What Would You Do? The launch of our management training resource

Last week’s official launch of What Would You Do? (WWYD) – our innovative new learning and development tool – was a resounding success, with half of the guests instantly arranging company demonstrations or further meetings.

Taking place in London on May 17th, the launch event welcomed around 50 representatives from major organisations in a variety of sectors, including finance, retail, transport, health, food, law, housing, packaging and public services. It was also great to see representatives of multinational companies, as our vision is to roll the game out not just in the UK but also abroad.

WWYD management training toolThe beauty of the launch event – and a big part of the reason for its success – was that WWYD is best appreciated when it’s played. It takes the form of a board game where participants aim to move up the board by getting points for correctly choosing the most appropriate answer to a variety of work-based dilemmas.

But, as those at last week’s event quickly realised, the game itself is really a subterfuge: it creates a safe environment in which people can reflect on and discuss common issues, sharing experiences and learning from each other, as well as committing to new behaviour. When played between peers, it helps a team to discuss options and best practice, and highlights individuals’ gaps in skills and knowledge, or their management potential. When played cross-functionally, it can highlight incongruities or inconsistencies between different departments and managers across a company.

Playing the game

What Would You Do? gives maximum impact for minimum cost. As outcome-focused behavioural change experts, the team at Thinking Focus created WWYD to enable organisations not only to train their managers effectively but also to drive long-term culture change. Psychological concepts are woven into the game and, when played enough, the scenarios, debate and decisions can turn into learned behaviours which are then applied in the workplace.

The game includes 200 cards, each of which pose a different scenario covering one of eight management topics, to give variety, breadth and depth. The scenarios are split into two types: those which are set against the timer and require quick and test emotional decision-making, and those which are open to debate and result in more logical and rational decisions. The questions are designed to be as ‘grey’ as possible in order to generate the most discussion. Although there are no right or wrong answers, points are awarded for preferred answers.

Teams of up to eight people play the game, overseen by a facilitator. The facilitator role is key to the game, expanding the discussion, offering alternative suggestions, and even pointing out that the best option may not be one of the answers, or it may be a combination of them. Different companies with different cultures will also vary in their choice of the best response. For the launch event, Rob, Rich, Ricky and Graham acted as the facilitators with different teams.

WWYD management training tool

It was fascinating to see how the role and background of each of our launch attendees influenced their answers to the scenarios posed in the WWYD questions. The majority of participants at the launch work in L&D or HR roles, but some are managers within other departments. It led to some interesting and insightful debate – which is exactly one of the main objectives of the game!

It was also great to see people not just talking about what they would do in hypothetical situations, but actually what they have done in similar, real work-based scenarios. There was much nodding of heads and even ironic laughter when some of the dilemmas were read out – showing us that people not only related to the hypothetical situations, but had actually in some cases dealt with something very similar. And, interestingly, some said they would choose one answer, but when the situation arose in real life, they had actually done something different.

The response

The feedback from our guests was brilliant! Here are just a few of their comments:

“I like the simple approach that gives the opportunity for quite deep thinking and discussion.”

“It’s a good tool and catalyst to start conversations.”

“I like the flexibility of it, you can use it at all different levels, flex it to your own business. It’s as useful on the shop floor as it is in the boardroom.”

“It creates genuine conversations, not pseudo conversations.”

“I can’t compare it to anything else really. It’s very interactive.”

“It’s the discussion and the result that’s important.”

“An organisation needs to know the way their managers work things out, and ask: Do we want to keep doing it this way or does this show us that we need to change?”

Inspiration

WWYD management training tool

The launch also heard from Sonia Belfield, Adient’s HR director for Northern Europe. She described how she inspired us to create WWYD and how it has been trialled across her organisation to great success.

She said: “Team leaders are the most fundamental people in our business because they manage the vast majority of people that we employ. For me, WWYD is about helping people to be able to have conversations that make them better managers.”

The facilitator is key

The role of the facilitator is critical to the game, enabling rich discussion between the players. In the wrong hands, people could just end up playing the game and not learning from it. That’s why we give guidance on selecting the right people in an organisation to act as facilitators, as well as offering facilitator training as part of the WWYD package.

Facilitator training takes approximately five hours, and offers guidance on how to make the most of setting the game up correctly and the dynamics of managing the gameplay in the best way possible.

There are some real subtleties about the scenarios, so facilitators need to be able to listen to the answers that are coming back and give reinforcement of any good answers. The training aims to give the facilitator the confidence to be able to deal with different conversations, as well as how to manage the players (for example, how do you deal with the person who doesn’t get involved, or the one who always waits until the others have answered?)

The game also includes a facilitator’s handbook, which includes a debrief of each scenario and offers suggestions for discussion.

WWYD management training tool

Interesting questions

Our launch guests had a variety of questions about the thinking behind the game, and its application within the workplace.

