by Gumball Associate, Joseph Pauley

Recreational to Developmental Team Building

This article covers …

  • Difference between morale events and developmental team building
  • Leveraging trust
  • Using a shared experience to facilitate learning
  • Taking advantage of a break-through to shift paradigms
  • Difference between facilitation and training

What is the difference between recreational and developmental team building?

Recreational team building, commonly referred to as morale events, can take on many forms. For instance, having drinks together, going bowling, and attending a holiday party are events that take teams away from their task for a short time in order to offer them a reprieve from their work.   Morale events connect people, which in turn creates feelings of“togetherness” or “community” that are often short lived, because the event lacks a direct connection to a team’s existence.

Team development offers teams a way to work together better, enjoy themselves, achieve goals, and build capacity by rooting teachable moments in the team’s work dynamic. Developmental team building strengthens relationships, as well as develops a compelling purpose, embraces differences among the team, stimulates engagement, and results in profound learning.1

The Board Room Essentials

A department of five project managers approached us with the goal of working better together. After consulting with me, they decided on an Essentials program, a program focused on what it means to be a healthy team. Each Essentials program is based on a proven design template.   The implementation and results vary because each team is different depending on their individual makeup, goals, structure, and task. Prior to the program there is a discovery period, which includes gathering information and designing the day.

An icebreaker was the first item on the agenda.  The icebreaker oriented participants to the Adventura experience, created connections, had people moving around, and established trust. Although the team worked together for two years, they learned new information about each other: two of them had gone to the same college, one worked on a factory ship in Alaska, and many had received speeding tickets.

Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

The next stage in the process was a group initiative, a small project, designed to create a group experience.  The dynamics that surface during these activities are often similar to what people experience in the workplace. An initiative allows the group to “play” with their dynamics in a safe environment. This process is portrayed in the Kolb Learning Cycle or as the shorthand.

Once completed, we debriefed the project.  Debriefing is a time to reflect on the group’s experience and then develop new concepts and ideas to improve their process. Their facilitated debriefing was a lively discussion about roles in the group and how individuals worked in different ways to achieve a group goal. After discussing changes to be made, the group did the initiative again.  This time they were much more effective.

Next, we debriefed the entire process focusing on qualities that made them more effective.  Then I asked, “How does this experience relate to your work?” This question was followed by 25 seconds of silence. Asked at the right time, a simple question can become powerful. As a result, there will often be a period of silence, because to answer this strategic question requires a paradigm shift. 2 Some people break the silence to make the situation more “comfortable.” In my experience, this robs the group of critical thinking and profound learning.

After what seemed like an eternity, Dave said, “It doesn’t, because we don’t debrief like that between projects. We offer status updates about what happened, not how it happened.” This comment was met by teammates with resistance (denial), discussion (confusion), and finally agreement (renewal). This was a breakthrough for the group, because they realized debriefings were an important tool to use back at work.


Teachable Moments

When the group came back from break, they were more engaged. We transitioned to a conversation using Strength Finders, an assessment tool that maps preferred styles of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It was a juicy conversation about how they were developing as individuals.  I shifted the conversation to discuss how individual development could occur as a larger team to promote a learning organization. 3

After our second break, everyone shared an extraordinary group experience.  The team came up with five similarities in their values; strong goals and leadership, trust, appreciation of different personalities, individual over team, and fun.  Then we ranked and discussed how their current team posses these traits and areas for improvement. The results of this exercise were a list of action items everyone was committed to.

This group’s experience was extraordinary because they learned how to assist others in their development.  They shattered their mental model that critical feedback was akin to micromanagement.  By sharing best practices, without prescribing solutions, they found new ways to be productive.


Reflecting Upon the Board Room Essentials

Prior to the facilitation we built a foundation to enable engagement.

  • The retreat goal was clear and open ended: work better together.
  • The Strength Finders assessment grounded the learning in their experience.
  • Conversations with leadership allowed me to prepare activities and questions that tapped into individual learning styles.

A room of confusion is a powerful place.

  • Upon reflection this process may seem very clean and clear, but it was not.
  • Participants were challenged throughout the process and often needed to search for answers.  When they were stuck, they asked for my advice.  I redirected them, but never prescribed the right answer.  They stepped up to find the right answer for themselves.
  • The leader did not take over or try to control the process. He added to and enriched the conversation.  This empowered the group to come up with their own solutions.  Which they did.

There was leadership buy in

  • The leader of this group was an engaged participant.
  • After the facilitation we collaborated (and still do to this day) on ways to coach and mentor people about the group essentials and how they lead to success.

1 Bellman, Geoffrey M. and Ryan, Kathleen D. Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results. Kindle Edition, Jossey-Bass 2009.

