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Quick-start series of 5 team challenges. No. 1: The elephant in the room.

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Author: David Tinker MSc. OD Consultant and Executive Coaching Supervisor.

Welcome to our new series of five quick-start challenges to help businesses like yours leverage the power of Rethinkly to address some typical communication challenges. Every couple of weeks, we'll provide you with a new challenge to help you unlock the potential of every member of your team.

We're starting with one we can all relate to: The Elephant in the Room. Enjoy!

Have you ever sat in a meeting and noticed the energy-sapping as most of those present know there’s something that nobody wants to talk about; the elephant in the room, the undiscussable. And it’s not even possible to discuss the undiscussable (Chris Argyris, 1992).

The next level of awkwardness happens when the core group who have bought in to the taboo, mix with others who are blissfully unaware of the rules governing sensitivities. Familiar territory?

The elephant tends to exist because the group values not talking about it over the potential value of getting it out of the room. It can also exist because of a corporate culture of not confronting sensitive issues, or of a perceived power play that means some people may lose out as a result of exposing said elephant.

The cost of avoiding the elephant as it roams the room is in reduction of energy and lower productivity. Other consequences include potential loss of confidence and dynamism, and limited ability to problem solve.

Removing the elephant takes simple planning but first it’s best to fully understand what’s going on. Here’s how:

(By starting this exercise I agree to the Terms and Conditions.)

scene to enter from elephant in the room exercise

  1. Click on this link to take you into the Rethinkly virtual world where you’ll see an elephant and several avatars. (This will work on desktop/laptop computer and iPad. Do not worry about remembering all the steps below. You will be guided in the virtual world with my voice :))

  2. Double click on the elephant and give it a name and size.

  3. Name the people (double click on avatars) who have a relationship with the elephant. Give each person a colour and posture and drag-and-drop them into position relative to each other, and to the elephant.

  4. Experiment with power by changing the size of each person to represent their authority or influence.

  5. Write in the speech caption a few words to describe what they’d need to hear or see happen to enable them to talk about the elephant.

  6. Move the ‘Elephant protector’ to stand between the elephant and the people – this is the unseen influence on the group that’s trying to protect someone or something for fear of loss, offence, shaming, disempowering, vulnerability etc. Give this protector a colour, posture and voice.

  7. Add something (Add tab) into the world to represent the kind of psychological safety that would allow these people to name the elephant – a first step to getting it out of the room. It may be you saying something to help open the conversation up. What would you say to whom?

  8. View from each person (Views tab) and notice how they feel and what they need.

If this has worked for you consider taking a screen grab and sharing with others, or forward the link ask them to go through the same exercise.

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