When I work with human resources professionals to create team training opportunities, I often like to conduct “thought experiments.” Recently, as I was working with one individual who was struggling to understand why people in the company she worked for were acting in ways she couldn’t grasp, I gave her this “thought experiment” to ponder.
Suppose there are five monkeys in a room. You dangle a bunch of golden, delicious bananas from the ceiling, and place a set of stairs underneath it. Soon, following his natural instincts, the monkey heads to the stairs and begins to climb higher and higher to achieve the prize.
That’s when a water sprays the room, shocking all of the monkeys and causing the one who dared reach for the bananas to retreat in surprise.
Soon, another monkey climbs the stairs and the same thing happens. And another, and another. Soon if one monkey even touches the stairs, the others attempt to pull him back, often vigorously. Finally, none of them attempt to reach for the bananas.
Now let’s take the experiment one step further. Remove one of the now-conditioned subjects and replace him with a new monkey. Of course “the new guy” will go for the bananas. Imagine his surprise, however, when he is met with opposition–even attacks–from the others. This innocent fellow knows nothing about why they’re acting this way, but quickly realizes that any effort to climb higher puts him in jeopardy.
When yet another new monkey is substituted for a more experienced one, he experiences this same treatment–including by the monkey who’d never been sprayed. Soon he, too, follows suit. Even when all of the original monkeys have been removed from the room and no matter how many “new guys” come into the group, the cycle of “try, be thwarted in your efforts, then become the person who holds others back” continues.
No one really knows for sure, but that’s the way it’s always been done.
As we worked through this thought experiment, my client and I discussed how many companies face this same cycle. Sometimes it’s on a team, sometimes in one department–sometimes throughout the entire organization. And it will continue happening until people begin to first question why things are done a given way and then begin changing it.
Does this cycle sound all too familiar to you? As an HR pro or a business owner, do you see it happening in your organization–regardless of how much “feel good” training you do or how many incentives you offer? Do you see new people come into your company full of enthusiasm and drive, then watch as they either leave or–perhaps even worse–become just like everyone else?
If so, you need to start asking the tough question: “Are we doing it this way for the right reason or just because it’s always been done that way?”
And if the answer is “because it’s always been done that way” it’s time for you to begin the tough steps needed to break the cycle, get the right kind of team training and business culture in place, and start truly encouraging success.
Thoughts or comments? I’d love to read them, so please share them below. Or for more information, you’re always welcome to contact me.