About Kathy Jourdain

Kathy Jourdain’s passion is co-creative leadership and the ability to influence the shifting shape of organizations, teams and individuals in a time when this is most needed in the world. She is a steward and practitioner of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter. This has her traveling internationally working mostly in Canada, Brazil and the United States. She launched Shape Shift Strategies Inc. in 2009. Her approachable, professional style has made her a powerful business coach with an impressive track record, drawing on skills and expertise built during her 15 year consulting practice and before that as a CEO of a major health charity in Atlantic Canada.

Conflict Resolution Strategies At Work in Teams

Many things can interfere with maintaining strong positive, productive team dynamics and often it has to do with the interpersonal challenges that arise out of lack of clarity of role or around decision-making processes. When things go wrong, trust is compromised and when trust is compromised it is hard to regain. Some teams never recover. And, thankfully, not every team experiences this level of dysfunction either. This post addresses processes for those teams that have and that have the support for the resource and time investment required to recover. Yes, it is possible although not easy.

conflict group

For senior leadership teams falling into this level of challenge can have devastating impacts personally and professionally for each member of the team. Examples shared here are from consulting work with senior teams experiencing dysfunctional relationships, sometimes so challenging that the professional reputations of everyone on the team was at stake because the issues became widely observed or evident in the organization. In almost every story, team members were barely speaking to each other, tension was high, trust was low, blame was rampant and team members undermined each other in a number of ways. Some of the most meaningful, impactful, rewarding work that Shape Shift Strategies Inc. does is with such teams.

In every team and organization there are two dimensions or polarities that are always at play. This is the polarity between a focus on the task to be done and a focus on tending to the relationship of the team members. Relationship tending is seen as something we should just know how to do and is the first thing sacrificed for money or time. It is also the thing that most often gets in the way of accomplishing the task. People who like each other enjoy working together, are more inspired, motivated and get far more done. They are more likely to have animated conversations that lead to new discoveries and creative solution finding and more likely to look forward to going to work.

For teams in conflict, accomplishing the task is at risk. For teams in conflict that want to address the conflict, it often requires a significant investment of resources and time – the very things that seemed in short supply to begin with – and focus on relationship – the very thing that seemed self evident as not needing tending.

tug of war ropeAddressing the human dynamics of teams in deep conflict is a several stage process that takes thoughtfulness, care and intentionality. The process outlined below is for teams with up to ten or twelve members. Beyond that different processes are needed.

Step 1. Individual interviews.

The purpose of the individual interviews is four-fold. One purpose is to give everyone an opportunity to individually tell the story of their experience, not to be confused with the facts of the situation. Each person will tell the story from their perspective or worldview and can get out any frustrations they have, speaking openly and honestly. A second purpose is to provide an opportunity for each individual to reflect on the situation, how they may be contributing to it, what happens if the situation is not resolved. A third purpose is for the consultant to build connection with each individual prior to having the team meet to address the issues. Often, many people on a team will point to an individual as being the primary cause of the problem and these interviews help uncover the system at play and the hidden dynamics. A fourth purpose is to discover the themes and patterns across the individual stories.

The same interview guide is used with each member of the team and usually an hour is allotted for each interview. They can be done in person or on a call. The interview starts in an unusual place – often with what they wanted to do when they were in school, finding out how they got to their current job or career, why that position now, hopes when they started in the job leading up to the current situation and inviting reflection on the future. It is a deep sensing interview, designed to invite them back into their humanity and to go deeper than simply asking them what is wrong or what needs to be fixed now.

Following the interviews, the information is compiled into themes and patterns as an offering back to the team in the first meeting often in a mind map. Team members are assured that nothing will show up in the mind map unless it is heard from at least three people.

Step 2. A first meeting.

The first meeting with the team is always interesting. The team members do not know what to expect. They are nervous. They don’t know what will be revealed and they are anxious about conflict. They know their own perception of the conflict and are sure they will have fingers pointed at them by others. They feel isolated.

We use circle process – with or without a table in the middle. More and more it is circle without a table, without the protective barrier of something in front of them or something to semi hide behind. Inviting them to show up fully. When people show up in an unexpected and unfamiliar form it is immediately disruptive and uncomfortable. As a consultant facilitating this work, you need to be very comfortable with other people’s discomfort and create an environment that helps them breathe through it.

With one team, when the team leader walked into the room she was immediately taken aback. There was a projection table on wheels by one wall. She sat in her chair, also on wheels, rolled back to the projection table, put her coffee on it, awkwardly rolled her chair and the projection table back to the circle as a source of support. I watched with curiosity. At the end of our day and half session, she commented on her own behaviour, noting her initial discomfort and her growing comfort with the form of our meeting as progress was achieved.

