Build Teams with Fun and Play with Matt May

Matt May is Founder and CEO of Premier Team Building and Interactive experiences, he’s also a speak and author of the Book, “Take the Fear out of Team Building.” In this engaging and fun show, you can learn:

  • Why “team building” is not a “bad word.”
  • Why grown-ups have developed fear and anxiety around play and team building?
  • How do you go about having fun/play yet keeping the learning real and authentic?
  • How do you get folks to participate who just don’t want to get involved.

Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: The values and culture play a real part in leadership post pandemic. We’re going to look at how environments have changed dramatically over the last 10 years and particularly since the pandemic. It’s exposed weaknesses and for some businesses strengths and the effectiveness of company values and how they’re put into practice. I want to dive in and have a quick look at how leadership drastically changes company culture and how values inform it.

There’s a fantastic report from the ILM called leading through values if you get a chance to get your hands on it, which gives you much more context and detail about the things I’m going to talk to you about. And just to throw something else into the mix that helps inform culture and values, right now. I wrote an article in CEOWorld Magazine and on LinkedIn called Mind The Gen Gap. For the first time, we now have four generations in the workforce, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers or Gen Zed’rs if you’re in the UK. And the reason this is important is because values is the principles, the rules of the game, and we all have perspectives based on our generations. And whilst these are not scientifically proven, it’s a good barometer and we should take it into consideration. The ILM research found that 69% of people will reconsider a job if the company culture seems to be toxic, 77% felt that company culture was incredibly important to them and the values that their boss also brings to the culture and 56% ranked opportunities for growth as more important than their basic salary and package. So, the top values that impact on culture are having a person centered and authentic approach with the core elements, being congruence. In other words, your words and actions make sense to your employees. Being genuine in essence, empathy, having a deep understanding of what it feels like for employees of every grade and every level and an unconditional positive regard for the individual.

And only if there is a genuine approach to demonstrate these values from senior leadership. There can be congruency throughout the organization. You’d expect wellbeing of employees to be up there and of course, it is. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, CIPD. Run a survey of over 3000 individuals in the UK. And the survey consistently found a 38% of workers experience work stress on a weekly basis. The problem in a lot of companies is that there is no clear standalone health and wellbeing strategy. In fact, only 8% of companies had such a strategy And at least 34% of managers expressed a need for independent authority and feel unempowered to really do anything. My observation here is if we have a people centered approach, wellbeing should be part of that, and we don’t necessarily need to have a strategy or strategic. We do however need to be more thoughtful and compassionate.

And as a talent management and learning and development, professional. It’s music to my ears, to see self-directed on autonomous learning to sit up here in the top tier, there’s been a significant shift away from organizations investing in organization-wide learning programs and much more focused self-directed autonomous learning and it’s becoming more prominent in most company’s culture.

And this means that the company values are the basis of helping employees engage when it’s meaningful and when it’s right for them. But this strategy provides some challenges, too. Some people really struggle to learn on their own. They do need guidance, support, and others to help them on their journey. There are people not able to extract and absorb the information in the same way and still need that for face-to-face facilitator led sessions. And there’s such a thing too, to have too much freedom. The number of possibilities can create overwhelm and anxiety. So, we have to sometimes help people direct them to the most appropriate resources.

And their last one on my list today is recognition. Remuneration is important for sure but recognizing staff for good jobs well done is most important and a significant indicator in value-based leadership. Many employees want to feel that their work is being valued and valuing values plays an important role in this because they should stipulate in some way that there is a recognition of the hard work outside of the salary and the direct results as a result of their work. This will also inform great culture and culture can be formed so that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The final thing I want to draw our attention to is your company’s purpose is not your purpose and your mission, but finding that connectivity by what you do to why they do what they do will really help you find true purpose in your work, as well as in your life

Values based culture gives you the principles to accelerate progress together and purpose will anchor the activities that bring people together to drive great culture. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News, lets dive into the show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Joining on the show today is Matt May. He’s the founder and CEO of Premiering Building & Interactive Experiences Company. Who’s putting the fun and energy back into play. He’s also a speaker, an author of the book, Take The Fear Out Of Team Building. Matt, welcome to the show my friend.

