“The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is also a sign of genius since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in the dissimilar”. Aristotle
Metaphors are a powerful way to energetically unite teams. They simplify the complex and create commonality in difference. They’re an incredibly useful tool for breaking down silos, encouraging collaboration and connecting the energy within teams to achieve team goals faster.
‘It’s a piece of cake’ is a metaphor a client came up with to create a common context for the messaging and actions around a complex change initiative. The purpose was to influence a more positive mindset to the change. The cake metaphor created a communication approach that used regular morning teas (with cake of course) to communicate progress, invite sharing of concerns and ensure everyone was kept in the loop with major decisions and mile stones.
Whilst the metaphor itself is a strong lever for collaboration, it’s in creating the metaphor that the real fun for teams can be had. Like everything in high performing teams, co-creation is critical. Simply coming up with a metaphor and handing it to the team is unlikely to get buy-in or create the collaborative uplift required.
Teams thrive when they create together, bringing individual difference to collectively create something that didn’t exist before the team came into the room. This is a key attribute of a high performing team.
So how do you create a great team metaphor that connects effort and energy in the team?
1. Schedule a couple of hours out from BAU to work on the team with some creative metaphor building activity (breakfast sessions are great for this)
2. Bring coloured pencils/textas & blank paper into the room to stimulate creative thinking (even better and more environmentally friendly, multiple whiteboards)
3. Write up the goals of the team (make sure these are SMART)
4. Collectively chart the requirements and impact of the team’s key stakeholders
5. Take 10 minutes individually to draw, using colour, an appropriate metaphor
6. Each person describes their metaphor and why they chose it
7. Put all metaphors up together on a wall
8. The team then picks the one that most effectively describes how the sum of the parts are best leveraged to achieve the team goal. Don’t over think this, a quick ticking exercise works well, the one with the most ticks is the winner.
9. Explore as a team how to use the chosen metaphor within and outside of the team to align communication and action.
I’ve used this exercise many times with teams. It’s fun, deepens understanding of the importance of individual contributions to team effectiveness and most importantly, contributes to building trust by inviting individuals to bring their difference into the room.
Need some help to build a great team metaphor, feel free to contact me at