Yesterday I transferred data from my old laptop ('12 model) to a spiffy new one (a refurbished late model MacBook). Whew.
In the pre-dawn hours of Thursday I'm outbound for a 28-day (five-gig) road trip and I had been anxious to get the migration completed before departure. I slept well last night with that technological accomplishment safely in my rear view mirror.
I figure I swapped out just in time: my old laptop was getting creaky. Not only was I rubbing the more popular letters off my keyboard (e, r, t, a, s, d), but I was needing increasing fingertip pressure to register my keystrokes (which meant a lot of tedious backtracking to correct misses). It's a joy to return to normal typing, where regular light pressure is effective.
I had a moment of panic this morning when I tried working in Word for the first time on the new machine and it blithely informed me that I had read-only privileges until I registered my copy of Microsoft Office. What! While I had no idea why my registration didn't migrate to the new machine along with my files, now I had to recall where in Sam Hill I'd stored the box that the program came in. Amazingly, it was in the first place I looked (talk about a miracle): the back of the lap drawer of my desk. It contained a copy of the 25-digit key I needed to fully enable my programs. Saved!
Still, all is not beer and skittles. When my Mac was infested with a virus last June the local techie who got rid of it also, inadvertently, dumped all my iCal data and emails dated earlier than February 2015, and I was not able to restore either via my external hard drive back-up. Ouch! Barring some moon-from-the-bottom-of-the-sea recovery, I am in the process of reconciling with the increasing likelihood that I have permanently lost access to all of my professional reports and correspondence from 2014 and before. Ugh. (I'm lucky that all my blog entries are stored online.)
Still, I soldier on. On the plus side, my new laptop is tiny, yet powerful—it weighs just under a kilo, is small enough that it doesn't have an internal fan, and can run forever on battery power. It weighs about the same as a tablet, yet features a larger screen, with crisp, pro-retina pixelation.
I figure getting a new laptop is lot like my sister getting a new hip. It's awkward at first, but after you work the kinks out, you wonder why you waited so long to get it done.
Bring on that road trip!
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Yesterday I transferred data from my old laptop ('12 model) to a spiffy new one (a refurbished late model MacBook). Whew.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The other morning I lay in bed wondering how I'd describe myself as a process professional. In what ways am I distinctive? Here's my answer.
I. My Strengths as a Professional
There are aspects of what I bring to the table where I believe I stand out, independent of what I know about group dynamics.
Excepting where I'm giving a workshop or an a la carte training (in which case there will be handouts), I commit to delivering a written report within two weeks. While the report basically recapitulates what happened live and what I said when I was in the room, I discovered early in my career that clients typically absorb only about 20% of what happens, so the written report gives them a second bite of the apple that they can refer to in their leisure. I have high standards for my reports.
Some small, but significant portion of the time there are tensions in the client group that relate to a key player feeling isolated or misunderstood as a founder of the group. It is unquestionably a special thing being a founder, and it helps me bridge to those folks that I also have been a founder—of an intentional community, of a national profit, of a community business, of a consulting career.
For reasons that are unknown to me, I can hold an unusually large number of balls in the air without dropping them. This is an enormously useful skill: taking in a large volume of information and being able to call upon it at will.
There is considerable range in how quickly people process information and are able to separate signal from noise. While I'm not a prodigy, I operate at the quick end of that spectrum, which means I'm at the head of the pack when it comes to figuring out where we are and where we want to go.
Some of the group issues I'm asked to facilitate involve parenting. On those occasions it helps tremendously that I have raised two kids in community—not because there is one right way to do it, but because I have personal familiarity with the range of what to expect (and non-parents seldom have street cred with parents).
This is a new label for me, and I'm not sure yet how it will play out. But if I've learned anything about group dynamics, all experiences come into play at one point or another. I've been a survivor for only a year, yet there have been moments in the past when I was working with individuals who were approaching mortality and it was a challenge to bridge to what they were going through. Now I'm better equipped. ("Did you almost die? So did I.")
II. My Flavor as a Professional
There are a number of ways that I do things that are distinctive. In some circumstances they are an advantage… other times not so much.
As someone who has lived most of his adult life in an income-sharing community, I've never needed a lot of income in order to make ends meet. That's given me flexibility when it comes to what I charge for my time, which I use to bridge between my services being accessible to clients (affordable) and my work being aligned with my values (if I'm not being asked to build a more cooperative world I'm not interested in the work). On the one hand, I do not want money to stand in the way of helping groups in need; on the other I want this skill to be taken seriously and compensated fairly—both for myself and for the profession.