Matt May: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Steve Rush: So, I’m really looking forward to our interactive experience today. But before we get into that, maybe you can just give our listeners a little bit of the journey from where it all began in theater to you and how you ended up running in interactive experiences firm.

Matt May: Absolutely. So, I was in music and theater in high school, middle school. I always was creative. Hey, let’s put on some sort of a show or a presentation or do something for the family and the parents and the yada, yada in the backyard, in the garage. And when I went to school undergraduate, I went for theater. I earned a dual major in theater and arts administration. So, I got that business side. I also was a camp counselor when I was a teenager. I went through a three-year counselor in training program as a camper. Took some psychology courses in undergrad, as well as a number of leadership courses. And I don’t know if they’re call all seminars or what but opportunities that were presented through a variety of organizations within the university setting. So that kind of all sorts of came together for me after I graduated school, I went to New York city and did the professional entertainment thing for a while, but I also was always kind of had an education thought in my head. So, I really did a number of different things. I finally left New York after five years. I said, I’m moving to sunnier pastures because I want to be able to have my coffee outside, whether it’s January or June.

Steve Rush: That’s right, yeah.

Matt May: [Laugh]. I moved to Florida in the states and really haven’t looked back. But when I moved there, I started working in administration at a performing arts high school and college and had a number of different opportunities that I embraced and did. And finally sort of fell into team building per say. I happened to be bartending at a comedy show on campus at the Fort Lauderdale Performing Arts Center, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. And the stage manager happened to be staffing an event, a team building event, just helping the company, which is actually based in Massachusetts. So not even close by. And she said, hey, do you want to do it? And I said, yeah, absolutely. And that was my first official team building as an assistant staff. And I said, oh, huh, there’s something about this.

So, jump ahead, several years I was facilitating, I started doing a lot of producing because of my theatre background. I was able to do production and logistics and whatnot, and finally said, you know what? I quite honestly, I’m tired of being on the front lines and not having control and what goes into all of the preparation beforehand and created my own company. And I like to call it a perfect storm because I have my logistics and my business and my entrepreneurship and my sales skills. And by the way, sales is my least favourite thing to do. But I get guess I have some sort of a knack for it. But then I also, when I facilitate jump on stage and I’m able to get people working together and be entertaining and whatnot. So, I’m able to use all of my experiences and all of my different training, whether it be from education or professional or theatre or business, and it kind of a perfect store and collides together. So that’s kind of how I got to where I am now. And looking back, of course, hindsight is always 2020, I think. Oh, all right. Well, that’s why I did all of those different things and worked in education and professional theatre and, you know, did some temping offices and whatnot so that all of this came together for me to where I am now,

Steve Rush: Steve jobs, I think famously said you can’t always connect the dots forward, but you can definitely connect them back. And that’s perfect example, right? If you were trying to create the path to where you are now, you’d probably never get there.

Matt May: No. And you just made me think, I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I remember as a kid, when we would try to do mazes, you know, the mazes that you draw, the pen or the pencil through it all.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: Some reason, they seem to be easier going backwards.

Steve Rush: Oh, that’s interesting perspective. I wonder if that’s something to do with the way that our brains are wired as well.

Matt May: It must be, I’ve never really researched it, and until you mention that Steve Jobs quote, I hadn’t really thought of it, but I think that’s on my to-do list this afternoon.

Steve Rush: Shout out to all amateur neuroscientists, or any professional ones that listen to the show, they can maybe contact us and let us know. That’ll be interesting to have a look at.

Matt May: Yes.

Steve Rush: So, the work that you do now, it’s very still theatrical, isn’t it? So, you get to be that front to stage guy, but also then be that production guy as well. Is there a natural kind of thing that you prefer? Are you more of a front man or more of a production man? Where would you say you’re kind of true passion lie?

