By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Operational Excellence means that organisations have the capability to deliver a particular project or task to the required specifications and standards, on time and on budget. Whether or not an organisation achieves operational excellence by meeting its KPI’s is important. However, what is more important is how an organisation approaches the challenge of moving towards operational excellence. So, in building a healthier organisation, the old business adage of the process being more important than the outcome, is definitely true. In this case, the how relates primarily to the efficiency by which an organisation achieves a particular set of results.

Efficiency can be defined as the amount of resources that a business consumes to produce a particular outcome relative to the benefit of that outcome. In an organisational context, there are three key categories of resources — money, time and people. Obviously, these three categories of resources have significant overlap. The more staff on a particular project, the more money it costs the business in wages, but hopefully, the less time it takes. While all three resource categories are important, I believe the most valuable one is time. This is because if money is misspent or lost, it can be made again. Staff members can leave their roles and be replaced, and staff that have a reduced motivation or disengage from a particular task can be re-engaged. Therefore, as important as money and staff are in terms of the resources a business has access to, they can be considered renewable resources. In contrast, time is a non-renewable resource. Once time is spent, that minute, that hour, that day cannot be renewed or recreated. Unfortunately, there are no Mulligans (a golf term used when the golfer is given a second chance to play their shot) or Groundhog days (in reference to the cult movie with Bill Murray) for spent time. Thus, the efficiency at which organisations use their time is probably the most important ingredient in delivering operational excellence and therby showing how healthy that organisation is.

The True North Learning Organisational Health model is designed to do one thing — increase the efficiency which an organisation utilises its resources — time, money and staff, but especially time.

For example, we have worked with clients at their strategic planning days where a list of ten actionable items has been developed; each one of which has the potential to improve the business and its effectiveness in some aspect. Three months later, only a small minority, if any, of these strategies have been actioned in accordance with the implementation plan formulated at the strategic planning meeting. Hence, the one day those eight senior managers took and the associated resources have been effectively wasted. If we do the sums, 8 managers on an eight hour strategic planning day, the cost of transport, venue hire, catering, etc, probably thousands of dollars all for just about zero return. Those managers may well have taken that time and money and gone to the pub — at least they would have had a good time. The return on investment of those resources would effectively have been the same. I know this sounds a bit harsh, and I do admit that I am being a little tongue in cheek in order to make a point.  Most of us have been in teams or worked in organisations where creative and talented minds come up with amazing strategies, but because of a lack of capacity somewhere in the organisational system, these strategies never come to fruition. Therefore, the strategies do not provide a benefit to the organisation (or a return on investment on the resources that it took to create them). In fact, one could argue that not only does this have a minimal return on investment, but it actually also has a negative impact on organisational effectiveness. This is because when senior managers invest their time, ideas, passion and experience into developing a strategic plan only to repeatedly experience those items not coming to fruition, it builds the degree of hopelessness and cynicism in the effectiveness of their organisation. This then affects the extent to which those managers are prepared to invest themselves at future strategic planning days.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

It is hard to imagine that a conversation can build more effective organisations. However, what we observe time and time again is that individuals and organisations that take the time and develop the capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations actually outperform those competitors who place less of a strategic emphasis on this skill.

To be honest, and also slightly more transparent, I am not talking about an average ‘chatting around the water cooler’ kind of conversation. What I am talking about is when and how we have strategic and reflective conversations. In some management literature, these are referred to as ‘difficult’ or ‘robust’ conversations, but I think these terms underestimate the potential benefit these conversations hold.

The ability to have strategic and reflective conversations is one of the most effective ways to engage stakeholders, give role-based feedback and align team members to performance and behavioural expectations. In short, it is probably the most effective way to build a culture of shared accountability within a team or organisation.

However, what we commonly observe is team members, especially managers, running away from these conversations as fast as they possibly can. There are numerous reasons for this behaviour, but most of them fall under one or more of three categories.

Firstly, most people have some degree of conflict aversion. Let’s face it, any normal and sane person, when faced with a choice, is going to choose the option with the least potential for conflict. At the risk of being too psychological, this aversion sometimes originates back in our formative years. It occurs when individuals grow up in a highly conflictual environment which over time reduces their tolerance for further conflict. Paradoxically, it can also occur in individuals who grow up in relatively harmonious environments. This is because, despite the idyllic-ness of a happy and harmonious household, it does not build skills and capacity in having these more challenging conversations.

Secondly, many managers feel under-skilled in the area of conflict management, and it is often for the reasons in the previous paragraph that this area of their development has been avoided or neglected. However, dealing with conflict and having a strategic and reflective conversation are simply skills. And, like any skill, the more you do it, the more you practice it, and the more coaching and support you get on it, the better and more comfortable with it you become.

