ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1999


Not So Common Sense

Establishing Teams: The Agony And Ecstasy

CEOs Have Little Control Over Bottom Line

Older Vs. Younger


A Conference For, By And At The People
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change


Views for a Change
Consultant Question and Answer

James D. Showkeir Responds:
A literal revolution in belief, thinking and action is required to resolve the problem posed in this question. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire says, "The revolutionary effort to transform these structures . . . cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the employees (oppressed) as mere doers. The leaders cannot treat the oppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of acting, whereas in fact they would continue to be manipulated. . . It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process." While Freire was speaking about political reform in Brazil these statements are relevant here. Political rhetoric aside, he is basically saying that solving your problem requires a "problem-posing" approach, wide and deep dissemination of all business information and reflective, action-oriented involvement by those doing the work.

The first step is taking the wraps off all the business information. The leaders of the organization typically possess critical measurement, market, financial, strategic and process information. This includes information typically seen as relevant only to specific parts of the organization (e.g. Marketing, Finance, Human Resources, Operations, etc.). Employees cannot maintain control of any operation without this. They must understand the interrelationships of the whole organization in order to manage their part. Paying attention to the whole has been seen as the role of top management.

The second step involves a "problem-posing" approach to the solution. This means posing your dilemma throughout the organization at the unit/team level while encouraging and supporting reflective action. The problem-posing approach involves constantly unveiling the reality at hand. Employees will determine what they need to make the correct decisions. This approach encourages freedom and promotes accountability for action.

The last critical step is leadership engagement instead of leadership installation. The resolution to your situation is not "some thing" that can be installed - it is a reflective learning process that must be engaged. Freire contrasts these different approaches as dialogic (engagement) and nondialogic (installation). The difference is fundamental and prepositional. A dialogic approach is leadership with people; a nondialogic approach is leadership of people. A more thorough look at the differences provides insight into strategy and action. I have taken some liberty with the language to provide relevancy to the business environment.

Leadership of People (nondialogic)
Conquest for compliance - Leadership conquers others into compliance. Converts others into third person objects "they, them, those people." Leadership prescribes the options open to the oppressed (employees). Reality is posed in myths.

Divide and rule - Adversarial toward people. Enacts dominion over people. Problems are specifically focused, not seen as parts of the total system. Leadership training exists only for a select few. Uniting occurs only in catastrophic circumstances.

Manipulation - Anesthetizes people to facilitate domination. Organization leaders alone structure power for domination. Leader's decisions are imposed, sold, bought-into, enrolled in - conforming the masses to their objectives.

Cultural invasion and determination - Mythicizes the contradiction between permanence and change. Leadership transmits their own values - which are often in conflict with actions taken. The underlying objective is control. Those dominated believe in their intrinsic inferiority.

Leadership with People (dialogic)
Cooperation - Subjects meet to transform the situation. People "name" the organization in order to transform it. Can only be achieved through first-person conversation. Reality is unveiled. Characterized by people communicating, mediated by reality. Honors humans as creatures of freewill and choice. Believes people are capable of individual accountability for the whole.

Unity for Liberation - Integrates the cognitive, affective and active aspects of the indivisible personality. Engages communion with people. People are "dislodged" from a mythical reality and "bound" to another reality. Articulates change as a cultural/political action.
(Self) Organization - This is the antagonistic opposite of manipulation. It is directly linked to unity. The antidote to control is constant, humble and courageous witnessing. People are not seen as objects to be used. Leaders state their point of view with people. Affirms individual authority and freedom. Serves the ends of liberation.

Cultural synthesis - Characterized by becoming not being. The relationship of permanence and change become the dialogue. Thematic investigation is the responsibility of all. Actors come to learn. Cultural synthesis is a form of action for confronting the culture itself. Leaders identify with the people's demands and pose those demands as problems.

If individuals and teams are to maintain solid business controls and own their jobs, then they must be as informed as those who currently do this (i.e. managers and leaders). Therefore opening the gates on all business information and supporting the creation of business literacy at all levels becomes an imperative. Strategies and methods that accomplish this are known and available.

In addition, the world that individuals and teams see themselves in is theirs to define. In essence leaders, managers and others cannot define this. The best case is that individuals define themselves and their contribution in the context of a business reality based on the inclusive information provided. This is why engagement is critical and installation does not work. Applying strategies and methods that foster building the characteristics of "engagement action" is central to this change. Posing your problem to individuals and teams so they may define both the world they are in and the avenues for success holds the greatest promise for change. In reality individuals are doing this anyway.

The change you are seeking is in fact a cultural/political one. Leadership and coreworkers alike must change the way they believe, think and engage. Distributing business information will begin this directly - informed people interact differently. Changing deliberations, conversations and management practices will concretely support this intended cultural/political change.

September '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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