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The Proactive Space: The Key to Culture Change

Looking back through my blogs it was about 5 years ago that I started to write about Collaborative Working, Accountability and The Proactive Space.  So, what has happened in the preceding 5 years to create a significant difference?

Predictably the challenge of creating collaborative cultures has become something many organisations believe can be achieved via digital transformation.

I’m not about to become a Luddite and reject the ability of technology to create a difference.  Well, then again, in these subjective areas perhaps I probably will.

There is a space for technology and this is not to be the driver of culture change.  Culture will shift when the interpersonal dynamics of the individuals involved shift.  Leading with the technological approach simply empowers individuals to wait for the technology to do the work.  All this is achieving is encouraging people to play the blame game, resulting in the system becoming accountable!

Proactive Space & Power Dynamics

I read, and shared, a post on LinkedIn about the unofficial organisational chart that exists in organisations.  The official organisational structure shows infomation including the number of layers of leadership and management, roles and responsibilities, job titles etc.  It does not show where power exists in the organisation.  Yes it does, I hear many shout!  Oh no it doesn’t… I repeat!

The power in organisations is nested within the relationship dynamics that exist between the employees.  There are numerous examples in the post I shared that show where power can exist.  No technological approach to creating culture change will come anywhere close to shifting the power dynamics that exist within employee relationships.

The Proactive Space embracing AccountabilityWhat caught my eye was the admission that ‘soft skills’ are the key to working with the unofficial organisational chart, not ‘hard skills’.  The post also suggested working on the ‘hard skills’ has not achieved much change in this context. Why is it the ‘soft skills’ are the hardest to master?  If the hardest and most difficult situations require the ‘soft skills’ creating a digitial transformation process will almost certainly achieve an even more negative culture.

Accountability & The Proactive Space

One important aspect of high performance the official organisational chart may show is where responsibility and accountability exist.  When there is an avoidance of accountability the dynamics of the unofficial organisational chart are driving the culture.  Do you change the organisational chart?  Do you get people together? Figuring out why employees avoid accountability above all else will unravel the negative dynamics. Changing the structure is the ‘hard approach’ getting people together, in contrast, is the ‘soft approach’.  The ‘Proactive Space’ model unravels the dynamics of the unofficial chart, hence, is the key to creating positive cultures.

This is challenging work and can get messy (there can be tears and lots of emotion) and consequently is the most efficient and effective way of resolving the negative dynamics of the unofficial organisational chart.  Resolving the power dynamics releases the potential for the cultural shift and, hence, the technological processes can have a chance of working.

Mastering the ‘soft skills’ is the key to creating a healthy culture and The Proactive Space is the key to mastering the soft skills.  If you really want to create a high performing culture, seems like, you want to work from the Proactive Space.

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Who is most important? Self or Others?

As mentioned in a previous post the art of collaboration is turning conflict into a positive force.  To some people the mere mention of the word CONFLICT is a negative that should be avoided at all costs.  To others CONFLICT is exciting and creates an adrenalin rush!  How then do we find a balance, a fulcrum point on this spectrum?  A space, where CONFLICT is welcomed and the energy is used to drive forward a creative process?

A useful way of finding this fulcrum point is to value yourself and others equally.  In a collaborative setting the outcome is the solution, the process of achieving the outcome is fluid.  The key is engaging with others to drive the ideas and contributions generated by the group to a point where the creative tension gives rise to the synergistic solution.  This process works when all individuals within the group are able to de-personalise ideas.  Ideas are not people and people are not their ideas.  By all means challenge the idea and respect the person contributing the idea.  Equally, be open to your ideas being challenged and respect the person challenging your idea.

De-personalising an idea from the person contributing the idea is a key principle.  This creates the environment of TRUST where collaboration develops. In conflict management respecting the other person’s model of the world is a foundation to success.  By INTEGRATING a high regard for others with an equally high regard for self, you will be response-able for ensuring all contributions are considered within the overall outcome of the group.  Doing this will ensure that all members of the group are able to contribute and that all views are heard.