2 Peavy, Fran. “Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change.”  By Life’s Grace: Musings on the Essence of Social Change. Philadelphia: New Society, 1994

3 Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

Are You a Catalyst? Six Telltale Signs.

by Gumball Associate, Tracey LoveJoy

“As a catalyst I come into a situation, seeing what is there, bringing some of my own thoughts in, but holding back and seeing lots of different elements and allowing my mind to be big enough to swirl in it to come to some ideas and directions. Being a catalyst is helping to then make something different or to change direction. Then bringing people along on that idea and getting them to move forward on that idea.” - catalyst

We’ve all experienced catalysts – there is an energy that seems to swirl around them, they constantly have new ideas and can inspire us to think the impossible is possible. Catalysts can be like a thorn in our side, always pushing to make things even better. And they can scare the shit out of us because, once again, they are suggesting that we change things – things we thought were fine.

And yet we recognize that much of what is great around us exists because a catalyst dared to dream it, dared us to dream it with them, and, even more, dared to take the risks to make it come to life. People like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey – they dared to dream and changed the world.

In late 2015 I began doing research with people that self-identify as catalysts (or activators, or game changers, or change agents, or paradigm breakers…). In this post I am sharing the attributes that are common to a catalyst. The signs that you are dealing with a catalyst, or that you yourself are a catalyst.

There are six attributes that, when combined, are the telltale signs of a catalyst.

1. Processing and Piecing Together Lots of Information, Systemically and Contextually, at Lightning Speed.

First and foremost catalysts describe a process – more of a way of being – of quickly taking in new information then considering, organizing and synthesizing. In interviews this was described as “seeing things out there and putting them together, connecting and orchestrating.” And it happens faster than for others: “I can be 20 steps ahead and it can be hard for others to catch up.”

Many talked about this intuitive process as putting pieces together like building a puzzle. But not consciously. Just something that happens naturally for them. So they often assume those around them were coming to the same conclusions and were confused when others didn’t see the same things.

“It is something more than just being an observer. Catalysts are active or strategic observers. Or it has an architect concept - putting all the pieces together. Not just a vision, but more like clairvoyance, illuminacity, a type of x-ray vision. You are thinking ‘How can you not see this? It is so obvious.’”

And catalysts view the information within the context of the group, company or culture within which it is situated. “You have to understand a system to act within the system.”

Additionally, catalysts tend to have high emotional intelligence – the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people's emotions. This appears to be another type of information that flows in to them. Another part of a system that they are taking information in about. As one catalyst explained, “Catalysts need to have a high level of emotional intelligence to gauge people’s needs and how to interact in that system.

2. Multitudes of Ideas and Constantly Seeing Possibilities

Another telltale sign of a catalyst is that they have a zillion ideas and see possibilities on how to solve problems and make things better. There are many people that consume lots of information, but many don’t come up with ideas and possibilities inspired by the information they consume. Catalysts can’t stop themselves.

“Catalysts see their surroundings and the people around them and see possibilities - the possibilities to change things.”

“A catalyst sees opportunity and possibility and stepping into THAT rather than circling around or going backwards. It is forward momentum.”

And the ideas never stop. It is a way of being in the world. Of interacting with the world. “I am always working through to the next thing.” “There is always more to do.” “The ideas never end.”

3. Intuitive and Perceived as Comfortable with Risk & Ambiguity

There is a knowing that emerges for catalysts as they build puzzles from the swirl of information around them. All those interviewed talked of not having to figure everything out to be ready to move forward. They just need to know enough to trust the leap is the right one. And to them the leap doesn’t feel risky. This leads to catalysts being seen as risk-takers. However, catalysts themselves may not describe themselves as being comfortable with risk. Likely they will speak of being highly intuitive. When they’ve processed information and are ready for action, taking what looks like a bold step to an outsider doesn’t feel that risky to the catalyst herself.

“When I am powerfully leading from the front I trust intuition versus trying to get it perfect and have all the answers and know what I’m doing.”

“I’m comfortable operating in the fog - with 40% to 70% of the information. With a strong intuition (gut feeling).”

Others can also assume catalysts are comfortable with ambiguity. Catalysts know that to get to transformation they have to move through territories that are unknown. And while some catalysts embrace ambiguity, it can also drive catalysts insane. So it may not be that they like or welcome ambiguity. However, they may have gotten comfortable with ambiguity or with knowing ambiguity is inevitable. It can still be very trying for them. It is just part of what MUST be to fulfill their innate drive. They know the feeling of the end state they are moving toward – they have seen it, felt it. So they will more comfortably lean into what is necessary to get there.

 “Other people can be uncomfortable working with me, if they are doing work without knowing where they are going. I don’t know where I am going either and for me that is the beauty of it.”

