‘Are-you-ok-I-am-ok’

It was Day 2 of the Gobi race and we were somewhere midway in the 96km race.   Right in the middle of the day, all were tired and some were injured.   Whilst I was at the front using the GPS to navigate, I noticed that Danny (pseudonym) was at the back of the line, and falling behind more and more from the pack.   He did not look good. 

I picked up the walkie-talkie and asked him, ‘Are you ok?’.   He replied. ‘I am ok’    I then carried on the walking.

This sounds like a normal and caring exchange.  But subsequently, I realize that this kind of ‘Are-you-ok-I-am-ok’ transactions is one of the BIG reasons why we performed so badly in Day 1 and Day 2.   This is probably a major reason why teams at work failed to unleash its potential better.

Why so?   It is about what was probably going on…. actually:

Overt >>> ‘Are you ok?’                       

Covert >>>‘‘You do not look good.  You probably need some help to pick up the speed for us all. We do not want to finish last again!   But I do not want to make you look weak.  And I do not want to be rejected if I offer concrete help.  I better just check gently only.’

Overt >>> ‘I am ok’

Covert >>> ‘Man, I am in big trouble.  My leg can hardly move and I am slowing the team down.   But I cannot look weak in front of the others.   And you may not really want to help.  You just asked out of courtesy.   It is better to say I am ok’

Apparently, the ‘Are-you-ok-I-am-ok’ transactions covered up opportunities for the team to improve.    A team can perform better than a collection of people only if the members can share their resources and capabilities.   This means that a high-performing team can transfer ‘resources / capability surplus’ from the stronger to the weaker.   (Note that one can be stronger in a particular aspect e.g. physical strength but weak in another e.g. navigation)

It was a big ‘Aha’ to me as this above ideas came to my mind during our joint reflection.  I felt so shitty – How could I be consumed by the personal pride / fear of rejection at the expense of team performance?   Instead of asking ‘Are you ok?’, it made more sense for me to just go behind Danny and pushed him, or to pull him with a hiking pole.   Whilst I sensed that it was not just me gone off-task this way, I shared in our circle in our tent something like this, 

‘I, may be even we, have been fxxking (deliberate choice of words) too polite to each other…….   This has been keeping us from getting better……   To be specific, we have no option but SHAMELESSLY:

  • Ask for help
  • Accept help
  • Offer help’

Others laughed and we started to talk about this problem. This apparently helped bringing the undiscuss-able more discussable.   Subsequently, with other factors, we did step up our ‘shameless’ exchange of help on Day 3.

Further reflection will lead to the next question – how can a team battle against the obstacles (e.g. personal pride / fear of rejection) to ‘shameless’ exchange of help ?    The ‘triangle’ in the book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ answers the question well.   What need to achieve is the vulnerability-based trust (as described by the model) i.e. readiness to admit mistake, weakness and concerns to the fellow team members.    A key to build such trust is personal disclosure e.g. personal history, personality profile (and stories behind it), among other things mentioned in the book.

I feel so grateful of such lively and personal lesson in illustrating models in books.

Leadership Development in Gobi desert

Experiential learning to an extreme – a leadership development program in the form of a team walking race for 96km in 2.5 days over the Gobi desert (part of the Silk Road) Lot of memorable moments, and most importantly reflection on leadership, teamwork, learning design and my own development. Zero internet and each team sleeping together in a tent helped. Perhaps we were even mobilized by the collective unconscious of the Xuanzang 玄裝 history / myth to endure hardship and pursue wisdom…..

Facilitation Work as a Cover-Up

img_5403I was shown in a facilitation learning event a short video clip.   It is about a retreat for 50+ people in an organisation design and facilitated by a facilitator   It is the kind of upbeat video with delightful music which showed the smiling faces, colourful wall-charts, fun activities, etc.   There were captions indicating how much the participants happily connected, enjoyed the event, praised about the organisation, etc.

A big question mark came to my mind after I watched the clip – “What really did the event do to the organisation?”    I asked for the objective statements and have to say that the event seemed to meet the objectives e.g. ‘to have a fun, engaging, high energy day’    There were probably also ‘practical outputs’ contributing to the organisation’s strategy and purpose.

But from the clip (and in particular its mood), I questioned whether the event is actually a cover-up to any organisational issue.   Is it actually a dis-services to the organisation?

This post is not a critics to this piece of work.  In fact, if it is a critics, it is a critics to myself.    I have done similar events producing lot of fun and energy, and lot of flipcharts with long list of bullet points.   Well, those events produced what the sponsor wanted…  sometimes perhaps exactly a layer of cover-up.   But is it what the organisation needed?   How much I should and can push the sponsor to spend the resources on addressing the issues under the cover-up?

Well, this is very much related to my last post re my reflection on collusion.

 

 

 

Unconscious Collusion with Learners

“I’ll say nice things about your workshop / coaching if you spare me the pain in learning about myself.”

I was reading an article, and there is a line like above (I modify it a bit).    The collusion we can get into unconsciously….  e.g. probably simply with an exchange of eye contact and smile.   The question is ‘Am I colluding?’   Or I should say ‘To what extent I am colluding?’    I think it is an important question to reflect on from time to time.   This is for everyone who is in the business helping others develop.

