The Power of TWT

The weekly staff meeting is in five minutes. As usual, “better citizen service” tops the agenda. You’ve heard the spiel so many times you now lip sync its delivery. Your eyes closed and lips ready, the meeting begins.

“This man left his three sons 17 camels. The first son gets half. The second son gets a third. The third son receives a ninth. The sons negotiate — 17 doesn’t divide by 2 or 3 or 9.” This isn’t the spiel. Eyes now open, you are watching a “Ted Talk” from Will Ury, renowned conflict negotiator and author of Getting to Yes.

My leadership team discovered the Power of TWT (Training with Ted) two years ago when we encountered Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” This free video sparked a 30-minute discussion about what we could do better in leading our engaged workforce. Sinek’s talk didn’t stop with the leadership team. Soon, all departmental staff had seen it and realized they too played a leadership role when engaging with the citizens we served. The challenge became to find “Ted Talks” that lightened up staff meetings and served as educational and/or problem-solving tools. Twice a month, staff meetings include these gems.

Spark up your staff meeting and departmental performance with “Ted Talks.” These short presentations are:


Each presentation grabs one’s attention quickly as it starts with a story. Paul Smith’s “Lead with a Story” states people remember stories more than facts. Which statement resonates with you: December 25, 1776 or Washington crossing the Delaware? Unless you’re a history buff, the date means nothing. Most likely, you’ve heard the story of General Washington crossing the icy Delaware River early Christmas morning and catching the Hessians by surprise, thus garnering the first victory for the Continental Army.

The presenters are animated when they give the talk. They use simple props or diagrams that are easily remembered.

Finally, they’re short. An average talk is about 15 minutes, thus learned attention deficit disorder (LADD) doesn’t kick in.


The talks normally focus on a single concept, sometimes unfamiliar, but logical once presented. Think about negotiations and conflict. How many sides are there? Most of us think two. Ury offers a different perspective based on his many years of negotiating conflicts at the international and local levels.

The presenters are experts in their fields. Ury is a Harvard anthropologist with nearly four decades of conflict negotiation under his belt.

These talks often spark the desire to share. A departmental permit supervisor attended a training where he saw David Marquet’s presentation on leadership through intent. The following Monday, he started his team meeting with it. He adapted the message to discuss how county stormwater development codes aren’t always black and white given the different types of soil. Engineers will try different things. So, remember the codes’ intent when processing stormwater permits.


Astute leaders frame the issue. Then they use a presentation’s concept to engage their team. Discussion occurs. Solutions are vetted. The end result often supports Thomas Miller’s graph on job satisfaction.

An engaged staff is crucial to any public service agency. Despite current political rhetoric, citizen frustration is higher than anger with government. “Ted Talks” offer a method to improve staff engagement which translates into providing solutions versus roadblocks to the public we serve.

“Ted Talks” are a way to improve staff meetings, give free training and engage staff. So, here’s a challenge to the reader.

  1. Find a conflict issue within your department.
  2. Watch Ury’s presentation.
  3. Identify the sides.
  4. Come up with a solution.
  5. Follow the African Proverb.
  6. Report the results as a comment to this blog.

It would be interesting to see what others are facing and the creative solutions they’re using. Who knows, your solution might become a “Ted Talk” that inspires other governmental agencies.

Submitted by Larry Keeton


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