on-nevite-pas-les-conflits-on-evite-de-les-travailler

We don't avoid conflicts - we avoid working through them!

How tempting it is to long only for spring, or summer: the days getting longer, the plants growing, Nature blossoming. So tempting that we often forget that there is only life in ecosystems because there is also death.

 

Similarly, in the organisations where we work, it is tempting to focus on good relationships; to preserve a certain harmony in the group; to avoid conflict. Again, this is forgetting that human relationships, especially at work, cannot be only harmonious; that conflicts are part of the relationship. And I would go even further: that conflicts can have a positive, necessary, life-giving function in relationships - that it is not right to assign them only a negative dimension.

 

Here's a quick explanation...

 

In a company I work with, Thierry, a senior manager attached to the sales department, began his career in the company 25 years ago. He is by far the longest-serving employee, even though he never really broke through in his career. But, little by little, he has built up a pleasant world - for him: long lunch breaks, extensive expense accounts, setting his annual targets retrospectively, sexist jokes, etc. Over the years, none of his managers have really challenged him, for several reasons:

- Thierry is a 'smooth talker', he knows how to plead his case and always has a good excuse

- His misdemeanours are, of course, reprehensible, and could - indeed should - lead to a reprimand, a warning, or even some sort of sanction from his managerial line; but none of them, in itself, is that serious. It is rather their cumulative effect that becomes problematic

- Thierry is a close friend of the union representative in the department, who would not hesitate to get on his high horse if he felt that Thierry was being victimised

 

So nobody has called Thierry out so far. Fear of conflict, among other things, has so far paralysed his managers, who have preferred to keep harmony in the group. Except that ...

 

Except that the harmony is only superficial; because many employees who work with him are not fooled, and see that Thierry does not respect the rules that they, on the other hand, are required to respect - and to which they adhere for the good functioning of the group. And underneath the veneer of harmony, there is a lot of resentment.

 

However, the conflict with Thierry, in this situation, would on the contrary be life-giving, and not destructive. Or more precisely: making the conflict explicit - and then of course working to resolve it - would be life-giving, because for the moment the conflict exists, but in an implicit, unacknowledged, and unworked way. It is created by one person breaking the rules, challenging the collective boundaries; not challenging it back is not conflict avoidance, it is avoiding to work through the conflict. Working through the conflict - working towards a transformation that brings organisational actors back within the boundaries of the collective - is to bring life back into the system, because it is to bring back trust in the collective, in the rules we set for ourselves and the values that underpin them; it is to show that the system is capable of regulating itself, of regaining its balance.

 

From the point of view of organisational theories, working through the conflict by challenging Thierry is what Agyris and Schon would call reducing the gap between espoused values and values-in-use. This gap is deadening in organisations, whereas their alignment is a source of meaning, trust and therefore motivation.

 

From a psychodynamic point of view, we could say that the over-investment of Thierry's managers in remaining the 'good object', i.e. the manager who is appreciated and loved - because he doesn't make waves and doesn't prevent me from doing what I want! - allowed this dysfunction to take hold. In other words, their refusal to take on the role of the 'bad object' - the one who interferes with the egocentric pursuit of my own happiness - is co-responsible, along with Thierry, for the stagnation of this dysfunctional situation.

 

From an ecosystemic point of view, and more specifically, with reference to our model of the 6 principles of Regeneration, it is the cycle of death that has not been well managed here. Both by continuing to allow energy to feed a behaviour that had to die (Principle #1 of the model); but also because this behaviour was an attack on life (Principle #3), which their managers should have tried to reduce to preserve the regenerative dynamics of the organisation.

 

A year ago, Marc, the new GM of the department, decided to address Thierry’s behaviour; he gave him three months to put it in order. The rest of the employees said: finally! Thierry then went on sick leave, apparently too shocked by his boss' behaviour.

 

Is Marc an expert in organisational theories? On group psychodynamics? Of the functioning of natural ecosystems and the regenerative momentum that runs through them?

Not that he knows of; for him, it's a question of common sense: when a group sets itself rules, and one person regularly breaks them over the years, it's up to the person whose role is invested with this authority to sanction him or her, to do so.

 

And this is perhaps the moral of this story: by wanting to avoid "hurting" people, or creating tensions, all of Thierry's previous managers have only built the foundations of a much more traumatic situation for everyone now. Authority, and the exercise of that authority in one's role, is not something abusive, quite the contrary - it is what regulates life. To hide from it, on the pretext of avoiding hurting others, is to lay the foundations for a much more violent, more hurtful outcome.

Nature knows this: it does not invest energy in what must die.

 


Easter and regeneration

Easter and Regeneration

In the Christian tradition, Easter is the most important of all feasts – more important than Christmas itself. Why? Because it is then that the resurrection is being revealed; it is then that we discover that death is not the end, but only a passage towards renewed life.

 

Whether we choose to have faith in this Christian tradition or not, Easter is a particularly enlightening phenomenon, for organisational life and transformation, but also for the societal challenges that we face in this 21st century. Two aspects of this phenomenon are especially important, I believe: the “Paschal Mystery”, and “Kenosis” as a process. Let’s look at them both.

