Archive for October, 2009

Buildling trust…

Consulting Skills – Post 4

We’ve had our second meeting with our client. It really took us another step. The first meeting seemed to be a lot about getting to know each other, the two people from the client org (president and program director) and the two of us. It was really necessary to sit back in the pure inquiry mode and listen during the first meeting. Sometimes things seemed to stray off topic, you could possibly say. But then I do think the few slight digressions helped us to get to know the client more, and perhaps helped them get to know us, too. We also moved into the exploratory inquiry mode as well. For me, the different aspects of the first meeting were essential in the process of building trust. It was evident that although we introduced ourselves and explained our interests over the phone, it was important to have a face-to-face meeting to establish a relationship and to learn more about each of our interests. We did some problem exploration and found a few possible issues or problems, but at the end of the first meeting, I would say neither party was so clear about if things were going to go forward. I felt uncertain whether the problem(s) discussed would be suitable for our project. The class discussion last week helped me see the situation as a doable project and let us to our second meeting.

The second meeting we had on Friday really was another step. We only met with the program director because the president was unavailable. The program director is the only full-time staff person for the organization. I felt the meeting had good energy and we moved forward to solidify the problem issue we would focus on and also pretty much agreed on 2-3 ways which we could collect data. It was interesting to see that when we talked about having a focus group as a part of our data collecting, the program director talked about being in the meeting. We then shared our interest to meet with the volunteers privately and there seemed to be a bit of concern that came over the face of the program director.  It seemed that she might have felt vulnerable because of what might be said about her (and perhaps that she would not be in control). However, when we explained that it was important so that the volunteers feel they could express themselves candidly, because there may be some things that they didn’t feel comfortable to tell directly to the program director. She paused for a minute, reflected, and then moved ahead, saying that yes, she could understand that and she was interested to hear about things that could improve her work. I think she was confident because of what seemed to be the good relations she seems to have with many of the volunteers. I didn’t get the sense that there were so many problems based on personal relationships (but let’s see!).

Towards the end of this second meeting, we asked our client how she felt working with us. She responded that she felt quite comfortable working with us. She said something like, ‘you guys are easy to work with’. It seemed that this exchange really deepened the trust that had been developing. It’s interesting that although I had felt that we work working well together and Tim seemed to feel that too, but when we received the explicitly feedback, it really seem to deepen the trust. Hmmmmm… Interesting to consider how important such simple confirmation could affect a working relationship (and perhaps any relationship!). I can see that like Block and Schein both say, a significant part of process consulting is about emotions, and not just the technical task issues. It’s clear that we must deal with the task, but also be aware of the affective aspects of the relationship because these impact the issues of getting the task done!

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Leadership and culture

Org Learning – Post 4

What whirlwind the past 2 weeks! After a long, slow decline my dad passed on, two weeks ago to the day. I can’t say that I’ve fully digested it. I know it will take time to adjust. I will miss him.

It’s interesting that one of the companies that Schein has selected in his text on org culture and leadership is DEC. My dad was quite an advocate of their computer systems and equipment and used them from early in their advent. Even today, the business he was involved in continues to use a DEC computers as a basis for their system. They also use PCs now for quite a few years, but the DEC has been an extremely reliable and stable computing platform for them. I have frequently heard praises of the quality and reliability  of their machinery and systems for years. I remember hearing about Ken Olsen and his visionary leadership, however, not so much about the DEC culture, except how they were innovators, and often on the leading edge for many years. My dad never talked about why or how they lost their leading edge. I guess we’ll uncover some of the factors in Schein’s exploration of their culture.

It’s fascinating to consider the roots of culture in an organization, even how culture is formed in the experimental T groups and how it is related to the early actions, attitudes and behavior of leaders. How so much of culture is tacit knowledge based on assumptions that are unrecognized and therefore, often unquestioned. When I think of organizations or even societies that I’ve been a part of or of which I’ve had a glimpse, I often recognized outer aspects and artifacts and even espoused values and norms. However, the underlying assumptions were not always clear to me. I can also see how culture is related to underlying assumptions.

