If You Need Team Building Exercises, You Have Bigger Problems

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Todd Schnick

I don’t know, maybe I am cynical. And I haven’t lead a large organization since 2002, so maybe I am out of practice.

But I think team building exercises are a waste of time.

Last week, I spent a few days at The Ritz Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, and over the course of the visit, observed what appeared to be a corporate retreat.

At one point, I was in the lounge catching up on email, when I observed a bunch of people running around doing a scavenger hunt.

What a waste of time. These are well paid, seasoned professionals, experts in their field (I assume), running around “looking for something shaped like a heart.”

Sigh.

Here’s the funny thing. Since these people didn’t know me, and I was pretending to be deep into my work, they spoke freely as they passed by so that I could hear.

They weren’t saying “What fun!” Or “I am really getting to know you better Bob.” Or “I feel so inspired, and my confidence is growing, for hunting for and finding an hotel employee name badge beginning with the letter J really builds my character!”

Instead, they were saying (an actual quote): “This is f__king stupid.”

Hmmmm. On the basis of this limited feedback and one data point, I predict a banner year for this organization!

Look I know someone worked very hard to organize and prepare for the event, but I have to think there is a better use of that time. And I understand that teams do need time together to strategize, plan, solve problems, and co-create solutions.

But I would rather use that time in a different way.

The organization referenced above spent a lot of money to put on this event. I have to think there is a better use of those funds and time:

1. Spend that money on new individual learning. And I don’t mean forcing people to attend some boring lecture together that only benefits a few people in the room. I mean let people choose some individualized learning that inspires them, motivates them, and makes them better. And I am not suggesting it has to take place at this particular event. Give them a learning bonus or some such.

2. At the event, use that time to be damn sure people know what the organization’s purpose is. To remember why they work there. To remember why the work they are all doing together matters, and is changing the world.

[And if a teammate isn't on board, let them go. Fast.]

3. At the event, give those same people alone time to create/brainstorm on things on their own. Or with teammates if they choose, but don’t force them into anything structured. Give them free time to spend as they choose, thinking about how to be better.

Just a few ideas. What would you add?

In my humble opinion, when you have a large amount of employees counting down the hours til 5PM, dread work on Sunday nights, that doesn’t love its work and is no longer inspired by the creative and the problem solving work, that’s usually when some idiot in management suggests “team building exercises.”

And as evidenced by the reaction I heard from one of the employees above, it ain’t working.

Remember, these are real people, living human lives. They aren’t just some random name in the company directory and HR spreadsheet.

Treat them right. Don’t force them to do stupid human tricks.

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Drawing by Hugh.

Real Men Do Necessary Maintenance Work

Hugh MacLeodEvery weekend, I do some maintenance and upkeep of my business environment, tools, and apps.

Last week I wrote about the tools I use to work. This week I talk about maintaining them.

As they say, this ain’t the sexy stuff.

But it is the stuff that if left untended, it distracts you from doing the work you are supposed to do.

So, you’ve all been there…you’ve let something go, such as your inbox, your desk, your yard, your closet, your garage, etc.

Ultimately, you have to spend a whole day (or much longer) to clean up something and get it back to level.

You know damn well the key is to maintain, and not let it get bad again.

So, that’s what I am talking about here.

I have to take these steps, and I try to do it every weekend. It is one of those futzin’ tasks that I enjoy on a quiet weekend morning, with a little coffee going and some Miles Davis or Coltrane playing.

Kind of sets me up nicely to kick it into the week without a lot of weeds cluttering up my conscience.

This concept may not matter to you, but it is critical to me. Or, you are in denial.

Anyways, here is a simple checklist of the maintenance duties I perform each weekend.

It usually takes me an hour or two, depending on what other multi-tasking distractions get in my way. And I usually run through this checklist not in one sitting, but just here and there over the course of Saturday and Sunday:

1. Clear voicemail/texts. I love to start the week with a clear voicemail inbox, and be sure I’ve got a plan to address all my recent incoming messages.

2. Clear Moleskine notes. Over the course of the week, I jot down ideas, To Dos, voice messages, and other action items. So, I either do them, delete them, or get them slotted into my CRM.

