Embodying both the good and the bad object in Regeneration

The societal and organisational shift that is required of us is unprecedented; it can no longer be about improving the current capitalist paradigm based on endless economic growth (even if we were to call it green growth, or sustainable growth), and has to stem from an innovation of the very paradigm through which we can think, and then embody, that radical shift. For many aspects, Regeneration (THE 6 PRINCIPLES ARTICLE) seems to us to be best fitted as this new paradigm for the 21st century.

 

Rooted in the wisdom of those ecosystemic principles we can observe in Nature, Regeneration, as a paradigm, suggests that for a system to thrive, it needs to regulate the cycle of “death”, and the cycle of “life”. With regards to the “death” cycle, it means ensuring that:

  1. We divest our energies from those organisational or societal patterns that can no longer continue into the future (e.g. petrol-based transportation)
  2. We accompany the dying of what we collectively need to let go of (e.g. cross-continental tourism)
  3. But we protect promising initiatives from an early death from the current dynamics that would otherwise thwart them (just like brambles protect the oak seedling from hungry deers until the oak it strong enough to withstand their munching) (e.g. protecting local organic producers and retailers from the logics of large scale agribusiness)

And for the “life” cycle, it suggests that we:

  1. Encourage life where it is trying to thrive (e.g. lower tax or/and create specific legislative frameworks for regenerative products)
  2. Increase interactions that are life-giving (e.g. civic innovations such as citizens’ assemblies)
  3. And develop collaboration and partnerships (e.g. Danone and the Gramheen bank teaming up to foster health and social regeneration in rural Bangladesh)

 

A key concept here is that of regulation: the dying needs to be as present as the birthing (just as in the life-cycle of living cells, where a “failure to die” can lead to cancerous growth). We’ve probably all experienced how easier it is to start something new than it is to let go of something we’ve being doing for so long, yet unless we do let go, real transformation is unlikely to happen.

 

With our clients, this becomes an important part our work: enabling them, at the bottom of Otto Scharmer’s U process, to name what they need to let go of before Presencing, Cristalysing, and Prototyping the new. In a workshop, this may come in the form of a pledge, that the group crafts and then agrees to endorse – even though the hard work of actually letting go will come later, in the following few weeks or months, where they will need to translate that pledge operationally, and face “for real” the disruptive thrust of any process of transformation.

 

One could be tempted to think that, when it comes to accepting to let go in order to let come, Christian organisations may find it easier; indeed, at the heart of their Faith, the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ death and resurrection) provides a wonderful framework to find meaning in what is required of us: to accept to let go, to let die, before we let come, and let live, and do so in trust – indeed in faith – that even if we don’t know what ‘the new’ will be, it is in the letting go of that which can no longer continue into the future that we create the space for that ‘new’ to be birthed.

 

In our experience of working with religious congregations, it is true that the Paschal Mystery is, undeniably, of great help for them in entering that territory of “naming” what needs to die, and in making the necessary pledge to let go of it. Yet we’ve also noticed that the translation of such a pledge into an operational reality is often rather difficult – much like most of us, as mentioned above.

 

How could that be? Well, perhaps the psychodynamics of the Paschal Mystery can help us make better sense of it.

 

The core aspect of the Paschal Mystery is quite simple: trusting God’s will, Jesus accepts to die on the cross, and rises on the 3rd day, thus bearing witness that after death comes new life. For every Christian across the globe, this dynamic is the very heart of their Faith. Put another way: this dynamic had to happen, as it is in its unfolding that God’s mystery is being revealed.

Yet as human beings across centuries, we’ve often been tempted to look at some of the characters in that dynamics as ‘the enemy’, as ‘evil’ – as if without their interference, Jesus would have been able to continue to live, and perform his miracles on Earth.

 

But the Christian Faith itself points to the contrary: it is through dying when he did, and the way he did, that Jesus revealed God’s mystery to humanity. In other words, he did need to be betrayed, judged, sentenced to death and crucified, for without that the Mystery of Resurrection (of life after death) could not have been revealed.