We start with a check in. Maybe around each person’s hopes for this process and naming any tension they are carrying. This often immediately begins to surface similarities or common experience. We review the mind map of the themes and patterns, which is usually in the centre of the circle as we begin – with talking pieces in case we choose to use them.

With one team I worked with, it took until the end of the first day of working together for someone to become brave enough to say, “That could have been my interview.” You could hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone else acknowledged the same thing. It was a shock and a relief to them to discover that what they had each been carrying individually was also being held by them collectively – similar experiences, similar fears, similar hopes. Common ground they had not witnessed in a long time and did not know existed until they saw it in front of their eyes.

We use Appreciative Inquiry (AI) because even in the most distressed teams there is always something that has worked or does work. Reminding people of this by asking them what their best experience of collaboration, their best experience of resilience their best experience of team, their best experience of the organization or other relevant topic has been reorients them to what does work and helps them understand they can make it work again while also surfacing what it is each person values about the organization, the team, each other, themselves. As highly intelligent people, individuals are often surprised to find themselves in a situation where they feel like they have failed or are failures and seem to have no strategies for success. It is good to surface what they do know and where they have been successful to create a bridge to the future.  We also use AI to collectively generate the principles by which the team wants to engage this work of building or rebuilding their relational field.

By investing time in this , we are creating the foundation for the team to enter the difficult conversations in a healthier space of curiosity, generosity and possibilities rather than defensiveness, debate and blame, where they can hear each other instead of only wanting to be heard. Where the conversation goes from there depends on what is most alive for the team, what has surfaced in the themes and patterns and what the team needs to be able to engage in good work together. When a team is in this level of disarray, these initial meetings focus almost exclusively on tending to relationship. The team has to slow down to go fast later.

Step 3. Ongoing meetings.

Issues and patterns that have become entrenched in a team are not easily shifted. A neutral, external support can bring voice to things the team itself cannot name, can bring new strategies and patterns into an existing situation and can challenge the team in gentle or tough ways about its patterns and interactions with each other.

There are many reasons for ongoing meetings. One is simply that entrenched patterns cannot be shifted in a day. It takes reminding, accountability and learning to trust that new patterns produce different results – like using a check-in and check out process for each meeting. Check-in brings people into the room mentally and emotionally and sets the tone for the conversations that are needed. Check out seals the day, allows people to express what is most present for them – gratitude, reflections, questions. Sometimes check out provides purpose and intention for the next meeting.

Also, a consultant can bring in Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001patterns of human dynamics that help people name and understand their dynamics,
like the divergence-groan zone-convergence framework or surface hidden dynamics through systems mapping or provide strategies for thinking or planning differently like polarity mapping.

Sometimes it is as simple (and difficult) as holding space for the team to be in its own discomfort. One team we worked with, in the first meeting we had in a hotel, the room went completely silent whenever the wait staff came into the room. Not a peep out of anyone. The wait staff were asked to come and serve the break or the meals and leave directly afterward, leaving clearing the room for later. Over the course of the first three meetings, the tension in the room dissolved and conversation continued no matter who was in the room. With this team we used a parking lot for the conversations that began to spin around without resolution and we moved to the next conversation. Later we came back to the parking lot and it was amazing to see how easily most of those issues could then be resolved. More foundation and less edge.

Another benefit of meeting with the team on a regular basis is that the team gets to surface and review its progress – something not always tended to in the regular course of meetings and interactions. We also get to identify the dynamics that get in the way of team effectiveness – like lack of clarity of role or no discernable, reliable decision making processes. Once the team addresses these issues there is more ease in the relationships and a greater possibility of having a conversation rather than making assumptions. The team develops its own common language and short cuts into conversations or dynamic identification. One team I worked with would slide from one conversation to another with no clear resolution, agreement or decision. After having this pointed out to them several times, they began to notice their own pattern and took themselves back to finish the first conversation before moving to the next. They also began to do this with the teams they led in the organization, changing the tone of the meetings and the relationships.

Initially the consultant might have to offer the purpose or intention for each meeting, to attune people to where they are in the process and keep things on track. Before too long, the team can collectively elicit the purpose and intention on its own by tuning into what’s been going on since the last meeting and identifying anything they feel needs their collective attention.

As soon as it is reasonably possible, the focus of the meeting needs to tune back into the task(s) or work of the team and find a reasonable balance between task and relationship tending. As people see the impact of relationship tending on moving the task along or easing work flow, they are more willing to invest time there too.