3. Clear voice notes. I leave myself dozens of voice notes over the week: reminders, ideas (while driving), mileage for business travel, to name a few. The weekend is when I process these by doing them, recording them, or slotting into Highrise (CRM).

4. Clear iPhone/iPad “Notes.” This is usually where I record ideas and To Dos when I am lying in bed in the wee hours. Before I wake up, I usually email them to myself for processing, but clear this out each weekend.

5. Process pics and videos on my iPhone. Amazing how quickly photos and videos can accumulate on the iPhone. Most are deleted, but some are filed away in Dropbox, or sent to clients for use.

6. Inbox ZERO! Nothing, I mean nothing, is more uplifting than to see that “0″ in your inbox. I’ve written about inbox zero before.

7. Clear my physical inbox. Yes, I still have one. Over the course of the week, I do compile a small stack of papers that need to be dealt with. Most are shredded, a few are filed and/or scanned.

8. Client email inboxes. I have a few separate email accounts for clients. I want to be sure I am not missing anything here.

9. Clear all TO DOs from my CRM, I use 37Signal’s Highrise. This is my MASTER ACTION ITEM list. Most everything, emails, voicemails, jotted notes from the moleskine, end up processed and slotted here. I dive into this thing pretty much on a daily basis, so it doesn’t get too out of control. But a few minutes over the weekend when not in a mad rush usually pinpoints a few actions that need to be recalibrated.

10. RSS Reader. Sometimes, I drop a feed or two from my list that isn’t delivering value. I need to make the best use of my time, and I don’t want to waste it looking at stuff that isn’t working for me.

11. Update apps on both iPhone and iPad. I want to be sure my smart devices are functioning as efficiently and effectively as possible. So, I just like to be sure everything is current.

12. Main Dropbox folders. Me and my partners upload a ton of material into Dropbox each week. So, I have to keep on top of all this new digital stuff, or I will lose control after too long.

13. Notational Velocity. I jot down a ton of ideas and potential blog post drafts here over the week, including this one. So, I need to weed out the bad ideas and delete the stuff I’ve completed.

14. Evernote. Over the course of the week, I save a ton of stuff to Evernote. I quickly review and determine what needs to be kept and tagged for future reference. Much is deleted.

15. Backpack file folders. I store active client files in my backpack, that way, they are always with me. But I have to tend to these often.

16. Backpack. Over the course of time, you can accumulate junk in your case. You have to constantly keep this clear of junk creep. My process is simple. I dump it out on the bed. Toss the crap, and repack what needs to remain.

17. Clean all my devices: iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro. It is simply amazing how much more fun it is to work on a clean and spiffy device. Plus, it looks better in the coffee shop. Chicks dig a shiny MacBook! I use a Bausch + Lomb product approved by Apple called “clens.”

In conclusion…

Doing these maintenance tasks, on a regular basis, enables me to spend more focused time doing the work that matters to me, such as:

1. Writing.
2. Being creative.
3. Focusing on customers.
4. Focusing on prospects.
5. Distance running.
6. Spending time with people I care about.
7. Reading and learning.
8. Communicating.
9. Hosting business talk radio.

I have a lot of work to do, actual creative work, each week. And with a growing business, it is stacking up. So, this maintenance process each weekend grounds me well, and sets me up to charge into the week focused on what work needs to be done.

And that I want to do! Without distraction…

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Drawing by Hugh.

My Weapons of Business War, Circa 2012

Todd SchnickThis annual exercise has proven to be quite popular, wherein I review the tools I use to do my work.

Now in my third year (you can find 2010 and 2011 below), I am finding this process helpful in analyzing and determining which tools are most important to me, and the ones that aren’t making the cut.

And in the end, with the ones that are making a difference, I do two things: One, strive to get better at utilizing them, and learn strategies to maximize their impact on my work. Far too often, we only use a small percentage of a tool’s capacity.

You don’t necessarily have to write a post on it, but I’d recommend performing an audit of your professional tools. It does sharpen the saw.

1. WordPress. WP has been my blogging platform of choice since 2008. Easy to use, and great for SEO. All of my companies, and all of my podcast landing pages, use WordPress.