Matt May: Geez, that’s a tough question to answer. You know, certainly being a performer as I was younger and going to school for it initially, that’s instilled in me, but it’s funny. I will have clients who are new clients often come up to me after an experience ended and say, where did you come from? And the first few times that happened, I didn’t understand it. But now I do, when I walk into a ballroom or whatever, and I’m setting up and managing staff and we’re getting ready, it’s very organized and logical. And you know, I’m just doing what needs to be done and I’m talking to a client or whatever, and it’s very professional, but something happens that when I jump on stage or jump in front of a crowd or grab a mic or whatever, I just inherently turn it on if you will.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: And that’s what they refer to now. The challenge is, in my line of work is. I’m not there just to entertain, right. And I’m reminded of the late Alex Trebek from Jeopardy. He was never wanted to be introduced as the star of the show Jeopardy. It was always the host of the show because his feeling was that contestants were the stars.

Steve Rush: Yes.

Matt May: And I try to keep that philosophy that the participants in the experience, they are the stars, the light shines on them. When I start a program, I’m doing kind of what I like to think of as audience warm up. And yeah, I do my skit and whatnot, but that gets people going. But then once the experience really gets going and they get hands on, it’s all about them.

Steve Rush: Yeah. And of course, the biggest thing, most of all is, you’re there to facilitate a learning outcome.

Matt May: Exactly.

Steve Rush: And that’s the one thing that is different from a performance, because actually as a performer, you are still having an ambition to want to entertain, but you are not having to be as thoughtful of the specific way that you construct an experience so that somebody takes away a different learning outcome, right?

Matt May: Correct. Correct. And when we’re watching as patrons watching entertainment, whether it be on a screen or on a stage. We are there for them to entertain us. Where in my line of work, I’m not here to entertain you. As you said, I’m here to facilitate the experience. So, you put in as much as you’re going to get out of it.

Steve Rush: Exactly right. So, when we start to think about the whole concept of team building, when you mention that word to groups of individuals, what’s the reason you get a different response. So, some people will love it and some people will running in fear from it. What causes that?

Matt May: The simple answer in my opinion is bad experiences.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: They have been thrust into experiences that didn’t have positive outcomes for them, for whatever reason. So many people think of team building as trust falls or paintball or zip lining or white-water rafting, you know, extreme sports, if you will, or sitting in a room and being told, this is how you work together as a team, while watching a slideshow, right. I don’t do any of those things. And I think it’s because people have been thrust into those things, or that’s the majority of their experience. They just have a negative connotation in their head that team building is a bad word. Now there’s also, as you mentioned, some people are very excited about it. People who are extroverted and tend to be well, extroverts generally like it more because they’re excited and their energy is locomotive full speed ahead. Where people who are more introverted and maybe have anxiety, or even if it’s not full-blown anxiety just don’t like to be in a crowd or don’t like to be in a small group because they can’t hide as easily. Those people have more apprehension. So, when they hear team building, I think their negative thoughts are even more heightened.

Steve Rush: Of course, in any audience, you are going to have a mix of those types of individuals, because many will be extroverted and thinkers and feelers, and others will be introverted thinkers and feelers. How do you make sure that when you are constructing a session that you are thoughtful of those different types of personalities that might come out?

Matt May: Well, our experiences are designed in such a way that everybody is on an even peel, equal, right. I generally tell clients; I don’t want to know who the boss is. The CEO is here, okay great. Don’t tell me who he is, or she is. I don’t want to know because I want to treat every single person the same. Now Murphy’s Law inevitably comes into play nine times out ten, and that’s the person I wind up picking on [Laugh] just organically. And then, oh, that’s the CEO, well, thanks for playing [laugh]. But generally, most of our experiences, Steve call for teams of ten, and we start off having everybody in the team of ten, doing a group exercise, and they’re all doing the exact same thing before they even break out into, quotes, unquote. And I’m using air quotes here, roles and responsibilities that they will be in charge of, if you will, during the experience.

