The GRIP model:
                                                                                  An application of the DISC personality profiling system
                                                                                                                        By Andy Pan

More often than not, the GRIP model has been used as part of a debrief session after the conduct of activities such as Blindfold Squares and Key Punch. Incidentally, this same model, which proposes four elements every successful team should possess or work on, can be used as an apt illustration of the DISC personality profiling system. How? First of all let us review the characteristics of the four personality styles.

1) D (Direct and Decisive)

. Practical
. Visionary
. Courageous
. Goal – oriented
. Challenges status quo

2) I (Influencing)

. Charismatic
. Warm
. Friendly
. Good Sense of Humor
. Compassionate
. People – oriented

3) S (Steady and Stable)

. Efficient
. Dependable
. Relaxed
. Patient
. Seeks stability

4) C (Compliant)

Schedule – oriented
. Detailed
. Of high standards
. Conscientious
. Analytical
. Careful 

And now, a brief description of the GRIP model.

G oal

1) What the team wants to achieve
2) The big picture
3) Long or short term goals
4) Minor or major goals
5) Realistic but yet challenging

6) Quantifiable

R oles
1) Determination of individual responsibilities in the team
2) Efficient allocation of resources so as to avoid duplication

I nterpersonal relations / I nteraction
1) Positive and professional relationships among team members
2) Establishment of trust and inter–dependence

P rocess
1) Step-by-step procedures en-route to meeting the goal(s)
2) Development of key indicators that can measure if the set goal(s) can still be met
3) The detailed plan

I guess, by now, some of us would have had an “eureka” moment.

I did.

So how can the GRIP model represent and illustrate the four DISC personality styles?


Naturally, a high D person would be most comfortable with goal-setting since Ds are, generally, goal and task-oriented. They are visionaries who have the ability to determine the team’s goals with ease. Thus, you would trust Ds to decide and inspire a shared vision with the team.

What about a high I person? You’ve guessed it! Interpersonal relations! Being a warm, friendly and people-oriented person, an I would, most likely, trigger any relationship-building activity. The last thing an I would want in a team is a lack of interaction among members.

A high S individual pursues security and stability. Thus, with a determination of roles and responsibilities, a S would feel more secure when he knows that he is playing an important role in the team. Responsibilities form an integral part of a S’s work life. In fact, you can trust a S in the team to perform efficiently and responsibly in any role assigned.

Last but not least, a high C individual would be concerned with the details of the plan – the processes and procedures that need to be put in place in order to achieve the team’s goal(s). Cs complement Ds as they work out the finer points to support the overall goal. In fact, being conscientious and schedule-oriented, Cs would excel in creating and following processes as they leave no stone unturned.

Hence, it goes to reinforce the fact that all the personality styles are unique and complementary. It is no coincidence that the GRIP framework is needed to ensure team success and at the same time, able to allow a natural fit for each of the personality styles in each of its element. No style is stronger or weaker than another, because each personality leverages on the strength and complements the weakness of another. An ideal team would be one with a good mix of all the DISC personality styles, working on all the GRIP elements in sync with each of their styles. Like they say….no individual is perfect but as a team we can be perfect.




                                                                                                                 The Business of Belaying
                                                                 A High Ropes Course Analogy of an Effective Corporate Organization
                                                                                                                                By Andy Pan

be.lay –verb (used with object)

Mountain Climbing.


to secure (a person) by attaching to one end of a rope.


to secure (a rope) by attaching to a person or to an object offering stable support

( 2007)

The high elements in adventure training have been used very successfully in teambuilding programs worldwide. From the balancing beam to the Postman’s Walk, these obstacles, suspended 10 metres off the ground, has served as powerful reminders that fear can be overcome with the support and encouragement of every team member. However, if we could just take a closer look at the entire process of belaying in the conduct of a high ropes course, its application in a corporate environment could not be more obvious.