2. Dropbox. As you know, I host and produce dozens of podcasts each week. Dropbox is an amazing tool to store all this audio and ease the transfer amongst my team for editing. In fact, just this weekend, I have moved 90% of my documents and files to Dropbox, as a means to have a backup of all my digital property. And oh so simple to use, and the Dropbox apps for both iPhone and iPad are great, making it VERY easy to view and manage files from those mobile devices.

3. Skype. My preferred vehicle to record my podcasts and video interviews over the internet. Simple, easy-to-use, and syncs very nicely with Call Recorder (seen below). Personally, I use Skype more for client and business conversations than I ever do my iPhone. And the ability to conduct Skype sessions on both my iPad and my iPhone continues to improve.

3.5. Google Hangouts. Just starting to ramp up my usage of Hangouts, and so far, finding great value there. The audio quality of actually quite good, and the ability to enable the Hangout to automatically upload video to your YouTube channel is a simple and easy way to generate and publish content. We may be using Hangouts more and more to record internet-based podcasts.

4. iPhone. A year ago, I was still using a Blackberry and my FlipCam. Man. What a difference. My Flip crashed my Macbook, and I never used it again. And not long after, I bought the iPhone 4S.

5. iPad. I love this thing. In fact, I wish I could run my business on it. But I cannot. So, I consume on this device. I read blogs, scroll thru my LinkedIn connections here, and with my Kindle app, this is mostly where I read my books.

6. Macbook Pro. Will be switching to an Air sometime in 2013. I love this computer, more than any other in my lifetime. Spend most of my time on this writing and editing all my podcasts and radio shows.

7. Moleskine notebooks. If I could only keep one thing on this entire list? It would be my Moleskine notebooks. I just love writing in these. This is where I sketch ideas, list To Dos, makes notes during radio broadcasts. Usually, everything jotted down here ends up strategically placed for action and execution.

8. Uni-ball Vision Fine point pens. I’ve tried a lot of pens over my years. This pen works perfectly on my Moleskines, and is easy to write with. Black ink, btw.

9. Google Drive. Formerly Google Docs, this is where I store spreadsheets, proposals, memoranda, invoices, and much of my writing. The ability to share these docs with others makes for very simple collaboration and co-creation.

10. Gmail. My email platform of choice. Simple. Easy. Syncs well with all of the other stuff I do within Google World, and functions nicely with my mobile devices. I particularly like the archive and search functions behind the service, and continue to learn hacks to make it even more impactful.

11. Blubrry. This is the platform where I store all of my finished and edited podcast audio, and through this service, I stream all of my podcasts to iTunes.

12. Evernote. This is where I store ideas, photos, videos, and business cards. On my browser, I have added the Evernote extension to Chrome, and whenever I find an article that I want to keep, I merely click a button, and the file is saved to Evernote. This is also where I keep digital photos of the business cards I receive and want to keep. I can pull them up on my mobile devices when I need them.

13. Swiss Army SwissGear Airflow Backpack. I have to be pretty mobile going from studio to studio, coffee shop to coffee shop, and especially when broadcasting from trade shows. But I dig this backpack!

14. Notational Velocity. This app on my Macbook is where most early drafts of my writing are started. A great, simple little writing tool. No frills.

15. Google RSS Reader. RSS is getting a little old-school these days, but I still love it. This is where I consume blog posts (Macbook and iPad), where I stream news, monitor LinkedIn connections, and where I monitor personal and client Google Alerts. For me, almost indispensable.

16. 37Signals’ Highrise. This is my personal CRM system. Tons of various CRM products on the market. Tons of products that are too complex, rigid, unncessary for my purpose. This is a simple, easy-to-use project that works well on both my Macbook and by iPhone.

17. Call Recorder. This is the app (for Macs) I use to record my conversations (both audio and visual) on Skype. This produces that file that I ultimately edit and use to publish my radio shows.

Here are my reviews from the last two years:

My Weapons of Business War, 2010
My Weapons of Business War, 2011

Tell us what weapons you use and recommend!

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Are YOU Guilty Of This Fireable Offense?

todd schnickI was recently in New Orleans, broadcasting LIVE from a trade show. 20,000 attendees, over 1,000 exhibitors, the premier annual event in this particular industry.

