How to Crack Open Any Group

Great cultures ,Hacks

I’ve attended and run a lot of events over the years and the early ice breakers fascinate me because they have a power to open people up and connect and connect them. The first two I came up with, the last three are from the legendary Jack Canfield.

These are best done in small groups of 3-6, though it can also be done in a big group that’s less than 30 people.

1. What are you obsessed with?

This is great because it can be revealing and safe at the same time. You can share a deep fascination or simply the show you’re binging. People laugh a lot through this one and find points of connection they wouldn’t otherwise hear from people only sharing their home town, job and hobbies.

2. What are your pet peeves?

I love going negative because there’s energy there. Like the obsession question, you get to find out something interesting about people, and even what triggers them. It also has the potential to go deep (like causes people care about), or simple (such as people chewing loudly).

3. Sometimes I pretend to…

Now it gets funny. Where are you faking it?  It starts out with answers like, “Sometimes I pretend I’m listening when I’ve really spaced out.” It’s great to  keep going around for more than one answer. This question and the next ones are really best for smaller groups because it gets more and more vulnerable.

4. Sometimes I feel…

Each person says an emotion they experience that may surprise others. It can be just the emotion (sadness), or the emotion plus a context (Sometimes I feel sad when I’m at a party and I have no idea how to connect with people).

5. If you really knew me, you’d know I…

This is great because it can be about experiences or feelings that are current, or from one’s past. Again, it’s great to keep this going around for a few minutes because there’s a lot of richness there.

Closing

After these exercises you can close by having people go around and acknowledge each other. Just a couple minutes with that person in the center and everyone else chimes in (popcorn style) to say what they respect or like about that person.

You can experiment with these for your group, or even use them one-on-one to get to know someone better.

Was it Boeing’s technology that failed, or the culture?

Great cultures

Robots don’t make planes (yet). People do. And when Boeing opened up a new plant, in a new state, the demand to meet deadlines was prioritized over procedures and standards. It’s all well-covered in a podcast by the New York Times.  It’s amazing how it can take decades to build a reputation, and only moments to destroy it. Make values and principles the standard, over numbers and deadlines.

Should we actively go for failure?

Great cultures

There’s a lot of talk about failure these days.

It’s such a strange word because no one actually wants to fail. I just experienced it this weekend. I found a new group of guys to play soccer, and man they were on a totally different level. I couldn’t keep up. Not only that, I let down my team when we lost because of a few plays I missed. I haven’t had that feeling since grade school – going home knowing I lost it for the team. It was so humbling.

But… the captain was able to show me a lot of what I was doing wrong and how to improve it.

There’s a lot of talk about failing in company culture these days. The only cultures that can sustain it are the ones that make it safe, share stories about failure and sometimes even “incentivize” it by creating funds for it in the form of hackathons or 20% time to innovate. Most importantly, they learn.

But here’s another way to think of it…

Elon Musk started his rocket company with a belief that they are very likely to fail, and yet, they did it anyway. Why? Because they’re inspired, and he said that even if they fail it will still move the industry forward.

Here’s a great test for if something is still worth it, even at the risk of failure.

1. If you know it will fail, is it still worth the journey?
2. If you know it will be 3x the amount of work you think it will be, is it still worth it?

If you say yes to these, it won’t matter if the (project, venture, product, company) fails. And you’ll most likely have a great story.

Don’t outsource your culture to HR.

Great cultures

Many CEO’s think that culture is HR’s responsibility. But the best leaders realize that they ARE the chief culture officers. 

Culture is people, and the best people can take on market changes, competition and shifts in product.

Steve Jobs called Apple (the company) his best invention.

Here’s the bottomline:

HR’s main job is to manage risk when it comes to personnel.  And culture work is about taking risks when it comes to empowering your people.

As a leader, is this really something you want to completely delegate and wash your hands from it?

Are you starting with culture?

Great cultures

Do you think culture comes first, or after the success?  Dan Gould has had many successes and now that he’s starting a new company, he’s starting with the culture. Just got this photo from him…

You can start with the Culture Blueprint here, or on Amazon.

Your people are not loyal.

Great cultures

Navy Seals are the best bed makers you’ll meet. They learn how to make beds to perfection as part of their training.  If it’s not perfect, then they have to do it over.   

But sometimes they will have do it over again, even if it is perfect. This drove some recruits mad – to the point that they quit. While those who stayed on, did as they were told. Even though it made no sense.  What better way to test true loyalty than to see if someone will follow command, even if it’s completely irrational.

And that’s the distinction.

If your people are truly loyal, they’ll do what you say, even if it doesn’t make sense.  But unless you’re in the Seals, it’s likely that your people won’t do this. They have agency. They have choice of where to work. If what you’re asking them to do makes no sense, then it will frustrate them and they’ll leave.

So perhaps the best thing you can do is drop that word, loyalty. And instead go for engagement. Share the why, allow people to push back. Or go even further – have them write up their job descriptions and their progression plans.

Number 1 rule is to co-create.

If you’re alone, and stressed out, you’re doing it wrong.