by Arthur Hull
As this story unfolds, I have just finished a team-building event with the Toyota company in southern California. At the beginning of the program, the executives saw me as a strange professor-type person from a Santa Cruz university, who was brought in from outside their corporate culture. After looking at my little hat and vest, and the pile of percussion toys in the middle of the room, some of them were afraid that I might make them do some new age, touchy-feely exercises. By the end of the event, we all had taken a collaborative musical journey. This journey created a synergistic interpersonal environment that made me a part of their world, and them a part of mine. We were in rapport.
After the event I go to the LA airport with some of these executives, who are now my cohorts and buddies. We are traveling on the same airline to San Jose. The airline that we are taking is the low-fare airline where there is no reserved seating. It is first come, first to get on the plane to pick out one’s seat. You end up waiting in line to get a numbered, colored boarding card in order to get in another line so that you can board the plane.
We arrive the prescribed one hour prior to the flight to find a very long line. We get in the line to get our boarding pass for our plane. The line leads to one counter with one poor overworked person, who is taking care of all the people boarding two different planes through two different gates. The airport is very crowded and we think that we’re at the end of the line to get on our flight. There are more people coming in and getting in line behind us. I relate with the person in front of me and find out that he is at the end of the line to get on the San Francisco flight that leaves just before ours. That means that I am first in line for San Jose, and that I could get the colored boarding card with the number one on it! Yippee!
Since there is only one ticket counter, we all stand in the same line. Chaos reigns at the ticket counter as the time for the San Francisco boarding draws near. The person at the ticket counter finally discovers that there are people for two different flights all in the same line. By this time I am relating with other people in line behind me, in addition to the Toyota executives. We are all joking about the predicament that the ticket counter person is in. Then she announces over the PA system that all persons that are in line to get onto the San Jose flight are to disperse, so that the people trying to get onto the San Francisco flight can move up the line to check in, and then get in the other line to board the plane.
Nobody budges. I can see that their body language is defiant, but uncertain. Everybody has been standing in line for an hour or more, and most of the people behind me are going to San Jose. By dispersing, they will lose their place in line and have to scramble back into line after the San Francisco passengers get cleared through. The ticket counter person makes one more announcement, pleading for the people not getting on the San Francisco plane to disperse from the line. Still nobody budges.
I can see everybody in the line has the same goal, but they don’t know how to achieve it. I have the same goal, know how to achieve it, and have the tools to facilitate them to that goal.
At that time, I turn around, and with my full facilitator’s voice, I call back to the whole line.“ If there is anybody in this line that is supposed to board the San Francisco flight, please move forward.” Nobody budges, but at least I have everyone’s attention. So I then announce to the whole group, “If we want to keep our place in line, all of us who are here for the San Jose flight should take one step off to the right.” Like a well-trained military marching unit we all take one step to the side, leaving only one person standing by himself where the line had been. The room breaks out in uproarious laughter, as the man left standing, runs up to the counter to get his boarding pass, to get into the San Francisco boarding line, to board the plane, and find the last seat available, since he is the last in line.
This synergistic event makes everybody in line happy because nobody loses their place in the line that leads to the boarding line. It makes the ticket counter person happy, because she finds the missing person on her computer’s San Francisco roster, and it makes me happy because I get my first boarding pass with the number one on it. Yippee!
Even with my facilitation skills, it was necessary for me to establish rapport and a relationship with at least some of the people in that line, to achieve the results we all wanted.