Step 4. Concluding the process.

At some point, the consultant is no longer needed on a regular basis, often four to six months into the process. The team should become self-accountable with shared leadership and shared responsibility.

With one team, our last meeting was in a boardroom at a hotel. The leader, who had quite an adverse reaction to the first circle, remembered there was a big board table in the room and was feeling regret that it would impact our circle, only to turn up and find out the board table had been pushed back against the wall, leaving room for our circle.

Another team was able to use their resources more effectively. When trust was low, three or four members of the team would show up to a meeting when realistically one or two would do. As they addressed their issues and grew trust, they were able to trust that the perspective of the team could be conveyed by one individual.  And, instead of undermining each other in meetings with others – behaviour which contributed to the whole organization seeing their dysfunction – they began to support each other, even when they did not fully know where their team member was going. Instead of challenging them in front of others they would offer something like, “I’m sure if my teammate has offer this as a possibility, it has been well thought out and we should all pay attention.”

The whole organization began to see and sense the difference before they could really articulate what they were seeing. Like magic. Only it wasn’t magic. It was damned hard work that paid off.

group conversation

Not all teams need this degree of intervention and many times teams later end up disbanded because team members take on new challenges or sometimes there is a re-organization in the company that breaks the team up. But the skills learned during this kind of experience are transferable to many different situations and individuals see, and others witness, that they have grown their leadership capacity.

Conflict Resolution: The Allure of the Role of the Prince

When you are engaged in conflict and can’t see your way out of it you often wish that someone would come along and rescue you: a White Knight in Shining Armour.  And very often you do find a version of the white knight.  This is the Prince in the Princess-Dragon-Prince* framework that was introduced two blog posts ago.  It is the Prince who rescues the Princess from the Dragon in our traditional fairy tale stories.

Princess triangle_000001

The Prince is perceived by the Princess (the one telling the story of conflict) to be a supportive, possibly neutral third party providing an unbiased perspective.  The storyteller is validated when the Princess perspective is acknowledged and confirmed by this neutral third party.  When the Prince agrees that the Princess had no choice but to respond the way she did, the Princess can feel justified in adopting behaviour that, under normal circumstances, might be considered inappropriate.  The Princess or victim perspective is further supported by this validation.

The danger is that it is easy for the Prince to get caught up in the Princess’ story or worldview and see the conflict solely from the perspective of the Princess.  In this way, the acknowledgement comes with emotional emphasis that serves to strengthen the validation.  The trap is that the Dragon is rarely ever as horrible as it is made out to be.  If the Prince validates the Princess without exploring the Dragon’s side of the story, there is no real rescue and the Princess is likely to become more entrenched in the victim aspect of the story.

Another way the Prince may come to the rescue of the Princess is by stepping into the middle of the situation and solving the problem with the Dragon or by removing either the Princess or the Dragon from the situation.  In so doing, the Princess never develops the skills needed to solve the problem on her own or deal effectively with the Dragon or the issues it represents.  The Prince is counted on and expected to solve the problem, and the Princess never owns it.  The Princess continues to be a victim, helpless and powerless.

It is quite common for the Princess to find a rescuer because the allure for the Prince of coming to the rescue can be strong. The Prince may derive some sense of self-worth or identity from always being able to help.  It may be a way that he defines purpose and meaning in his life.   There are some people who are best able to be in friendships or other relationships only when they are able to play the rescue role. When everything is going well, they retreat.

There is power in having other people need to rely on you for problem solving.  When you solve other people’s problems for them you exercise some control over their lives and you may even shape part of who they are.  It is always easier to see other people’s problems than it is to see our own or what we bring to a situation and it is therefore easier to provide solutions to someone else.  In accepting this kind of help, the Princess stays helpless and the Prince gains power.

Business or personal coaches, counsellors, consultants and health care providers may be particularly prone to the allure of the role of rescuer.  These professions all work with individuals to help them change aspects of their lives.  There is a fine line between helping someone solve their own problems and rescuing them.  If a client or patient becomes dependent on you, you are an enabler for the Princess or victim and her continued victimization.  It should be incumbent on a professional in these roles to make themselves redundant as their client learns to take control of their own life.

As a professional providing assistance it is always a good idea to question your own motives and your role in assisting your client or patient.  You can always be asking yourself what it is you gain from intervening in the problem.  As a friend, colleague or family member of the Princess, you may also want to consider your response to those questions, especially if you frequently find yourself in the middle of someone else’s conflict.  It is meeting a need within you.  If you unearth the need, you may find a better way to meet it or perhaps you may change or grow beyond it.  You learn to define or know yourself beyond the rescue role.

