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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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Filtering by Category: Relationships

Self-disclosure, team cohesion and the importance of sharing stories

julian burton

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I’ve recently been thinking about how important self-disclosure is in building relationships, and how I can learn to make it more of a part of my personal development. What started me thinking about this was a recent inspiring story about how England’s football squad learnt self-disclosure to build the trust and cohesion in the team we saw this summer in Russia.

In a recent Guardian article about the England football team’s sports psychologist, Pippa Grange, has been credited with their relative success in the 2018 World Cup by, amongst other things, encouraging self-disclosure amongst team members. As part of their training before the tournament, they regularly sat together and shared some of their intimate experiences and feelings, particularly around their fears about failure. The point, Southgate has said, is to build trust, “making them closer, with a better understanding of each other”.

Yet it can often be confronting to take of the armour off and share feelings and experiences at work. A lack of trust can mean that it’s not safe enough to reveal personal truths such as fear of failure. When you create a safe space to share its possible to learn about each other’s experiences, and in the process change our stories about ourselves and each other. As with the England team’s example, self-disclosure fosters stronger bonds between team members, uniting them around a common task or purpose and so improving performance. 

In our experience we find that the most meaningful and motivating narratives are co-created through sharing stories. When people have opportunities to share how they feel, what they value and what motivates them, the shared narrative that emerges builds a stronger sense of belonging and common purpose. It’s common in organisations these days for leaders to want to create a new strategic narrative. Developing a shared narrative helps groups make sense of change, linking personal experience and identity to the organisation purpose and its wider context. 

In the 2014 World Cup, it was reported that some of the England players were actually questioning whether they wanted to play or not, such was their fear of failure. Compare that to 2018. When Fabian Delph’s wife was about to give birth, his team paid for a chartered jet to allow him to be there for it and get back in time to play Belgium. 

This is a wonderful story about Pippa Grange’s vision and commitment for creating a new team narrative of belonging and cohesion, nurtured through taking risks and encouraging the self-disclosure that led to a more effective team that we can all be proud of.

The Picture in the Attic

paul stroud

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Every once in a while there is news of a trusted, successful brand that suddenly lurches into unexpected trouble. More than suffering from misfortune, they are revealed as deeply flawed, and are not what they seemed to be at all. When the internal reality doesn’t match the projected image they are effectively living a double life - one that is ultimately unsustainable.

Is it unreasonable for an organisation to want to project a flattering picture of itself, to instil pride and confidence in it’s staff and customers, while shying away from contemplating its faults and weaknesses, be they systemic or those of individuals?

Imagine if all the challenging, difficult stuff could manifest itself in a ghastly hidden picture instead of being lived, worked-out and resolved – like some fantastic deception in a gothic novel. That could be tempting, especially if problems are being suffered and managed by others and all the easier to disregard. Some may consider things are better left unsaid, to allow them to be managed discreetly and preserve the reputations (and dignity) of those involved.

However, exploring troubling issues openly can establish their true extent throughout the organisation, as well as offering a valuable opportunity to share experiences, correct misconceptions, and learn from each other.

While it may be appealing to avoid the upfront cost and disruption of directly confronting difficulties, how costly will it be in the long run to constantly bend to accommodate them? An informed, strategic response can attempt to share out the burden more fairly, rather than leave problems to be borne by just the individuals directly impacted. That could make for a story with a happier ending for everyone, not just those telling it.

Crushed and squeezed - do you recognise this?

Elinor Rebeiro

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My colleague drew this image the other day after we were discussing some of the challenges employees experience in their day-to-day work environment. Does it resonate?

It makes me consider the fluid nature of the way I work. As a consultant I am struck by the dichotomy or competing forces that come into play when trying to meet the needs of each client and the needs of the people that I work with.

I quite often feel myself getting overwhelmed trying to meet these expectations - my own included (but they definitely sit at the end of the queue). I think there is something so difficult in this because it is easy to lose perspective and no longer be able to see past the thing that is right in front of you.

A lot of what I am talking about here is perceived as well as 'real' pressure, and can be triggered as much by my own work ethic as it can by my clients’ expectations. When I am in this space it feels completely real and completely crushing – mind, body and soul.

So, what stops me saying "Sod it, I’m getting out of here"? Somedays, honestly, I don’t know. I know that I love my work, I know that I also love my daughter and husband who invariably end up as one of those competing forces rather than one of my reasons for being and why it is so important for me to work.  

When I look at this image I keep asking myself 'Who are these little devils?' For me they are every best intention I have, plus an obligation to my colleagues, plus a commitment to an organisation that pays me to be there. This is in part due to a work ethic, and in part due to a standard I expect of myself.

No-one actively chooses to put their head in a vice, but when you are in that vice how easy is it to take your head out again? Are you even aware that the vice is there?

The answer, for me, is to be able to step out and explore what is happening, take some time to be mindful and reflective. The double bind is, of course, that to do that I still need to be aware that something isn’t right in the first place. Perhaps more realistically it is about stopping often to reflect not only when there is a problem, paying attention to the body response and trying to notice when things seem out of sync. And having a colleague you trust enough to share with how you are feeling can make all the difference. 

 

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?


 

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? 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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Discretionary Effort: a DIY Guide

Elinor Rebeiro

A key point of discretionary effort is that by definition it is discretionary. As a leader you can't demand it - you have to earn it. As soon as you set it as a goal you are essentially expecting people to work for free. 

According to Engage for Success "Employee engagement cannot be achieved by a mechanistic approach which tries to extract discretionary effort by manipulating employees’ commitment and emotions. Employees see through such attempts very quickly and can become cynical and disillusioned."

The question becomes why do people sometimes choose to give more of themselves than is asked for in their job description? It is about care and the relationship they have with the people they work for and work with. 

From a management perspective it is clear that the challenges in the world are requiring organisations to respond in a different way; that managers can't succeed without employee discretionary effort. The danger is that as soon as you identify discretionary effort as essential you have to consider what the implications of this are when heard by employees. 

The answer is care and relationships. How we take care of each other, how we relate to those people who we spend more time with than our own families will always impact the level of commitment and care you will receive back. This can be the only motivation -  otherwise the care becomes false and people will see through that very quickly. 

The most amazing example of discretionary effort I have witnessed is within our wonderful (and under cared for) National Health Service. Staff choosing not to go home until they can find a bed for their patients. Preparing food and drinks for them and caring for them in ways that are not asked for or expected. And the reason they do this? Their conscience won't let them do anything else. With the challenges of resourcing and capacity issues facing the NHS it is this quality of care that keeps it functioning. 


My experience

When I first became a manager I was young - a lot younger than some of those I was managing. I had a steep learning curve ahead of me and I failed - a lot - until I realised that I had to earn their respect, trust and care. I tried often to short circuit the process; find a quick way to get people to follow me, manipulate them, guilt them into staying later. I always thanked them for their effort, but that really wasn't enough.

I remember one phrase I used a lot when I was talking about work was 'They don't need to like me. I don't need friends, I need employees that do their job.' I was honestly kidding myself. This was my defence when I had to be tough, but what I realised was that actually they did have to like me and I had to like them, but more than that: we had to care for each other. This was the first time we functioned well as a team, we had each other's backs and we did what needed to be done for each other. I stopped having to think about asking for more because we all gave more where we could and they saw me doing it as well. We were in it together and that's what made it work. My new phrase when I thought about work was 'don't ask others to do something you aren't prepared to do yourself.'