 

The “Paschal Mystery” (another way of saying “the mystery of Easter”) is precisely what it says: a mystery that has been witnessed, where Jesus dies, and, after three days, resurrects: i.e. is alive in a new/renewed way. Again, the purpose here is not to convert the reader to a particular faith tradition, but rather to help him/her enter the deep symbolism of the paschal phenomenon. Firstly, the sequence of event: first death, then renewed life. Put another way, for new life to come through, some things need to die first. In organisational transformation terms, this means that before we find new ideas, new ways of doing things – new solutions – we must first let go of what can no longer continue into the future. It is in that order that the process ought to unfold (just like it does, in fact, in Otto Scharmer’s U Theory): first we let go, then we let come.

 

Think a minute about how this applies to some of the key issues around ecological transition, and biodiversity preservation: first we set an objective, a deadline for the end of fossil fuels (based on what the planet can withstand, eg “keep all current reserves of oil in the ground”), and then we develop the processes (and the technology if needed), to transition towards that aim. First we say we stop glyphosate because it’s destroying our ecosystems (and our health), and then we mobilise the collective intelligence to make it happen.

IT IS NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND !! We can’t say “wait, let’s just develop the technology, let’s just wean ourselves off, etc.” – because if we do it that way, it will never work, given how addicted we’ve become to these ways of operating.

 

Secondly, beyond reminding us of the sequence of things (death then life), the paschal mystery reminds us that it is a mystery: we don’t know exactly how it works, we can’t analyse it, break down every step in a reductionist way – we just have to trust that this is how life unfolds, through cycles of death, and rebirth. But for new life to come through, we need to let go of the old first; we need to make room for it to invite itself to the table. If there is no dying first, if no space is cleared, how can the new unfold?

 

The second aspect of Easter that is very interesting to dive into in order to think about organisational and societal transformation – or, indeed, regeneration – is a spiritual process called “kenosis”, which means “self-emptying”. This is what Jesus does, literally, on the cross, through his pierced heart – and it is that pierced heart that becomes a groundswell of love, and of generativity, for the world.

But in a way, this self-emptying starts much earlier in Jesus’ life, as he opens up more and more to accepting the will of God, for which death, leading to resurrection, is such a central focus. Kenosis, to quote Cynthia Bourgeault, is more than renunciation to something dear; it is rather the willingness to let things come and go without grabbing on to them.

 

What does this all have to do with organisational and societal transformation, you might ask? Well, everything! Because it is our clinging on to things (assets, roles, power, etc.) which keeps us stuck in patterns that are fast becoming destructive for us. And so this is the paradox of our modern society that the paschal mystery, and kenosis, reveal: when we invest money, time, energy to sustain ways of operating and ways of relating that are actually toxic for us, we are sure to end up with a painful, desolating death. But when we empty ourselves of all the things that we have clung to, but are now known to be harmful to us, when we let go and let die those things that can no longer continue into the future, when we choose, therefore, to engage with a type of death that is life-giving, then we will find new ways of working, operating, relating, that are much more life-giving; that will bring regeneration to ourselves, our teams and our organisations.

 

So, whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, or something else, let us receive the symbolism of Easter with an open heart: for our organisations, and our societies, to engage in the regeneration that it is crying for, let us engage in the necessary kenosis, the “subtracting” that Leidy Klotz talks about, letting go of what can no longer continue into the future, in order to make space for the “new that is trying to be born”. This is what we, at Nexus, help our clients do.


dialogue-generatif-les-4-champs-de-la-conversation

Generative Dialogue: the 4 fields of conversation

Better known for his “U Theory”, Otto Scharmer has also worked extensively on Dialogue, together with his MIT colleague Bill Isaacs. In his pre “U Theory” days, he developed a very useful matrix to map out the various conversational fields that we could find ourselves in.

For him, there are 4 such fields:

  • Field #1: Talking Nice. Here we maintain harmony in the group, but at the expense of diving into the real issues
  • Field #2: Talking Tough: where we fall into debate and fail to work through the issues, mainly trying to prove we’re right and the other wrong
  • Field #3: Reflective Dialogue: where listening takes over, and individuals can start conveying their perspectives, without feeling judged nor trying to convince others
  • Field #4: Generative Dialogue: this is where meaning truly flows, where dialogue moves beyond interpersonal conversations, to enter a truly collective experience of meaning-making, discovery, and transformation

In this short video, Matthieu Daum presents in more details those 4 fields of dialogue, highlighting which ones are more likely to repeat patterns of the past, which ones hold most transformative potential – and how to avoid the former and foster the latter.


Organisational Purpose: Starting with Why

Purpose is a powerful way of motivating people for action; of clarifying the ultimate goal your organisation is setting for itself, the primary "Why" that won't change even if you might pivot several times on your "What", and perhaps your "How".

In this short video, we bring together several approaches to Purpose-lead organisations, in order to help make sense of how to use this concept in a very practical way.

 


What being Purpose-led really means

Over the past few years – and we should all be grateful for it! – there has been an ever stronger emphasis on becoming a Purpose-led organisation, and for leaders in those organisations to lead with/from purpose.

 

Purpose: the new key to unlocking organisational performance?

