Strategy

An Interview with Dr. Scott Simmerman, of The Square Wheels Project

6 minute read

You have developed an online training program to teach facilitation skills to supervisors and you are sharing your wonderful Square Wheels images as tools, calling this training, “The Square Wheels Project.” Can you tell me more about this? Let me ask a few questions:

You have developed an online training program to teach facilitation skills to supervisors and you are sharing your wonderful Square Wheels images as tools, calling this training, “The Square Wheels Project.” Can you tell me more about this? Let me ask a few questions:

 

  • Why anchor to an illustration?

We’ve shown this image, this theme, to many thousands of people and it always gets people thinking about performance and ideas for improvement. So, we naturally build that into the approach we are teaching. It is simple and effective but powerful. It looks like this:

 

Untitled
Please click on the image above to go to The Square Wheels Project

 

  • What is the basic idea of “The Square Wheels Project?”

Supervisors are often caught between a rock and hard place these days, every day.

 

Raining down on them are all the needs of their boss and organization. They are continually being told what to do… “here is a new vision, tell your people about this new policy, here’s the goals for the month, here is a set of targets that tell us you are performing well enough…”

 

In addition, they often have the team or teams pushing back and resisting in different ways because of all the things done to them. Messages and demands come from the top down and people will see many of the organizational goals as being unrealistic or unattainable. They struggle to support imposed changes and given that the organization keeps moving the goalposts, they learn to resist putting in the necessary effort. The workers are neither involved nor engaged.

 

These are some of the reasons why being a supervisor is such a difficult role. Communications skills are a key competency and they simply do NOT have the skills to generate employee ownership of ideas for improvement. This is a recognized gap and a known problem.

 

Better teamwork and motivation benefits most workplaces and we believe the optimal place to start this improvement process is by improving the level of involvement and engagement with the team of workers and supervisors.

 

Unfortunately, supervisors generally cannot get their training department or human resources to provide them with these tools or support, since those operations run lean and are usually overloaded with legal, compliance and personnel issues.

 

The Square Wheels Project is committed to filling the gaps and giving managers and supervisors what they need to solve significant workplace communications problems and to implement solid solutions in a fun and effective way, a seamless, simple and elegant approach.

  • Why do you think it important? What are the problems faced in the workplace?

Two main issues come to mind:

 

—      Meetings are often led in a way that inhibits an engaging, participative discussion of issues and opportunities

– Implementation is difficult to inspire if people do not feel actively involved and engaged in the solutions

 

Since individuals are not participating, implementation generates some push-back and passive resistance. The first leads directly to the second.

 

One reason is that most meetings are not generally interactive; people are told information but they are not asked for their thoughts or ideas. This happens because supervisors are not generally trained nor comfortable with facilitation skills and they probably never had a boss who modeled those behaviors for them.

 

Another reason why meetings are difficult is because many people can be somewhat defensive and show little interaction. They become Spectator Sheep; observing but not participating. And unless the supervisor knows how to deal with conflicts, an even bigger problem is waiting just outside the door. People leave meetings frustrated or even hostile. And nothing changes.

 

The lack of participation in meetings is infectious, once it takes hold it is only a matter of time before the lack of involvement and ownership simply causes full disengagement. And that is what leads us to other issues and problems:

 

The team lacks engagement because there is no progress. No change. And no foundation on which to build nor implement new ideas. Therefore, stagnation and inertia set in and with no expectation that anything different will result, there is no energy.

All kinds of research support the reality that workers, supervisors and even managers are un-involved, disengaged, and not aligned to the goals and missions of the organization. Everyone is extraordinarily busy doing the same things over and over and few people are taking the time to discuss (or implement) any new ideas.

 

Although there is plenty of opportunity to share ideas and best practices that can make a real difference to how things work, nothing gets discussed and nothing gets changed. The opportunity to improve the workplace is lost.

 

The Square Wheels tools are a solution to the issues we just discussed. Our course teaches simple facilitation skills and is supported by a simple directive: “Give us your ideas on what can be improved and how we improve it and let’s work to make some changes.”