 

The implications of this is that all characters in that drama are essential, and hold their part for the Paschal Mystery to be able to unfold. Judas the traitor; the high priests who want to get rid of a rival; Ponce Pilatus the roman governor who “washes his hands” of the matter, thus effectively sentencing Jesus; Jesus himself, of course, who embodies the good that will nevertheless die; and also those witnesses, starting with Mary Magdalena and then the apostles who may doubt but ultimately rally to the evidence of life having made it through death. The Paschal Mystery is therefore a dynamic story, the result of all these characters interacting –not the story of just one person.

 

What does this all have to do with organisational and societal regeneration, you might (rightfully!) ask? Well, regardless of your Faith, and even if you are an atheist, this remains a foundational story for many civilisations, and it may help shine some light on what can sometimes hold us back from engaging in successful organisational or societal regeneration, primarily by highlighting the various roles that need to be taken up, played, acted out in what must essentially be a set of dynamic interactions between those roles.

 

Take petrol-based transportation for example. It will not end by us pledging the end of it – whether we are users who currently enjoy it, car manufacturers who want to align to climate goals, petrol companies offering to switch to renewables, or government sensing a wind change (forgive the pun).

 

It will require people taking up the role of bad object, of those seen as the high priests conspiring to kill that which is good (called the Amish by the French president a while back); it will require a traitor, a Judas – perhaps a car company or a petrol company breaking ranks from expected behaviour; a government agreeing to sentence to death petrol-based transportation as we know it; and also witnesses of the new life that is possible beyond petrol-based transportation.

 

From a psycho-dynamic perspective, what this means is that for successful regeneration to take place, several roles of bad objects need taking up, therefore several people need to accept to put themselves forward to take them up – even if that means being denigrated and insulted for weeks, months, or years.

 

Put another way: what the Paschal Mystery suggests is that regeneration does not happen ‘nicely’, with everybody agreeing it’s a good idea; or that it may be painful but we’ll bear the pain of it in an adult, harmonious way. Regeneration requires some people to take up the role of “baddies” and be seen as those who sentence to an unfair death – that is the price to pay for the so necessary unfolding of new life.

 

Of course the intention here is not to condone violent or abusive behaviour, under the guise that it would be in the service of regeneration. Elon Musk’s current reckless and perhaps sociopathic behaviour in his handling of his new toy “Twitter” has nothing to do with regeneration, and looks rather like the results of an untamed megalomaniac drive.

 

The intention, rather, is to encourage those whose role it is to take the decisions, to follow through with where the collective discernment is pointing to and to actually act on it with decisions followed up by thorough implementation. Regeneration demands it – and we can’t all be Jesus the good guy!

 


Theory U

Fast-track U process

Otto Scharmer’s U process will soon be celebrating its 20th Birthday, and needless to say what an amazing, transformational impact it has had on so many people and organisations.

 

Here at Nexus we have been using it as the background to our work for the last 15 years; often to design 1-day, or 3-day workshops, but also a whole intervention with a client, spanning over several months, where we can position the most pertinent moment for the Presencing phase, and, on that basis, build the Sensing phase as a process to get there.

 

What is, I believe, lesser known, is that the U process is a “fractal” tool, which you can apply to any size event or intervention: from an 18-month assignment to a 1-hour meeting, or even a 5 min phone-call. The process is always the same, and follows the same sequence:

  1. Sensing
  2. Letting go
  3. Presencing
  4. Letting come
  5. Realising

 

So next time somebody rings you, all panicking, to tell you that a key piece in your delivery system has broken down, rather than push for your initial plan to be maintained (“I don’t care, this is what we had agreed, sort it out!”), begin with adjusting your assessment of reality to include the up-to-date situation (Sensing), let go of your previous plan, but also of your fantasy or wish that all can be under control, listen to what the situation is pushing forward as the most evident way to still enact your Purpose (Presencing), let come practical solutions to start moving forward, and start implementing it in a test-learn-adjust approach (Realising).

 

One of my favourite stories about how the U Process can be applied to solve complex situations in a short space of time, took place in sunny Southern France, where I was leading a team of 10 consultants in facilitating a 1-day team-building event with a 100 senior executives from a European investment company.

