Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Autonomy, Vision, and Puzzles... "The Time Starts Now"

With a stopwatch in my hand and 30 anxiously staring doctoral students lined up in the hallway of a private university in Nashville, TN; I made one simple statement: "the time starts now." I then, opened a classroom door and the aforementioned doctoral students began to enter the room. Without any formal directions given, and only a 100 piece puzzle placed on top of eight different tables; a fascinating phenomenon took place. As has happened with all groups with which I have facilitated this same task (7th grade students, 8th grade students, a Middle School faculty of 50, a High School faculty of 80, etc.), again, without any formal directions, these doctoral students were observed doing the following:
1. Placing themselves into teams on their own
2. Beginning on the puzzle on their own
3. Dividing up roles and responsibilities on their own
4. Engaging in the task without reinforcements from me, the facilitator
5. Competing against each other without any promise of a reward from me as the facilitator
These observations lead me to ask the following question... Have you ever wondered what makes a great team?
I believe great teams do not necesarrily have to be managed closely by the leader. In fact, I am not alone... @DanielPink stated, "Management is designed to get compliance. But, to get engagement, the only thing that works is self-direction." 
More often than not, great teams can execute a plan (be self-directed) so as long as the mission and vision are clear. In this case, it was very clear... if we could just get into the heads of some of the participants, it would probably go something like this: "hmmm... boxes with puzzle pieces inside of them must mean I am supposed to complete a puzzle. Oh yeah, it would be better if I had some help... hey, you, get over here and help me put together this puzzle." Phrases like "hold up the front of the box so we can see what we are making," and "lets start with the border pieces," are always familiar phrases when making these observations.
After about seven total minutes of observation, the first group completed their puzzle and without any expected tangible reward, celebrated. Why would they celebrate? It is because, like all great teams and like all of humanity we desire belonging (See Abraham Maslow's work on Human Motivation, 1943). The teams putting together puzzles all belonged on a team, they all had a clear mission and vision for the task at hand and they all wanted to win. This was an innate desire to win and nothing could hold it back. My good friend and colleague @RyanBJackson1 reminds me often of what Sigmund Freud has stated, "Man's innate desire is to compete and win." This belief evolves from the idea that it is humanity's innate desire to survive.  
If Freud is correct, then all we need to do as teachers, leaders, parents, is to create opportunitities for students/children/workers/personnel to see a mission and vision, give them autonomy and let them go. They can do it. No more controlling leadership styles, no more over-protective parenting, no more dictatorships demanding the status quo. When we are allowed to see the goal , we can do amazing things. Just remember, "the time starts now."

***Thanks to Teresa Vazquez-Terry for the video footage as well as the video editing. In addition, thanks to Ryan Jackson, Kevin Armstrong, and Tamara Garvey for their assistance with the video. A good group of people right there!

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