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Leading A Group Of Strangers
I want to jump into a topic that is seldom discussed. There are very few books that I can find out there on this topic. A lot of what I’m going to cover is from personal experience and definitely a couple of books. Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself having to lead a group of strangers? You’re the captain, you’re the manager, you’re the boss, you’re the business owner and all of a sudden, you’ve got ten to twenty, to 10 to 50 complete strangers. They don’t know hardly anybody as a matter of fact, yet in a very short window of time, you’ve got to get a well-oiled machine producing a result. I want to walk you through a psychological map.
I’m going to say it’s time-tested. I saw a bit of this even at Pepperdine’s Executive MBA Program to a degree and it validated a lot of the assumptions I have. First of all, let’s say you’re in charge and somebody handed you fifteen strangers. They don’t know anybody. They are all uncomfortable. They all have self-image issues. They’re all managers in their own right, but the reality is the bigger the person in the real world to themselves, the lower their self-image when they get in a group of their peers. It’s an interesting dynamic.
With that said, here’s the blueprint. Psychologically the first thing you do is break the number of people in this group into two. It doesn’t matter how many, as long as it’s more than ten. You tell them to go find their own private space and you want one stranger interviewing the other person. What’s going to happen is they’re going to interview them with five to seven questions. They’re going to come back to the group and they’re going to present that stranger to the group. The person doing the interview can ask any five questions they want in addition to the following, two questions. Number one, outside of family or relationships, what is your greatest accomplishment to date? Question two, if you could do life all over again, what two things would you do differently? The interviewer can ask any other five questions they want. Here’s what’s going to come out of this.
Nobody remembers the name, but it's very difficult to forget a story. Click To Tweet
When that stranger introduces the other stranger to the group of fifteen, the group is going to learn so much about that person because you’re going to share stories about George, Marianne, Bob or Sheila. You’re not just going to say, this is Sheila, she’s a whatever and then move on to the next person. Nobody remembers the name, but it’s difficult to forget a story. You start with the group dynamics of two. Now, two people know each other in the group. Take a little break and that whole thing should take twenty minutes total, five minutes to interview each and a couple of minutes to break and then a few minutes to explain who the people are.
Second, the groups of three. This exercise gets fifteen minutes in total. What you’re going to do is an exercise on active or passive listening. There’s going to be a talker, a listener and an observer. The observer is going to sit a little behind the talker into the right or to the left so they can fully see the listener. The talker is going to share their latest business challenge and how they’re working through it. The observer is going to listen. The listener is going to, of course, listen. The observer is going to take notes on the following and you don’t prompt to the person. Is the listener taking notes? What type of seated posture does the listener have? Is the listener asking questions? What are the facial expressions of the listener? Did the listener move forward or backward in the seat during the listening exercise?
Once finished, you’re going to all rotate through the thing. The key is this and this is critical. This group is just for the three people. You’re going to make sure that the two people that interviewed each other cannot be in the same group of three. You’re slowly introducing people intimately to other people. You’re going to learn so much about the talker because number one, they’re going to share their current business challenges. Number two, the observer and the listener are going to begin to trigger what’s called empathy. When you’re hearing somebody’s business challenges, it lights a fire to the two other people’s empathy and it draws them closer and more intimate to the talker.
You start with the group of two, you break them up and back to the group of fifteen and you bring them into groups of three, so there are five groups of three. You bring them back to the fifteen. You take another break. You’re going to break them into groups of five. The exercise here, you give them anywhere from 30 minutes to do this, ten minutes to present it. You’re going to break in groups of five and you’re going to tell them you five people have 30 minutes to invent a product. After inventing the product, you’re going to present it to a fake group of investors. The five will present, the other ten strangers will be the investors. You don’t give them any real homework assignment except the following. In the first one minute, you have to assign a captain that’s going to navigate the conversation, a scribe that’s going to take notes throughout the conversation and three idea people.
It’s interesting to watch how quickly the people raise their hand to be the scribe or the idea people, but they don’t want to navigate because that says, “I’m a leader, I’m going to navigate.” People out of respect of the other four. They don’t want to raise their hand even though typically 20% of those five are truly the leader that thinks they should lead. As this assignment unfolds, what happens 100% of the time is after about five minutes, the remaining 25 minutes, all five people from the leader to the scribe to the three idea people become idea people. Through the empathy of wanting to sit back and hear someone else’s idea or story, we get to know who the other four people in the circle are.
Everybody presents to a fake board of investors. It becomes very fun. People laugh about new ideas and then you take a five, ten-minute break and come back. You put everybody in a big circle. Maybe it’s all fifteen. You say to these fifteen people, “You guys are all in the management of a company. It’s Monday morning and everybody went to lunch and everyone came back from lunch and you received the exact same letter that the people from Corning Cookware received in 1968. Within nine months, this company is going to be out of money and can’t meet payroll. What do you do? You have 30 minutes to figure out an attack plan, go.” In this case of the fifteen, you don’t give any instruction of what to do.
People laugh about new ideas. Click To Tweet
Your job now is to sit back in the corner of the room as an observer and watch these fifteen people interact and see if you can catch any of the lessons learned in episodes one, two and three, the active and passive listening, the note-taking, the empathy, the overall assigning a scribe, assigning a navigator. See if any of these lessons flushed themselves out. What’s going to happen is within 30 minutes as the observer of the fifteen, it will take about ten minutes for everybody to get comfortable. The last twenty minutes, you will clearly see the alpha leaders of the group stepping up. You’ll see the flag melancholy. The people that are not confrontational. They’re much more left brain thinking. They’ll recede a little bit. You’ll see in the last five to ten minutes, everybody comes forward again and leans into the circle. Almost always in those last five minutes, especially when they know there are five minutes left, they all want to come together and win. They’re all going to participate. This is a phenomenal one, two, three, four-point plan if you want to get a group of people quickly to know each other, like each other, trust each other and pull in the same direction. I hope this helps. Take care.