An excerpt from Jurgen Appelo’s blog titled ‘Purpose in all directions’, states the following.
"The purpose of an organisation does not simply overrule the purpose of a team or the purpose of an individual. The complex interweaving of collaboration and competition that we see happening horizontally between stakeholders is also happening vertically between different levels of abstraction. The purpose of an individual both aligns and conflicts with the purpose of the team, while the purpose of the team aligns and conflicts with the next higher levels of the organisation. The alignment enables us to exchange value, while the conflict helps us to be creative and innovative."
I think that this describes a much more realistic perspective of what is really going on at a fundamental level within organisations. The last sentence proposes what is possible to achieve in the states of alignment and conflict. However, as complex beings, with complex relationships with personal issues, agendas etc, we don’t always extract maximum value out of alignment and nor do we extract the maximum creativity out of conflict.
Often on projects people can be left feeling that they have either over compromised, or not said what they wanted to at critical phases. This «suppression» or «avoidance of conflict» leaves them as passive stakeholders of decisions made by others. In giving power away like this, enormous potential in collective creativity is sacrificed.
Most of our ‘negative’ experiences with organisations, local community and the wider global society, is the end result of a lack of creativity based on a set of limiting values. Ultimately, what we have created from the twentieth century models of competition and capitalism, is an overworked planet whose resources are being abused. Our grand challenge is for us to collectively believe that we can change our behaviours producing poor returns, and have the courage to put the great ideas we have into practice.
My passion lies in understanding deeply about the relationships in my life, personal, social and professional. Why? Because everything we have ever created has ultimately depended upon a form of collaboration. And collaboration cannot exist if relationships do not exist. It’s all about relationships.
When we look at organisations and remove the filter of roles and positions etc, there ends up being nothing more than a complex interaction of events bonded together by relationships.It is how each individual communicates and responds in any relationship that plays a large part in shaping the ultimate values and achievements of any organisation. Be it a family, an organisation or an entire country. Cultivating an understanding and awareness of how important this is, is becoming more and more relevant for our evolution as individuals and organizations.
But creating understanding and awareness is one thing. Putting it into practice and changing the way in which people communicate relies upon a strong culture of collective inquiry1and concrete communication tools that are accessible to all.
So what would such a culture need for this to take root and grow? There are many solutions available and all organisations are different. Tailored approaches centred around experience based learning solutions tend to be the most effective and there are many forms that this can take.
One particular form of training that is on the rise is the use of theatre inspired workshops. The popular and must have book ‘This is Service Design’ makes three different references to the practical application of drama in ‘Service Staging’, ‘Role Play’ and ‘Storytelling’. The idea though of using theatre as a learning tool though is not new. Augusto Boal pioneered it as a tool for change and is the subject of his book ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. Theatrical solutions are becoming more popular because they allow us to fail / succeed in relatively ‘safe’ workshop environments. The threshold to try out new communication techniques in the workplace is consequently lowered and as a result there is greater activity in building a strong culture of collective inquiry.
To give an example, during a two day leadership workshop, I facilitated an exercise with a small group of people. The purpose was to try out specific communicational tools with ‘difficult’ characters that were ‘acted’ out by the facilitator. On the first day ‘Dave’ tried his hand at dealing with a situation where the character was being obstreperous. Dave’s style of communication infuriated the character. Someone else in the group stepped in and through positive nonviolent communication2 made a powerful intervention that coerced the character to reflect. The next day Dave had another attempt to influence a change with a different ‘difficult’ character’. He applied what he had observed the day before and with his newly refreshed communication techniques made a successful intervention.
Navigating ourselves through the constant dance of alignment and conflict in the myriad of relationships that connects us all together is no easy task. Doing it well is even more challenging. Having a platform to practice new communication techniques where we are able to fail and succeed with no ‘real life’ consequences, fast tracks us to exchange more value and reduces the fear of conflict, creating a higher quality environment to be in.
Chris McCormick runs the day to day operations for communication consultant Splint who are based in Oslo.
1 In his book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Peter Senge makes a reference to the argument that most managers find collective inquiry inherently threatening. The lack of collective inquiry can lead to supposed joint decisions in teams being in effect a watered down compromise.
2 Nonviolent communication is a way of communicating that allows the use of empathy to safely confront anger, fear and other powerful emotions. It is developed by Marshall Rosenberg and in his own words it’s not about being nice, it’s about being able to clearly express your true needs and feelings in any given situation.