Everybody does the same icebreakers and the same introductory games and challenges and activities. So that everyone is completely even keel. Then a lot of times when you break off into the experience, say it’s building bikes for kids. For example, some people are more mechanically inclined, or they’re really good with wrenches and they want to put something together great. Somebody else is better with puzzles and mind games and mind solving great. They’ll focus more on that. Other people are better at marketing. And so, they’ll kind of work on their team presentation more, but by the same token, a lot of times people say, well, you try this. This is not your forte or what you would normally gravitate to, this particular component. Why don’t you try this? And that allows people to see their colleagues in a whole different light.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: For example, sometimes the CEO or the C levels or the Directors, whatever will be on teams with somebody who’s the front desk receptionist. And that person will, for whatever reason, wind up in more of a leadership role or whatnot. And then next thing you know, the boss is saying, you are totally underutilized signing for packages and answering the phone. We need to talk next week. And, you know, ultimately the person becomes an office manager or whatever, because he or she was seen in a different light.

Steve Rush: I suspect that having the opportunity to throw away the natural conventions of the work labels gives everybody the opportunity to see how others behave and perform.

Matt May: Absolutely.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I love that. So as kids, when, you know, you first got up in front of your folks and did your, you know, theatre production and, you know, I probably did the same. What is it that causes some people like you, Matt, to continually have this energy to want to continually innovate and play where others like me will, you know, be a bit stuffy and go, well, I don’t do any of that kind of stuff anymore?

Matt May: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a certain quote unquote thing that is in me or not in you or whatever. I think some of it is inherent and its personality and as well as likes and desires, you know, what we follow or chase, but I think a big part of it too Steve is that we are conditioned as we grow up. Now I can only speak for the States, right. I can’t speak for European school upbringing, but for the States, and this is changing to a degree, but for so long, it was sit at the desk, take the information that’s presented to you, go home, do some exercises, commit it to memory, come back and regurgitate, wash, rinse, repeat, right?

Steve Rush: Right.

Matt May: So, as kids if we look at it, their favourite, well, I’m generalizing. Often the favourite part of the day is recess because they get to go outside and play. But as we get older, recess is removed from the school day. And by the time we’re out of primary schools and into middle school, junior high, high school, and then certainly in college, we go, and we ask people to give us information and educate us that we are then going to theoretically use, but the play is gone. So, I think that’s a big part of it is, just society. And don’t get me wrong. Look, adulting is hard [Laugh] okay.

Steve Rush: That’s true.

Matt May: We all have responsibilities. We can’t play on the playground all day. We have to work so that we can survive and support our family or if we don’t have a family, at least keep a roof over our head and keep us fed and clothed. But the fun element in our work and our workday seems to have been removed.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: And it, takes like going on a boy’s weekend to have our fun or the girls. I’m going out with the girls tonight or whatever. That is how we have our fun. Well, why can’t we still have fun in the workday? And I know fun is not necessarily something we use to measure success or productivity, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be prevalent. And it doesn’t mean it doesn’t help success and productivity.

Steve Rush: I think you actually might be able to measure that. So, when you look at things like employee engagement, you’ll see fun represent itself in different ways. So, commitment to the organization, prepared to stay, creativity, innovation, elements of peer group recognition, that kind of stuff. But often we don’t apply that three-letter word to it because we feel it’s got less relevance in a workplace.

Matt May: Correct.

Steve Rush: Would that be fair selection?

Matt May: Absolutely. I think that’s very fair. And I will let you in on, well, I guess it’s not going to be a secret because I’ve already told other people coming out there right now. I am a Hallmark movie junkie. I fully admit it. I’m a sap. I’m a big romantic at heart. I love Hallmark movies. And there was one that I watch about a year ago now. And there was a line that I sort of kind of touched on a moment ago, but the line was, and I know that fun, isn’t typical metric in the corporate world, but you know what it’s worth because fun allows people to relax and be fully themselves, which makes them productive and more engaged. And that affects the bottom line.

Steve Rush: Right. And is that something also that helps remove some of that fear and anxiety around team building as well?

