Doers Use Workplace Metaphors

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Sometimes it is easier and safer for Doers to use a metaphor to discuss a dynamic workplace situation. For example, using a nautical theme to illustrate the common stages of organizational life.

Stage 1 – Getting Underway: Moored to the dock the powerful, seaworthy craft floats high in the water. Supplies are hefted aboard and stowed below deck. The skipper takes the helm, as the crew gets ready to deploy. Excitement mounts as the engine pounds. The throttle is shoved forward and the boat starts to move. The captain commands, “cast off, let go all lines,” and the bow swings free.

Stage 2 – Charting the Cruise: The captain maneuvers past buoys and markers toward open water. Under full power the boat leaves the sheltered harbor. The hatches are battened down and the cargo secured. The charts are unfurled and the sextant is readied. A prime route is chosen, and the course is laid out. The navigator sets the heading, the orders are posted, and the crew plans their day.

Stage 3 – Positioning the Crew: The crew takes to their stations as the boat churns through the water. The cargo is shifted to keep the boat in trim. The crew learns to stay balanced, while tending the engine, checking the supplies, and keeping watch for privateers. The lookout scans the horizon, searching for storms and floating hazards.

Stage 4- Changing Course: A dangerous object looms dead ahead. The skipper pulls the wheel sharply. The boat leans hard to port, catching the crew off balance. Some lose footing and fall over board. Fewer crewmembers mean a lighter load and a faster boat. When the boat picks up speed, the skipper is pleased. More high-speed maneuvers take their toll on the over-worked crew so the skipper heads into port for a rest. The missing crew is replaced, stores are replenished, and more cargo is stacked on the deck.

Stage 5 – Running Aground: New crewmembers set about learning the ropes as the skipper heads back out to sea. Just outside the breakwater the boat encounters a pirate ship lurking off shore. The pirates are waiting to plunder the cargo and capture the crew. The crew takes up battle stations to fend off an attack. Dodging salvos and broadsides, the skipper reverses course heading for safety in port. Too late, the water is shallow and the bottom draws near. The boat hits the reef and is stuck hard and fast.

Stage 6 – Abandoning Ship: The engine strains but the hull is stuck fast. Repeated high tides fail to float the boat free. The crew jumps overboard. Clutching their life vests, they drift away. The exhausted skipper shuts down the engine. The boat is deserted all hope is abandoned. The wreck is left for the pirates to plunder.

Doers select the stage that most closely matches what might be happening in their workplace. They then select a stage to open up a discussion about how their company is handling the change. The fun begins when participants jump in to add bits and pieces to create their own story.


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