Imagine a room filled with 40 national guard officers. They are not only experienced leaders in the military, but these men and women also serve as managers, directors, and vice presidents. They serve one weekend a month, and two weeks a year to protect our country.
They are curious, solution-oriented, and not afraid to take on new challenges. What could possibly draw them to a workshop on team building?
The opportunity to learn something new, and learn it in a new way.
How It Works
Culture Kitchen is a workshop that uses a special type of video game. The game is a “cooperative video game” designed to create cooperation and collaboration instead of competition. The video game lets leaders practice their teamwork skills. Working with a facilitator, the participants rotate between three phases. They learn a concept, practice the concept in the game, then reflect on how their experience relates to challenges in their professional lives.
- Phase 1: Concept.
- Phase 2: Practice.
- Phase 3: Reflect.
What Culture Kitchen Teaches
Most modern leaders recognize the need to modify how to motivate teams. As New York Times best-selling author Dan Pink wrote in his book Drive1, there is a gap between what science knows and what businesses (and sometimes the military) practice. As the American economy has moved from a muscle economy, into a knowledge economy, workers are responding to different motivational methods than in past decades. Incentives like the proverbial carrot and stick, are not as effective with knowledge workers as they were with factory workers 50 years ago.
Culture Kitchen teaches leaders how to create an environment where people motivate themselves. Culture Kitchen is an applied soft skills workshop. The experience helps leaders understand:
1.) How emotions interfere with performance.
2.) Why do emotions interfere with performance.
3.) What your employees can do about it.
The workshop is more than an academic discussion, it is a hands-on learning environment. The video game helps leaders experience the emotions created by a sense of urgency colored by uncertainty. They then work with tools to get a handle on these feelings and improve performance during the workshop, despite the adverse emotions.
Practice handling Uncertainty and Urgency
The design of the video game allows the participants to move through cycles of competence and stress in a controlled way. They play challenging video game levels until they are comfortable. Each successive level of the game then exposes them to carefully selected changes that challenge the players confidence. They experience uncertainty and urgency in repeating cycles and learn how to navigate the emotions brought up by those stressors.
The workshop creates contrasting experiences for the participants. This contrast makes the psychological forces more visible. Participants cycle from discomfort, to comfort, to mastery, and back to discomfort. In a few short minutes, they begin to see how urgency and uncertainty can derail their performance by affecting their emotions and mindset.
Why a video game?
We use a video game to level the playing field and create more inclusion. The game needs no specific skills, nor physical prowess for a player to contribute. The controls are simple, move, pick up/put down, chop. That is it. Two buttons and a move stick. Unlike most modern video games, the controls do not make the game complicated. What is more, any player can do any task, but no player can do every task. People will have to work together to hit their objectives.
Cooperation makes the game challenging. Because there are no right answers, no best way to play, players are encouraged to debate. This open-ended design gives the teams many good choices. Choices prompt conversations. The players negotiate how to work together.
Teams must choose how to work together. This kind problem solving is an
excellent approximation of the types of creative and cognitive work most
professionals deal with within matrix and flat organizations. Teams learn how to
shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. They move from rigid “we’ve
always done it this way” thinking to explore what it means to be adaptable
Culture Kitchen dives into the applied psychology and the associated techniques needed to make it easier for teams to learn together. The workshop gives leaders the tools, and the experience of using the tools, to cultivate resilience in their own teams.
Culture Kitchen is designed to let leaders learn about and practice creating
psychological safety. People lead better when they are proficient in
teamwork skills. These skills can be hard to build as normal business cycles
take months or years to complete. These long cycles only give your
employees a few repetitions a year. The power of the video game is that
project cycles happen in minutes. Participants gain many more
opportunities to practice working and communicating together. Professional
golfers hit hundreds (sometimes thousands) of golf balls before they step
into the tee box when it is game day. Culture Kitchen provides a similar
opportunity for the professional development of leaders.
The movie Field of Dreams made the expression, “If you build it, they will come.” become world-famous. However, it later became a bit of a joke to describe many new products and companies.
The implication seemed to be that if you built the thing you dreamed about, others would want it too. It is easy to understand this thinking. After all, The Law of Supply and Demand seems to imply that supply comes first. Created in the 1890s by Alfred Marshall, the Law of Supply and Demand explains pricing in a free market. If supply exceeds demand, then prices will drop. If demand exceeds supply, then prices rise.
The Law of Supply and Demand worked very well to describe the price of commodities. The kinds of products that are widely available, like fruits and vegetables, or raw materials like lumber and iron ore. However, the law does not always explain the price of everything. As many business owners painfully discovered, if you build it, no one may come. A good friend of mine and successful entrepreneur put it better. “The Law of Supply and demand is wrong. It’s not supply and demand. It’s demand, then supply. Demand is more important than supply.” Specifically, he was saying that understanding demand is more important than supply is critical for a business owner.
Why? Because of the word order. In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek noticed that people expose their true priorities when they speak. We do this unconsciously. Even CEOs with their meticulously curated conference calls and press releases do this. Sinek noticed that if a CEO talked about (1) profits, (2) shareholders, (3) staff, and (4) customers, in that order – her later behavior would put profits ahead of everything else. And guess who was the lowest priority? That’s right, the customers. Sinek shares multiple examples to make his case. CEO actions align with their spoken word order priorities. Regardless of what they print in pamphlets or marketing material, people talk as they think. When a business leader prioritizes supply over demand, they can shift the company’s attention away from the customer and onto the product and how it is delivered. One consequence of this shift in focus is that operations can become more important than sales or marketing. This makes the attention of the organization inward-focused instead of outward-focused.
