Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Driving from the countryside of Stakke Lake in Minnesota, through the little towns and forested roads on the three hour drive to Grand Rapids, it is easy for me to forget that I am not in Canada, but driving through the US countryside, with my partner and co-hosting colleague Jerry Nagel, on our way to a rural community that is breaking its way out of any stereotypes we might conjure up about rural communities – in Canada or the US. What is happening there could happen anywhere. It inspires hope at a time when hope, especially for our rural communities, is deeply needed in the world.

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What’s Been Happening

In 2013, the Blandin Foundation funded a grant to the Meadowlark Institute to bring the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter to the Itasca County area. Not a one-off training but, thanks to the vision of friend, AoH Practitioner and Global Steward, Bernadine Jocelyn, and her colleagues at the Blandin Foundation, a series of trainings intended to offer residents of Itasca County the opportunity to acquire and use skills of 21st Century Leadership to work with every day life and address some of the most pressing challenges in their communities. The Blandin Foundation was founded by Charles Blandin in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids (population around 10,000) and the surrounding area (total population around 40,000) in such a way that it could be responsive to changing times, a beautiful alignment with the adaptive capacity of AoH offerings.

What’s happening there, with organic emergence and almost astonishing interconnectedness, is a thing of beauty. Four Art of Hosting trainings (130 people altogether so far) since November 2013 with two more in the works; two Community Cafés (with almost 100 participants altogether) convened by a planning team that sparked from an Open Space conversation in the first AoH, called by Sandy Layman, a well known community leader. She asked the question “How can we become a community that hosts its own conversations?” That question is gaining momentum as it continues to spark the curiosity and inspiration of the county.

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The first Community Café brought together participants from the first two AoH cohorts and was held one evening during the second training. The second Community Café was inserted into the middle of the fourth training, in an afternoon, and brought together participants from all four trainings and others who wanted to join in.

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The Stories That Bring the Data Alive

All of that feels like data. It is the stories that bring the data alive, that show the nuances and interweave of connections; the stories of who is showing up in the same spaces together; the stories of willingness to dive into challenging conversations to address both long held and emerging issues; the stories of risk and courage as people bring AoH patterns and practices into likely and unlikely work settings.

Truly a fractal of the community is coming together – people who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room or the same conversations. The county administrator. Educators. A senior leader in Corrections. Senior leaders of non-profits. Advocates for mental health. Consumers of mental health services. People who have been homeless, some still in transition. People with very diverse political views. Local radio station representatives. Artists. Business people. Blandin Foundation staff. More. All on equal footing with equal voice. All responding to questions centered on “What is the future we want to live into and what can we begin now?”

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The stories that are emerging from the people who have been through the training bring the impact alive and are heart opening. Our friend in Corrections, who was in the February cohort, shared with us that he only recently had the opportunity to offer a check in at the beginning of a meeting. He said it changed everything about the meeting. When we asked him how, he said, “People were very emotional.” When we asked him what his check in question was, he said, “How we are doing?” Simply, how are we doing? An invitation to a moment of humanity, an invitation to show up fully. They will now start every meeting with a check-in question. A small, but powerful, shift in practice.

The County Administrator shared that there is a discussion happening at the County offices about mental health funding, the number of agencies that provide services and the need for greater interagency communication. Someone at the county offices, who has only heard about AoH but not been to a training, said that what is needed for that conversation is art of hosting.

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In Bigfork, another Itasca County community, community leaders have used World Café to host a conversation about an ongoing contentious issue, bringing new insight and perspective to the issue, establishing a foundation from which to move forward.

The region is facing some growing, possibly divisive issues; particularly around resource extraction (economy) and the environment; issues that are growing more complex all the time. Experience with the patterns and practices of the Art of Hosting is helping people see the possibility of different conversations; conversations that invite a multiplicity of worldviews, give voice to all the perspectives beyond the vocal few, invite people who live, work and play in the region to imagine more of the future they all want to live into, to continue to forge new ways forward on small and large matters. There is a growing buzz in the community and a sense of urgency combined with curiosity and even hopefulness.

The Community Conversations planning team grows with each successive training. The team is now getting ready to call and convene a county wide “Grand Gathering” on November 22, 2014 using Open Space Technology – the first community meeting of its kind in the area. This demonstrates the increasing reach of a commitment that began with that Open Space conversation during the first Art of Hosting training nearly a year ago, building on an idea inspired by the Great Gathering in Fredericton, NB; which demonstrates the interweaving of stories across borders and geographic distances. (And, incidentally, we have discovered there is a history of relationship between New Brunswick and Itasca County thanks to the pulp and paper industry.)