As you learn to extricate yourself from the middle of other people’s problems you may find your friendships or your work relationships shifting and changing.  As you understand what motivated your need to intervene, you may find yourself more frustrated and less satisfied with the nature of those friendships because the needs they met are either met in other ways or no longer exist.  Those people may still be stuck in the need to be rescued.  If they are stuck in that need, then they are usually stuck in the problem that generated the need and make no progress on the issue.

In my university days I volunteered for the Help Line.  We responded to a whole range of calls from immediate crisis to ongoing needs for support.  One summer I had a job that took me on the road and so wasn’t able to volunteer for about 3 months.  After a 3 month break, I was astonished to notice how many of the regular callers were still calling with exactly the same problems and issues they had had 3 months ago.  They weren’t interested in moving on.  They were looking for a rescuer but they weren’t really interested in solving the problem.  I moved on.

The most effective rescue roles are those where we help people learn how to become their own Prince and rescue themselves.  This doesn’t hold the same allure for many rescuers because you allow people to discover things for themselves instead of supplying them with your own solutions.  However, the benefit to the Princess is that the solutions are more personally relevant and they are longer lasting.

When you find yourself in the role of the Prince, consider the allure for you and the motivation for being in the role so you don’t inadvertently turn yourself into a different kind of Princess – someone who always has other people’s problems dumped on you.

* While the Princess is referred to “she”, the Prince “he” and the Dragon “it”, all of these roles are played by both men and women.

Princess Stories of Conflict: Rescuing Yourself

In the last Shape Shift post, the Princess story framework was shared, showing how it is a beautiful way of resolving conflict, inviting you to examine the way you see the conflict – your worldview – and the way others see the conflict – or their worldview perspective.

Princess triangle_000001

In conflict, as you tell your story from the Princess perspective, very often you are waiting for a Prince to come along and rescue you from the Dragon or whatever your dilemma might be.  You want someone else to solve your problem for you.

The Prince you are waiting for could be a third person.  It could be a boss who you want to solve a problem with a coworker.  The boss could also be the Dragon and you want another job or someone higher in the organization to provide the rescue.  Or maybe you are waiting for a friend or family member to play the role of the Prince.

Alternatively, you could be waiting for the Dragon to turn into the Prince and thus provide the rescue.  When you want the Dragon to be the rescuer what you really want is for the Dragon to admit that they were wrong, you are right and offer you an apology vindicating your Princess perspective.  Usually you have to wait a long time for this to happen, and it rarely ever does.

It doesn’t often occur to you that perhaps you are the one who might be wrong – or may not be right.  Even if you are right, that doesn’t necessarily make the Dragon wrong.  Or, perhaps it is you who needs to offer the apology.  Remember in the Dragon’s perspective of this same conflict, they are the Princess and you are the Dragon.

Ultimately, what is helpful is to transform into the Prince and rescue yourself.  Why?  In doing so, you reclaim the power that you traded for sympathy and make yourself stronger.  As you recognize all three roles within you, you come closer to wholeness within yourself.  The things you are looking for to make yourself complete are never found outside of yourself, they are always found within.

paperbagprincessIn the same way, your rescue cannot come from outside of yourself.  If it does it is only temporary.  In order to be truly effective, it must come from within.  If it comes from external sources, the problems which precipitated the need to be rescued will only come back around in the same way or in some other variation and everyone one of us has had experiences which speak to this.

In order to transform yourself into the Prince, the first step is often giving up the need to be right.  When you have the need to be right and you want other people to validate that for you, you are entrenched in your position or your own point of view or worldview.  It is very difficult to acknowledge there may be other perspectives that are just as valid as your own.  Giving up the need to be right doesn’t mean you aren’t right and it also doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person is right.  But giving up the need to be right opens up space and opportunity to expand the story.

The need to be right does not stem from factual truth, it stems from emotional truth.  It is the emotional truth that drives the conflict, not the factual truth.  The way you act reflects this kind of thinking: “I feel that you hurt me in some way and I want you to apologize for that hurt.  If you don’t apologize, I will show you what it feels like by acting in a way that will create the same hurt in you.  Once you know what it feels like, then for sure you will apologize to me.”

This strategy rarely ever works because so much of what it tries to do is implicit not explicit.  “I want an apology but I will not ask for it or explain why I want it – because you should already know that.”  Trouble is, that other person cannot read your mind, as much as you may think they should be able to.  And often, they are too busy reacting to your reaction to decipher what your encoded message means.  Thus, the conflict escalates.