Before a climber can start his ascent towards the obstacle, a belay team would have to be set in place. In a typical belay system, the climber would be attached to one end of a safety rope and at the other end, a belay team, would be responsible for the climber’s safety. In order for this belay system to be successful, every member of the team must perform his role with vigilance and care.

With the team ready, the climber starts his way up. Fearful and uncertain, he pulls himself up slowly towards the obstacle. He does not know how he is going to overcome this 10-metre challenge; neither does he know what added challenges might lay ahead. Although the climber does not know how he is going to conquer this fear, he knows he will. Finally, after several hesitant steps, he makes it to the top. However, what lies ahead of him now is a 15-metre long wooden beam, perched along the tree lines. He knows he has to walk across this 1-foot wide beam in order to get to the other side and there is no turning back. Looking down below to his team on the ground, he realizes that if he were to fall, at least his team is there to guarantee his safety. The team cheers as words of encouragement and support echo from the ground. Focusing only on his objective, a moment of silence engulfs the climber. After taking a deep breath, he takes his first step. Soon, after taking each step with certainty and belief, the climber makes it to the other side successfully, amidst triumphant roars.

This may just be a characteristic high ropes scenario but how does a seemingly simple act of belaying relate to that of an effective corporate organization? The answer: the relationship between a leader (climber) and his team. As theorized by Kouzes and Posner, an exemplary leader must display 5 distinct leadership practices.


Model the way


Inspire a shared vision


Challenge the process


Enable others to act


Encourage the heart

As with all leaders, they are but extraordinary people. A leader is merely an ordinary man/woman doing the same things but with extra-ordinary methods. A leader, like the climber, would always be at the lead, the first to attempt to conquer new grounds. However, it is only human to be fearful of the unknown. Fear may just have paralyzed the climber, who was depicted earlier, and allow trepidation to overwhelm him. But if he does not make that first step, if he does not “model the way”, if the leader does not exhibit that extraordinary courage, no one else would. Likewise, if an organization’s leader does not brave the front and break new grounds, the organization would be stagnant and may suffer from a cascading disease, which I term as “corporate paralysis”.

Corporate paralysis starts from the leader and once he gets infected, his followers would have no escape from it. If fear engulfs the leader, so will fear engulf the team. It is a disease so severe that eventually, in the long run, the organization may crumble and collapse. No doubt it is not easy being a leader. The first 4 leadership practices are indeed hard to adhere to and practiced. However, the last element of Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices – encourage the heart, would essentially be a 2-way process, played in part by both the team and the leader. How?

Let us first scrutinize the part of the leader (climber) as he or she saunters across the balancing beam. The very act of crossing the beam would have, in effect, “encourage the hearts” of the team, sub-consciously convincing them that the seemingly impossible can be made possible.  However, the act of belaying, which is technically defined as a safety process that ensures stable support, can also be figuratively defined as a process that encourages emotional support. In my opinion, the leader must know that he is not alone. In the face of uncertainty, he has the support and encouragement of his team that would help him conquer the challenge. Even if he were to fall, he would still have the team behind him, holding tightly to an emotional safety rope, which ensures that trust and support would still be present even in the event of failure.

The President has his Cabinet, the skipper has his crew, and the manager has his employees. Every leader has a team but a leader must realize that he or she is “a part” of the team and not “apart” from it. We cheer when our leader succeeds, as though the task was successfully completed by us. However, when the leader falls short of the target, we must still recognize that, in reality, we have fallen short as a team. “No man is an island”. I’m sure everyone has heard of this. Likewise, no leader is alone. 




Cracking the code
Once you have ascertained your best-fit personality type according to the MBTI, the next step to learning more about yourself is by finding out your unique cognitive process. The 4-letter type code that describes your core personality is actually hiding your dominant and auxiliary mental processes within it. These are mental patterns by which you exercise most often everyday. However, in order to discover what your cognitive processes are, you will have to “crack the code”. Come, let me show you and we shall discover the unique “YOU”.