Matt May: Absolutely. And I’ve had, I don’t want to say arguments. Discussions with people who have said anything competitive is not valuable in team building. Well, hold on, going back to the whole paintball, I will agree with you on that. I don’t, for me, that is not exciting. That is not team building. That’s just crazy, whatever. However, the majority of our team building experiences are competitive in nature. However, we’re not talking about tackling each other and taking each other out with guns. We’re talking about light-hearted competition. People are naturally competitive, Steve, right?

Steve Rush: mm-hmm.

Matt May: Again, I’m generalizing.

Steve Rush: That’s a fair generalization, yeah.

Matt May: Yeah. When we start, we go to school, we earn, or we are provide with good grades for positive work and productive work. The mother of all, and I don’t know if you have this over in the UK, but at least over here, the mother of all winnings is the lottery. People play, whether it’s scratch off or the big one, people go to a casino for a night out, whatever, but they put their coin in the machine, pull that lever and they want to get the pay-out. We are competitively, we like to win things. So, when you tell people, hey, you are doing this for the winning title, and yes, you’re going to win a gold medal at the end, whatever. It’s just fun. We’re just there to have some light-hearted competition, but people inherently enjoy that. Then they start talking smack to their colleagues. You’re going down, whatever. Just again, it’s all light-hearted fun. Nobody really means any ill will to each other. But doing that in an environment outside of the office allows you to see your colleagues in a different light

Steve Rush: And neurologically, of course. It releases dopamine.

Matt May: Right.

Steve Rush: And that’s a rewarding chemical transmitter, neurotransmitter that we thrive on. And you get a hit from that. So not only is it fun, it’s also a learning, so you want more of it.

Matt May: Exactly. We crave more of it once we’ve had the burst of it.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: And like I said, the whole medals, I have a discussion and I usually talk about it on when to do team building exercises. I always say, if you have people that don’t know each other and coming out of the pandemic, I have hear from more and more people, we’re doing the sales meeting and 75% of our team has not met each other, other than on Zoom. Okay, well, then I would recommend doing it at the beginning. Well, we wanted to wrap up the three-day conference with it. Okay, we can do that. But if you’re telling me, people don’t know each other yet, do it at the beginning, they’re automatically going to know nine other people from their direct team. The winning team is going to win gold medals. Maybe they’ll wear them at lunch that day. Maybe they’ll wear them that night to the cocktail reception. We’ll encourage them to wear them the rest of the three days to remind everyone that they were the winners. Good for them. Well, that’s a conversation piece right there. Somebody else might come up and say, we were robbed. Yeah, well, sorry. We got the medals, right. So, it automatically creates conversation. And again, it was based on that fun competition factor.

Steve Rush: So, during your experiences as well, one of the things that I’ve noticed through the work that you do, Matt, is that there is always a purpose behind what you do. So mentioned kids for bikes earlier. So that’s something that you use, exercise as a team together, but something that’s also serving communities well. Just tell us a little bit about some of the things you do.

Matt May: Well, as far as the philanthropic experiences, yes. Building bikes is for kids is one. We have an experience where we build wheelchairs for veterans, or maybe not even veterans for people who are mobility challenged. Foster care programs, kids entering foster care. Kids that need snacks. They don’t get them during the school day when they’re on vacation, places that they can go to get the snacks because they’re underserved and maybe their parents can’t afford to give them a snack every day. So, all of those types of things, many companies have CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives. And if we can align with them, that’s great. Because, let’s say, let’s be honest. If we can get something out of it, i.e., getting our teams to work together, having fun, doing something out of the norm of the workday and give back, well, then it’s win-win for everybody.

Steve Rush: Yeah. Ticking all the boxes, right?

Matt May: Exactly. And it doesn’t have to be philanthropic. It could be a culinary program and your company, I don’t know, maybe your company makes salsa. We could do a salsa margarita challenge. See, oh, wait, maybe that is the next new recipe for your brand, right. Or for an alternate version of your salsa, or maybe you make hospice sauce and, well, great. Let’s use your sauce in this culinary team building experience. So, there are ways to incorporate the company as well.

