Seasons Greetings and thanks for being involved with Square Wheels and receiving

The Square Wheels Newsletter - Issue 5 - Politics and Bureaucracy.

Note: This is an old newsletter. We are starting up a new one so if you would like to sign up, please opt-in at:

These newsletters are written to provide you with humor, ideas and information. They will contain ideas about organizational and individual performance improvement.

You are receiving this because you have subscribed with the listbot on my website. If you are getting this by mistake or would like to unsubscribe, the last part of the newsletter will contain information about how to easily remove yourself from these monthly mailings.

Please also note that the robot (Mr. Bill) handling this opt-in newsletter will _delete_ your subscription if its message to you gets blocked ONE TIME for any reason. We will keep an archive of newsletters on the website so you can find what you missed should this have occurred.

Also - each newsletter will offer some FREE downloadable illustration for a period of one week after which that resource will be removed. Contact me directly should you desire one of those resources.



Please suggest this newsletter to at least two of your friends!

They can also join for free...

Rest assured that I will NEVER give out these addresses for any reason




Feature Article:

Organizational Politics and Bureaucracy – Thoughts and Solutions on Constructive Criticism


Like the website? How about doing a favorable review on Compass?

Note on newest toolkit – Square Wheels of Teamwork and Coaching

Square Wheels Shopping Cart should be up very shortly. (Again)

On Facilitation and Perspective – an interchange of ideas

Some Corporate Jokes:

-- It is all about perspective.


-- On Human Behavior - His and Her drive-through ATM machines:

-- Santa's a Woman

-- Buying Gifts for Men

-- On customer service

-- Some Christmas Jokes –-


Thanks for subscribing.

Contact Scott at 864-292-8700




Feature Article

Politics and Bureaucracy –Thoughts and Solutions on Constructive Criticism

The bad part of organizational politics and bureaucracy generally relates to the negative things that happen within organizations. Politics are merely differences of opinion and belief and bureaucracy is merely the structural things needed to get administrate organization. They will always exist and they are not necessarily negative. The problems seem to occur when these get out of control and interfere with productivity and performance.

And since there are so many different kinds, we'll try to keep this note brief and general and focused on what you can do to have some positive impacts. The focus of this Square Wheels newsletter is dealing with this organizational glop that gets in the way of making progress

A short time ago, I sent an email to a listserve on facilitation skills, my first post, and I quickly received 3 personal notes back asking for more thoughts on these initial comments. Since I am a great believer in serendipity and coincidence, this becomes the subject for this newsletter.

Readers will be familiar with my basic concept of the wagon and Square Wheels. In my way of thinking, the reality of organizations is much more like the wagon up to its axles in mud (or maybe cement in some circumstances). The mud tends to bog down progress and make things more difficult to move. It is also hard to get a grip on – a culture of politics and other organizational glop can be universally acknowledged but the possible solutions to this mess are quite difficult to manage.

(You can find some of my thoughts on mud in Newsletter 3. And you can find a good deal of my thinking around this cartoon in the article "Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly" from my website:


In organizations, there is often an unspoken political reality – it is real but sometimes not tangible. People can sometimes seem blind to these factors and lacking in perspective. They have difficulty being objective and creating good solutions. The focus can often be on the past and not the future.

It is common for organizations to place blame and look for the guilty when certain kinds of issues and problems arise, especially when there are interdepartmental politics associated with them. When this occurs instead of the more collaborative and productive search for solutions, we blame the politics and bureaucracy.

A number of people in the NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) community have noted the tendency for some people to react negatively as a primary sorting style or thinking pattern -- that is, they tend to put a negative cast on behavior in the way they think about performance. It is kin to the process of "constructive criticism." (In my way of thinking, constructive criticism, no matter how well intentioned, is nothing but an oxymoron – it is not a useful performance correction paradigm. "We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by their behavior.")

As confirmation, I remember an old framework called "The Six Phases of an Improvement Project"

1. Enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Panic

4. Search for the Guilty

5. Punishment of the Innocent

6. Praise and Honor for the Non-Participants

People see organizations routinely shifting to a negative pattern and blame. One impact is that individuals who know the pattern may not choose to get involved because of perceived risks even though the benefits may be obvious.

This negative framework can be called a Blame Frame, a term I first heard used by Lucy Freedman at Syntax.

In trying to address this issue, I began using an illustration of a horse PUSHING a cart with round wheels as the cargo and Square Wheels actually in use. The team of pushers and the puller are standing on the hill in the background looking at their creation.