Thirdly, and finally, some managers feel they do not have the time to have these conversations. I view most things in business from a cost versus benefit standpoint. However, one difference in my version of cost versus benefit is that I believe in viewing an organisation as a holistic system. In other words, we cannot just examine cost versus benefit from a profit or performance viewpoint. We also have to include more intangible costs and benefits. These include such things as levels of trust and engagement of key staff and stakeholders, the morale of team members, the well-being of the individuals within the organisation, the environment and perhaps the planet as a whole. It is only when we can appreciate the cost or benefit to these more intangible and less measurable aspects of our organisation that we can begin to ascertain the real benefit of these conversations.

For example, we have observed on numerous occasions that a one-hour strategic and reflective conversation have a benefit (or return on investment of resources — time, money, personnel) in terms of engagement, role clarity, motivation, performance and ethical behaviour, that far supersedes that initial one hour ‘investment’. Conversely, we have also observed numerous examples, unfortunately in greater numbers than my previous sentence, where the lack of a strategic and reflective conversation has deleterious and sometimes disastrous consequences for an organisation.

The irony is, in our experience, most managers are astute enough to know when one of these conversations needs to occur. The real question is: are they prepared to endure short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit of the organisation?

In summary, to build organisational capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations:

  • Support managers and staff to work on their own psychology around their individual conflict aversion and lead by example.
  • Invest in training and skills development programs so that members feel equipped with the required skill set in order to have these conversations.
  • Be disciplined. Develop the discipline to realise that a one-hour conversation, as difficult and challenging as it may be, could potentially save you and/or the organisation a far less desirable outcome.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

As we kick start the New Year, there is a tendency for people to make resolutions. While I like the idea of some time for reflection and goal setting, my approach is slightly different. My question is where are my/our thinking and behavioural patterns outdated and therefore no longer in service of our purpose and the outcomes we want to achieve?

In my opinion, one of the key paradigm shifts that will improve our outcomes is developing our capacity to collaborate. Whether we’re talking about national or international politics, companies within the same or similar sectors, or individuals as part of the couple, it appears that humans, as a species, are often challenged around our ability to collaborate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired to be highly competitive and defend vigorously what we perceive to be ours, but appear less  inclined to be collaborative or to even entertain the idea of collaboration.

Here are my 5 keys to building a mindset that is more open, and has a greater capacity, to be collaborative. 

1. Build skills at Facilitative Leadership

Whilst many people see that there is a value in being more collaborative, many also see collaboration as being time consuming and ineffective. And, in most cases, they are right. Collaborative decision making can be highly ineffective. For the collaborative decision making process to be effective, it needs to be well led and well facilitated. In this case, the facilitative leadership skills may support a more effective outcome. In fact, the facilitative leader in these situations might act more like a moderator. They control the flow of the conversation, keep people on topic and ensure the quieter and more introverted members are not drowned out by those more extroverted personalities. They also support members to clarify what they are saying. In doing this, the members themselves often gain more clarity as well as deepen their own thoughts and perspectives.

2. Hold the tension of difference (don’t collapse diversity too quickly)

Inevitably, when teams are being more collaborative, a greater diversity of viewpoints and ideas are able to be expressed and heard. Leaders and managers can sometimes have an ‘or’ mindset, which assumes that it must be plan A or plan B that is the most appropriate. A collaborative mindset looks for the ‘and’ solution. In other words, it assumes that there is some wisdom or ‘rightness’ in both plan A and plan B. By clarifying and deepening each viewpoint, it aims to find hidden treasure or wisdom in each of them and therefore develop an even better plan C. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. It means managers and teams have to sit in the tension of the unknown and have faith that at some point in time a ‘plan C’ will emerge from within the tension between the original opposing viewpoints. However, all too often, the tension gets unbearable and teams jump to either A or B simply to relieve the strain of  the unknown, but in doing so, we leap to an outcome before plan C has had the chance to emerge organically.

3. Be Deeply Democratic

Deep Democracy is a concept developed by Arnold Mindell[1]. He is a Jungian analyst and the founder of process oriented psychology or Process Work. Deep Democracy involves helping the various parts of a group to come forward and interact with each other, including those parts that have been silenced or seen as disturbing[2]. Compared with conventional democracy, where the majority ‘wins’, Deep Democracy allows the voices of those within the minority to also be heard and valued. In this way, even if an individual’s own idea or suggestion is not the one implemented, they still feel that they have been heard and valued and that any wisdom or innovation contained within their idea is extracted and used.

4. Manage unhealthy competition or Territorialism

For organisations to be successful, it is essential that they foster and develop a strong competitive nature. This allows them to compete successfully in the marketplace and carve out their niche of market share.  However, when this competitive culture is not channelled in the right direction or turns in on itself and becomes ‘cannibalistic’, it can reduce the organisation’s ability to be collaborative.