Stepping out of the need to be right, even if you do so begrudgingly, is a very effective way to de-escalate the conflict.  As you acknowledge what you may have contributed to the conflict, very often the other person will also begin to acknowledge their own role.

It is really easy to get people to agree to the idea that they would prefer their relationship or their interactions to be different and better – preferably if the other person changes!  As much as you may think differently, that Dragon has no more interest in perpetuating the stress and anxiety that goes along with the conflict than you do.  As you take charge of the situation and take the initial steps to a new form of relationship, you begin the process of transforming into the Prince.

You can do this from any perspective.   Earlier in this article, the scenario of the Dragon being your boss was posed.  For many people this seems like an impossible situation because the boss is the boss and if they engage in conflict with their boss, they fear losing their jobs.  I recently had a client in this very situation.

My client and his managers were meeting with my client’s boss.  The boss royally dressed down these department managers for a good hour, deflating and demoralizing everyone.  My client felt just as demoralized as his managers and he felt helpless to respond.  After a few days and a lot of thought, my client asked for a meeting with his boss to discuss that situation.

He told his boss that the points the boss had made were valid points and that steps needed to be taken to rectify the situation.  He also told his boss that his approach had been totally demoralizing and had the exact opposite effect – de-motivating staff to want to rectify the situation.  Much to his surprise, his boss apologized to him.  Then he asked if my client would like him to meet with his staff to apologize to them – which he did.

Later we evaluated what happened in the original meeting.  I asked my client how he could have handled that situation differently.  He said that he could have stopped his boss, asked his own managers to leave and then had the conversation with his boss one-on-one, later bringing the staff back in after some appropriate course of action had been decided.  His original response was the best he could do at the time given the unexpectedness of the situation and his own reaction to it.  The point in evaluating it is to build a repertoire of alternative responses to possible future scenarios so that there are choices more readily available.

My client could have stayed in his Princess story of what a terrible boss he has.  And certainly there is room for improvement in the boss’ management skills.  However, his boss’ behaviour is largely out of my client’s control.  When he began to focus on what was in his control he effected a change in his boss’ behaviour that he couldn’t have imagined.  The first thing he did was acknowledge what was valid in his boss’ message.  It turned the tide and created movement that enabled a resolution to be reached.

And remember that conflict is not always overt.  That is largely the problem with it.  We try to avoid it and yet we stay stuck in our Princess stories.  Whenever you find yourself thinking that someone else needs to change or do or say something you are in a Princess story and you are held hostage by it.  By thinking of the story from the Dragon’s perspective, or of what you contributed to it or of what is within your control to change, you begin the transformation process.  The only true way to resolve conflict is to transform yourself.  That White Knight in Shining Armour really is you!  Loving how fairy tales are reinventing themselves.

frozen

Princess Stories – A Key to Conflict Resolution

When we are engaged in conflict with someone else, it is often difficult to step out of it to gain perspective.  It is hard to pinpoint the exact problem, usually because we are absolutely convinced the problem is the other person, although we may begrudgingly admit that we might be contributing to the problem.

The answers to conflict resolution can be pretty easy.  Opening up to them is the hard part.  They are contained in the stories we tell.  If we can allow ourselves to listen to our own stories with a more discerning ear, we may be able to penetrate to the heart of the conflict more easily.

Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith, in their book Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict, present a framework I find useful and powerful in explaining the underlying dynamics of conflict and my clients find it engaging. It is a way to explore worldview and experience the transformative power of worldview awareness.  It is based on the notion that we tell stories in a certain way when we are in conflict. The framework looks like this:

Princess triangle_000001

Princess Story Triangle

If you think of fairy tales of old ( since the very nature of our fairytale storytelling is now, thankfully, changing), there is usually a Princess or damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the Prince from the Dragon, wicked step-mother or other perpetrator.  The Princess is pure and beautiful and always the victim of circumstance or of the jealous or evil intentions of someone who has some kind of influence or power over her life.  She never rescues herself.  The dragon is evil and hateful and has it out for the Princess. The Prince is handsome and gallant and always arrives to rectify the situation.  (It is important to remember these are archetypal roles that we all assume so even though the Princess is referred to as “she” it could just as easily and often be a “he” in the role.)

