I just finished delivering a highly customized two day Leading @ the Speed of Change workshop with a delightful Client at a ranch resort in the foothills of Alberta’s beautiful Rocky mountains. This was a group of 21 managers and supervisors for a mid sized family business. They were highly participative and keen to improve their personal leadership skills and move their company from very good to outstanding.

One of the key features of our workshop was a moose hunting exercise I have developed over the past 7 years of work with many management teams. The Moose-on-the-Table metaphor has evolved into a very popular and effective part of my workshops and The CLEMMER Group’s consulting work. There’s an article explaining this at http://www.clemmer.net/excerpts/authentic_comm.shtml and a video clip:
Moose-on-the-Table (authentic conversations)

The biggest moose that emerged for this group was that they had trouble openly dealing with issues, concerns, and problems. They were just too darn nice to each other! That’s a certainly a good thing on the one hand. But teams (and families) that don’t have courageous conversations eventually end up with bigger problems. Using a guided discussion process, we were able to effectively voice the issues and get them out on the table to form action plans.

This experience meshed wonderfully with a chapter I just finished the week before in my Moose-on-the-Table fable (see “I am just making this up” post for some background on this). The book’s main character is Pete Leonard a struggling middle manager in a struggling company. In this short excerpt from one of the last chapters – after many trial and tribulations – Pete is talking about some of the insights and changed perspectives he’s developed as he tried to deal with his own fears and the company’s big moose problem:

“We’ve had way too much going-along-to-get-along and inauthentic conversations around here. This behavior has attracted a major herd of moose that are getting in the way and slowing us down. We need loud debates, heated conflict, and healthy arguments.”

“That’s the part I am having real trouble with. We have enough problems now. I don’t see how more conflict is a good thing.”

“Let me give you an example. Two Saturday’s ago when Ryan was home from university, after a bit of overly polite discussion about what to do with our rare time together as a family, the four of us agreed to pile in our little two door car and drive 90 minutes to the zoo. It took three hours to get back due to a huge traffic jam. I think the whole trip was mostly for old time sake. At the zoo, we spent four hours miserably trudging around from pavilion to pavilion – in the rain – looking at exhibits that we’d seen many times before and hadn’t changed in ten years.

It was a quiet ride there and a sullen ride back. As we sat there stuck in traffic seven dismal hours later – and after we’d given up our Saturday together – we finally vented our true feelings. We then discovered that not one us of wanted to go to the zoo in the first place. Everybody was being too polite and going along with what they thought others wanted to do. If we would have had an open conversation with everybody stating what they really felt we could have had a much better time together.”

“Yeah, our family has been there and done something like that before too,” Cy chuckled as he nodded his head.

“We have been taking way too many trips to the zoo around here. If fact, we’re stuffing some of the animals in our little cars and bringing them back to the office. We need to learn how to confront the brutal facts to fix the problem, not to fix the blame. We need to learn how to argue without being argumentative. We must learn how to attack all sides of the issue without attacking each other. That’s a huge culture change for us.”

“Yes, it is. We do avoid disagreement and differences of opinion – to each other’s faces anyway.”

Have you been part of a few too many few trips to the zoo? How have you learned to skip the trip? I’d love to hear about your experiences.