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Thread: Team Development using Metaphor

  1. Question Team Development using Metaphor

    I am planning an event with an executive team (6-8) and was considering bringing in the the fun and power of metaphor. I was considering using a circus metaphor i.e specifiy the metaphor and ask them questions to consider their role and position, charactistics (helpful and unhelpful) etc through this. I was wondering if anyone else has used this and has the benefit of some experience!

    How best is the metaphor set up? What is the opening question? How do you work deeper with this team. Any experiences on how providing the metaphor to work with (i.e the circus) (which allows us, as facilitators to bring props, creative materials etc to make it fun too) versus the team creating their own? Or can you do both in say 2 hours?? Any feedback,tips, resources, ideas welcomed.

  2. #2

    Default Using Pre-Determined Metaphors

    If you use a pre-determined metaphor, then make it as as general as possible. The less you specify the more the team members will fill in the detail from their model of the world and connect their experience with the metaphor.

    Be prepared for some people to not connect with that metaphor, and potentially to react against it (did you know there is a fair proportion of people who have/have had a phobia of clowns?)

    i don't know any facilitators who have used a circus metaphor, but I do know Lara Ewing has used to good effect a marathon race, and someone else has used the Wizard of Oz. I guess it depends on your desired outcome for the facilitation (not specified in your post).

    My personal preference, as always, is to let the group create their own metaphor. Caitlin Walker and Nancy Doyle's "Metaphors @ Work" process is excellent for this. See:

    And remember, the use of Clean Language will enhance whatever process you use.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

    Default hybrid, cleanish suggestion

    Hi Lazyacre

    If I imagine being a team member and being told our metaphor was to be a circus, I am thinking 'hmm, who's going to be be the ring master...ah, might have guessed it, there goes Gerald, cracking the whip as ever. And poor old Bert always ends up with a custard pie in the face...' While this might certainly expose the patterns within the team, it might not be fun for everyone and could embed the sterotypes even more. Also 'circus' also has negative connotations, e.g. when used to describe a political process. So my tendency would be to use a clean process, as Penny suggests.

    I also think it could be useful/interesting to get a metaphor for how the team is now AND how they would like it to be.

    And you've got a couple of hours. If you really want to present them with a metaphor rather than get one from them to start with, perhaps a hybrid clean-ish approach would be appropriate.. You could offer as wide a range of metaphors as possible for the team to choose from (as a warm-up, so to speak), then move into asking for their own metaphors for how they would like the team to be? Something like this:

    'Consider these: a garden, a travelling circus, a Formula One pit crew, a train, the balls on a pool table (etc, etc). Currently this team is most like which of those? And least like which of them?' Develop their answers to 'flesh out' the metaphors a bit. They will all have their own metaphors privately, though some may acquiesce publicly to the leaders of the team. How this happens reflects the structure of the power relationships in the team, I guess.

    Then ask:

    'And when this team is the way it is now, what kind of team would you like it to become?'


    'For this team to be how you'd like it to be, it will be like what?' (thanks Caitlin)

    Now they are warmed up to working in metaphor, they will likely find this much easier than when asked it cold right at the beginning. The disadvantage is they have all the metaphors you gave them in the first part, which will affect what they come up with.

    It's amazing how often a football team metaphor emerges...



  4. Smile Team Development using Metaphor

    Thanks Penny, Phil. Great help and I really like the idea of providing a range of meaphors and finding out which the team picks Even the discussions as to which one to pick will be interesting. The team consists of US, UK and Dutch nationalities so I am not sure football would be such a universally understood game so might be more problematic. We really want to get to the depth of roles, responsibilty, accountability and interpersonal behaviours to support the team deliver targets, and valuing differences of styles.

    Liz (sorry about the name didn't realise I'd be labelled as Lazyacre!)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    North West England
    Blog Entries

    Default How did it go?

    Hey Liz,
    How did your team take to metaphors? Which process did you run with. I want to know how the story ends.......
    Caitlin Walker

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