What’s Working?

The “What’s working?” question is a corollary to the constructive venting I talked about in an earlier post.

The organizational development approach of Appreciative Inquiry posits that identifying and leveraging the good stuff is as or even more effective than finding and fixing the bad stuff.

I’m not quite as idealistic as the hard core AI’ers so I like to start with a spirited and invigorating bitch session (for lack of a more delightfully appropriate phrase) followed by the “baby out with bathwater” question.

Spent from the exertion of spewing venom about one’s circumstances (ie: management-doesn’t-support-the-goals-we-don’t-have-the-resources-to-do-our-job-leadership-is-inconsistent-I’m-not-paid-enough-for-this-s$#t-why-does-XYZ-department-get-flex-schedules-and-we-don’t?-…) folks are ready for it.

Wow.  There’s A Lot Wrong

A team in the throes of improvement needs to hear some acknowledgement: “Wow.  There’s a lot wrong.  Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”  The thing is, if your team thinks there’s a lot wrong, then there is.  Until your team feels like things are going reasonably swimmingly, you will continue to peer through from the sorry-end of the knothole.  So you might as well acknowledge it so that they can move to the next stage.

Baby Out with the Bathwater

Once we’ve vented and once we’ve acknowledged the monumental problems that need to be addressed, we wonder: “Is there anything working well that we should take care to preserve?”  Afterall, we wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

If you give the venting enough genuine space and time to breathe, then when you ask this next question, you are likely to hear about some pretty important (and leveragable) aspects of your organization that can help you get to goal.

Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”

Two-hour Team Building

Not gonna happen.

A client of a client wants a two hour team building session using MBTI.  Specifically, out of a team of 10 or so seasoned professionals there are a handful who are getting on like oil and water.  The session is scheduled for the first two hours of their annual team offsite which starts at noon.   In the span of those two hours they’d like to learn about MBTI and do some team building to learn how to work better and more productively with one another before they move into the second (and final) two hours of their annual team offsite.

You can raise awareness in two hours.  You cannot build a team in two hours.  And you definitely cannot raise awareness and build a team in two hours.  Not gonna happen.