Over the course of 30 years in the field I've gradually worked myself up the ladder to where I rate my services as worth $1500/day, plus expenses (travel, room, and board). While this may be a bargain in the corporate context, my clients are almost wholly in the nonprofit sector and that's high enough. (If you think that's pricey, consider what lawyers and architects charge: my skill set is far rarer and my work is typically more pivotal to a community's success.)
While I don't offer discounts up front, and I insist that clients discuss among themselves what they can afford and the value of my work (a conversation I don't need to be part of), I tell them I will accept without question whatever amount of money they put on the table—so long as my expenses are covered (my inviolable line is that I never lose money working for others). Sometimes I get full boat; sometimes I work pro bono. On average though, I come out fine.
This is handled differently by some of my peers. Some simply suppress their prices as a nod to affordability (I have a dear friend who refers to this strategy as the pride of poverty movement, where social change workers compete to see who can work for the least). Others embrace the gift economy where no prices are set and groups pay what they think right.
I've come to prefer my approach for four reasons:
a) I've seen how much clients anguish over price; not giving them a number to work from is hard on folks. They want to be fair, yet they don't want to be foolish. If I give them no frame of reference it can be highly uncomfortable.
b) I am a market maker in the arcane field of cooperative group process consulting and I think strategically about those who will follow me. This is a field that barely existed when I first hung out a shingle in 1987. Though my income-sharing lifestyle means I don't need as much, there are plenty of good facilitators who live in single family urban dwellings and they need to make a living, too. By gradually doing what I can to raise the water level, all boats rise.
c) While I wish it weren't so, people pay more attention when they pay more money. And while money isn't much of a motivator for me, I purely hate it when clients don't pay attention. Thus, it helps to establish a healthy bench mark.
d) Since adopting this approach I've never had a client complain about price.
Sad though it is, not everyone likes me, or the way I work. I am very direct, and that can be more octane than some can handle. While I also try to be sensitive and compassionate, I am typically working complex dynamics under severe time constraints. As I do not get hired to play it safe (I get hired to be effective) it often means going into the lion's den. Inevitably, a certain fraction of the time (maybe 3%) what I attempt does not go well (perhaps I didn't have a full enough picture; perhaps my analysis was faulty, perhaps my technique was poor, perhaps the people I most needed to reach had their drawbridge up and there was no way to cross the moat). Most push back comes from people who are embedded in a stuck dynamic and are simply unwilling to have the light shined on their part. For them I am the disrespectful, outside agitator and there is no way I will ever be invited back—never mind that 97% thought what I attempted was brilliant, brave, or at least constructive. In my line of work if you don't hit a home run in your first couple at bats, you'll be on the trading block by morning. (Professional firefighting is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned.)
Most groups have never seen anyone do what I can do and thus are hard pressed when it comes to evaluating whether it's a good value to lay out major resources (both time and money) to hire me. As I've come to appreciate that phenomenon, it has underlined the standard advice I give groups considering professional help: check references.
This field is so young and so thin that there are no standards for accreditation, and I have been so busy doing the work (and the rest of my life) that I have not gotten around much to seeing my peers in action—so I want no part of passing judgment on others. I'd rather let the marketplace handle that. At the same time, I think this work is too important for amateur hour. So it puts me in a tricky position: I want groups to get assistance yet am concerned that more people are putting themselves forward as professionals than who know what they're doing.
(What I can do, upon request, is offer a list of my coaching tree, professional-grade students of mine whose quality of work I can vouch for.)
My approach is overwhelmingly based on what works in the trenches—in real meetings. That's in contrast with work that's grounded in exposure to the literature, or from absorbing instruction from others. In my case the exceptions are:
o Arnie Mindell's Sitting in the Fire, which does a terrific job of laying out the non-rational aspects of group dynamics, and the concepts of rank and privilege.
o Caroline Estes, a lifelong Quaker who taught me to understand consensus deeply.
o Mildred Gordon, who taught me the potential of interweaving the emotional and the rational.
Otherwise my thinking and my practice have been distilled from hundreds and hundreds of meetings, including 200+ professional gigs over a span of three decades.
Taken all together, I have an enormous pattern library to draw on (to the point where it's hard to show me something I haven't seen before). Thus, when you hire me you get a library card.
