Archives for posts with tag: Elinor Slomba

Conflict based on personalities is a time drain, wasteful on many levels.  Conflict rooted in differing convictions can be constructive and add value if handled correctly.  Yet doing so takes courage, and that means facing our fears.

company cypher

Openly invite conflict.   People are afraid of disagreement because, in hierarchies, the outcome can be loss of social status.  Invite people to share a multitude of ideas in open forums.  There will be less risk associated with offering the “wrong” opinions, and  communal trust will increase. [1]

Kill the experts.  Any organization that presumes to bring in “experts” is operating in a hierarchical manner.  Call them something else, like “instigators.”  It changes the energy.

Critique ideas, not people.  In the 12-step circles I’ve been fortunate to frequent as a participant-observer, this is known as “putting principles before personalities.”  In a training session on giving feedback, one company I worked with decided to embrace the model of the art critique.  This makes the process of observing what works and what doesn’t fun and engaging rather than scary and full of rejection. [2]

Strictly enforce timeboxes.  When deadlines loom, posturing and jockeying for position simply makes no sense.  [3] Study how theater ensembles manage deadlines: the date for opening night gets published and the public is invited in.  Everyone in the ensemble has a personal, public stake in meeting the deadline [4]

Reinforce goodwill.   Consistent, sustainable quality cannot occur when people treat each other badly.   One company I worked for spelled out its expectation that we would show “respect and candor in all communications.”  Too much candor can descend into brutality.  Overly respectful deference, on the other hand, can put the freeze on important conversations.  So say it, but say it in a nice way.  That’s goodwill.

Be #Flawsome. Show your imperfections and people will automatically feel safer around you.  A group of people doing this will be more united than a team of perfectionists.   Do you believe that awesome imperfection is sufficient to muddle through challenges?  Try it on a small project and see how much anxiety and energy get released for finding creative solutions.

Play with options.  Forum Theater is a way to stop action in a tense or conflicted setting and reinvent new futures.   [5]  The following questions can be posed in writing (to encourage introverts) or in dialogue, or acted out in skits.

  • What would I do if I were brave..?
  • What would I do if I were all-powerful?
  • What would I do if I were in charge?

The Traditions of one worldwide self-organizing group state “So long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well.”   Here’s hoping that all is well and continues to improve with you and your teams.

REFERENCES

[1] Brindusa Axon, “The Power of Productive Conflict” http://www.scoop.it/t/agile-teams-boosters

[2] Narcotics Anonymous, “Why It Works: The Twelve Traditions of NA” http://www.recovery-world.com/NA-12-TRADITIONS.html

[3] Tom Wujec & Peter Skillman, “The Marshmallow Challenge” http://marshmallowchallenge.com/TED_Talk.html

[4] Lee Devin, “Artful Making” and “The Soul of Design” http://www.sup.org/precart.cgi?id=11662

[5] Sarita Covington, energizing the use of Forum Theater to help organizations and ecosystems http://www.companycypher.com/

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Arthur Fink, for sparking this essay and providing feedback  http://insightandclarity.com/ and http://www.arthurfinkphoto.com/

Michael Romano, for being a trusted and reliable editor

Pictured: Company Cypher, founded by Sarita Covington with another fellow Yale grad.  Coming soon to The Agile Gym (all rights reserved) 

You can also see this piece on the Self Management Institute blogroll at http://self-managementinstitute.org/

Over Labor Day weekend an extraordinary event took place in the world of self organized groups.  Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, hosted the World Convention of one of the largest and most respected 12-Step recovery programs, known as Narcotics Anonymous.  Over 18,000 recovering addicts were in attendance, from over 100 countries.

journey

Twelve-step programs are a massive worldwide movement of various, self-organized groups  – each aligned to address a common, life-threatening problem (alcoholism, addiction, overeating, etc.).  Their power is based on face-to-face meetings in which people identify with one another and share openly and honestly on a regular basis.

This month, twenty years ago, I began studying Narcotics Anonymous as a participant observer for my senior thesis in Cultural Anthropology at the College of William and Mary.  Using Victor Turner’s ideas as a theoretical framework, I titled the thesis “Betwixt and Between: Communitas as Cure in the Lives of Recovering Addicts.”  I have been privileged to spend time sitting inside the circle at NA meetings, discovering how principles like “anonymity,” “humility,” and “surrender” make it possible for men and women whose lives had been controlled by drugs to live clean one day at a time, with each other’s help.

Organic openness is the essence of “Communitas” as outlined by Victor Turner (an underrated genius!  Please read his anthropology essays if you’re at all interested in contemporary organizational culture.  I have recommended them to many Agile coaches and colleagues working to improve the workplace.)

Examples of Communitas throughout history:

  • the monastic tradition established by St. Francis

  • women in Paris in the 1920s

  • performance artists in New York City in the 1970s (the scene fed by collaborations like Merce Cunningham/John Cage)

These groups stepped away from old forms and took for themselves the freedom to experiment with new ones.  Eventually, their ideas fed back into the mainstream where society as a whole could profit from them.  In the end, everyone had more creative options.

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 in California.  NA describes iteslf as “a global, community-based organization with a multi-lingual and multicultural membership.”   Its message, often referred to as the Promise of Freedom is: that any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live. http://www.na.org/?ID=bulletins-bull25

This message – shared spontaneously in every meeting by members and read aloud from NA literature – is clear, consistent and reliable.  There is not one single culture for which the message is designed or in which it can be heard and understood.  There is unlimited potential in its simplicity.

Since NA has been fully self-supporting and growing worldwide as a multicultural phenomenon of Self-Organization for sixty years, perhaps we should listen to the wisdom it espouses.

The following is a GAME OF ASSOCIATION.  I start with a principle of Self-Organization, and follow it with a 12-step slogan from Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Opting in.  “You are a member when you say you are.”

Collaboration.  “I can’t.  We can.”

Simplicity.  “KISS – keep it simple, stupid”

Continuous self-improvement: “Progress not perfection.”  “The journey continues.”

Incremental development. “It’s a process.”  “One step at a time.”

Faith in the emergent solution.  “Trust the process.”  “Act as if.”

Servant-leadership. “Our leaders are but trusted servants.  They do not govern.”

Persistence.  “Stay in the solution.” “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”

In Narcotics Anonymous, the stakes are the highest possible: people’s lives.  In order to have credibility and be able to attract newcomers as well as retain experienced members, it is essential that the organization be able to deliver on its Promise of Freedom.

They cannot achieve this through coercion.  It is only through Self-Organization that recovering addicts have been able to adopt this program of change and incorporate its sustaining habits into their lives.

There is a joke in NA that goes “How many recovering addicts does it take to change a lightbulb?  None!  The lightbulb has to be willing to change itself.”

Therefore, based on everything I have learned in Cultural Anthropology and can offer the workplace improvement movement, culture is more like a liquid than a solid.   It cannot be effectively hacked.  Instead, it flows like a river, carrying various messages along in its fluidity.

Cultural change is driven by those considered to be outsiders or rebels, individuals driven by courage and/or desperation to admit that standard ways of doing things simply DO NOT WORK.   These individuals gravitate toward the margins of organized groups, the interstices, the spaces in-between.   There, they have a better chance of finding each other, learning from one another, and together, eventually, making creative contributions.

  • What is your Self-Organizing group’s primary purpose?  
  • How do its members gather and share this message?
  • Have they experienced enough pain to truly want to change?

For more background on Outsider Wisdom, Cultural Anthropology, Narrative Intelligence and finding the right creative metaphor to spirit forward your self-organizing transformations, please contact Elinor Slomba at artsinterstices@gmail.com.

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