In any 4-letter type code, the middle 2 letters represent, what is known, as the functional pair. This pair of letters essentially describes how we prefer to take in information from the outer world and how we make our decisions based on whatever information we have received. For example, an ENTP’s functional pair would be NT. This means that this is a person who experiences hunches and may tend to read “between the lines” in another person’s words. An NT would then make decisions via an analytical, logical approach but with “intuitive” information that supports a decision. It is through these letters that we can derive our cognitive processes, where every letter in the functional pair has an extraverted and introverted nature.

Step 1:
Look at the last letter of your 4-letter type code. If it is J, then this means that the T or F in the code is used in the external world. If it is P, then this means that the S or N in the code is used in the external world. For example, if your type code is ISTJ, you would exhibit extraverted thinking as a cognitive function.

Step 2:

So since one of the letters in the functional pair has been labeled, naturally the other letter would exhibit its introverted nature. In the ISTJ example, introverted sensing would be displayed along with the above-mentioned extraverted thinking. You can label both cognitive processes as Si and Te.

Step 3:

So between the two processes, which is dominant and which is auxiliary? Simple. If your 4-letter type code starts with an E, then your dominant process is the one with an extraverted nature. If your type code starts with an I, then your dominant process is the one with an introverted nature. In the example of an ISTJ, this means that an ISTJ leads with introverted sensing as his dominant process and is supported by extraverted thinking as his auxiliary process.

The 8 Cognitive Processes Elaborated

Extraverted Sensing

Extraverted Sensing occurs when we become aware of what is in the physical world in rich detail. We may be drawn to act on what we experience to get an immediate result. We notice relevant facts and occurrences in a sea of data and experiences, learning all the facts we can about the immediate context or area of focus and what goes on in that context. An active seeking of more and more input to get the whole picture may occur until all sources of input have been exhausted or something else captures our attention. Extraverted Sensing is operating when we freely follow exciting physical impulses or instincts as they come up and enjoy the thrill of action in the present moment. A oneness with the physical world and a total absorption may exist as we move, touch, and sense what is around us. The process involves instantly reading cues to see how far we can go in a situation and still get the impact we want or respond to the situation with presence.

Introverted Sensing

Introverted Sensing often involves storing data and information, then comparing and contrasting the current situation with similar ones. The immediate experience or words are instantly linked with the prior experiences, and we register a similarity or a difference—for example, noticing that some food doesn’t taste the same or is saltier than it usually is. Introverted Sensing is also operating when we see someone who reminds us of someone else. Sometimes a feeling associated with the recalled image comes into our awareness along with the information itself. Then the image can be so strong, our body responds as if reliving the experience. The process also involves reviewing the past to draw on the lessons of history, hindsight, and experience. With introverted Sensing, there is often great attention to detail and getting a clear picture of goals and objectives and what is to happen. There can be a oneness with ageless customs that help sustain civilization and culture and protect what is known and long-lasting, even while what is reliable changes.

Extraverted Intuiting

Extraverted intuiting involves noticing hidden meanings and interpreting them, often entertaining a wealth of possible interpretations from just one idea or interpreting what someone’s behavior really means. It also involves seeing things “as if,” with various possible representations of reality. Using this process, we can juggle many different ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and meanings in our mind at once with the possibility that they are all true. This is like weaving themes and threads together. We don’t know the weave until a thought thread appears or is drawn out in the interaction of thoughts, often brought in from other contexts. Thus a strategy or concept often emerges from the here-and-now interactions, not appearing as a whole beforehand. Using this process we can really appreciate brainstorming and trust what emerges, enjoying imaginative play with scenarios and combining possibilities, using a kind of cross-contextual thinking. Extraverted intuiting also can involve catalyzing people and extemporaneously shaping situations, spreading an atmosphere of change through emergent leadership.