Our client had given us the usual assignment of ensuring that those senior execs would “produce” some tangible and useful outputs (“it’s all very good to play, but we’re here to work too!”) AND at the same time have fun (“it’s meant to be a team-building, people are here to relax and enjoy themselves!”). No particular contradiction that we hadn’t experienced before…

 

So we set out to design a fun process, albeit with some clear objectives and deliverables. By lunchtime, whilst the morning World Café had gone really well and the energy in the room was as upbeat as one could hope, it had become clear that the programme we had designed for the afternoon had to be reworked, because the group was in a different space and would have refused to engage with it. We had 1 hour to have lunch AND reinvent the afternoon programme.

 

In a great spirit of inclusion of my team’s opinion, I suggested that we had 3 options and asked them which one they favoured:

  1. Working through lunch on the redesign
  2. Working on the redesign and then have lunch
  3. Have lunch first and then redesign

 

Surprise, surprise, there was a unanimous vote for the 3rd option… so by the time we had finished lunch, our work-time had shrunk to ½ hour!

 

Aware of the challenge we were facing (getting 10 very skilled, yet diverse facilitators to agree on how to redesign a programme in 30 min so that we could go back and face a crowd of a 100 senior execs in their post-lunch dip), I nevertheless decided to play it by the “U” book, and invited my team to go round sharing how they felt the morning had gone and what they thought the state of the group was (feelings, dynamics, expectations, etc.) – in other words I invited them to start with a Sensing phase. After all, our team was very seasoned in the U process, and I just assumed that they would, just like me, find this the best way to proceed.

 

Well, that was counting without their high levels of anxiety… in a few minutes, 2 or 3 of them had started sharing their bright ideas of what we should do – bright, indeed, but very different one from the other, and not always compatible.

 

I stepped in to remind everyone that we were supposed to engage in a Sensing phase – not “jump the U”. And so repeated my request that we go round painting a picture of the group as we had left it at the end of the morning.

That only increased everyone’s anxieties: “Matthieu, don’t be silly, we don’t have time, we need to find a solution!”.

“Of course we do, I replied, and that’s why I’m asking you to stay disciplined, and follow the process that we all know can help. Now we have wasted 10 of our precious 30 minutes, so I want you to stop “jumping the U” and get down to “Sensing”! Please!”.

 

The silence that followed was probably a mix of anxiety, anger, disbelief – but also recognition that we had a process that could help and a leader that was not getting overwhelmed by the group’s anxiety. So people finally engaged in sharing their take on where the group was, and 10 min into that Sensing, a clear, shared, and collective picture of the reality had emerged.

 

Just exactly what we had to let go off became self-evident, and a sense of what the situation required was palpable in the room, even though it had not yet been verbalised. This is the typical territory in which Presencing unfolds, I just had to figure out how to help that unfolding.

 

As if time had stopped in that territory, we spent half a minute of deep, reflective, anxiety-free silence, where everyone was aware that we were onto something, but that trying to catch it too quickly might just frighten it.

The breakthrough came from perhaps the most unexpected amongst the team: a young scandinavian woman, who’d only joined the team recently and was rather introvert. In that thick silence, she went: “what if we invited them to create solutions for the issues they identified this morning in small, theme-based groups, and asked them to present them in the form of cooking recipes, or poems, or songs, or theatre plays?”.

We all looked at her, then at each other, and smiled: “yes, that’s great, let’s do that!”. 8 mins left before resuming the workshop.

 

“Ok, what do we need to make that happen, and who does what? Me, I’ll write up the instructions on the flipchart! And me, I’ll get the material ready for the groups! Ok, and the 3 of us, we’ll go rearrange the chairs!”.

 

Back in the room, all rearranged, 1 minute and a half to spare. Thank U !

 


Feedback fallacy

Feedback? No thanks!

Antonio, marketing director of a multinational company, is a firm believer in the practice of 'continuous feedback' that has recently been introduced in the performance management cycle. Antonio thinks that, precisely through feedback, it is possible to develop the soft skills of his employees, not only their technical skills. That is why he never misses an opportunity to have individual interviews to give feedback on their assertiveness, on the empathy shown in relationships, on their ability to read the needs of internal and external customers. These weekly interviews begin with a series of so-called 'improvement' feedback, given on the parts of performance that did not satisfy Antonio, and end with a series of reinforcement feedback, on the parts of performance that were effective. Antonio is certainly a capable and exemplary manager, and the practice of feedback should certainly be encouraged - I think of how many people I have come across in organizations who have no idea what their managers see of their performance. In light of an interesting article, appearing in HBR 2019, by researchers Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall of ADP we can ask ourselves whether this ongoing practice is really beneficial for people's learning.