We often tell our conflict stories from the perspective of the Princess.  In our stories about conflict we have with another person we are the victim.  Somebody has done something to us.  Whatever we perceive they have done, we use to justify our own actions or behaviour in the conflict especially when we find ourselves “acting out of character”.  When we act out of reaction, anger, frustration, we don’t feel good about ourselves or how we treated someone else.  If we can rationalize that we have been provoked into our reaction, that at least offers an explanation for our own behaviour that we can live with, that supports our worldview.  We become identified with our position and are unwilling to acknowledge what we may have done to contribute to the situation. The less heard we feel, the more entrenched we become in our position. Our attempts to resolve the conflict feel like giving in.

We want other people to understand our reaction in light of the provocation so we paint the person we are in conflict with as the “dragon”.  Then, it’s as if we had no choice because the dragon forced us into it.  While we see ourselves as “acting out of character” we see the dragon in our story as very much acting within character for them, more so if the conflict has gone on for awhile or is particularly entrenched.

One of the reasons we tell our conflict stories to others is that we are looking for our knight in shining armour to come along and rescue us.  Sometimes the rescue is simply in being validated or acknowledged for our own actions.  “The dragon did such a terrible thing, no wonder you reacted the way you did.”  Other times we are looking for someone to do something for us, to intervene or to make the dragon disappear.

In promoting our princess stories to whoever will listen, we are looking for sympathy. If we don’t get it, we go deeper into our story, give more detail, repeat ourselves. The repetition makes the story more and more real and we become more entwined with it. We drive ourselves deeper into the princess role because surely that will generate the sympathy we think we need. In exchange for the sympathy we seek, we trade in whatever power we may have to rectify our situation.  In the victim role, we are helpless to defend ourselves, change our situation or learn from the conflict.

When we finally realize that the knight in shining armour is us, we stop looking for the prince.  When we recognize that the dragon may not be purely evil but also “acting out of character”, we can begin to relinquish the princess role and truly learn from our plight.  One key to doing this is to tell our story from the perspective of our dragon, to become curious about how they are seeing the world.  The dragon in our story has their own version, their own worldview, of the conflict story.  What are the odds that they actually paint themselves as the dragon?  About the same as us painting ourselves as the dragon in our own story. Although sometimes that dragon is an internal dragon.

dragonform

As we tell the story from their perspective, we put ourselves in their shoes.  It enables us to see them in a new light.  Maybe they were reacting to something we said or did.  Perhaps they feel just as helpless in the escalation of this conflict as we feel. Maybe new awareness of their challenges and difficulties come to light that help us soften our own story, make us more curious and more generous, expanding the space for generative conversation to emerge.

Another benefit of telling the story from the perspective of the dragon is that it just might enable us to admit the pieces of our own princess story that we have omitted – the pieces that might have contributed to the dragon’s response, behaviour or actions.  If we let down our guard only momentarily, instead of signaling to the dragon an opportunity to attack as we fear it will, it just might signal an opening to disarm the conflict.

In order to do this, we must give up our need to be right and open ourselves up to alternative explanations, stories, scenarios or worldviews.  It is possible to have more than one right answer although when we feel absolutely that we are right it is a challenge to believe this.

Our princess story contains our truth. It is not always factual truth but it is emotional truth.  It also contains omissions.  The dragon’s story contains truth and omissions too.  It is in bringing the truths and the omissions together that an alternative story emerges, one that often contains the framework or foundation for resolution in an expanded truth.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our experience. What conflict could you shift the shape of if you found a different way to tell the story, if you become curious about the situation, your reaction, the other person, if you became more gracious and generous in responding to them – even if it is a stretch as you begin. Some stretches end up being worth it.

Dragon and Princess

Not Enough Time

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

Not enough time in the day.  Not enough time to get everything done. Not enough time to begin a project, to have a  conversation. Not enough time with a loved one.  Not enough time. Not enough.

clock with woman Clock with man

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am certain that in a world that seems to move at an ever increasing pace, almost every one of us has, at some point, uttered the wish for more hours in a day. Because of the pressure of to-do lists that never get completed, have you ever jammed more than is humanly possible into a day or tried to eliminate sleeping hours from your schedule? Has your feeling of not enough time, not getting things done ever been turned into a story of you not being enough?

Time. It is relative. When my older sons were little I remember one of them saying to me after I probably said, “Just a minute”, “Mom, minutes are long.” Minutes are long. They are short too. The day I stood on the mountainside in Gold Lake, Colorado in 2009, minutes were timeless, time out of time. Minutes can be 60 seconds and it can be a turn of a phrase where we have not assigned it a finite meaning of time.