 

The rationale is simple: if you are clear about your organisation’s purpose, decision-making will become easier (not necessarily easy, but at least easier!), because there will be no misunderstanding about what should orient them; as soon as they’ve integrated that purpose, your staff will know what to do without you having to tell them, leading to lots of virtuous cycle loops of more meaning at work, more autonomy, more well-being, less bureaucracy, more efficiency, etc. Your customers will be more intentional in choosing you, and more faithful in staying with you; and your shareholders might even relocate their decisions in a “shared-value creation” paradigm (see Michael Porter’s work), rather than in the narrow view of the sole “shareholder value” paradigm.

In other words, leading with Purpose can only be win-win, can’t it?

 

Well, it’s not that simple… As always, walking the talk is the primary challenge, even more so that we may not always be aware of how much our walking may diverge from our talking. And here’s a way to think about it.

 

Over 70 years ago (yes, this issue of Purpose is not new!), the Tavistock Institute was already exploring these issues, naming it “Primary task” at the time. A bit later, the Grubb Institute, who worked closely with the Tavistock, introduced the concept of Purpose, seen as “the impact that an organisation intends to have on its Context; the primary reason why an organisation exists”.

 

Three levels of Purpose

 

Gordon Lawrence, who worked for both institutes and was a leading figure in that field at the time, suggested, in the mid-70s, that there were in fact 3 levels of Purpose. Because his words were a bit ‘jargonny’, we’ve adapted them to the following:

The Formal Purpose is what used to be called, up to 5 years ago, the “mission statement” of the organisation, and has now often been rebranded as the “statement of Purpose”. As its name indicates, it is the formal expression of what the organisation sees as its primary reason of being – the formal description of the impact it wishes to create in the world.

 

Take Renault for example, one of France’s leading car manufacturers; their website describes their Purpose in this way: “We make the heart of innovation beat so that mobility brings us closer together”. Beyond “heart” and “closer together” – probably here to access our own emotional field – the key words in that statement are “innovation” and “mobility”. Put it succinctly, Renault’s purpose is to innovate in the field of mobility.

 

If you ask their staff, or their customers, they will probably tell you a different story. For them, Renault is a car manufacturer. From a staff perspective, Renault’s Informal Purpose (that story that we tell ourselves in corridors’ talk, or in meetings behind closed doors) is to make lots of cars that lots of customers will buy, in lots of different countries. A customer’s perspective on that informal purpose is probably a variation on that description, something like: Renault makes innovative / reliable / nice cars with a good quality/cost ratio.

 

There is yet another level of purpose though; one that is less visible, but nonetheless very much at the heart of any organisation’s activity. We call it the Enacted Purpose, and by that we mean the impact that the organisation is actually having on its context, whether it is aware of it or not. It is inferred by our assessment of those impacts – including those that are not always included in traditional impact assessment, and tend to be named ‘externalities’, or ‘collateral impact’.

 

One take on Renault’s activities could lead us to suggest that its enacted purpose could be to contribute to climate change, by creating machines that release CO² into the atmosphere. Of course it is not their intended purpose, but their impact on the world is such that an external eye could identify it as their enacted purpose.

 

Leading with Purpose

Renault is clear about the place of its Purpose in the company's strategy and operations: "Our Purpose is the foundation of everything: our values, our strategic plan, our orientations in terms of social and environmental responsibility" (Renault.com website on 22/02/2022).

 

However, in a purpose-led organisation, the challenge for leadership is to ensure that all three levels of purpose are aligned as much as possible, or at least that all actions are aimed at aligning them – as the figure below illustrates:

In order to do that, leaders will need to undertake an honest assessment of where their organisation is on those three levels, and take the corrective actions to reduce the gap between them.

They might also need to revisit the very statement of purpose that they’ve formally adopted. For Renault, it could go something like: “We make the heart of innovation beat so that environmentally-friendly mobility brings us closer together”.

 

Funny how 2 words can make such a difference! By inserting a connection to its own impact on the world’s ecosystems, Renault would go such a long way in creating the conditions for transforming its enacted purpose, setting out to leverage innovation not only at the service of mobility per se, but of an environmentally-friendly mobility. This would open huge avenues of transformation, not only in terms of products (moving to electric cars for example), but also of business models (see the carpet company Interface move from selling to leasing for example, where product ownership remains with the manufacturer, who’s much more inclined to ensure a much longer shelve-life for its products).

 

Leading with Purpose in the 21st century

 

As we just saw, leading with purpose is a double-edged sword: whilst it may be tempting to attract employee and customer loyalty with an inspiring formal purpose, it will only work, in the long run, if leaders ensure that they strive for aligning formal, informal, and enacted purposes.

Could this be a put-off for organisations wondering about becoming purpose-led organisations? Well, I hope not; for in the 21st century, we have no choice but to transform our businesses so that their impacts move from being degenerative, to being regenerative. And engaging one’s company around defining its purpose could be such an energising, fruitful way of doing it.

 


Regenerating Democracy

Last week I was in Rome, facilitating a General Chapter for a male religious congregation.

 

Democracy: insights from religious congregations

Religious congregations are a very interesting type of organisation. In many ways – and despite all the fantasies and projections we might have about them being very hierarchical and authoritarian – congregations are one of the most democratic system still around, after several centuries.

