Moose on the Loose: Three Reasons for Using This Symbol of Communication Barriers



During a media interview after publishing Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work, I was asked if there was any one incident that led me to write the book. Good question.

I don’t recall my response. However, since my comebacks usually come back well after the discussion, I later reflected on how my experiences came together to weave the book’s storyline and core themes.

Moose on the Table  evolved from a convergence of three threads:

1.  Moose Use: A Playful Metaphor Lightening Heavy Conversations

The humorous imagery was resonating with workshop and retreat participants to open difficult conversations. The playful, lighthearted approach created a safer environment to raise issues or problems.

The health and safety VP of a Canadian-based global mining company relates how they used this approach to lighten discussions about vital safety issues:

“We ordered a batch of small stuffed moose with their antlers poking through little helmets featuring our company name and logo. One Australian site had great fun in ‘hiding the moose.’ The moose was found in the microwave, in the porta-potty underground, or in the cab of mobile equipment. None one knew where he was going to disappear to or be found.

An African site made a rather large (3′ x 4′) plywood cutout of a moose. If you found the moose in your office, you knew someone was looking to talk with you about an issue.

One mine manager declared moose season open and went “moose hunting” by keeping a ‘trophy board’ (bulletin board) of moose killed (issues or problems reduced).

The very Canadian symbol — a moose — wasn’t recognized or even known in many parts of the world. However, we maintained the moose identity (sometimes alternating with elephant-in-the-room or 800-pound gorillas) and educated many about this animal — as well as the concept!”

After two years of these (and other related training and culture-changing initiatives), the company reduced its safety incidents by over 65%.

2.  Moose Obtuse: Clueless Leaders Wearing Blinders

Another thread came from the number of managers we encountered who didn’t have a clue about how their authoritarian or domineering style was limiting root-cause analysis and effective problem-solving.

A particularly bad example happened during a workshop of about fifty supervisors and managers in a large company. I asked the General Manager of this group whether he’d like to do some “moose hunting” to identify and remove barriers to the organization working more effectively together. He agreed that this would be useful.

After we went through an exercise to provide anonymous input and vote on the top issues to be addressed, the GM was very surprised by the very clear and strong feedback he got from participants — his management group was not behaving as a team.

According to the feedback, management contradicted each other, waged petty turf battles, and reinforced departmental silos. At the end of the workshop exercise, his response to the group was defensive and a bit hostile.

I was getting a bad feeling.

I met with the GM a week later to review the day’s learnings and put implementation plans in place. As we looked at the list of moose issues and other action ideas generated at the meeting, he told me he’d already taken care of the number one ranked problem of his own team not working together effectively.

The day after our large group meeting, he said he got them together and “read them the riot act.” He told them they’d better start working together as a team, or he’d replace them with managers who could! It was all downhill from there.

We couldn’t work further with that GM. His style was to deny input that didn’t agree with his perceptions and try to push people into seeing things his way. He was eventually moved aside (a clear sign of their avoidance culture is that he’s still there today).

3.  Moose Excuse: Somebody Ought to Do Something

A third thread that led to the book and a central story line are supervisors and middle managers who disempower themselves. Many of these supervisors and managers feel people in their organization should take more initiative, be more positive, and focus on what they can do to improve their situations. They’re frustrated with what they see as victim behavior by others in their teams/organizations.

Often, you’ll hear these same “leaders” bitterly complain about their own bosses, denounce the bureaucracy, and make cynical comments showing they feel powerless to do anything about their team or organization’s major problems or issues.

A vivid example of this scenario played out with a large energy company during a lunch break at a workshop I was delivering. The three supervisors at our table had all but given up trying to deal with moose issues. Yet many of their peers in that same session were pressing forward with making changes and addressing issues in a much more positive way.

The more effective supervisors recognized that they could focus on what they could control or influence or focus on what was out of their control and bitterly complain about that. The difference between wallowing, following, or leading is as simple as choosing to concentrate on what can be done as opposed to what can’t.

Colm O’Gorman’s lawsuit against the Catholic Church in Ireland ripped the veil from decades of abuse. Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, quotes him, “When we pretend we don’t know, we make ourselves powerless. When we turn a blind eye, what we do — or institutions do — is we deny the best of ourselves, which is our capacity to respond.”

The post Moose on the Loose: Three Reasons for Using This Symbol of Communication Barriers appeared first on The Clemmer Group.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations. Check out for upcoming webinars and workshops.


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