It happens that my primary intake channel is through my ears. While I've worked hard to be competent with both visuals and kinesthetics, my main medium of exchange matches well with the way meetings are conducted: by voice.
I write a lot. It got to the point a few years ago (while I was still the FIC administrator) that I was authoring something heavy duty—an article, a report, a major proposal, or a blog entry—every day. Never mind the three hours I devote to treading water with email every time the sun comes up.
At this stage in my life I've generated:
over 1000 blog posts
over 50 articles in Communities magazine
over 100 reports to clients
The vast majority of this output has been focused on one aspect or another of cooperative group dynamics. When people ask if I'm going to write a book, I tell them, "I've already written several. They just aren't organized yet."
As a writer, I strive to be concise, cohesive, comprehensive, and colloquial. I rely heavily on metaphors (and alliteration).
As I've gotten older, and therefore closer to the end of my career, I've become increasingly focused on passing along what I've learned. In addition to writing (see above) I've became much more active as a teacher.
In 2003 I launched a two-year intensive training program for people who want to learn high-end facilitation. I've now delivered this program in its entirety eight times with three other courses currently under way (in New England, the Pacific Northwest, and North Carolina). Since recovering from cancer, I've been working to assemble the materials for a masters course, which I hope to offer in the next year or two.
To the extent possible, I prefer to teach from live dynamics (where the lessons emerge from the what's in the room rather than from a script or a lesson plan). For the two years I'm together with students, I offer myself as a mentor—both in class and out. After completing the course, if the student is interested in going further and shows sufficient talent, I offer to let them accompany me on jobs as an apprentice, offering both advanced guidance (1:1 time with the teacher) and valuable exposure as a wannabe professional. Though I didn't have that kind of help when I broke into the field (why would you hire someone you'd never heard of and who has no track record?) now I have a chance to turn it around. And paying it forward is good juju.
—Major Philosophical Positions
Over the course of my career my thinking about group dynamics has continuously evolved (in fact, it still is). And, as you'd expect, my peers have a variety of styles, different aspects they emphasize, and unique ways they approach their work. Here is an enumeration of ways in which I believe I am distinctive as a professional facilitator, and ways in which hold a particular orientation to cooperative culture.
o I emphasize working with the whole person. That means the emotional, intuitive, kinesthetic, and spiritual; not just the rational (which is overwhelmingly the only way that most secular groups function in North America—though I suspect this is more by default than the consequence of conscious choice).
o A professional facilitator needs to be able to work with content as proficiently as with energy. Doing one well is not enough. I cut my meeting teeth in an income-sharing intentional community with no designated leader. As far as I'm concerned that's the toughest nut there is (by which I mean the dynamics there are the most complex and intertwined). It's my view that if you can function well in that setting you can do it anywhere.
o I've come to the position that you cannot fully bloom as a facilitator without developing and trusting your intuition; your thinking is not enough. Facilitation is more an art than a craft.
o There is a bewildering array of tools available these days to assist with meetings—with bright, shiny new ones being invented and touted all the time. While I think that robust experimentation with new tools is good, and it's fine to add to your toolkit anything that works well for you, I have two words of caution:
a) You don't need a large tool bag to be a great facilitator; you just need a basic set of tools (formats and the like) that you know when to employ and how to use well. The heavy lifting in facilitation does not come from clever structure; it comes from a deep understanding of where people are at, what they need, and how to reach them.
b) Beware of practitioners who are in love with a single tool, for as sure as they love their hammer, everything will start looking like a nail and the world is far more diverse than that.
o The bottom line for facilitation is consistently delivering meetings that people want to come to because problems are solved and relationships are built and strengthened. It shouldn't be just one or the other. When exciting things are consistently happening no one wants to miss the bus.
o Many groups that are avowedly committed to cooperative principles have not digested the foundational lesson that individuals raised in Western culture have been deeply conditioned to be competitive and you cannot expect cooperative behavior out of those people (which is just about all of us) when they encounter disagreement and the stakes are high. Competitive behaviors can be unlearned (thank god) but that requires personal work to achieve and you are not going to like the results if well-intentioned people attempt to effect cooperative culture while opting out of the personal work.
o Facilitation is a lot like midwifery. The point in a group's life cycle where skilled facilitation is most crucial is when the group is in its infancy and still trying to make the transition to cooperative culture. Good facilitators are able to remind the group of its good intentions and redirect inadvertent slides back into the abyss of competitive squabbling. Without good facilitation young groups often founder, get discouraged, and lose heart. As groups become more mature and cooperative behaviors become more ingrained, the need for strong facilitation lessens. Over time the group will develop a strong gyroscope and self correct without facilitator intervention.