 

 

  • How do your tools and training impact the above?

    The Square Wheels Tools are designed to help the supervisor to break the cycle and generate real ideas and real ownership of potential solutions from within the team. It all starts with being able to get your team participating and involved in meetings and group discussions. This is done by asking questions about the issues impacting the team’s performance and results using the metaphor of Square Wheels.

The individuals and the team must take ownership for the performance and results they get now and what they ultimately want to achieve. The trick is to do this without being demanding and telling people what to do or how to do it. This only generates more resistance. You want to build enthusiasm and ownership, not generate push-back. This is where the development of some basic facilitation skills is so important.
We provide all the tools, training, and support required to help facilitate changes in behavior and attitude so that work teams not only get more involved in group activities, but develop the strong sense of ownership required to deliver value and results.
A good leader involves people and aligns them toward shared goals and expectations. A good leader does not push people as much as involve and engage them to generate intrinsic motivation. The facilitation approach is also one of employee development and it allows for collaboration and teamwork.

 

 

  • What is unique about Square Wheels as an organizational development tool?

We know of nothing else out there that works like this. The premise is that we ASK them for their thoughts and ideas about things that do not work smoothly. We OFFER them shared perspective and a chance to discuss ideas within their beliefs. And we use the Square Wheel image and theme to drive that process.
People project their issues and ideas onto our main Square Wheels illustration, which works like an inkblot test, sometimes almost unconsciously. This generates lots of thinking and consideration.

 

When something is labeled a “Square Wheel” — a thing that works but that simply does not work smoothly, the reality is that some Round Wheels must exist. People are natural problem solvers and closing the gap by implementing a round wheel is something people are driven to accomplish. This “cognitive dissonance” is a natural motivator of change and improvement. And having group discussions about issues is something that helps build consensus and motivation to improve, that peer support stuff…

 

Plus, using these tools sets up a language of continuous continuous workplace improvement, since “The Round Wheels of Today become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.” We help to set up a collaborative culture focused on issues and ideas for improvement. Square Wheels exist and they are everywhere. And there ARE solutions and better ways of operating that can smooth the path forward in most workgroups.

 

 

  • What are some other benefits people can expect from using the tools and the training?

Well, the course provides general skills and competencies for facilitation, and those skills can be used anywhere. Asking for ideas and listening to answers are real skills that can dramatically improve motivation and directly generate active involvement and engagement within the team. These are skills that will ALWAYS be in demand, since people will need to be more innovative and creative in the workplaces of the future.

 

The course is fast and bombproof. It is an approach for working with people. It is not dogmatic. It is not about the supervisor telling the team “You MUST DO this”, or “Here is the solution to our problems.” It focuses on changing behavior because people want to choose to change behavior. It is driven by opportunity, not through fear. Fear does not produce innovation; for most people fear is not helpful in the creative process. Fear causes most people to freeze.

 

The training learned through TSWP models that:

  • A good leader involves people and aligns them toward shared goals and expectations.
  • A good leader does not push people as much as involve and engage them to generate intrinsic motivation.
  • The facilitation approach is also one of employee development and it allows for collaboration and teamwork.

 

 

 

  • Is there anything you want to add?

Yes, simply that the supervisors and managers we have worked with LOVE this stuff and have found that the tools have made making work/life improvements possible. Feeling more like a valued part of an organization is simply a good thing for most people. And being part of a better functioning team is a positive for a variety of reasons.

 

Think for a moment how much better your workplace would be if people felt that you listen and encourage the sharing of ideas about improvement. Think of the positive impacts that become possible when people are internally motivated to collaborate and make improvements. Ask yourself what changes might be possible from working WITH people instead of doing things TO them. This is a big difference, this reduction of resistance to change.

 

It is also our hope that the people who are part of this experience also become part of The Square Wheels team, helping us to spread the word and assist other people in making improvements to their workplaces.

 

The Square Wheels Toolkit is available now at www.TheSquareWheelsProject.com.

 

 

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Jan Hines

A startup nerd and compulsive writer, Jan provides streamline information on the hottest trends and news.

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