At one time I worked in an organization where the leader was often very distrustful and there was an overarching fear that permeated the workplace and extended to other parts of the organization. I can see this evolved due to the behavior of the leader and underlying assumptions that he/she had that the workers could only be trusted so much, but they were more likely to ‘not understand due to their ignorance’ or something like that. The result was that there was very little trust which also impacted motivation, creativity, etc.

There were times when that when this leader trusted someone, it really impacted their ability to work in a positive way. The workers were then very empowered, enthused, creative, etc. I think the leader thought that he/she was thinking of doing the best for the organization. However, I don’t think he/she was aware of how their behavior and examples affected and influenced the entire organization. After some years, the leadership and structure of the organization changed and the culture also changed dramatically to be more open, inclusive and collaborative.

Thinking of time and space, a friend from New Zealand shared a perspective on time he developed from getting to know people from the Maoris, a Polynesian culture that pre-dates European culture in New Zealand by 500-1000 years or so. The Maoris had two notions of time – Polynesian time and European time. Polynesian time, my friend would say, was the time it took for the sun to set, a flower to bloom, to be with a child as it played. Whereas European time was considered the time to catch a train, to finish a project, to be somewhere or another… It’s not that one view of time is wrong or right, but that having a perspective of both views could really help to add quality to life…

Involve me and I understand…

Consulting Skills – Post 3

..

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I understand.
Involve me and I remember.

– Lao Tse

There’s another saying, I think, that goes something like, ‘if you want to learn something, try to teach it to someone else.’ Well, it feels like I’ve had a glimpse through that window in preparing for and presenting the chapters on the contracting meeting from Block. I had read the chapters and Tim and I talked about different possible strategies for presenting the info to the class. Finally, we decided that since each project team would be having a real live contracting meeting very soon, it could be helpful to do a practice meeting during our presentation with hypothetical scenarios given for client and consultant.

When we met over the weekend to further prepare things we did a practice run between us with one scenario. Wow! I was taking the role of the consultant and it really struck me that I hardly had an idea of the steps Block had laid out so very clearly, even though I had read the chapter and reviewed it several times. I did remember some steps and really tried to work in a collaborative way in the practice session. However, I was scrambling and searching for words and phrases to put into speech. And, I wasn’t really conscious of the discrete steps or their order. During the practice session, I went to my notes and even opened the book for reference and guidance. We had developed an outline of the steps, but what I needed at the time was some actual phrases I could use to articulate the various steps. I suppose that as I have more experience with a contracting meeting, I would become familiar with the steps and more easily be able to find the words and phrases that are comfortable to me.

This practice session we had really helped me gain insight into the process and also gave me incentive to go back and review the chapter further. And then there was the experience of facilitating the class’s learning of the topic. We could not really anticipate everything that happened and there were some things that didn’t quite fit in the sequence as we planned. It was a bit like riding a bicycle for the first time or maybe making bread or following a new recipe. You read all about it (or in the case of a bicycle, probably watch others and listen to what mom, dad, or older brother or sister say about their experience) and prepare (get all your ingredients ready) and then you push off the bike or start the recipe and be ready to adapt as you go along.

I remember making bread for the first time. I had watch friends make it – mix the ingredients, knead it, let it rise, knock it down, form it, put it into a bread pan, let it rise again, and then put it in a hot oven. Once I stood right next to a friend who was a baker and watched her quite intently. I had also read about it. And then I tried to make it on my own. I didn’t have the benefit of having an experienced baker right beside me when I actually baked my first loaf. I had decided to just try it. It was another kind of experience. All of my reading, or watching others was theory, in a sense; but I needed my own experience in order to really say that I knew something about how to bake bread.

So it was for presenting the chapter on the contracting meeting. We studied, prepared, and then we were in action and had to be ready to adjust and adapt. It was helpful to have Dr. Carter present, because neither of us really had first-hand experience of using Block’s approach to a process consulting contracting meeting. I’m sure it would be different after our first meeting (I think the whole class could then teach the session) and still further different if we presented/facilitated this material after several years of process consulting experience…

So the expression, “involve me and I understand” has some more background now for me.  I think this is how I learn best – being involved, engaged, and then, too, reflecting on the experience… (Is that what these blogs are for…???)