Introverted Intuiting

Introverted intuiting involves synthesizing the seemingly paradoxical or contradictory, which takes understanding to a new level. Using this process, we can have moments when completely new, unimagined realizations come to us. A disengagement from interactions in the room occurs, followed by a sudden “Aha!” or “That’s it!” The sense of the future and the realizations that come from introverted iNtuiting have a sureness and an imperative quality that seem to demand action and help us stay focused on fulfilling our vision or dream of how things will be in the future. Using this process, we might rely on a focal device or symbolic action to predict, enlighten, or transform. We could find ourselves laying out how the future will unfold based on unseen trends and telling signs. This process can involve working out complex concepts or systems of thinking or conceiving of symbolic or novel ways to understand things that are universal. It can lead to creating transcendent experiences or solutions.

Extraverted Thinking

Contingency planning, scheduling, and quantifying utilize the process of extraverted Thinking. Extraverted Thinking helps us organize our environment and ideas through charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, outlines, and so on. At its most sophisticated, this process is about organizing and monitoring people and things to work efficiently and productively. Empirical thinking is at the core of extraverted thinking when we challenge someone’s ideas based on the logic of the facts in front of us or lay out reasonable explanations for decisions or conclusions made, often trying to establish order in someone else’s thought process. In written or verbal communication, extraverted Thinking helps us easily follow someone else’s logic, sequence, or organization. It also helps us notice when something is missing, like when someone says he or she is going to talk about four topics and talks about only three. In general, it allows us to compartmentalize many aspects of our lives so we can do what is necessary to accomplish our objectives.

Introverted Thinking

Introverted Thinking often involves finding just the right word to clearly express an idea concisely, crisply, and to the point. Using introverted Thinking is like having an internal sense of the essential qualities of something, noticing the fine distinctions that make it what it is and then naming it. It also involves an internal reasoning process of deriving subcategories of classes and sub-principles of general principles. These can then be used in problem solving, analysis, and refining of a product or an idea. This process is evidenced in behaviors like taking things or ideas apart to figure out how they work. The analysis involves looking at different sides of an issue and seeing where there is inconsistency. In so doing, we search for a “leverage point” that will fix problems with the least amount of effort or damage to the system. We engage in this process when we notice logical inconsistencies between statements and frameworks, using a model to evaluate the likely accuracy of what’s observed.

Extraverted Feeling

The process of extraverted feeling often involves a desire to connect with (or disconnect from) others and is often evidenced by expressions of warmth (or displeasure) and self-disclosure. The “social graces,” such as being polite, being nice, being friendly, being considerate, and being appropriate, often revolve around the process of extraverted feeling. Keeping in touch, laughing at jokes when others laugh, and trying to get people to act kindly to each other also involve extraverted feeling. Using this process, we respond according to expressed or even unexpressed wants and needs of others. We may ask people what they want or need or self-disclose to prompt them to talk more about themselves. This often sparks conversation and lets us know more about them so we can better adjust our behavior to them. Often with this process, we feel pulled to be responsible and take care of others’ feelings, sometimes to the point of not separating our feelings from theirs. We may recognize and adhere to shared values, feelings, and social norms to get along.






                                                                                                                                Group Juggle:
                                                                                         An application of the DISC personality profiling system
                                                                                                                                  By Andy Pan

In brief, Group Juggle is an activity that involves the throwing and catching of different objects while participants are standing around in a circle.

Activity objective:

– To pass an object around a circle of participants from start to finish without anyone dropping the object

– Progressively, more objects will be added into the circle.


  • One participant would have to be selected as the start and the end point.
  • He/she would have to pass an object (e.g. tennis ball) to another person. However the receiver must be someone who is opposite him and MUST not be on his immediate left or right. This applies to everyone.
  • A sequence must be established until the first person receives the object again to signal the end of the round.
  • Ask the group to practice with 1 object again.
  • Introduce a 2nd object (e.g. stress ball) and have it passed around in the same sequence immediately after the 1st object has left the first person’s hands.
  • Subsequently, introduce more objects, 1 or 2 more at a time, which still MUST be passed around simultaneously until the last object reaches the first person.
  • Whenever an object drops onto the floor, the process would have to be restarted.
  • Whenever an object is passed, the thrower must call out the receiver’s name first.
  • Whenever an object is received, the receiver must say “thank you”.