Have you noticed that jamming the day full to the brim of all those endless to-do’s doesn’t seem to solve the problem?  Often it exacerbates it because time to refresh and renew is not scheduled in, leaving less opportunity for intentionality – intentionality in the stories you tell yourself and intentionality in your actions – so your stories count, your actions count, your passion is tapped into and surfaced so you feel yourself more alive in any of those precious moments.

What to do? There are many things to do to address the feeling that there is not enough time. Here are seven offerings on how to MAKE IT COUNT.

relax renew refresh

1. Tell yourself a better story – even if, as you begin it it doesn’t feel true – because neither is the story you have defaulted into.  Tell the story that supports how you want to be, how you want to show up, how you want to feel about time available to you and about your life, your path, your journey. Tell a story that makes these things count.

2. Who are the people you value – in life and work? Significant other? Children? Parents? Friends? Colleagues? Work partners? Others you work with or for? Schedule them in. Make the time for visits, phone calls, checking in. Otherwise, opportunities are missed and one day we may come to regret it.

3. Know your own priorities and dedicate time to work on them without distractions. One distraction is the priorities that others land on you.  Do they need to become your priorities or can they be handled in a different way or at a different time? Surprise yourself.  Ask the question.

4. Say no. Not arbitrarily but with intention.  It makes your yes more powerful and you can be more committed to your yeses when you know you have not taken on things that don’t fit with your passion, your goals, your context, because you thought you should, because you felt obligated, because you were asked.  Things that end up being done half heartedly because your heart wasn’t in it.

5. Turn off email.  Yes. It is possible.  It can be done.  Pick a time or two of day when you will respond and be disciplined about it.  Do you have your social media linked to your email that keeps distracting you back to social media? Turn it off. You can visit social media whenever you want, and you can schedule it.  You really won’t miss that much.

6. Do you know what renews you? Exercise. Quiet. Music. Meditation. Walking. Sleep. You name it. Go do it!  Schedule it in. You will be able to tackle that to-do list with more energy and move through it faster.

7. Need a half day for a project but can’t find it.  What are you doing with those 5, 10, 15 minute slots of time that show up between calls, before lunch, before heading out to a meeting? What if you opened a document?  Formatted a proposal? Captured a few thoughts? Read a few pages in a book that inspires you? You might be surprised how those brief intervals of time can add up to meaningful segments when you approach them with more intentionality and the same spontaneity you bring to surfing the web or other distractions that come your way.

Distractions are not all bad. But time is a precious commodity.  Doesn’t mean every minute has to be filled with doing.  It’s better if some of it is filled with being, renewing, remembering.  There are enough hours in the day, in the week.  Make them count.

 

The Human Dynamics of Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The belief that there is a straight line between a problem and its solution is flawed and it is so often what gets us into trouble in seeking solutions to problems our organization, community or team face or decisions that need to be made.  It is what causes us angst when we think decision making discussions should be straightforward instead of the nuanced or circular discussions they often turn out to be, driven by agendas and dynamics that are not clear or made visible for the whole group – part of the shadow of a group dynamic.

Plan-reality

Increasing complexity in fast paced worlds often leaves us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when we are pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or meets resistance by people who feel imposed upon. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process which often means some people just give up and the loudest voices dominate so the collective wisdom in the group is not given voice.

Problem solving and decision making is a task – a task carried out by humans and subject to human dynamics – just like every other endeavour we undertake. Understanding human dynamics goes a long way toward navigating decision making dilemmas unlike those magic bullet decision making algorithms which, surprisingly, don’t seem to exist.

All of these queries resulted in Shape Shift Strategies putting together a one day offering on Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas using a few simple Practices and Patterns from The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter to better understand human dynamics and what it takes to cultivate the creativity and emergence that leads to effective decision making – one day of in-depth discussion and exploration that leaves participants from a variety of backgrounds with wide array of decision making dilemmas in a reflective thoughtful space around what they need to shift in their meeting process or dynamics to generate more of the results they are seeking.

With the increasing prominence of participatory and collaborative leadership ideologies and practices, there is a growing tension around decision making processes because of a misunderstanding that all decisions need to be made collectively.  When this slows decision making progress to a halt, there is a frustration and impatience that often causes those “in charge” to then circumvent the decision making conversations and make the decision unilaterally, effectively shutting down the desire for a team or community to engage in discussions that are not honoured.

It is folly to imagine that all decisions can or should be made collectively. What are the decisions that would most benefit from all voices? And then, who will make the ultimate decision – the group or the leader or some other individual – and is this clear at the outset of the conversation to everyone involved in the conversation? Is the conversation for clearly identified for input or decision making? Many teams and organizations run into problems because they have no agreed upon decision making process that they use consistently.

