Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 9: Tracing the Cause of Cyclic Chaos and other teaming traps

Okay, I admit that I am intentionally titling by alliteration...

During the check in, Roger noted again some of us complaining of the experience of personal and professional chaos.  He suggested a method of working with this experience. First, if the suffering has a cyclic or predictable quality to it, consider yourself the evil genius of your own life, having mastered the ability to cyclically produce your experience of suffering.  (This was said in jest, since the actual condition is that we are strategically unconscious to our production of this condition).

A way in which you can work with tracing the cause (but perhaps "cause" is too strong of a word), is by working at three levels: the personal dynamics, the transpersonal dynamics (system) and the perceptual reality.
At the personal level, one would self-observe for the purpose of teaching someone how to create the condition you are now experiencing. You could next inquire into why you were doing that? Why did you learn to do that?

I have a personal example which derives from my diligent effort to do the homework of a couple weeks ago. I was offended by the way in which a colleague was "collaborating" with me. I began to construct all the things that were needed to be offended, including a belief system about what needs to be done, how to do things, when they need to be done. It included emotional directives like "be afraid that if this doesn't get done..." "Be resentful about the work that I have done in my collaborative role..."  In the end, I learned that I had a whole array of unspoken expectations, none of which he had agreed to uphold. I was acting out of fear of some imagined negative future state.  My response was to tell him what I discovered and apologize for my role in the conflict. 

After completing the self-reflection on how you are participating in your own suffering, you would beging to consider the transpersonal, systemic conditions that are creating what you're experiencing as suffering.

In my case, the system of suffering is jointly participated in by at least 22,000 people locally and about 15 million people across the country. This system creates patterns of behavior and a culture of imagined necessities which many of us are habitually striving to accomplish. 

When you have completed reflection on the systemic conditions, you can consider how things are being perceived in a way that contributes to what you experience as suffering. This may be due to some misinformation about something.

Roger suggested that in trying to see into the "cause" of one's cyclic suffering, one should begin at the personal level where you can take responsibility for your own role in it. If one skips over this and begins and acts from the transpersonal level, the actions will be experienced as manipulation by others in the system.  If one begins and take corrective action at the perceptual level,  it will be experienced as public relations bullshit.

Roger's Belief About Teaming & Leadership: A Felt Phenomenon

Roger stated that his experience is that teaming and leadership is not a formula of behavior or a cognitive phenomenon, but a "felt phenomenon." He spoke of a kind of energy field that teams and leaders possess, that when a leader speaks, people are (often unconsciously) paying attention to the energy field of that person. Roger asserted that teaming and leadership therefore requires an emotional maturity to work with this energy field.  I'm a bit iffy on what was happening in this moment of the workshop. 

"Trust" as an dubious team asset--says Roger
One of Roger's early assertions in the quarter was that trust was not a necessary or even helpful quality of teaming. His belief that it is dubious is because it does not functionally serve a team to manage to it. As stated previously, we are always running secret "trust assessments" on one another. The nature of trust is that one cannot tell the other person that they are being tested because the other person would of course game the system and their passing the trust test would then be in question (notice the distrust in this testing method).  He pointed out that trust is a fear-based phenomenon. Requiring trust in a team sets up the conditions for betrayal.

This doesn't mean "Don't do trust building exercises."  Do them.  (?)

I have an odd story about a trust-building exercise that served only to deepen the valley of distrust and bad feeling amongst the team members. The exercise involved 2 identical lego vehicles (roughly 50 parts).  One set was fully assembled by the facilitator and put in another room.  The other was completely disassembled without any instructions, just a pile of disconnected lego blocks. This pile was placed in the room with the five teammates. The process was to send each teammate to inspect the assembled vehicle for 60 seconds. Upon returning, the group was to take the feedback and advance in the assembly of the identical vehicle. What the team was supposed to learn was their need for one another and how "teaming" works. All teammates had Ph.D. degrees, there were 2 women and three men.

People were chosen at random. After the first two people, only 4 pieces were assembled and with some doubt as to the accuracy. The third person returned and assembled the entire structure accurately with 3 or 4 pieces remaining. The last two also participated but they also had difficulty completed the exact location of the 3 or 4 pieces. There was no malice in any one's participation, but this exercise only served to make everyone uncomfortable. 

How the university works and what to do about it?
Roger has had the opportunity to observe the dynamics of some organizational units within the university as they attempt to make decisions. His observation is that decisions are made through managing by assertions, without reflection. That is, someone asserts a viewpoint, another person follows that assertion by asserting another viewpoint, that is followed by yet another assertion. The default mode is that people are speaking with the intent to persuade with their assertion. The assertions have embedded manipulations in them, such as attributions about "other people" or "industry" that, in his experience of the past 20 years of working in "industry" are not accurate.  Often what is asserted is a necessity about marketplace and what therefore needs to be done because of the necessity.

