Sunday, March 30, 2008

another action oriented quote

"You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind"

I think it's an old Irish saying.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Technical decisions provoke adaptive work

From Heifetz: “…with adaptive problems [complex, not solved via some technical fix], authority must look beyond authoritative solutions. [However] authoritative action may usefully provoke debate, rethinking, and other processes of social learning, …then it becomes a tool in a strategy to mobilize adaptive work toward a solution , rather than a direct means to institute one.”

There is an earlier blog post (Feb, 2005) where I describe instituting 4 authoritative fixes at the Bronx Guild: use of learning plans, grids, conferring with students and mentor meetings. The idea at the time was not necessarily that I had the correct solution and that faithful implementation of these measures would bring success. Rather, they were provocations. There was complacency around certain practices like tracking student progress or engaging with mentors. Perhaps these measures would help. However, certainly they would spur reactions. Folks who had a difference of opinion on the matter were now motivated to push back and come up with alternates solutions. New conversations were held that were not being held before. Dialogue, problem solving, creating new knowledge, and action were provoked.

Here at ERS, the authoritative "fix" of instituting a process for curriculum guide revision is of the same nature. Simply presenting the process has surfaced all kinds of feelings amongst staff: some love it, some feel discounted, others have alternative ideas. Could not have asked for better than this. It forces us to have these conversations: how can we include you more, what role will you play in the future of the school, what other ideas do you have? These are the conversations that need to happen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Individual's concerns represented as group concerns

Occasionally within a group, a few individuals may have a concern. Rather than say "this is my concern," the person will represent it as a group concern: "Our group feels slighted by what you did" or "The group doesn't think so." By the way, I'm talking about concerns that are shared by a few. I'm not referring to concerns that statistically do represent the group.

The problem here is that the group is referred to in monolithic terms. That is, generalizations are asserted in a way to create the impression that this statement is true for most if not all members of the group. What is really happening is that the speaker holds a minority view but holds it intensely. I believe that there is not an easy way to present one's valid and intense feelings about something and the way to get things heard is to assert incorrectly that the entire group feels this way.

The trap for the leader or the change agent is to accept this as a group issue and continue to address the group. The feelings and reactions are valid and should not be ignored just because they belong to one or two people. But, the right approach is to talk to the individuals one on one.

The trap is especially prevalent in places that put people in groups without clear boundaries. We don't really practice the discipline of teams yet we put groups together that Katzenbach would call a "compromise unit." These are the worst kinds of groups - they are a pseudo-team. They lack the leadership of a single-leader unit and they pretend to be a team when they don't practice the disciplines required of a team. Fundamentally, this is the real source of the problem described above.

Folks wouldn't mask their individual concerns as group concerns if they were clear on the boundaries and processes associated with the work unit they belong to.