Another way to look at competition is to support it and also find ways to maximise its usefulness. Rather than compete against each other, if individuals and teams compete against their own limitations in how they think, behave and relate to each other, it will create better outcomes. Furthermore, the underlying (subconscious) function of competition is often to experience or reach some level of mastery or excellence. In other words, when individuals and teams are not supported and provided a context within which they can strive towards mastery and excellence in a particular endeavour, that need or drive can morph into behaviours of ‘unhealthy’ competition. 

5. Demonstrate trust over time

What can often impair one’s ability or desire to collaborate is a lack of trust or a general skepticism about the good intentions of others. Collaboration is our ability to work together towards a common outcome or goal; it requires individuals to have a win-win approach to the relationship and intent to act in a way that not only serves their own best interests but also the best interests of others.

Building trust requires two things. Firstly, it requires disclosure. This means that you reveal your real intentions and make known the outcomes and what you are thinking in terms of the collaborative relationship. Secondly, trust requires contract. This is simply doing what you say you are going to do and keeping the agreements that you have made. This is true whether those agreements pertain to small or large matters. At the end of the day, trust is earned and built by making and keeping small agreements. If trust is not present in smaller agreements, it means that having trust in more important matters is much less likely. By acting in a trustworthy manner (disclosure and contract) over a period of time, it starts to demonstrate that you are safe to collaborate with. This slow and steady building of trust is important. This is because the process of breaking down those barriers that people have about collaboration, and changing the thinking patterns, belief systems and assumptions that they have about collaboration, can be slow as well.

 

[1] Mindell, A. 1995, Sitting in the Fire: Large group transformation through Diversity and Conflict. Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 

[2] Diamond, J. and Jones L.S. 2004, A Path Made by Walking, Process Work in Practice Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

In recent times I have noticed my growing frustration with our politicians- from both sides of the political divide. On further reflection, the aspect of their behaviour which fuels my frustration, is their ongoing tendency to appear to take no responsibility for their  actions, and to use so-called policy as a political football in the blame-game.

This reminded me of one of the models that we introduce many of our Experiential Learning training programs with. It’s called the “Above the Line” model. We introduce the concept by stating that when things don’t go so well, or don’t go to plan, individuals and teams behave in one of two ways-either “Above the Line (ATL)” or “Below the Line (BTL)”.  We have found that individuals and teams that are more effective, tend to exhibit more behaviours that are ATL.  Whilst less effective teams and individuals are prone to demonstrate more BTL behaviours.

Some BTL behaviours are Justifying eg “ I didn’t think that it was that that important”, Blaming eg “It was Fred who miscalculated the profit margin.”, Defending eg “Now you’re just picking on me” and Denial eg “It wasn’t my fault”. ATL behaviours, on the other hand, are to take responsibility, accountability and ownership of individual and team outcomes. It’s the “buck stops at me” mentality, as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”.

Upon presenting this to one of our clients a few weeks ago in the debrief after an Experiential learning activity, I was accused by the group of being BTL by pointing out their BTL behaviour. I have been wrestling with this issue ever since.

In other words, when we observe BTL behaviour that is not in service of the organisation’s outcomes or  its Purpose, how do we point that out without ourselves being BTL? Unfortunately, in this context, two sets of BTL behaviours don’t make an ATL behaviour, so as leaders and managers it’s imperative to model the very behaviour that we want to encourage more of in our teams.

Here is my view and I would be curious to hear the views of others.

Whether or not our intervention, upon seeing the BTL behaviour in our team or team-mates, was ATL or BTL can only be ascertained in hindsight. In other words, there is no recipe for what we should say when we observe BTL behaviour, nor is there a fixed way of how we should say it. Whether or not our intervention was ATL or BTL is dependent on the outcome of what we did. If what we did or said had a positive outcome and empowered or provided an insight which enabled the individual or team to transform their behaviour to be more ATL, then our intervention itself was ATL. If however, the outcome of what we did serves to produce more BTL behaviour, and actually moves the individual or team away from effective functioning, then our intervention was possibly BTL.

This way of leading teams challenges managers to take ultimate responsibility for the outcome of interactions between themselves and their reports. While this may be a heavy burden to carry, some would argue that it is the responsibility of leadership. I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of the authority conferred upon you by your leadership role within the organisation, which means the buck stops at you to a much greater extent than those you are leading.

So if we go full circle, is my frustration at pointing out our politician’s BTL behaviours, BTL in itself? Well the impact remains to be seen, but I suspect that not many people feel empowered or inspired to change by having their “faults” point out by a frustrated onlooker. I guess that means its back to the drawing board for me (read the therapist’s couch) to figure out ATL ways to think about our current political situation.

Please share your thoughts about how to address BTL behaviours in your teams, whilst at the same time remaining ATL yourself?

