Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Horrid Picture: A new look at teambuilding

Just had a great speaking engagement yesterday, doing a workshop on customer skills here in Ithaca for my friends at the New York State Nursery and Landscaping Association and their annual conference. Afterward, they were gracious enough to invite me to their evening reception, where I saw a great example of teambuilding that I have never encountered before.

The highlight of the evening was an auction where members contributed their wares to raise money for the Association's work. (I was proud to see a signed copy of my own book What to Say to a Porcupine sell for a high bid of $100.) But they saved the best for last: the Horrid Picture auction.

As the name implied, the Horrid Picture was a truly horrid framed painting: a color-blind rendition of a rural landscape, with stars and a silhouette of a duck's head inexplicably floating in the upper left corner. And people weren't bidding to purchase it – they were bidding for the right to require another Association member to display this picture, where their employees and customers could see it, at their place of business for the next year. So one person would bid $100 to have it in Chuck's office, then another would raise the bid to $200 to have it put in Bud's office, and so forth.

Eventually the winning bid reached a thousand dollars, with groups of people teaming up to choose their favorite "victim." Which brings up something that sets this group apart from any other group I have met: how close are you really to your network of business colleagues? Do you know them well enough to force one of them to hang an ugly picture in their office – for a year – and do it with a smile?

As the auction was rolling along, one person after another was telling me what a tight-knit group this was. One large, successful business owner told me that he was always happy to give advice to new people getting into the business in his town, even though they would technically become his competitors. Another shared that he had been in the business for 50 years, and had more work than he could handle from word-of-mouth. Still another described himself as the "baby" of the group, with only 12 years under his belt.

So how about you and your colleagues: Do you support and learn from each other? Do you build and maintain a network that is profitable for everyone? Do these relationships and friendships stand the test of time? Could you put a horrid picture in one of their offices for a year?

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