarities! For example, there is always one person driven by fact and concrete absolutes. They are the data guys. Then you have your naysayers piping up with, "It can't be done!"

You may also experience pressure to work quickly and deliver perfection from managers or executives above. Leaders frequently boast, "Failure is not an option!" Right?

Think about your own workplace for a minute and see if you agree. Have you been in situations similar to the clip? What role did you play? Remember that clip the next time you are in a project meeting and use it to help determine your role for success.

Enterprise Simulation
Next we moved on to the activity portion of the class, which meant time for toys!

To begin, Keith split the room into two equal departments. Each department was then divided into four different teams and one executive level leadership group.

Teams were tasked with building five small components that would later be combined with the other teams to build a larger full scale toy. This was to be done as quickly as possible with 100% accuracy and quality. You can only imagine what happened once the countdown started.

Chaos! Yelling! Confusion! Rushing! Competition at its finest!

It was awesome.

After this inaugural round (and yes we did have the chance to fix our organizational issues and redeem ourselves in two more rounds) it was very clear how the exercise mimicked the challenges faced with teamwork in the workplace. This included things such as:
  • An unclear mission
  • Confusion over the end result or goals
  • Mixed signals when integrating with other teams
  • Responsibilities of the individual versus the executives
  • Finger pointing and lack of accountability
  • Lack of education and context
  • Poor planning

Sound a little familiar?

The STOP Technique
When this starts to happen in groups, remember to take a minute and practice the STOP technique:

S: Step Back
T: Think
O: Organize
P: Proceed

This will help you learn from mistakes and better prepare you to work with others in a truly collaborative manner the next time around.

So what did playing with toys and watching movies teach us? Well, for one it was a great way to learn how teams work together and see firsthand the importance of understanding roles. It also helped us dig deeper into our core values and individual habits when working collaboratively. Finally, when in doubt, bring out the toys to break the ice with a team project... even if it’s with a group of adults.

You'll be guaranteed to learn a thing or two about leadership and life.

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

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