Tavistock Experience

I attended a Tavistock Group Relations Conference last Dec. It is a very unique experience to me.   It is a weird one as well.   There was a lot of ‘stuck-ness’, ambiguity and sometimes emotion in the conference.   It is ‘empty’ (in a neutral sense) where each participant can make different senses out of the experience.  I have been asking myself how I would summarise the conference.    In reflecting with another participant, here is what comes to my mind:

The conference is about surfacing the assumptions I have on how people interact in group by putting me in groups without an explicit task.

So, what assumptions have been surfaced so far?   For me,

– I assume that a group should always have a common purpose.  Otherwise, it is not a group.   I become irritated when people gather without a common purpose or any effort to pursue one.

– I have natural tendency is to be of service to the others (or the common purpose above).   Even when I consciously tried to suppress such tendency, I fell back into the default role from time to time.

– I assume that ‘there is THE right answer to things’.    This leads to my another strong assumption that ‘I need to pursue to the right answers’      Whilst intellectually I understand that sometimes there is NO right answer, I find myself acting and thinking on the assumption that there is one.

I have a sense that more ‘learning’ will come after the conference as I contrast this unusual group experience with daily one…

‘If I could choose again, would I go to the conference despite its weirdness?’    Yes, I would.   In relation to my summary statement above, I think the conference gives me very unique opportunity to see myself in groups.


Leadership Development


A friend of mine once attended a Leadership Development workshop all the way in the US.   I supposed it was a huge investment by the company who hired an external facilitator and flew talents from all over the world.   I was surprised when my friend showed me her course material.   It was basically a presentation skills workshop.  And they did do the typical presentation training drill e.g. stand up to present, video-taped, receive feedback, etc.    I wonder how could a presentation skills workshop be considered as ‘Leadership Development’.

What is ‘Leadership Development’ after all?

In fact, if you ask 10 business executives what they will expect to happen in a ‘Leadership Development’ workshop, you probably have 10 different answers.  Probably very different ones.   It is like the term ‘Leadership’.   See my earlier post on ‘Really.. what is Leadership?’   Further, in my experience, ‘Leadership Development’ does not always carry a good reputation.   Some find it very vague and disregard it.   Some will welcome it because of the wrong reason e.g. being invited to attend one means ‘I am in the club’.   

On reflection, there is actually one (probably unconscious) definition on ‘Leadership Development’ that causes this problem.    To many, ‘Leadership Development’ means any development intervention to people in the leadership position.   By this definition, this really could mean anything, including presentation skills workshop.

Well, there is no right or wrong definition.   I guess the question is whether it is useful.   And if it is useful, it should base on a conscious definition on what ‘Leadership’ is.


Rethinking Facilitation

Nov 13 G100It was a recent talent development workshop co-facilitated by me.   In short, in a few occasions I thought that we were about to hit the brick wall.   But it did not turn out to be the case.   In fact, there were a few participants whom I had anticipated to be upset with our arrangement.   Yet, they turned out to be among those who appreciated the workshop the most (according to our 1-on-1 conversations)

It forces me to challenge some of my assumptions on my facilitation work.   My current assumptions are:

•    Facilitators (to be specific the learning facilitators) should ALWAYS support AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE the participants to the extent that the latter are pleased.
•    Facilitators (again for learning) should NEVER trick the participants to failure, even for the good intention of experiential learning

I have thought very hard on point 2.  I think I will still hold point 2 though it seems that the learners did not really mind.  In the language of ‘Immunity to Change’, point 1 is probably a BIG ASSUMPTION. And I would like to assume differently now:

•    Facilitators should ALWAYS support the participants.  The purpose however is to achieve the contracted learning objective but NOT to please them.   In fact, in order to achieve the objectives, the participants may get upset during the process.

The question for myself – What else can I do to shift my BIG ASSUMPTION?

Immunity to Change


It is beautiful! …  if you ask me how I feel about overall Immunity to Change (ITC) approach.   I have recently attended a workshop on this run by the author himself – Dr. Robert Kegan.  See more on the HBR article – ‘The Real Reason People Won’t Change’ or a short description on the Kegan’s website.