o As a social change agent, when I contemplate how badly we need a viable alternative to competitive dynamics (is anyone inspired by the model Trump is offering?), I figure I can't train good facilitators fast enough—the need is that urgent. So that's mainly what I do (along with articulating the theory). I've retired from everything else (though I still do some for-hire facilitation, both because it keeps me on my toes and it helps recruit students), but I'll die with an intriguing idea for my next blog ready to be fleshed out.
o Though living in intentional community will never be that popular a lifestyle choice (it's too radical), there is a broad-based hunger for a greater sense of community in one's life—by which I mean more connection, civility, safety, control of one's time, and security. Intentional communities are pioneers in developing cooperative culture and they are important to the wider culture because our society is on the cusp of desperately needing to know how to get along better with one another, and how to equitably share a diminishing supply of resources without sacrificing quality of life.
My Strengths in Group Dynamics
Here are the aspects of cooperative group dynamics where I have developed my strongest reputation; it's what I'm best known for.
I define this as the condition where there are at least two viewpoints and at least one person in non-trivial distress. Conflict naturally occurs when groups deal with real issues and people are paying attention; the question is not so much how frequently conflict occurs, but how constructively you work with it. Most groups are scared to death of conflict and have nothing in place for engaging with it. It's jungle ball and they just hope to survive it.
I've thought a lot about the dynamics of emotional distress and I've learned that I don't freeze or get overloaded circuits in the presence of distress in others. As a consequence I'm frequently hired to help groups work through a conflict, to set up group agreements for self-managing conflict, or to train their personnel in conflict skills. It's also a key component of my two-year facilitation training.
The object of the training is not so much to reduce the incidence of conflict as it is to help groups not freak out when one or more of their members freak out. If we can stop the chain reaction there will be much less collateral damage and we'll be able to address derailments more expeditiously.
Today, if a group finds itself in the midst of a raging five-alarm fire, I'm one of a short list of people who gets called to put the fire out.
By way of framing, my approach to conflict is unique to me. While I have familiarity with NVC (Nonviolent Communication) and there is common ground between how I approach conflict and the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, we developed our thinking independently and I have some nuances that I prefer.
There is also a more recent entrant in the field of conflict work: Restorative Circles, whose main articulator is Dominic Barter. I have been introduced to this approach by a professional and have experienced it as a participant three times. While I have peers who are quite drawn to it, I was not that impressed (what I saw was too slow to get to the point, the conversation was not that productively focused on the dynamics between antagonists, the facilitation was too passive, and major issues went untouched). That said, this is an evolving body of work and worth keeping an eye on.
—Interweaving Energy and Content
While many systems for working with groups do not incorporate conflict as part of the theory (for example, sociocracy) I believe there is a growing understanding among process professionals that groups must address conflict in order to offer a coherent system (that is, you can't just duck it or pretend that sound structure and practice will eliminate its occurrence).
I have worked extensively on what happens in plenaries (meetings of the whole) and the boundary between conflict and regular group business. Under what circumstances should you suspend regular business to attend to conflict, and when (and how) do you return to regular business after you have paused to address conflict? I am not aware of anyone who has more comprehensive thinking about managing this edge with sensitivity and effectiveness.
Years ago I had just arrived on site for work with a first-time client when a long-term group member approached me with a question: "I hear you're fearless. Is that right?" Because no one had ever asked me that before and I had never described myself that way, I paused. Then I smiled, looked her right in the eye, and replied, "That's right."
As someone who has been hired to put the fire out, I am not going to stand by while the building goes up. I will give it my best shot every time and I invariably approach work with the attitude that I can effectively cope with whatever comes along—even though that's patently not true. (Thus, there are embarrassing moments when I am the poster child for Alexander Pope's famous line "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.")
While I may fail for jumbled thinking, or for poor technique; I will never fail for being faint of heart.
There was important work done in the '70s by the Philadelphia-based Movement for a New Society to adapt the 300-year-old meeting practices of the Religious Society of Friends (which Quakers styled a "sense of the meeting," and was a distinctive and integral feature of how they worshipped) to secular political actions groups—anti-nuclear protest groups in particular.
