“You are about to be assigned to a small group. You will be given a task that will require preparation, planning, coordination, and teamwork. You need to complete this task and be ready to go in exactly three hours. Is that clear?”
The crowd of more than 100 participants shouted back, “Yes!”
This was day four of a five-day intensive personal growth workshop out in California. I signed up for this program on the recommendation of a friend who said it changed her life. She highly encouraged me to come check it out; so I did.
The facilitator continued. “Each group will get a unique challenge. Know that the people in your small group are there because you all have something in common.”
As the large group of participants began breaking into their assigned smaller groups, I couldn’t help wondering who I’d be paired up with and why. I’d been in this workshop for three-and-a-half days and had no idea how I was being perceived by the facilitators. Surely, I stood out enough to be put in a group of like-minded successful professionals, I reasoned as I turned the corner toward the maze of meeting spaces off the hotel lobby.
I glanced to my left where a group of women were gathering and hugging each other like they’d just won an award. I nodded as I passed, admiring their energy. To my right was a coed group forming, laughing, and high-fiving each other like they’d known each other for years.
I hope that’s my group, I mused as I headed toward them. Just then a loud shout came from the other side of the hallway.
“Greg, we’re over here!”
I looked up and instantly winced to myself, This must be a mistake!
Over in the corner were four men, each looking more out-of-place than the other. Frank, the only one I knew, was waving me over.
“You made it!” he said, and proceeded to introduce me to the others. “Greg, this is Paul and that’s TJ and Jerron.”
We all stood there for a moment, awkwardly staring at each other. I tried my best to mask my disappointment. You see, these men did have something in common. They were the quiet guys in the workshop who never actively participated or spoke up. So why am I in this group? I lamented quietly. These guys are losers! I just don’t see the connection!
Now, granted, my initial assessment of the group wasn’t fair. I didn’t know these men. And the only reason I knew Frank was because we briefly chatted in the lobby the first morning. I needed to try to make this work. After all, there had to be a reason we were together—even if it didn’t make sense to me at the time.
“Now that we are all here, I’ll go ahead and read our stretch assignment,” said Paul.
“Stretch Assignment? This should be interesting,” I said. We all braced ourselves.
Paul began, “The following assignment is unique to your group and tailored for the individuals in it. You have exactly three hours to do the following:
- You are to become the Pointer Sisters.
- You are to dress and look like the Pointer Sisters.
- You must be prepared to sing their song, “I’m So Excited!”
- The song must be sung in a cappella.
- You will perform the song in front of all the participants.
“Is this a joke?” asked TJ. He looked like he had just woken up from a bad dream.
“And who the hell are the Pointer Sisters?” added Frank.
I jumped in on the whining. “And what do they mean by a cappella? I’m hoping it means the short version of the song?”
Paul shook his head. “Dude, it means we have to sing without music.” The rest of us looked at each other in shock. “In other words,” he continued, “we’re screwed!”
By this point, most of the other groups had already dashed out of the hotel as if they were contestants in The Amazing Race.
“Let’s get to the mall,” shouted Jerron. “We need dresses. We’ll go in my van.”
“Wait, what…,” I cried, “we’re buying dresses?” The men ignored me and took off toward the parking lot. I went after them.
Jerron looked like he was a member of the ZZ Top band with his long beard and matching ponytail. And his dilapidated van only added to the mystique. But it was definitely the slight stench of marijuana coming from the inside that made me feel like I was an extra in a Cheech and Chong movie.
“Got any munchies?” I joked as we sped off. No response.
After frantically searching his iPhone, Frank shouted, “Here they are.”
“Who?” asked Paul.
“The Pointer Sisters performing on YouTube,” replied Frank. He passed the phone around. “Brace yourselves.”
As we took turns watching, the van became uncomfortably quiet. Finally, TJ spoke: “We’re in big trouble!”
We all broke out laughing, realizing the absurdity of this assignment.
“Guys, guys! Here’s what we’ll do,” suggested Paul. “Let’s just get in, grab some dresses, and get out. We’ll figure the rest out later.”
“Again with the dresses,” I teased, as the laughter morphed into discomfort and fear.
“Are we really going to do this?” stammered Jerron, as we pulled into Orange County’s version of the Mall of America.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” replied Paul. “Let’s just do it!”
Without hesitation, we all jumped out of the van and took off running—but in different directions. No conversation, no plan, no nothing. It was the oddest thing. So much for the bonding experience, I mumbled. I followed Frank, the slowest one.
Time was becoming a factor as more and more panic set in. Frank and I ran toward the mall directory when my cell phone rang. “Greg, it’s Paul. Come over to the Super Kmart. They have cheap dresses here.”
I grabbed Frank and we hustled over as quickly as we could, dodging people left and right on our way. Within minutes, we were reunited in the women’s clothing aisle in Super K, pulling cheap dresses off the rack.
“Where’s TJ?” shouted Paul.
“Oh no!” cried Frank as he spotted TJ coming out of the next aisle, waiving a handful of wigs in the air.
