Conflict is a serious thing. Sometimes, a little levity can be a spark for better problem solving.
A management team hired me to lead a retreat, help them sort out long-term conflict between several colleagues, and help them try to reach consensus on future direction of their company. To prepare for the retreat, I spoke privately with each team member.
Said one senior VP, “We’re not a touchy-feely kind of crowd. So none of that Kumbaya stuff, ok?” I assured him that while I place high value on personal and professional relationships and connection between people, few would describe me as a Kumbaya type.
The first morning of the retreat, participants gathered in the main hall. It was a beautiful room with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and filled with sunlight.
I had arranged all the chairs in a circle. Folks wandered in, a little uncertain, a little uncomfortable with each other and with what might come.
When everyone had arrived, I stood and welcomed them. “Before we launch into the work of the day, I have a request of you. Please hold hands to form an unbroken circle and join me in singing Kumbaya.”
The shocked silence in the room was palpable. Several heads snapped to attention. Eyes narrowed. The senior VP who’d told me to skip “the Kumbaya stuff” stared hard at me. It was not a happy look.
I smiled back, a big, wide smile.
Realizing what was going on, he began to laugh, the a few others did. Soon, everyone in the room was laughing, including me. He pointed at me and said, “You got me!” and laughed some more.
When we were done, I said, “Ok, shall we get to work?” The somber mood broken, the uncertainty set aside, everyone nodded vigorously, ready to dive in. It was a wonderful two days of work together.