Moose on the Table is not a cookbook, nor a book about hunting moose. It is a didactic novel about how to better manage people and create high performing teams in organizations. While this is not my favorite kind of literature, I know that it speaks to some of my colleagues way more than “serious” business books because it provides useful images and metaphors that they can latch onto to think through how they can improve as managers and leaders. In fact, I read this book over the holidays because one of my clients wants to refer to it in a team retreat we are planning in January. I thought it was be good to read the book they have liked so much so that we could speak the same language.
There are a couple of things I like about this book:
1) It features middle-age characters whose work challenges and stress are negatively affecting: physical health issues, weight gain, mental health issues, drinking, relationship issues, conflicts at home, divorce, etc. Those are all real consequences that seriously affect people and their enjoyment of life. Creating healthier work situations and better ways to handle personal and professional challenges can help foster healthier lifestyles for people and those close to them.
2) There are repeated references to the negative impact of fear in the workplace (fear of losing one’s job, fear of not being successful, fear of not meeting expectations, fear of not pleasing others, etc.). One question that comes up repeatedly, and that I find oh so helpful, is “What would you do if you were not afraid?” I even wrote it down on the front page of my diary to remind myself when I am facing situations that trigger some fear response… so I can think about when I would, or could, do if I were not afraid. Clemmer talks about the need to have courageous conversations, conversations we hold without fear or in spite of the fears that we have. In fact he says: “True courage isn’t to be fearless. Courage is facing our fears and dealing with them.” (p. 62)
That being said, what is a moose? It is a problem or issue that is not being acknowledged or discussed in the open, but is still affecting people, relationships or performance. It is very similar to the “elephant in the room.” Putting the moose on the table refers to naming and acknowledging the issue so it can be addressed. The book also describes the work of a facilitator in a team retreat that helps identify the moose that are negatively affecting the team and are keeping it from performing. I found that description to be quite accurate.
It presents a realistic picture of how data would be gathered to identify issues (combination of survey, interview, and focus groups). It also shows how the results of reflection on change needs to be presented to various stakeholders in ways that makes sense to them. Once you’ve come up with an action plan, you may need the help of others, but how do you get their buy-in? What makes sense to you has to make sense to others as well.
So would I recommend this book? Most likely. I have found it quite interesting, a quick read but a thought-provoking one. Jim Clemmer’s web site, blog and newsletters also refer back to the same concept and the same language.
Clemmer, Jim. Moose of the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. Bastian Books, 2008.