  • This activity is preferably done with small groups of not more than 20 pax, because behavioural observations can be performed effectively and debriefed upon.
  • Group Juggle is commonly used for experiencing team elements like the ability to multi-task and communication.
  • However, observable behaviours that arise from the DISC personality styles can also be discerned. For example, when a second object is added into the circle, a team would usually fail almost immediately. It gets tougher when a third object is added.
  • At this moment, the facilitator can interject and ask the team about some possible reasons for the difficulties that the team is now facing.
  • More often than not, one main reason for dropping objects is that some people are actually more concerned with objects coming towards them, while some are more concerned with objects going away from them. The former is a tell-tale sign of being task-oriented while the latter being one of people-oriented.
  • Why? Because the task-oriented folks would place priority in performing their individual task well by catching the objects that come their way but place less emphasis on throwing the objects to their intended targets. On the other hand, people-oriented folks would place priority in making sure that their intended receiver is ready before they release the object, hence placing less emphasis on objects coming towards them.
  • Therefore, due to this behavioural contradiction, objects start dropping and the objective seems impossible to meet. It is only when a mutual understanding is established among all members that the job becomes easier.
  • Often, after a sharing of these observations, teams would succeed even as more objects are added.
  • This activity highlights and reinforces the personality differences between a D/C and an I/S. It is only when a team is completely aware of their individual differences and work on them, would it be able to achieve team goals and objectives.




                                                                                Game Theory: An Application in Organizational Behaviour
                                                                                        A hypothetical but original concept by Andy Pan

What is Game Theory?

Game Theory is a mathematical concept that was made popular by actor, Russell Crowe, in the hit film “A Beautiful Mind” that was screened in 2002. Some of us might have even studied this particularly interesting theory while in school. While some of us may even be practicing and/or applying it right now at work without us knowing. It is a theory that can hide it conspicuous head in the everyday things that we do, from strategic planning to even the making of simple daily choices. So what exactly is Game Theory?

A Game Theory can be defined as a means of analyzing strategic actions that, more often than not, result from the consideration of the expected behaviour of others; or simply, the decisions that is made by one, taking into account the response from a would-be affected party by one’s decision. Got it? I know this sounds a little confusing but many of the current global economic policies and even between rival companies, game theories have often been used to make effective, calculated decisions. A game, in economics, is defined as a situation whereby rules, strategies and payoffs are involved for parties to make beneficial decisions. In this context, of course, “beneficial” is subjective. Why? Let’s take a look at the following example.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

This classic illustration has been widely used as a simple yet effective explanation of a game theory.

Once upon a time, there were 2 thieves who were caught while trying to steal a car. The Judge decides to sentence them to a 2-year jail term each. However, the Prosecutor suspects that these men were also responsible for an unsolved bank robbery some years back but he lacks concrete evidence that can tie the men to the case. The Prosecutor then devised a plan with the Judge which he hopes would make the thieves confess to their previous crime.

The Prosecutor first places the 2 prisoners in separate rooms so that they cannot communicate with each other. Each is told that they are suspected of an earlier crime and are also told the following:


If each confesses to the robbery, each will get a 3-year jail sentence.


If 1 person confesses and the other does not, the one who confessed will get only a 1-year sentence while the other will serve 10 years in jail.


If neither of them confess then each will only be convicted for the car theft and will be sentenced to jail for 2 years.

If you are one of the prisoners, what would you do?