But they also asked about various areas of development, some of which we are already working on, and others which gave us new ideas.

How do you keep the game up-to-date and relevant?

All the scenarios we have created are as valid today as they were 10 or 20 years ago, and they will continue to be so for years to come. But we are looking at adding scenarios based on other issues, such as diversity and inclusion.

We’re also keen to investigate the development of a digital version of the game and – directly prompted by a question at the launch event – will be looking at training facilitators online.

We also intend to create a facilitator community, where facilitators of WWYD can share experiences, issues and ideas with other facilitators from other organisations.

Does it fit in hand luggage on the plane?

This was quite possibly the most unexpected question of the day – although it’s very relevant to organisations with international offices!

The answer is that the fully-boxed version will only fit in the hold – and it’s robust enough to do so – but that flexibility over how the game is played means that the key pieces can easily be packed in to hand luggage.

And finally…

Well, what a great start! We’re now busy following up on all those requests for more information and demos, including some from organisations who weren’t able to attend the launch but are nonetheless intrigued by the benefits that WWYD could bring.

Why not contact us to see what all the fuss is about? Or read more about WWYD: how the game was created, the thinking behind it, and how it works in practice.

Why Do Some People Find It Easier To Play The Victim Card Than To Get On Board With Change?

Facing change can lead to some people playing the victim – refusing to engage, pointing out the problems in the plans, and not joining in with the rest of the team.

In our latest podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why change can often bring out victim behaviour – and what managers can do to tackle that response.

 

Playing the victim is the path of least resistance: you get attention for being the victim without having to do anything, and it doesn’t hold the associated risks of failure if you try something new.

Sometimes, victims seek out fellow victims to support their view and reinforce their position. They will collude to come up with reasons why the change is negative or won’t work.

In a situation where there are several victims, the group will often begin to dwindle as individuals get on board with change, and those remaining begin to wonder if they are in the wrong. One person is often the most dedicated victim and can be so negative that it puts others off agreeing with them even if they were feeling slightly negative.

Yet many victims don’t realise they’re doing it until they have done the same thing several times, or perhaps hear it coming from someone else. So often, victim behaviour needs to be challenged by an external factor.

How can you as a manager help these people?

Behaviour and language are key: you help people to understand the consequences of them continuing with their current pattern. Ask them how long they want to continue as they are and what they think is likely to happen as a result. For many people, this is all that’s needed for them to realise what they are doing and move on.

Ask questions of the victim to find out if they are deeply held beliefs or they’re just releasing frustration. If they fundamentally believe that things won’t work out, you have a bigger issue to address.

Tackle this behaviour by being consistent. Offer help to everyone involved in the change so they can move through the stages required as easily as possible. Make it clear that this support is on offer to the victim as well, showing that while they choose not to take part, they are refusing the help that everyone else is receiving.

The victim will either join in when they are ready, or they will eventually decide they are not going to engage at all and will remove themselves from that situation.

Are the best intentions of leaders accidentally stressing out the people they lead?

The ability for anyone to keep going in stressful times – that pool of energy that we have inside us that helps us to cope – has several names.

We might call it grit, resilience or hardiness, and it has been investigated by psychologists looking to understand why some people can cope better than others.

One of the most surprising things is that this capability is not fixed: it is something we learn and can be built up. Think of it like a large tank, like a water cooler or coffee urn.  As things happen, we open the tap, and some of our resilience drains away, enabling us to cope with ebbs and flows of life.  With practice and experience, we can learn to quickly fill up our tank, and even upgrade the tank size, making ourselves more resilient.

Research in the early 80s into hardiness identified the traits that help us top up the tank.  Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba identified three underlying beliefs or attributes that come together to create the pool of coping behaviours required. They called them the three Cs:

  • Commitment – This is all about being aligned to a purpose, having a belief in what you are doing
  • Control – a belief that you can influence your surroundings, make a difference to how events transpire
  • Challenge – that the struggles and pressures allow you to grow. This is as much from the bad things that happen as the good.

Increasing focus

This is where I think the problem lies. If you look at how leaders manage through times of change or when the ‘chips are down’, they become laser-like in their focus on what they want and how they can get it. That is normal. It is actually what negative emotions like fear and worry are designed to do: they reduce attention and focus it on the problem at hand.  Really useful when the problem was getting away from something that might eat you!

However, in modern working life, this focus can cause them to do three things:

  • They focus on the ‘what’. What needs to be done, what they want, what they want others to do. This focus on the ‘what’ drowns out the ‘why’, removing the connections that help people maintain or rebuild purpose through the difficult times.
  • They take control. It is just easier for everyone concerned if a small group make all the key decisions; everything will get done faster.  This is inevitable and probably the right thing to do for some key decisions, but it is never true for all decisions.
  • They only focus on the next problem. The conversation goes from one problem to the next, without ever taking stock of what has been done so far.  It starts to feel like that whatever is done will not be good enough, no learning, no gratitude.

