Sunday, January 26, 2014

Great Teams Storytelling and Vision Exercise

Last week I conducted the “Great Team Exercise” with my class. The exercise was conducted in the same way as in previous semesters (Read more here and here). All the cadets in my section will be commissioned officers in approximately 5 months. The class I teach helps them make the transition from cadet to lieutenant (commissioned officer), and platoon leader (in charge of a team of approximately 20-40 soldiers).


In the exercise the cadets tell stories of great teams they have been members of.  The main focus is on their storytelling skills. In the exercise they will tell their story four times to four separate groups, refining the story each time.  The reason for the focus on storytelling is that well-told stories really touch the listener and pull them along. They simulate the actual experience of being on the team and give listeners a compelling way to learn about that particular team experience. Well-told stories put the behavior in real context, bringing the values to life.

Prior to class, the cadets had been instructed to think of a great team they had been part of and what made it a “great” team. The class started with a 5-minute reflective journaling exercise where the cadets described the great team they had been part of (it could be any team- grade school, youth group, Church, High School, West Point, etc…).

After the journal exercise was complete, the cadets shared their stories with their small groups . Each student had one minute to share their story. The time constraint made them focus only on the important details about what made the team great. Once they had shared the story with everyone in the group, one cadet stayed at the table while the others (not as a group) rotated to a new table that now had all new participants. After four rounds of storytelling, every cadet in the class had heard every other cadets' story about the great team they had been part of.

After the storytelling exercise was complete, the cadets were instructed to go to the person whose story they connected with the most and put their hand on that person's shoulder. This was a little chaotic as cadets moved all over the room to reach the person whose story had registered with them. After the dust settled there were three cadets who had many hands connected to them.  I then asked the three cadets to share their great team stories again with the whole class.






That evening I posted a question in the Glassboard mobile learning application (read more on Glassboard here and here) instructing the cadets to write a post about the key themes, characteristics, and values they heard in the great team stories.

Here is one response (name removed)




This was a powerful exercise which got the cadets thinking about what they valued most in a team. It also demonstrated how to use storytelling to communicate vision to their subordinates when they are building and leading their own teams in the near future as Army officers.

Leadership Counts!




Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development andOrganizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.

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