Steve Rush: Yeah, exactly. Love it. So, have you ever had a time where you’ve just had a participant who’s just, you know, folded arms, stuffy, I’m not getting involved in any of this? Have you ever experienced any of that?

Matt May: Yes [laugh].

Steve Rush: How do you deal with that?

Matt May: To be honest with you, I don’t, and I’ll tell you why. Usually, well, it’s never not happened. So, knock on wood. The person ultimately says, well, I look like a schmuck standing over here, and I’m the one who’s not having fun. Who wants to be in the corner? Right. All by him or herself. If your colleagues bring you in and you insist upon being that stuffy jerk. Okay, fine. You’re only hurting yourself. So, peer pressure I guess, is the bottom line. And I say that in a positive way, not a negative way. That ultimately your peers are going to say, come on, let’s go. You’re being a jerk.

Steve Rush: [Laugh].

Matt May: And it happens, right. If somebody doesn’t have the realization by themselves, that there are only hurting themselves and look like dunce. Somebody else, or several other members of the team are going to say, come on, let’s go. Now, I’ll be patting myself on the back. That rarely happens because our experiences are designed in such a way that you really can’t sit out, starting right at the get go. And when I facilitate, and our other facilitators have been trained to really put on the charm immediately, put on the energy immediately. So, we inherently, not we, but the participants inherently say, okay, I’m already in this.

Steve Rush: The one thing I notice in those experiences as well is the other thing of course, is that, that individual’s looking at everybody else having loads of fun, thinking. Now I’m losing out.

Matt May: Correct.

Steve Rush: So, I know over the last couple of years, Matt, you’ve had to really pivot your business model as we were going through the experiences of the pandemic. But I wonder having had the experience of being face to face and virtual, what the pandemics really taught us about how we participate or get involved if the case around things like team building or activities, what’s it really highlighted for us?

Matt May: Well, I think that it’s proven to us that face to face interaction is necessary. And it’s certainly good for us. We learn so much more and we get and give so much more when we’re face to face. When you’re on a video call, yes, you can see the person, but you may not see the person’s hand gestures because the camera is close, right. And you don’t get the body language. You don’t get the nonverbal cues. You don’t get touch, right. Human beings need touch. There’s a wonderful book and its old. And it was Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom. And there was a movie made with Jack lemon and Hank Azaria, many, many years ago. And I’m paraphrasing here, but Morrie was diagnosed with ALS, and he basically taught this former student, Mitch Albom life lessons. And one of them was, when we come into this world, we are cradled by our mothers, right. Until we learn to walk. And even then, we are constantly cradled by our parents. Craving human touch. When we die, nobody wants to die alone. I know this is a grim thought. And I apologize for doing that on the podcast, nobody wants to die alone.

Steve Rush: Right.

Matt May: So, we crave it, but why do we push it away for the majority of our lives? Why do we begin and end with it, but not continue to make it so important to us during our adult lives? But again, going back to face-to-face, handshakes. Now, I know people are still, some of them are nervous about that and whatnot, okay. Then do an elbow, bump, whatever. But when you touch someone’s hand and you grasp it, you are having a physical connection that you don’t get virtually.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Matt May: Now, team building experiences and other were very valuable. They still are. We do them. I personally prefer face to face, but I know a lot of people are saying, we’re just not ready to go back yet or we don’t have the ability to bring in everybody just yet. We’ve got it six months down the line, but we want to do something right now. Great. So, it’s still valuable because you’re getting people interacting and hopefully having fun. But the face to face in person is just so much more valuable. Yes people were doing virtual events. I get that. But this wasn’t even in our brains, right. As a thought, this conversation right now.

Steve Rush: Right.

Matt May: Because of the pandemic is why we’re having this discussion. I can’t articulate this. I don’t know why, but going back, we never would’ve thought about that before.

Steve Rush: That’s true. And it’s fair to say I think that people certainly in my experience in the last three to five months, I would say, are really grateful in when people come together as a group, there’s definitely much more appreciation for that now.

Matt May: Yes. It’s not just, well, we’re going to a sales meeting. It’s oh my gosh. We’re going to a sales meeting live and in person.

