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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

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Do relationships matter in the work place? Relational leadership - rethinking organisational change through the lens of relationships

julian burton

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Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, University of the West of England

  • Elinor Rebeiro and Julian Burton, Delta7 Change Ltd.
  • Date: 06 December 2017 Time: 14:00 - 16:00
  • Venue: Room: 3X110, Bristol Business School, Frenchay Campus

At this workshop we want to show that the quality of interpersonal relationships is central to the wellbeing, performance and success of every organisation. This is why we believe that leaders can’t afford not to focus on building relationships as the central theme in leadership development programmes and organisational development work. We would like to use this session to share our perspective on relational leadership and shine a light on some of the unexamined assumptions we believe are maintaining cultures of disconnections and getting in the way of creating more human organisations. 

As practitioners we find ourselves enveloped in our client’s worlds. Their worlds are without doubt messy and complicated as they continually strive to achieve something different, something better. We find many leaders are experiencing more complexity and uncertainty in their role leading change, and it’s getting harder to resolve the wicked problems facing their organisations with traditional management practices. Many people feeling stuck, overworked and exhausted.

What's not working?

For example, most organisational cultures we work in don’t seem to have an emotional climate that nurtures experimenting and innovating new ways of working, yet there are strong intentions to move away from command and control and create more collaborative ways of working. The dominant view of management is that work is done transactionally by individuals (Hartling, L. and Sparks, E., 2008); yet the collaborative, interactive nature of organising and coordinating mutually interdependent tasks and roles means that effective working relationships are what gets things done (Fletcher 2001). 

We care passionately about how theory and practice can inform each other and how to combine the two things together to make them meaningful and productive for our clients. Yet we are noticing that theory still seems pretty far ahead of the reality of practice in organisations. What we are making sense of is how to connect theory and practice in a way that helps organisations but doesn’t put them off the possible innovations that can emerge from this praxis.

We will also engage in some experiential exercises to explore the different ways we can relate to each other at work and discuss how that can illuminate the direction that leadership development might need to take in order to more fully support organisations to thrive.

When was the last time you discussed your relationship with another at work?


 

What is the cost of leaving a team’s elephants in the shadows?

julian burton

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At a recent meeting I noticed my frustration in the way that we kept going off topic; I was getting tense, felt awkward and hot under the collar. I was trying very hard to work out what was best to say, hoping that no one could see the turmoil I was experiencing. In hindsight I wonder what impact I had on the other people in that meeting. And with all that going around in my head (and my body) I wasn’t able to be fully present in the meeting. In the end I felt sad that it was safer to keep quiet.

Continuing the theme of my last post on the impact of the shadows and unconscious dynamics on the quality of meetings, I’ve been thinking a lot about how often the biggest unspokens, the elephants in the shadows, can often be the behaviours of someone senior. It can take a lot of courage to bring such behaviours to their attention. Everyone in a meeting may be painfully aware of them, yet it’s far too unsafe to speak about. It can be what some people call a “CV moment”.

Have you been in a meeting recently where you have sat in silence, feeling unable to say what you really think, exchanging nervous looks, as if to say “OMG, this is intolerable!” while feeling it too risky to speak up? When people fear to give their team leader or manager feedback on how they are behaving, it can create an atmosphere of unarticulated frustration, confusion and resentment. It is possible for this to lead to a culture of low morale, "resistance" and even sabotage.

How can we stay on task and focus on what needs to be achieved when these kinds of unconscious dynamics are going on in the shadows at every meeting? I often hear that anything to do with emotions and relationships at work is called the “soft stuff” and not taken seriously. Why, for goodness sake?! It’s actually the hard stuff. And not embracing the hard stuff can cost us a tremendous amount of our time and energy, managing the confusion and uncertainties that avoiding it creates. And what is the financial cost of all this for an organisation?

Help! We need to be less reliant on help!

paul stroud

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When managers see things going wrong in a department they may respond by moving staff with key talents to help those who are struggling to cope. Hopefully these specialists will contain the situation and restore normal service, but their talents mean they could be redeployed just as quickly to be of use elsewhere. That can leave the department in the lurch; vulnerable once more, dependent as ever on external capability.

Likewise, it can seem cost effective to bring in external consultants to deal with a specific issue, but if the underlying causes remain then there's the makings of an expensive dependency - unless the required skills can be adopted by the permanent team.

Must it be a choice between getting an expert to deal with an immediate problem quickly, or equipping that department with the right tools and skills it will need to remain robust and reliable in the long term? If support doesn't include learning, then how much of a help is it in the long run?

What is the Value of Collaboration?

Elinor Rebeiro

One of the primary challenges that we experience when we work with organisations is the challenge of internal silos and people “chucking things over the wall at each other” without understanding the impact of their actions.