Asking people to confer as a team and make comments about the illustration, we commonly get a normal ratio of 18:1 – 18 negative comments for every 1 positive comment.

They focus on blaming the people not fixing the Square Wheels and/or for having the horse facing the wrong way. They might say that the "cart was before the horse" or that the people still did not see the solutions "at hand." Most comments are the "woulda – shoulda" type and very few focus on the reality that an improvement was attempted. It is not positive feedback.

This generally occurs after they have all agreed that one of the factors in any successful change / improvement effort requires the individuals and the group to have a POSITIVE history of success in order to build on that with new endeavors.

Thus, we find people giving constructive criticism and focusing on the negative rather than recognizing that continuous improvement is continuous and that it is built on prior successes.

The irony is that a horse will push a cart (if you consider adding a carrot as an incentive, for example). While not an optimal strategy, it does work. AND, the people in the illustration still have the option of using round wheels.

The KEY is generating perspective on one's own behavior!!! . The improvement principle is that we need to have objectivity and perspective to deal with most things effectively. In organizations, this can be difficult.

By stepping back from the situation, we can demonstrate one of the issues of politics – the tendency to focus on what is wrong combined with a past-focus. By allowing people to see themselves in action and recognizing this kind of negative behavior, we at least have the chance to address some of the cultural issues surrounding performance.

Summary –

One key is to addressing political issues is to generate a level of objectivity and perspective about the situation, using some approach to get the group to "dissociate" from their current jobs and positions and to take an outsider's look at the problem and issues. This tends to make them less emotional and less likely to search for people to blame.

If people were to behave as a group of "outsiders," some of these political issues might be reduced. It is common for people to not view things when they have some emotional biases in operation. Any feeling that they are either putting themselves in a bad position or making a superior potentially lose face or embarrassing an associate may cause them to lose this perspective and objectivity.

By "stepping back from the wagon," we can create a mental framework that helps people view things with less personal bias.


Talk about Square Wheels! I am still trying to get the Shopping Cart of illustrations on line. Everyone keeps missing their commitments. But I have hired a new consulting firm to do the fine tuning and get us online. I'll make an announcement via this list when the materials do become available.

For those of you who have purchased a pre-publication copy of my newest toolkit, "Square Wheels of Teamwork and Coaching," it is still a work-in-progress and should be completed in late December or January. Sorry for the delay but we are adding a website for the publication of electronic training materials, completing a cd-version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine and doing a number of presentations and programs all of which have pushed me off of my schedule. I promise you will be more than satisfied with the final result.


On Facilitation and Perspective – an interchange of ideas

This letter came from a user. My comments are toward the end. I trust that you will find the dialog of interest and benefit.

"I ran Square Wheels event this morning from 9 AM to 11 AM. I am a part time OD practitioner and full time Manager who used Square Wheels with the group I managed until 4 months ago. I know the business well but I set the session up as a facilitator and not as past manager. My primary goal was for the new manager (after he had four months to learn about the group) to get a pretty comprehensive description of the problems and possible remedies.

We achieved the primary goal. What did not go as well was how the metaphor drew out the issues. After 20-25 minutes discussing the first square wheels visual largely according to your script, we went into defining where the square wheels were. The group fell into the same old issues that they have identified before. I felt we had milked the metaphor well but when it came to the actual process, I did not see the benefit of the time I spent on square wheels.

Feed back at the end was largely positive and people really felt we got into the issues that needed to be discussed. (One person threw up an issue I renamed an "undiscussable" and a few people really liked digging into it.) The group felt we could have spent less time on the sheep and "stuck in the muck" segments. We could not identify important groups that acted as sheep, Baa-ing in the distance. Nor could they see the muck as more than the basic Square Wheels transparency.

If I think more about the event, I may change my perspective on it. At least, we got a lot of the issues out on the table for the new manager and had a fairly light and interesting experience. It ran about 2 hours and 10 minutes and I had to break it off to get people to their next commitments. Feedback also included 'good discussion', 'good use if time', 'issues came up I didn't expect' and 'general drawing discussion was good'. "

Signed, Jim


His note to Mark, the manager was attached and Mark's followup comments are in BOLD below:



2. Did it give you more support for tactics you are implementing in Project Transportation and/or give you some new direction? I FEEL THE SESSION UNVEILED THE THINGS WE BOTH KNEW WE NEEDED TO WORK ON, BUT THIS SESSION BUILT A VITAL BRIDGE TO GET SOME MOMENTUM

3. Was it worth the time we spent on it? ((16 person/hours) SOMETIMES YOU CAN'T PUT A COST ON THE VALUE. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIMES. I'LL SPEND 30X THAT TO GET MORE DONE.