This blogpost will explore some questions, starting with observed practices and literature on the topic and in particular: does continuous feedback always increase our awareness? Does it always make us grow? Is it always a generator of learning? Providing, in the final part, some practical management ideas.

These questions recall certain beliefs and habits of thought with respect to feedback, derived largely from models inherited from a past in which the level of scientific knowledge had not yet allowed for the interdisciplinary understanding of its effects that we are beginning to have today, thanks also to IRM. I am thinking, for example, of a model I love very much, the famous Jo-Hari Window, created by Joseph Luft and Harrison Ingham, named after the initials of its creators. And how much I have always enjoyed sharing with students and course participants an almost magical story about the fact that 'johari' in Sanskrit means 'he who possesses treasures and jewels' (I think read in a note in Enzo Spaltro's essay 'Subjectivity'). This hidden and mysterious meaning has always seemed to me a magical metaphor for how valuable the activity of giving and receiving feedback is in adding precious pieces to our identity, which we would otherwise have no way of integrating.

But some recent findings, particularly on negative feedback, show us how thinking that we will always achieve a goal of personal and professional growth through feedback can prove deceptive. This is the 'feedback fallacy' explored through different research by Buckingam and Goodall. For example, according to research by their ADP institute on the needs of the Millenial generation, the demand for more attention is confused with the demand for 'more feedback'. In reality, the underlying need would rather be for an audience to be attentive to them, as happens in social networks when people receive stars, hearts, likes.  Thus, when we adopt processes of 'radical transparency' or 'hard feedback' that consist of putting people at the centre of a continuous stream of feedback, negative or positive, we are questionably responding to a current need. In fact, while 'procedural' negative feedback, that of correcting operational errors, helps us to correct ourselves and is always useful, total feedback that describes performance through strengths and weaknesses even on behavioural areas such as assertiveness, risk-taking, overview, empathy, etc. presents the risk of being even harmful and we shall see how.

Buckingam and Goodall in their research identified three mental models, three biases, that guide our use of feedback without being questioned:

  1. The 'source of truth' model according to which the other who observes us, has the more or less objective truth about our performance. In reality, the other has only a partial, fallacious and subjective perception far from absolute truth. If we take, for example, a typical behavioural competence, 'Overview', even if it is declined and described by related behaviours, it is evident that arriving at a precise and measurable perception is practically impossible. This fallacy becomes evident in 360° feedback systems, which, by putting together numerous perceptions, give us the illusion of arriving at a good average approximation. The basic fallacy, however, remains that of thinking that by averaging together perceptions distorted by a set of biases, we can arrive at something precise.
  2. The 'bridging gaps through learning' model. According to this model, there are target competencies for each role and those not possessed must be learned. It has, however, been discovered more recently that neuronal connections are mainly generated where other connections are already present, whereas it becomes more difficult to create new ones. When the brain receives positive feedback, the signal received is that someone appreciates what we are doing and this creates the possibility of generating new connections and learning. Negative feedback, on the other hand, produces the activation of the 'fight or flight' survival mode and the stress generated not only does not produce learning but reduces it. This result is counterintuitive to so many slogans about the need to 'leave one's comfort zone': on the contrary, learning, creativity, productivity are generated within it or with careful accompaniment to cross the 'survival mode' zone, not just by leaving the person with negative feedback.
  3. The third mental model is the 'excellence theory' according to which there is an excellent way to achieve goals. And this assumption is also easily disassembled. There is an excellent way when tasks are repetitive and mechanical, but in complex contexts it becomes difficult to select a single way to excellence. It is even more futile, according to the researchers, to think of arriving at excellence through the correction of failures, which leads, perhaps, to the development of adequate performance, since excellence for different people takes different forms. Removing subjectivity from performance therefore does not lead to an alleged 'objective excellence'.

What to do with the results of these studies? Stop giving corrective feedback?

The answer, supported by research on the effects of 'informational' feedback that is given to correct performance, is definitely 'no': since it is feedback that is given to correct concrete actions, immediately comprehensible to the receiver, we can continue to give it - with all the necessary precautions. A circumstantial feedback, focused on the specific action, as close as possible to the moment when the error was perceived. This type of feedback is perceived as non-threatening, shifting the focus from the negative emotions due to the error made, to the task and the need to perform it correctly. It is therefore useful to provide information that allows the error to be corrected.