“There is a danger with catalysts not clearly sharing the full vision. The catalyst might know, or might have enough of a sense, but they might not be good at sharing it so others might feel it is chaotic or murky. So people that are not good with ambiguity can be annoyed with catalysts.”

4. Drive for Action That TRANSFORMS

The process doesn’t stop at processing and seeing possibilities – catalysts MUST take action. It is painful to not take action. And at the center of their drive is changing the world for the better. This drive comes across like a lifetime purpose to make the world around them better.

“I make things happen! If I go into a job or project I want to lead it and make things happen. I want to make it a success. I see the moving parts to make it happen. I see the goal and the way to make it get there.”

“Can you transform situations? Are you having a transformative role in how your daughter sees the world, how your department approaches research, how you do analysis? As a catalyst it is kind of in your DNA – you have this drive to do it! To think about how something can grow, be exciting, innovative.”

5. Create Visions

Once a catalyst decides a particular idea is worth taking action on they develop a vision - often effortlessly. The catalyst can see the vision perfectly. It is, in fact, obvious to them because of the data they have taken in and processed.

“As a catalyst there is vision and execution. You are catalyzing something for a reason. You have to have a vision for what you want to achieve. It implies an end result. That person has to be able to get somewhere. I am a results oriented person. I lay out a vision and I get there. That is implied.”

“There is a strong vision of what I want to do. Even though if I explain it to someone they don’t always see it… sometimes hard to convey because they are seeing in 2 dimensions and I see in 3. You can only understand the matrix after you’ve been in the matrix. There is no way to explain things sometimes to people.”

The vision may come together quickly, or a vision may take longer to crystallize depending on the complexity of the problem or system in which it will be implemented. This period was talked about with different descriptive nouns: the storming, the soup, the fog, the ambiguity stew.

And at their best, catalysts can share their visions to bring others along on the journey. (However - spoiler alert - in an upcoming blog about biggest challenges faced by catalysts I’ll talk about how some catalysts struggle to communicate their visions.)

6. Learning and Experimentation Mindset

The final common attribute of catalysts is how they engage with the world around them when they are taking action that allows for constant forward movement. Like scientists or designers they have a learning and experimentation mindset. This process is called many different things, such as the design thinking process, action learning or action research. And catalysts are naturals. With each new action they take, they monitor the results, learn and then iterate to make their next step even better. This process allows for constant action and allows for a reframe of failure. If you see your actions as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, then the right action leads to success and the wrong action leads to failure. If, as a catalyst, you view your actions as experiments then even if something doesn’t end up as you expected it to, it is just information – valuable information that guides how your next step should be redirected. Unexpected outcomes or “failures” become a challenge, not an end point. This mindset creates tremendous resiliency and makes the catalysts among us appear buoyant in the face of difficulty.

This way of being can be difficult for those around them because even when things come together well, a catalyst doesn’t (or can’t) stop seeing possibility and optimizing for improved results. The pace of iteration, innovation and change can drive the people around them crazy.


“Game changing or catalyzing with integrity means being clear on the long term picture that you are willing to fail and experiment to bring to fruition… I don’t give up.”

“I’ve learned how important it is to have a learning mindset and never become complacent we know it all. So as a catalyst I like teach others to have learning mindset. Without that, success just looks different. "

Conclusion: Why Should We Care About Catalysts?

Why is it so important for us to celebrate and understand catalysts? To be honest the reasons are still emerging for me. When I began this endeavor I was researching my ideal clients, and early in the process I saw something new in what was emerging: A way of being that solves problems and enlists others that is all around us - not just how Oprah and Richard Branson are in the world – but how people we meet every day make our world a better place with purpose and resilience. While there is much literature about innovation, there is little about the people who are pivotal in driving innovation forward. There is wonderful research on leadership within innovative companies, on grit, on growth mindsets – and all of that work intersects what I’m seeing – but research on the fire starters, the change agents, the catalysts is few and far between.

As I wade through my own ambiguity stew here are some things that I am seeing that lead me to believe that understanding and celebrating catalysts and the catalytic process is important:

  • The pace of change has accelerated in our world. Now, more than ever, we need people ready to lean comfortably into change. We need people that can see the changing world around them and quickly come up with ideas to improve and build. Helping catalysts understand themselves so they can lean into their abilities feels important.
  • Also, there are clear patterns on the best environments where they can maximize their impact.
  • And it helps us all to help those around catalysts learn how to more comfortably join in the process rather than feeling the resistance or fear that can happen when working with a catalyst.
  • Plus we can all benefit from becoming more comfortable with the pace of change and the processes that catalysts leverage naturally. Learning from catalysts so we can all be more resilient and we can all lean into the myriad challenges that emerge in our daily lives, in our organizations, in our communities and in our world. As our world moves more quickly and our economy moves to nonstandard employment we can all be served by building our ability to take in what is new, ideate and reframe failure as we try new things.