Scott's reactions and thoughts:

Many of my thoughts were expressed in my immediate response to Jim prior to receiving Mark's comments. It seems clear in reading the above that Jim had a very good handle on the issues and opportunities but that the group possibly felt that the old, unresolved issues were being ignored and that they felt these should be addressed. And thus they kept bringing them up. There was a need for closure and the participants felt the issues important from their perspective.

Another thought is that Jim seemed pretty close to the wagon himself – his perspective on the reactions of the group were a bit colored by his own perceptions, the normal situation. Mark's feedback was pretty solid – what would be most interesting would be Mark's followup in addressing correcting some of these issues over time.

By using the illustrations, we allow participants to gain a bit more objectivity and perspective. It is unclear as to whether this occurred or not. It is greatly helpful to have them focus on problems and solutions as opposed to attacking people (as we discussed in the article on constructive criticism above).

Also, managing the flow of time is never easy. Sometimes, given desired outcomes, I will just "touch" on Spectator Sheep as a causal note -- "these exist and we need to recognize them" - and move on. The goal is a focused discussion about the issues and opportunities.

With only two hours, and with the conflicts we have going on, it is sometimes not optimal to push for solutions at that time – the emotionality can make things quite difficult to resolve and the best solutions may occur later when people have had the time to reflect on things. This is especially true when the issues are significant, cross-functional and emotional. My general goal is to establish some dialog about specific problems, without fault, and ideas for improvement and then act on them later.

These things can be EXTREMELY difficult to work on from an internal position, especially since Jim was the former manager of the group -- lots of political glop will be there regardless of intention or instruction.

The feedback sounds like some good things were accomplished -- the key is long-term "stick." Few "training things" get talked about months. Square Wheels, however, can become part of the performance improvement language and thus have the potential to be more useful.

Okay, with the above general framework, let me react to some specifics...

>I felt we had milked the metaphor well but when it came
>to the actual process, I did not see the benefit of the time
>I spent on square wheels.

One of the things that works in the background is that people in groups will "norm" with the discussions. Often, one or two people may be WAY outside the norm and yet think that their thoughts are in the middle.

(For example, I recently did a survey at a training session -- 20 trainer / consultants -- and we were to write down on a 1 - 10 scale how well internet-based training would be acceptable and what we believed the average score for this group would be. Many people were using WBT. I put down 7.21 as an average for the group. It was the high score. The group was 5.6 on average. VERY surprising to me and it affected how I thought about the materials we were discussing. This was NOT evident to anyone else, only myself. This kind of norming occurs in these SWs / RWs discussions. And what is obvious to US may not be as obvious to the participants at that moment in time.)


Sometimes you go faster by going slower and "greasing the axles." Setting the group up for a proper exchange of ideas is an important part of the implementation process and generating a sense of involvement is also critical.

I cannot evaluate these factors. But I hope that it was time well spent! Time (and results) will tell.

>Feed back at the end was largely positive and people really felt we got
> into the issues that needed to be discussed. (One person threw up an
> issue I renamed an "undiscussable" and a few people really liked digging
>into it.)

The output seemed good. I am not sure as to how one should handle "undiscussable" -- and whose call it was to not deal with this one and why. If the group felt it important, than your "facilitation" may be questioned., and I sense this is what Jim did, it is best to "table" a particular topic for another time or escalate it up for others to deal with...

It is one of the hard parts about facilitating from inside an organization.

>We could not identify important groups that acted as sheep,
>Baa-ing in the distance. Nor could they see the muck as more than the
> basic Square Wheels transparency.

It is good that Spectator Sheep was not an anchor nor was the mud -- it may be a positive comment about the work environment. And it does not sound too political, which is also good. The Mud is a tool for the large, bureaucratic environments (see the feature article above).

On balance, it read like the session went okay that feedback from Mark would indicate that Jim did get some good outcomes. There may be some contrast to what are perceived as "baseline meeting effectiveness outcomes" or some such.

The real key is long-term impacts.

Like Diane Mashia's "Mosquito" story in newsletter 4 -- people remember experiences and interactions long after the event and the work is a positive basis for performance improvement.