Someone asked what to do in the presence of such an assertion. What Roger likes to do in the presence of assertion is to track the ideological baggage that goes along with the assertion.  Roger suggested that the most useful thing would be to observe ourselves. Who are we in the presence of assertion? Do we respond with an assertion of our own, intended to dominate and persuade? Do you suppress?

This reminds me of Humberto Maturana's statement, "Insisting that someone adopt your point of view is a demand for obedience." 

What are the alternatives?

  • Self-observing what is occurring within yourself in the presence of assertion; 
  • Create perspective "I heard you assert..." with the intent to create a collective reflection;
  • Suspend your own point of view;
  • Inquire with a genuine disposition of learning;
  • Stop your own cyclic chronic behavior in the face of assertion and see if you can enact a different behavior with the intent of improving the quality of the outcome.
At this point, we recognized that the neurological structure that we now have has been developed inside a system of domination ("there is a winner"), a right/wrong model of the world. If we are to enact alternatives, it will require us to cultivate a capacity, a different neurological structure. 

The "sticky wall" exercise in groups is intended to surface peoples' assertions.  When the assertions are externalized on the sticky wall, one can begin to see the patterns and inquire into them.  This externalization of  views also alleviates that need for people to speak their assertion in the group. 

Teaming and Collaboration "Sheep Dip"
Roger explained that in industry, the latest management strategic organizational craze is often called "sheep dip" for the way in which it works...when people are dipped in it, it creates the expected result. When the dipping stops (i.e., the force is no longer applied), things return to the way they were because the causal conditions were not addressed.

"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni
Dianne presented a summary of this model of team development. She introduced it as a framework reflecting on what is "going wrong."  To get an idea of the model, imagine 2-D sketch of a pyramid with labeled tiers, starting from the bottom: 
  1. Absence of TRUST
  2. Fear of CONFLICT
  3. Lack of COMMITMENT
  4. Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY
  5. Inattention to RESULTS
The summary included a description of "truly cohesive teams" that says
Members of truly cohesive teams:
  1. TRUST one another
  2. Engage in unfiltered CONFLICT around ideas
  3. COMMIT to decisions and plans of action
  4. Hold one another ACCOUNTABLE for delivering against those plans
  5. Focus on the achievement of collective RESULTS 
As an aside, this list reminds me a great deal of a religious cult I was once in.

Roger then spoke of how he would relate to these models as a consultant. He said that these pyramid or wedding cake models implied a process of starting at the bottom and moving toward the top (Yes, Maslov's Hierarchy of Human Needs comes to mind). The idea that the top items will be compromised in proportion to the bottom or foundational items are compromised.  

It was his habit to place a variety of models next to one another and look for what gets dissolved and what remains.  This model occurs to him as coming from a place of "It's broken, here is how to fix it." Another view is that the system (the team) is functional perfectly. From there, one can try to see into the structures and mental models that created the system and is resultant perfect (dys) functioning. 

In his mind, the danger in applying these models is when they become the "holy way" and those that adhere to "the way" are praised while the others are ostracized.  (Yes, that would be much like that religious cult I was in.)  For example, one could take the model and feel empowered to engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas (perhaps even the idea that so and so is a jerk). Dianne pointed out the conflict around ideas is different than conflict around people.  However, if people are self-identified with ideas as they often are, this conflict will feel like conflict around people.  (You can test this for your self by imagining that you offer an idea and someone engages in unfiltered conflict by stating, "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard." )

"Tuckman's Team Development Model" , aka, "Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing."
Sheree presented this model of team development which was developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. She indicated that the model wasn't derived from original research, but a metastudy of 50 articles, many of them psychoanalytic studies of therapy and T-groups.

This model now has 5 stages: 1. Forming, 2. Storming, 3. Norming, 4. Performing, and 5. Adjourning.
She recounted a situation in which she was teaching students to work in groups using this model. An outcome was that formal harassment charges were filed against one of the male students who had a leadership role in the group.

We began to consider whether there was something in the language and form of the model that gave the student a kind of mandate to behave in the way that he did.  People observed that "storming" and "norming" were violent terms. "Conflict and polarization...member compete for status...compete for power..."  "Resistance is overcome..."

Although probably unintended, the language of the model describes in violent terms the behavior of teams.  Roger suggested that it's not that we don't use these models. We can use them, but without a container for reflection on the models themselves, the use of the models has the potential to create the behavioral form without the substance. That is, introducing the models in class is an intervention in itself and we must recognize that students may take the models as prescriptions for behavior.

In the case of Tuckman's model, like others, the parallel stages are created to promote a kind of branding and "for profit" potential.  Having a reflective container would enable one to examine the language and consider the implications in it.

Homework for next week: An After Action Review of the Quarter
Roger asked us to do an after action review on this quarter.  What is the narrative that we have about this time we have spent? How am I representing this to myself?  Am I deleting? distoring? generalizing?  How does what has happend connect to your lived reality?

1 comment:

  1. Linda,

    I didn't read the blog all term, but now just reviewed the workshop via your personal accounts. I benefitted from your summaries, thank you. Kurt