You Didn’t Know a 12-foot Pole Could Teach You This


One of the goals for my customer service training in Cerritos, California yesterday was to help employees follow-up with colleagues, to close the loop so that everybody was up to date on what’s being done to fix issues for customers.

I designed a short lecture and a small group discussion to address this. And then, three hours before my flight, I scratched the entire section.

A brilliant trainer of trainers once cautioned me, “Don’t do for participants what they can do for themselves.” Recalling her advice, I thought, I won’t tell them to communicate better, I’ll put them in a situation that forces them to see why not communicating is making their jobs so much harder.

Here’s what I did. I stood in front of the class and pulled out at 12-foot pole. And I told my group of 12 people that their task was to lower the stick to the floor. It sounds simple. Incredulous, the people merely stared at me, mute.

I divided the class up into two groups and explained the rules. You’ll start with the pole waist high, you cannot lose contact with the pole at any time, and only gravity can move the pole (that is, the pole couldn’t be pushed or pulled down).

After my instruction, I stepped back and watched (and took out my iPhone to film). Within seconds, the group learned that this exercise was anything but simple. (See video clip below from the training.)

This is the first time I’ve done the pole activity and had a group get it to the ground. The exercise is astonishingly hard. The pole will only reach the ground when people take their focus off of their section (of the pole) and focus on the bigger picture, communicate clearly, work together, and when they’re willing to admit mistakes and re-align.

When the group got the pole to the ground, applause roared, and I knew my mission was accomplished. I debriefed the activity by asking:

What was your first thought about this activity, and what do you think of it now?

What did this teach you about communication? Working as a team?

If you were frustrated, what caused it? How did you overcome it? Did the team stop to plan any strategy before attempting the task? Why or why not? Would that have helped?

Do you see the same pattern at your company, where you jump in too quickly without planning? Or, someone is just focused on their own job?

How can you apply what you’ve learned back at work? Specifically, as it relates to focusing on more than your own tasks and updating co-workers.

I bridged their answers to the point of the importance of employee follow-up and closing the loop. Every single person in the room “got it.” And I’m confident they’ll remember the lessons they learned yesterday.

It really is better to let participants do it themselves, rather than merely lecture. Doing it themselves increases retention and the likelihood of application. And doing it themselves is a whole lot more fun.

I’m in the business of helping companies improve employees’ soft skills to deliver better customer interactions. The most common way organizations employ me is to facilitate customized workshops that give a proven skillset and transform behavior so that employees are fully prepared and inspired to express the soul of the brand.

Your employees leave our workshops fully prepared and inspired to express the soul of your brand with every customer. See how we do it. And then bring one of our fun, engaging workshops to your company.