And at one point, I walked by a company booth with three company reps sitting on chairs. Two guys staring at their smart phones, one guy reading the Times-Picayune.

Oblivious to the fact I was walking by and making EYE CONTACT with them.

Sigh…

20,000 people.

And these three guys are making ZERO effort to connect with any of them.

Contained in this mile-long convention hall are the decision-makers that are buying their products and services. Or at least collecting information to make the recommendations to the people that DO make the decisions…

And these guys were surfing the net and reading about football…

Why?

WHY?

Are they lazy? Are they not ambitious? Are they not hungry? Are they scared of the hard work that will come with more sales? Are they just doing the bare minimum to maintain the status quo in their life? Do they not give a crap because it isn’t their company? Are they just gutless? Are they uninspired by their work? Are they bored?

[If they are bored, they need to find something else to do...]

There were ZERO prospects at their booth. So why did three men have to “cover” the exhibit? Why weren’t two of them out chasing opportunity? Or at least walking around learning something? In fact, the three men should be fighting to be the lucky two who get to walk around and ignite some kind of relationship with a new prospect.

Why are they sitting on their backside, letting the world pass them by? Why are they just killing the clock?

I don’t mind saying, but these kinds of people make me physically sick. What a waste.

If I was running the company that employed these guys sitting on their butt at a trade show that cost thousands to participate in, I’d fire their lazy butt in a heartbeat. Make them pay their own way home.

But what about you? What would you do? Does this kind of thing upset you? OR IS THIS YOU?

Ask yourself. Seriously. And if so, WAKE THE HECK UP!

Coming soon: An essay listing the other things you do (or don’t do) in sales and marketing…that are JUST LIKE sitting on your ass at a trade show…

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CLICK HERE to wake the heck up, and do work that matters.

Drawing by Hugh.

The Reason You Fall Flat On Your Face

Todd SchnickSitting around…

Lots can be said about sitting around.

It can be a good thing…

…or a bad thing.

Depends on the context.

Sometimes you need down time: time to think, time to noodle, time to just be, time to recharge.

This is when creative juices flow, and when new ideas are birthed.

But I’ve noticed that most people do not make the time for this sort of important personal reflection. And I don’t do it as often as I should.

And then…

Sometimes you are at a trade show, as I am now, and you observe people just sitting around…

…sitting around waiting for something to happen, waiting for someone to come to them, waiting for lightning to strike.

This is the bad “sitting around.”

This is sitting around because you have no plan. No goals. No agenda. No ambition. And well, no flippin’ idea…

No idea of what’s possible if you weren’t just sitting around.

Allow yourself to reflect for a moment, and to contemplate what you could do if you weren’t just sitting around…

[insert pause for contemplation here.........]

Some say they are sitting around because they need time to think…

But they really aren’t thinking.

They are a lazy mass of humanity just sitting around. Wasting space, pretending to be some hip artist or “big” thinker contemplating the state of things…

When in fact, they are just sitting around. Watching others stir up dust and trouble…

And opportunity.

You always have to be moving. Making. Doing. Stirring. And contemplating. Really contemplating.

What’s possible. What’s doable. And then doing.

Doing, because you don’t sit around.

[Editor's Note: In the context of the trade show observations I've made over the last two days that inspired this rant, I continue to be amazed at how people waste opportunities to make new, meaningful connections at events like these. Don't miss these golden opportunities. There is a reason you spend a lot of money to participate...]

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Drawing by Hugh.

According To Plan, He Said Mockingly

todd schnickI’ve been working hard on a client project for a week now.

It was a RUSH job, one of those projects that falls into your lap at the last minute, and that requires a full commitment of a whole team.

It is especially rewarding when all the parts play nicely together, and when everyone plays their role perfectly, on time, and on budget.

This morning is D-Day. This is the morning I run to the printer to pick up the project, and meet the client on his way to the airport.

And I’ve spent time all weekend writing the “if all goes according to plan” emails…

You know…the ones where you lay out contingency plans in case things don’t go according to plan.

This is the part of the project that most people hate. Especially, since typically things fall apart right at the end.

