The Element: Chapter 3


The Element: A series of articles to explore and improve the methods used for meetings between small teams striving to perform at an expert level.  Culture Spy Syndicate (CSS) Agents Rusty and Test Drive together for another deep dive.  Rusty, short for Rusty Nail, acquired in early teens due to his red hair.  Test Drive is a pro at studying and improving upon process.

Carlyle Grill


Rusty and Test Drive had decided on lunch, and the Mediterrano was only a half mile away. The weather was breaking in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that meant the temperatures were a couple degrees above freezing.  More than warm enough for a light jacket during the short walk.

Test Drive opened their typical banter of conversation, “I saw The Element kickoff meeting invite, and noticed a very clear approach.”

“Just following my training to perform the role of Team Leader for our first meeting.  I understand and believe in the role play that we were taught as young Assets.”

“I remember thinking about how anxious I was to progress in the Culture Spy Syndicate (CSS), and how the empathetic methods for interaction with others really impressed me.  So why don’t you impress me with your memory of the process we learned so many years ago.”

“You had to throw in the number of years, didn’t you. Feels like it was just yesterday.”

“I’ll believe it if you can put your memory where your mouth is,” said Test Drive.

“OK.  The role of the Team Leader is to provide structure for the type of meeting.  A Design Thinking meeting is classified as a Pull Meeting, designed to generate free flowing ideas.  A Push meeting is designed when time is short, and not available for analysis and opinions.”

“So you do remember.”  Test Drive chimed in.  “I recall a little about the Push and Pull meeting styles. In a Push meeting the Team Leader exerts influence and hands out tasks, often in a fire-fighting style.  In a Pull meeting, the Team Leader provides only the meeting focus and constraints on timing, and then drops back into an equal participating team member role.”

“I have expanded my knowledge through years of meeting experiences, becoming very successful at training young Assets to lead until they tap out, and then gently coax them through the finish.  Leading does apply a powerful influence on the Asset’s mind, almost like a suggestive form of brainwashing, so care must be taken by leading with empathy.  The last thing we want to be creating is a bunch of clones.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Early on in my marriage to my wife, codename T, we would share coffee on a Friday morning.  I would say something about Middle Eastern food.  On Friday night I would ask her what she wanted to eat and her response would be chicken schwarma salad, humus and garlic sauce. It is amazing how influential those little seeds can become when someone is formulating future thoughts and actions.”

“Ah, I recognize that as a Dirty Trick, a method to gain influence.  There are dangers in the power of suggestion.”

“All works well when it is used with good intentions, on people that are already predisposed to the idea or open to new experiences, like an Asset in training.  It was not a good experience when T completed her full training, and figured out my little mind manipulation trick.”

“Bet there was hell to pay my friend! Please continue,” said Test Drive.

“It fails when the Asset is experienced.  They quickly realize the lack of interest in their knowledge, and see through the manipulative attempt to influence the already organized experiences and opinions in their mind to gain backing or support for self serving ideas.  Being honest up front is very important, not insulting the intelligence of the audience.  If the true intention is to plant seeds of influence, be ready for the creative mind of the audience to turn off and receive deafening silence.  And yes, there was hell to pay!”

“Our teams are very experienced.” Exclaimed Test Drive.  “And now I see why the meeting agenda was just a simple sentence about helping our client with investigation into the 5-man team.  If you were to add more of your own thought, the team may take that as undue influence instead of an equally supported solution from the team.”

“Exactly!” Said Rusty.  “When you open your mind by listening to different experiences, putting yourself into someone else’s shared story, you grow as a person.  I want to listen to the team without tainting their thoughts, or worse, shutting them down before we even start.  This not only adds willing people as a resource if we ever want to revisit this topic, but it grows the relationship by understanding who it is that you are speaking to, and all through shared stories.  The ones that bond people together the most are shared experiences where they recall the story together.”

“Bravo.  I hope the team appreciates your controlled methods.”

“They are pros, and practiced Culture Spies,” said Rusty.  “They know exactly what a good Team Leader does, and can perform the role flawlessly as well.”

“So, if we were going to summarize the Role of a Team Leader, can we create a top 10 list?”  Asked Test Drive. He took out his laboratory notebook and started writing.

 The Role of the Team Leader

  1. Provide a clear and concise scope of meeting that creates focus.
  2. Do not bias the meeting with a detailed agenda, insulting the intelligence of the team called upon for their contribution.
  3. Enable the team by creating a collaborative atmosphere for free flowing ideas.
  4. A shared meeting experience grows relationships amongst the team, teaching about who they are grouped with and putting a face to the knowledge for revisiting the topic in the future.
  5. Document what was learned.

“Not quite a list of 10, but it surely packs a lot of power,” said Rusty.  “Now that it is documented, it can always be improved.  Can’t say that about just having memories for what we just spoke about, which fade and change as time goes by.”

Design Thinking [Empathize] Chapter 4 is up in our next issue.  You are on the team, so please comment on this issue to add additional experiences that can be drawn from to create a solid project definition.


One thought on “The Element: Chapter 3”

  1. Well done. User research, listening, people, people, & people all come to mind as fodder for the next chapter [Empathize].


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