As an entrepreneur, I want to own a profitable business. Focusing on the operations of my business ahead of the demand can become a dangerous attention trap. How so? With supply, you control most of the variables. When people focus on what they control it is easy to become lazy and complacent. Prioritizing demand, however, makes you think about how you can influence others to act. Convincing someone who doesn’t work for you (as a customer) to take action is a much harder problem to solve than telling your people what to do. Inspiring customer action, therefore, is where more value is created. My goal in my company is to make sure customer desire drives our business, not our own supply. I have watched this play out over the last 16 years in the mobile video game industry. Most independent mobile video game operators focus on the trailer. Video game trailers are cool! Imagine a living room on wheels filled with flat panel displays and loaded with every kind of video game console.
If you haven’t seen one you can go to gametruck.com to check them out. The concept is simple. It is easy to imagine towing a trailer to someone’s house for kids to play video games inside. And many owners focus on doing exactly that. Towing a trailer to someone’s house to host a party. As if that is what customers want; a trailer parked in front of their house. I contend that people do not want trailers. Customers want a celebration. In addition, they want a party that is easy, low stress, and most of all fun for their child. Parents are trying to create feelings of belonging, joy, and recognition for their children. The box on wheels is almost immaterial. I noticed that when we started to offer laser tag.
For a few years, we did not offer laser tag, yet people would call up and ask for it. When our sales team told them, “We do not offer laser tag.” The customers would go ahead and book a GameTruck Party with a mobile video game theater. Two thoughts crossed my mind. One, why were we not selling people things they wanted to buy from us? Second, what were they actually buying from us? I mean, we just told them we didn’t have what they were looking for, yet they continued to reserve a trailer with us. It was a clear sign the equipment was not as important as the experience they wanted their child to have.
From that time, we focused on delivering celebrations (instead of renting trailers). As a result, GameTruck owners have vastly outpaced their competitors in terms of consumer interest. The GameTruck system generates more than 10,000 inbound leads a month. These are calls and form fills from people looking to book a party for their child. Creating demand like this is not easy but has allowed us to become the price leader in every market where we operate. More revenue ensures we can hire the best staff, maintain our equipment, and follow through on our promises. Our dependability may be more valuable than any piece of equipment we use to deliver a party.
By focusing on parent demand, we can align our work to meet it. We created communication systems to increase parental confidence in the GameTruck brand. We train our Game Coaches to understand the parents’ expectations so they can manage them. Finally making sure the party guests have fun, benefits the coaches because of the higher tips they receive.
Understanding demand first, made every aspect of our supply better. I am convinced if GameTruck had only been about renting video game equipment, we would not deliver 30,000 parties a year. Understanding our client’s demands has allowed our owners to scale their vision. More than half of GameTruck owners operate multiple units. GameTruck owners lead the industry in full-time managers, a sign of the size teams they employ. Focusing on customer demand not only made our business better but also created more opportunities for the people who run the franchises. It has become clear to me that a thorough understanding of demand is vastly more important than an understanding of supply.
Two Complements to Traditional Process Documents
I recently took part in a panel on business execution. Everyone agreed that documenting their processes would improve their operations. However, telling people to document their processes ignores two nontrivial challenges. The first is understanding why it is hard to document a process. The second is how to get your people to use the process! Addressing these challenges is hard, but there are things you can do to help.
How do you document what you can’t articulate?
Documenting a business process sounds like it should be easy right? As Simon Sinek noted, the part of our brains that makes decisions is not the part responsible for language. When we become proficient at a skill, our actions are reduced to muscle memory. Studies show when someone asks us to explain our actions, our brain can unconsciously make up stories. Baseball legend Ted Williams believed he could watch a baseball hit the barrel of his bat, but he couldn’t. It is a physical impossibility. It happens too fast. Describing what we do is more challenging than most people realize.
How can you address it? Try to capture only what matters most, like the 20% of steps that deliver 80% of the results. Too much detail can reduce clarity.
How do get people to follow best practices?
Often, staff ignores process documents. Why? A couple of reasons. One is pressure. People find it hard to learn under pressure. Another is expectations. Performance suffers when learning a new skill. We avoid that which makes us look bad.
I find it helpful to remember that my true goal as a business owner is better business execution. I want to help my people consistently deliver what our brand promises our customers. The most effective way to do that, I have found is to supplement processes with stories and tools. Stories create meaning and shape our feelings.
Feelings fuel behaviors.
When we capture our processes, we also capture the stories of the problems solved. A great process should make the user a hero who solves a problem, not a monkey who flips a switch.
A tool complements the story because it shapes the user’s actions by constraining them. This is where proven process documents are essential. I try to never automate a process I don’t understand! Having a fun tool that minimizes errors and maximizes results has a massive positive impact on performance.
The next time you set about creating a standard process, think about the story and automation. Can you make the person running the process the hero of a story? Is it clear the problem they are solving? Do they have great tools to help them achieve that outcome? In my experience, when my people have a key role in solving a problem, and they have a great tool to do it, their performance soars.