So without all the answers, but with a vision, I am jumping in to learn and share about catalysts.

Background on Catalyst Research

In November 2015, I looked at the similarities between my favorite clients. Stark patterns emerged in the challenges they undertook in their professional and personal lives, their sense of passion and urgency to manifest their goals, their deep desire to be of service and the pace at which they processed information. I didn't have a word to describe them. Then in the very next session with one of those clients he said "I realized I'm a catalyst". It was like lightning struck. Yes! That is what ties my favorite clients together. I had observational data from working with my clients, but I wanted to be more direct in my quest so I could better serve my ideal clients. I leaned into my background as an anthropologist and began to systematically interview people that self-identify as catalysts. These blog posts are my first way of sharing the knowledge I am accumulating. I have found that sharing what I'm learning with catalysts - and those wanting to amplify their catalytic tendencies - helps people make sense of their own experiences and gives them power to manifest and change the world even more powerfully.

In the coming months, I will share more findings from the research, including:

  • The primary challenges catalysts face
  • The biggest mistake catalyst leaders make
  • The conditions that allow a catalyst to be most successful

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on and experience with catalysts. If you self-identify as a catalyst or change agent let me know what resonates!

The fence around your playground.

Imagine a playground, in the middle of an urban city, without a fence. The teacher is standing in the middle of the field, with kids huddled next to her. The children are scared and staying close so to assure her protection lest they travel too far and hurt themselves, or get hit by a car, or stolen away by a stranger. Very little movement, very little creativity, very little independence to express themselves.

Now imagine that same teacher and the same group of kids on a playground, in the middle of an urban city, with a fence. The teacher again standing in the middle of everything, but now her kids are running freely and playfully throughout the field. They roam along the fence perimeter fearlessly. They experiment on multiple apparatuses, exhausting themselves silly. The only differentiator between fear and freedom is the fence, the clarity of a parameter that provides just enough, but not too much, structure.

Over the last 20 years while working with leaders in their public, private and non-profit playgrounds, I've noticed this same 'fence effect'. The great leaders are those who provide just enough container to keep the riffraff out while providing the freedom within for people to roam. I love Google for this reason. I love IDEO for this reason. They know exactly why they exist, they have a clear purpose, certain pedagogy, tested methodologies, but within their ethos the sky is the limit, ideation thrives and design is born.

This is no easy feat. Great companies like these make it look simple.......and we all know simple is exquisite yet far from easy.

Excellent leadership, clarity of purpose, clarity of roles, objectives, resources, and roadmaps are all good examples of the necessary structures to build a thriving culture from the get-go. However, it's interesting to notice as I work with more and more start-ups, that at times this 'fence-like' structure is underrated amidst their contemporary praise for entrepreneurial chaos, and I believe they suffer. An environment with particular, necessary, and uninhibited standardizations can only help to unleash creative potential, not hinder it.

All this to say, isn't it beautifully ironic that a sturdy fence is precisely what instills the sense of freedom to expand and explore?

Ann Michael Dorgan, CEO GumballEnterprises

Leadership: You can have your cake and eat it too.

I've always wondered about the author who came up with the proverb, "You can't have your cake and eat it too," picturing them as a rigid, disciplinarian who believed deprivation and cynicism were the levers to motivation.  Think about it, why would anyone want a cake if they can't eat it? It sounds agonizing. 

Sure, I can buy into the idea that once you've eaten your cake it's gone, but is it really? In essence it's never gone because you can savor the experience for a life-time.

Needless to say I'm a fan of having your cake and eating it too.  What if Gandhi asked for non-violent civil disobedience without expecting independence for India? Or if Maya Angelou settled for just being a poet and forwent being a civil rights activist, a dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress, professor?   The world would be a smaller place because of it.    

My business partner puts it this way,  “When you dream, dream big, so when you get what you want you don’t end up saying, 'I wish I would have asked for more'.”  The best leaders are those who ask for more, who dream BIG, big enough to never have regrets, expect grand things, and enable others to make it happen.   No small endeavor, I know. It took Gumball five years to claim that we can 'do good, have fun AND be rich' simultaneously. That is, we can liberate ourselves, leaders and slaves with levity while being outrageously profitable. 

It is an audacious mission, but we don't want to be rich and then wish we would had done more good for the world.  We don't want to do good but then wish we had had more fun.  We want to eat that cake we've built and NEVER look back wishing we would have asked for more.

As a leader, you've already taken on the remarkable challenge of being a leader, so congratulations for that.  Now...........are you dreaming big enough? Can you truly say at the end of the day you asked for the totality of what you truly want?  I invite you ..........have that cake and eat it too!

- Ann Michael, CEO, GumballEnterprises