Drawing out thoughts and emotions (Cont’d)

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[.. continued from last post]

Third, it is the space.  We held the session in her quiet little penthouse in a very old house.   From where I sit, I can see the trees through a small window.   The room is ‘populated’ with books.   The lighting is mild and it is always very quiet.    I find such environment to be like magic to me.   I feel like I am in a private and safe space.   I believe it makes a big difference.   To illustrate the point, if the same analyst runs the sessions with me in a corporate board room (especially if I work in the same company), I think we could hardly go that deep.    Overall, I do not think we always need exactly this particular set up in order to make people talk.   But the point is to create a safe and cozy space….  at least to avoid the corporate board room….

Last point. I come up the above for coaching and facilitation with an assumption.   For coaching, my assumption is that it is to draw out thoughts and / or emotions which would not be expressed without the work of coaching.   It is different from psycho-analysis, basically, in a way that coaching is future-focused.   But it is also about drawing out thoughts and / or emotions from the coachees.    The same applies to facilitation to group.   Whilst coaching is about enabling conversation with self, facilitation is about enabling conversations with each others.

There are of course some types of coaching and facilitation which are more transactional, and the above points are less relevant.

See also previous posts on similar topics – Power of ‘Question’ & ‘Space’ and What does a facilitator do?   Space and Time.

 

Drawing out thoughts and emotions

 

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In my exploration of what some people called ‘Depth Psychology’, I have been receiving psycho-analysis in recent months.    There are a lot of angles for me to reflect on the experience e.g. feeling and sensation, mid-life, family.   In this post, let me take the perspective of facilitation and coaching.

We had very deep conversation in the sessions.   I could not help thinking – ‘What made the analyst so successful in drawing out thoughts and feeling from me?’   Further the question is ‘What can I learn from these sessions for facilitation and coaching?’    Well, there are factors which are specific to psycho-analysis e.g. her particular questioning skills in helping me make association with dream.   But there are some which can be borrowed to facilitation and coaching.

First, to start with, I am open to her because it is my own choice to work with her.   We had a chemistry session in advance like the those in some executive coaching arrangement.  Sometimes, this is applicable in group facilitation.   I know of a practitioner who was once asked by a CEO to do a challenging team development work.   He sat the condition that he would only take the job if he could interview 1 on 1 every single top team member and no one refused his appointment as the facilitator.  (How smart he is!    The interviews themselves were probably already interventions!)

Second, it is my analyst’s silence.   After she asked a question, or when we were like running out of things to talk about, she managed to keep silent with her gentle eye contact.   In particularly, I am impressed with her way to start almost each sessions.   She greeted me, we took our seats, and then she just remained silent and waited for me to start!    To me, this was more stimulating than questions like ‘So, what would be useful to talk about today?’

[To be continued….]

Individuation, Abstract Art and Corporate Learning (Part 1)

This post is related to my recent exposure to Jungian psychology and in fact the last post on Abstract Art.

I set out the Swiss journey as an opportunity to discover.   In this spirit, I attended a workshop in the Jungian institute in Zurich earlier this year.   Frankly, I was lost like 50% of the time during the workshop.   All the strange terminologies are difficult to me.   The one-way lecture (even reading from note sometimes) did not help much.

Yet, I am fascinated with some of the concepts.   Above all, I love the idea of individuation.   Jung advocated that the goal in life for all is to achieve individuation or self realization.  To become undivided.  It implies becoming one’s own self / a psychological ‘individual’ / a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole’    The individuation process will lead to mental health or a healthy functioning personality.   By individuation, it means to confront contents of the unconscious to bring about a more harmonious balance between the different part of the psyche (i.e. mind or soul)

And on the idea of unconscious – Jung advocated that the psyche consists of 3 parts – conscious, personal unconscious and collective unconscious.    The conscious is the part of the psyche which one is aware of.  The personal unconscious is composed of repressed elements from one’s personal history.    The collective unconscious is composed of elements which are inherited and which all humans share.

The ideas make sense to me.   I believe that each of us is unique by nature.   Yet, for most if not all of us, the first part of our lives is to ‘fit in’.   We are normed (parented and educated) to find some socially acceptable roles and play well in those roles e.g. to be a good son / daughter, to be a successful banker / teacher.   In order to fit in, I suspect that most of us suppress some parts of ourselves.    After we find our place in the society, it makes sense to find and play to our true-selves.   Probably one will never become totally his / her true-self but I think the path towards it would be fulfilling already.  And I think it is a natural process for most.

In fact, this coincides with my own experience.   Majority of my coaching clients are 40 plus / minus.   Most are drawn to work on a similar issue – ‘I have done well in what I am doing.  If I continue, I am sure I will still do well.   But I am not sure whether I shall spend my remaining life on this.’    Some may call it mid-life crisis.   It seems to me examples of how people are drawn to the individuation process.

The idea of ‘confronting the unconscious’ also makes a lot of sense.   I believe most have experienced occasions which we cannot explain how we came to certain decisions or what made us having certain emotion.   Or suddenly some of our long-lost memory came back just because of a specific smell.  There is some part of our mind which we are not conscious of. We parked, filtered out and forgot some parts of our mind personal unconscious), and we inherited some since we were born (collective unconscious).

In order to find and play to our true-selves, we thus need to approach the unconscious.   And that is where the Abstract Art comes in.  The hypothesis is that we can surface our unconscious by free association.   It seems to me a painting without immediate and direct meaning would be useful in inducing free association.   It is NOT what it is.   It is what YOU are.    I think the same logic applies to dream analysis.

What do you think?

Assuming the above is true (if there is any truth in the world….), I wonder what the implication is to corporate learning?   Let me ponder on it and share later.