I admit I don’t like the anxiety of this part any more than anyone else does.

But, this is why you are paid the big bucks to manage. Because, as you well know and should admit to yourself…

Things RARELY go according to plan.

In fact, if you think about it, when a successful project has come and gone, you don’t often look back at the work itself, you remember and talk about the obstacles you had to overcome to get the job done.

This is the messy part about business, and sales, and marketing, and well, every damn facet of business.

In fact, planning for things to NOT go according to plan is part of the project itself. And if you let yourself be unprepared for when things go offtrack, you are fooling yourself.

For in the end, this is actually what makes business fun. And exciting.

Accept that things won’t go perfectly. Accept that not everyone will meet his deadline. Assume that things won’t come in under budget. Managing this is what makes the legends.

Because if you cannot handle these contingencies, you should find another line of work…

“OK, time to go to the printer. Let’s hope things go according to plan,” Todd said to himself, mockingly, and with a slightly evil smile…

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Drawing by Hugh.

Falling On The Sword Is Great Marketing

intrepid marketingI just got my ass chewed out…

…for something that wasn’t my fault, or even my responsibility. And honestly, I had no idea what this fellow was even talking about.

But I still apologized. And promised to see what I could do to help.

Because heck, despite being very anal about managing my email inbox, sometimes I miss things. Or sometimes a voicemail or text gets lost in the ether. And every once in a while, the post office loses a letter.

You just never know. And neither does the person who sent it to you in the first place.

Because to them, you purposefully, mindfully, with an evil and Grinch-like smile, and with great malice in your heart, intentionally ignored their communication and then laughed about it with everyone you know.

But whatever you do, don’t get all defensive and fussy about it. Don’t get angry. Don’t yell at the person. And certainly don’t Facebook and Tweet about it.

Just apologize for the inconvenience, and offer to do something to help. This is the gentlemanly way to handle a situation like this.

I promise that in your later years, you won’t lie on your deathbed and think to yourself, “Gosh, I wish I was a bigger asshole to that guy that day…”

Falling on the sword is a good strategy. It diffuses anger. It builds trust. It settles tempers. It creates level heads.

And only then can the problem be tackled and solved.

P.S. The gentleman in question has since recognized his mistake, and apologized. But honestly, our relationship is now in a better place because he appreciated my response. And there is more respect between the two of us. This is a good thing.

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Drawing by Hugh.

The Secret to Success: Focusing On What Is Causing Your Stomach Pain

intrepid marketingThere is something there. Something nagging at your conscience.

You know what it is. That thing that you NEED to do, but don’t WANT to do.

It happens when you are lying in bed, quietly before you rise.

You wake up thinking about a dream or other random thoughts, and then: BOOM!

You suddenly remember it.

Your stomach sinks. You sigh. You feel panic. And you think to yourself:

“My God, I need to do that thing. And I don’t want to do it.”

The good vibes of the morning quiet are gone. Suddenly, you don’t want to get up.

I hate the feeling. I despise that feeling. Why?

Because I am angry that I have allowed myself to get so consumed by this task, this thing, that is now all-consuming. If only this nagging thing wasn’t on my plate, then I would be at peace and could enjoy my day…

But no.

For some reason, you have let this thing linger.

And then, throughout the day…the thought of doing the thing creeps back into your conscience, and you sink again. You get deflated.

It happens at the most random of places. In the drive-thru line. In the shower. Whilst having lunch with a colleague. And boom, your stomach sinks again, and you get distracted worrying about the thing.

So, it goes without saying, the secret to happiness is to free your world of these nagging things that end up consuming your life. But that is easier said then done.

And of course, you could be much more mindful, and not let these little things become bigger, all-consuming things. But that isn’t realistic either. Life happens, and little things become big things. Those are life’s rules.

The cycle repeats itself again and again.

What separates the men from the boys is quick action, to just handle whatever the heck it is that is causing you stress, anxiety, and stomach pain.

You can’t prevent these little nagging things from popping up. You are human. But…

You can choose to just dive into it. And it is never as bad as you think. It is rarely as hard as you think it will be.

And the relief you feel is almost immeasurable.

It builds confidence. It relieves anxiety. It generates momentum. These things are priceless.

