A learning from today’s simulation

I’m leading a Technology Leadership workshop in San Jose at Velocity Conference this week. Thanks to the Experiential Learning Bundle by Jerry Weinberg (and his generosity to walk me through them), I’m pleased to report the first day went very well.

We did a wonderful simulation from the Invention book called the “Tinkering with Toys” which is chock-full of lessons for engineering leaders. I think everyone went away with something new to apply, and maybe we even learned something about ourselves.

My biggest learning (so far!)

In this simulation, I played the role of a Manager who gave out team assignments which contained key constraints. Typical constraints were time (“You must finish this phase in 45 minutes”), communication channels (“You may only communicate in writing by passing notes through a third party”) or communication methods (“Your documentation format may not contain pictures or diagrams.”).

In addition, I didn’t give much back story to the simulation, telling participants they all worked for AlphaCorp (“Where we invent the future!”), and that the two groups were in separate departments where they must work in secrecy. When we started the simulation, everyone was enthusiastic and jovial toward me.

But within 30 minutes things had changed. And that’s where my learning started.

A downward spiral

When team members asked questions or suggested process changes, I gave them hurried answers to keep them moving forward. After all, this was only a simulation. And as they got stressed, I noticed they started holding me at arm’s length.

I first realized this when I heard a team say, “Quiet, he’s coming” as I approached.
Then another team member approached me privately asking if they could take me for coffee. When I asked “Why?”, They said their team had sent him to run interference.
And things continued to decline from there.

About 75% into the simulation a participant approached me and said, “Are you for real? I mean, are you clueless or are you role playing?” Ouch.

My first take away

While I’m still processing this, I wanted to share my first takeaway: Trust erodes quickly.

Before the simulation, I didn’t spend a lot of time with each person, but we were off to a great start.

Each time I blew off their questions… each time I gave them a pat management answer (“just use your best judgment”), every time I rushed off to an imaginary meeting, it hurt our relationship.

It got so bad that people admitted they…
1. Thought of simply walking away and never coming back
2. Thought that new activities in the simulation were only designed to trick them and make their job harder
3. Though I was trying to entrap them into breaking the rules

Trust takes a long time to build, but moments to destroy. Disregard that at your peril.

More thoughts as I have more learnings. ;)