I’ve had the incredible privilege of spending the last three days (Friday to Sunday) on an intense Ann Wilson workshop in Capetown, South Africa, with another 200-odd humans willing to crack and stretch themselves towards further knowledge. They’ve been an enlightening and challenging few days in the kind of space that prompts you to release old thinking and delivers epiphanies by the moment. The kind of space that both rips you apart and rewards you beyond expectation, where the combined energy and vulnerability of the people willing to crack with you is something you’re eternally grateful for and which shifts you.
I’d like to share part of that experience with you and the resulting thought process, because I think it’s worth examining our inclinations and our very human behaviour.
At about 1930 on the Friday evening, having been at it from 0800 in the morning, our 200-strong group was split into 8 smaller groups to play a game. Team 1 competed against Team 2, Team 3 against Team 4, and so on. Each competing group was allocated a flipchart and a corner of the room, and the goal was to make as much “money” as possible on our flipchart in the allotted time. Here were the rules:
- For each of 9 rounds, each team must place a bet of either Red or Black within the limited betting time (2 minutes).
- If both teams pick red, they each lose R800.
- If both teams pick black, they each win R800.
- If the teams choose different colours,
- the team choosing red earns R800
- the team choosing black loses R800
- In addition, Round 3 doubles your score and Round 9 trebles it.
Having just arrived in the corner of the room, and apart from the fact that our brains were all still chewing on the rules, we were tasked with choosing a spokesperson for our team and deciding what we were going to do with Round 1. I was made spokesperson (I was carrying my manual and a pen and didn’t duck fast enough) and off we went. Imagine 20 people who don’t know each other and who haven’t decided what their individual strategy is trying to decide what to vote for the first round as a team, let alone how to sort the entire game!! The pressure to win was intense, elevated by confusion that had all of us feeling off balance and slightly stupid, and topped off by the other 20 people standing in the opposing team shouting the odds and our subconscious telling each of us that they must have a better and more organised plan then we did!
There was little to no time for group strategy. It was clear our team members were on vastly different places on the risk spectrum, and that a great number were unable or unwilling to speak up and speak in even when pushed to do so. The first two rounds saw both teams safely choosing black. By Round 3, it had occurred to us that we could negotiate with the opposing team, and this prompted us to collaborate to everyone choosing black moving forward. My heart was happy, and we had a plan! At the last minute, as we turned to place our bets, the spokesperson on the other team said to me “Wait, I’ll tell you what – you choose black and we’ll choose red.” My brain went “Wait….what?….no!” and then shut down. We stuck to our black, she chose red, and suddenly we were -R1600 in the hole because it was a “double” round. What happened there after is a blur and I’d be lying if I said I understood the decisions we made. Suffice to say, it didn’t go as well as it could have, but let’s get to the debrief and the principles behind this game.
Once we’d all returned to our seats and the scores had been added, I think the highest score was about R16000 and there were a number of teams deep in financial deficit. It hadn’t occurred to some teams to negotiate with the opposing team, and like us, some were in the negotiating mindset when what we should have been doing was COLLABORATING!
It was pointed out that if both teams had agreed to bet black each time, both would have walked away with a total of about R36000 (I say “about” because none of us were 100% sure what was going on, even then). Someone queried that the goal had been to win the most amount of money, and that then neither of them would have won, and the great epiphany unfolded…
If we’d all agree to win, we would have done so. Our focus had been more on making sure the other teams lost than that we all won together.
Many of us view COMPETITION as a win / lose scenario, rather than understanding that healthy competition is about win / win. Rather than expending the amount of brain power it had taken us all to try and get one up on the other side, or at least understand how they were trying to get one up on us (steam was coming out of our ears), if we’d started with the mindset that we could all agree to win together, there would have been a lot more “money” on that leader board than there was!
The spokesperson for our opposing team admitted that she’d made an unsanctioned command decision to change her mind at the last minute of our Round 3 negotiation and that she was feeling less than swimmingly about it. Her team were not in agreement and it sent both them and us into confusion. The immediate result was that neither team placed a bet within the allotted time for the next round, so we both lost that one! That said, they picked themselves up faster than we did….but at the end of the day, we both lost in the room.
Ann challenged us to examine the emotions we’d defaulted to and the results of those. She asked, “which emotion do you personally like to “do”?” – what do you return to sit in and get stuck in? Because our emotions and their corresponding states are choices. With my highest value being connection, I was totally up for the collaboration, but totally paralysed by the other team spokesperson’s change of heart and completely wrote them off from there on – I was unable to return to the table and overcome my initial distrust, when doing so may have meant our game was salvageable.
Trust and intention were two main components of playing this game. They are two major components of every human interaction we undertake, and they have huge ramifications on our success in those interactions – be they within our work teams, the marketplace or in our close personal relationships. Most of us consider winning to be when we come out on top, and many of us are expending our energy trying to make sure we’re ahead of everyone else, rather than realising that those who collaborate to win together are streets ahead of the mud we’re grappling in.
Stop. Look up. Shake yourself off. Rather than sticking to the old mentality which means perhaps you’re the “least loser”…. Where can you collaborate with your competition so that your synergy means you all win together at the end of the day? Where could collaboration mean that you all elevate your game together to everyone’s benefit, rather than everyone being left with the scraps of your wrestling match?
If you pay attention to the emotions you feel, where do you default to, and which emotions are you addicted to “doing”? If they’re not serving you and rather holding you back, could it be time for some stern self-consideration? What’s the first thing you can test your win / win mentality on this week? Which collaborative meetings can you book for next week and spur both “sides” to prepare to win together? Stronger together means we all cross the finish line in a better position, leaving those with yesterday’s assumptions and mindset to contend for what’s left. Which position would you rather be in?
by Christen Killick
February 24th, 2020