As I was writing Moose on the Table, I facilitated a retreat at a ranch resort in the foothills of Alberta’s beautiful Rocky Mountains. This was a group of 21 managers and supervisors in a mid-sized family business. They were highly participative and keen to improve their leadership skills and further strengthen their company culture.

The biggest moose that emerged for this group was that they had trouble openly dealing with issues, concerns, and problems. They were just too nice to each other. In many ways, that’s a good thing. 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 resolve and form action plans.

Recalculating…From Fired to Rehired?

This session helped me in writing the “Taming of the Zoo” chapter I was then working on for my fictional Moose on the Table book. The book’s main character is Pete Leonard, a struggling middle manager in a struggling company. Soon after Pete’s bully boss, Doug, fired him, the company president, Cy Garnet, asked Pete to lunch…

“Pete, I’ll get right to the point. The reason I asked to meet with you is because I want to offer you the position of senior vice president.”

“Really? Are you kidding? That’s Doug’s position.”

“Not anymore. I let him go a few days ago. I should have done it much, much sooner. But he really played me like a fiddle. Now that I see the full picture, I feel like a complete fool. Doug was clearly a master at kissing up and kicking down. He told me and the board exactly what we wanted to hear. He was very good with our key clients. They loved him. He also impressed our bankers with his take-charge, decisive demeanor. They considered him a real leader.”

Resetting:  Let’s Not End Up Where We’re Headed

The conversation continued. At the end of lunch, Pete asked Cy for time to think over his offer. A few days later, he met with Cy in his office…

After a few minutes of chit chat, Cy asked Pete if he was going to accept the job offer.

“As I said on the phone, I’m certainly interested in pursuing it further,” Pete said. “But if I am going to take it on, I want to do it very differently than Doug did. Since I haven’t reported directly to you for years — and our personal and company circumstances are dramatically different — I’d like to see if you’d support the approach I’d want to take.”

Cy was all ears. “We certainly do need to do things differently around here,” he said. “If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the lousy results we’ve been getting. So, what are your conditions for getting back on board and taking the helm?”

“They aren’t conditions so much as ensuring that you’d support what I’d want to do and how I would do it.” Pete pulled a notepad from his small blue satchel. “I’ve got a few notes.”

Rerouting…Too Many Trips to the Zoo

Pete discussed turning Doug’s big office into a project planning room. He’d spend more time in the field leading and less time allowing e-mails/texts suck him into micromanaging. He also discussed the need to put all issues on the table — no matter how sacred the moose might be. Doug was wary but willing to see how this might play out.

Pete then gets to a key element he’s been learning about reducing the moose…

“We’ve had way too many 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 vigorous debates, conflicting ideas, 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 Saturdays ago, when our son, 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 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 times’ 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 drive there and a grim ride back. As we sat 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 of us wanted to go to the zoo in the first place. Everybody was being 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 day 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. In 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 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.”

When our kids were very young, their favorite lines to sing along were from Raffi’s album, “Singable Songs for the Very Young,” (album cover tagline “great with a peanut butter sandwich”) were:


“We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo
How about you, you, you?
You can come too, too, too
We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo”

I’ve facilitated many team retreats that reduced or resolved conflicts — and reduced the moose. But I tend to avoid personal conflict. I’ve contributed to a few trips to the zoo in my personal and business life.

How about you? Are you going too, too, too…?