KAXE, a local radio station, present at the Community Café and on the planning team, will be doing a series of radio spots leading up to the Grand Gathering, which is being hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The team is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode and the community is being invited to create an agenda of conversations and possible action steps that are meaningful and relevant to them. Some of the potential conversation themes have been popping up already in the Community Cafés and the AoH trainings. They include an emphasis on youth (brain gain), on revitalizing communities, co-ordinating resources and connecting diverse voices.

IMG_0824One of the many compelling themes that is emerging is around evoking stories and extending invitations. Care enough to ask for the story; bring everyone to the table to identify struggles and be open to hearing the unheard. Notice who is not there who should be and extend an invitation. Be a neighbour, bring a neighbour

It is the tip of the iceberg. The work has only just begun. This community is carving out pathways that can be an inspiration to other communities searching for new ways to imagine and live into the future. What can we begin now?

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Challenge of Leadership in the 21st Century: What’s Needed Now?

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. The previous blog post explored the question of what guidelines or, in their words, rules, would I share with leaders today. Another of their questions was: Why does the area of leadership fascinate you? Why indeed?

Leadership and leadership development has had my attention for as long as I can remember. It currently has my attention because the way I was trained, or more accurately indoctrinated, into leadership (as is the case with many of the leaders I meet and work with, even younger leaders) is much different than the leadership skills needed to navigate the complexity of today’s world.

I came into leadership positions at a young age; at a time when leaders were believed to have the answers, were expected to solve problems and fix situations that popped up. This was a time when letters were written on stationary and mailed, when fax machines (which are now almost obsolete) were just new and the idea that everyone would have a computer (much less mobile devices that process as much and more than computers) was a farfetched notion. A very different world, a very different worldview.

The world has grown far more complex, social media has a strong influence and our environments and situations are demanding greater collaboration and collaborative decision making because no one person has the solution.  We need to unlearn and relearn our habitual leadership skills and strategies to be responsive and still make decisions and take actions that move initiatives forward.  We can only unlearn what is habitual by becoming aware of what is right in front of us that we cannot see, because so much of our worldview – as much as 80% – is unconscious.  This is why Jerry Nagel and I are in the exploration of the transformative power of worldview awareness.

This is a balancing act, working with dynamic tensions of collaboration and collaborative leadership – also something we are learning our way into.  Many leaders are uncertain about how to navigate this 21st Century world with skill and ease, how to draw out the collective intelligence or wisdom needed to find our way forward. In partnership with amazing colleagues, I have been using patterns and practices that help leaders make sense of the world, invite our own ‘not knowing’ while engaging the wisdom and collective intelligence of people most impacted by or having the most influence over the particular issues or challenges at hand.

These are the solutions that have staying power.  This is what this new series of programs at Saint Mary’s – but also offerings in other venues in other cities – offers: insights into navigating the 21st Century, particularly as leaders of any age feel a responsibility for the significant challenges of our times.

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Six Simple Guidelines for 21st Century Leaders

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. One of their questions was: what are the simplest rules you offer to the leaders you interact and work with. I have a hard time thinking of it in terms of rules, but six simple clear guidelines emerged pretty readily:

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Simple, but we are not always aware of where and when our words and actions are out of alignment. In the perspective of Worldview Awareness, this is the idea of Taking Whole or interconnectedness. In this situation, our words are interconnected (or not) with our actions. Coaching, mentoring, peer support or simply the willingness to receive reflections from others provides helpful guidance and reflections for you to learn what is out of alignment and sense into how to bring it back into alignment. But if you don’t want to know the answer, even if you ask the question, people will know it and tell you what you want to hear rather than what helps you most.
  1. Learn to listen.  Fully, completely, without judgment and without filling in the blanks  as the other person begins.  Too often we think we already know what the other person is going to say or where they are headed.  Often, we are wrong and have shut down the opportunity to find out what the other person wanted to share with us and that opportunity may never come around again. When we do not fully listen, the other person will also tune out or become frustrated and we are left with little of value, cross communication and unresolved issues. When we fully tune into another person or a group, the space is enriched, truth shows up, generative space is created, people are heard, validated and seen. A couple of favourite expressions about listening: “When we change the quality of the listening, we change the quality of the conversation.” “When we truly listen, we can listen another person into being.” It goes a long way toward creating new levels of consciousness in a team, organization or initiative.
  1. Ask good questions.  All the time. Ask more questions than the number of answers you give. A good question evokes thoughtful responses, helps you understand the situation more fully and helps others you are with find their own way. There is a craft and an art to framing questions. A simple way to begin is to imagine the responses that a question will evoke: yes/no responses, short answers or thoughtful responses that will have the person reflecting on their own rather than waiting for you to give them the answer. Also, imagine how you are asking the questions, the energy that makes it an inquiry and not an inquisition. Learning to craft good questions takes practice, and it is a practice well worth developing.
  1. Bring genuine curiosity and compassion to every conversation. Curiosity and judgment cannot exist in the same space. Defensiveness doesn’t sit very well in a curious space either. Neither does dismissiveness. When you notice yourself in a place of judging someone else or yourself, you find yourself defensive or dismissive, make a mental note to switch to curiousity. And then do it. Become curious about the other person, the situation or your own responses. And invite yourself into compassion too – for yourself as well as the other person. It creates a space for people to show up in the fullness of their humanity, a generative space where ideas and opportunities flow. It creates an environment “safe enough” for people to risk sharing ideas and sharing passion for what they care about.