Some Training Jokes

It is all about perspective.

This slug was run down by a snail and rushed to the Emergency Room. The doctor asked, "What happened?" and the slug answered, "Doc, I'm not sure, you know. It all happened so fast..."



**Contributed to Swenny's E-Mail Funnies by Bob Laurie, Juneau, Alaska; from "The Lost Dr. Seuss Book"

I love my Job, I love the Pay!

I love it more and more each day.

I love my Boss; he's the best!

I love his boss and all the rest.


I love my Office and its location -

I hate to have to go on vacation.

I love my furniture, drab and gray,

and the paper that piles up every day!


I love my chair in my padded Cell!

There's nothing else I love so well.

I love to work among my Peers -

I love their leers and jeers and sneers.


I love my Computer and all its Software;

I hug it often though it doesn't care...

I love each Program and every File,

I try to understand once in a while!!


I'm happy to be here, I am I am;

I'm the happiest Slave of my Uncle Sam.

I love this Work: I love these Chores.

I love the Meetings with deadly Bores.


I love my Job - I'll say it again -

I even love these friendly Men -

These men who've come to visit today

In lovely white coats to take me away!!!



On Human Behavior - His and Her drive-through ATM machines:


1. Pull up to ATM

2. Insert card

3. Enter PIN and account

4. Take cash, card and receipt

5. Drive away



1. Pull up to ATM

2. Back up and pull forward to get closer

3. Shut off engine

4. Put keys in purse

5. Get out of car because you're too far from machine

6. Hunt for card in purse

7. Insert card

8. Hunt in purse for grocery receipt with PIN written on it.

9. Enter PIN

10. Study instructions.

11. Hit "cancel"

12. Reenter correct PIN

13. Check balance

14. Look for envelope

15. Look in purse for pen

16. Make out deposit slip

17. Endorse checks

18. Make deposit

19. Study instructions

20. Make cash withdrawal

21. Get in car

22. Check makeup

23. Look for keys

24. Start car

25. Check makeup

26. Start pulling away

27. Stop

28. Back up to machine

29. Get out of car

30. Take card and receipt

31. Get back in car

32. Put card in wallet

33. Put receipt in checkbook

34. Enter deposits and withdrawals in checkbook

35. Clear area in purse for wallet and checkbook

36. Check makeup

37. Put car in reverse

38. Put car in drive

39. Drive away from machine

40. Drive 3 miles

41. Release parking brake

(Guess the above was written by a guy?)


Santa's a Woman

**Contributed to Swenny's E-Mail Funnies by Bret Whissel, Tallahassee, FL**

I think Santa Claus is a woman.

I hate to be the one to defy sacred myth, but I believe he's a she.

Think about it. Christmas is a big, organized, warm, fuzzy, nurturing, social deal, and I have a tough time believing a guy could possibly pull it all off!

For starters, the vast majority of men don't even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve. Once at the mall, they always seem surprised to find only Ronco products, socket wrench sets, and mood rings left on the shelves. On this count alone, I'm convinced Santa is a woman.

Surely, if he were a man, everyone in the universe would wake up Christmas morning to find a rotating musical Chia Pet under the tree, still in the bag.

Another problem for a he-Santa would be getting there. First of all, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, gutted and strapped on to the rear bumper of the sleigh amid wide-eyed, desperate claims that buck season had been extended. Blitzen's rack would already be on the way to the taxidermist.

Even if the male Santa DID have reindeer, he'd still have transportation problems because he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions.

Other reasons why Santa can't possibly be a man:

- Men can't pack a bag.

- Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet.

- Men would feel their masculinity is threatened...having to be seen with all those elves.

- Men don't answer their mail.

- Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described, even in jest, as anything remotely resembling a "bowl full of jelly."

- Men aren't interested in stockings unless somebody's wearing them.

- Having to do the "Ho Ho Ho" thing would seriously inhibit their ability to pick up women.

- Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.

I can buy the fact that other mythical holiday characters are men: Father Time shows up once a year unshaven and looking ominous. Definite guy.

Cupid flies around carrying weapons. Uncle Sam is a politician who likes to point fingers. Any one of these individuals could pass the testosterone screening test. But not St. Nick. Not a chance.


Buying Gifts for Men

**Contributed to Swenny's E-Mail Funnies by Caroline McGowan, Minneapolis, MN**

Buying gifts for men is not nearly as complicated as it is for women. Follow these rules and you should have no problems.