The foundation of its democratic structure is that the General Chapter is the highest decision-making authority in this organisation. It is made up of ‘simple members’, more than half of whom have been elected by their peers to take part in this Chapter – an event that happens every 6 years usually, and lasts for about 3-4 weeks. The remaining members (always fewer in number than the elected ones), are called ex officio – they are members by right because they have been appointed to leadership roles in the congregation.

 

Broadly speaking, a General Chapter sets the key strategic orientations for the congregation over the next 6 years, decides on any changes to be made to its Constitutions (the canonical text that governs life in this specific congregation) and elects the leadership team to implement it. Just pause a minute to appreciate the depth of this democratic practice: the “people” set the main strategy of the following 6 years; the ‘people’ write and rewrite the law; and the “people” elects its leadership team, whose job will be to implement the strategy decided by the Chapter, and who will be accountable to the next General Chapter for how well they achieved that implementation.

 

Crisis of democracy

Despite this strong democratic principle at the heart of their functioning, religious congregations too have been going through a ‘crisis of democracy’: a rise in individualistic behaviour (I do what I want where I am, regardless of congregational strategy or policies); a loss of belief in the relevance of the strategic orientations discerned at an event that happens only every 6 years, when the world around us keeps changing in an exponential way every month; and a struggle for leaders to find new ways of exercising their authority in a way that fosters active participation, hovering between old models of authoritarian, top-down approach, and a non-interventionist, laisser-faire approach that recurrently fails to address organisational and human dysfunctions.

 

The congregation that I have been accompanying here for two weeks have been through their own version of that crisis. For them, it’s a particular loss of belief in those orientations decided in Chapter that has weakened organisational engagement of its members. To put it another way, Chapters, in the past, have tended to bring great minds together, who think through complex issues and come up with brilliant strategies – but that no one implements on the ground, because members feel that those plans are far too removed from their everyday reality and concerns.

 

Unfortunately, because of several other critical situations that this congregation is facing (diminishment, ageing, financial sustainability, care of the elderly, formation and support of the young…), they have never been in greater need of finding a strategy forward. So how can they resolve this dilemma: seizing this opportunity to discern a transformative way forward – but do it in a way that the rest of the organisation feels they can engage with?

 

From solutions to scenarios

A year ago, I invited them to use a different approach, called ‘Transformative Scenario process’. It is based on the famous approach that Adam Kahane has been developing since the early nineties, in socially-torn countries such as South Africa and Guatemala.

The approach we developed with this congregation invited all its members to contribute to co-create scenarios of possible futures for their congregation, that would offer pictures of what the congregation could look like once the transformation around those key, fundamental issues would have happened.

 

Scenario-building is very different from envisioning. It is not about dreaming what a better future could look like, nor is it about giving expression to our highest aspirations and values. Rather, it is a very structured planning process, that starts with assessing the current state of the organisation, and its environment, identifying challenges and opportunities, as well as emerging trends that we can already perceive. On that basis, it invites people to access their creativity in imagining how the organisation, 5-8 years from now, will have solved its main challenges, and what it would look like as a result.

The invitation is to build several scenarios – again, contrasting with envisioning processes that tend to seek convergence towards ‘one’ vision. And to test those scenarios, to see if they are really ‘possible’ futures, or just ‘wished-for’ futures.

By inviting the creation of several scenarios AND insisting on them addressing all the challenges that the organisation faces (not just the ones that fit my vision of a wished-for future), it accomplishes the difficult task of enabling different visions, perspectives, aspirations, to find a place to be heard; whilst at the same time offering fairly objective criteria (the challenges and opportunities named at the beginning of the process) against which to test the feasibility of proposed scenarios for the future.

 

Reenergised engagement

For the past 6 months, those religious men have been very busy in engaging in deep, generative conversations across the globe (thank you Zoom !), with confrères that they rarely get a chance to talk to – some of whom they’d in fact never met. Africans, Indians, Europeans, Americans; old and young; retired and active members: suddenly all these people were engaging on Zoom sessions to imagine together their own congregation in the future.

They created about 80 book-covers: a beginning of a scenario, which just a title and 3 or 4 key points, to give a flavour of what is being proposed. They then developed them into 28 scenarios, merging together those ‘book-cover’ ideas that seemed to be going in the same direction.

 

Just on Zoom, a third of the congregation (250 members out of 750) became very active, spilling over into conversations outside of Zoom, with confrères who were not taking part in the Zoom sessions, but whose interest kept growing.

 

By Christmas, though, the question became: what do we do with all these 28 scenarios? Who decides which one(s) we keep, and which ones we throw away?

 

Regenerating democracy

A month later, we opened their General Chapter, and 40 men came to Rome with that very question in mind. At stake was not only the success of the “scenario process”, but also the credibility of this newly tried approach of involving all the members in presiding over the destiny of their congregation, rather than letting a small group of elected members continue to do so.

But a Chapter has its own rules, some of which are laid down by canon law. Should we “trust the wisdom of the group” of chapter members, relying on the fact that they took part in the scenario process and therefore should have a good sense of what their confreres have been saying? Or should we find ways of integrating the voices – and the will – of the rest of the organisation on such a crucial matter?

