Create a Team “Code Word”

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 24, 2019

When I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley, California, whenever my father and brother started prattling on too long about their love of cars (which happened frequently), one of us would start singing “Jingle Bells.”  If others in the family agreed that it was time for the conversation to move on, they would join in the singing!

Singing “Jingle Bells” was our family “code word” for us to move on.

Teams need a code word too.  Whenever the conversation gets too desultory, someone needs to call it.

When he sees a team get too tactical, my colleague, Scott Halford, asks if they are getting into the “bug dirt.”  Pretty soon, the team starts catching themselves getting into the weeds by calling “bug dirt!”

My friend, Susan Stark, uses the phrase, “it’s blue!” referring to a non-consequential decision her team had to make.  They were wrestling with a color choice – blue or red – and finally figured out that it really didn’t matter!  Nevertheless, they had spent all this time talking about the color, when it didn’t really matter.  So now, when her team digresses into the trivial, someone shouts “it’s blue!”

One of my first clients uses the “three knock rule.”  Whenever anyone would stray off-topic, someone would gently rap on the table.  Three knocks was just about enough to get the team’s attention!

What’s your “code word” to bring the team back on track?


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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