The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Creating change, building trust

The team had come together to determine the strategy they would follow. Led by a friendly facilitator, the team started answering his questions. The facilitator had created a deck of questions to guide the team, help them settle together in the work, and encourage their creativity. But as the work moved forward, he could see that the dynamic wasn’t taking off. While everyone was contributing to the process, it was palpable that the team wasn’t leaving its comfort zone. The ideas and comments shared by individuals remained conventional and within answers that felt a bit ready-made and less authentic.

When the facilitator called in his own team to reflect on the work he had done and how it had gone he decided to review the answers “as a whole”. Instead of looking at the set of ideas and remarks that had been created, he wanted to gain a more in-depth view of the process he had experienced.

The question he sought to answer was, given his sense of a dynamic that wasn’t taking off, how the team expressed itself through the answers they had shared. He presumed that under normal circumstances the team would have reached the intended dynamic and knew that the team had wanted to step up to the task. He concluded that something in the team setting had prevented the expected result and assumed that something was missing in the team’s culture.

He could have started to analyze the team’s culture. There were several things he had noticed during the meeting he could have used to invite the team to change. However, the problem with such an approach is that it is a bottomless pit. The ramifications leading to the culture and explanations one can find about culture as it is are limitless. Which also means that the number of solutions is limitless. It makes it almost impossible to settle on where change should start and invites complicated solutions.

So, instead of reviewing the culture and looking for problems in it, the facilitator chose to analyze the culture through the experience in the meeting and its outcome. He saw the outcome as a representation of the problem he was looking for.

Analyzing the set of answers, a variety of themes came up. Tensions between ideas became visible, as well as subjects the team was avoiding, and an expression of what it believed it needed to address despite not knowing how. The themes that became visible helped see different anxieties the team had not been able to name until then.

Building on his reflection the facilitator could get back to the team. He offered an opportunity to discuss the themes that had appeared. Allowed them to tap into their shared anxiety and establish more trust through the realization that it was shared. Trust that helped them develop answers to it together.

Under such circumstances, it may not matter why people were hesitant to share their ideas. What matters is if it is possible to assist the team in noticing it and creating a space where engaging with one another allows for trust to grow.

In essence, what such a conversation makes possible is for the team to transform its culture itself. But it is a conversation that was helped by an external view that could make anxiety noticeable and thus addressable. The team, in its effort to conclude, had not been able to name it on its own.


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