 

A confrere within the facilitation commission had a suggestion: now that we’re all so practiced in meeting on Zoom, how about holding a Zoom session with those confreres outside of the Chapter who would like to contribute their sense of what the Scenario process has achieved, and how we should move forward with it? In other words, how about opening the doors of the Chapter and let anybody who wishes to, come and share their perspective?

By analogy, this is like opening the door of parliament, and letting any citizen who wants to, come and share their perspective on how the country should move forward on its most critical issues ...

 

As I mentioned earlier, the Chapter is the highest decision-making body in a congregation. So such a decision of altering the way it operates had to be put to the Chapter, for it to decide. Interestingly, such an innovation was met by similar reactions to those that any deep innovation meets: a mixture of sheer enthusiasm on the part of some, of a need for time to integrate it for others, and of resistances from a few.

But after a round of generative dialogue, the Chapter decided to go with it, to take a risk, to innovate. And then three things happened:

 

  • When they came back into the plenary room of the conference centre, after spending one hour in Zoom breakout rooms with confreres from the four corners of the world, a new kind of energy literally swept the room. Those men who, the day before, had been doubtful and sometimes morose at the prospect of hearing again what they thought they’d heard before, came back highly energised by very profound conversations.
  • We then actually heard, in this place usually reserved to a select few, the voices of hundreds of men who shared some wonderful nuggets of wisdom and creativity
  • The men out there, who, for 60 min only, had taken part in the Chapter, were now clearly claiming this Chapter as theirs, and owning its outcome, whatever it would be

 

Life creates the conditions for more life

This experience had such a positive effect on everyone that the following week, the Chapter decided to repeat the experience, this time on an even more symbolic issue: the election of the new leadership team of the Congregation.

Again, historically (and legally in fact, through Canon law), the right to elect the new team has always rested in the hands of the Capitulants only. Whilst respecting this fundamental, canonical procedure, the innovation this time consisted in holding Zoom sessions with confreres across the congregation, inviting them to share their perspective on the kind of leadership that the congregation needs at this time in its history – not offering names as such, but skills, capacities, qualities.

 

Again, the energy in the Chapter room following those 2nd rounds of Zoom conversation was phenomenal – and so was the wisdom brought into the room, in great coherence and convergence with the reflections that had been taking place in the run up to those zoom calls.

For example, one of the issues that the Chapter got in touch with had been the importance of honouring, and even leveraging on, the diversity present across the organisation. In perfect echo to that, some of the confreres on Zoom urged the Capitulants to get away from a “male, pale and stale” leadership team, and embrace the diversity of ages and continents in forming their next team.

 

 

As we were all leaving Rome, there was a shared sense that something completely new had been experienced, yet something that seemed to give them all a sense of renewed energy, and of greater connection to their primary purpose, primary mission in the world. Something that we call Regeneration.


From I to We: enabling a group to clarify its collective intention

If you’ve read other of our blog posts, you’ll have picked up by now that here, at Nexus, we use the U process to design pretty much all of our interventions. So I’m not going to go into details about the process itself; my purpose here is to describe a methodology I’ve been using at the bottom of the U, in that Presencing stage where a group, with Open Mind, Open Heart, and now Open Will, is invited to open up to ideas, possible solutions or ways forward, that may be coming from the situation itself – “from the field”, as Otto Scharmer puts it.

 

Picture this: a group of 39 people has just been working on painting together a collective picture of their lived, organisational reality, and how it connects to its context. They’ve identified their organisational strengths and weaknesses; they’ve named the opportunities and the risks around them. They’ve even dived into the shadows of their organisations: those issues that everyone knows about, but no-one dares addressing – well this time they have, and they’ve shared, deeply, about what all this is triggering in them.

 

The obvious next step then is: well, what shall we do about all that? What strategy, what action plan should we develop to engage in the innovation, the transformation that we need to engage in?

 

At this stage, the risk of “jumping the U” is at its highest – i.e. the risk of wanting to jump straight from an assessment of the situation, to a solution to remedy it. Why is it a risk? Because it is so hard to stay in the “Not Knowing”, especially when the collective picture we’ve just painted is so intense, and seems to be calling for us to act. Perhaps also because we have all been trained to ‘problem solve’, and that we derive a sense of worth out of doing so, far from the powerlessness we would sense creeping in us if we just stood still and held the space for just a little while for the ‘truly new’ to emerge …

 

What’s wrong with problem-solving though? Well, nothing. In fact the U process, in a way, is a problem-solving tool. But moving from the assessment straight to a proposed solution carries with it a major risk: that the solutions that come forth will only be individual proposals; ideas that come from some members of the group, particularly disposed to problem-solve, and whose ideas may have been present, in their minds, before the workshop started. In that way, we’d end up with solutions based on a pre-workshop assessment of the problems, and with a process that would be shifting from collective discernment to a debate around whose idea is better, and is the one we should follow.

 

The challenge at the bottom of the U is therefore clear: how do we accompany the birth of a set of solutions based on the collective picture of the reality – in all its depth and complexity – that has just been co-created by the group? And how do we ensure that the proposed solutions have really been authored by the collective – so that its members will be much more energised to implement them?