Steve Rush: [Laugh] and therefore there’s something deeply intrinsic that you refer to as that kind of cradling. That is a, also a very real metaphor for us wanting connection with people, isn’t it?

Matt May: Yeah. And when we’re in face to face, at least in my experience. Observe people being more organically involved, right. When you have a computer screen behind you, how many times have we seen somebody looking down and we say, oh, well, he or she’s checking text messages right now, or, you know, or, oh, oh, he’s reading his email, we can tell. You’re not as engaged because you have so many more distractions and there’s no real accountability either.

Steve Rush: That’s right.

Matt May: And I don’t use that as a negative term. I use it as a positive term, even to ourselves, we’re just not accountable because we have so many other things right in front of us on that fancy screen, that when you take that away and what’s in front of you is an actual face. Oh my gosh. Okay. I’m totally engaged with you right now.

Steve Rush: Well, fingers crossed for wherever anybody is listening to us in the world. They’re going to get back to some level of connection and normality pretty soon, anyway.

Matt May: Yes, I hope so.

Steve Rush: So, this part of the show, Matt, is where we start to turn the tables, you’ve learned lots of different teams and had lots of different leadership experiences over your career. And I’m keen to really hack into those now. So, what I’m going to ask you to do, if you can, is try and think of all of those experiences and just distill them down to your top three leadership hacks. What would they be?

Matt May: One is to utilize people’s strengths and not only participants, but also staff and facilitators, right. In an office setting, in an assembly line, in a factory, whatever. We hire people based upon their qualifications and skills. So, let’s do the same thing in a fun atmosphere. Now, again, this is going back to what I said before. Maybe let people get outside of their comfort zone, but at least for me with staff, I always want to find the right staff person, not only the experience, but the client.

Steve Rush: Right.

Matt May: What’s the demographic of the client who is going to work best with that demographic? So that’s one. Utilizing people’s skills and strengths. My catch phrase is regress to kindergarten. Take off the sport coat, take off the tie, take off the high heels, whatever you’re wearing. You’re in a safe space. Nobody’s judging you, if they are, judge them right back, because they’re probably doing the exact same thing. It’s not going to go anywhere. It’s kind of like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What happens in this room stays in this because if you don’t have those inhibitions, you’re going to organically be in a much better place to give of yourself for your team and the experience.

And the third leadership hack. Geez, I would say. It’s really kind of, my new catch phrase is, take the fear out of team building, which is the title of the book. And that is, let’s give people experiences where at the end of it, they say, okay, so my goal is, when you see me walk in six months from now, you’re not going to go, oh, that team building guy. Hopefully say, Ooh, what are we doing today? Or at the very least say, all right, let’s see what he is got out of his sleeve today. Let’s see how it compares to last time.

Steve Rush: Mm-Hmm. There must have been some magical experiences you’ve had over your careers. If you could just maybe call one out. The most fun, extravagant experience that you’ve had with a group or, an individual in a group, what would that be?

Matt May: It’s hard to pinpoint one. And I can’t remember the exact number. I facilitated a military care pack program. This is probably seven years ago or more. Those always get me. I’m a big supporter of the U.S. Military. And I know you’re over in Europe, but I’m a big supporter of people who put their lives on hold to make our lives better.

Steve Rush: Absolutely.

Matt May: That is very important to me. So military care pack programs always hit me pretty, pretty tough. They hit me hard in a good way. Also, when you see a kid who is part of a boys and girls club or whatever, come into a room and they don’t know why they’re there. And then all of a sudden there are 12, 24, 50, bikes, and they’re then told these are going to your organization. The look of huh, on their face is just amazing. And little ones are just, I don’t have kids. I’m too old to start at this point, but boy, some of the things they do and say they just melt my heart and make me just crack up [laugh].

Steve Rush: Makes it all worthwhile, right?

Matt May: Exactly. I’m always appreciative for that.

Steve Rush: Well, the next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn’t worked out for you. Maybe been pretty catastrophic, could have screwed up, but as a result of it, you’ve learned, and it’s now a force of good in your life or work, what would be your Hack to Attack?