From that beachhead, consensus blossomed to become the most common way that cooperative groups attempt to make decisions. The intentional community that I helped form in 1974 (Sandhill Farm) blithely adopted consensus right at the start and never looked back. However, that did not mean we knew what we were doing, and there were all manner of growing pains encountered on the road to maturity.
By the time I tentatively ventured into the nascent field of cooperative group consulting in 1987, I had become something of an expert on secular consensus, and there has been a steady call for advice in that capacity right that continues to this day (next week I'll be conducting an introductory consensus training for a forming group in New England for the third time—bringing all their latest members up to speed).
To be sure, my experience in working with consensus has been limited to groups with 100 members or fewer, yet it remains my hands-down favorite choice for how smaller groups can make decisions and organize themselves. While I have ideas about how some version of representative consensus might work well for groups with more than 100 members, I haven't had much chance to test drive my thinking.
Though my advocacy for consensus is solid, it comes with a caveat: to get good results requires an understanding of the personal work needed to unlearn competitive conditioning, and a commitment to training. The skills needed to do consensus elegantly are eminently learnable, yet purposeful effort is required. Don't adopt consensus unless you're willing to put in the effort.
—Depth of Familiarity with the Topic
Finally, I want to reflect on a natural progression that people go through if they persist in applying time and thought to their field. Starting as a professional practitioner, I gradually started teaching how to be a practitioner, which led to my thinking about and articulating why we facilitators do things the way we do.
Today I am an active theoretician about cooperative group dynamics, which makes me much more valuable than "just" a practitioner. This translates to my being able to accurately place a specific experience in the context of trends, quickly sorting breakthrough from novelty, and extracting the essence of a new thing. It also leads to "seeing around the curve," anticipating what's coming and whether that's a good thing or something to be alarmed about.
I cannot see the future, but I'm far enough down the road to see the trends, and the broad steps we must take to keep alive the possibility of a future worth having. I know how to keep my eyes on the prize and not be deflected by the drama of Trump's everyday dysfunction.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
blowing on the coals of an exchange I had right before Thanksgiving with
my friend, who offered the reflections below on my blog of Nov 20, Defining Cooperative Culture.
As I am taking a few days off work, I thought I would comment on your latest very interesting blog. I think you are overemphasizing the differences between competitive and cooperative cultures, at least as far as organizations are concerned. Certainly, some of your points touch on matters that don’t generally affect organizational behavior, such as what people eat, but most of them do.
In fact, many of them are part of an organizational framework called Enterprise Risk Management. ERM is a management practice that analyzes ideas and problems from many different angles through frank
and open discussion. ERM is specifically designed to avoid blame and to surface as many views as possible. But my comments are about more than ERM. The points you make have become staples of well-managed companies because they work.
I have limited familiarity with corporate for-profit culture and I'd never heard of ERM before receiving my friend's comments, but you cannot have been raised in the US without deep personal experience of competitive culture, which is the bedrock of Western civilization. When he writes that I'm overemphasizing the difference between the two I wonder what familiarity he has with cooperative culture. I don't say that to be snarky, but because I've worked as a consultant to cooperative groups for 30 years and the vast majority of my clients haven't—to their detriment— bothered to define what cooperative culture is. In fact, a lot of my workload stems from groups that are ostensibly committed to cooperative principles yet bring unexamined competitive behaviors to the attempt, and it's a train wreck.
To be fair, my friend may have highly relevant personal experiences with cooperative culture; I'm just not assuming that's the case.
In glancing over the Wikipedia entry for ERM, it was a mixed bag. While there were aspects of its practice that seemed consonant with what I'm advocating, there were conspicuous absences when it came to my broader point about culture and mind set (more on that below).
o Caring about how as much as what
While there is lip service given to how things are done in the mainstream culture (don't break the law, pay fair wages, and deliver what you promise) there's no question but that the bottom line is king. The bottom line is ultimately king because unprofitable companies die. Moreover, the bottom line is a tangible goal that all members of the organization can relate to, since they all have their own bottom lines too. The bottom line is an essential team building metric in a healthy organization. In cooperative culture you're just as likely to get into hot water cutting corners on process as you are if you deliver slipshod product. But, the bottom line is not an absolute monarch. “Caring about how as much as what” is simply another way of saying that the end doesn’t justify the means. A company in which people behave honestly and honorably is much more likely to be successful than a company filled with con artists.
There are several points to make here:
—Is the company thinking beyond itself? Is it factoring in its societal impact?