 

Well, this is how I did it with this group:

 

First of all, I gave them all some personal reflection time, in silence, around the following question: when you contemplate this collective picture of your reality, that you have just co-created, what is it saying to you? What is it pointing to?

As you’ve probably picked up already, the trick is to invite participants into a disposition in which the solutions will no longer be coming from them – but from beyond them. The trick is to help them tune into the collective intelligence that has already been mobilised, and to do that, one has to turn off one’s ego for a moment, and let that collective intelligence speak – let the picture speak, and point the way.

This is best done by extracting ourselves from the working spaces used so far, and by engaging in more meditative mode: a walk in the garden (or the forest!), if you have one around your conference centre, is ideal. Alternatively, you can invite participants into a shared silence, with a soft music playing in the background.

 

Once they’d had sufficient personal reflection time, I invited them to create 13 trios, and gave them time to share in trios what they’d picked up about what their reality was saying to them – what directions were emerging from the collective painting itself.

 

Then 10 trios were invited to pair up: putting two trios together to create a group of 6. We formed 5 groups of 6; whilst the remaining 3 trios were invited to form a group of 9. All newly formed groups were given the same task: to create 2 sentences that would capture all the various things that each member picked up about what future direction the collective painting was pointing towards. For most groups, this meant that 6 people had to agree on just 2 sentences – an even harder task for the group of 9! – which really helped them focus on sentences where everyone could feel that their own experience of what the picture was saying was being included.

In a true U process spirit, I invited them not to get on with the final objective straight away (creating 2 sentences), but rather to spend time listening to one another’s experience of the collective painting, and how they felt it had spoken to them about the way forward. After that initial dialogue, I invited them to pause, for a minute, in silence, in order to connect to what was being said not just by the group members, but by the group itself: what are all our sharings put together speaking about? After that silence, it was time to share about their sense of what their group was capturing – still without trying to create 2 sentences. After a while, a new invitation for a minute of silence, this time to ponder on the question: what 2 sentences could best capture what we’ve just said our group has been connecting to? Then, and only then, was it time to craft those sentences.

 

When they came back to the plenary, I invited them to approach those 2 sentences with the analogy of the photo and the landscape: a photo is an instant capture of a lived experience – but it is not that lived experience. So a photo of a beautiful wild field might help me connect to that experience of the field when I was in it (the scents, the breeze, the buzzing insects, the sun warming my skin…), but it is not the experience itself – it can only be a prompt to jog my memory.

Similarly, those 2 sentences where the photos of the deep conversations they’d just add; they could trigger their memories of the meaning that flowed in their dialogue, but the real thing was the dialogue itself, not the sentences.

 

That preamble was important to share with them, because I then invited them to merge into bigger groups, and repeat the task! So suddenly we had 2 groups of 12, and 1 group of 15, and again each of these groups had to produce 2 sentences only. In other words, everyone had to let go of what they felt was “their” sentences, in order to produce a new pair, inclusive of all 12 or 15 experiences.

 

When we finally all came back in plenary to share those final 6 sentences, the experience was just spectacular: I invited each group to speak its 2 sentences, with nothing else – no introductory explanation, no particular comment – just their text. After the first group, we held a minute silence for the sentences to echo in us, and moved to the second group, and then the final group, with a 2-minute silence at the end to take it all in.

 

The connections, the resonance between the groups were amazing, and the room filled with a sense of awe at realising how the group, the collective intelligence, had found its own voice.


Decision-making process : Nexus’ iterative model

Decision-making is not an instantaneous event, something that occurs only at the actual moment that the decision is being made. Rather, it sits within a process that includes the build-up to the decision, the decision itself, and then the impact of the decision itself. That process can be extremely quick (minutes, or even seconds), or take a few days, or weeks.

 

Time is not a central criteria for evaluating whether a decision is good or not. Or rather: the time it takes to decide is not a sign of whether one’s decision is good or not. What matters more is whether the decision is taken at the right time (i.e. neither too early nor too late), and whether the use of your time has been efficient. And, more importantly, what makes a good decision is the result, the impact it has on the reality that you’ve had to decide about.

 

At Nexus, we use an 8-step iterative model for excellence in decision-making, which proves particularly useful when helping groups reach complex decisions:

Step 0: Setting the field

Before even starting the decision-making process itself, it is important to take time setting the field for this decision: the scope and the purpose, the timeline, which role-holders need to be involved, and at what stage(s), etc. In our own approach, we like the use the 3T model: Time, Task, and Territory. In other words, when should a decision be taken; what is the purpose, the primary task of that decision; and through which governance body. These 3 boundaries become very useful later down the process, to monitor whether the decision process is on or off track.

 

Step 1: Access to relevant data

Any decision crucially relies on pertinent and relevant data. This requires an open-mind, to seek sources that may not be our usual ones, but which the situation may require you to access; it also requires inclusion, so that the people closest to the situation/challenge/opportunity can be brought on board and share their data. And inclusion requires trust: these people will not share data with you twice if you lose their trust after the first time

 

Step 2: Gathering and selecting the data

Cognitive neurosciences have highlighted the impact of unconscious biases on our cognition, and therefore on our decision-making process. Concretely, this means that the autonomous processes we use to gather and select our data tend to be biased by our own mental frameworks. Furthermore, through our own cultural and professional trajectory, we also develop blind-spots, which prevent us from selecting important data. Engaging in step 2 as a diverse group enables you to mitigate the risk of blind spots and unconscious biases

 

Step 3: Processing the data

Making sense of our selected data includes inferring meaning – the process of inference is another critical one, well exemplified in Peter Senge’s Ladder of inference (MIT, Boston). Suspending judgement rather than making assumptions, resisting the temptation to draw conclusions too soon, and checking our own belief-system will prove helpful at this stage.

