The Clown as The Catalyst

I’ve had the pleasure of introducing The Marshmallow Challenge to a couple of dental teams in the last few working days – in Helens Bay, Northern Ireland on Friday and again in Solihull, West Midlands yesterday. It is a great ice-breaker and also filled with useful metaphors for teamwork, collaboration and lateral thinking (it also never fails to amaze me how much cheating is attempted, often by Principals!).

Technically, you don’t need a coach to have your team take The Challenge but, of course, that presupposes that you hold team training sessions on a frequent basis and that you make them engaging and entertaining – yes, well……just saying.

Whenever I’m asked to facilitate a team training session, I enter the meeting to sense a degree of trepidation amongst those who don’t know me and, inevitably, have been given little or no information about what is going to happen.

“This bloke/woman is coming to sort you out”. – Not the best of ways to announce the coach’s impending arrival.

Equally, I go to great lengths to reassure people that there will be “NO ROLE PLAY” when I’m in the building – it’s not my style and I don’t agree that team members should be press-ganged into a public ritual humiliation as a means of fixing them.

Those who volunteer and pay to work with the likes of Ashley, Tracy, Laura et al can be assumed to have accepted the challenge of being encouraged out of their comfort zone. The rest didn’t sign up for that.

So – my mantra for team training sessions:

  1. Avoid role play – it will induce anxiety and sudden sickness leave;
  2. Break the ice – have some fun, whether it is sharing little-known facts, drawing toast or building a marshmallow tower;
  3. Make sure your trainer isn’t on an ego trip (I can remember earlier versions of me that wanted to tell the audience how wonderful I was – I now cringe at the memory);
  4. Stay away from operational niff naff and trivia – you don’t need a team training session to deal with ops;
  5. Focus on people and protocols – on Friday in Helens Bay we came up with a list of 30 marginal gains in their patient journey – yesterday in Solihull we focused on how to successfully onboard GDP referrals and how to establish a robust End of Treatment Protocol;
  6. Get some decent catering in (salads in Helens Bay – chip butties in Solihull);
  7. Above all – have some fun – team training improves in direct proportion to the amount of laughter in the meeting.

Which brings me to my final point – sometimes the coach has to become a bit of a clown to make it all work – I’m always up for that.

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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

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