There is a difference between a company that takes societal impact into account because it feels it will ultimately lead to greater profitability and a company that does so because it is better for all (the good of the local community).
—Leaving aside outright misrepresentation and fraud, following the bottom line can lead to a company deciding to pay the fine for polluting local water sources because correcting the problem is more costly than the fine. This is a rational decision that protects stockholders, even though it quite likely trashes the local environment. (Carried to the extreme, you have the US cigarette industry that deliberately adopted a strategy of purposeful obfuscation and misrepresentation despite knowingly inflicting untold harm on the US population because they could ultimately buy their way out of liability and protect huge profits. While few corporate swindles are so egregious—thank goodness—there could hardly be a clearer example of competitive culture run amok.)
—Rewards (raises, year-end bonuses, and promotions) tend to reflect corporate (owners) values. Overwhelmingly, that emphasizes profits above good community relations. To be sure, there are exceptions (look at the way Patagonia is run), but practices tend to follow the money and mostly employees earn raises by boosting profits (we'll scratch your back after your scratch ours)—far more often than by boosting neighbor relations.
—Companies have choices about how much they value employee moral or the impact of operations on the surrounding neighborhood. While I think the traditional analysis is that attending to these goals is just a more sophisticated cost of doing business; I am hopeful that headway is being made (among more savvy corporate owners) that these external factors (to the main line of making money) should more properly be considered base elements of enlightened corporate goals, because of the next point:
—Triple bottom line: profits, people, and planet; not just profits. This 20-year-old concept is a relatively recent example of efforts to shift traditional corporate thinking toward something wider and more sustainable; something more wholesome and more holistic. It is not anti-profit; rather it expands the target, so that social and environmental impact are also taken into account. This is the view that healthy companies properly take in account the culture and neighborhood in which they are embedded; they do not exist in isolation (and never did). Think of how dramatically this awareness would impact the discussion of whether to outsource production facilities?
o Thinking inclusively (no us-versus-them dichotomy)
Not going forward unless everyone can be brought along is quite a different mindset than trying to secure a majority of votes. In the former there should be no disgruntled minorities; in the latter outvoted minorities are collateral damage, and a way of life. The notion that everybody has to be brought along before action can be taken is pernicious, in that it vests power in the minority.
This is a pretty big fork in the road and I'm wondering if my friend has ever seen consensus practiced among people who know what they're doing. He is right to highlight tyranny of the minority as a great fear, but it reveals, I think, only a shallow understanding of cooperative culture to presume that bringing everyone along is bad strategy.
I agree that you tend to get this dynamic in competitive culture, but that's not what we're talking about. When I have posited a culture that does not devolve into us/them dynamics—one of the main tenets of cooperative culture—it misses the point to criticize it because of the potential for mischievous us/them dynamics. Yes, minorities can be obstructive; but what if they're not? What if you build a culture where the expectation is that every on-topic voice will be worked with, where everyone has the responsibility to work constructively with differing viewpoints, and that some degree of dissonance is the expected starting point on every issue (else its resolution is trivial)?
Often, it’s a good idea to move forward even if not everyone agrees.
Yes, and sometimes cooperative groups proceed that way. People feel heard yet understand that they've not been persuasive and the stakes are such that they're willing to let go.
Those that initially disagree may find that their opinions were wrong and learn from the experience. Those that cannot agree no matter what may leave the organization for another that is more congenial, facilitating both their own and the organization’s growth.
That happens in cooperative culture (sometimes the values match is not good enough, and not everyone is willing to do the personal work needed to learn cooperative behaviors). In my experience though, competitive culture tends to mask misfits longer (or is more prone to giving up on people for the wrong reasons, such as a tendency to ask embarrassing questions, or to speak frankly).
o Going to the heart (rather than being nice)
Done well, cooperative culture is about plumbing the emotional and psychic depths of topics, not just the best thinking. Wherever there is tension we work to resolve it, not paper it over. ERM in a nutshell.