Whilst decision-making needs to be based on data, intuition and gut-feeling can have a place here, as they can be thought of as a non-conscious way of processing data – providing that they are explored and worked with, sifting through what really comes from the situation from what we project into it.

Team culture will also play an important role: enabling curiosity, inquiry, and speaking out, rather than towing the line in the name of loyalty, will prevent you from falling into the trap of groupthink, and making potentially unsound decisions

 

Step 4: Making the decision

Complex decisions require an ability to think through that complexity; to access a complex picture of the reality, without leaving out important dimensions of the situation. It also requires a particular inner disposition: calm, clear-mindedness, commitment. Fear and anger are two dispositions worth moving away from when it comes to making the actual decision.

Some decisions can only be taken by one person; but quite frequently, they can be taken by a group. The advantage of a collective decision is that it binds those who have taken it, and enhances their sense of responsibility for implementing it – thus increasing chances of positive impacts.

One interesting area to explore when looking at decision-making is time: was the decision made when we said we would? Was it when the situation required us to make it? If we ended-up making sooner than planned, or later – why? And did it turn out to be best, or not?

Another interesting area to explore is around who ended up making the decision? And why that person or that group? And how does this relate to issues of role, responsibility, and accountability in the organisation?

 

Step 5: Impact: Outputs and outcomes

The primary purpose of making a decision is of course to generate an impact on the situation/problem/opportunity at the heart of the decision-making process. We decide to take actions (outputs), to generate a more positive situation (outcome).

There are, however, two other elements worth bearing in mind in terms of impact, which are not necessarily part of the initial purpose, but which are by-products of the decision-making. The first one is the impact on the team: it may be coming out stronger after steps 1-4, but it may have been impacted more negatively by the experience, and/or the outcome of the decision – it is worth avoiding taking anything for granted at this stage.

The second one is our stakeholders: any decision we take impact on them too.

 

Step 6: evaluating the impact of the decision

How much has the problem been solved, the opportunity seized?

How is the team feeling after the decision, and its impact? Is it coming out stronger, or has the process created resentment, divisions, lack of confidence? The same goes for our stakeholders in the situation: what’s been the impact on them, how are they coming out of all this?

 

Step 7: evaluating the process of making the decision

If we want to improve our performance, and strive for excellence, it is important to learn from our experience. Step 7 enables us to review how we went through each step, what worked well and what could be improved. Bringing in a multi-stakeholder perspective here, in a culture of openness, will ensure that you get the best out of step 7.

 

Step 8: Learning and improving

This is the time to harvest all the elements from steps 6&7, and to design actions aimed at improving the next iteration in your decision-making process. This means welcoming both successes and errors – the latter ones are often the best sources of learning and improvement!

The spirit here should be one of striving for excellence, rather than one of reward and punishment. And the more you involve people in the whole process, the more of a learning culture you will create, leading to better trust, and therefore better access to relevant data, better gathering and selection, and better processing: a real virtuous cycle.

It is worth noting that this learning cycle in step 8 will not only boost your organisational decision-making – it will also help you work on leadership, mindsets, values, conflict-resolution, diversity & inclusion. So that by entering through one prism (decision-making), you may, with this learning loop, develop your organisational capacities on a whole range of other issues crucial to organisational maturity.

 


Idealization, death of idols, and rebirth: accompanying the regeneration of leaders and their organisations

The years I have spent coaching business leaders have often led me to the terrain of the shadows: that of our inconsistencies, our contradictions, our shortcomings; those aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to talk about, even to ourselves...

 

Working with the shadows has allowed me to discover that there are generally 3 people inside the leader sitting in front of me:

 

  1. The idealised leader: i.e. the idealised image that the person has of what a leader should be, of the behaviours and style that a leader should demonstrate. This idealised image is generally the receptacle of personal and systemic projections that the person has introjected: parental injunctions, then those of teachers and other authority figures, cultural injunctions, both national and organisational, so-called definitions of leadership which emphasise qualities that are generally heroic, and often superhuman. While the coachee often begins coaching with the desire that it will enable him/her to become this 'idealised leader', one of the purposes of coaching is to allow this unattainable representation to die, for as long as it is active, it will only stifle the unique being, unlike any other being, who seeks to embody his/her own style.

 

  1. Coaching must therefore strive to start from the real me in a leadership role: as a human being, promoted into this role, what am I really experiencing? What are the strengths I bring to my role, the energies and talents that are unique to me? But what are also my internal tensions, my ambivalences, my paradoxes? What are, therefore, my shadowy areas, and what scenarios from the past still govern them, what wounds, what unfulfilled needs of the child I was continue to live in the adult I have become...?