Dr Errol Amerasekera

 

For more on Below the line behaviours visit our ‘Beating Obstructive Behaviours’ program at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

The face of leadership is changing. At True North Learning, as we work with our clients, we are noticing a changing of the guard. It seems to us that the days of the iconic heroic leader are drawing to a close. And those leaders that are able to facilitate their teams and organisations through complex business challenges are rising to the fore and building High Performance Workplaces (HPWs).

So why is this happening?

Perhaps because business is more complex these days. Not so long ago a CEO’s role was simple – to improve the bottom line and boost shareholder value. This single bottom line allowed them to pour all their energy, focus and resources into achieving one outcome.

Oh how times have changed!

Now business leaders have to report on triple bottom lines, taking into account people and planet as well as profit. In some circles, businesses are also reporting on a quadruple bottom line, where the spiritual well being and emotional development of their employees needs to be taken into account as well.

Given this, True North Learning believes that one of the most significant challenges of corporate leadership going forward is to come to terms with the competing demands of multiple bottom lines.

No longer can leaders be single minded in their approach to business. They need to address questions like: How do we drive profit and still create environmentally sustainable policies? How do we look after our people and their well being and still run lean in challenging economic times? How do we boost shareholder value and still contribute to the communities we work in and society at large?

These are complex challenges that test leaders. They require a style of leadership that can take into account multiple factors and outcomes. We have found that one of the most effective ways to navigate these dilemmas is to develop ones Facilitative Leadership ability.

Facilitative Leadership is taking the mindset and skills that are utilised by facilitators and then applying them to a leadership context.

We believe there are 5 key skills to effective Facilitative Leadership:

1. Noticing

Facilitative Leaders notice subtle shifts in their teams and organisations and approach them with curiosity and open-mindedness. But in order to do this, they need to step out of the daily grind and the “doing” of business and place their awareness and attention on the process of the business. This is not just about business processes and systems, but also about the “feeling” within their business, the levels of motivation, the potential conflicts and power struggles, the degree of alignment with the organisational purpose and goals etc. The more leaders step out of the “doing”, the more they are able to notice to the underlying dynamics that are giving rise to the organisation’s outcomes – both good and bad.

2. Framing

Framing is putting what you ‘Notice’ out in the open – in a curious, open-minded and non judgmental way. An example of the framing within the context of a meeting might be: “I notice that every time we start talking about the ABC project our levels of engagement and enthusiasm drop…” Or framing a personal interaction: “Jack, I noticed that when Jill asked you about that report, it looked like you tuned out a little…”

Framing doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know how or why what you notice is happening. The heroic model of leadership has the adage: “Don’t bring me a problem without the solution!” The problem with this approach is that it assumes there is only one solution to a problem. It also assumes that the individual who notices the problem has the responsibility and ability to find the solution.

3. Believing that all the required wisdom lies within the group/team

Facilitative Leaders believe that the power and wisdom of an organisation lies within the group, as opposed to its individual leaders.

Facilitative Leaders have the courage, faith and skill to sit in the unknown until solutions occur organically. They resist the temptation to jump to a premature solution simply to avoid the tension of the unknown. Throughout this process they welcome a diversity of voices and opinions which address any challenge from these multiple views points and contexts (ie rational, emotional and strategic).

4. Reflection

Facilitative Leaders see the value of reflection. Reflection in this context means taking a step back from the task, reflecting on and studying the process. Reflection asks: “How are we feeling?”, “How well is this working for us?” “What are we assuming in the way we do things, and how can these assumptions be tested or challenged?” “What if we did it this way?” Often simply asking the right questions will open the space for creative and innovative thoughts and solutions. Leaders in HPWs place a value on reflection. This value means they are very adept at managing the tension between task and process.

5. There is a trust in the process

At the heart of effective facilitation lies the belief that if one can follow the group closely, notice and frame those times where the conversation needs to deepen, be open to a diverse set of view points, and hold the group on its learning edges (those places that represent the limits of a group’s knowledge, thinking or ability), new and innovative solutions to complex problems can occur. This trust is not, for most, easily obtained, but rather built over time from being witness to groups growing, changing and evolving though effective facilitation.

Please share with us what you think on how the face of Leadership is changing. And do you think are some of the key skills needed by Leaders to effectively facilitate and manage their teams?

To find out more about  True North Learning’s Leadership Development Programs visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/leadership-development/leadership-development.php


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

More often than not, at the heart of conflict lies our perceptions and feelings about power. It is often one’s sense of power (or powerlessness) that compels us to go to war, or to escalate an already existing conflict.

My learning in this area came whilst working in Sri-Lanka in 2007 as a conflict resolution facilitator. I was there with the aim to be a part of the peace process that would end the civil war that had ravaged the country for decades.