The payoff matrix is as shown:

Prisoner A’s Strategies

Prisoner B’s Strategies





3, 3

10, 1


1, 10

2, 2

Now if I were any of these prisoners, I would be either trying to maximize gain for myself independent of my accomplice’s decision or I would have to make my decision based on how much I trust him. Do I anticipate him to deny so that I can confess and enjoy the shortest of the jail terms? But what if he confesses and I confess as well and my jail term increases to 3 years? So in that case, shall I deny and hope that he denies as well so that we both need only to serve 2 years in jail? But what if he confesses and now I get a 10-year sentence?! Tricky, isn’t it? Hence, the Prisoners’ Dilemma.

The optimum solution to this problem is actually to find its equilibrium. The equilibrium in a game is also known as the Nash equilibrium, named after John Forbes Nash (the character portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie). This balance occurs when one takes the best possible action given the action of the other party and vice versa. In this example, a dominant strategy exists for each prisoner. This means that in this dilemma, no matter what the other prisoner decides, one would choose to confess because it is the best course of action. Thus, the equilibrium of the prisoners’ dilemma is that each prisoner confesses.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Why shouldn’t the equilibrium be the situation if each prisoner denies? If so, both would only serve a 2-year jail sentence compared to a 3-year one right? Take note that the Nash equilibrium is not achieved with actions that would generate the best payoff. Remember the prisoners are kept in separate rooms and trust is an issue here because if I trust that my accomplice would deny along with me, but if he doesn’t, then I am in for a decade behind bars.

This game model is essentially a non-zero sum game, which means that a gain by one player does not necessarily cause a loss in another player. In other words, win-win scenarios exist. On the other hand, there are also zero-sum games, whereby a player gains at the equal expense of other players. An example would be Poker. If I win with a good hand, then I would gain all bets that the other party has made at the table. So with all these “mambo jumbo” about a less-than-interesting economic theory (for some), what does it have to do with organizational behaviour?

Internal Strife

Game theories have been used extensively to study the behaviours of companies in an oligopoly. An oligopoly is a market or industry that is dominated by a few firms. More often than not, the price strategies of these firms are heavily influenced by that of rival firms. An obvious example would be the local petroleum market that is dominated by the likes of Shell and Caltex. Ever noticed that when one of these companies decides to lower its price of petrol, the rest would follow suit? However, the reverse would never happen. Why would any company in an oligopoly be in the right mind to raise prices? Would its rivals follow suit? However, you can try working out a payoff matrix for a hypothetical scenario and you would be able to appreciate the effectiveness of a game theory.

Although several other real-world applications exist, another of a game theory’s application is present as well. One that does not involve comparison between firms but it is one that can help explain the rise of conflicts within an organization.

Have you ever heard or even witness business functions of an organization “backstabbing” one another? Maybe it could be the sales department having constant arguments and disagreements with the production department? Maybe it could also be a case whereby the management fails to work in line with its ground staff? Ever since I became a facilitator, I, personally, have had corporate clients complaining about the friction between one department and another and in some cases, internal competition seems to be the norm as department heads contest with one another, thus putting a huge strain on the entire organization. It has almost gotten pretty cliché with regards to the common troubles that these organizations face. Maybe with an understanding of game theory, “rival” functions within any organization can learn that such conflicts arise from familiar roots.

Let’s say we have a scenario where the product department and the marketing department of a fictitious organization are at loggerheads which each other. The product people are in charge of creating new products while the marketing folks are responsible for selling whatever the product people came up with. However, perhaps due to some misunderstandings and accusations between the two, relationships start to break down and internal strife ensues. The situation gradually escalates to a point whereby both teams must make a decision on whether, they want to cooperate or refuse cooperation with each other. Cooperation here can refer to information-sharing, effective communication etc. Hence the following scenarios, with regards to probable effects each decision has on the organization’s performance as a whole, might just turn out.


If both departments choose to cooperate, each department would contribute $5 million in revenue to the company directly and/or indirectly.


If one department chooses to cooperate and the other does not, the department that chooses to cooperate would add $7 million to the company’s coffers, while the other contributes $1 million to the organization, whether directly and/or indirectly.


