One Question Quiz
Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

PoliticsOctober 25, 2023

Team-building tips for Luxon, Seymour and Peters

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

We collect the experts’ ideas, from escape rooms to improvisation.

New Zealanders have lately been sitting around waiting for the specials at levels not seen since Womad 2017. We know that National won the election. What we won’t know until those special votes – more than half a million of the things, accounting for 20% of the overall turnout – have been counted and processed is whether Christopher Luxon will depend on the votes of New Zealand First, as well as Act, to command a parliamentary majority. 

Either way, he seems to have resolved that the smartest course of action is to strike a deal with both. And therefore, in the serene hiatus as the specials travel through the pipes of democracy, Luxon has sought to build a working relationship with David Seymour (his former neighbour) and Winston Peters (a man whom, he said repeatedly during the campaign, he doesn’t know). 

Luxon seeks, he told media, “good alignment and good chemistry”. At another point he said: “I think chemistry and relationships are really important.” This morning he stressed the need to “build relationships”, to establish “good trust and a strong base”. Or, to put it another way, the goal of the pre-specials period is team-building. 

Given the seriousness of the project (running New Zealand) and the size of the challenge (stopping Seymour and Peters plunging their hands into one another’s chests and tearing out vital organs) we’ve gone to some of the nation’s leading experts in team building and asked: what should they be getting on with?

‘Something with a bit of mud or water’

What better place to begin than Action Matakana, an obstacle course and corporate team-building programme with a slogan that Christopher Luxon has to love: “Get your company back on track.” 

Founder Max Carpenter, a former military officer, agrees that this is a mighty challenge. “Most successful people have very big egos, and when the spotlight is on them their values and thoughts become more entrenched,” he says. “When the parties have conflicting views it is one of the more challenging feats to get them to work as a team. The trick is to find a ‘common cause’ – Christopher Luxon’s ‘chemistry’ – and get them to play that ball and not the man.”

A willingness to work together is critical, says Carpenter – and whatever we might have heard on the campaign, that has been the message from the three parties in the days since the election. The next part is crucial. “To be a successful team there must be trust,” says Carpenter. 

“Trust you will be supported when making a stance, trust that you will not be stabbed from behind and trust you will get the support you require from other team members. Trust the other team members will not ambush you when the team is surprised. No matter what happens the team will have your back. Trust allows team members to be courageous and go on to do great deeds.”

On the course at Matakana Action. (Photo: Matakana Action)

Great. Let’s get practical. Action Matakana would set Peters and Seymour “a challenge that would place them both out of their comfort zones”, says Carpenter. First, disorientation: “With those two snappy dressers something with a bit of mud or water comes to mind.” 

Next, something requiring collaboration: “A challenge they would jointly have to work together to solve, [such that] one could not succeed without the other.” And as if that isn’t sounding like compulsory viewing already, a “touch of fear” challenge, one that “if they collectively failed it would have an unpleasant outcome for them both”. 

“Having achieved or failed the task they may well come away with a better understanding of the other’s capabilities and be able to position themselves to work together for the betterment of a project they both believe in,” says Carpenter. “Whatever the outcome I believe there will be a need for a bigger bull in the paddock to keep lasting peace. If Christopher L can pull this off there will be a job waiting for him at Action Matakana.”

‘Work together to create a coherent story’

If they need the team-builders to come to them, why not try The Improvisors, a group of Wellington-based actors who have been giving corporates a theatrical lift for decades. 

“I think that the most relevant improv exercise that comes to mind would be the Word at a Time story,” says the actor and improv veteran Ian Harcourt. “It’s one that I would use in every ‘introduction to improv skills’ workshop. It’s pretty much summed up in its name – the participants work together to create a coherent story, taking turns to add a single word to the narrative.” 

A simple task, but one which can be very revealing, and probably should have been used during the televised debates. “The exercise is all about listening, yielding to the other person’s contribution and not expecting other people to be mind-readers. It’s also very much about prioritising the need to create a satisfying story, treating that goal as more important than the egos of the performers,” says Harcourt. “Pick any item from the two preceding sentences for something which could create difficulties for a Luxon/Seymour/Peters combination.”

Ian Harcourt (top right) and the Improvisors.

When that loses steam – or leads to places too terrifying to describe – try something else. “The other exercise which I would be very interested to see them play is called Sequence Dialogue,” says Harcourt. “It’s done with three or more performers. The rules are quite simple – they play out a scene (usually involving a shared goal, like buying milk or putting together a coalition, for example) in which performer B can’t speak until A has spoken, C can’t speak until A and B have spoken, A can’t speak again until C has spoken, etc etc. Again it’s all about listening, following the rules and keeping the scene going.”

Again: I would pay money to watch.

‘I would start by locking them in an escape room’

“An interesting conundrum,” says Guy Moxley, lead facilitator at Teambuilding New Zealand. “Generally a team works best when all within said team share the same risk. In a political context it was in some ways more like “poker players sitting at opposite ends of the table, [thinking] ‘what cards are they holding’.”

Those risks notwithstanding, “I would start by locking them in an escape room – let them dwell, think and share.” In such circumstances the leaders would be incentivised to “find that ‘synergy’ of goals [and] highlight and identify risks”.

Thinking outside the box of the escape room, Moxley conjures up a mass-participation team-building event: “the medieval pillory stock in the town square”. Voters could “pick your underperforming politician, hurling tomatoes (rotten cost extra)”. He says: “perhaps T-Shirt sales and ice creams would raise GDP – but the voters, the fun, the connections, the memories, now there’s a team activity all can enjoy.”

‘Raging river rapids and wild wilderness’

Last but never least (nor last, for that matter), we turn to Steve Gurney, a champion multisport and triathlon athlete, motivational speaker and designer of team-building adventures. 

“Camaraderie, friendly support and encouragement are top hallmarks of our sport. We’re all competitive for sure, but there’s a palpable undercurrent of positivity and respect for our fellow athletes and crews,” he says. “The defeatist amongst us would throw our arms in the air and say that we’re forever doomed because politicians are drawn to politics, as flies are drawn to poo, by their out-of-control egos … Hell shall freeze over before we see teamwork and harmony between David Seymour and Winston Peters.”

Steve Gurney in the Coast to Coast, 2002. (Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

But while lesser team-builders might give up, Gurney’s record nine victories in the Coast to Coast are testament to a man who shrinks at no challenge. “Optimists like myself never give up hope that we might yet find the key to world peace, and many of us still hold rosy visions surrounded by harp-playing cherubs of our politicians shedding their juvenile tantrums and putting down their lego blocks. Turning instead to constructive debate in the house, and going on to agree on policy to make NZ the best little nation in the world.”

The Gurney plan for developing chemistry and building a coalition, therefore, goes like this: 

“Enter them as a four-person team in the GodZONE adventure race. Seymour, Peters, Luxon and Shaw. That’ll learn them! They will need to cast aside their errant egos and put all of their earnest energies into working in harmony with their fellow flesh and blood. For not doing so will mean map-reading mayhem and inevitable hypothermic death amid New Zealand’s snowy precipitous peaks, raging river rapids and wild wilderness.”

(Sadly GodZONE race has “just pulled the pin”, notes Gurney, but if all four are up for it he’ll surely find a way.)

And a second idea: “There’s nothing, absolutely nothing better to garner trust, cooperation and mutual respect than to trust the other person with your precious life on the end of a rope, dangling 300 metres over a mountain precipice. We observe the true and transparent nature of a person in times of unpredictable trauma, when their life, health and very existence is under immediate threat.”

Gurney is ready if you are: “I’ll take them on a mountaineering trip.”

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Keep going!