Merge's Blog

How many hats?

A few months ago, I received a call from a manager at a client company who was frustrated because his team members weren’t working as a cohesive group.  And if that wasn’t enough, they were increasingly also blaming each other when things weren’t getting done.  After a short conversation, we got at one of the root causes of the problem – the members of his team each brought different priorities and “personal agendas” to the overall functioning of the group, and these differing objectives were creating conflict.  “If only I could get them to acknowledge and understand each others’ various priorities,” he said.  “But you can,” I said, and I recommended that he try How Many Hats? **, a fun and enlightening team-building exercise at his next department meeting.

Last week, I got another call from the same manager, this time with an update.  He used How Many Hats? at his very next team meeting and immediate feedback that afternoon had been very positive, “much more than I expected,” he said.  “And how are things now, a few months later?” I asked.  “Actually that’s why I called you,” he said.  “I want to say thanks for the idea.  When I think back over the last few months, I am very pleased with the progress.  Sure, we still have a few problems, but overall, taking the team through the exercise gave them a better understanding of the various priorities, perspectives and concerns that each one of them brings to the department.  But perhaps more importantly, it encouraged them to deal with the differences more openly and constructively rather than just pointing fingers.

I just love it when my clients call to tell me about their successes!  What about you?  Are you dealing with similar issues in your workplace?  What have you tried to turn things around?  Did it work?  Do tell.

** How Many Hats? Introduce this team-building exercise by explaining that different team members bring different priorities and perspectives to the department.  Have each team member pull out a sheet of paper and title it “How Many Different Hats Do I Wear?”  Then for about 10 minutes, let them make a list of the different “hats” they wear that could impact their priorities and perspectives in the department. Also have them list out any challenges they face because they wear a certain “hat”.  The “hats” could be any number of different roles the play in the department – formal or informal – such as manager, go-to person for problems, unofficial peacekeeper, IT specialist, troubleshooter, etc.  The “hats” are anything that the person cares to write down.  Once everyone has their list, go around the table and have everyone read out their list.  Then pose the following questions to get the discussion going:

  1. Are there any “hats” that were missed?
  2. Do these different “hats” get in the way of the team fulfilling its overall responsibility?
  3. What can team members do to help others manage their various “hats”?
  4. What can team members do to turn the different priorities and perspectives (or “hats”) into a team advantage rather than a team disadvantage?

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