Ground Rules for Burgers, Beers, and Business

Jodi had volunteered to make the hamburger patties. She had some secret family recipe she promised would produce the best burger ever. Don, operations minded as always, signed up to get the bonfire going to thwart the chill of the marine layer that had rolled in with the night. Gail was making a salad, Thatcher was serving as the bartender and Eric was manning the grill. Everyone had their role.

As the group ate, Thatcher began to talk. “First of all, I want to thank you all for making the time to do this. I know it’s a lot to ask of you to walk away from not only your work but your families. My hope is that we all leave here feeling it was time well spent. We can start the heavy lifting tomorrow. Tonight is really a time for us to get to know one another and to shed some of the formality of the office. That’s why I chose to have the retreat here instead of some resort. It’s pretty hard to be formal when you have your toes in the sand and a beer in your hand.” Thatcher laughed.

Thatcher wasn’t quite done. “I do want to lay out some simple ground rules for our time together.” He let out a one breath laugh as he caught the contradiction of establishing ground rules just after promoting the informality of the retreat. “The first rule serves to guide our interactions with one another. In fact, it should guide all of our interactions, period. This goes back to what we talked about when we first met, that it is people who grow organizations. It’s my belief that deep down all of us want the same thing. We want to be heard, cared for, valued and respected. Therefore, that is how we will treat each other, and for that matter, once we leave here, it’s how we will treat our teams, vendors and customers. That doesn’t mean we always have to agree with one another, which leads me to my next rule. I call this “creative abrasion”. I’m not sure where I first heard the term, but I have co-opted it as my own. The best ideas often come with friction or an appropriate level of conflict. We are going to embrace that friction.”

Jodi spoke up, “I kind of struggle with that. When I offer up an idea that starts a feeding frenzy where everyone is talking about why it won’t work or how I am failing to see the whole picture, I take it personally.” “Totally get it.”, Thatcher responded. “Friction, or creative abrasion as I like to call it, only works when two things remain top of mind. The first is that the friction is all about the idea, not the people on either end of the conversation. I think of this in terms of my tech days. Ideas are like open-source code. Ideas, like code, are put out into the world to be torn apart and built upon with the aim of making them better. The second thing that needs to remain top of mind is using the first ground rule to guide the interaction. Communication needs to remain productive, not destructive.”

Jodi nodded, “I can buy that, I guess. But, in my mind there is a prerequisite, one that I think, in all honesty, is absent in this group, and that is trust.” “Thanks for the perfect segue.” Thatcher smiled. “Our third ground rule is trust.” “You just can’t mandate trust.”, Gail offered. “Yeah”, Don chimed in, “trust is something you have to earn.” “Great discussion, but I disagree with that conclusion.”, Thatcher responded, adding inflection to the fact he disagreed with Don’s conclusion and not Don himself. “In order for trust to exist, it must first be given with the confidence that it will be reciprocated. If we all stand around waiting until we earn trust, it will never happen, someone has to give it first. That’s what I’m asking here tonight. That we offer each other our trust with the belief that if we abide by the other two ground rules, it’ll be returned.”

Thatcher could tell that last ground rule was something the group was struggling to accept. “I’ll tell you what”, he said, “I will let you sit with that last one for awhile. I ‘m done with my ground rules and being the heavy. Let’s just put our butts in the sand, enjoy the fire Don built and celebrate the fact we’re sitting on a beautiful beach on a perfect night.” The group nodded in agreement and one by one walked over to the fire and found a place to sit.

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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief and Linked2Leadership. He serves as a thinking partner, providing clients with the clarity, focus, and tools needed to make good people and product decisions. He helps clients build lasting relationships with their customers, develop leaders who make others feel heard, cared for, valued and respected, and most importantly grow.