After 10 long years of siege during the Trojan War, the Greeks tricked the inhabitants of the independent city of Troy. They conscripted a master carpenter, Epeius, to build a hollow wooden horse.
First mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, the probably mythical legend recounts how the large horse, filled with 30 soldiers, was left near the gates of Troy as a gift to the goddess Athena. The mystery gift, left by the departing army, was wheeled into the city and left unguarded as the inhabitants rejoiced that the siege had ended.
The ruse worked, and Troy was sacked and burned to the ground. From this story comes the maxim, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
I spent nine years designing and testing five team simulations filled with historical and mythological allusions to capture the attention and imagination of start-up and established business teams. The set of Griggs simulations includes: Cutting the Gordian Knot; Da Vinci’s Brushes; The Guns Navarone; The Confidence of Napoleon; Trust & the Trojan Horse.
These progressive and edgy trainings are like a “stress test” for groups within a department or across an organization. Each mimics the dynamics, the uncertainties and the hidden land mines imbedded in real-world business challenges. People act in the simulation as they act in the real world. The result is a heavy, powerful dose of awareness and professional growth.
We usually start with the ropes, balls and blindfolds of Cutting the Gordian Knot. Its lessons range from leadership and communication to proper use of knowledge and resources. The next four progress through chaos, confusion, knowledge transfer, confidence, diplomacy and finally, trust.
By far the most emotional and jaw-dropping is Trust & the Trojan Horse. Trust betrayal from an enemy: In these cases you can’t always predict the timing and path of the deceit — it can be gratuitous. The enemy saps your strength and resources by forcing you into continual vigilance.
Trust betrayal from competitors: Here’s where you expect it — had you been aware and vigilant. These are people, businesses and even nations with differing interests and requirements for survival. Their success rarely includes you.
Trust betrayal from your own people: The Trust & the Trojan Horse simulation makes its heartbreaking point — TRUST IS FRAGILE! The scene depicts villagers versus invaders and a non-sufficient water supply. Using food coloring dyes, negotiators and a water-sharing ritual, participants experience dogged trust and baffling betrayal. Our debriefs reveal that teams will factor in personal concerns and past history along with silence and nonverbal behavior when deciding whether to trust or betray. When the decision to trust clashes (in fact or perception) with the well-being or safety of anything cherished, it becomes unstable and vulnerable. This is normal human behavior. Surprise and outrage become irrelevant. During the simulation, the shared water ritual produces clear, green, yellow or blue water. Each represents levels of trust from cooperation to total annihilation.
Even as facilitator, I can never accurately guess the color of the water about to be poured. The applications to real business and personal life are shocking. The effects on team members simply participating in a training exercise are deep and lasting — trust can be fragile. It moves with the needs and dreams of everyone involved.
Trust jumps the line based on the amount of fear in the room. Alliances change with the risk of loss. Words uttered within the hour can be contradicted with one piece of added information.
One gentleman betrayed his own team during an annual retreat where the final afternoon featured our trust simulation. He snuck a particular color of food dye into the water that would symbolically damage the other team. His home team was furious. A full year later the anger persisted — trust matters.
Who knows how the Greeks thought up that horse trick. I’d guess any survivors or Trojan descendants had trust issues for several generations.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He speaks on balance, teams and the confidence of Napoleon. Reach him at 970-690-7327.