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 alumni, 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 specific tasks.

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

– I assume that groups should have a common purpose.  Otherwise, it is not a group.   I become irritated when people gather despite lack of common purpose or the pursuit to have 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 it, 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 or being 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 group.

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Power of Facilitation

Michael Sandel 2I talked about Professor Michael Sandel before here.  See the post ‘What’s the Right to do?’   I am drawn to his works again recently given what is going on in Hong Kong around the ‘Occupy-Central’ initiative.

Putting the content aside, I am amazed again how his facilitation has helped the debate. As mentioned by him in his interview with BBC, his work is basically to enable public debates though there may not be agreements at the end. I think it makes sense and he has done a great job.

Moreover, he has been enabling debates in different countries like China, Japan, etc. In one of his forum in Japan, the comments from the audience speak for the power of facilitation. See the news report here.

“We tend to shy away from these debates, worried that we might hurt other people’s feelings. But with the help of a good facilitator, Japanese people, too, can have an active discussion.”

And perhaps the biggest attraction of the “Sandel Theater,” as Hayakawa Publishing President Hiroshi Hayakawa called it, was that the professor demonstrated an exceptional ability to put people at ease, treating everyone equally and with respect — as seen in his policy of calling everyone by their first name.

In fact Kan, who said he found Sandel more inspiring than U.S. President Barack Obama, confessed he was “almost in tears” when Sandel called his name. Kimiko Morinaka, 38, a volunteer counselor from Hokkaido, was likewise thrilled.

“When I saw the NHK program, I felt very strongly that I wanted to participate in such an outstanding course,” Morinaka said. “Coming here tonight was my dream come true. I had long dreamed of being asked, ‘What’s your name?’ “

PS See his recent talk on ‘What Money Can’t Buy’.   Amazing examples and arguments!

Sit on your hands and shut up

I heard a veteran facilitator talking about Open Space earlier this month. Great wisdom. She said that there are 3 necessary conditions to make Open Space work. First, there are burning issues which the participants care collectively. Second, all participants join the event voluntarily. Third, the sponsor (who calls for the event) is really interested what may emerge from the process.

If these are in place, after giving the instruction, the facilitator should just sit on his / her hand and shut up.   It is so true but not exactly easy to do.

To the contrary, an Open Space will surely fail if the participants as a community do not see any burning issue, some (if not all) of them are ‘forced’ to join the event and the sponsor calls for the event just for sake of doing it. For the last point, the worst is that the sponsor in fact has his / her solutions in mind already.

 

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Is Training (alone) a form of Work Avoidance?

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‘…  Beyond selection, leadership development is a line manager’s daily responsibility.   Training and development processes like those we design in our consulting services are no substitute for regular on-the-job debriefing….’  

From The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

This is so true.  It is such a common illusion held by managers (me included) that sending people to development interventions (mostly training course) is THE answer to develop people.   The managers in fact are the most important teachers as we can role model, coach, give feedback, reward etc on timely basis…  frequently.   This is more the case for soft-skills capabilities e.g. leadership, managerial skills, presentation, but also applies to technical skills to a certain extent.

Some more reflections on this:

1. Our contribution – L&D practitioners actually help create this illusion.   We are eager to help, sometimes, by doing more and better at what we know i.e. running workshops.   Sometimes we could unconsciously convince the managers that attending workshops is the magic pill.   Politically, in order to justify the existence of a training department, we make ourselves busy.   The immediate answer is more workshops.   We are promoting technical fixes to an adaptive challenge.

2. Reward – In most organisations I know, managers are not rewarded for developmental work.  At least for most managers I know, they do not see it this way.   Even though some companies measure managers’  developmental effort, the norm is that such effort can be ‘sacrificed’ in the name of quarterly business result.

3. Organisational Collusion – Somehow, simply putting people into workshops is easy for the managers as well.   We (in fact the whole system) do not need to face the pain in adapting ourselves to be people developers.   In a way,  is training a form of work avoidance (from the organisational perspective)?

See my related previous posts

How much does training matter? (2008)

How much does training matter? Cont’d (2008)

Be careful about L3 and L4 (2014)

 

 

‘Diversity’ from Ancient Chinese

When I hear the following Chinese saying idiom from a radio broadcast, it rings the bell.

兼听则明,偏信则暗

This one is extracted from a conversation between a Tang Emperor and his ‘Prime Minister’ over 1,300 years ago.     The literal translation is:

You will be enlightened if you hear different opinion.   You will be muddled if you just hear opinion from one side.

This piece of advice is rather straight-forward.   We all know that we should hear different viewpoints.   But it is easy said than done.   We are so tempted to side toward opinion we would like to hear or those similar to ours.     In a way, it is a common sense but not a common practice.

There is another layer of connection for myself especially in the frame of Adaptive Leadership – If the problem is a technical one, we do not need much of different opinions.   We just need to identify who the expert is, and then follow the best practice.    Not necessarily easy to implement but we can be rather efficient in knowing what to do.    But if the situation is adaptive by nature, we need different interpretations on what is going on and ideas on how to approach the challenge.   More importantly, we need to create space for the people involved to air and hear different opinions.    This allows both emergent practice and people (and their thought to be exact) to change.

As an example, if the problem is about how to perform a successful heart surgery or produce the best credit analysis report, it is technical.   It is not easy but we can go to the experts.    But if the challenge is about how to make the patient live a healthier life or install sustainability as a company value, it is adaptive.   There is no best practice but just emergent ones.   The ‘leader’ (not necessarily the one in the authority position) need to listen to the people involved and mobilise as well as allow them to experiment.

I think in a way the challenges a Chinese emperor faced were largely adaptive by nature.   As such, cultivating diverse opinions was generally the way to go.

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Leadership Development

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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.