As we travelled around the country facilitating various workshops, forums and meetings, I started to see some recurrent themes. Both sides of the conflict, in this case the Government-backed Sinhalese and Tamil Tigers, believed the other side had more power. The Tamils felt oppressed by the socio-economic divide within the country and their lack of political influence. This led them to feel hopeless that the situation would ever change. The Sinhalese lived in fear that a bomb or terrorist attack could occur any place, or at any time. They felt bound by bureaucracy and of having to take actions that were seen to be ethical and legal, whereas the Tamil Tigers could resort to any means eg terrorism to exert their influence.

What became clear in facilitating these forums was that both sides felt powerless relative to the other. Both sides felt marginalised and oppressed by the power of the other. Yet both sides put a brave face on, summoned up the “power” they felt  they did have, and then used that power against the other. In the case of the Sinhalese it was the continuation of a political system that could be viewed as unjust. And in the case of the Tamil Tigers, it was to resort to the unpredictable and fear-inducing tactic of terrorism.

Some of the turning points at these forums, those moments when there was a temporary resolution to the violence, and both sides were on the same page, occurred when we were able to facilitate individuals or group to acknowledge that they were suffering. There is something about the authenticity of suffering, the raw element of human vulnerability, which makes it very difficult to escalate violence. Perhaps it is because in admitting and showing that we are hurting, we make the other side more aware of the impact that their power has on us. And in realising that power, they have less need to exert more power or escalate a conflict. Or perhaps it is because in revealing our vulnerability, we remind the other of their vulnerability, and in that moment we are both the same in that suffering.

So what does this mean for business? One of the best mechanisms to resolve and manage conflict within the workplace is to acknowledge (at least to yourself) the impact that the conflict is having on you. If you can acknowledge it to the party that you’re in conflict with, all the better. In doing this we allow the other side to see that their actions are having an impact and that they have some power. If they continue to feel powerless it is then that they seek additional ways to exert their power and influence such as forming anti-management coalitions, under performing and reducing morale, or in extreme cases litigation (where the intention is to align themselves with a very powerful force – the legal system).

I realise that this flies in the face of most corporate cultures, especially the Australian corporate culture with its sometimes harsh exterior and “She’ll be right mate” attitude. However as leaders and managers perhaps part of our personal and professional development is to find ways to lead that are more authentic and real. And in doing that, be more transparent about how things like workplace conflict impacts us and affects us.

To find out more about how True North Learning works with conflict in organisations visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/conflict-management.php

 

 

 

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

Within conflict lies the potential for growth, transformation and learning.

Workplace conflict is a symptom of the need for a change in how people communicate, the values which drive them, or the business model that is used to operate from.

Yet all too often as managers, our own past experience of conflict, a feeling of confusion or lack of skills prevent us from intervening and managing conflict in an effective manner.

The costs of conflict to a team or organisation can be significant.

There are the tangible costs to unaddressed workplace conflict. It is estimated that it costs 65% of a staff member’s annual income to replace them if they leave in a way which is unplanned. The average cost of WorkCover claims associated with grievances is $80,000.

Then there are all of the intangible impacts of unaddressed or poorly handled conflict: low team morale; high staff turnover; workplace bullying and harassment; poor productivity; lack of ownership of outcomes; and, cliques in the workplace. All these jeopardise the current and future profitability and sustainability of the business.

Yet, with a few strategies and skills, conflict can be managed so it provides a powerful impetus for change, learning and innovation. Here are 5 key strategies to effectively address workplace conflict:

  1. Attempt to address conflict as early as possible: There are usually a number of steps and escalation signs before conflict becomes overt, eg a bad mood or “vibe”, poor productivity, office gossip. Generally, the earlier we address the issues the less complicated and destructive the conflict is and the easier it is to manage.
  2. Create a safe and confidential forum for workplace conflict to be resolved: What can undermine the resolution of conflict is if those parties having the conflict don’t feel safe or fear being labelled or scape-goated. Creating a safe and confidential forum and reminding both them and ourselves that their view points and experiences are valid (no matter how diverse it may be) supports the resolution process.
  3. Be aware of the power dynamics within the workplace: One of the biggest causes of workplace conflict is a lack of awareness of power dynamics; for example, the power differential between a manager and staff member. This might make it more difficult for the staff member to speak up in disagreement. If this disagreement “festers” for long enough it can create conflict. The solution is not about making the power differential equal, but more about being aware of it and its potential implications.
  4. Think systemically: While there is usually a personal aspect to workplace conflict there is often a systemic or cultural aspect as well. Think about how open the team or organisational culture is to having honest and direct conversations. Do the leaders model and encourage these behaviours? Is there a formal feedback structure in place to create role clarity and clear expectations? The more we address these cultural and systemic issues the more we reduce the “fertile ground” for conflict to occur.
  5. Build your own capacity to deal with conflict: Most of us hate dealing with conflict, and for most of us this aversion to conflict comes from childhood conditioning and the way conflict was handled (or not handled) by our parents and adult role models. The more we can work with our own issues and find the “talents” that we developed or were forced to develop while growing up, the more capacity we have to address conflict in a proactive and effective manner.