If both departments choose not to cooperate then each will only contribute $1 million to the company, once again either directly and/or indirectly.

The payoff matrix is as follows:

Marketing department’s choices

Production department’s choices



Refuse to cooperate


5, 5

Scenario A

1, 7

Scenario B

Refuse to cooperate

7, 1

Scenario C

1, 1

Scenario D

So in this case, what do you think is the Nash equilibrium? In terms of game theory, the Nash equilibrium in this situation would, of course, be the point when both departments cooperate. This is so because no matter what choices that the other department makes, one would choose to cooperate in order to maximize one’s gains. In addition, the organization benefits from the highest total revenue with mutual cooperation, as compared with the rest of the other scenarios. However, would this be the dominant strategy for both departments?

In theory, any business functions within the same organization would decide to cooperate to avoid conflict and at the same time, generate win-win results. However, how often have we witness Scenario D as the eventual outcome? Simply because Scenario B and C, more often than not, do not exist in the real world and the fact is that we live in a “tit-for-tat” society. This is what I call the Pan Disequilibrium. Okay….I’m just kidding. Let’s just name this point as the Organizational Disequilibrium.

Firstly, any CEO would tell you that in situations like this, product folks have to learn to co-exist and collaborate with their marketing counterparts because these two key departments are interdependent with each other. However, if one department refuses to cooperate, do you think the resulting party would not follow suit? Assuming ceteris paribus (all things remaining the same), any person would retaliate in response to hostility towards him or her. Eventually, a “bloodbath” begins, leaving both parties crippled, whilst generating negative results.

Why then do teams degenerate to such a state? We will find the answers in the deeper roots of such organizational relationships. These answers lie with two very tenuous components in relationship-building and you can find them in my earlier pages. The words are highlighted and I’m sure anyone can spot them.

You got them? If you did, then scroll down to the next page to verify your answers. No prizes for getting them correct though.


The two critical factors that determine any positive relationships are:


Communication and



In the Prisoners’ Dilemma, communication was cut off between both prisoners and thus, trust became an issue. This setting then led us to the Nash equilibrium of when both prisoners confess. In the product/marketing analogy, wouldn’t communication be readily available to allow both departments to produce win-win results? Strange isn’t it? In today’s organizational environment, with the widespread availability of communication technologies, why should communication be of any concern? Why, even with communication, our product and marketing teams would still end up in Scenario D?

What is communication?

First of all, let us define communication. According to, the word “communication” is defined as the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. However, do you think that communication would be more of an “interchange” instead of an “imparting”? In this case, is sending an e-mail message or posting a notice a form of communication? Is holding an “informative” meeting a form of communication? The answer: no. These are mere forms of notification. Why? Let us take a look at the following model which illustrates the Communication Cycle.

Effective communication entails a sender to transmit a clear message for a recipient to understand and not just be heard. Upon receiving the message, the intended recipient would be able to acknowledge the message and/or provide feedback if need be back to the sender. Nonetheless, if you agree with me on this specific definition, how many of us do practice effective communication?

Sometimes? All the time? None at all? But how important is communication in an organization? This next case study will demonstrate the significance of organizational communication.

Case Study: The Re-birth of Continental Airlines

The following details the profile of Continental Airlines, one of the best airline companies in America and the world currently.

No. 1 U.S.-based Airline
Nikkei Business Magazine survey (December 2003)

Best Transatlantic Airline
2001 OAG Airline of the Year Awards (February 2001)

Top International Airline
National Airline Quality Rating Study (April 2000)

Best Executive/Business Class
OAG Airline of the Year Awards (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)

Best U.S. Airline for Business Travel
SmartMoney (February 2000)

No. 1 On-time Performance in 2000
U.S. Department of Transportation

No. 1 Most Admired Airline
FORTUNE magazine (March 2006)

The following details the profile of Continental Airlines, one of the best airline companies in America and the world currently, in 1994.

Experienced 10 changes in leadership in 10 years.