Matt May: [Laugh] be careful what papers you sign to be quite honest.

Steve Rush: [laugh] yeah.

Matt May: Really and be careful with whom you go into business and protect yourself because you’re the only anyone that’s going to protect yourself. And I don’t want to sound cold and snarky, but it’s true. You can be a wonderful person and be very giving and loving and generous and still protect yourself.

Steve Rush: Yes, you can.

Matt May: And that’s the business side of me, careful what you sign and know who you’re getting into bed with proverbially.

Steve Rush: Yeah. You’re not the first guest mine you to have said that over the two years or so, we’ve been running the show. We must have at least half a dozen of our guests have, you know, some really similar circumstances where the greatest trusted relationships have gone wrong because of one piece of paper.

Matt May: Exactly, exactly. And it’s bad that happens. But it’s the reality of the world we live in.

Steve Rush: Certainly is. Now the last thing we’re going to do is you get to go and give yourself some advice at 21. So, if that time travel happened now. You stood right in front of Matt. He’s 21, you’re in front of him. What’s your advice?

Matt May: Probably to embrace the opportunities that you’re presented with wholly, don’t be fearful of them. Again, hindsight is 2020. The older I get; I do subscribe more to the philosophy of everything happens for a reason. And for whatever reason right now, this is where you’re supposed to be. And it may not be the happiest of circumstances, but what do you need to do to not only get through this but thrive beyond it and learn from it.

Steve Rush: Great advice.

Matt May: That would be my two words. It’s okay.

Steve Rush: Hmm. Love it. So, what’s next for you and the team?

Matt May: Well, we are very excited to be getting back to face-to-face experiences. Really trying to provide those to people who are ready. I hope more and more people continue to be ready and jump on this. My hope is that now, companies who are allowing people or have just made the decision to, we’re not going to own real estate or rent real estate anymore, because we know work from home, works for us. Great. That money that you’re saving, bring your people together. At least twice a year, quarterly is better. Have an all hands. Even if it’s just lunch, an address from the CEO and a team building experience where people get to play and work together, hands on, do it. It’s more important now than ever. My dream would be that it becomes instilled in everyone’s minds that this is as important as ordering copy paper.

Steve Rush: Right. DNA and the fabric of an organization should have all of those experiences to really exploit some of those unlearned or unobserved behaviors that you talked about earlier, right?

Matt May: Exactly.

Steve Rush: Yeah. So, when folks have listened into this Matt, where’s the best place for us to send them so they can bump into some of the work and maybe get a copy of the book?

Matt May: The best place is the website, which is It’s premier as in like number one without the E at the end of it. But if you do happen to put it in, it’ll direct you to the correct place. There’s a contact form there. There’s a links to Amazon where the book is. All of our social media links are there. You can follow us there. I love to travel personally. So, we do programs throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, abroad. I’d love to get over to the UK at some point. So more than happy to do that for anyone who’s listening over there.

Steve Rush: Course of action. Yeah, exactly. Well, Matt, listen, I’ve love chatting to you and you know, there’s no surprise that you’ve been a success in the business that you’re in and the energy and focus you bring to it. So, I just want to say thank you and we’ll make sure all of those links are in our show notes. So, when folks have listened as well. They can dive straight over, but thanks for being on the show.

Matt May: Thank you, Steve.


Steve Rush: I want to sign off by saying thank you to you for joining us on the show too. We recognize without you, there is no show. So please continue to share, subscribe, and like, and continue to get in touch with us with the great new stories that we share every week. And so that we can continue to bring you great stories. Please make sure you give us a five-star review where you can and share this podcast with your friends, your teams, and communities. You want to find us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @leadershiphacker, Leadership Hacker on YouTube and on Instagram, the_leadership_hacker and if that wasn’t enough, you can also find us on our website Tune into next episode to find out what great hacks and stories are coming your way. That’s me signing off. I’m Steve Rush, and I’ve been your Leadership Hacker.

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