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  1. Humility is an asset, more than that, a way of being. You don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. Especially not in today’s complex world. And oftentimes, leaders are removed from the points of intersection between the organization, its customers, stakeholders or the problems or issues that emerge. Twenty-first century leadership asks us to draw on the wisdom, knowledge and experience – the collective intelligence of a team, group or organization to solve problems, take risks and try new things. Finding the place of humility within you will enable you to listen more fully and access the brilliance in others in the most remarkable of ways.
  1. Set a few simple guidelines and get out of the way.  The more you try to control a situation, the more you shut down the potential for better things to happen, the more you send the message to other people you do not trust them to offer good solutions or strategies or to get the job done. Then the less they will demonstrate their own leadership, autonomy and sense of responsibility.  Trust yourself, trust your people and trust the power of the guidelines you set – preferably determined with the people most able to get results, closest to the situation.  Let people do what they are capable of and support them in the process.

The 21st Century is calling us as leaders  to build connectedness in a world of highly divergent cultures, experiences and perspectives, to learn and work together more effectively. Often, less is more.

 

 

Worldview Awareness – Imagining the Possibilities

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It might have been in 2005, when I took part in my first Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter training on Bowen Island, that I first heard the term worldview, although I can’t be sure. Then and later, if it was talked about, it came in the context of a mechanistic worldview and a living systems worldview, comparing several points of each and recognizing that AoH operates from a living systems worldview. In my experience of AoH trainings, that was pretty much it until, in 2011, I started co-hosting with Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.

Jerry was and is steeped in worldview awareness partly through working on his PhD dissertation that looks at social constructionist theory, worldview and the Art of Hosting and partly because of the deep and evolving practice he and we have been bringing around worldview in AoH trainings and beyond. Because of this, we have been developing a more comprehensive approach to worldview and worldview awareness than I had been exposed to before. Jerry and I, and friends and colleagues like Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Carolann Wright-Parks and others, have been adopting, exploring and adapting a worldview teach and practice in new, innovative and exciting ways.

What we have been learning from participants in the worldview awareness conversations in the AoH trainings we have led, is that the worldview conversation lingers in their awareness long after the training. In the evaluations we conduct a few weeks after each AoH training we do, participants often identify the worldview exploration as the most impactful part of the training. They state that the reflective space they are invited into about worldview(s), where it comes from, what their own worldview is and curiosity about others’ worldviews helps create an understanding of how to give voice and visibility to multiple worldviews and create openings for successfully leading different, more inclusive conversations on issues and challenges that routinely show up in organizations, communities and social systems.

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If this can happen with a conversation over a couple of hours what more becomes possible with a deep dive into worldview awareness or worldview intelligence? This is what we are now on an inquiry to discover. It is what led to prototyping the first introductory day to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness in Halifax where we tested a few ideas and reaped enough ideas to inspire possibility for a long time to come. While the AoH conversations focused mostly on individual worldview, the conversation is now expanding to organizational and community worldview as well as creating the conditions for multiple worldviews to be welcomed into stakeholder dialogues and other places where the risks of engagement are perceived to be higher.

In the one day workshop in Halifax, participants came from a wide variety of places including provincial government departments like health and transportation, the school board, Nova Scotia Community College, Halifax Regional Municipality and community agencies. Quite a few had been involved in diversity and inclusion work for years – welcoming of diversity being one of the more obvious outcomes of worldview awareness – and others identified themselves as social change agents.

The learning environment was rich. Going into the day, Carolann, Jerry and I had so many choices of what to include in the one day and then during the day itself we had to make more choices. We know there is ample material for exploration in a variety of offerings. To say our imagination has been sparked would be an understatement. And we are quite inspired by the reflections shared by the participants in our one day offering, a few of which are below.

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A snapshot of some of the participants at the first Introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness Workshop.

