Category Archives: Fun

It’s Time to Start Writing Stuff Again

It has been a long time since I wrote anything longer than 140 characters out here on the Internet. But I think it is time to start again. The last time I wrote anything on this site was two moves ago (Miami Beach to Seattle and now down to Silicon Valley) and one job ago (I’m now at Singularity University). But I’m committed to be back. I get a chance to see some of the most amazing technologies and collaborate with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met on a day to day basis at SU and I’ve missed the opportunity to have an outlet for the things I hear and think about. I’ve got some cleaning up to do on the site (time to get rid of the picture of palm trees), but there is no reason not to start now. Let’s see where this goes.

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Lessons in Team Dynamics From Despicable Me’s Minions

A well functioning team can make work a joy.  A poorly functioning team can make work feel like drudgery.  The surprising thing for many teams is just how fine a line there is between the two.

Why?  Although there are a myriad of possible reasons for team performance, the minute interactions that bounce between people while they work together often play an outsized role.  These almost invisible interactions can quickly build a healthy team or shift people away from their positive intent into a subconscious, destructive, escalating game of tit-for-tat.

I love how a very common disruptive interaction is so perfectly captured in this great video of the Minions singing their catchy little Banana Potato Song.

This video has provided endless hours of fun in our household with our five-year-old occasionally exclaiming, “Potato!” when he walks into a room.  I love the brilliance of the subtle expressions that the animators captured in these little creatures and how accurately they portray the underlying emotions.

Take a moment and watch the video again and see what is happening in a different way.  Imagine this as a team meeting and the solo is an “idea” offered by a team member while the party horn is the well-intentioned “voice of reason” saying things like, “But you can’t do that because… (budget constraints, resources, not realistic, etc.)”

Go ahead, hit play again and see it how I see it…

Time

Observation

0:00

The meeting begins with a welcome from the first Minion.

0:07

The second Minion from the left (Soloist) has a flash of inspiration and offers his idea, his solo, to the group.  He looks excited about it and wants to share it.

0:08

The third Minion from the left (Party Horn) looks disengaged with his hands in his pockets and gives Soloist a sideways glance.

0:11

Party Horn interrupts Soloist, explaining why Soloist’s idea won’t work.  Soloist keeps going.

0:14

Party Horn again interrupts.  Soloist looks at Party Horn, possibly annoyed.  Others do not appear to have noticed the growing tension between Soloist and Party Horn.

0:17

Party Horn interrupts again.  This time Soloist appears visibly upset at Party Horn.

0:22

Soloist seems to shrug it off and rejoins the meeting with a fresh idea.

0:25

Soloist now has an angry look and stares at Party Horn who is constantly interrupting now.

0:30

Soloist raises his voice to talk over Party Horn.

0:35

Soloist now positions his body to be turned away from Party Horn.  The fourth Minion looks towards Soloist and Party Horn, perhaps sensing a growing tension.

0:40

Soloist, apparently fed up and unable to take it anymore, extracts his revenge by lashing out at Party Horn.

0:42

Party Horn, flat on his back, asks, “What did I do to deserve that?”

I think the most instructive part of the video is to watch Party Horn.  At no point does he look like he has anything but good intentions.  His intent appears to be doing what he believes best supports the group’s goal, while the effect is that Soloist gets more and more upset.  Party Horn keeps on tooting along, oblivious to the situation.  Soloist’s big moment has been ruined, and revenge will be his with a swift punch to the head.

Believe me, we’ve seen this exact situation play out thousands of times in teams, so many times in fact that we have a name for it – the “Discount-Revenge Cycle”.  The only difference is that “Revenge” in most companies is not a punch to the face.  Typically, “Revenge” shows up as making pointed or defensive comments in the moment, complaining to others offline, or eventually withdrawing from a working relationship if these interactions happen frequently enough.

So how do we have great teamwork when there is a “Party Horn” in the room?

The next time you find yourself working in a team and someone else (or you?) is continually interrupting or pointing out the flaws in the ideas of others, stop and ask if they (or you?) are acting like Party Horn.  Do they (or you?) think they are adding to the “song” while being unaware of the frustration they may be causing within others?

You might be surprised that my primary offer is for the Soloist in this video.  If he can “Assume Positive Intentions” in Party Horn’s actions, he will be able to change the dialogue and understand the value that Party Horn is trying to bring to the team and avoid coming unhinged.  We’re all imperfect communicators and the more latitude and understanding that we give as we listen to each other, the better we will understand each other, achieve successful outcomes, and avoid giving / receiving an unexpected punch to the face.

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.