Out of Control Exercise
The stock market rewards companies that consistently produce year
to year revenue and profit increases. Conversely, it severely
penalizes those companies who have erratic revenue and profit
performance. As a result, there is a lot of pressure on companies
to attempt to increase the predictability of the financial performance
of their business units. This is usually attempted by the institution
of an annual budget and financial forecast. During the planning
phase of this annual exercise business units are given revenue
and profit targets to achieve. This exercise simulates the behavior
of business unit leaders as they attempt to meet their quarterly
targets. Participants learn that the likelihood of hitting combined
or overall organizational targets is reduced using the traditional
target setting process. In the last phase of the exercise participants
learn that open communication about where the overall goal stands
increases the probability of hitting exact targets by the end
of the year.
This exercise was inspired by the "Hive Mind" chapter
of Kevin Kelly's breakthrough book: "Out of Control".
Facilitators are encouraged to read this chapter as background
for this exercise. The exercise is a little complicated to facilitate
and should be practiced in advance with 6 supporters. However,
the exercise is a real paradigm buster for many managers and its
lessons can lead an organization to increased predictability of
This exercise is designed to explain and teach participants that
teamwork produces better results than command and control when
it is important to exactly achieve a group target or goal.
Room Set up:
Arrange chairs in a 8'-10' semi-circle facing outward. That is,
participants should be able to see the person's lab to their left
or right, but not the lap of someone two people away.
Place a piece of cardboard and two (2) poker chips inside the bag and seal it. Fill each of the remaining four bags as follows:
insert 4 chips
insert 5 chips
insert 1 chip
insert 7 chips
In the two bags that have 4 chips and 7 chips, include the following
note face up on top of the other materials in the bag:
Have 5 volunteers sit in the chairs. These will be playing the
role of Account Managers. Have one participant stand to the side.
This person will be the BUSINESS UNIT manager to whom the ACCOUNT
MANAGERS report. Hand the BUSINESS UNIT leader his or her instructions
and hand the seated ACCOUNT MANAGERS a bag of chips and in the
case of the two that have the special note point to it as you
hand them the bag.
Read the following instructions to the seated ACCOUNT MANAGERS:
Each of you are ACCOUNT MANAGERS who report to the BUSINESS UNIT leader standing over there (point), In a minute the BUSINESS UNIT leader will assign you targets for the coming quarter that you will need to fill from the supply of poker chips in your possession. You may not look at the supply of chips your fellow account managers are holding. You will receive your targets from your business unit leader and "when I tell you to do so", you will hand them to the BUSINESS UNIT leader.
Read the following instructions to the BUSINESS UNIT leader
As BUSINESS UNIT leader working together with your affinity group
leader you have committed to deliver 16 chips this quarter. Your
outstanding staff of account managers have a total of 17 chips
in front of them. You need to tell each of them what contribution
they need to make in order for you to achieve your overall goal
of 16 chips. You will be rewarded for meeting your goal. You will
be rewarded less, for coming up short. And you and the company
will be in serious trouble if you exceed your goal.
Facilitator has the BUSINESS UNIT leader write and distribute
the target for each account on post it notes.
At this point you tell the participants that the BUSINESS UNIT
leader has been called away to Europe for 4 weeks and you walk
the BUSINESS UNIT a short distance away and ask him or her to
face away from the circle of account managers. You then enter
the circle, remove 3 chips from the person with six chips and
hand them to the person with 3 chips along with this note:
Important! This is a lot of extra chips! You may want to hide
one of them for the next round.
Now have the BUSINESS UNIT leader return and visit each account
for their contribution. Total will be 14 chips collected, 15 chips
collected, if the person losing 3 chips pulls one out of their
pocket. Ask the BUSINESS UNIT leader to talk with his account
managers to determine why the total is short.
Expected answers are:
Facilitator asks is this a realistic occurrence...where the opportunity
to contribute at the end of a period may not be the same as it
appeared at the beginning of the period. If an ACCOUNT MANAGER
with a "secrete" chip, contributed it. Did the BUSINESS
UNIT leader notice this. If not, ask him how the person with 6
chips to start could lose 3 chips and still contribute 4 chips.
If the BUSINESS UNIT leader doesn't ask, the facilitator should
ask the individual who had 5 chips but only contributed 3 chip
why he or she did not give all 5 chips.
Expected answer is that individual didn't want to overshoot the
Give the BUSINESS UNIT leader 15 M&MS to distribute to the
account managers as he desires. Explain the BUSINESS UNIT leader
will receive his reward later. The leader will either distribute
the rewards equally (3 to each) or in proportion to each person's
contribution. In either case ask why he chose to do it that way.
If he chose equally. Ask the person who contributed 5 how he felt
get the same as everyone else. Is he as motivated as he was before.
Facilitator returns each persons contribution so that chips are distributed as follows:
2 - 5 - 5 - 1 - 5 = 18 ( note: the first person with 5 chips is
holding two additional in reserve.
BUSINESS UNIT leader is told that his new goal is 17 plus the
1 he was short last time so the new goal is 18.
BUSINESS UNIT leader is asked to look at the contribution opportunity
of each account and to assign targets for each by writing out
each target on a post it note and handing it to the ACCOUNT MANAGER.
Facilitator announces that the BUSINESS UNIT leader has been called
away to Mexico - Walk the BUSINESS UNIT leader away from the group
and have him face away from the ACCOUNT MANAGERS.
Facilitator enters the circle and takes one chip away from the
person with 2 chips and gives it to any ACCOUNT MANAGER with 5
BUSINESS UNIT leader is brought back and makes circles the group
collecting on his targets.
BUSINESS UNIT leader counts his chips and reports the result.
Answer should be 17 chips received.
Facilitator asks how this could be happening.
System of rewards and instructions are not flexible enough to
adjust to changing conditions. But realistically, conditions do
Only the BUSINESS UNIT leader knew the big picture goal.
Are ACCOUNT MANAGERS always forthright about revealing the opportunities
available. If not why not?
What about the person holding chips in reserve. Why did you not
play them. ans. no incentive to play them. or wasn't asked to
Facilitator gives the BUSINESS UNIT leader 15 m&m's to distribute.
Have the account managers turn their chairs around and face inward.
In this round you will be given a group goal to achieve.
You will be rewarded based on your individual contribution and
will share a group bonus only if the target is exactly met. If
the groups goes over the target the company will be hurt. If the
group exceeds the group target there will be no group reward.
If the group under achieves the target you will receive some individual
reward but no group reward.
Facilitator redistributes the chips as follows
5 - 4 - 6 - 2 - 1 = 18 (note there should still be 2 extra chips
Facilitator gives the BUSINESS UNIT leader a new goal of 18 and
asks him to share this with the group of ACCOUNT MANAGERS
BUSINESS UNIT leader communicates new goal to the account mangers.
BUSINESS UNIT leader is called away to Japan - Facilitator walks
the BUSINESS UNIT leader away.
Facilitator takes 2 chips from person with 6 chips and gives them
to person with 1 chip.
The team is instructed to discuss the group goal and each persons
BUSINESS UNIT leader returns and accepts contributions.
Quality check did we get 18, YES
Did we meet our goal ...YES
Do we get rewarded.... YES
Facilitator gives BUSINESS UNIT leader 18 m&m's to distribute.
+ 5 m & m's as a group reward.
Why did this approach work better
No need to hold back
Can see overall opportunity.
Directions: Print and cut the page into individual message strips
to hand out during the exercise.
Important! This is a lot of extra chips you may want to hide
one of them for the next round.