I’ve been wondering about how power effects people in meetings and what is the impact on health and performance…What do you see in this picture? How does it feel? What are some consequences for each person and their organisation?
At our last ODNE SE gathering last week, We explored and shared experiences of how to create a learning culture, and how can we pay attention to what matters. One theme that came up in discussion was the idea that when people are working on their tasks, and may feel under pressure, they can find it hard to find time and space to build relationships. As someone remarked, it’s ironic that taking time out from delivery and spending time to learn about each other is critical for improving how we deliver our work predominantly interdependent tasks. It may feel really hard to make time for relationships as they are at the heart of any culture of improvement.
We have been looking at what some call the dominant view of management that believes 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).
If learning to nurture working relationships are so critical, why we do we call it the soft stuff?
This picture was inspired by a fascinating HR network event I attended a few weeks ago hosted by the People Director Partnership’s Richard Goff. It had a great panel discussing “what will the Government do next?” The panel consisted of Dr Hannah White, Deputy Director, Institute for Government; Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director, CBI; Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, TUC. I was struck with the complexity of the situation and how all three speakers noted the degree of polarisation between the parties that seems to be splitting the government in two and the need for a long term shared vision for our country.
What do you see in this picture? What’s missing?
You may have a bold vision of the best way forward - but does your team share it?
Will they follow you?
Sometimes I’m unsure about the contribution I make when working with organisations that are going through change. I drew this image of how I felt last week about working in an apparently failing system.
Recently I've talked to several people about our public sector systems and heard about their first-hand experiences, and the what they see in this picture.
What do you see in this picture?
What is your experience?
Here are a few responses that people have kindly shared;
“I see this huge pipeful of energy about to explode... And disconnection.. Both in those trying to keep it together and the one who is curled up, in pain, in doubt and in helplessness. I feel reassured seeing this image knowing that we are talking about this futility and disconnection....”
“Do we stop trying to cover the gaps with plasters and rip them off.... come at it with a new approach, fresh eyes?”
“There's still a few more plasters left in the box. All is not quite lost.”
“We seem to be facing failure on a global scale and it's easy to feel like the kneeling figure on the right (I often do...) And... it's important to process these feelings, to acknowledge them and bring them to the surface such that we can join in grief and despair.”
“I see people who are noticing and not turning a blind eye. People using whatever resource they have (big or small) to stem the flow. People drawing attention to the issue, calling for help or action. And just on the periphery are more people combining resource, talent, skill in order to rebuild the system (with environmentally friendly materials, of course). Big effort takes longer to mobilise and co-ordinate but it needs those brave few to triage until the rest arrive.”
This picture was inspired by a recent conversation with a client. They were describing the behaviour of two people in a meeting. They were facing off against each other on opposing views on what needed to change, and which was best for the organisation. This my interpretation of the metaphors they used.
When change is scary it’s natural to want to stay safe, stick to your point of view and not listen to others. Change can brings up feelings of anxiety, which I often try to deny, avoid or defend against with my ego armour. My ego wants to be certain and right and on its own familiar ground. When we are under threat, its job is to keep us safe from harm. But to adapt to change we need to risk letting go of what we are sure about, and move towards something new. If we’re going to lead change, and genuinely serve people, there’s no place for unconscious ego if it’s getting in the way. We need to be willing to drop the defences and to go first into the unknown...
How do you see this happing in your organisation? How do you work with it?
When an organisation is going through a potentially uncertain period of change there can be a tendency for a distance to arise between leadership and staff. Decision-making in such volatile environments can be fraught with disagreements and ambiguities, with leaders finding themselves debating more and more on which course of action to take. Sometimes there is just too much input to consider and the temptation is to limit the options and control the situation.
From the point of view of those not sitting in the decision-making circle it can feel difficult to influence or even be heard by the top table - leading to widespread frustration. A communication void further exacerbates the situation, with people filling it with rumour and speculation about what is going on “up there”.
The onus is on the leadership to be aware of this dynamic in times of uncertainty and do what it can to include, involve and listen to employees’ concerns and perspectives. Getting a broader viewpoint on a problem is rarely a bad thing and often the solution lies with those who do the work.
In today’s business context the only certainty there is, is that everything will be uncertain! To be able to deal with the complex and ambiguous nature of the challenges we face we will be more reliant than ever on the quality of the relationships and conversations that we have in organisations. More often than not these are overlooked when a strategy is being considered and generally termed to be the ‘soft stuff’ while in our experience this is actually the hardest part of any programme to deliver.
Building relationships is at the heart of any successful culture change and central to improving performance in every organisation. Businesses today cannot afford to overlook the importance of relationship building when delivering transformation and culture change programmes.
We use Visual Dialogue, Creativity and Narrative to build relationships across organisations. By creating safe spaces for people to make sense of difficult relational issues, we help co-create practical tools to start building the better relationships that underpin successful culture change.