Building resilience

So, if you want to be a leader that builds resilience and not be a walking cause of stress then think about how you might be able to consistently stimulate the three Cs.

  • Connecting people to the ‘why’. Partly this is about starting every ‘what’ conversation with reminders of the ‘why’.  However, to be successful at this you will have to help people make the connections between their role and the higher purpose of the team or organisation.  Some people do this naturally for themselves, but you should not leave it to chance.
  • Create opportunities for people to take back some control. You don’t need to make all the decisions, so focus on the ones you need to make and give up the rest.  If you need to, create choices for people so that they have a sense that they have a say in how this affects them, even if that means they get there in a less efficient way.
  • Stop and reflect. Remind the people around you how far you have come so far, and what that says about their skills and abilities.  This might be building in time for formalised structured reviews, but it can be as easy as asking a question that creates a moment of reflection.  Reminding people to think about their growth and learning will help them to build their resilience.

Just in case you think that the people around you just need to ‘man up’, then a word of caution.  If you allow their resilience to drain away, they will burn out.  This means that you need to pick up more of the responsibility, so you may be putting your own wellbeing on the line as well – unless you are lucky enough to have someone helping you recharge.

Is there a topic that leaders and teams just never talk about?

We get asked this all the time. The answer is yes: mental health.

The thing is, mental health is often such a taboo topic that we don’t even realise that it is not being discussed, we treat it like it does not exist.

It does exist, and it effects businesses every day in subtle and often hidden ways.  Research carried out by Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) identified that 1 in 5 people had called in sick because of stress in the workplace, and over half had resigned or considered resigning because of workplace stress.

If anything else had this impact on the bottom line of a business, there would be a project team and a war room!

So, as Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is focused on stress this year, I want to talk about talking about it.

Stress, like all mental health issues, is not as easy to identify as physical illness. When someone walks into the office with the flu, that is easy to spot, so you can do something about it.  When they walk in feeling so stressed they are not sure if they can get to the end of the day, you may have no idea – the clues can be difficult to spot.

This is one of the main reasons that when it happens to you, very quickly you believe that you are the only one; there must be something wrong with you.  You are not – remember the research statistics: 50% of people have thought of quitting because of stress.  This is why it is so important to ensure that mental health or stress or wellbeing, or whatever you want to call it, gets discussed.  This is the first step to making things better.

I know this from personal experience.  I have been part of that 50%, feeling like I was failing, feeling like I had no more to add.  I was lucky though, I had managers and colleagues who were prepared to talk and, more importantly, were prepared to listen.

As I think back to those times, I appreciate that these were difficult conversations for them: they were terrified of getting it wrong or making it worse.  Even so, they took time out and listened, talked, shared some of their own fears and worries, but mostly they helped me put my worries and fears into perspective and put plans in place to resolve issues, so I could move forward.  They told me through their actions that they had my back.

At the heart of it all, they cared.  They cared enough to have a conversation that they were not comfortable with.  They cared enough to give someone else time when they were busy.  They cared enough because they thought that one day they might need someone else to care about them.  I am not sure I ever really thanked them enough, so I am left with the only other option, to pay it forward.

So, during this mental health awareness week, just talk about it.

Start the conversation, acknowledge the issue exists.  If we can start to talk openly about stress in the workplace, then together we stand a chance of fixing it.

Why do some people take organisational change personally?

Dealing with any kind of change can bring out an emotional response in people – and when we get emotional, things get personal.

In this podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why some people take organisational change personally, and how thinking of ‘ice’ – Information, Choice and Engagement – will help managers thaw any frosty relationships with their people.

An emotional response to change is natural. It usually starts with shock and uncertainty before moving on to denial and feeling threatened. We only see the bad things and what’s being taken away from us.

These feelings can grow into resistance if left unaddressed and if we don’t feel that we have a choice in the process of change. If people feel they have no idea what’s going on, that uncertainty can very easily turn to an introspective feeling of unfairness, helplessness, despondency and loss of control. This often leads to people being negative, resisting change and sabotaging the process.

As a manager, it’s vital to lead your people successfully through change. Thinking of ‘ICE’ could help: Information, Choice and Engagement. Giving people information in answer to their questions about change will help to ease their uncertainty. But, because people who are feeling emotional won’t immediately process the information they’re given, it needs to be provided consistently and repetitively. Also think about who provides the information, whether that’s you as a manager or someone else.

Move as much choice back to your people, to give them control over details that affect them. For a start, give them a choice about whether they even want to be involved and, if so, to what degree.

Engage people as they go on the journey of change. There are thousands of things, from small details to larger activities, that need to happen for organisational change to take place, so engage people in what’s relevant and meaningful to them.