Organizational Development Consultant

Seven Techniques to Boost Creativity and Teamwork: #7 The Funeral

April 19, 2014

“Our group has just gone through downsizing and restructuring, and we’re having a difficult time letting go of the past. This negatively impacts our ability to concentrate on future demands. What can I do to help the group deal with this type of situation?”

7. The Funeral

What Is the Funeral?

The Funeral is a technique for helping a group put the past aside and prepare for the future. The Funeral acknowledges in a good-natured way that the past had both its good and bad points. However, in order to go forward, the group must now bury the past and embrace the present and future.

The Funeral is exactly what it implies but in obvious symbolic terms. Emotions are strong after a significant change. Allocating some time to acknowledge the grieving of the group can be very healthy. Rituals, such as the Funeral, create a rite of passage and can be a powerful tool in helping a group move forward.

Although The Funeral is not a technique that is used often, it can be very effective when appropriate for your situation and group.

When to Use the Funeral

  •  When the organization or group is downsizing, being purchased, or is the subject of other significant cultural changes
  •  When a dysfunctional group has agreed to act differently in the future
  •  When a group can’t seem to go forward because of a perceived loss of any kind

How to Use the Funeral

Variation 1

This version recognizes a significant change in the organization.

  1. Talk with your meeting group about what has happened (i.e., recent or upcoming downsizing, corporate takeover, etc.). Ask for their support in taking a few hours to acknowledge the changes in a ceremonious fashion. Note that the idea may seem a little silly but has been found to help groups work through their emotional energy about a change and feel more prepared to work together in the future. Explain that the Funeral will be a time to remember the good and the bad and to bury the past. At the Funeral, everyone who wants to will have an opportunity to speak. They could prepare poems or short stories in writing or sing or provide music if they wish. The Funeral will literally be a mock funeral for the past.
  2. Agree on a time and place to hold the Funeral.

            NOTE: If planned during the workday, schedule this for the end of the day.

  1. Ask for a few volunteers to plan the event.
  2. Ask the participants to wear clothes like those they would wear for a funeral. This is an optional step.
  3. Together with your planning team, create an agenda for the Funeral.

    Incorporate the cultural traditions of people within your group. Provide a box that can be your coffin. Poems, photographs, articles, and the like can go in the coffin. Find a place to bury your coffin or cremate it and spread the ashes. Provide beverages and food for the group, just as a gathering of friends and family would after the loss of a loved one.

    NOTE: Ensure you are working within all fire codes and other regulations.  Shredding materials is also an option.

  4. Hold the Funeral.
  5. The next time your group meets after The Funeral, take a few minutes at the meeting to ask them for their reactions and comments.

Variation 2 

This option is for a group that has worked together poorly in the past and has agreed to work together differently in the future.

  1. Talk to the group to confirm agreement to work together differently in the future. Ask for the members’ support in taking some time to ceremoniously let go of the past and prepare for the future.
  2. Agree on a time and a place for the Funeral. This should be the only agenda item.
  3. Before that meeting,create a little mock coffin or other suitable symbol of passing. Provide paper and pencils for each participant.
  4. Ask the participants to write down all the negative things they have thought about each other in the past, all their bad habits, and so on. After they are finished, ask them to shred their papers and put them in the coffin. They need not share any of their comments with the others.
  1. When everyone has finished, close the coffin you have created.
  2. Take the coffin to a predetermined place for burial or burning. As you are disposing of the coffin, ask for a moment of silence for all old habits and attitudes.

    NOTE: If you choose to burn the coffin, check to be sure there aren’t any laws against open-air burning.

    OPTION: Put the coffin in the company shredder or box crusher and keep it somewhere in the department as a reminder that old ways of working together are no longer acceptable.

  3. Bring the Funeral to a close with some music or by humming a song known to the group.
  4. The next time your group meets,debrief the exercise.Take a few minutes to get their reactions to the Funeral.

Summary

The Funeral is a technique for helping a group put aside the past and prepare for the future.

Variation 1

This version recognizes a significant change in the organization.

  1. Talk to the group about what has happened and obtain everyone’s support for the Funeral.
  2. Agree on a time and place.
  3. Ask for volunteers to plan the event.
  4. Ask the participants to dress as they would for a funeral.
  5. With the planning team, create an agenda for the Funeral.
  6. Hold the Funeral.
  7. The next time your group meets after the Funeral, ask the members for their reactions and comments.

Variation 2

This version deals with a commitment from your meeting group to work better together in the future.

  1. Talk to the group members about their agreement to work differently together in the future.
  2. Agree on a time and place for the Funeral.
  3. Create a mock coffin or other suitable symbol of passing.
  4. Ask your participants to write down on paper all the negative things they have thought about each other in the past. Have them shred their papers and place them in the coffin.
  5. Close the coffin when finished.
  6. Remove the coffin and bury, burn, or shred it as planned. End the Funeral with some appropriate music or singing.
  7. The next time this group meets, take a few minutes to discuss everyone’s reactions to the Funeral.

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