Lessons From The Great See-Saw

Lessons From The Great See-Saw
By Leonard Kok


If you have attended any Experiential Teambuilding Programmes by Focus Adventure, you might have gone on board the giant see-saw known to those in the teambuilding circles as the ‘Whalewatch’. The contraption is so named because in the popular tourist activity called whale-spotting, adventure-seeking human beings charter a boat to spot whales frolic in the great seas and oceans.  On the boat, peals of excitement can be heard as the participants collectively run to the starboard and the portside if they have spotted the magnificent creature(s). The result is that the boat tips periodically to the extreme right or left.

Balancing on the Whalewatch is a seemingly easy task. One of the main reasons for this assumption is that we have fixed notions of how to balance on the see-saw – most probably from our fun childhood experiences on a much smaller version. What is imprinted in our long-term memory thus holds following assumptions:

1. Only two persons are required to balance the see-saw
2. The fulcrum is the centre pivot under the see-saw. Result? See assumption 1 again.

However, if these two deep-seated assumptions are applied on the Whalewatch, the team on board will find it quite challenging to achieve balance. On a warm day, external conditions will cause greater discomfort to the team and they might find themselves as real-life participants of Bruce Tuckman’s model of a ‘Storming Team.’

The great See-saw holds many lessons for any organisation. For one, it tips home the point that “Assumption is the mother of all failure”. It is interesting to note that on board the giant see-saw, any single piece of verbal expression or action holds a lot of insight, especially with regards to the team’s strategy, assumption(s), intent; and so on. Having facilitated many corporate teams on board the contraption, I have listed a few common verbalizations and expressions. They are tabled as follows, together with possible strategies and assumptions.

Verbalization / action



“Okay, all move to the centre” Team is going to start finding balance from/at the centre By going to the centre will achieve balance
“Everybody, don’t move! Just one person move!” Team is just going to use one member to achieve balance Only one person is needed to gain balance
“Let’s all tell each other our weights so that we can spread our weights equally” Team is going to distribute their the total weight equally on both sides By spreading the weight proportionally, they might be able to achieve balance

I like to watch the acting out of the above assumptions on the Whalewatch. Fascinating statements like these lead fascinating human beings to adopt equally fascinating poses which provide for – you’re right -  very fascinating photos and videos. On board this humongous contraption, it is easy to question any assumption behind the team who is trying to find balance on board because every single piece of action happens within the rectangular platform. In the same vein, if we put all human actions on the table and lay down, as it were, all our cards, it will be quite easy to guess the motive behind our fellow colleague’s actions.

An informal survey has been done on board one of Focus Adventure’s signature giant see-saw. Findings seem to indicate that the team which practises effective communication protocols will achieve balance much better results than the team which is too hung-up on the task itself. What is effective communication protocol again? It is to practise good listening and speaking on board the see-saw. For many working teams, this can simply mean taking turns to speak and listen in any communication, to speak up at the opportune time and to shut-up at the right time.

If the team learns how to listen to each team member’s verbal expressions and actions, it can enable the team on board to uncover every piece of assumption and then re-strategise to find balance. Translating this experience onto reality, openness and effective communication skills will enable any working team to achieve effective results because right or erroneous assumptions, hidden agendas and other communication blockages will be brought to the fore. This will then enable proper assignment of roles and responsibilities. More importantly, everyone will have a stake in any corporate endeavour and the taste of success will be much sweeter because everyone owns it.

Someone once said that effective communication is not how well the sender articulate his or her thoughts but how well the message has been understood and received by the recipient. Likewise, many seemingly challenging workplace issues can be resolved with better communication. Indeed, many relationship issues can be resolved with better communication.

Is your department or team an effective team? By practising effective communication protocols, it will give your team the cutting edge to triumph in many corporate ventures and adventures. In the process, your sincerity and openness in office relationships may even win you a friend or two.