Tag Archives: teamwork

Gremlins in the wild

'At the start (2)' by p2-r2, on Flickr

'At the start (2)' by p2-r2, on Flickr

Chatting with @P0bsta recently we discussed a shudder-inducing facilitation ‘tool’ – the one where delegates position themselves in one of four quadrants (Participant / Passenger / Prisoner / Pirate). We’d both experienced the model at training events and neither of us were enamoured by it. That said, it’s a potentially useful prompt for discussion but trainers generally expect every delegate to be a ‘participant’.

Gremlins in the wild have predictable forms, with both Prisoners and Pirates being commonplace; leaders who are Monty Python fans will also recognise members of the Peoples’ Front of Judea (PFJ) in their teams!

Johnny Depp live on the set as Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow by Stuck in Customs, on Flickr

I caught myself being a Gremlin during the first few days of our most recent expedition – part Pirate, part PFJ. The key roles within the team were restricted, but the people responsible for those roles was neither explicit nor clear. To be fair, our team were developing the approach to a complex task as well as learning to work together. As a ‘Pirate’ I was being critical and hostile; in ‘PFJ’ meetings the discussions were unproductive. Once I caught myself I had to genuinely consider whether I was on the right ship. Once satisfied I carved out a role for myself, settled quickly and made a useful contribution.

My point? Well, my previous post focussed on the leader’s responsibility for defining and monitoring roles within a team; that’s a hierarchical norm however, and the world is moving on. @P0bsta made me think about the responsibilities of individuals and why every team member needs to be mindful of roles. Group Think stems from ill-considered ‘participation’, and it isn’t always the right approach. It’s perfectly acceptable to be a ‘Passenger’ from time to time, but being a ‘Prisoner’ or ‘Pirate’ isn’t necessarily wrong. What matters most is recognising your current position and working out what that means for you and your team.

Gremlins in your team?

Gizmo by Looking Glass, on Flickr

Gizmo by Looking Glass, on Flickr

I completed a physically demanding challenge recently, with fifteen unfamiliar people living for 10 days in each-other’s pockets, working together towards a shared goal. The challenge involved 8-10 hours of physical exertion every day, with each of us burning up to 6,000 kcals above normal daily requirements. Rest periods were short and overnight accommodation was shared – perfect pressure cooker conditions for ‘team development’.

The first few days passed in a blur and it wasn’t until around day 6 that I felt comfortable with the physical elements and degree of fatigue. I’ve reflected since, playing back individual contributions and considering how we learned to work together as time on task progressed.

I’ve studied the development of teams, but one of the problems with abstract theories is that they don’t always help when you’re ‘in the moment’. A thought I find helpful is to consider team members like Gremlins!

Remember how a tiny, adorable Mogwai comes with just a simple set of instructions? Remember how quickly things go downhill once the instructions aren’t followed? Well, team members often start projects behaving like ‘Gizmo’ the Mogwai; they’re helpful, interested and motivated – eager to move a project forward and generally fun to be around. Those self-same, friendly, placid Mogwais don’t always get the information they need however; and more specifically, individual roles within the team aren’t always clear.

People will say that roles are obvious – that individuals are appointed with defined tasks and specific responsibilities? Well, that might be how things are supposed to work, but teams don’t develop like that; there’s jostling to be done and ‘hidden’ or implied functions which people only assume once projects have started. Highly motivated team members with uncertain roles are like Mogwai left untended. As a leader, if you’re not mindful of specific roles (and how they’re establishing in your team), it won’t be long before Gremlins are running amok.

Appearances are deceptive and being a Gremlin isn’t a great place to be. Sensitive support, guidance and direction – quality leadership in fact – will bring friendly Mogwais back where they’d prefer to be.