Merge's Blog

A problem solving tool – the early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese

Recently, a conversation with a client reminded me of a blog post from several years ago in which I explained a team-building and problem solving tool I call How many hats? Not only is this exercise helpful in improving team cohesiveness, but it is also a useful means to overcome differing priorities and “personal agendas” amongst team members. In this recent dialogue though, the topic, while similar, was slightly different. This manager was finding that his team members were frequently disagreeing over when and how to take action on various initiatives underway in the department. Some staffers were keen to jump in and get at the matters at hand; others wanted to hold back and study and evaluate issues before trying to address them. “Both perspectives are valuable,” said the manager, “but my staff don’t see it that way, they just end up constantly at odds with one another.” So I suggested that he try a related tool that I often use in some group facilitations; I call it “The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese”.

EarlyBirdMouseYeah, I know, that’s an unusual title, but it’s a quote, and the title will make sense once I explain the process to you.

Put this quote up on the whiteboard at your next team meeting.

The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese

Then ask your team to discuss the relevance of this quote as it pertains to the issue that is in conflict, or the matter that significantly affects your department. It doesn’t matter whether your challenge is technology, or sales, or customer-service, or process related; even a relatively quiet group will find enough here to get a discussion going. If you need to guide the dialogue, then start by asking them the advantages and disadvantages of being an early bird, and then the same of being a second mouse. Some possible answers: an advantage of the early bird is usually that there’s no competition, but the disadvantage is that people may resist change or it can be expensive to be on the cutting edge. A benefit of being the second mouse is that you can learn from the mistakes of others, but of course, others who went earlier could have a considerable lead on you. It doesn’t matter what the specifics of the discussion end up being, the overriding value of this conversation is that it forces your early birds to consider the second mouse’s point of view, and vice versa.

So now it’s your turn to share. What are some of the specific techniques you are using/have used to work through day-to-day disagreements and get your team members to work more effectively with one another? Have you tried an approach similar to this? What works? What doesn’t? Let’s discuss.


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