Performance Management Blog

Teamwork and Politics, Alligators and Sharks and Fear as a Motivator

Organizational Improvement and Performance Management and Innovation and Teamwork.

These are real issues and represent improvement opportunities in most every organization. To some people, it’s “Bring on the challenges” while for many others, it is, “run for the hills!” And there is a ground reality for both groups and their thinking.

Early Adapters are those individuals who simply love the challenges of putting something together and implementing to see the results. They are somewhat less risk averse than most people in organizations, but they also seem to have a mindset of being able to meet challenges, adapt as needed, take some hits but keep things moving forward — then tend to see the Big Picture in things and like the rewards obtained from successes. They view risk taking as a manageable and normal part of their job.

Others may not feel as confident in their survival skills and will choose to observe a bit and see if positive results are recognized or if some failures get a more negative treatment. They tend to look at survival as something more important, that the known issues and downsides of taking risks are quite real as opposed to some possibility of maybe getting some recognition.

It is a different style issue, to some extent, but also an issue of personal perspective and personal history. Different people view the same situation differently.

I tried to illustrate this situation with my Trial and Error illustration and the supporting activities and comments in another blog. You can read about it by clicking on the image link below:

square wheels image of Trial and Error

Basically, do people see the attempt at improvement in the illustration above as a good thing or do they focus their critical attention on the things that should or could have been done better? Now that they have stepped back and have some perspective, do they re-approach the wagon and continue working or do they simply run over the hill and look for something else?

Continuous continuous improvement comes from continuous reinforcement of incremental improvement. But fear also comes into play (read about Fear as the Mindkiller in another of my blogs).

The reframing thought I would like to share is the basic idea that caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up! Fear is a manageable situation for most people in most organizations and some additional thoughts and a survey about understanding fear will be the subject of a later post, based on some work by the late Gene Calvert.

Politics is represented in my illustrations by the idea of mud. It is that gooey stuff that is hard to get a grip on. It exists more after rain, so it may be different for different workgroups on different days, but the mud still forms. And people need to deal with it. You can find information about our change management toolkit using the Square Wheels illustrations by clicking on the image link below:

Square Wheels Mud Image and haiku

The key is how we deal with it and how we look at the environment. We’re up to our axles in mud and we need to get out of the ditch and up on the road, which takes both effort and perspective. There is also the issue of perceived risk. Some people look at how things are working and consider the cost and downside more than the potential benefits for improvement. Staying in the mud in the ditch might be perceived as a safer situation than trying to work to get free.

The might be that if it CAN go wrong, then it probably WILL go wrong and that the risk is not justified by the small reward potentially gained by taking that risk. It is an issue of organizational culture, positivity, and perspective. You can find a good bit of writing on Murphy’s Law and a lot of the correlates of that thinking in an earlier blog of mine here.

The solutions can actually be pretty straightforward. People tend to take more risks if they are part of a team, and that team tends to take more risks if the recent past attempts to improve have generated some positive reward or reaction. If failure is accepted when in the context of sincere attempts to implement change or improvement, we begin to change the culture and the nature of the mud.

The other reality is that the environment sometimes feels like this:

Alligators and Sharks Competition poemOne view says, DANGER. The closely associated view says, “pressure to make improvements.” A bit of perspective shows that some level of motivation to change will help drive improvement. The key is whether it is energizing or that it simply causes people to freeze in fear. Fear is the Mindkiller, right?

It is kind of like building a wall of mud: the critical act is throwing mud at the wire fence. You may not know precisely where each bit of mud might stick, but the act of persistent mud throwing WILL build a wall over time. (It is probably reasonable to also expect some rain on occasion (grin) ).

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.




Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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