The Element: Chapter 4


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.  The Culture Spy Syndicate (CSS) Agents Rusty, T, Freelance, Coach and Test Drive are together for a meeting about Locus of Control.

The Shadows is a term coined by the Culture Spy Syndicate (CSS), describing where an agent goes when they diverge from the team.  Conversely, when the team converges for a meeting, they come out of The Shadows and into The Light.  The Shadows cloak the sought after intelligence, and the solution to a mission.  The goal, to make both visible in The Light.

The team met in an alley.  Test Drive approached with his mobile project board.  He pulled out suction cups that adhered to the brick wall and hung up the board.

“Impressive,” said Rusty.  “You will have to tell me about the technology behind brick adhesion.”

“Coach had some gadget that allowed agents to scale brick walls, so we adapted them to my mobile project board pet-mission, boasted Test Drive.

“Is it crazy to meet in an alley?”  Said Freelance.

“Now you are as crazy as we are!” Said Rusty.  “Let’s get down to business my friends.”

The team of five huddled around a the white-board, brightly lit by a security light that was mounted over a rear door on the opposite wall.  Rusty felt good with such a high powered team, and understood how important the role of Cobbler is to selecting the right team for the mission.

“I hope the team dossiers provided by our Cobbler, codename Talent Scout, met with everyone approval,” said Rusty.  “Freelance, you are sitting in the presence of some of the best in the trade.  For those unfamiliar with Freelance, he is a master of deep dives.  Getting to the bottom of a research task like a rock seeks the bottom of a lake.”  Rusty had always been proud of his accomplishments, and was never shy about giving away compliments to him.  “Welcome to the team Freelance.”

“We are entering the Empathy phase for The Element Mission.  Freelance wants to find out why some 5-man teams succeed while others fail.”

“Coach, I need you on Point.  T, you have First Defense-Man.  Freelance, Second Defense-Man.  That leaves Rear Security for you Test Drive.  For Freelance’s benefit, I am going to brief him with our 5-man team ground rules.”

  1. The Team Leader is responsible for the meeting documentation.
  2. The Point-Man chooses the meeting location and briefs the team on an intelligence item of their strength and choosing that will support the mission.
  3. First and Second Defense-Man make sure the Point-Man has full attention, and not interrupted.
  4. Rear Security is second-in-command, covering for the Team Leader in their absence, and responsible for timing.
  5. When the Point-Man has completed their briefing, we go on the assault by giving each team member an equal opportunity for suggestions to approach what we need to know, but don’t know yet.
  6. We leave the meeting with a plan to do whatever necessary to fill intelligence gaps, where the Point-Man is responsible for coordinating intelligence that will be returned to the Team Leader.
  7. Leapfrogging technique is used at each meeting to change roles.

“You have the stage Coach,” said Rusty.

As Coach stepped up to the front of the pack, he smiled when he noticed a Culture Spy pin on Rusty’s shirt.   “Damn bugs.  I recognize the design as one of my own making.”

“Would not go anywhere without a listening device to record the session, especially if I am going to document the meeting.”

“You should have received a brief from our fearless Team Leader on Locus of Control (LOC),” stated Coach.  “This was a piece of early reconnaissance that I performed for individuals, the belief that people operate under a scale of personal control that ranges from internal to external.  Internal refers to a belief in personal control over situation outcomes, whereas external refers a belief in forces from the world that control them.  Now, from our experience, our most successful 5-Man team members possess a strong LOC.

Freelance spoke up and said, “I have an idea.”

He was stopped in mid-sentence by T, as she brought her thumb up to her other four fingers like an alligator’s jaws and said, “shush.”  She leaned over and softly said, “remember when you were a child and made to wait in line for your turn at the slide?  This is one of those moments.  Anticipation is half the journey, so open your mind and use empathy to linger in Coach’s story and deeply understand everything he is offering us.”

Freelance jerked backwards like he was just slugged in the jaw by the tiny framed woman. Rusty gave him a warm smirk, and at that time he knew that the Team Leader had set him up to learn an important lesson.  He knew about the strong draw for contemplating rebuttals or formulating a personal story instead of listening and learning something new, knowledge or perspective from someone else.

Coach continued, “what I have not studied is the relationship between individual and team LOC.  What are the supporting circumstances behind LOC, and if this is a core attribute that we need to study further? Now, we can go on the assault.”

T was first up.  “It seems pretty obvious that a strong personal internal LOC is a sense of confidence.  It would be no different for a 5-Man Team, where having the confidence to complete a task would be very important to the team’s success.”  She added a Post-It note to the board with CONFIDENCE written on it.

“Now?”  Said Freelance.  Everyone in front of the wall nodded.  “I read that changes in the environment can vary a personal LOC, which should also relate to our team scenario.  Take me out of my element, and my feeling of control may start sliding on the LOC continuum.”  He added a Post-It note with ENVIRONMENT written on it.

Test Drive opened with “Why do we get a feeling of confidence?  Are we with a team that has been successful in the past?  The past is a good indicator of the future.  Do we have an Ace-In-The-Hole or a Ringer on the team?  Someone with a bunch of knowledge.  What about the Environment?  Maybe a good feeling of comfort due to trust?  Good leadership?  As our Team Leader patiently documents our conversation and does not interfere because he has faith in his team, and that makes us feel good?”  He walked up and added TRUST, WE DID IT BEFORE, and LEADERSHIP Post-Its to the board.

Coach held up his hands and said, “OK, I am hearing a common theme for circumstances behind a team’s internal LOC having to do with feelings.  It is all about the way each team member makes the others feel, and some about being able to control your own feelings.  What does it take for a team member or the leader to contribute positively to the team’s internal LOC? That is where we are going.  T and Freelance, do a little research to see what intelligence is available.  Test Drive, you provide cover if they need assistance.

“So we get a homework assignment?” Said Freelance.

“Definitely!” Said Rusty.  “We are looking into the context of the mission head-on.  What is in our way?  Our team meets briefly and breaks bigger problems into manageable pieces, like a wood-chipper.”

“Wood-chipper, where the heck did that come from?  Asked T.

“My creative mind,” said Rusty.  “Now let’s diverge and do our jobs.  All information is sent to Coach, where he will assemble into the LOC intelligence document.  T, you are next meeting’s Team Leader, so develop your experience topic and distribute to the team prior to your meeting.  Freelance shifts to First Defense-Man, Test Drive to Second Defense-Man and I will jump back to Rear Security.  FYI Freelance, by giving the team intelligence the night before a meeting, it gives them a chance to mentally prepare. This is a lean style preparation that gives enough to get people thinking in the right direction and pull initial feelings from the gut.  Guided research happens after the meeting, not before. We do not waste time when we don’t know the Point-Man’s chosen direction for deeper research.”

“Time! Shouted Test Drive. “We are done for the evening.”

Design Thinking [Empathize] Chapter 5 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.


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