 

To find out more about how True North Learning works with conflict in organisations visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/conflict-management.php


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

Very few people feel comfortable in the face conflict! There is something about the intensity of conflict and its unpredictable nature that makes us want to run and hide, and hope that by the time we come out, all will be well in the world again.

Ironically, this is possibly the least favourable strategy when it comes to effectively resolving and managing conflict, but more about this later.

For me personally, my baptism of fire in terms of conflict resolution training was spending time in Sri-Lanka (the land of my heritage) in 2007 working with the ongoing civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri-Lankan government. Conflict work in a war zone is very challenging, especially when the conflict has been so protracted. In a long term conflict there is a high degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and this trauma can lead to people being dissociated or detached from their emotions. When individuals are not connected to their fear, anger, grief, sense of revenge etc, a simple disagreement can turn into a shooting very quickly.

So from a facilitation standpoint there are 2 things you need to do to keep yourself safe as well as get a good outcome. Firstly, you need to notice and then
bring people’s awareness to any signals or signs of escalation. A raised voice, a rolling of the eyes, an accusation that’s just followed by a counter accusation can all be signs that things are about to get out of control. By noticing, framing and bringing the awareness of the conflicted parties to these signals, they don’t go undetected. Hence, people start to build their capacity and skills in noticing the impact and effect their behaviours have on “the other”

Secondly, as we frame these signals, we need to support and encourage the parties to talk about the feelings, beliefs and stories which underlie these
escalation signals. Talking about these signals deepens the understanding of what they mean and why they are there. This is important for both the signal sender as well as the signal receiver.

If conflict has a purpose or a reason for existence, then that reason is perhaps simple. More often than not, conflict is a symptom of the need for a greater and deeper dialogue between the conflicting parties. By supporting this process we are actually addressing the conflict at it causal level.

So back to why hiding in the corner and hoping it will go away is not a preferred strategy when it comes to conflict resolution. This just avoids or prolongs the dialogue. Like any symptom, when the underlying cause is not being addressed it gets exacerbated. But facing conflict in a more direct and proactive manner is way beyond the comfort zone of most people. For me personally, having spent time in a war zone, where if I mess up someone (including me) could get shot, gives me some perspective. This perspective allows me to perceive some yelling, screaming and perhaps even “storming off” as not so frightening. It allows me to stay centred and clear thinking in the midst of heated situations. And this is exactly what is needed in most conflicted situations- someone with a clear and centred head to facilitate and deepen the dialogue between the parties by noticing and bringing to their awareness the subtle feelings, desires, hurts and escalation events, that for the most part, they themselves ignore.

 


ON INNOVATION…..

From the data at hand it looks like we are coming out of the GFC. There are some sectors that appear to be doing well, the obvious ones being resources and finance. And there are other sectors that are still struggling a bit. Either way one of the big challenges that we all face is to be innovative. The term innovation is linked to creativity and hence it can have connotations of something a bit arty or airy-fairy. For us, when you boil it all down, the essence of innovation is simple- doing more with less.

Doing more with less builds efficiency within a business. Doing more with less allows us to both streamline our business or expand knowing that we have some margin of error.  Doing more with less creates new and exciting work environments and minimises the stress its members feel. This leads to a better work life balance, which is one of the big focuses of organisations these days.

In an increasingly competitive market place and as the pace of change only accelerates, the  businesses that survive, let alone thrive into the future are the ones that develop a strong ability to learn fast, adapt to market changes and facilitate the challenge of multiple and often competing demands.

Yet given all this, how do we be more innovative. We have found that being innovative is not some magical gift that some teams have and other don’t. Being innovative is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be learned, developed and fine tuned. For this to happen we need to place an inherent value on innovation and creativity. We need to set time and resources aside to invest in this skill development, perhaps even get some coaching around it. And we need to trust that if invest wisely in our ability to be innovative then the return on that investment will add value not only to our people and our products and services, but also to the mark our organisation leaves on the corporate landscape.

To find out more about True North’s THINC innovation program visit this link:  http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/thinc.php


On managing people….

Managing the people within our organisations is one of our most difficult tasks as leaders. To demonstrate this, let’s look at project leadership. The 3 traditional aspects which require management are time, scope and budget. While they have their own complexity, they are also relatively fixed and can be measured in very tangible and quantitative ways. These are the inanimate dimensions of an organisation or a project.

People on the other hand, as we know, are infinitely more complex. There are personal quirks, tendencies and moods. Each individual has certain work preferences and talents and their own unique profile when it comes to things like motivation, change and stress. And all of this does not take into account the interpersonal dynamics which get constellated when people work together on a common task. What happens when your “quirk” bounces off my “bad mood” or your fear of change triggers my fear of failure? It’s a recipe for chaos, not to mention a very ineffective team.