 

  1. Once the idealised leader is dead, and once the terrain of the real self has been worked on, coaching can then accompany the birth of the self that wants to be born in this role of leader... or not! Who am I, what is my deepest intention, what talents do I bring to the world - and how can I free myself from the idealised leader in order to imagine a new way of being fully myself, in a leadership role that I would take on in this new way, and not according to the old personal and systemic mental patterns that I had introjected. How to remain free enough, too, to realise that maybe being a leader (at least in this organisation) is not for me, that maybe it was more someone else's desire that I was trying to fulfil, and that it is in fact another role that I am called to?

 

As I have worked with many different organisations, I have found that this three-dimensional pattern generally applies very well to their situation.

One type of organisation among others is religious congregations which - as I have learned from coaching them - are often faced with issues very similar to those of other organisations with which we are perhaps more familiar: multinationals, SMEs, NGOs, etc. Issues of leadership, innovation, change management, conflict management, resistance, etc. One of the things that sets them apart is the enormous projections they are subjected to, both by the outside world and by their own members. And this is perhaps why this model applies particularly well to them, even though I have also tested it successfully in large companies, which are seeking, for example, to reinvent themselves.

 

 

  1. Indeed, one of the main obstacles to overcome for these religious congregations is the idealised Congregation: the receptacle of external projections of their so-called wisdom conveyed by numerous books, or by a collective unconscious that has perhaps never really freed itself from the clergy as bearers of supra-human, almost divine qualities. But also internal projections coming from the members of the Congregation themselves on their Charism, their Mission, on all the good that their congregation has done, and continues to do, in the world. When I meet a congregation for the first time, it is often this idealised congregation that they present to me: the greatness of their founding history, the fervour of their members in spreading - and therefore living - the Gospel, the Word of God, etc. At that moment, I feel them trapped in this straitjacket of projections, in which none of the problems they experience, and for which they ask me for help, can exist, can be explained, or even thought about - and therefore be resolved. Paradoxically, this virtuous, all-powerful image of themselves renders them powerless to act to transform the problematic situation in which they find themselves.

 

  1. My job is therefore to enable them to connect to their real congregation, i.e. to the lived experience of all the members of this congregation today; and to name its strengths, its energies, its talents, its achievements, but also its dysfunctions, its paradoxes and its shadow areas, born or maintained by problems of structures, of processes, but also and often first of all by an inadequate grasp of the role of member, and of the role of leader. Today, I realise how essential this passage through the shadow zones is, because it is what allows us to reduce the gap between the espoused theory and the theory-in-use (as described so well by Professors Argyris and Schön of MIT). And it is this passage through the shadows that also allows the death of the Idealized Congregation, and opens the space for something new to emerge.

 

  1. And in this “Paschal mystery” that follows the death of the idealised Congregation, we can then facilitate the emergence of the Congregation that seeks to be (re)born ... or to become something else. For some, it will be by revisiting their Purpose, their fundamental Mission, and adapting it to the realities of the 21st century that they will find new ways of living and working together, and of impacting the world - ways that are much more congruent with the needs of the world, their Charism, and their real capacities (no longer fantasised through their glory years) to act in this world. For others, they will realise that they are living in the dusk of their congregation, the challenge being to pass on their charism to lay people and to focus their energies on the challenge of making ageing their new missionary territory.

 

 

In my experience, this model can be applied to all kinds of organisations, except for start-ups, which, as the name suggests, are just born. But for any mature company, for any NGO with some success behind it, for any public service that has been able to fulfil its mission in the past, the obstacle is the same, which this model can help to overcome: what idealisation has been built up around our organisation, and its past glories, which today stifles our ability to reinvent and regenerate ourselves? By putting words to it together, and letting these idols die, you will find the path to your regeneration.


Practical use of the model

The model, or Operating System is quite simple to use. In our experience we have found it is best implemented through a process modelled on the 3 phases of Otto Scharmer's U-theory:

 

 

  1. First phase - Sensing

This phase involves exploring past and present activities through the prism of this model, identifying

  1. what you already do that resonates with the dynamics of regeneration - and therefore needs to be continued or even amplified;
  2. what you do that goes against these principles of regeneration - and therefore needs to be transformed.

Concretely, in this first phase, you could for instance go on learning journeys to explore what others are doing that can be a source of inspiration for you (Principle 5 in action!).

 

  1. Phase two: Presencing

This phase is about collectively feeling the impact you want to make and starting to bring the future into the present.

  1. Step back and collectively agree on what can no longer continue into the future, what must be let go of (Principle 1 in action);
  2. create a secure container in which to start producing innovative solutions for the future, to address the problems identified in step 1, in a way that is aligned with all 6 principles.

 

  1. Third phase Realizing

Start implementing through several iterations, building learning loops at every step to help you monitor and adjust, and ensure that those regenerative principles are both being embodied, and producing their desired effects

 

Nature and open source: Learning together

 

The model is a work-in-progress, which we have tested and adapted through enough iterations to warrant sharing it as a beta model. We are sharing it publicly in the hope that it can be tested more widely and that together we can learn to regenerate organisations (and thus their ecosystems, and thus the planet). When using it, please give us feedback, or come back to us with your questions and comments, and, once you’ve tested it, let us know what impact it had on you, and what you’ve learnt!