A print journalist asked me if there was any one incident that led me to write Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. It was a great question that caused me to step back and reflect on how my experiences came together to weave the book’s storyline and core themes.
Moose on the Table was a convergence of three streams. One was the way the metaphor was resonating with audiences and helping to open up difficult conversations by using a playful or humorous approach that created a bit of a safer environment to raise issues or problems.
Another stream was the number of managers I encountered who didn’t seem to have much of a clue on how their aggressive or domineering style was limiting the effectiveness of people on their team. A particularly bad example of that happened during a workshop of about fifty supervisors and managers in a large company. I asked the General Manager of this group whether he’d like to do some “moose hunting” to identify and remove barriers to the organization working more effectively together. He agreed that this would be useful. After we went through an exercise to provide anonymous input and voting on the top issues to be addressed, the GM was very surprised by the very clear and strong feedback he got from participants – that his management group was not behaving as a team.
According to the feedback, management contradicted each other, waged petty turf battles, and reinforced departmental silos. At the end of the workshop exercise, his response to the group was fairly defensive and even a bit hostile.
I was getting a bad feeling.
I met with the GM a week later to review the day’s learnings and put implementation plans in place. As we looked at the list of moose issues and other action ideas generated at the meeting he told me he’d already taken care of the number one ranked problem of his own team not working together effectively. The day after our large group meeting he told me he got them together and “read them the riot act.” He reported that he told them they’d better start working together as a team or he’d replace them with managers who could! Things went downhill from there. We weren’t able to do more work with that GM, as his style was to deny input that didn’t agree with his perceptions and try to push people into seeing things his way. He was eventually moved aside (a clear sign of their avoidance culture is that he’s still there today).
A third stream that led to the book and its story line are the number of supervisors and middle managers who disempower themselves. The scenarios described throughout Moose on the Table (and especially in Chapter Two and Three) are based on numerous experiences I’ve had with supervisors or managers who agree that people in their organization should take more initiative, be more positive, and focus on what they can do to improve their situations. Mostly these are people who are frustrated with what they see as victim behavior by others in their teams/organizations. Often you’ll hear these same folks bitterly complain about their own bosses, denounce the bureaucracy, and make cynical comments that they are powerless to do anything about their team or organization’s major problems or issues. Just like the POETS Society – Pee-On-Everything-Til-Sunrise – did at Rocky and Bullwinkle’s bar in Chapter Three.
I had a vivid example of this very scenario play out recently with a large energy company, as I had lunch with three supervisors who’d all but given up trying to deal with moose issues. Yet many of their peers in that same session were pressing forward with making changes and addressing issues in a much more positive way. The more effective supervisors recognized that they could focus on what they could control or influence, or focus on what was out of their control and bitterly complain about that. The difference between being a Navigator/Leader or a Victim is as simple as choosing to concentrate on what can be done as opposed to what can’t.