“I had no idea what I was walking into but knew when Kathy’s name was associated with it, it would be a great ride. I am a change agent. People’s stories here today have influenced my worldview. It is important to understand the other person and their worldview. This is a wonderful tool to initiate the conversation if you want to be or are a change agent. If you can’t get to the conversation, you can’t get to the change.” Change agent, Department of Health, NS Government

“It’s been a helpful day. I feel very validated in my current practice – which for me is heart work not training. I love the worldview approach and have many new trinkets to take away to apply in my work.” Diversity Officer, Higher Education

“I am more ready to ask more questions to try to go deeper in understanding of the issues and challenges we face.” Diversity Officer, Municipal Government

“I came in frazzled looking for the magic bullet to questions I’ve been carrying alone for six years and I am now connected into a community engaged in this work. I have lots more questions but am optimistic there is another approach – through worldview awareness.” Social change agent at an NGO

“I walked in with some assumptions that proved wrong. One day is not enough. I work in isolation in an interesting system. Starting a conversation with a different entry point might help me impact change in the system.” Employment equity officer in a public organization

So… stay tuned. There is more to come. Looking at Minnesota this fall, Australia in the new year and more in Halifax too. We are exploring a comprehensive approach to worldview awareness: transforming differences into progress, seeing how growing worldview intelligence in an area that has not been explored to the same degree or depth that religious and scientific worldviews have been explored will generate social change methods and processes in situations that have challenged the best of what we know to date in engagement strategies and practices.

Goals Need A Motivational Context. What’s Yours?

running shoes - worn outThe last time I went for a run, a few days ago, I noticed that my running shoes are worn out. They have holes in their tops and bottoms. It is, of course, natural that runners wear out their shoes and probably frequently. I, on the other hand, am not a runner – not an avid runner that is and certainly not a marathon runner. I run from time to time – usually a few times a week, for short distances – a few kilometres, although I do not know how many because I don’t track it. Tracking distance or heart rate or speed are not important to me. But I do have a context for my running and fitness goals. There is a certain level of fitness where I feel good, where my body feels good, where there is stamina for doing the simple things of my day and where rest also comes easy. Feeling good is a measure I use.

From the time I was in high school (a long time ago now), I always thought I should run. So many attempts to start were given up because it was too cold, because I got shin splints or it was just too hard. I always knew being physically fit was important for all kinds of good health related reasons. But knowing that clearly did not give me the context or motivation I needed to run or for many other sustained levels of physical fitness either for that matter.

There were two related things that did eventually provide context and motivation for me. The first was that I started to play soccer in my early forties. I enjoyed playing soccer. The thing with soccer is, you have to run to play. So chasing a soccer ball around a field became my motivation to start running. And it still took time, and it was hard but now I had a  motivation and context that made me stick with it. I began to run around my neighbourhood, mapping out two different distances. In the beginning I ran to a fire hydrant, walked to the next. My stamina kept increasing until I was running more than walking, until finally I could run the whole distances I had mapped out. Then I discovered how much better I felt even doing the simple tasks of my day. Being in a position of heightened awareness of how it felt to be out of shape and how it feels to be in better shape provides context and motivation for ongoing physical fitness, even now that I no longer play soccer.  And my goals are simple: feel good, be able to lift my carry on luggage into the overhead bins of airplanes and navigate short connection times in airports by being able to run from one gate to another sometimes across great distances in airports, trailing my carry on luggage behind me. These are not necessarily measures other people would consider valid, but they work for me and that’s what matters.

DSC03169There are some other benefits for me from going for a run. One is that it takes me out of my head and into my body, relaxing my mind, allowing me to connect with spirit and with inspiration.  A few blog posts have been written right after a run. Sometimes it is not writing that follows a run but meditation – inside or outside – for ten minutes up to thirty minutes – to just breathe, hold the space, stay in presence and awareness rather than in the thinking mind.

For someone who has had some health issues, the context  might be different and being healthy to avoid illness or other health issues might be just the right motivation. It doesn’t mean it needs to be – or is – that way for all of us.  For someone who does run marathons (or wants to), then again a different context provides motivation with different measures of achievement.

Context for health goals is not the only place where motivation is needed. What is the context for your other life goals like where you live, what kind of housing you live in, whether you drive a car and if so what kind, your family and relationships, your social circles, your intellectual and spiritual goals? What is the context for your career goals, what kind of job and job environment, responsibility, authority do you want, how much money do you want to make, what kind of flexibility do you want and do you want travel involved or not? If you are not achieving your goals, maybe the context is not clear or you haven’t tapped into your motivation – why it all matters. We make decisions each and every day. Make yours count.

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.

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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.