So get off your scaredy cat butt, and just tackle it.

P.S. This is a memo to myself. Because I spend way too many damn mornings dreading doing certain things that distract from what would otherwise make for a glorious day…

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Chaos Is The Only Business Strategy

Chaos rules.

Nothing ever goes as planned.

You can’t really control a damn thing.

You never know what someone is thinking.

And you certainly can’t predict what they will do.

Even when they tell you what they will do.

Inevitably, something comes up.

Something always comes up.

And this is what you cannot control.

Chaos is the standard.

Media is out of control.

Art is out of control.

Technology is evolving so fast, impacting lightening quick change.

Change is constant.

Albeit slowly, people are starting to be empowered to create.

On all platforms. Every hour. Every day.

New ideas spread.

Faster than ANY of us can comprehend.

And media is consumed by all of us differently.

It means something different to each one of us.

It is interpreted differently.

Process is out of date.

Procedures are merely a guide.

Remember the game where a sentence is said at the beginning of the chain, and the game is to see what results from the other end of the circle?

Today, when media and information goes around the circle, it comes back entirely different.

Radically different.

This is scary.

And this is really exciting.

Because the modern world is empowered to take information and make it their own.

Instantly.

This has real ramifications on your world. And your business.

Chaos rules.

Modern business and communication is the roller coaster.

It is no longer the merry-go-round.

And it is happening faster every day.

You have to hold on as tight as you can.

You have to adapt as best you can.

As fast as you can.

Because if you don’t, you will be left behind.

People will call you old school.

A loser in the survival of the fittest game.

Chaos is the new world. And really, it is a great ride.

The only ride worth taking.

That is, only if you are looking at it as a ride.

Chaos rules. Business will never be the same. Accept it.

And when you do, you will be in a position to thrive. And have a heck of a good time while doing it.

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Today’s post inspired, and drawing by Hugh MacLeod.

Learn how to welcome CHAOS into your sales and marketing!

How Abbey Road Inspires Me To Improve Marketing And Sales

So I was listening to Abbey Road this morning.

And I was taken back to my youth when I used to set up a concert stage in my room, put the LP on the turntable, and jammed out a LIVE concert. I even played bass left-handed like Paul McCartney.

I was role playing. I was practicing. And I had some pretty good moves. I even identified which tennis rackets were the specific guitars of John, Paul, and George. As in, I would get mad when my friends played George’s guitar on the tennis racket I had designated as Paul’s bass…

Ok, so maybe I wasn’t a normal kid…

…or was I?

You see, I think this is what kids do. They role play. They pretend. They practice. They dream. They envision.

And I think the problem is we have gotten away from this behavior as adults.

Why?

I have no idea. But I think it is time we bring this back.

I can list (at least) eight presentation scenarios where playful role playing would be meaningful practice to hone the message:

1. Speaking gigs.
2. Podcast interviews.
3. Sales calls.
4. Product pitches.
5. Initial meetings over coffee with new prospects.
6. Product demos.
7. Creative brainstorm sessions.
8. Convincing internal colleagues to take action on your behalf.

And I am not talking about sitting quietly, and alone, and rehearsing…

I am suggesting that we “set up pretend concerts” and rehearse these big, important work scenarios in a big way, with dramatic role playing, props, and seeking the active involvement of others on your team. I even give you permission to have fun with this.

[GASP! How dare we have fun doing meaningful, important work...]

But why doesn’t this happen? Are we embarrassed?

Perhaps. Perhaps we live and work in a “too formal” business culture that discourages the playfulness of such an act. Perhaps some in our organizations look down upon this as childish and immature.

What a shame. I think we’d all do well to add some fun to rehearsals such as this.

Honestly, I think role plays like this that are, perhaps, over-the-top, playful, and fun have a few other side benefits:

1. I think they would stimulate a lot creativity.
2. I think it would strengthen teamwork.
3. I think it would sharpen the message.
4. I think it would break down cross functional anxieties.

No, don’t waste time, but I think there is value in “acting like a kid” and engaging in some role play in what are very important business functions.

Apart from improving teamwork, I think the activity could result in better output, and better, more purposeful communication.

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