In some ways project leadership is like extreme leadership.  This is because it contains all the usual challenges of leadership along with some extra ones created by the project management model itself.

So as project leaders its so much easier to focus our attention and resources on the time, scope and budget aspects of the project. After all, they are easier to manage and to measure, and also less complex to correct should they not meet milestones. Furthermore, the technical aspects of a project eg IT or engineering fall right into our familiar skill set, so why shouldn’t we just play to our strong suit.

Here’s why!

Because simply playing to this strong suit does not necessarily help us to manage our people better. Sometimes the way forward to just ask better questions. Unfortunately, better questions can sometimes mean the answers are not as simple or as obvious. But surely, this has to be one of the responsibilities of leadership- challenging ourselves to examine the process aspects of a project as well as the task related ones.

The process aspects of leadership involve asking questions about the strength of our delegation, how well we motivate members from diverse groups, do we have a participative decision making process to support stakeholder buy in, and if our strategy is sound and sustainable. It is the courage to ask these difficult questions and the honest reflection that follows that will find solutions to these complex challenges. And that in turn will start to build high performance teams and supports organisational outcomes.

Visit our 4DPM program to find out more about how you can increase the capacity of your Project Managers to leas their people. http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/4dpm.php


On managing underperformance…. 

Here is an unfortunate fact of life. Almost every team we work with has 1 or 2 of “those” people in it. By those people we mean the people that nobody really wants to work with, in fact, they will go out of their way to avoid working with them. They are the people who lower the overall tone and morale of the team and make underperformance almost acceptable. They appear to have no motivation and are not in any hurry to change. In our work we affectionately use the pseudonym “Bob” for these people. By the way, Bob is gender neutral, but you can call them Bobette if you prefer. :-)

We want to talk about managing Bob from 2 perspectives. These perspectives are not “or” perspectives meaning its one or the other. These are “and” perspectives- meaning we need to employ both of them to get the best outcome.

The first perspective is the personal and team based one. How do we performance manage Bob? How do we make sure they are in the right role and one that is aligned to their own purpose, values, goals and interests? How does Bob’s manager manage them in terms of role-based feedback, coaching, motivation and career development? And really trying to understand the underlying drivers of his lack of motivation. And finally, how does Bobs team build a high performance culture of accountability and ownership, so that under performance is simply not acceptable. When this happens, the team culture itself serves as a managing influence on Bob? These are all important questions and need to be addressed adequately.

The second perspective is them systemic one. In our work we talk a lot about temperature checking, By that we mean taking time out and checking whether we are cooking at the correct temperature in terms of our communication, our strategy, outcomes or leadership or all of the above. So let me ask a question…..if we are boiling at too higher temperature, do we blame the water or the setting of the flame? Yes exactly!! (nod) In the same way how much of Bobs behaviour is representative of the overall operating system we are using as opposed to only a personal behavioural deficiency.

Think of it like this. You’re still using Windows XP, when the rest of the world is using Windows 7. There are going to be some software incompatibilities. We see Bobs behaviour as highlighting the fact that your operating system is out of date. This is unintentional on Bobs behalf, of course, but it doesn’t dilute the validity of the message.

What is interesting is that we often find the skills, attitudes and mindset that Bobs manager and team need to change and develop in order to manage Bob more effectively are the very same ones needed to update and then work effectively within the new operating system.

So firstly, welcome and thank your Bobs; they are here to teach you something that is potentially of great benefit to your business. And secondly use the discomfort and frustration created by Bob to find better ways to doing business.

 

To find out more about True North Learning’s Managing Under Performance Program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php


Team building is so 1990s

 Team building programs are outdated, largely irrelevant and do little – if anything – to serve organisational outcomes.

If that sounds a little crazy coming from a Director of a company whose products include team-building let me expand.

To bring it down to basics, team-building programs are designed to take people out of their usual environment, get them active – and interactive – and give everyone a fun time. It can be as simple as going ten-pin bowling or go-karting, or something more substantial such as “Hollywood Blockbuster” where everyone gets dressed up and makes TV commercials about their organisation.

But if you ask about return on investment (ROI), this level of program (if you can even call a half- or one-day event a program) is not going to provide it. When organisations start fulminating   about team-building and what they are seeking to achieve from such a session I would ask them to STOP. THINK. I mean REALLY THINK.

If the desired outcome of a team-building program for a group of your employees or managers is to have fun, and only fun, then go ahead and fire up the go-karts!

But it your team is facing some challenges and is not performing to its potential then a team-building program is a very poor investment of organisational funds.

There has been a huge shift by best-practice businesses over recent decades towards building the Behavioural Sciences into key areas including Safety, leadership, innovation and organisational culture. That’s why team-building sits within Experiential Learning programs that deliver Leadership Development, Cultural Alignment, Team Effectiveness and Coaching & Mentoring.

