ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1998


Standing Your Ground In The Face Of Change

Turning Local Government Into A Business

Stop Trying To Be "Friendly" And "Courteous"

It's A Small World Afterall
Lucent's Performance


My Way Is The Highway
by Peter Block

What's So Super About Collaboration?
by Michael Finley


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

Myron Kellner-Rogers Responds:
Many of our leaders are imprisoned. They’ve imprisoned themselves and their organizations in the mythology of independence that has infected our culture.

This mythology tells us, from our earliest days, that all we have done together has been achieved because of a heroic leader who has the authority of Patton and the power of Zeus, lightning bolts and all. It is a mythology of unquestioned authority, of answers emitted from all-knowing oracles, a hierarchy of intelligence and competence, that achieves its perfect embodiment in the corner office of the executive suite.

Myth versus Reality
Now you, Amy, walk into Olympus offering an alternative that shakes the very foundation of the mountain. What are your chances? I think they’re pretty good, because underneath the myth, there is another reality that most leaders share. It’s the reality of their direct experience of organizational life, the story of what really happened in their rise to the top, not what the myth says has happened. The challenge is to reconnect these people to a new story, one that more accurately describes how anything worthwhile and sustainable gets done.

The dominant story in our culture is one of personal preeminence in organizational achievements. We’ve come to believe that success or failure depends only on me. If the organization succeeds, it is because of the brilliance of one extraordinary hero. If it fails, it’s due to the “lack of leadership qualities” in the corner office. I’ve come to believe that the concept of leadership is like the law of gravity. Does knowing gravity exists help us understand how we stay on the ground?

In the science of living systems, this story of disconnected, preeminent individuals is giving way to an entirely new understanding of how successful evolution occurs. It is not a story of individuals atop a pyramid. The evolutionary biologist Lynn Margolis says it best: “Independence is a political, not a biological concept.” In the history of evolution, hostile, dominant, turf-defending and competitive species come and go. Cooperation always increases over time. It’s the key to our survival.

Remember When...
The first work in creating the possibility for a senior team to be a team is to help them recover the truth of their experience. Open a dialogue with the individuals and the group. Ask them to describe their greatest successes and failures. When did they feel most engaged, effective and productive in their work? When was their contribution—and that of the organization—freely given and received? If they’re like most of us, they will relay experiences of mystical memories of team endeavor. They may not call them this, but as you probe into the dialogue for the conditions that made this experience memorable, you’re likely to discover a few critical conditions. These moments happened when the context was important and meaningful—the work people were doing was worthy of them. There was a quality of relationships in which the hierarchy momentarily disappeared and people related as equal participants in discovering what works. Trust went up. In these moments, information flowed freely, from all directions, and people had access to it and were free to take action on it.

What people will be describing is an actual experience of organizational effectiveness that is fundamental to human experience. We come together in our organizations to do more and to be more. Every good leader I know is humbled by their belief that they have never consistently tapped a fraction of the potential they know is in their people. Yet this potential shows up in spite of us. As you surface stories of these powerful moments in the experience of the team, you then help them describe the conditions that were present—the quality of relationships, the availability of information, the context or meaningfulness of the work. Once the team articulates these conditions, it’s time for a team reflection. Where are they as a team in relation to these? What are the conditions they have created among themselves? Are they congruent with what they know, from their direct experience, about what creates successful collaboration? Probably not.

A New Way to Work
They now need a process for developing competence in a new way of working together. One leadership group I worked with in a chemical manufacturing plant changed their way of working together in a short period of time by some simple means. Their experience told them that the biggest impediment to success at the plant was the lack of team-based participation. Obstacles of power, hierarchy and turf limited the potential for improvement across the whole of the organization. In a moment of courageous self-reflection, they saw that they were the obstacle to the quality of relationships that would change outcomes. They decided that if the organization was to change, they first needed to become a team in reality, not just name.
After the kind of dialogue I’ve described here, they developed a description of the conditions that they needed to create among themselves and with the organization if they were going to be a team. They made these visible to the organization, and committed themselves to regular meetings in which they looked at how well they were doing together in creating these conditions. As leadership developed competence in operating as a team, the organization saw they were serious and participated in this growing team competence.
This is a simple process Amy, but simple isn’t easy. There is difficult personal and group work to do. It requires the courage to be self-reflective and to look beyond the mythology and see what is really happening. But if you believe, as I do, that most leaders want to escape their imprisonment and liberate the potential of their people, it’s work worth doing.

Dave Farrell Responds

September '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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