Went through bankruptcy proceedings twice.

Has not made a profit in 10 years.

Customers were shunning the airline.

Arrival and departure times were very unpredictable and as the then CEO commented, that their planes “came and went as they happened to”.

According to the Department of Transportation, Continental Airlines was ranked last among the country’s 10 biggest airlines.

The company received almost 3 times as many complaints as the industry average and more than 30% more complaints than the ninth-placed airline.

During these trying times, Continental Airlines was undoubtedly THE worst airline in the whole of America. With abysmal morale, non-existent cooperation among employees and a barrel full of lies from the management, the company was in total chaos. As then CEO, Gordon Bethune, once remarked that it was “a company with a lousy product, angry employees, low wages, and a history of ineffective management.”

Faced with an organization in dire straits, Bethune knew he had to radically change the company culture and communication was the key to Continental’s survival and revival. He knew that positive, healthy interaction was vital in turning things around and interestingly, the first thing that Bethune did was to open up the executive offices to all employees.

In the past, the twentieth-storey office for Continental’s top management in Houston was like a fortress. Its doors were shut from prying eyes as surveillance cameras prowled the place like tigers searching for a prey. No one could enter this area without a security pass and this was not exactly the most inviting place to be for any employee. However, in a symbolic gesture, Bethune literally opened the once-locked doors to the entire company. Thereafter, open houses were organized for employees in order for employee-management barriers to be broken and thus allow trust to, once again, be built.

Nonetheless, the road to restoration was not always a smooth-riding one. However, Continental’s leaders kept up with their regular meetings with their people, as views were aired and shared. Honesty and patience were a priority as the management revealed everything to its employees, good news or bad. Bulletin boards were also put up in every employee area that displayed the company’s ratings for the previous year, as assessed by the Department of Transportation; and daily company news updates. Additional forms of communication were also put in place, including monthly and quarterly employee newsletter which were mailed to each employee’s house and even 800-number hotlines for any employee to enquire about anything from anywhere in the world. Bethune’s communication policy was simple: “Unless it’s dangerous and illegal for us to share it, we share it.”

As weeks become months, slowly but gradually, Continental finally began to function as a team. In the year that Bethune took over the reins of CEO, 1994, the company lost US$204 million. By the end of the next year, Continental posted a profit of US$202 million. Subsequently, for the next half a decade, Continental posted twenty-four consecutive profitable quarters in a time when their competitors struggled to remain afloat.

An Afterword

People often ask, “Why is there a need for teamwork?” “Why can’t we focus just on ourselves and generate higher returns?” “Everyone wants to win and for every winner, there will be a loser, isn’t it?” As human beings, even as employees within a company, we often assume that we are constantly being engaged in zero-sum games, when in fact non-zero sum games exist and these should be the mode of operation in order to maximize gains, both individually and organizationally.

But for a beneficial equilibrium to be achieved, communication is vital. In fact, effective communication must be present for a borderless team to function well. If the management of Continental Airlines still persisted with a strict top-down approach with information flowing through a one-way route, I don’t think it could turn things around so quickly. If communication barriers are erected, distrust will permeate through every member, every department; and if trust becomes an issue, then the organization will, without a sliver of doubt, slip into a chaotic disequilibrium, fueled by retaliation. In order to for you to digest this lengthy article easily, just remember the following three pointers:


For every hostile action, there will be an equal (sometimes more) and opposite retaliation.


Communication builds trust and trust builds successful organizations.


Do not forget Points (1) and (2)

So folks…remember to be nice. Being nice does have its bottom-line benefits as niceness begets niceness as hostility begets hostility; and if in doubt check with the Game Theory.




Michael Parkin, (1993), “Economics (Second Edition)”, Addison-Wesley Publshing Company (13 March 2008)


John C. Maxwell, (2001), “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork”, Nelson Business (18 March 2008)


Continental Airlines, (2008), About Continental > Company Profile > Awards.
Available from: