Evolving Team Energy

Evolving Team Energy

Is there someone in your life who commands energy? Who easily lightens or intensifies the atmosphere in a space, in a positive or negative way? Whether these people bring sunshine or brooding storm, there’s no missing the shift that happens when they arrive on the scene. You can practically feel the air crackle.

 

Recognizing and focusing the shifting, dancing energy between and around ourselves and others is at the heart of emotional, social and relationship systems intelligence. It forms the basis of the work that we do in Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC). 

Some people are particularly adept at transmitting a mood to others. However, underlying energies and emotions affect every situation we find ourselves in. 

When you stop to observe, what is the energy you feel in your place of work, or around your family dinner table? How does the mood of one person affect the group, and vice versa?

 

“Team members tend to only communicate verbally, but there’s a whole layer of communication – body language and energy level and intention – that we often don’t pay attention to, but it’s there. It’s more important than the words are.”

Nicole Schaefer, equine-assisted coach

 

Once you begin to see the interplay of mood and energy that exists in any interaction, this dynamic becomes impossible to ignore. 

Learning how to consciously shift and amplify the mood or climate of a team is an acquired skill, and one that is useful in a variety of situations. To begin working with it, we must acknowledge the physiological sensations and emotions within ourselves and tap into the mood in the space between us. Only then can we intentionally bring the energy that is required to create a mood and influence a collective climate.

Think about how this acknowledgement is built into our social interactions – the first question we ask when meeting an acquaintance is “How are you?” 

Those who perform for a living – actors, dancers, musicians, even public speakers – are experts at extending emotion to others and involving them in it. Audience members pick up on and mirror that energy. It’s the reason why a well-crafted speech can unite us in intention, or a song can bring us to tears. Without that element a performance falls flat, failing to inspire.

 

“To truly connect with a group, you must hook their emotions. If you want to engage an audience – whether you’re speaking, acting or performing –  first identify the energy you bring in with you. Being aware of that energy allows you to adjust and extend it to others.”

Jillian Millar Drysdale, professional communicator and acting coach

 

Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, effective leaders have a similar ability to channel the energy of a group. Developing collaborative, innovative human systems relies on establishing relationship, and that in turn depends on recognizing the energies and emotions within your team. 

Learning to focus and evolve the energy of a group, so that all members are collaborating toward a common goal, is more challenging than simply transmitting your own energy outward. 

You can begin by observing the energy you habitually carry with you. How would you describe it? What effect does it have on others?

Notice the energy around you. How does it make you feel? Is it enveloping, crushing, spiky or electric? How does your own energy shift in response?

Before you enter a situation, take a moment to reflect on the atmosphere that the human system you about to encounter might need to do the task at hand.

  • What will be most useful?
  • What attitude, stance or philosophy will support the work?
  • What type of energy do you intentionally want to put forward?

“One plus one can equal infinity. When we lean together and tap into the energy of the third entity, when we fuse our energy together as a team or system, our possibilities become limitless for cultivating creativity.” 

Sherry Matheson, team and leadership development coach

 

As you enter the space,  notice what is present and what is needed – and bring it! Consciously choose the energy you put out.

  • How does adjusting your tone, pace, stance and volume change the environment?
  • How might creating a certain form of energy help you accomplish your goals in a given situation?
  • When you are functioning together at your best, what energy and emotions are present in the room?
  • How do others respond when you consciously identify the emotion or mood you feel coming from them?
  • What supports in your life – rest, food, meditation, time with a particular person – help you to recharge and channel your energy more effectively?

“The magic happens when partnerships and teams realize that they can be more than the sum of their parts. When they begin to trust that by tapping into and amplifying the power of their third entity, they can create an energetic shift that makes the work flow.”

Kerry Woodcock, collective and change leadership coach

 

CRR Global’s ORSC training contains a toolbox of relationship systems intelligence strategies to help co-create a climate of change. One such skill is to have teams consistently check in with the emotional field in their relationship system. Another is to intentionally step into particular stances that collectively support the work moment to moment. 

Whether your aim is to inspire and encourage, to lead effectively or ignite action, having the ability to skillfully shift the energies around you is the first step in creating connection and responsiveness within any system or organization.

  

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., who develops change leadership capability in organizations and social system through Novalda and as CRR Global’s Canadian partner, and Jillian Millar Drysdale, a communications consultant and acting coach in Calgary, Alberta.

 

Question | How does raising your awareness of team energy help you to work with it?

 

Novalda’s next course, ORS@Work, begins on February 5, 2020.

Want to explore these ideas further?

 

ORSC in Action

ORSC in Action

We all have moments that profoundly change us. For me, defining experiences have included living and working in a remote Tanzanian village, and birthing my children at home using hypnotherapy. To my delight, the discovery of Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) concepts was another. Each of these experiences changed my worldview and how I showed up in the world. 

 

The ORSC philosophy of Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI) colours everything I do, and I find it fascinating to explore how other professionals are using these strategies in their lives and work. 

 

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Erkan Kadir, an agilist and ORSC coach, agrees that learning about ORSC can be transformative.

Whether you call him an agilist, an agile coach or enterprise coach, Erkan’s task is to foster high-performance, self-organizing teams. Today’s rapidly changing markets and expectations mean that organizations must be able to pivot quickly and thrive in uncertainty. Agile creates a flexible culture within the organization.

Although it increases interactions and collaboration between team members, it does not focus on how to develop and maintain the strong relationships that are required. For Kadir, ORSC provides that competence and skill.

 

“I like to think of ORSC as a different lens for looking at the world, one that gives you a richer and wider perspective to understand what’s going on between yourself and others. Once you look through that lens, it’s hard to turn it off.”

Erkan Kadir

 

So in a way, I’m always using ORSC in my professional and personal life,” he says.

The evolution from a traditional, top-down business model to an agile culture can be a stretch for everyone involved. Leaders often find it particularly challenging, as they transition from being the recognized expert to the person who catalyzes and motivates change in others.

“As an agile transformation consultant, it’s important for me to model the new style of leadership that we’re encouraging organizations to adopt – specifically, leveraging coaching to help influence and grow other people without the direct use of power,” Erkan says. “I bring my ORSC dojo with me wherever I go. It seems like there’s a tool for any occasion that you find yourself in.“

“A coaching engagement is either set up for success or failure before you even go in, depending on how you enter the system. ORSC provides so much guidance on how to do that really skillfully.”

 

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

Stephen R. Covey

 

Strategic leader Nicole Schaefer uses ORSC in an entirely different context. An innovator who loves to challenge the status quo, Nicole layers ORSC ideas in a strategy she calls equine-assisted coaching. 

Her partners in this endeavour are her two horses, Tosca and Dinah. Dinah is very social and keen to meet people, while Tosca is an introverted observer who takes her time when entering a new situation. As she got to know the horses, Nicole realized that training these very distinct personalities involved interacting with each one differently. That started her thinking about leadership and personal development.

“It teaches me a lot about who I need to be in certain situations. How do I need to act? How do I need to react? What’s the energy level I need around each of them?” she says. “I thought, if I get so much out of that and [the horses] teach me so much, there must be something that other people would get from that relationship too.”

Frequently, ORSC reveals the undercurrents of relationship.  Exploring what remains unspoken can have a dramatic effect. The special talent of the horses lies in their ability to reveal emotional energy. While a traditional coach might ask new clients what they wish to explore, Nicole instead uses the first interaction with the horses to see what shows up. 

 

“Being the amazingly talented catalysts they are, the horses are tuned into the energy and what’s going on. It helps uncover and highlight something that’s going on in the person’s life. Then I can help with that discovery. It’s a less targeted, more exploratory and experiential way of coaching.”

Nicole Schaefer

 

Nicole says she integrates ORSC skills and tools into her work with the horses, using aspects of tools such as the Third Entity, Alignment Work, Relationship Myth in her equine-assisted technique. She believes her strategies can be useful for teams as well as individuals.

“There are things that team members explore while working with the horse that they can translate to how they work as a team in the workplace, or how they work as a family,” says Nicole. “The horse will again be an amplifier or a catalyst for showing what the whole team dynamic is about, so team members don’t focus too much on themselves or on their relationship to each other, but understand how the entire team is moving together.”

Learning to communicate without language brings another level of complexity to the interaction.

“The horse picks up on your body language, your feelings and your energy. You need the non-verbal communication to make it clear to the horse what your desire is, and the verbal communication to communicate with your partners or teammates what you’re trying to do. Maybe there’s non-verbal communication you’re not even aware of, and if your body speaks a different language, your teammates can get as confused as the horse does,” she says. 

Exploring that complexity can add another level of clarity. It reveals what’s truly going on and brings to the surface what may be a hidden pattern.

 

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”

• Ansel Adams

 

The more often that I use these concepts in training others, the keener I am to hear about how they are evolving to suit various situations. Perhaps the true power of ORSC lies in the ability to understand and create our own version of relationship and the vision that we hold for ourselves and our teams.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. Kerry is privileged to be CRR Global’s Canadian partner, bringing the magic-making ORSC training across the country.

 

Question | Do you have an ORSC story to share?

 

ORSC training begins in Calgary in January 2020.

Want to explore these ideas further?

 

Flirting with Potential

Flirting with Potential

Is the universe flirting with you? Do certain songs, sights and ideas repeatedly flicker on the periphery of your attention? Are you noticing, missing or purposefully ignoring the signals that are being sent out?

 

Part of developing Relationship Systems Intelligence, so integral to effective leadership, lies in learning to acknowledge signals. CRR Global’s ORSC training accomplishes this in a number of ways. One tantalizing and amusing concept we explore is that of the Quantum Flirt.

 

“Maybe that’s what life is … a wink of the eye and winking stars.”

Jack Kerouac


As described by Arnold Mindell, a quantum flirt is “a short-lived, transient, perpetual signal which can be used to provide us with insight.”

A flirt from the universe can come in any form – as an object that catches the light, a scent in the air, a word or phrase you hear repeatedly. It might be a taste on your tongue, or a snatch of a melody you’d long forgotten. Perhaps it’s a bodily sensation that you choose to ignore – a ping deep inside or a throb behind the eye. It may come from something that is always present in your day-to-day life which sparks your curiosity, if you are present enough to notice it.

Are you too busy to check in with what the quantum flirt is trying to tell you?

The coincidences or little miracles that happen every day of your life are hints that the universe has much bigger plans for you than you ever dreamed of for yourself.”

Deepak Chopra


When a quantum flirt catches our attention, it momentarily distracts us from our everyday existence as we observe it. Once a flirt is noticed, we can choose to stop and deliberate on the meaning it offers. By reflecting on the bigger picture, we acknowledge that the future is not set in stone, but contains infinite possibilities.

What matters is not the flirt itself, but that you take the time to observe and reflect on it. What might you discover if you paused to consider what the universe is revealing? Perhaps it is a coincidence, and perhaps not. Above all, a flirt is a call to be present. It can alter your perception, nudge you down an unexpected path or simply remind you to expand your thinking.

 

“Coincidences mean you’re on the right path.”

Simon Van Booy

 

As this year and decade close in a season of wonder and celebration, this is the challenge I give you. Spend a few moments flirting with past and present.

First, close your eyes. Ask yourself – what do you need to release as you say farewell to 2019? Take a few deep breaths.

Now, allow your eyes to flicker open. What catches your attention? Is it a colour, a shape, a flash of light, a cloud in the sky? Or is it a physical sensation? As you stop to observe your surroundings, what calls to you?

In this moment, what significance does that object have for you? What is its essence? Is it possible that you’ve already received this message, and have marginalized it?

Remain open to the meaning, even if it seems strange. If it resonates, make a note of it.

Now close your eyes again, and repeat the exercise, while considering – what do you want to take with you into 2020?

If you’ve had no time recently to pick up on the signals that the universe is gifting you, this hushed season when nature pauses to renew itself provides an opportunity to reflect. Flirt with the idea that the universe invites you to step away from literal reality and instead look at the bigger picture, the essence of possibility.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. Kerry is privileged to be CRR Global’s Canadian partner, bringing the magic-making ORSC training across the country.

 

Re-energizing Relationship

Re-energizing Relationship

All relationships experience a loss of energy from time to time. This is true of any relationship, whether it be with another person, a team, an organization, a community or society. It can also apply to your relationship with a project, field of work, industry, or to a change initiative.

 

What relationship of yours could use a little boost of energy? It’s not just your personal life. Maybe the energy in the relationship with the organization you work with has become stale, or your business has lost forward momentum. Perhaps the relationship with that novel you’ve been wanting to write for the last seventeen years could use a little nudge.

 

There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Nelson Mandela

 

Whatever the relationship, if the shine has worn off and you notice a lack of energy, enthusiasm and efficacy, it’s time to reconnect with what originally inspired you. Whether the relationship involves a person, a project or a change, it is possible to reignite the purpose, spirit and potential that first sparked your interest.

It is important to understand that a relationship is about more than just the individual entities involved in it. As a relationship forms, the connection itself creates a palpable spirit or energy. CRR Global calls this element The Third Entity.

In other words, a relationship between the two of us actually has three parts – me, you and ‘it’ – the spirit or entity that is created when we come together. Getting unstuck and finding new inspiration involves reconnecting with the third entity, the relationship in its best possible form.

 

Reconnect with the highest truth and ignite the divine spark in you.

• Amit Ray

 

One way to tap into this deeper meaning within the relationship is through metaphor.

Take a moment to think about the relationship which has stalled. What metaphor represents the best aspect of this relationship, the essence at its heart that most inspires you?

Daniel Hayes shares metaphors that couples use to describe the third entity of their relationship, such as a bridge, a pillow fight, or an investment.

Which relationship in your life would you choose to reignite? What metaphor would you use to describe the Third Entity you associate with it?

For me, the relationship that could use a little boost is the one I have with my business, Novalda. Over the last few years I’ve had an influx of wonderful work as an internal coach and an associate. I’ve noticed that my relationship with Novalda has been neglected as a result.

I see Novalda as an innovative new world in which people can transform themselves. Novalda is actually a coined word which joins ‘nova’ (meaning new or novel) with ‘alda’ (meaning age or world).

The metaphor for the relationship between myself and my business Novalda at its best is luminescence. Imagine the spontaneous emission of light that is created when there is movement in a bioluminescent lagoon, and you have a visual image of this metaphor.

 

Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.

Nelson Mandela

 

Reflecting on my metaphor for my relationship with Novalda, I note that although our relationship is still good, there has been little movement. The luminescence has dimmed.

I haven’t invited as many people to join me in playing in the water, and when I have, I have neglected to observe the impact of our dance in the water. Although the bioluminescent creatures were there, they have remained dormant.

What metaphor surfaces when you think about the third entity for your own relationship? What illumination or insight does this metaphor give you?

Does your relationship align with any of these common metaphorical representations? If so, does the metaphor clarify anything about your underlying assumptions about your relationship and where you might be stuck?

 

Relationship as machine – involving parts that need to be assembled or coordinated through the expenditure of time and energy. A relationship, like a machine, can break down and need ongoing maintenance and repair work.

Relationship as an investment – the notion that parties invest in the ‘bank account’ of their relationship in order to reap mutual benefits. If there is no longer a return on the investment, individuals may abandon the relationship.

Relationship as living organism – invoking a natural progression from infancy to maturity. They are born, they grow, they mature, they require nurturing, and they can wither and die. Relationships can be vibrant and healthy, or they can be sick.

Relationship as container – implying a stability or permanence of form. Containers can function to protect their contents from outside forces, and also to limit or box in those contents.

Relationship as a journey – this voyage documents a process of ongoing change and discovery along the way. It is possible to lose sight of the destination, or to have it change as a result of where the journey goes.

Relationship as a thing – this idea depicts a separate entity whose characteristics supercede the individuals who belong to it. Relationship entities take on a life of their own, often making those who are involved feel as if they are responding to a physical force beyond their control.

Returning to my relationship with Novalda, the concept of luminescence aligns with the metaphor of Relationship as thing. Where do I resonate with where we may sometimes get stuck? While this year I’ve been surprised by what others want from me and from Novalda, what’s emerging – the luminescence – is amazing. Indeed, it does feel bigger than just me or the company. So, the Third Entity must flex and respond as required by the environment and the climate we are in.

 

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Marianne Williamson

 

With this perspective, my tension subsides along with my fear. I am more comfortable with the lack of control I can feel about what might be demanded of us. I do not need to put on a light show. Instead, I can continue to dance and play with the light, and invite others to do the same. Together, we will see what emerges,

If you have a relationship that is stalled, try returning to the roots of what first inspired it. Using metaphor as a tool for exploration can help you to reconnect and reignite with the energy that brought you together.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

 

Question | What relationship in your life could use a boost?

 

Want to explore these ideas further?

 

Exploring the Emotional Landscape

Exploring the Emotional Landscape

Can you feel the air as it moves in the space between you and me? The space between us? Are you aware of the emotional field that is co-created between you and others, moment to moment?

 

As a team and systems coach – as a daughter, sister, lover, partner, parent, leader – as a human being, I’ve been fascinated with this shifting, dancing space for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes the emotional field feels cold, flat or empty. At other times, the space is heavy, warm, or spiky. Those around us can sense it too. A relationship coach once named the emotional field between my husband and I as being like the crackle and hiss of static electricity. There was a lot of friction between us at the time! It is also a common emotional field that we tend to create together.

How might bringing awareness to the energy between and around you serve your relationships?

 

People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

 

The higher the quality of the relationship dynamic, the better the results. Research across a variety of fields confirms that this is true, whether the relationship is between a therapist and patient, a coach and client, or a leader and a team. Powerful relationships really do create meaningful change.

Does paying attention to and co-creating a productive emotional field between team members allow you to achieve a common purpose?

 

In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, not advanced degrees, or technical experience. It was EQ. 

Daniel Goleman

Researcher Tünde Erdös is exploring the intriguing impact of interpersonal synchrony, demonstrated through micro-movements between coach and client. In coaching terms, she wants to show that coaches’ way of ‘being’ with clients – more than their out-of-the toolbox way of ‘doing’ coaching – is likely to make a significant difference in how clients feel empowered to attain self-directed goals.

Whether you are a coach, or a coach-like leader, how does your way of being with others impact the way your people regulate their emotions?

 

Emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.

David Caruso

 

Strategic leader Nicole Schaefer and I decided to team up together to explore this concept, combining the Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching approach with Nicole’s own unique reflective facilitation approach. We begin by exploring a relationship in which the emotional space plays a major role. I am to have the great privilege of meeting Nicole’s two horses, Dinah and Tosca.

What is the lesson?

Whether I am working with horses or humans, the same principles apply to sensing into and co-creating the space between us.

 

Step 1 – Be aware of your own feelings.

As we drive out towards the mountains, I observe my thoughts. While I am keen to be out in the fresh air doing something novel, I am also nervous. These horses are physically bigger, stronger, more powerful than me. They are ‘other.’ I fear they will step on my toes! If I frighten them with sudden movements, or miscommunicate with them, perhaps they will run away and hurt themselves.

I laugh as I become aware of my fears.

Where does this show up for me as a coach? A leader? A parent? Do I fear those that are more powerful than me? Do I fear that those that I see as ‘other’ will step on my toes? Am I concerned about the clarity of my communication? Quite possibly.

 

Step 2 – Consider how you want to show up.

I procrastinate at the car, taking my time, deciding what to wear. Then I take a deep breath, settling my heart, head and gut.

As I walk towards the field, I step into gratitude for this experience. We walk towards the herd. Tosca and Dinah come meet Nicole while another horse greets me, shoving his head under my arm.

Nicole asks me to lead Tosca from the field to the arena. My fear shows up as a twinge in the stomach. I notice I want to talk to Tosca, to engage with and play with her, but sense she is giving me the side eye.

How do I choose to be with her? I sense it’s better that I don’t do my puppy dog routine and be all over her like a rash. I take note of how I am feeling – a little rigid in the top half of my body, with a painted smile splashed across my face. I am holding my breath.

I do what I do when I meet a new coaching client, a new co-lead, a new person.

I take a breath, and check in with my body. I open up to the possibility of the new and the novel, let any expectations drift away, and take in the being in front of me.

I pause to sense which of the many parts of me that I could choose to bring out to play wants to come out to meet Tosca.

I select calm, light, and confident. I feel a wave wash over me. On the other side is stillness. Tosca too seems purposefully still.

 

Step 3 – Consciously co-create

As we enter the arena, Nicole amplifies the pause. I close my eyes as she asks me to sense into Tosca’s energy. She highlights that this pause is important as it helps to be present and turn conscience awareness towards the other being. I get even more curious with what’s happening with me (emotional intelligence), what’s happening over there with Tosca (social intelligence), and what’s happening in the space in-between (relationship systems intelligence). When we can tap into our relationship – our Third Entity, as CRRGlobal calls it – we tap into power.

Nicole asks me to step towards Tosca with the intention of having her walk backwards. I imagine myself and Tosca stepping in unison, yet I’m shocked when she does so. My surprise makes me hesitate. She stops and we end up bumping heads.

I try again, but this time Tosca doesn’t move. I step back to create some space so she can see me step towards her. This time, we take a few more steps back, before I laugh in disbelief. I wonder why she would believe me or do what I ask. More to notice about my relationship with my own power.

Nicole suggests that to support my intention and underpin my mind and body movements I touch Tosca and follow through guiding her in the right direction. I notice that initially this feels like cheating! My desire is for us to do an effortless tango together. Yet I follow through with a light touch to her chest and she instantly understands my intent. Where might a slight touch or guide support my intentions elsewhere, I wonder.

After Tosca and I spend some time walking and running together, I become more sure and certain about my communication. All hesitation leaves her and she turns and stops just with the intent of my movements, without any additional guidance.

Nicole leaves us alone while she goes to get Dinah. The dust sparkles in the stream of sunlight. I take in Tosca’s scent. Listen to our breathing together. This time, Tosca and I walk in synch first time – in flow – with Tosca walking backwards all the way to the corner. The magic of interpersonal synchrony.

If this is what Tosca and I can create together, what might be possible in my human relationships?

 

I have always believed that by touching emotion you get the best people to work with you, the best clients to inspire you, the best partners and most devoted customers.

• Kevin Roberts

 

My time with Tosca reinforces the concepts I use in coaching and leadership. Establishing relationship depends on bringing warmth and a deep presence to what’s happening within me, sensing what’s happening with others. and checking into the space in-between. I need not fear my own power – or others’ – nor be so surprised when people actually want to be led by me. That surprise or disbelief can cause me to hesitate. The hesitation can make others uncertain of what I’m communicating. It helps to remember that others are also at choice, rather than fearing that they will follow me blindly.

Becoming aware of your own feelings, deciding how you want to show up, and releasing expectations are all strategies that can help you to infuse a space with presence, power and warmth. You can take these strategies into any environment where you share an emotional space with others – including horses! This was just the first step into my relationship with Tosca and Dinah, as Nicole and I will continue exploring emotional and social intelligence, relationship system intelligence, and that magic that can exist between us when we get it right.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

 

Question | Are you aware of the emotional landscape of your team?

 

Want to explore these ideas further?

 

Supporting Collaboration with a Psychological Safety Net

Supporting Collaboration with a Psychological Safety Net

Does your team climate encourage the communication and psychological safety that is so necessary to innovation, or shut it down?

Is it a safe and courageous space in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves? Or have they learned to play it safe instead? 

Often, you can answer these questions simply by considering what happens when team members meet.

  • During your weekly meeting, a team member asks about the purpose of another scheduled meeting – a question that’s been voiced before. The titled leader, frustrated, snaps that this is not the time to repeat that conversation yet again. There’s a moment of silence before the team member apologizes, while others look down or away. Nobody says a word or steps in to support the question that has been left unanswered and continues to linger in the air. Finally, another team member breaks the quiet with an overly bright, “Let’s move on to the next agenda item, shall we?”
  • Your team is discussing a potential direction.  Quickly and clearly, a team member sees a potential widespread risk to the organization and the community with which it serves. No one else seems to be highlighting those issues. When this team member broaches them, they are a lone voice speaking into the wind. No one becomes curious. Rather, their concern is dismissed.
  • During a group discussion, a team member brings up a systemic issue that they have noticed playing out in themselves, the team, and the leadership team – namely that the resounding message has become “We must not fail.” Innovation is being curtailed because of this fear. When the observation is spoken aloud, members of the team become defensive – reacting as if this person were blaming and being critical of them personally, rather than including themselves as part of the team and the issue. The spotlight turns on one person – the messenger – rather than on the system.

You’re not imagining this atmosphere. You’re living in it – every day! Remember, no one comes to work with the desire to appear ignorant. No one wants to be seen as disruptive or irrelevant, or intends to be destructive or incompetent.

 

Because not offering an idea is an invisible act, it’s hard to engage in real-time course correction. This means that psychologically safe workplaces have a powerful advantage in competitive industries.

• Amy C. Edmonson, The Fearless Organization

 

Notice the role that you play. Are you the team member who speaks up, the titled leader who attempts to shut down the conversation, or a team member who chooses not to say anything and remain in silence? Most of us play out each of these roles to differing extents in varying teams and situations.

If this atmosphere is allowed to persist, over time the energy becomes heavy, dull, and stifling. Team members are antsy or apathetic, and the entire team is on ‘edge.’ You might notice edgy behaviour in yourselves and others. People fidget or look away in silence, or attempt to shift the mood and change the conversation to a different topic. Such behaviour reveals awkward emotions, including fear, frustration, anxiety, excitement and confusion. The edge is uncomfortable

When there is a lack of psychological safety, what is actually happening and is most real for team members is not allowed to enter the shared space or be expressed by the team. Rather, it goes underground and shows up after the meeting, often in conversations amongst groups of two or three people.  

 

We need to go deeper, to get deeper. By getting down to the level of developmental capability we can intentionally and empathetically foster systems of practice that exceed the current norms and actually open up possibilities for change.

Dara Blumenthal

 

There is a fear of making the invisible visible. 

This is a team putting task above relationship, and ‘I’ before ‘we’ and ‘it.’ Instead of genuinely relating to one another, team members believe that their personal value relies upon staying interpersonally safe, secure and worthy. This team needs to be compliant and in control, avoiding all failure. No one is willing to take the inherent interpersonal risk of candour. Team members hold back on participating fully because they fear sharing a potentially sensitive, threatening, or wrong idea.

While this team may create results, they will come at a cost. What is the cost? 

Your team pays in a missed opportunity to be collectively introspective, vulnerable, empathetic, and to connect through interpersonal trust.

You miss the opportunity to develop an even deeper climate of psychological safety. Your people are unable to feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution. 

Your team misses the opportunity for full collaboration and innovation. Worse still, as Dara Blumenthal highlights, your team loses the opportunity to develop the capability to handle future complexity. Your organization is incapable of leading through transformational change.

What opportunity will the world of tomorrow miss?

 

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

• Elbert Hubbard

  

In contrast, a psychologically secure team is confident they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored or blamed. They know they can ask questions if they are unsure about something. They trust and respect their colleagues.

This collectively accountable space for true teaming and collaboration is critical to encouraging innovation and the ability to create transformational change. 

Are you, your team and your organization willing to miss these opportunities? Or are you willing to take and create the environment for interpersonal risk-taking, by mastering the tension between staying personally safe and leading together with courageous purpose?

 

No organization can organize at a higher state of development than the consciousness of its leadership. Deep systemic change occurs only if we can be the change we want to see.

• Bob Anderson, Mastering Leadership

 

As leaders, it is our responsibility to create a climate of psychological safety in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. They know they can ask questions if they are unsure about something, and trust and respect their colleagues.

Developing the capability to deal with the complex and fulfill our organizational and community purpose is a process that nurtures thoughtful relationship, requires courage and involves more than one change leadership tool

Is your team ready to take collective accountability and create a psychological safety net?

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

 

Question | What strategies are you using to create a psychological safety net for your team?

 

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Steps for Successful Team Coaching

Steps for Successful Team Coaching

Why team coaching? Why now?

 

As organizational coaches, with a decade of experience in coaching systems across industries, cultures, structures and at different stages of evolution, we hear these two questions over and over. While an organization’s leadership or a team’s leader may be the initiator of and inquirer into team coaching, it is usual – at least initially – that some team members may not understand or trust the process.

Many teams easily answer these questions for themselves, but others find it more challenging. This is especially true for those that feel threatened by long-term team relationship dynamics or recent organizational changes – in other words, teams that could find coaching timely!

In such situations, strong sponsorship of team coaching becomes doubly important. In fact, we believe it can make or break the coaching experience.

 

Leaders bring the weather.

• Jim Geiger

 

We have coached hundreds of systems to develop their collective and change leadership capability. Most teams report that their newfound ability to speak up and engage in constructive conflict leads to better performance and improved business results.

Yet recently a few client teams have failed to complete the coaching program.

Acknowledging failure is a critical part of change leadership, and so we ask ourselves why this happened. We must take a deep look at our leadership as part of being responsible and accountable for our role in the success or failure of our clients.

On examination, we realize that in those few cases where a client has failed to complete the coaching program, it has resulted from a failure to properly contract with the sponsor of the team coaching.

Why share this truth? Whether you are a professional internal or external coach, or a leader taking a coaching approach to leadership with your team, we hope that understanding the reasons behind a failure and developing strategies to avoid unnecessary failures will support your confidence and success. Our recommendation is to assure team sponsors of their central role in the success of team coaching by carefully outlining the responsibilities of sponsorship as part of contracting.

Identifying and designing powerful alliances with sponsors is foundational to the success of team coaching. The sooner that the full range of those invested in developing a system or team join together as a sponsorship system, the better.

 

Start as you mean to go on.

• Charles H. Spurgeon

 

The initiative for coaching a system comes from many places. For instance, it might come from a CEO, GM, director or manager, a team lead or member of a team, or an HR Business Partner, or an Organizational Development or Learning and Development Practitioner.

Who then should be involved in designing the sponsorship contract? Initiators often become formal sponsors of team coaching, and can usually answer questions about which stakeholders might be included in initial meetings.

  • Who is it important to include in the initial meeting?
  • Who is responsible and accountable for the development of this system?
  • Who holds the resources for the development of this team?
  • Who will be required to support the creation of time and space for the development of this system?
  • Who are the champions of this team?
  • Who are the executive sponsors of this team?

Team members consistently look to leaders, including the person they report to and the leaders at the top, to seek the answer to the question of why and why now.

  • What is the change leadership hopes to achieve through team coaching?
  • What supports leadership to believe that the team can make change through coaching?
  • How important is this initiative?
  • Why is it important now?
  • What resources will be dedicated to make this work a priority?

Sponsorship helps a team to gain clarity. Developing a plan to consistently communicate the answers to these questions is an essential part of the process.

 

Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves.

• Paul Solarz

 

It is hugely important for coaches and potential sponsors to consider and align on key assumptions. As we discuss details of setting up team coaching for a particular organization, we identify needs while challenging myths and aligning on key assumptions to hold.

 

Designing a Team Coaching Sponsorship Contract

STEP 1 | Identify the system or team to be developed.

Who should be included?

ASSUMPTION #1 – The group identifies as a team or system, and is made up of interdependent entities with a common identity and purpose.

CRR Global, world leaders in advanced systems and team coach training, define a relationship system as “a group of interdependent entities with a common focus or identity.” In a system, entities interact or interrelate to form a unified whole.

What makes a system effective and impactful? It must become more than the sum of its parts by expressing synergy or emergent behaviour, by emphasizing relationship rather than individual components. You cannot change one part of a system without affecting the others and the system as a whole.

Successful, self-learning systems adjust with the environment to create adaptation and positive growth.

Key Questions for Alignment with Sponsors

  • What sort of system is this entity?
  • What sub-systems are present within the system in question?
  • What is the common purpose?
  • Who are the stakeholders of this system?
  • Who are the formal and informal sponsors of this system?

RED FLAG – Individuals who are seen by other stakeholders as part of a system may not necessarily see themselves as part of a system, or recognize their interdependencies, common purpose, or common identity. In this case, there will likely be great initial resistance to the coaching or being part of the coaching. This does not mean that team coaching will not be beneficial. In fact, often systems choose to explore the boundaries and emerging make-up and common purpose of their system. Team coaching can still be effective, but will require especially strong sponsorship and a commitment by sponsors and coaches to work with the resistance in initial foundation and discovery sessions before diving into a long-term team coaching engagement.

 

STEP 2 | Identify needs. 

Where is the opportunity for this team or system to grow and develop?

ASSUMPTION #2 – The gap between where the team is now and its future potential is acknowledged, and  team development will be made a priority.

Identifying the gap initiating the desire for change is critical, and multiple ways exist to begin the process of assessing it. As Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaches, we use the principles and tools of our trade – such as constellations – to reveal a systems change edge to itself.

Systems-inspired leaders also have the opportunity to learn and develop a coach approach to leadership, so they can better work together with their team to assess their change edge.

Initial sponsor meetings provide the first opportunity to identify the needs of the team. People invited to those meetings should represent the voice of the system, and it is essential to encourage them to speak those voices – especially the marginalized voices.

At the same time, it is important for coaches and sponsors to remember that this is only the start of the process. Other voices are needed and must be heard, specifically those belonging to the team itself, and ideally to stakeholders as well.

Formal assessment tools, one-on-one interviews and systems process are helpful in the discovery phase through foundation coaching sessions and assessments.

Key Questions for Alignment with Sponsors

  • What are the current relationship dynamics in this system?
  • What is the team tolerating?
  • What are the desired relationship dynamics?
  • What is the gap?
  • What is trying to happen? What is wanting to emerge?
  • What are your and the systems’s best hopes and worst fears for this team?
  • What’s needed to move one step closer to the best hopes?
  • What’s possible if that was to happen?
  • What are the consequences if nothing changes?
  • What’s the sense of urgency for change?

RED FLAG – If no gap is identified and the sponsors have no sense of urgency for the team to grow and develop, there is a risk that team coaching will not be a priority. Without urgency and commitment to creating a space for growth, it may be best to set aside coaching for another time.

 

The goal of team coaching is not solving problems. Problems will become resolved in an effective team coaching process. The goal is creating improved dynamics so that the presenting and future issues will be better addressed by the team. The goal is a more resourceful and effective team that will be able to handle the new challenges that remain ahead.

• Philip Sandahl

 

STEP 3 | Align on what team coaching can accomplish.

What expectations do people have about the outcomes of team coaching?

ASSUMPTION #3 – The aim of team coaching isn’t solving problems by building, fixing or doing team tasks, but rather a process of developing relationship dynamics so that current and future change can be better addressed by the team together.

Team coaching explores the relationship dynamics of a system. It is important to understand that the goal is not to fix or solve problems, complete team tasks or team build. Rather, the focus is on team dynamics and how the team interacts with one another, creating efficiency and strength and amplifying the power of the relationship system to do its work.

MYTH | Team coaching is team building.
Team coaching is NOT team building. The team is already built, even if it is new and just coming together. Rather than building the team, team coaching focuses on developing the team.

MYTH Team coaching is about fixing a team.
Team coaching is not about fixing dysfunction. When it becomes apparent that sponsors are focused on team coaching to repair dysfunction, we emphasize that this is a myth. While team coaching will develop relationship systems intelligence, it is necessary to enter into team coaching in a safe and courageous way.

CRR Global recommends checking for the following issues. Understand that appropriate approaches such as mediation, training, or counselling strategies should be in place prior to starting systems coaching:

  • Gross power imbalances with ongoing safety concerns
  • Active mental illness or substance abuse of any members
  • Physical or verbal abuse

Team coaching must not go ahead if there are any ongoing or imminent investigations of any team member.

MYTHTeam coaching is about facilitating team tasks.
Both sponsors and teams may expect organizational coaches to facilitate team processes and complete team tasks, such as developing strategy. While team coaching can be a venue to discover, uncover and explore, creating fertile ground for team tasks to be completed more efficiently, effectively and with more purpose, ultimately the work belongs to the team, not to team coaches.

RED FLAG – Those experiencing team coaching for the first time may expect that the process can build or fix the team, or solve problems and complete tasks. Although these outcomes may be byproducts of team coaching, they are not the central purpose. When sponsors do not understand this truth, team coaching is likely to be bumpy or fail.

 

STEP 4 | Clarify the role of sponsor.

Who will support team coaching and how will that support be provided?

ASSUMPTION #4 – Sponsors will consistently support the process of team coaching, even in the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and resistance from team members.

Sponsorship is a necessity both during and after team coaching. Some sponsors may be internal, for instance, a member or leader of the system receiving coaching. They may be external to the system receiving coaching because they are further up in the hierarchy, or they may play support roles and may or may not be included in the system that receives coaching.

Every system is different, and so stakeholders must decide who is part of the system receiving coaching and who is part of the sponsorship system. This is often addressed fully in the foundation session by the system as a whole.

A sponsorship contract involves making a promise to:

  • Take a stand for systems coaching, and understand that the whole system must show up for coaching and hold accountability for the whole
  • Hold that relationship development is as important as working on tasks
  • Inspire a sense of urgency for the coaching and the desired outcomes
  • Access team coaches for support when needed and be transparent with the team
  • Create the resource of time and space for the system to grow and develop as a team
  • Hold the belief that what is wanting to emerge will appear as part of the coaching process, even if potential outcomes are not readily apparent
  • Champion the work when it gets difficult and when team members push back
  • Involve the whole system in developing desired outcomes as part of the discovery sessions
  • Understand that team coaching does not come with a script, and that uncertainty and ambiguity is part of the process

Our history tells us that team coaching has made a difference for hundreds of organizations. When systems coaches walk their talk and rigorously design alliances with sponsors and the systems they work with, relationship systems flourish during the coaching process and beyond.

 

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Woodcock of Novalda and Sherry Matheson of Empower the Truth, two experienced organizational coaches who frequently collaborate to develop change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.

 

 

Question | How can you create understanding of and support for the team coaching process?

 

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Using Rank Responsibly

Using Rank Responsibly

At the heart of change leadership lies a simple truth – to develop a culture that draws the best from each member, we must remain conscious of how rank, power and privilege can affect the discussion.

 

Part of a leader’s role is to design a conversational space and the psychological safety that will allow all voices to be heard. As change leaders, we must make an effort to look beyond the obvious, and recognize the value in the perspective of those who have less status.

While it is easiest for titled leaders in the room to create this expectation, they are not the only ones able to draw attention to issues of rank or bring more parity to the discussion.  

 

Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.

• Peter Drucker

 

 As well as being a curious observer of idiosyncrasies that appear when cultures converge, my friend and former colleague Alex has the ability to strike up conversations with ease and charm. Years ago in Dar es Salaam, he demonstrated his ability to lead change by putting his keen sense of curiosity, observation and play to good use at an evening board meeting.

Our board was made up of a mix of Tanzanians and European and North American expatriates, all in their 40s and 50s and heading up a variety of conservation and environmental organizations.

Both Alex and I were British and in our early 20s. Being based in the field, it was my first opportunity to attend one of the monthly board meetings. Everyone but me was male.  

 

We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

• Albert Einstein

 

These details give you an idea of my position at the meeting.  I had the lowest rank. I was female, the youngest member at the table, field-based, and it was my first time there. The challenge was that I had no awareness of my rank and I had a lot to say!

I raised my hand and opened my mouth to speak. Our chairperson scanned the table, passing over me, and elicited an opinion from someone else. 

At first I thought it was a mistake, but after it had happened a few times I became bemused, shocked, even flabbergasted. I looked around the table to see if my elders noticed. If they did, they didn’t show it. Looking back now, there were a few that might have found it amusing, if they were paying attention. 

I dared to attempt to speak again. The same scan of the table. I was invisible. 

Alex raised his hand and was called upon. 

“Yes, Alex!” our chairperson smiled.

“Kerry has something to say,” said Alex, passing the floor to me with a twinkle in his eye.

For the rest of the meeting, I was aware that Alex had one eye on me. Whenever I wanted to speak, I nodded my head. 

He would raise his hand and when called on, simply say, “Kerry!” or extend his hand towards me, each time with a little more playful flamboyance.

 

 The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.

• Phil Jackson

 

I was too shocked and humiliated to thank Alex or even speak about it with him or my mentor afterward. Fortunately, I never again had the same experience of feeling my low rank at any meetings. 

Looking back I realize that Alex, young as he was and with a fairly low rank in that situation, demonstrated great leadership. He was curious enough to be aware of what was happening, and intentional enough to ensure that all voices – including mine – were heard. 

Whether he was consciously aware of his rank and my low rank at that meeting or not, he used his rank responsibly. His is a way of leading that I hope I have emulated.

How often are we really curious about the power imbalances that play out in our families, our organizations, and our communities? If we are unaware of our rank and that of others, how can we use our rank, power and privilege responsibly? Being a change leader requires this level of care in ensuring that all the voices in our systems are heard.

 

Don’t aim to break the glass ceiling. Aim to shatter it.

• Matshona Dhilwayo

 

These days, I am frequently in the position of leader, and designing an environment that allows us to transcend rank has become my responsibility. Adding a simple opening exercise to the opening of everyday meetings is an easy way to solicit and encourage contributions from every participant.

We begin by clarifying our purpose in meeting along with the desired outcomes, defining the why and what of the meeting.  Next, we take a few minutes to design an alliance around how we will create an aware and intentional conversational space to meet our purpose together. With this in mind, we ask deliberate questions.

 

What is the atmosphere we want to create together?
How will we ensure that all voices are heard? 

 

For instance, we might decide that speaking a second time will only happen once everyone has has had the chance to speak once. We might also agree to check in periodically for contributions from voices that are more quiet.

Thank you, Alex, for allowing my voice to be heard all those years ago, and for being a role model for systems-oriented leadership.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

 

Question | What inequalities do you notice around you?

 

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Reigniting After Burnout

Reigniting After Burnout

Burnout is what happens when we ignore the soul whispering against an unhealthy job or relationship.

• Dr. Dina Glouberman

 

I was completely depleted.

We’d just come out of a meeting where we’d finally aligned on a forward action. Our team had agreed on this action six months earlier. It was the ethical thing to do, the result I’d been working towards tirelessly. I had what I wanted, but at what cost? It had been such a struggle to get there. 

Leaving that call, I felt more hopeless and helpless than I have ever felt in my whole life.  

I felt the role in the organization whose purpose and vision I had believed in was steadily eroding. I  was required to be a tool of a controlling authority, asked to simply do as I was told even if it was against the organization’s purpose and mission. It felt like I was talking into the wind, pushing a large rock uphill, while lost in a desert. It was a lonely place to be.

Did I mention that I was exhausted?

This came as a shock. It crept up on me slowly, stealthily. I am known for my unending enthusiasm and energy, so it was frightening to feel so empty.

Burned out.

 

Burnout happens, not because we’re trying to solve problems but because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over and over.

• Susan Scott

 

I may have felt lonely and burned out, yet I was not alone. If only!

I am surrounded by similar stories of leaders working in a range of organizations and environments. It feels like walking through a wasteland, the ashes of a once glorious forest.

“I feel so alone in leading these changes. Where is everyone? Where is the executive support?”

“It’s like whatever I say – they don’t hear me, don’t believe me or trust me. They need to hear it from above. I’m tired of going around in circles. It’s time to exit.”

“If this is really seen as important and I am doing things right, why is everything so hard?”

“I no longer believe in a culture that does not value its people. I am unable to change it. I’m leaving to create an environment where people can thrive.” 

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

• Anonymous

 

I look at the ashen faces, the embers of some of the brightest, most brilliant and purposeful leaders I have known, and fear for them in a world that wants to stay safe instead of purposeful.

These are the leapers in change, those brave souls that lean forward into leading transformation.

Often, they are the most energetic, hopeful, and optimistic of us all. The most courageous, willing to move forward with uncertainty. The most resilient and agile, who have been able to bounce back, being quick and nimble on their feet.

I fear many organizations are losing these bright stars, especially in those where there are too few at the upper echelons willing to hold themselves responsible and accountable to do what is required to sustain a sense of urgency towards a change vision.

Instead, they choose to sit in the relative safety of complacency, allowing the fire to fizzle out. They hold on to the power of their thrones, rather than risk the personal discomfort of the vulnerability of emotional exposure in uncertainty.

When complacency suppresses true urgency towards a shared purpose, it can burn out leaders.  The condition is real, having been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon.

Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
3) reduced professional efficacy.

• World Health Organization (ICD-11)  

 

How can we avoid burnout in our teams and organizations? The responsibility lies with leaders at the top of the organizational ladder, and throughout the organization. Organizational leaders must look at themselves and their teams to see where they are contributing to burnout. 

The solution involves primary principles of change leadership.

Inspire true urgency – Stop being complacent.

Influence heads, hearts and guts – Continue to hold to the deeper purpose – the why – of the organizational transformation.

Emerge collective leadership – Start to commit fully to the reflective work of developing teams.

Finally, organizational leaders can step into eldership, holding themselves responsible and accountable to providing the support and resources necessary to allow their change leaders to shine.

 

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

• Socrates

 

Returning from burnout requires an acknowledgement that leading change in a VUCA world is challenging.

In risking, we may fail. However, there is a difference in how we fail. Are we failing intelligently because we experimented with trying something new and complex?

Or have we failed because we didn’t want to risk being disliked, distrusted, or disbelieved? Those are preventable failures which, if worked on together as a leadership team, can be overcome. 

 

By refreshing our sense of belonging in the world, we widen the web of relationships that nourishes us and protect us from burnouts.

• Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

 

I have hope for those leapers in change who have burned out – if they find ways to care, dare and bare.

If they are able to turn their care to other areas of their lives for a little and bring more balance, they may be surprised to find they are no longer alone and have done enough to ignite allies – the bridge builders –  who will begin to emerge and pick up the care.

If they dare to share their voices more quietly in some areas, still speaking up by sharing their vision and influencing rather than trying to persuade, they may find that others miss their voices and seek them out.

If they can bare their need for support, and hold those above them accountable for their role, they may be surprised by the affirmation they receive.

Care, dare and bare.

That’s what I did, and although my fire is not burning tall it is more steady now.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | Have you experienced burnout?

 

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Intelligent Failure

Intelligent Failure

We are all failures – at least, the best of us are.

J.M. Barrie

 

Years ago in a training course, I was asked to stick a label to myself marked ‘failure.’ 

I looked at our leaders in disbelief. Surely this was a joke. No one in their right mind was going to wear that label!

The other twenty-three people in the room merrily wrote ‘failure’ on their labels, peeled off the back and stuck them on their chests.

I wrote the dreaded word, unpeeled the back, but it was if my body physically repelled the label. This was ridiculous. I was no failure. I was a winner! I protested profusely. Sat, hot-faced, and finally stuck it on in a rage.

Of course, I understood that collecting ticks each time I practiced and failed would be an indication of how much I’d practiced and moved towards competence. But, I argued, so would wearing ‘winner’ and collecting wins. 

I was missing the point. Even worse, I was failing to get the point. It wasn’t to label us as failures. Rather, it was to notice our failures and learn from them.

Collecting failures is part of the journey toward competence and success. Reframing success through failure is a way to encourage us through those failures, teaching us that it is a normal part of the learning process.

 

We all want to show up and be seen in our lives. This means we will all struggle and fail; we will know what it means to be both brave and broken-hearted.

Brené Brown

 

Reflecting on that experience, what I really learned was that I had a problem with failure. I was well aware of where things in my life hadn’t always gone as expected. I’d had my disappointments. 

Yet those disappointments had always led me down different paths to new experiences that were beyond my expectations. I’d never classed any part of these experiences as failures.

Over the years I’ve been acutely aware of my dysfunctional relationship with failure. I’ve come to realize that in skipping over the failures, or worse still, blaming others for my failures – “They just don’t get it. They don’t get me. They’re missing the point.”  

I’ve missed an opportunity to analyze and learn from my failures. Still, it’s never too late to learn!  I’ve challenged myself to create my failure resumé. In doing so, I’ve fully owned my failures – with a good dose of humour – and brought that learning into the present. 

I admit, it’s much easier to do with the distance of years between this moment and a past failure. Recent failures are a little more challenging to fully own, but I’m getting there.

It’s been helpful to explore whether my failures were preventable or intelligent. In the majority of cases I’m happy to conclude that they were intelligent failures. Failures that came about through exploring the frontier of my awareness and ability. Failures that came from experimenting with the new, the novel, the unknown. 

 

All of my successes have been built on my failures.

Benjamin Disraeli

 

I have experienced a number of preventable failures too. At least one big one, but even that worked out for the best. Also, many smaller preventable failures, not least when in the kitchen.

“It might help to use a recipe,” my husband often quips.

“Heck no! I’m being creative. I’m experimenting,” I say.

Intelligent failure? Maybe! But, I never ever follow a recipe. Okay. Preventable failure it is then!

What is the greatest failure ever? Failing to fail. If we’re not at least at risk of failing, we’re not growing.

 

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

 

Now I’m learning to better own my failures, I’m clear that I’m certainly not in danger of that! I’ve had many failures. I’m known as someone who will push myself to take on new challenges, both big and small, and who often brings a novel perspective and approach to doing things. I’m becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of failure as part of my growing process. 

The blame game? Time for me to stop playing it. And, to prepare myself for intelligent failures along the way, so I can fail well to learn fast.

Perhaps I could even own the label ‘Intelligent Failure.’ Though that might just be pushing it too far! Failing intelligently – now, I can live with that.

 

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

 

Question | What is the greatest thing you have learned from failure?

 

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