Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 6: Interrupting Patterns of Behavior

I find myself attempting to make a cohesive whole out of our time together when it may not have been that.  So, if you don't recognize this account of our February 11 meeting, it may simply be the way in which I am re-presenting it.

We spent our time in a conversation about interrupting patterns presumably because in a team collaboration, patterns of behavior can serve to interfere with the functionality of the team.  By "behavior," we are considering the full spectrum of actions: thought as well as more externally apparent actions.

I would like to indulge in a bit of a self-pitying interlude: I had artfully re-counted our entire class on my computer while waiting in a doctor's office yesterday. This morning my hard drive failed. No, I didn't have a backup. So, needless to say, my first rendering of these notes--beyond brilliant...are lost forever.  The muse has now left me, so we will all suffer (the two of us readers) with this dull version. 

Roger asserted that there is a common dynamic to deal with dysfunctional collaboratives:
Something is not working; someone in the system creates a strategy to deal with the "not working," ; that strategy usually contains the mental models and assumptions that created the "not working" in the first place; rather than solving the problem, the strategy (or coping mechanism) amplifies the original "not working," which often elicits additional coping strategies that further amplify the original "not working."  The coping strategies, rather than solve something about the "not working," stimulate the dynamic at play.  This dynamic is probably what Einstein meant when he asserted that we cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created the problem.

Here is an example, but I'm not sure it is a good one: In the 1980's, the National Science Foundation noticed that engineering graduates were about 90% white male.  They have since enacted all sorts of programs to increase the number of women in engineering. Twenty five years later, the US engineering graduating classes are about 15% female. Recent research studies show a deeply embedded set of beliefs that women don't belong in engineering. Students point to the existence of these women's programs, citing that women would not otherwise succeed in engineering without special assistance.  Both male and female science, engineering, technology and math faculty interviews reveal 11 persistent beliefs that systemically disadvantage women.

Roger described a process of interrupting a pattern that sounded like this to me:  Step back and examine how a particular pattern "happens." What are the clues that are common within the process?  What does it mean to enact it? What is your role in the pattern occurring? (It is certainly not neutral, says Roger).  Then, interrupt the pattern by choosing to intervene at some point in this process.

The Roger said that one way in which people participate in patterns within organizations is through "background conversations." ("If you don't know what a background conversation is, it is the thing you are doing when you say to yourself, 'What is a background conversation?' " ).  Background conversations (BCs) can be either individual or collective.  The collective BCs come in the form of innuendo, gossip and complaining.  They are the hallway conversations. There is also a "foreground conversation" (FC) in organizations. The FC is the "party line," the management message, the espoused story of the organization or team.  The FC and BC can be very different from one another. In fact, Roger asserts that for a team collaboration, what the team does is naturally and directly correlated to the BC.  It is possible for the team's actions to be correlated to the FC, but it requires a constant application of force; it is unsustainable.

I have a story of this exact situation, but I will refrain.

So one way to interrupt the pattern is to bring the BC into the foreground. (Warning: Do NOT try this at home or in your place of employment until you've fully considered the consequences).  This is in no way a SMALL interruption. In fact, it is HUGE, since having the BC is what is keeping the current pattern of behavior in place.

Before you externalize your BC, you will want to look at your own participation in it. Name it. Recognize it. In answering the question of whether to bypass or engage the BC, you first need to evaluate your commitment to the issue at hand. What is your personal mandate for engaging the BC?  I'm presuming Roger might be referring to situations in which one might engage the BC out of a kind of sport or perhaps out of a sense of responsibility. But I suspect that since externalizing the BC will cause the whole dynamic to unravel, it is to one's advantage to first consider the consequences of successfully interrupting the pattern. What will you gain? What will you lose? What could happen?

In the remainder of our time, Roger spoke of the skillful means to bring the BC into the foreground.  I am genuinely hoping that he will talk about this next week because I wasn't quite following him.

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