Several years ago, I had a chance to visit the training facility of a large airline. It was a fascinating day, for a number of reasons. I was writing the other day about how office space design reflects and reinforces the company culture, and this place was another example. Our hosts for the day met us in the lobby and we took the staircase up because their facility was on the second floor. This was not a beautiful, sweeping glass stairway, it was a dark, tight, emergency stairwell – but it was painted in the airline’s colors, and there were little plaques – branded with their logo – that encouraged us to ascend because it saved energy “and it’s good for your health, too!” As we walked down the hall, each office’s name plaque was branded and reflected one of their core values in addition to the occupant’s name.
In the learning center, they took us through some of the training exercises they did in their leadership training classes. One involved a tangram. They paired us up and gave one of us a tangram and the other got a picture of the shape they wanted the tangram to be. The person with the picture had to verbally walk the other person through creating that shape – without touching the tangram or showing the other person a picture. I watched others struggle with this and – I have to brag – I nailed it. Over 25 years of writing procedures for retail store employees has overdeveloped this skill.
I’ve been remembering this experience a lot lately. Partially because my work with my Mexican client is a little like a game of telephone: I say something in English, my colleague translates into Spanish, there are long discussions amongst the team in Spanish while I wait and wonder whether, if the conversation were in English, I would be redirecting to get them back on topic, then my colleague summarizes for me and asks a question, I answer, and we’re back in Spanish again. So I feel like I’m building the tangram in Spanish through my colleague.
I’m also doing more work with our team in India. Due to time zones, their day is pretty much the opposite of ours – a 9 a.m. meeting for us is around a 7 p.m. meeting for them. So, when I delegate work to them, it’s in writing. Sometimes the assignment is technical and work they’re familiar with, and the results are strong. Sometimes the assignment is less technical, something new, and I learn how specific my instructions to “build the tangram” have to be.
Some people find this process frustrating. But if I think about it like the tangram, it becomes a game.