For performance to increase there needs to be a growth in awareness and understanding around core behaviours, and attitudinal shift. This only comes by providing an environment in which participants are allowed the space and time to reflect on, and understand, the primary drivers – both individual and team-based – of our behaviours. Only by reflecting on what we do and why we do those things, and then developing a deep understanding of those dynamics, can there be substantive and sustainable change in the effectiveness  with which individuals and teams function.

These are outcomes that weave long-term improvement into the fabric of an organisation, empowering and informing individuals and teams about why they are part of your business and how they help deliver against the short- and long-term objectives that let’s face it, are the reason that everyone is turning up to work every day.

I also want to make it clear that being engaged, inspired and feeling a sense of personal satisfaction is a deliverable with any Experiential Learning program so no one is going to miss out on their quota of fun . It’s just that there will be more value and long-term benefits both to the organisation, managers, team and individuals.

Even if the desired outcome of a simple team-building event is to “improve team morale” – one common reason we are given when an organisation seeks out this basic service – such a program is never going to create a substantive and sustainable change, or even one that goes outside the parameters of the actual event. How can it? The depth of purpose and the required structure to support ongoing change is not in place.

Team morale is a complicated phenomenon, and there are many factors which contribute to and undermine it. These include alignment to organisational purpose, clarity of communication, established career development pathways, ongoing performance review, ability to manage conflict  and so on and on and on. I am sad to report that three hours of ten-pin bowling will not even start to address any of these challenges.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace and as the pace of change only accelerates, the  businesses that survive and thrive are going to be those that develop a strong ability to learn fast, adapt to market changes and facilitate the challenge of multiple and often competing demands.

These are complicated challenges and can only be addressed by robust programs that span a period of time and build desired skills, attitudes and understanding into your operations. These programs are not a “quick fix” – they are far more  intricate and harder to design than simple team building, and require high levels of skill to facilitate.

As a result they are more expensive than an afternoon of ten-pin bowling or even the more “dressed up” team-building events, although these can actually be quite costly in themselves especially when you take into account the fact that you are losing valuable team working hours while not actually gaining any benefits that extend beyond the event.

The upside is that while it costs money to deliver the type and level of program that will make a real and sustainable difference to your business, your organisation gets a real return on investment in both financial and subjective terms.

It is on the record that having a High-Performing Workplace rather than a Low-Performing Workplace generates substantial benefits at many levels – not least of which is financial performance and productivity.

The Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing Workplaces in Australia: High Performing Workplace Index, which was commissioned by the Society for Knowledge Economics, shows clearly that HPWs perform significantly better than LPWs in key areas as outlined above, as well as innovation, leadership, employee commitment, job satisfaction and customer service. The research drew on data from 5661 employees in 77 organisations and The Financial Review published a substantial report on it late last year so I invite you to take a look.

Add to this the data from the most recent Gallup poll of 1000 working people in Australia which shows that 79 per cent are not engaged and it shows how important it is to get real results (ROI) from your team training. In fact, Gallup put a figure on these statistics, as reported in the Financial Review – this disengagement and resultant stifling of productivity costs Australian business $33.5 billion a year.

While as a facilitator I try not to give advice, in in this case I just can’t help myself. So here are my tips before you book a team-building program:

  • Be very, very clear on exactly what you are seeking in terms of outcomes from the program. Don’t delude yourself that a half-day team building program is going to address deep and complicated issues that the team or broader organisation may be facing.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. If you are not sure about where your team is right now, take the time to do some honest reflection and to seek guidance Also understand that part of a best-practice Experiential Learning approach is to undertake a baseline check to identify exactly is required. You may be surprised to identify areas of potential improvement you may not have even considered. By having the courage to identify the real challenges you will get the results – real outcomes – you want. While this reflection may present you with a much more complicated set of questions than those you started out with (how can we have fun and build team morale?) it is the answers to these questions that are going to support ongoing improvements to organisational effectiveness.
  • Don’t ask your Executive Assistant or other administrator to “do some research on team-building programs”. It is unlikely that they have sufficient in-depth awareness and understanding of the challenges being faced by a team, or the required outcomes. Sure, get the EA or PA to find some names but only a person in a leadership role with knowledge of the “big picture” and awareness of the needs of his or her team can really work with the provider to identify the best type and level of program for the desired purpose.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and dig a little deeper. If you start off thinking about dressing up and a fun day out but really want innovation, leadership, empowerment and a strong team spirit with everyone walking in step towards a single goal, don’t waste your money on that half-day session. Instead, go for a program with clear and practical outcomes that deliver you real value for money, are relevant to your objectives and are in line with today’s business expectations.

Having said all of the above, if you are still thinking about team-building because you just want people to have fun and think it might help morale, book those go-karts now.

To find out more about True North Learning’s range of Team Effectiveness and Team Building options click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/team-effectiveness/team-effectiveness.php