“Guys, I got the last five wigs from the Halloween aisle.”
“And I found some lipstick and eyeliner,” added Jerron.
I could only shake my head. What have I gotten myself into?
“We’ll dress in the van,” screamed Paul, directing us toward the cashiers.
I looked at my watch. “We’re down to 75 minutes.”
We sprinted to the van and piled in for the second time. Frank then pulled out his iPhone where he had downloaded our song, “I’m So Excited,” and began playing it as we sped back to the hotel.
“Luckily there aren’t a lot of words,” I said, trying to cheer myself up.
As we approached the hotel parking lot, we could see all the other groups from the program spread out across the lot practicing dance moves to music. The scene could have passed for American Idol tryouts as each group worked on their choreography.
“At least we’re all doing the same thing,” said Paul, clearly feeling a little relieved.
“Yeah, maybe five white guys imitating three black women won’t stand out as much,” sarcastically added Frank.
With time running out, we finished dressing in the back of the van while attempting to apply eyeliner and lipstick. Then we set up our own mini dance studio in our corner of the parking lot, using Jerron’s van to block us from the other groups.
“Now what?” pleaded TJ.
“We…dance…I guess?” replied Frank.
“No one said anything about dancing,” said Paul. “I think we just sing the song.”
“I know. Let’s stand together in a line and clap our hands to the song as we sing,” I suggested. “Besides, we don’t have time to put a dance together anyway.”
Just then a loud horn sounded from the hotel. Our time was up. We would have to improvise.
“But we’re not even close to being ready,” cried Jerron. “Maybe they’ll give us more time?”
“It’s too late, buddy,” said Paul. “We just need to do this.”
My heart was pounding as we walked toward the main entrance. We were wearing Kmart dresses and cheap Halloween wigs with poorly done makeup on our faces. But it didn’t matter. I knew enough about these moments to know that Paul was right; we just needed to do it. This was about the experience; not whether or not we looked like or sounded like the Pointer Sisters.
The large ballroom was buzzing as each group nervously awaited the start of the show. Suddenly the lights dimmed, and a big spotlight appeared in the center of the room. The buzzing quieted to a low murmur, and an amplified voice took control.
“And now I’d like to introduce our first performance of the evening. Singing a cappella, please welcome the Pointer Sisters!”
The crowd went crazy as the five of us made our way to the front of the room. We lined up together, as planned, while the first part of the song played over the loudspeakers to help get us started. Right away we began clapping and bellowing out the chorus. Then the music faded, leaving our off-key voices without accompaniment.
Now I have to be honest here and say my memory of what transpired next is a little foggy.
I remember that we broke off in five different directions (surprise, surprise) while belting out the words, “I’m so excited,” over and over and over again. Clearly none of us could recall any of the other words to the song. I also remember going into the audience and kissing as many people on the cheek as I could find. And although I have no idea why I did that or what it had to do with the song, it did help fill the awkwardness of a song that never seemed to end.
But we did it! And when our song was over, all the other participants swarmed in and lifted each of us up in the air, as if we had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup finals. I must admit, I’ve never felt that level of exhilaration in my life before (or since) as I did right then.
The rest of the evening followed the same format. Each group performed and got to experience the exhilaration of being lifted in the air.
As part of our completion activities the next day, we were asked to reconvene into our small groups to debrief the previous day’s experience. The discussion in our group went something like this:
Paul: That was fun. More fun than I ever would have expected.
Me: The fun for me didn’t kick in until the song was pretty much over and I knew we were done.
TJ: I was pretty much uncomfortable the whole time.
TJ: That’s not how I like to have fun. But that’s just me.
Jerron: I had a blast. And I appreciate getting to know you guys.
Frank: Like Greg, I too was uncomfortable, but started to enjoy it toward the end. Being lifted up by everyone was pretty cool.
Me: So, what did we learn?
Paul: Regardless of the different levels of anxiety that activity raised in each of us, we still came together and succeeded. For that we should be proud of ourselves.
Jerron: I realize the tight time frame was part of the test to see how we’d do under pressure. I would have preferred spending some time getting to know each other. That part was missing for me.
Me: Me too. Without that relationship piece, I didn’t feel as connected to you guys. We could have been a stronger team with a deeper connection. And to be honest, getting through that experience felt more like an individual accomplishment than a team accomplishment for me.
TJ: Good point. It was more of an individual victory for me as well.
Paul: So, you’re saying relationships matter in teams.
Frank: Yes. We were successful around the task but not as successful around the relationship aspect. Had we also taken the time to bond a little, imagine how amazing that ending would have felt!
Me: What’s our takeaway from this?
Jerron: There needs to be a balance between the task and the relationships in order to be successful.
Paul: Amen, brother! And can I say one more thing?
Paul: You guys are the ugliest chicks I’ve ever seen!
*This story is from Geese’s latest book, “It’s All About Me: Lessons and Insights from the Geese.”