Last week I was in Yeppoon in Queensland delivering a keynote and workshop on collaboration at an innovation in government forum. In the workshop I used an activity mentioned by Bob Sutton in his new book ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss‘. Bob is also the author of ‘The No Asshole Rule’ that we have blogged about a few times.
The activity used an age-old prioritisation game called Survival on the Moon (you can find the instructions here). Groups are asked to prioritise fifteen items to survive after a crash-landing on the moon. Everyone does it individually, then they do it as groups (hopefully getting a better result). The interesting twist in Sutton’s book is organising the groups with a hierarchical spread (executives through to junior staff) and then giving the most junior person the answers in advance. They are asked to argue strongly for what they know to be the right answers without revealing they have the correct answers. The scoring system is based on the variance of group priorities from the NASA-provided ones.
In my workshop there were nine tables with about six people at each one. Five tables had one of the junior people with the correct answers. The results were very interesting.
- Groups with answers at their table scored an average of 31 (NASA rates this score as ‘good’)
- Groups without answers scored an average of 36 (NASA rates this as ‘average’)
- The best score was 21 which NASA rates as excellent. This group observed that the reason they did so well was because there were no men in their group
- Two groups scored 26 – one group had the answers and one of them didn’t
- Two of the groups with the answers scored relatively badly. In both groups, the person with the answers observed that “no-one listened to me” or “I couldn’t get a word in”.
- Several groups commented that people who were more senior, and people with higher educational qualifications, tended to dominate. This is consistent with Sutton’s observation on page 131 of Good Boss, Bad Boss’ that some bosses ‘wield excessive influence…even when they spew out nonsense…and insisting they are right even when they are dead wrong’.
So, none of the tables that had the answers got anywhere a perfect score, though they scored, on average, better than groups without the answers.
One thing this highlights for me is the need to do some more reading on the effect of gender on collaboration. I will definitely do this exercise again. Next time I will record the individuals scores as well as the group ones.
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: