Red, Yellow or Green? Making the Most of the Plus/Delta

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2017

Caption: Patagonia Crucible Team.

I’ve found the plus/delta – the quick debrief of a group’s work - to be quite helpful in my teaching. I’ve blogged on it several times, most recently here.
Were I in charge of work teams again, I would do some things differently. One of those would be to do a plus/delta after every meeting to help get at things unsaid needing to be said. I’d want to find ways to assess the health of the team. Are we on target? Are we together?
Red, Yellow or Green? Stop, Idle, or Go?
And, I would try to find out team member commitment to the group’s goal and what we are doing to achieve it. Now, in group development theory, all this “buy-in” is to happen in the “Storming “ phase. Yes, in theory; in practice, hardly ever, at least in the workplace where we select teams based on expertise or turf or agenda; genuine Storming is dodged.
My son-in-law, Clay, recently of the US Army’s Special Forces, is active in veteran activities. Some of those are about helping vets adjust to civilian life. An event of a different kind, in which he was a participant, was a mix of military and business leaders, the “Patagonia Crucible”, a several day trek across a glacier in Patagonia.
The expedition had several objectives, including providing raw insights into teamwork, leading and following.
Whenever I used adventure learning - “days in the woods” - to build teams and self-reliance among team members, I would get considerable static. It rarely came from the volunteer participants, but almost always from those who chose not to participate.
Imagine the yowl if I announced to a department: “Listen up, everyone. We’re going to Patagonia. Bring crampons. We’ll have a great time on the glacier!”
Well, moving beyond that fantasy, you can see Clay and his team in a 25-minute documentary. Beautifully filmed, I can recommend it to you for far more than its production values.
No, they were not met at day’s end with martinis and steak dinners. Every item: clothing, food, bedding, was carried by the team, each member with an equal load. (Remember one of the principles of highly effective teams: Every one does an equal amount of real work? Here it’s for all to see.)
The Patagonia group took daily turns at leading. The leader for the day was in charge of the daily debrief – the group assessment of how the day went, what issues there might be, what was needed. Akin to the plus/delta, this process is termed the AAR, “After Action Review”.
I am thinking of using a modified version of this for the individual project teams in my Democratic Workplace class; the AAR offers more guidance to the debrief than does the plus/delta and it may be better at guiding novice teams to more openness and honesty.
The Patagonia team made use of another quick go-around to assess everyone’s commitment level: Red, Yellow or Green? The day this was asked was probably the hardest one of the trek on the glacier’s ice, a day of being tethered together at 15-foot intervals, on crampons, in windy and cold conditions.
While everyone was fatigued, some nursing injuries, all in need of Aleve - each responded, one by one, “Green”. The explicit individual commitment made by being there was maintained.
Clay told me, had a “Red” come up, there’d be an immediate exploration as to the obstacle and then a determination, by the team, of what needed doing.
Redistribute the load among the team? Maybe. Or, maybe just recognition of someone’s distress. That alone – admitting “weakness” – would be a major concession and expansion of boundaries for some leaders.
As for the all green response, unlike the workplace, everyone knew what he had signed on for. The Patagonia team was screened (no toxic trekkers) and selected for wanting success (positivity not negativity) with the understanding that there would be real hardship.
That’s the plus of adventure learning – even if your team does not develop, you as an individual certainly can. It became for me the real reason to offer those Days in the Woods, to help individuals challenge his or her limits. The metaphor of hardships met and overcome outdoors was not lost on participants on their return to the workplace.
One of the major obstacles in effective group work occurs when the group goes silent; when individuals begin to look inward, and despair seeps in. Challenges loom, false ridges multiply. That applies to the workplace just as much as it may on an icy, sleepless, windy trek.
The learning is in what team members do to help each other. Being self-reliant is not just looking out for number 1. Being self-reliant includes looking out for team members. You keep your head up so you can see how others are doing. It is what good leaders and followers do. It is not what bad leaders and followers do.
In one instance in Patagonia, the day’s leader was faltering; it was probably the hardest day of the expedition and this leader was the least physically fit. Clay told me, “his head was down, his steps were slowing – he was withdrawing into himself.” At a break, one of the team stood by him and recited the Ranger Creed, rallying the leader
back to his individual commitment to the quest. After hearing a few phrases, his head came up. He later said: “That poured so much energy into (me) — just what (I) needed to hear at that exact moment.”
What’s your Ranger Creed? For me it’s often been the 23rd Psalm. Does your organization/profession have core values that inspire you to keep on undaunted? Can you recite them?

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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Posted by Eva on January 04, 2017  •  07:46:28

Nice one, John!Sharing!

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