Maybe. My lingering concern is whether ERM (which I don't know) is sufficiently expansive or facile to work in the non-rational plane. In my view groups do their best work when the following obtain:
o participants do their homework on topics to be discussed
o participants are disciplined about speaking on topic and not repeating themselves
o participants insert comments in the right place in the conversation
o participants listen carefully to what others say and identify first what they like or can join with in what others say before voicing concerns
o participants are allowed (even encouraged) to contribute in their "native tongue," by which I mean from emotional, intuitive, or even kinesthetic knowledge—instead of insisting that everything be translated into the rational realm as a precondition for acceptance. If ERM does that, it didn't show up in the Wikipedia profile.
o Placing relationships in the center
The weft and warp of cooperative culture is woven on the loom of human interactions. The stronger the connections, the tighter the weave. Good organizations value and respect the dignity of all employees (and customers too). Disagreements are essential for bringing out different points of view. The goal is to argue each issue on its merits, make a decision, and move on with everyone agreeing to abide by the group decision. This does not mean that decision is permanent; changed circumstances may lead to a changed decision. It does mean that everyone believes that all members have the good of the organization at heart.
I like this description of the organizational ideal, but let's look deeper. There are times when there is a choice between relationship and problem solving. When that occurs, my overwhelming experience is that competitive culture will prioritize problem solving (reaching an answer within a time frame, say by the end of the meeting) at the expense of relationship (rather than laboring with people not ready to agree). The underlying message is "get on board or shut up"; which does not encourage dissonant voices to come forward.
While I think time is a legitimate factor in assessing the best use of plenaries (more and/or longer meetings are not necessarily a good idea; I think, for example, that time tends to be used poorly in most meetings across the board and first focus should be on trimming the fat and getting groups to seriously work toward adopting the standards I outlined above for meeting participants), in my experience when groups opt for cloture they are almost always trading time for relationship, and shorter meetings are almost always more expensive in the long run than dealing with the fallout of disgruntled minorities, where the cost shows up in the form of weak implementation (because one's heart is not behind what was crammed down one's throat); negativity brooding in the parking lot and around the coffee station; and hesitation to raise concerns next time (fearing a repeat dynamic), effectively undercutting the free-flowing discourse we all say we cherish so much.
When the priority is problem solving, the standard of success is securing a majority of votes (or convincing the boss); once that's achieved you try to get the sucker off the floor and move on as expeditiously as possible.
When the goal is relationship you're not done until everyone agrees you're done. This does not mean until everyone thinks the same way; it means everyone reports they've said their piece, they feel heard, and they don't have anything germane to add. Sometimes this leads to laying an issue down for more research or more seasoning; sometimes it means going with "x" under "y" conditions as a better choice than waiting.
o Being open to disagreement and critical feedback
In healthy cooperative groups there is an awareness of how vital it is to establish and utilize clear channels of communication among members whenever anyone is having a critical reaction to the statements or behavior of another member in the group context. Failing to attend to this leads to the erosion of trust and is damaging to relationship. Again this is a good description of how ERM, once embedded in the culture of an organization, works.
I appears my friend and I are aligned about this principle, which is good. The tricky part is actually breathing life into it in the culture. Even among groups avowedly committed to cooperative culture (the preponderance of my client base) I rarely see this well established. When it comes to doing the personal work needed to unlearn competitive behaviors and replace them with cooperative responses I'd say the four toughest nuts to crack are:
a) Being able to first respond to viewpoints that differ substantially from your own with something other than "but…" b) Being able to talk openly about how power is distributed in the group, and what you want to do, if anything, about the imbalance.
c) Being able to work authentically and constructively (and not in reaction) with fulminating upset.
d) Being able to give to others honest critical feedback about their behavior as a group member and to receive same from them in return without defensiveness or stonewalling.
For most of us, the nightmare scenario (when receiving critical feedback) is when it arrives in an ugly package (you-statements instead of I-statements; delivered with attitude coated in nasty sauce), from someone known to be judgmental and close-minded. Yuck. This person is a jerk, they've had a reaction to something you did (what's new?), and now they want to dump on you, perhaps blaming you for their having a bad day. Yuck! While you may have every reason in the world to blow them off, and aren't in the least interested in a substantive relationship with that person, can you find it in your heart to sift for the potential truth in the muddy slurry of their diatribe?
If you can, then it's an affirmation that you may have gone a long way toward completed your personal work in that regard—that you get it that it's unwise for you to ignore information about how you're landing with others. While you have choices about how you evaluate that information or whether you want to modify your behavior in the future as a consequence (being a careful listener dos not mean you have in any way forfeited your right to discernment) it's important to you to have the fewest possible barriers between you and raw data about how you're coming across. It's in your best interest to welcome it all—even if the person offering it has no interest in your views the other way.
o Emphasizing access and sharing (rather than ownership)
A corollary to recognizing the primacy of relationship is that "things" take a back seat to people. In the interest of leaving more for others—both present and future—cooperative folks work to eat lower on the food chain and consume less. If we share, then access to things can be a reasonable substitute for ownership, and everyone can chase fewer dollars in order to secure a satisfactory quality of life. Sharing of information and transparency are hallmarks of a well-managed company. The idea of “leaving more for others” can be translated to mean building an enduring enterprise.
