I recently participated in a murder mystery event. Each attendee had a part to play. We learned about our character weeks before the event, this gave us time to prepare our story, costume, and plan. I had a sordid past, kidnapped at 18 in a parking lot and saved by a man who became the love of my life. We traveled the country and opened clubs in each city. As head bouncer over the years gained skills to help in the job, a double black belt and a “tough chick!” My love saved me from a life that can only be imagined, and I would do anything for him. Now you know my story!
The night of the murder mystery, 25 people came together for fun, frivolity, and intrigue. For the first two hours, we ate, drank, and moved from person to person to learn their story, ask questions, and hear “the gossip.” The more information we collected, the better prepared we would be when the murder occurred. “Who done it!?”
As we mingled, I realized the people were not who I thought they were based on the information provided to me. Instead of the black and white words describing them on paper, they had history and colorful lives. I listened and asked questions to learn about their background, opinions, and desires to gain a nugget of information that indicated a possible motive for murder.
The clock struck 9:00 and the lights went out! When the lights were turned on, we learned a murder had been committed! OH MY, someone killed the mayor! The investigators shared clues from the murder scene, and we learned that priceless artifacts had been stolen from the mayor’s home. We were given a ballot, and asked to identify who we thought was the murderer. With shifty eyes and raised brows, we wrote the name of the culprit.
The host then handed each of us a sealed envelope…a very private message as to the outcome of the investigation. Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope, looked down at my paper, and learned that I WAS THE MURDERER! We read the contents of the paper aloud, and I was the last one to speak up. In a booming voice, I stated, “I killed the mayor in the name of love! He owned a priceless relic, and I wanted to give is as a gift to my beloved for saving my life in a parking lot years ago.
The host then said that every ballot identified me as the murder, why? Participants wrote:
- “Who else who be able to kill him? She is a bouncer and a black belt.”
- “I heard others say they thought that she was the one and I believed them!”
- “I considered the alternatives, no one else is capable of something like that! She is a tough lady!
The night was fun, and the experience was thought-provoking. The group analyzed each other, tried to solve a problem, and concluded based on appearance and brief conversation. In this situation they were correct, and I was the “bad guy,” but what if they were wrong?
How is this example similar to incidents that occur with your people and team?
Consider this scenario, a mistake is made in your company or department, and you are trying to determine how this occurred, who made the mistake, and the potential ramifications. The answers to these questions may be obvious or require further investigation.
While the leader in the process of assessing what occurred and how to prevent it from happening in the future, people are talking to each other either and speculating “who done it!” They know each other’s story, habits, and mood, and as a result make assumptions and conclude who was the guilty party. The gossip may be about a vacation, new baby, house renovation, or a work mistake, but it impacts productivity, results, and morale. Their conclusion may or may not be correct, and this further erodes relationships and teamwork. Acknowledge that this is human nature and common behavior, people talk!
You may be thinking this sounds like my company or department, but I deal with real life, not a fictitious murder mystery! True!
How can the leader impact this situation and conversation?
In 1965 a psychologist named Tuckman developed a four-step model focused on team development to describe the common steps most teams take during their establishment and progression. In 1977, the model was amended to include a fifth stage as detailed below.
- Forming – Introduction of team members, the leader communicates roles, and guides and delegates work to the team.
- Storming – Conflicts arise and the team functions more as individuals versus a team. The leader must be involved and reinforce goals, expected results, and company values.
- Norming – Conflicts have been resolved and the team can work together, the leader delegates tasks.
- Performing – Conflict is constructive, team members are comfortable and work autonomously. The leader acknowledges results and encourages the team.
- Adjourning – Team member separate. This represents the end of a project, or a resignation/change in members of the team. The leader must be positive about the future.
The phases of the team “restart” each time a new employee joins the team; this could include an internal team member shift or an external hire. When someone new is part of the team, the existing members ask themselves, “Can I depend on them to do the work? Do they have my back? Will we meet our goals?” Those questions necessitate the Forming and “getting to know you” phase.
The type of gossip detailed in the “mistake” situation above may be an example of a team in the Storming phase. In this phase, work habits might be at odds, and perceptions about who is contributing begin to surface. People may form cliques, and question processes and each other. This critical stage is a necessary evil in the formation of a successful team.
Managers and team leaders need to confront issues directly. Ignoring them could let minor conflicts fester into major problems. Your role as a leader is to provide guidance and encourage team members to focus on goals and results. You must work with the team and remind them of the values of the organization to move them to the Norming stage. In the end, however, team members will have to come to a consensus and commit to move forward as a team together.
When team members experience cohesion and greater ease in accomplishing their goals, they gain trust and naturally move into the Performing stage. When people reminisce about their “best” job experience, they typically describe their time working with a team in the Performing stage.
Remember, when the leader is involved, coaches, and acknowledges success, teamwork is not a mystery and the answer to the question, “Who done it?!” is everyone.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. Oscar Wilde.