The Nerf of Some People!

Trainer aims to keep people laughing while they learn.

October 02, 2013
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Every credit union person who’s met Corlinda Wooden knows she loves brainstorming’s freeform style.

Even so, “Though I’m a big believer in brainstorming, we have a set of rules we follow that everybody must be clear on,” she says. “If somebody breaks a rule, others at the table can lob a Nerf ball at them. This keeps the environment fun and focused.”

Recently relocated to Houston from Unitus Community Credit Union in Portland, Ore., Wooden left behind a legacy of innovation in terms of training and motivating staff. She now runs Wooden Consulting, which aims to teach her methods to credit unions nationwide.

How does Wooden come up with her ideas—such as sessions with Dr. Seuss or game-show themes? “I like to take a cooperative approach and use people’s natural talents and playfulness. We’ll have all-day brainstorming sessions that start off with stimulating mental exercises. Then we cover goals, the results we’re trying to achieve, and how we’re going to achieve them.”

Wooden picked up her techniques by attending many conferences and sales meetings. “I watched how [speakers] motivated people and then rolled those good practices and insights into my own style. I looked at what companies like Nordstrom and Ritz-Carlton were doing to set clear goals and motivate [staff], and wanted something similar we could do ourselves.”

The “Member Service Sales and Service Standards” program Wooden designed stems from enterprise-wide initiatives. “But because branches have their own agendas tailored to their teams and circumstances, we needed to create standards more specific to our unique role.”

Another technique she developed to help keep service standards alive and present was “Consistent Monthly Huddles.” These are structured check-ins across the entire branch network with themes such as “achieve,” “believe,” “own,” or “show.”

During check-ins, “we announce the team’s successes by name, discuss failures—not by name but by description—and maybe look at a funny YouTube video that spoofs a particular situation to help keep everyone laughing while they are learning.

“We never assume that failure was malicious or that somebody was trying to fail,” she continues. “If a person’s intent was good and their heart was in the right place, their mistake becomes a teachable moment.”

Wooden’s training techniques fall into three categories:

  1. Facilitating internal classes;
  2. Leading outside huddles and sales conferences; and
  3. Coaching one-on-one.

“These are the sessions that provide those wonderful ‘aha’ moments, when you see a person understand something. We do these compassionately so the person I’m helping feels comfortable telling me what I need to know and accepting feedback.”

Outside of work, Wooden describes herself as an outdoors woman who grew up with horses. She intends for her two daughters to continue the tradition.


Robert Douglas
October 18, 2013 5:08 pm
I'm very proud of you Corlinda and I'm sure your mother is as well. You and Bret are doing so well!! Love, Uncle Bob

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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