We can learn a lot about each other and ourselves by putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
I can still remember the puzzles of my childhood. It was a tradition around the holidays to set one up and work on it a little at a time. We reveled in finding a really hard puzzle for my father who was very good at putting them together. (Now I see his “puzzle skills” had more to do with process, patience, and focus but when I was small it just looked like a magical ability.)
Our puzzles became a gathering place and a compelling goal. If you even walked by it, the puzzle would practically call your name, draw you in, and consume you! Everyone who stopped by was invited to play. It was very satisfying to find and place one of the pieces. (Especially if that piece had been very elusive!)
More than once I shouted, “I found it! I found it!” Everyone in the house would come running and congratulate me on finding a very tricky piece. (All grown up now, I suspect some of those “finds” were left there for me – strategically placed for my discovery and delight.)
Yes, I think you can tell a lot about a person (or a team) by the way they approach a puzzle.
In my work now, puzzles are fascinating metaphors for experiencing teamwork, process improvement, problem solving and resource management. I use puzzles to create breakthroughs with groups and the puzzles rarely fail me.
One exercise reveals how we build invisible walls between the parts and pieces of the organization. It demonstrates how important the big picture really is, and it “tells on us.” Our approaches really do signal our intentions and assumptions.
The exercise is simple. It is sometimes profound.
Imagine a room arranged with tables set for small groups. These groups become what I call “table teams” in a workshop. At each place, a single puzzle piece is waiting for attendees to arrive. There are also a few random pieces thrown into the middle of each table. Participants are simply instructed to put the puzzle together and they go right to work.
Clearly, they must collaborate with each other by contributing their personal pieces. The “extra” pieces are quickly used too. We intuitively understand how to use available resources to achieve the goal. We know we have something to offer – our piece is critical to the outcome. We understand the puzzle won’t come together until we share our resources with the team.
Then the unexpected happens. The puzzles don’t work! There are pieces that don’t seem to fit the pattern. There are extra pieces. There are pieces missing and maybe even a duplicate or two. This is not how puzzles are supposed to go!
As awareness reaches people, the reactions are fascinating.
Some people feel immediately betrayed. You’ll hear them muttering, “It’s a trick. It can’t be done. She’s setting us up.” Others wait patiently for further instruction. They are totally content with an incomplete puzzle it seems. A few begin to cautiously look around the room, checking the progress of other teams.
Then there are those who really “get it.” They understand the puzzle cannot be completed without crossing the invisible barriers between the table teams. To achieve the goal they must work across the lines and through the assumed barriers.
This is where it gets really interesting. You can probably relate to some of these reactions and approaches. You might even recognize some of the “players.”
Yes. You can learn so much about a person or an organization by the way they play with a puzzle – how they solve the problem, improve the process, and manage the resources. Ultimately, how we “play the game” really does tell on us.
Here’s to all the Catalysts out there! You play brilliantly and you redefine the win.