Where an individual has a higher regard for themselves over their regard for others, this may well lead to this individual attempting to DOMINATE the group and they may not take too kindly to having their ideas challenged.  Equally, at the same time, where an individual has a higher regard for others over their regard for themselves this may lead to that individual OBLIGING to every suggestion from others without ever contributing their own ideas.  Where an individual prefers to withdraw from situations such as these its may well be that this individual has an equally low regard for others and self.  AVOIDING this process only leads to greater and more destructive conflict at a later date.

In a collaborative relationship, the answer to the question in the title to this post, both self and others are equally important.

I would like to acknowledge ‘Styles of Handling Interpersonal Conflict (Rahim & Magner, 1995, p.123) in the compilation of this blog.

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Sustaining the collaborative mindset

In a previous post I touched upon the behaviours associated with the different levels on the maturity continuum.

At the level of Dependency you tend to see Collusive behaviours.  Rather than challenge ideas and processes a dependent individual seeks to avoid risk and conflict in order that their survival is assured.

At the level of Independence the desire for status, recognition and reward drives behaviours that enable the individual to stand out from others.  We see Competitive behaviours.

At the level of Interdependence the quest is for the synergistic solution, a solution that requires the combined efforts of a group and so we see Collaborative behaviours.

What happens when the group searching for the synergistic solution gets into difficulties, when the level of challenge and conflict within the group may get a little too intense? Could it be that rather than choosing to give the response that keeps collaboration alive, an instinct / reactive response is given to a stimulus such as someone challenging an idea?  An instinctive / reactive response is not a PROACTIVE response.

If a group abandons collaborative behaviour the only place to go is back to the competitive behaviours.  When this happens you will see defensive behaviours, blaming, judging emerge.  The group breaks down and the competitive individuals can emerge and seek to dominate proceedings.

How do you sustain the collaborative mindset – where the output of the group is greater than any individual?

The art of collaboration is turning conflict into a positive force – in the spark of conflict lives creativity.  I’ve already discussed the concept of being RESPONSE-ABLE and choosing to be PROACTIVE.  A useful paradigm to help with this is PERCEPTION IS PROJECTION.  Essentially, this maxim suggests that what we perceive in other people is merely a reflection of our own self, otherwise how would we recognize a behaviour in someone else.  Acting as if this is true helps keep relationships collaborative, if making judgments about others (defensive behaviour or competitive behaviour is based upon judgments) is merely describing your own behaviour, why bother?

Being RESPONSE-ABLE and recognising that every behaviour has a positive intention and can be used to propel the group to a synergistic outcome is the way to sustain the collaborative mindset.

In future blogs I will explore more of the attitudes and beliefs that help sustain the collaborative mindset.

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Collaborating through Interdependence…the Mindset (2)

In my previous post I described the choice that is made to be Interdependent and to collaborate.  This choice is the foundation stone of all effective relationships (interdependent collaborative relationships being the most effective form of relationship you can have).

Having made the choice, sustaining the choice is the next step.  In my last blog I used the phrase ‘RESPONSE-ABLE’.  I’d like to expand on this phrase during this blog today.

In any relationship stuff is going to happen, its inevitable!  What’s important is not that stuff happens, its how you choose to deal with what’s happening that makes the difference.  How well you choose to respond is what will build your credibility in the relationship and this will build the trust in the relationship.  With a high level of trust in your relationship collaboration will work.

So am I saying here that your effectiveness in collaboration is simply based upon following through on your initial choice to be PROACTIVE and to be the CAUSE of your own SUCCESS?  Yes I am.

Why be RESPONSE-ABLE?

Conditioning plays a major role in all our decisions and to a large extent we behave in ways that have been practiced over many years.  Our behaviour patterns become habits, the result of conditioning.  When something happens, by this I mean when someone says something, does something etc, this is a STIMULUS.  When a stimulus is applied we respond.  It is in the RESPONSE where you make a difference!

In the animal world a specific stimulus generates a specific response.  Animals tend not to have the mental capacity to choose a different response, unless they have been trained to give another ‘specific’ response.  As humans we have the mental capacity to choose our response.  Between STIMULUS and RESPONSE there is a space: the CHOICE space.  It is in this space where you can choose your response to whatever stimulus has been applied.  This is where you can be RESPONSE-ABLE.

Being proactive is being response-able.  Choosing to be open to responding to whatever stimuli present themselves to you in such a way as to stay focused on your outcome is vital to your success.  In collaborative relationships there will be ample opportunities for you to practice this ability.  Your collaboration partners (and you on occasion) will behave in ways that create the opportunity for proactivity to be challenged.  Remember, your interpretation of events is your choice and response-ability.  What people do is merely what people do, what you choose to do with what people do is entirely your choice.

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Collaborating through Interdependence…the Mindset (1)

So if the essential pre-requisite for collaboration is the mindset of INTERDEPENDENCE, how then do you achieve that mindset?

As discussed in my previous blog being Interdependent is a choice that independent people can make.  The important aspect is the ‘choice’ itself.

By choosing INTERDEPENDENCE and seeking to be COLLABORATIVE in your behaviour a number of fundamental attitudes and thinking patterns automatically begin to be important.  It is whether you are able to stay true to these attitudes and thinking patterns that will determine if your behaviour is collaborative and whether you sustain an interdependent relationship.

So what are the attitudes and thinking patterns?

It all starts with a choice.  To make a positive choice is to be PROACTIVE.  Stephen R. Covey in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, states that the first Habit (the one from which all else follows) is BE PROACTIVE.  This is more than just choosing to do something or have something or be something.  It is about accepting responsibility for everything that stems from your choice.  You are the creator of everything that flows from the choices you make about yourself in the world.  So take a proactive approach to life and be response-able.

Another way that this may be interpreted is to be at CAUSE in your life.  Accept that you are the cause of your life.  If you choose not to be the CAUSE in your life then you find yourself at EFFECT and someone else is responsible for whatever is happening to you.  Being at EFFECT is not a good place to be, it’s where reasons and excuses (reasons being sophisticated excuses) are given as to why you could not be successful. It’s about blame.  That is not going to work in a collaborative environment.

So Be Proactive, be the Cause of your own Success.

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Collaborating through Interdependence…the Mindset (2)

In my previous post I described the choice that is made to be Interdependent and to collaborate.  This choice is the foundation stone of all effective relationships (interdependent collaborative relationships being the most effective form of relationship you can have).

Having made the choice, sustaining the choice is the next step.  In my last blog I used the phrase ‘RESPONSE-ABLE’.  I’d like to expand on this phrase during this blog today.

In any relationship stuff is going to happen, its inevitable!  What’s important is not that stuff happens, its how you choose to deal with what’s happening that makes the difference.  How well you choose to respond is what will build your credibility in the relationship and this will build the trust in the relationship.  With a high level of trust in your relationship collaboration will work.

So am I saying here that your effectiveness in collaboration is simply based upon following through on your initial choice to be PROACTIVE and to be the CAUSE of your own SUCCESS?  Yes I am.

Why be RESPONSE-ABLE?

Conditioning plays a major role in all our decisions and to a large extent we behave in ways that have been practised over many years.  Our behaviour patterns become habits, the result of conditioning.  When something happens, by this I mean when someone says something, does something etc, this is a STIMULUS.  When a stimulus is applied we respond.  It is in the RESPONSE where you make a difference!

In the animal world a specific stimulus always generates a specific response.  Animals tend not to have the mental capacity to choose a different response, unless they have been trained to give another ‘specific’ response.  As humans we have the mental capacity to choose our response.  Between STIMULUS and RESPONSE there is a space: the CHOICE space.  It is in this space where you can choose your response to whatever stimulus has been applied.  This is where you can be RESPONSE-ABLE.

Being proactive is being response-able.  Choosing to be open to responding to whatever stimuli present themselves to you in such a way as to stay focused on your outcome is vital to your success.  In collaborative relationships there will be ample opportunities for you to practice this ability.  Your collaboration partners (and you on occasion) will behave in ways that create the opportunity for proactivity to be challenged.  Remember, your interpretation of events is your choice and response-ability.  What people do is merely what people do, what you choose to do with what people do is entirely your choice.