Last Thursday I co-facilitated a “positive change session” with a friend and colleague. The client group, a quickly growing law firm, wants to develop processes and structures where there are currently inconsistencies, repetition, and frustration. Prior to this session, members of the organization were interviewed / surveyed and the interview data surfaced a few core organizational values as well as a shared desire to nurture certain attributes within their company culture. The design for our session was to anchor the changes they were wanting to their core values, providing the motivation and resonance necessary for a sustainable change effort.
In the opening moments of tone setting, we asked for each individual to respond to the question “what do you want to get out of our time together today?” Several of the answers shared the theme of wanting to hear from us (consultants), our ideas, recommendations, and for us to tell them what we thought they should do. (This, however, is not the approach to change I/we take, as you’ll read below). Combine the expectation that the consultants have come with “the solution,” with some closed body language, lack of eye contact, and two people “passing” and not sharing an answer to the opening question (what do you want to get out of our time together today?). Hmmm…a recipe for an unsuccessful session?
No. In fact, this scenario is fairly typical. Put yourself in the shoes of one of those team members for a moment: I’m frustrated, somewhat disengaged, upset with my colleagues and/or my boss because my needs and expectations are not being met. In walk two consultants who are here to “fix” me and my team. I’ve been there, done that before. And guess what? It didn’t work!
Now, imagine the scene it that conference room a mere 2-hours later. Chairs pushed around and groups of team members talking together around sheets of flip chart paper; Energized conversations (that we actually had to stop in order to honor the timeframe we had agreed upon); and three action areas decided upon including specific action steps, completion dates, and accountability structure.
This is the commonplace miracle that I am blessed to witness all the time: A divided, frustrated group of people becoming a connected, unified team.
I’ve listed a couple of bullet points below to give an idea of HOW these miracles occur.
Connect the group with the strengths and values of the system. What is the bigger, compelling reason we are all here, and all wanting things to be different now? In the client scenario described here, their three core values that surfaced during the interview process were: relationship, flexibility, and continual learning. We knew that any processes or solutions that they created would be most successful if they honored these values. For example, creating training or a new hire orientation program that allows employees to really get to know each other and begin to build strong relationships, as well as getting to know the skills being taught.
Reveal the common desires. At the end of a session like this, I almost always hear relieved comments like, “I learned that we all really want the same thing!” “My colleagues DO understand where I’m coming from!”
Facilitate a change process that respects and listens to the Wisdom of the System. Every system has innate wisdom about what it needs to thrive. My role as change agent is to create the conditions for the group to tap into this wisdom through a deeper level of dialogue and listening than most people are used to.
Focus on what the group wants more of. What’s wanting to happen here now? This is the most important piece. I facilitate a change conversation around shared vision, common desires, and new possibilities; NOT around problems to be overcome. It’s a subtle, yet essential shift. Science has proven that what we focus our attention on repeatedly will grow. So, where do we want to focus our repeated attention? On what’s not working, the frustrations we’re experiencing, and the problems with the current processes? Or on what we want and need now, moving forward?
I love this line from a poem by Margaret Wheatley, called Turning to One Another:
“There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.”
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