Conflict is inevitable in life and at work

Teambuilding exercises emphasize communication, resolution

Third day of The Joseph Project: Tuesday, August 1 (8:00am-1:30pm)


Hello again, and welcome back to the 18th installment of The Joseph Project. If you are just now joining, please look at the previous days I have written about thus far to get caught up – Intake/Orientation | Opening Day | Financial Wellness. Just as Mark and Lucas are required to attend each day of The Joseph Project, I ask you to read the previous stories to understand their journey to employment and a better life.

Today, the third-class day of The Joseph Project, was exciting and my personal favorite so far. I enjoyed today because while we were learning about teamwork and conflict resolution, we also used some of the tools provided in previous classes such as effective communication and planning. Instruction today was provided by:

  • Thom Cody, President, Pathmakers
  • Jay Thompson, Attorney (Retired), Everson Law Firm
  • Eugene Smalls, Case Manager, St. John’s Ministries

The 13 Nails of Death

The day started off with a teambuilding exercise called The 13 Nails of Death. Talk about a stressful way to begin any day! Thirteen Nails of Death is designed to make us think outside the box, a game where we need to be creative and ultimately “find balance.”

Smalls and Cody got us situated around what appeared to be carpentry supplies. We sat at a table and stared at a piece of wood with a hole in the center, and 13 large nails, almost like railway spikes. The objective of the exercise is to “balance all the supplied nails on the head of a single nail using only the supplies given,” said Smalls. We were given no set time limit and no other instruction. Let the exercise begin!

There were two types of people in our group. Mark and Lucas were very hands on; they were both touching the nails, trying different things throughout the entire process. At times they were trying techniques with each other, and other times they split the nails and worked out ideas on their own.

I was more of a thinker in this situation. I sat back, ingested all the information and ideas that Mark and Lucas were discussing, and on occasion I would chime in with an idea that would inevitably fail. Throughout the entire process, our facilitators were holding conversation in the background.

Perception is everything

For me, having been a part of teambuilding exercises previously, I thought they were trying to distract us from the objective, so I tuned them out. However, Lucas was paying close attention to what they were saying. They were talking about tips and tricks to help us meet our objective. At one point Mark had 5 of the 13 nails in their correct position. When it was all said and done though, we ended up admitting defeat.

Thom, having led the exercise hundreds of times, spoke of perception and how we were so close on several occasions, but it was how we were laying the nails out, how we were perceiving the nails, that kept us from achieving our objective.

The Sinking Ship

Now that we were shown the solution to “The 13 Nails of Death” it was time to rescue some individuals from a sinking ship, while also sacrificing others in the process in the next exercise. The scenario is this: There are 15 people onboard a yacht and the yacht has just sprung a leak. It is sinking fast. The lifeboat can only hold 9 people. It was our job to determine which 9 people will get on the lifeboat, and once that is determined we must prioritize them in order of importance in case the food runs short. The passengers include individuals, young and old, from all walks of life. Celebrities, athletes, politicians, parents, children, and everyone in between. We were given 5 minutes to complete the entire exercise.

I failed to record who we chose and in what order, but I’ll give it my best shot at remembering at least who we chose to go on the lifeboat. We chose…. A pregnant woman, the captain of the yacht, Michael Phelps, Christian minister, an Eagle Scout, soldier, a physician who is addicted to drugs, championship fisherman, and a prostitute who is also a nurse.


This was a super interesting exercise. Our process for picking who was going on the lifeboat and who wasn’t varied from person to person. I was choosing individuals based on the tools they brought to the team, purely for practical reasons. For example, I thought an Eagle Scout was a great addition because of their wilderness skills, carpentry skills, and overall merit. Mark and Lucas had more heart and spirituality in their decisions to take the physician who is also addicted to drugs, and the Christian minister. And Becky, who sat in on this activity, was all heart in her choice to take the pregnant woman on the boat, which in turn saved two lives, not just the one.

When the 5 minutes were finished, we had our list and we ultimately completed the exercise. It may have come at the last second, but together we finished together and agreed on our list. We used effective communication to convey reason, listen to each other, and make crucial decisions in those 5 minutes. Not only were we thinking about the boat and food, but also planning for time spent on a deserted island, thinking about what would happen if the lifeboat sank. We had all the possibilities thought of when we made our final list because of the tools and resources from previous classroom instruction.

Conflict and resolution

Thom Cody used our experiences from the two activities to discuss the day’s instruction about teamwork and conflict resolution. He knew full well the conflict and teamwork happening during these activities would translate to any job Mark and Lucas would receive. He went over the makeup of successful teams and how they have a common mission and goals, shared responsibility, measured performance, and how they should perform greater than the performance of the individual members.

We also discussed how each member must have a personal mission and goals aligning with the teams. Everyone must first lead themselves at work and on their team by practicing punctuality, trust, respect, and commitment. A good teammate knows when to ask for help and is always willing to give help.

With any team, even if the entire team functions as it should, comes conflict. Conflict may be a disagreement or an argument. Conflict can happen at home, at work, in the breakroom, and it must always be handled carefully.

“Can we all just get along?”

To answer Rodney King’s question, “Can we all just get along?”

“Yes, we can, if we try hard enough.”

Eugene covers our three basic instincts when it comes to conflict. We either fight, flight, or surrender to the situation. As newcomers to their team’s Mark and Lucas are going to be joining a group with established rules, policies, procedures, and culture. They must learn to address any conflict with a level head, calm thoughts, and avoid any anger from prevailing.

Compromise may be the answer too. In conflict both parties should seek peace and pursue it. Poor attitudes and poor teamwork have been the biggest supplier of lost jobs to Joseph Project graduates in the past. With the tools provided today, we hope Mark and Lucas aren’t losing their jobs any time soon.

The final day

Tomorrow, the final day of The Joseph Project, is the big test. Mark and Lucas will participate in mock interviews with hiring managers from employer partners, community volunteers, and St. John’s Ministries staff.

I have been told the final day of The Joseph Project is always the most exciting and emotional. Those in the classes have invested a lot of their time, energy and heart to being better people. I can’t wait to see how this installment of The Joseph Project finishes and what is in store for Mark and Lucas.

Stay tuned for a look at the final day of The Joseph Project!

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