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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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Is this really how NLP is being taught? Sack the NLP trainers!

A colleague recently told me they had developed a negative perception of NLP.  Naturally, I could always suggest he can change his perception at anytime, as he alone can choose his map of the world.  That might be ‘bad’ NLP which would serve only to re-inforce his already negative perception.

Being a curious sort I was eager to learn, “How did he achieve this perception?”  By listening it became clear he had seen and heard folk who had received a limited amount of training in NLP telling other people they could understand how they were thinking and if they were telling the truth or not.  Becoming even more wantonly curious I asked how could these folk make such determinations?  Apparently, the answer lies in the direction your eyes move!  Well, I nearly fell off my chair!  Oh dear dear dear!  Whoever trained these folk in NLP really does deserve to be sacked and have their training credentials obliterated!  What utter nonsense!!!

Is it any wonder the field of NLP suffers in this way when we have ‘trainers’ with such limited understanding out there.  Is it time to press the reset button on the training of NLP Trainers and so called Master Trainers?  If this is the outcome they are achieving the NLP Trainers are accountable…there’s that word again from my previous blog post! Curious?

Ok, so what is it about the eyes and their movements that can lead people to believe they can tell the inner workings of your very soul?  The simple and honest answer is, absolutely nothing at all! For people to leave an NLP workshop and have that as their understanding suggests the delegates have been ripped off and the trainer needs to refund their delegate’s money because they have not been trained in NLP!

Eye Patterns are a small part of a much larger topic called Representational Systems within the field of NLP.  Encompassing Body Language, Gestures, Posture, breathing patterns, vocal qualities (pitch, tonality, tempo, timbre etc) and the use of word predicates.  Eye patterns are one of many cues you can use to build an understanding of how the person you’re communicating with represents their experience to themselves and then how they communicate their perception of that experience to the outside world.

Do they do this is in a Visual fashion, an Auditory fashion, a Kinaesthetic fashion, Olfactory, Gustatory or do they prefer a dissociated non-sensory Digital manner?  All you can hope to achieve is to put a few pieces of the jigsaw together and then aim to match or mirror their preferences with the aim to build rapport with them.  There is nothing in Representational Systems that gives anyone the ability to determine if another person is lying.

A client I met once to discuss some influencing skills training for a team of business bankers asked if he could, paint me a picture of who I will see on the day? My natural response was to hand my notebook and all the flipchart pens from my rucksack and suggest he makes its as colourful and vibrant as he wishes.  He really went for it!

What would have happened if I replied by asking him to tell me first who was in the team and what their roles are and how long they have worked at the bank?

By receiving a visual cue I followed up and encouraged more visual behaviour.  This is Representational Systems in practise.  Had I followed up with an Auditory and Digital response to the visual cue I would have lost out, rapport would not have been built.  The skill I, as an NLP Trainer, wish my delegates to develop is to be able to respond unconsciously to the cues they receive from others so they can respond effectively.  By judging another person’s response as incorrect simply because it does not form part of a ‘normalised’ pattern is nonsense!  My colleague rightly developed a negative perception having been exposed to such ridiculous behaviour.

If like my colleague you have developed similar negative perceptions feel free to get in touch and I will aim to show you that you can form new understandings.  If you wish to know how NLP can be applied to the world of business and work to get the best levels of performance out of your team in a way that is respectful and ethical please get in touch also.

Finally, NLP was not created.  The foundations of the techniques and patterns were in existence long before the 1970’s when they were pulled together and labelled.  To understand this is important as it creates a sense that if people have been successful in creating change and influence for a much longer time than the last 50 years then the techniques and ideas that support that successful change and influence are credible.  Whether they are called ‘NLP’ or ‘CBT’ or whatever other TLA folk can create is irrelevant.  Change and Influence are fundamental to communication and our programmes are focussed on developing masters of change and influence at work.

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To be Accountable…Or is that someone else’s job?

A common theme that emerges through our work with clients is a pattern of behaviour within teams where the behaviours associated with Red Energy tend to be given away or discounted.  By this we mean, challenging other team members around performance issues or unproductive behaviours.  Holding your colleagues accountable for their performance is an essential part of being a high performing team, as is being held accountable by others for your own performance.

When working with a company to improve performance we would typically run a couple of processes simultaneously to help identify underlying performance issues.  Starting with some behavioural profiling using our preferred C-Me Colour Profile we can build a picture of the behavioural preferences within a team.  At the same time we would have the delegates complete a team assessment survey to assess their performance based on Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

If we find the C-Me profiles suggesting that Red Energy appears to be the least preferred we will almost certainly find that ‘Avoidance of Accountability’ will also be the lowest score on the Lencioni survey.  The question is, are the two directly related?  Our experience would suggest they absolutely are.

The team wheel above shows a team where no team member has a first preference for Red Energy.  There are team members where Red Energy is a second preference with Blue or Yellow being the first preference.  The triangle opposite the team wheel shows the corresponding Lencioni scores showing the avoidance of accountability is the area with the lowest score.  The lowest score indicates this is a set of behaviours that the team do not feel they are particularly good at.

When a team is discounting the need to challenge each other on performance issues and prefer to wait on others or other teams to perform they are avoiding accountability for their own performance.  Will the team achieve great results is they are not holding each other accountable?

When we deliver follow-up sessions to explore this issue we can quickly dispel the belief that using Red Energy is counter-productive and is the only avenue to creating improved performance.  Our results, thus far, is that targeting the avoidance of accountability and linking these behaviours to a discounting of Red Energy has created a dramatic improvement in performance.

To find out more about how we can assist you develop greater accountability within your organisation please contact us.

Paul McGowran

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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.


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.

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Collaboration is working with each other to do a task and to achieve shared goals. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organisations work together to realize shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective) — for example, an endeavour that is creative in nature —by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

The challenge of collaboration is staying focused on the greater shared goal.  Conflict over different approaches, different ideas, competitive pressures will surface.  Dealing positively with conflict is the art of collaboration.  Consider if you will a member of a team with a strong belief in their way of doing things.  Their belief is so strong that any challenge to their way of doing things is usually a source of great tension within the team.  This is not a helpful trait when it comes to collaboration.  A useful matrix to consider when looking to build a collaborative team is how the members of your team view themselves and others.

If you have a high regard for yourself and a low level of regard for others, this will not be helpful in a collaborative relationship.
If you have low regard for yourself and a high level of regard for others, this will also not be very helpful in a collaborative relationship.
If ‘people’ including yourself are just not that important to you, this will not be very helpful in a collaborative relationship.
Collaborative relationships work best when an individual values themselves and  others equally highly.

Seek First Ltd specialise in developing the behaviours and language that build self-awareness (your regard for you), behaviours and language that build an understanding of others (how you regard others), behaviours and language that develop your influencing skills and behaviours and language that lead to effective collaborative action.

Over the coming months this blog will go into more details about collaborative behaviour and language.  Our first Collaborative Behaviour Practitioner programme will be taking place in London this Autumn.  Contact is now for more information.

phone: 07740506667