A few key reflections in my experience to the approach:

  • I am fascinated by the underlying concept of ‘Subject-Object’.  It is such a simple term but capture a great deal;
  • I have been in touch with a few very interesting concepts in the last few years i.e. ‘Adaptive Challenge’, ‘Mindset’ (in how it affects performance), ‘S-curve’, etc.   The ITC approach nicely integrates for me all these, especially when I read the Immunity to Change book;
  • In particular, I am intrigued by the thought – if developing our leadership is largely an adaptive challenge, the work of finding out the prohibiting mindset (or brake) is actually about identifying what the problem really is.   And amazingly, the 4-column process helps us do this;
  • Re ‘Mindset’, the ITC is the first most systematic approach on how to identify the ‘outdated’ mindset in the context of change;
  • ‘Change’ is a big topic.  More importantly, I am in the business helping people to change.   The ITC approach will probably be a key element in my practice systematically.

And some other reflections in the form of questions:

  • How possible and appropriate to have a 4 column module to end every training workshop in order to enhance real change will happen after such training investment?
  • ITC / 4c process is a beautiful concept. What is the similar / equivalent idea that the Chinese philosophers have come up in the past give our reflective nature and long history?

Why ‘Group’ for ‘Individual’?

IMG_7402In recent years, I am more attracted to work with intact teams rather than ‘open programs’.   (By ‘open programs’, I mean that the participants actually do not work with each other back in the office.)    In addition, when the focus is actually on individual development, it seems that one-on-one coaching is more effective than group work, cost consideration aside.

Yet, I am reminded the advantages of group work as I am reading a HBR article.   It is called ‘The Real Reason People Won’t Change’.    It describes a group process to examine individuals’ unconsicous ‘Big Assumption’ (mindset in my previously-used language) and thus ‘Competing Commitment’ which prevents us from realise change we aspire to.  It is a wonderful process.

The article argues – ‘…Left to their own devices people tend to create tests (part of the process) that are either too risky or so tentative that they don’t actually challenge the assumption and in fact reaffirm its validity… ‘    Simply having someone else to listen forces us to be more conscious.

It also says – ‘…. It can be very powerful to guide people through this diagnostic exercise in a group – typically with several volunteers making their own discoveries public – so people can see that others, even the company’s star per-formers, have competing commitments and inner contra-dictions of their own…. ‘    People are motivated by peer.

True – we cannot have this for one-on-one work.

London Experience

IMG_6351I had a great workshop in London.   A really good one!    First, the learners are great.   They are mature yet with high intellectual curiosity.   They are open to new way of thinking yet not hesitated to challenge.

(This in fact leads to another reflection.    It is at least equally to get the nomination right than facilitate right in order to achieve a great workshop.   See my earlier post on ‘Miracle happens before and after’)

Second, I am glad that I realise myself to be ‘international’ again.   It is the first time I facilitate in Europe.   I was anxious about it.   However, once I started, I forgot I was in Europe.   In fact, I needed to remind myself so.   See ‘I am international’.

Lastly, I received some great constructive feedback.   I need to let go.   On reflection, I think I have a belief that ‘It is always helpful to drive myself and others to the standard I want.’    I need to replace this mindset with another more useful.   Don’t know what it is but got to work on it.   At the moment, it may jeopadize my relationship with others and thus prevents me from enjoying others’ different strengths.

This piece of work possibly leads me to some break-through if I can adjust myself.   Well, in other word, failure to do so would be my bottle-neck.

In addition, this will be a great practice on my leadership.   I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and embrace diversity.    I have talked so much about this in workshops.   Now it is a great opportunity for me to take my own pill.

Never perfect

photo(7)I suspect that this is true – there will never be a ‘perfect’ facilitated session.   I came to this realisation when I facilitated a discussion a few weeks ago in Shanghai.   Despite various effort, thing went ‘wrong’ as a participant criticized rather emotionally on the process I used and how we I facilitated.    What was more challenging was that a few other participants said they liked the process.   So, views were different…   quite a lot.

It was not the first time that things became out of control unexpectedly during my facilitated sessions.   There was a time when my session was ‘hijacked’ by a participant.   And there was another occasion when some participants simply thought that they should not be there.

On reflection, I think it is in the ‘nature’ of facilitation that we cannot have everything in control.   No matter how well we designed, planned and engaged the participants in advance, something unexpected could happen.

With my limited knowledge, I think it can be described by Chris Arygris’ Model I and II.    It is more ‘useful’ to adopt Model II (Mutual Learning) rather than Model I (Unilateral Control).   The former helps people make informed decision with better buy-in.   Yet it requires all (including facilitator) not to be obsessed with winning.   So, I simply need to have a mindset ‘it is OK not to be prefect’.