“CorporateTheatre” – Implementing the Learning at the Workplace



The “CorporateTheatre” methodology enables participants to experience and behaviourally demonstrate the ability of even random groups to come together and from high-performance teams instinctively and almost instantly.  Once they form into high-performance teams, they inevitably find the necessary new competencies and create the needed resources to deliver creative, collaborative, customer-centric excellence, consistently and every time, simply because no ‘natural team’ is comfortable being second to another team.  More interestingly and relevantly we discover that natural teams are not formed by changing or transforming people but by creating an environment where people as they are with their egos, and incompleteness, and who may not even like or know each other too well, can still come together as remarkably powerful teams.

Before creating the environment, it is important to define the team correctly. All interdependent roles and functions are clubbed together as ONE team.  This means that any function that is interdependent with or affects another function cannot be a separate team.  It is merely a function within the larger team. A team is an entity that either wins or does not win together.  It cannot win in parts.  This being so, defining Marketing Team, Sales Team, Production Team, Finance Team, and Admin team are counterproductive misnomers.  They are merely functions within the larger project team and should be defined, perceived, appraised, and rewarded as such.

This environment that converts random people into powerful teams consists of the following 3 essential pillars:

  1. Integration as ‘Actors’, because you cannot integrate ‘Characters’.
  2. Clarity of the same goal, Alignment to the same success – Goal clarity, Role Clarity, Other-role clarity across all interdependent roles and functions.
  3. Trust in each other’s clarity and commitment, on this project now.

 1st Pillar:  Integration as Actors – In a play one actor plays the role of King, another the role of a slave.  The King could be on the throne, and the slave under his feet.  The hierarchy as character is rigid and inviolable.  But off stage, you may find the King dressing up the slave or the Queen putting on his make up.  Offstage, as actors, there is no hierarchy.  That is purely functional.  There is no human hierarchy.

Let me give a few examples of human hierarchy intruding into the organisational culture.

  1. I was invited to attend a Security Team demo of their physical fitness and skills, at a high-profile organisation.  The Security Commandos had been practising the whole afternoon and were now waiting on parade for the demo that was to start at 7 pm.  Many of the officers, workers and their families had gathered much earlier eagerly awaiting the demo.  However, the top 3 bosses and their wives had not turned up even till 7.45 pm.  All this time the commandos were waiting in formation.  Some of the children ran around and started playing as children do, and some of them sat on the chairs in front.  Past 7.45 pm the top bosses walked in chatting casually among themselves.  No word of apology to the commandos, no apology to the waiting audience.  One of the junior officers immediately chased the children off the chairs meant for the VIPs.  Finally, the demo started.  As the commandos went through their impressive drills, the VIPs hardly looked at the performance.  They were busy chatting among themselves giving a perfunctory applause at the end of each performance.  Imagine what this would have done to the morale of the security team and also the others in the audience.
  2. In several organisational dining rooms or canteens, I have seen tables reserved for senior management. They get priority service, with the mess staff fawning over them.  No one else is allowed to sit at these tables even when there are no senior diners.  What can be a clearer example of imposing human hierarchy?  Instead of using the time as an opportunity to interact with the younger team members in a relaxed and open environment they prefer to seclude themselves behind the veils of their designations.  In case the senior management needs to have a discussion over a working lunch, tables can be specifically reserved for such occasions instead of cordoning them off as ‘senior’ space not accessible to ‘juniors’.

Besides the obvious options that these examples offer for corrective action, there are several other initiatives that can be tried.

  1. Book Clubs: Management concepts and theories are constantly changing.  It may not be possible for everyone to keep abreast all the time.  Consider having a book club meeting once a month where turn by turn someone presents a management book that has interested him or her, followed by a group discussion on how this would be relevant or not to their current work situation.
  2. Movie Clubs: Many movies especially offer much more than just entertainment.  Many offer deep insights into individual development, teamwork, and leadership.  A monthly presentation by anyone of a movie that has inspired her followed by a discussion on the application of the learning to the workplace may yield intense and interesting learning possibilities.
  3. Theatre for problem-solving: We discover during the “CorporateTheatre” workshop that with very simple material and minimal time we can do intense and interesting theatre productions.  Next time the team comes up against a tricky problem that does not seem to offer solutions, have the team get together and perform the problem as they actually perceive it.  Let the audience comment on what they perceived.  Switch groups and ask them to perform the solutions.  You may be in for some very surprising insights into problems as well as intuitive solutions.

In all these activities it is important that the leadership is taken by those who have the maximum exposure to the situation at hand and not in any way based on seniority.  At the same time, everyone in the team should be participants.  It cannot be seen as some kind of entertainment or ‘engagement activity’ for the younger people while the older ones busy themselves with the ‘serious task of managing’.  That would defeat the entire purpose.  These sessions should be no holds barred with everyone having the freedom to express themselves within the necessary protocols of mutual courtesy and professional debate.

2nd Pillar – Clarity & Alignment – Goal Clarity, Role Clarity, and Other-Role Clarity across all Interdependent Functions – As we experience during the workshops, collaboration across roles and functions, which is so essential to high-performance teams, is possible when I know not only my role but also every other interdependent role and how each role and function contributes to our collective achievement of the team (organisational) goal.  Monthly or at least bi-monthly forums are important where people share how their roles and functions are coming along and what help and support are required from other roles and functions.  This is also a forum for recognising and celebrating extraordinary successes and contributions and should be attended by the top leadership and vertical heads involved, along with their groups.

3rd Pillar – Trust in each other’s clarity and alignment. – This is primarily the responsibility of HR along with senior leadership, which must first of all:

  1. Define ‘natural teams’.
  2. Clearly specify the Team’s Goal, the parameters of performance, the rewards, and most important, the appraisal system.

The policy should clearly specify that unless the team as a whole achieves the objective within the stated parameters there is no significant reward for anyone irrespective of role or function.  Conversely, if the team achieves the goal everyone gets a certain uniform reward across roles and functions.  Thereafter the team has a major say in deciding the major contributors across roles and functions who should get substantial special performance or star awards.

To put it in a nutshell,

  1. there should be the innate awareness and behavioural manifestation of that awareness, that our designations are purely and necessarily functional, and as actors we are all on the same platform.
  2. There should be the unconditional acceptance that what makes us a team or an organisation is the goal that we need to define and achieve together.
  3. The undiluted certainty that everyone involved is clear about the same goal and totally committed to the same collective success.  (As described in an earlier post the workshop also addresses the issue of how to deal with the (fortunately) rare individual who is non-committed or non-alignable.)

To start with, it may be useful to engage a neutral external agency to help with installing or strengthening these pillars at the workplace.  They can work with the organisation for a few months after the workshop, helping to define and install the 3-pillar culture.  They will need to attend a couple of workshops with the teams, especially the ones involving senior leadership and HR.

Books like The Wisdom of Teams, The Truth About Managing People, Nuts, plus several contemporary research papers and articles in well known management publications also give interesting and practical insights into how to create the environment for instinctive excellence.

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