The elephant – again

A kick-off meeting to a project.

Situation: People already know each other, views have already diverged significantly. Over the past month, outside communication was strong (so expectations are huge), but inwards communication was weak (so opinions are scattered).

Complication: How to turn this bunch of minds into a team with “punch”?

Solution: Enter the story of the elephant…
I first heared about the story of the six blind men and the elephant at the W3C.
The essential story is simple and can be read e.g. at, it boils down to the moral:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Practically: The various positions are not contradicting. Everybody is right – but nobody has the complete truth. Not until we open up to the fragments of truth that the others have can we come to a conclusive picture.

One other encounter was in a really hariy project. After the statement “Do what you want, it can’t get worse” I was mending social fabric already for months. Eventually, a colleague sent the parable along (he had gotten it from the newsletter of some OO programming magazine), and all of a sudden, the atmosphere changed. We had a huge “inflow” of disagreements (actually, all the implicit disagreements finally surfaced) and worked through them one by one in a really trustful environment. For months, “we have an elephant here” had turned into our battle cry when discussions failed to converge. It was one of the most amazing team-growth-experiences I’ve witnessed so far.

This time, I put it at the beginning of an introduction round.

Works like a charm.

By the way, there’s more to it: The background shall be described in a future article on “mutual accusations of madness and badness”.