On a dark stormy day in December 1996 I was faced with the challenge of doing some ‘team building’ training with a group of disenchanted, disengaged and dispirited employees from a major corporate organisation. They didn’t want to be there and neither did I. I delivered the first training of two days with a strained nervous smile on my face. It went ok.
The second day started slowly but then took a turn when an aggressive and angry young woman started to question what the purpose of the program was when their manager was a ‘serial corporate womaniser’. The discussion became more and more personal and animated as different employees poured out tales of corporate and management ‘misdemeanours’ that had left them apparently with no good reason to work. “Why should we give ourselves when they treat us like crap!” -said the young angry woman. (Maybe because they pay you 30% higher for processing pay than most other industries?). She continued – “Anyway, why do you think none of the bastards treat us (the team) with any respect?” At that moment I realised that she didn’t get it. She didn’t see how a three year long record of appalling behaviour from team members had alienated them from the other seven processing teams and made them the bane of senior management. Neither could she see how her team had contributed to a culture of mistrust and antagonism. This was blindness and somehow I needed to lift the blind fold. Lunchtime arrived and I had forty minutes to build a strategy.
Over lunch I wrote a role play; the script was set about a disaffected employee who treats other peers badly when under pressure. It was a script about an employee who behaved like a bully. It was a revelation. That afternoon, after a team member and I performed the script with gusto and commitment, we talked deeply about bad behaviour. We explored the reasons why this disengaged and dispirited team felt the way it did. We talked about how their behaviour with other teams on the floor should be to make things work. We even rewrote the script to show what engaged behaviour could look like. That was the afternoon I decided that any serious training about the impacts of behaviour could not be facilitated using overheads and manuals.
A few months later I met with an operations manager from Pilkington Australia. He was keen to train his supervisors about preventing and managing workplace bullying and unlawful discrimination. “I want something that won’t send them to sleep” he said firmly, then adding “I don’t know whether that’s possible”. Six weeks later iHR Australia ran its first anti-discrimination / workplace bullying training using actors and a facilitator. Pilkington’s commitment was exceptional and they maintained regular training sessions over the next 3 years with iHR Australia.
These days I am convinced that if you are in the business of changing or aligning team or organisational behaviour, you would be wasting your money and time with anti-discrimination/workplace bullying briefings or other traditional training methods. In fact many employees and managers resent sessions run by lawyers and theorists that come from a legal or ‘social equity’ view.
On the other hand, when managers and employees observe behaviours acted out that breach government acts and, just as importantly, destroy work cultures, productivity and brand, they tend to take notice. There is a business and personal reason to watch. They see aggressive, humiliating or belittling behaviours that once looked nothing more than banter or a joke, for what they really are. Furthermore, they begin to distinguish between old fashioned healthy banter and behaviours that are potentially going to result in statutory fines or damages claims.
These days I don’t train in leadership or anti-discrimination/workplace bullying without my actors. I just don’t see the point. And our clients agree!