Rule #1: When in doubt - buy him a cordless drill. It does not matter if he already has one. I have a friend who owns 17 and he has yet to complain. As a man, you can never have too many cordless drills. No one knows why.

Rule #2: If you cannot afford a cordless drill, buy him anything with the word ratchet or socket in it. Men love saying those two words. "Hey George, can I borrow your ratchet?" "OK. Bye-the-way, are you through with my 3/8-inch socket yet?" Again, no one knows why.

Rule #3: If you are really, really broke, buy him anything for his car. A 99-cent ice scraper, a small bottle of deicer or something to hang from his rear view mirror. Men love gifts for their cars. No one knows why.

Rule #4: Do not buy men socks. Do not buy men ties. And never buy men bathrobes. I was told that if God had wanted men to wear bathrobes, he wouldn't have invented Jockey shorts.

Rule #5: You can buy men new remote controls to replace the ones they have worn out. If you have a lot of money buy your man a big-screen TV with the little picture in the corner. Watch him go wild as he flips, and flips, and flips.

Rule #6: Do not buy a man any of those fancy liqueurs. If you do, it will sit in a cupboard for 23 years. Real men drink whiskey or beer.

Rule #7: Do not buy any man industrial-sized canisters of aftershave or deodorant. I'm told they do not stink - they are earthy.

Rule #8: Buy men label makers. Almost as good as cordless drills. Within a couple of weeks there will be labels absolutely everywhere. "Socks. Shorts. Cups. Saucers. Door. Lock. Sink." You get the idea. No one knows why.

Rule #9: Never buy a man anything that says "some assembly required" on the box. It will ruin his Special Day and he will always have parts left over.

Rule #10: Good places to shop for men include Northwest Iron Works, Parr Lumber, Home Depot, John Deere, Valley RV Center, and Les Schwab Tire. (NAPA Auto Parts and Sear's Clearance Centers are also excellent men's stores. It doesn't matter if he doesn't know what it is. "From NAPA Auto, eh? Must be something I need. Hey! Isn't this a starter for a '68 Ford Fairlane? Wow! Thanks.")

Rule #11: Men enjoy danger. That's why they never cook - but they will barbecue. Get him a monster barbecue with a 100-pound propane tank. Tell him the gas line leaks. "Oh the thrill! The challenge! Who wants a hamburger?"

Rule #12: Tickets to a Red Wing/Lions/Pistons/Tigers game are a smart gift. However, he will not appreciate tickets to "A Retrospective of 19th Century Quilts." Everyone knows why.

Rule #13: Men love chainsaws. Never, ever, buy a man you love a chainsaw. If you don't know why - please refer to Rule #8 and what happens when he gets a label maker.

Rule #14: It's hard to beat a really good wheelbarrow or an aluminum extension ladder. Never buy a real man a step ladder. It must be an extension ladder. No one knows why.

Rule #15: Rope. Men love rope. It takes us back to our cowboy origins, or at least The Boy Scouts. Nothing says love like a hundred feet of 3/8" nylon rope. No one knows why.


There are a series of Santa and Christmas Jokes available on the website at: <>


On customer service:

A husband and wife are traveling by car from Atlanta to New York. After almost twenty-four hours on the road, they're too tired to continue and decide to stop for a rest. They find a nice hotel and take a room, planning to sleep for four hours and get back on the road.

When they check out four hours later, the desk clerk hands them a bill for $350. The man explodes and demands to know why the charge is so high. He tells the clerk although it's a nice hotel, the rooms certainly aren't worth $350. When the clerk tells him $350 is the standard rate, the man insists on speaking to the manager.

The manager listens to the man and then explains the hotel has an Olympic-sized pool and a huge conference center that were available for the husband and wife to use. He also explains they could have taken in one of the shows for which the hotel is famous. "The best entertainers from New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas perform here," explains the manager.

No matter what facility the manager mentions, the man replies, "But we didn't use it!" The manager is unmoved and eventually the man gives up and agrees to pay. He writes a check and gives it to the manager. The manager is surprised when he looks at the check. "But sir," he says, "this check is only made out for $100."

"That's right," says the man. "I charged you $250 for sleeping with my wife."

"But I didn't!" exclaims the manager.

Well," the man replies, "she was here, and you could have."


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, Performance Management Company
864-292-8700 or

Go to Newsletter Six

back to Main Home Page

Go to the Main Page for Square Wheels

Got a problem, comment or an idea? Contact Scott