Do you know what the key decisions are that when you make them collectively you gain the greatest engagement and commitment of your team, organization or community? Is it clear when individuals – either leaders, managers, bosses or individuals responsible for their own work area or focus – are responsible for making their own decisions? Are they supported in decision making – no matter where they stand in the organizational or team hierarchy? For those decisions that will most benefit from the collective wisdom of the group, are the conditions for creating generative spaces understood?

04 - Day One Fredericton Jan 2013

In creating generative space some things to consider are how to invite and welcome multiple world views in the conversation, the use and understanding of simple but powerful patterns like the divergence-emergence-convergence framework for understanding basic human behaviour in decision making processes and polarity management for discerning whether you are dealing with a decision to be made or a polarity to be managed – meaning there is an upside and a downside to polar opposites (like collective decision making or individual decision making).  Being aware of up and down sides invites greater intentionality into the decision making processes and resulting actions.

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

While the path for those decisions that most benefit from the collective wisdom is not always – or usually – a straight line path, generative conversations mean that we take all the ideas that come out in the divergent phase of the process – ideas individuals have brought in with them and put them in the soup of murkiness that shows up in the groan zone. When we can use ideas to spark new ideas, and build on existing ideas to generate new thinking, this is when innovative ideas begin to spark, ideas no one brought in with them that can take our decisions to a whole new level while also increasing the coherence of a team, group or organization.  It can be win-win-win all around but it takes patience, discernment and requires the leadership skills necessary to navigate that place between chaos and order. What new ways of thinking and being are needed now for you and your organization to navigate your decision making dilemmas?

Dynamic Leadership Arising out of Chaordic Confidence

When interactively teaching the Chaordic Path and inviting people to reflect on what highly chaotic or highly controlled environments look like and how people act and react in those environments, it is common for participants to address the down side of each of these – with quite a bit of energy and zeal.  Then, at some point, someone will make a comment about the benefit of being in that kind of environment.  For chaos they will often say something about creativity, for control they will often say something about predictability – the upside of each of these dynamic forces.

Then the key question we ask is, “What is the difference between control and order?” It always causes a pause as people reflect on what is different between these two. They speak about guidance rather than rigid rules, the opportunity for individuals to bring discretion to decision making within a framework, greater responsiveness, common understanding or collective clarity as hallmarks of the force of order.  The space for an individual to bring everything they have to their role with enough clarity to know the scope of their authority, leadership and responsibility.    When people don’t have clarity they ask for structure – it is a default. Clarity might mean structure and it might not – it might simply mean clarity which could be achieved through conversation or other means before creating structure which might not even bring more clarity.

There is a time and place for each of these forces (chaos, order and control) depending on context and whether the focus is on process, structure or human dynamics.  Trying to address human dynamics issues through structure often increases the human dynamics issues.  Yet clear structure and process is essential to many manufacturing processes.  When getting on a plane, you want to know that the environment is controlled with good structure, process and procedure in order to get to your destination safely. And, if your house is burning down, you don’t want the firefighters standing around making collective decisions about what to do next – you want clear direct leadership, even as the firefighters have no idea of the chaos they are facing.

Knowing what state an organization, group or team is in can illuminate the leadership strategy that is most helpful to the task at hand.  Sometimes the leadership being called for is to help people stay in the chaos a little longer rather than ease the pain, frustration or discomfort of being there, until clarity and the natural order begins to emerge.  If things feel too habituated, stuck or stale, it might be exactly the time to introduce a bit of chaos through a well placed question, a suggestion to shake things up a bit or the introduction of a new initiative.  In environments where control is pervasive, the opportunity might be to imagine how to care for the human dynamics or the relational field in a way that people can navigate with and through regulations, policies and procedures that were intended for clarity and consistency but have overreached into what we commonly call “red tape” or “jumping through the hoops”.

 

Chaordic Path with infinity loop_000001

There is an upside and a downside to each of these experiences as represented by the infinity loop in the above diagram and inspired by Polarity Mapping. If we only focus on one or the other we either have an enamoured (upside) or jaded (downside) view of that particular force that then makes us less likely to be able to exercise the dynamic leadership that grows chaordic confidence. It is the interplay or movement through each of the polarities and an understanding of what is in each of the upsides and downsides that enables us to discern wise action.  I certainly have a bias – that the place we are being asked to play and lead to address complex and entrenched problems is in the chaordic path.  It is the skills AoH has been designed to foster and grow and it is an invitation into new patterns and practices of leadership.  Being aware of the upside and the downside of each pattern enables a more complete picture with a greater variety of choices and options available to all.