Feedback, on the other hand, which aims to correct more complex behaviour, such as relational skills, must be handled more carefully.

In particular, thinking about the three mental models highlighted by research, which produce the 'feedback fallacy' feedback givers can:

- Adopt an attitude of 'humility' and openness to a different story emerging: it is a perception, not the truth, we may not have grasped the full complexity of the action;

- Emphasise strengths. This helps to consolidate learnings within people's comfort zone and reinforce what they do well, particularly if done at a time when we see people's talents being expressed. "Yes that's exactly it!!!" said at the moment when excellence happens works much better than an objective and impersonal description of what should be;

- Starting from the self and not from the other or the other. What we are seeing makes us think about, how we receive it, what emotions and interpretations we give with respect to what is happening and also what we would have done differently; on this the matrix of the generative speaking, which you will find within this blog, can provide useful practical insights for this conversation;

- Helping the person connect the past, the present, the future. Theory U, which is based precisely on this ability, from the present, to be in connection and in continuity with the past and future, may prove to be a really useful frame to avoid "downloading" and instead direct feedback to the future we wish to build together.

- Finally, one possibility, more in the order of diversity management and beyond, of organisational citizenship, is to compose teams with people who bring difference: people who are different in terms of skills, cognitive styles, origin, gender, age, etc., so that we can reinforce the strengths of each and every one and leverage the complementarity of skills rather than making immense efforts to create them where it is most difficult.

 


discerner-pour-mieux-choisir

Discerning in order to make a better choice

Today I had lunch with a friend, a company director, who complained that he had no choice but to accept a price cut imposed by one of his biggest customers. This will force him to outsource part of his business to low-cost countries.

This is completely contrary to his values and to what he wants to build. They want to anchor their company in France and work with suppliers whose social and environmental working conditions they can know precisely.

Who among us, however committed, has not experienced this inconsistency between our most deeply held ideals and our decisions under the pretext that we have no choice?

 

I reply: "Today you say you have no choice.... And if you had a choice, what would you do?"

Let's go back to the process of making this decision.

A decision involves a choice between at least one option A and one option B, and possibly multiple options.

In my friend's case, he can choose to refuse the price cut or accept it. If he refuses, it will have certain consequences for his business, but what are they? Perhaps it will force him to diversify his clientele, to develop innovative solutions, to find new partnerships...

Do we take the time to make this choice?

Without choice, there is no real free decision because discernment cannot be made.

What does this word mean and why is it so little used in our contemporary vocabulary?

Discern comes from the word crisis: judgment, and from the Latin, discernere: to separate.

Discernment is a process that involves both the analysis of the situation, the formulation of a question or problem that merits a judgement and a decision, the implementation of a process of deliberation on this question and the final decision.

Are we giving ourselves the possibility to choose and therefore to discern?

Do we ask ourselves the question, do I have a choice between building a swimming pool or another alternative such as designing an ecological, aesthetic and recreational garden for my children? Do I have a choice between going to Japan or experiencing a real change of scenery and deep encounters around my home?

 

We are often very conditioned by our environment, the injunctions disguised in advertisements. We can regain a certain inner freedom by offering ourselves this time of discernment by making a real choice with two positive alternatives that each make us want to go.

 

The discernment will then consist in rationally analyzing what each choice brings to me personally, to my family, to my environment and where it loosens these same dimensions without prejudging the answer. If a spontaneous attraction directs me towards one or the other, I slow it down and give myself time to consider "coldly" a rational analysis of the various options.

 

Once the analysis is done, I am interested in the emotions that each option brings me. I imagine myself living this or that option and I pay attention to what it generates in me.

If an option gives me more energy, dynamism and life, then it seems to be more in line with myself and my project.

If, on the contrary, it generates in me a lack of energy, a brake, a lack of life and dynamism, then it seems to be moving away from what I deeply desire.

 

Fast does not necessarily mean good and efficient. Taking the time to contemplate our reality, to feel what it tells us and to make a real choice by being attentive to our inner moods is a precious tool to decide with true freedom.


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.


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.


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!