Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Get on the bus

I had a blast at the Interactivity session entitled “How to get the right people on the bus”. Ingrid Anderson and Peter Buonincontro from the Portland Children’s Museum had us all climbing across our chairs, drawing on the walls and generally having a great time. There was a power point, but I promise you that no one looked at it.

The core of the message was that you need to understand that it takes all kinds of people to run an organization – some who are visionary, some who are task oriented, some who are social, and so on. The problem is that most people hire people who are like them instead of people who fill the gaps in their museum staff.

Ingrid taught us a few games that can help – I’ll share the one that we had the most fun with.

The point of this game is to figure out who you already have on your team, and then to help everyone see the positives and negatives about the various personalities you work with.

Here’s what you do:
•tape 5 giant sheets to the wall, each one labeled with an animal (ants, turtles, lions, puppies, owls).
•ask each person to go to the animal they feel they are most like, writing any words that describe that animal.
•then go to the other animals and write words that describe those animals.

That’s it.

(Now I feel kind of bad giving away all the details, since you really should try this for yourselves, so feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.)

I was in agony trying to decide which animal to choose (ok, so I knew I wasn’t an ant or a puppy) when Joanne Morell from Topeka (already in the lion group) said “Oh Jen, you’re an owl.” So off I went.

Here’s what we came up with:

The ants wrote that they were hardworking, diligent, goal-oriented, instinctive workers, and organized socially and they can always find a picnic. After the ants moved onto the second part of the task (in a line, I might add, and after clarifying whether they should go as a group to each one of the other animals or individually on their own) the rest of us came along and wrote this: narrow-minded, followers, lack of creativity, can’t see the big picture, hard to change, NO big picture. Peter circled the words “hard to change” and noted you have to consider that before you hire an ant. He said ants always say yes, but the question is whether they are saying yes to the right thing.

The puppies wrote that they are approachable, playful, friendly, full of surprise, out of control, eager to learn, loyal, curious, talkative, wanderers. And the rest of us wrote that they are unfocused, inexperienced and if you ask them to do something they don’t know how to do, they get all anxious and then they pee on the carpet.

Owls think of themselves as wise, patient, nocturnal, focused, territorial, vicious, independent, stealthy, and stubborn. In their wisdom, the other owls rejected my suggestion of “loner”, deciding that it was adequately covered by “independent”, which is not at all the same thing, but then I knew that I had the power of the blog, so I just didn’t argue with them. The others in the room came along and wrote that owls are know-it-alls, hard to read and that they are not morning people.

Across the top of the page, the turtles had written “Slow and Steady Wins the Race”. They also wrote predictable, long-lived, dependable, and the world rests on their backs. Others saw turtles as slow, they hide from problems and they don’t go outside the box

The lions: direct, take-charge, respected, solitary, roar, big bite, protective, providers. But others see them as judgemental, loud, they scare people, have big sharp teeth, are not respectful of others opinions and think too much about their hair.

Ingrid (a lion) and Peter (a puppy) talked us through some of the pros and cons of each personality type.
•Puppies are fabulous for helping new people feel welcome (front desk!) but don’t put them on budget analysis.
•Ants are great workers, staying till the job is done, but beware of burnout.
•Owls are great observers, and are insightful, but they need a little support in getting engaged.
•Ingrid noted that you shouldn’t pair a puppy and an owl – but an owl and ant will get along, because they can see the big and small picture simultaneously. She also noted that if you put a puppy with the ants, they will scatter.
•Turtles are completely dependable, but really stubborn. If you try to rush them, you can knock for days, but they will never come out of their shell. Get them on projects where they can work at their own pace.
•Lions are either already in a leadership role or trying to take one, which can be intimidating to turtles and puppies and even ants, although they usually just go around them.

Finally, Ingrid suggested taking this game home and using it as a party trick with your spouse! That got a big laugh.

So that was the message, folks. Figure out who is on your staff already and then fill the gaps (and don't hesitate to get the wrong people off the bus before they ruin the whole ride.)

P.S. I can’t resist a nod to the person who chose the title for this session: last year, Interactivity’s keynote speaker was Jim Collins, whose terrific book “Good to Great” has been a real inspiration for me. One of his principles on how to run a business is that you shouldn’t hire people you have to supervise – and the key is in the hiring (or the transferring) until you have all the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Then, and only then, should you decide where the bus is going. At the risk of making my co-workers blush, I’ll say that part of the reason that working at Kidcity is so much fun is because (at least from my viewpoint) all the right people are in the right seats, and we all have a similar tolerance for joy riding.

P.P.S: One of the keys to having a successful time at Interactivity is knowing when YOU are on the wrong bus. I actually went to a different session at the start of the afternoon – the title sounded good but it was clear from the introductions that the presenters were going to be talking about something else entirely. In my early ACM years I would have sat there and fumed – but this time I just quietly gathered my stuff and slipped out before it really got going.

P.P.P.S: Here's a photo from another game we played called "Draw the Perfect Employee". I'll note that the earmuffs were not so they wouldn't listen to their boss but so that they wouldn't be bothered by the sounds of children having fun!

1 comment:

janiece said...

Hi Jen. I am reading your blog from thousands of miles away (Guam) and grateful to you for sharing the wealth of knowledge from Interactivity. I was hoping to attend but the big "F" word (funding)didn't permit. Thank you. Keep it up--I'll be reading!

Janiece Sablan
President, U'ZEUM Children's Discovery Museum of Guam