Again, I'm pleased that my friend and I align. I worry however, that in competitive culture (where the model is that the strongest prevail in a fair fight) that players are encouraged by the culture to aggregate power, not to share it. As hoarding information and masking motive (never mind intentional misinformation) are traditionally seen as aids in controlling power (gaining and keeping influence), I'm not convinced that competitive culture is nearly as conducive to promoting sharing and transparency as cooperative culture—where job evaluation will emphasize how well you helped the team succeed, and are not obsessed with personal credit).
o Taking into account the impact that your words and actions have on others
Another corollary is the realization that cooperative culture doesn't work well unless it's working well for all of us. That translates into mindfulness about how one's activity lands on others. In the wider culture the model of good decision-making is competitive: that a fair fight will produce the best result (survival of the fittest). In cooperative culture we explicitly reject that thinking—because we know that life is not a zero-sum game where one's person's advancement is predicated on another person's loss. I disagree with some of the terms you use like “fair fight” and “collateral damage.” If people are to be open in discussions they must be allowed to say hurtful things sometimes, but that’s a mark of trust not violence. As we say in our company, “everyone has a belly button.”
I'm pleased to hear that my friend has had enough positive experiences of corporate culture that he's not found my comparisons of competitive and cooperative culture compelling. However, that begs the question: to what extent is this my unsophisticated understanding of the range of corporate culture today (that doesn't sufficiently allow for cooperative practices to thrive in that environment), and to what extent is he naive about the depths of cooperative culture and the possibility of a sea change in group dynamics when practitioners do the personal work of unlearning competitive conditioning? Hard to say, and probably beyond the scope of this medium to resolve.
For all that though, it's the right kind of conversation be having, and I'm heartened that we have so much in common about the culture we desire, whatever label we give it.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
If she hadn't died in 2003, my Mom—Valborg Gertrude Schaub—would have been 100 years old today. To frame that, the US was still two months away from entering World War I when she was born.
Do I feel badly that she didn't make it to triple digits? Nah. I had the sense 14 years ago that she was done, and wasn't interested in hanging around just for the sake of hanging around—which I respect. She'd had a full life and there are only so many times you can read Jean Auel and still pump yourself up for what amazing thing Ayla does next. Mom had reached the point where she lost interest in watered down scotch-on-the-rocks, and pushing the play-repeat button on life.
Mom was never that comfortable in the spotlight, but she was strong on the back benches and quietly competent: as the head of the household, as the first female president of the board of education, as the chairman of the Camp Fire Girl's Salt Creek Council candy drive (there was a time each year when we couldn't fit two cars in the garage because of all the candy cartons).
My Dad was a successful businessman and entrepreneur, but I owe my feel for administration and organization to Mom. Dad thought the world revolved around him; Mom knew it didn't. My Dad enjoyed eating out, but he didn't love food as Mom did. She'd wait until Dad was away on a business trip before bringing out salads garnished with white asparagus, or fresh beets steamed in butter. She'd gladly share a bucket of oysters with you but wouldn't even bother asking if anyone else wanted escargot or a wedge of ripe camembert. That woman could flat out eat.
This centenary is quietly being marked by all five of Val's children, all of whom (with partners in tow) plan to gather in San Antonio two months from now, where I'm confident that Val's spirit will be strongly evoked. Not just because we enjoy a shared ancestry, but because we enjoy the familial habits of eating, drinking, laughing, gaming, and storytelling upon which Schaub family ties have been founded and sustained.
I have every confidence, for example, that Alison and I will find a source of plump raw gulf oysters, which should go down well with a chilled bottle of gewürztraminer that Kyle will help ferret out of some rathskeller. Best of all, Susan and I will enjoy a long weekend of warmth, well before it arrives on the ore boats in Duluth. We'll get a sneak preview of what it's like to leave the windows up after sundown. It's been long months since we engaged in such risqué behavior in northern Minnesota, but it will come back to us.
There may even be rounds of ribbon sandwiches and Famous Wafers and whipped cream. Schaubber Jobber soul food.