When you are focused each day on the challenges you and your team are facing it can firstly be overwhelming and secondly it can feel very isolating. More often than not we realise that issues have been built up and frustrations have evolved that are born of silence. When was the last time you discussed your relationship to another person at work? Probably never, right? It is still not the norm, not the done thing.

Yet what is the cost to the company of the existence of silos? In manufacturing, what is the cost of the rework it might mean? What is the cost of silos to your customer relationships? In the past collaboration, creativity and innovation have been things that organisations strived for to achieve a competitive advantage. Now it is becoming clear that they have become essential for survival.

So how do you break down these silos?

In the first instance – talk to each other. Make sense of the impact you each have and celebrate what works well.

In the second instance – contract with each other about how you will work together. Yes, it is counter to most organisational cultures to discuss such topics, but agreeing what you will do if something isn’t working for you and agreeing how you will talk about it, makes it far easier to bring up what could be seen as emotive topics.

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Me and my Shadow: How can I know what impact I have on other people in meetings?

julian burton

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For me my shadow side is the parts of me I can’t see or I’m completely unconscious of that drive my behaviours and has a significant impact on the quality of my relationships. Have you been in a meeting recently and felt disempowered by someone who has dominated the conversation so much that there was no space for anyone else’s views? Or it felt too risky to share your thoughts, let alone give them feedback on their impact on you?

I’ve only learnt recently that sometimes my silence in a meeting can shut others down more often than my voice does! Since getting that gift of feedback I’ve become more sensitive to what happens in the interactions that I'm taking a part in. And I've become more curious about how I show up, and now want to learn more about the parts of my shadow that closes down others' voices and contributions.

Given that I can’t normally see my own behaviours, I really need others to give me honest feedback on what they see and the impact they have. The trouble is there can often be different realities existing simultaneously in a meeting; what I think I’m doing and how I like to think I’m showing up, and how others see me behaving. It can be obvious to other people how I’m behaving, yet hard or impossible for them to give me feedback if they don’t trust me or it doesn’t feel safe enough.

This is a real bind for me, as how can I learn to develop my self-awareness if it’s not safe enough for others to speak up and give me feedback on my behaviour?  If I don’t know what impact I’m having I can’t learn to change my behaviours - to the ones that could create the relationships of trust needed for it to be safe enough for people to give me feedback in the first place! AARRGHH!

Moving on from my frustrations, I’ve been getting a sense that I need to work on learning to listen more deeply and actively, from a calmer place, responding differently from this position and noticing what happens. If the quality of trust shifts, I hope to get more feedback that can shine some light onto to the parts of my shadow that seem to close down others and get in the way of more open and honest conversations.

 

 

 

 

Enhancing positive human factors; a common thread between K.M. and O.D.?

julian burton

The Henley Forum; Building Connections workshop 27th June  2017

We were at the Henley Forum recently for a workshop on building connections, and got to share some thinking on relational leadership and the importance of relationship building in Organisational Development (O.D.). Two of the other presentations on the day we liked explained how certain human factors constrain knowledge flow and the concept of networking mapping. Factors such as silo mentality, stress, fatigue, politeness, fear, positional power, social norms and emotional risks can often constrain people sharing ideas and knowledge, and this really resonated with our experience doing O.D. with clients. It's interesting to explore the connections between the Knowledge Management(K.M.) and O.D. fields, and what links these two different ways of looking at organisations.

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K.M. could look different framed from an O.D. perspective, by thinking about knowledge as a process of knowing or knowledge creation as having conversations, rather than as objects of information to be transferred or stored. Given that enabling positive human factors is critical to effective knowledge sharing, and organisational functioning in general, looking at it from a more human-focused perspective could be fruitful. Shifting metaphors can be a good place to start. Extracting, capturing, retrieving and storing knowledge are good terms for understanding how computers work with information, but are they useful for working productively with the richness of human experience and relationships?

Knowledge sharing can’t always be controlled or contained: it has a life of its own. In the same way, as soon as someone tries to control a conversation, it deadens the interaction and we can lose energy, motivation and sometimes even the will to live! What we know is always changing and evolving.  It can be a messy yet deeply human process. 

Knowledge that is created in, emerges from, flows between and existed in the space between people is something that is easily extracted, particularly if someone is afraid to share something. Knowledge is something that lives in and between us, in the ways we come to know things and how we share what we know is a wonderfully human, natural, spontaneous and unpredictable process. When you are doing a new K.M. project we suggest you broaden it by starting with the daily human realities we work in, and how we experience knowledge sharing, and what factors get in their way. 

Giving more attention to the positive human factors and behaviours that build relationships would enable a more natural and effective flow of knowledge throughout an organisation. We think that by investing more in people and supporting them to learn relational skills you could significantly enhance your investment in the K.M. tools you already have in place.