Ideas and Insights


Emerge – Emergency – Emergence

Origins

The 3 words in the title of this short paper, have floated through many conversations and dialogues of which I have been part over the last month.  They have lodged in my mind, and helped me in my thinking about my work, personal, community and global futures.

The root word emerge, originated in Middle French (mid 16thC) – émerger, and came directly from Latin, emergere – bring forth, bring to light.

 When I consulted the OED, the definitions included,

“move out of or away from something and become visible”

“recover from a difficult situation”.

Both these aptly describe the current situation of a Coronavirus emerging around the world – moving away from its original host species and becoming visible to the human species. Talk has also focused very much on ‘recovery from a difficult situation’ – how will we emerge?

From emerge comes the word emergency – a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action”.  Clearly again an appropriate word to describe the COVID-19 events.

Emergence: a useful concept for leaders

It is the words emergence or emergent that are of most interest. These words and the concept associated with them find a home in the field of complexity science. Emergence describes,

the way complex systems and patterns arise out of multiplicity of relatively simple interactions’  Lewin & Regine (2000) The Soul at Work

In a recent paper Paul O’Neill and Tim Dalmau described the OODA loop, a practical application of this concept – that is in an iterative process – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. As more information and understanding unfolds, and we absorb and reflect on it we decide what is the best step to take based on what we know in the moment. Then we step back and observe again to see the impact of our small step and decide based on this the next actions or steps to be taken.

In times of emergency, when the situation is complex, rather than immediately jumping to problem-solving or creating a plan to address the situation, a more effective approach is to create conditions for emergence and allow the future or solutions to emerge.

As D’Auria & DeSmet of Mc Kinsey say

What leaders require in a crisis is not a pre-defined response plan but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from over reacting to yesterday’s developments and help them look ahead

To me, one of the most important applications of an understanding of emergence is to allow solutions to unfold rather than push for answers too quickly.

We know that in any crisis or catastrophe 12 different aspects come into the foreground and drive a social system’s response. These are well documented in a recent article by Tim Dalmau. They are an apt description of emergence in action, and they will arise whether intended or not. But knowing they will emerge is different form creating the conditions for them to emerge and fostering them once they do.

In the words of Roger Lewin and Birute Regine (2000) we need to create conditions for constructive emergence rather than try to plan in detail our way out of the emergency.

They identify the 3 key conditions as

  1. nurturing the formation and creativity of teams
  2. evolving solutions to problems – not designing them
  3. moving from command and control to distributed influence and flat organizational structure

To what might leaders pay attention?

What one pays attention to is determined by so many factors too numerous to list, but is expressed in what types of decisions we make, what we focus upon in making those decisions and what we believe to be a priority.

To foster emergence in a time of crisis, first and most important, is the nurturance, formation and creativity of teams to develop a shared purpose.

“In order to be adaptable, people need freedom for maximum flexibility, but with freedom comes a need for an even stronger sense of direction” (Lewin & Regine, 2000 p273). 

Building on this leaders might also give priority to,

  • developing and maintaining a strong sense of mutuality, urgency and care
  • encouraging and improving the diversity within teams of both people and ideas
  • creating a sense of openness and providing opportunities for people to learn and participate
  • fertilizing connections between people and parts of the system (other teams, resources, external groups etc)
  • creating a safe space for people to express opinions and pursue their goals
  • encouraging, supporting and showing appreciation.

I and my colleagues have been part of number of weekly conversations for the last 8 weeks with individuals from across the globe. These gatherings share many of the characteristics described above, and the creativity, work and actions that have arisen from these are simply astounding.

You cannot create such emergence (and the consequent results) without listening attentively, being authentic, speaking from the heart – not just the mind and being prepared to put on the table and discuss things that had previously been taboo. It is a very sad but unfortunate fact that for some, such behaviors will be new.

Time and time again in these global meetings we are finding the more information is both available and shared the more focused, practical. relevant and realistic are the actions that follow – at first glance this may seem like a paradox, but the availability and sharing of all information (facts, data, assumptions, feelings and beliefs) is critical in times of crisis or catastrophe.

In fact, in so called normal times, they are equally valuable and the leader who acknowledges and values the behavior of others, who shares information openly, who fosters self-organizing, connecting and collaborating along with accountability will thrive in times of crisis. Not without its challenges it requires they too are accountable for their organization or team and its results. At the same time they must be able to live with paradox, ambiguity, contradictions and uncertainties, encourage experimentation, and value failures and mistakes: no small order but a profoundly satisfying and useful one.

What can leaders actually do to foster emergence?

Leaders can operate at 4 different levels or domains in order to be more effective in an emergency or crisis. These are

  • whole organization
  • across teams within the organization (network or ‘team of teams’)
  • within a team
  • the individual (one-on-one)

Organization prioroties:

  • Leaders simply cannot share enough information and provide enough background context frequently and freely – fostering whole-of-organization transparency will reap huge gains in times of emergency: video broadcasts, town hall meetings, email and “Microsoft Teams” publications, etc
  • Create central rapid response teams that assist in implementing the networking of teams, the “team of teams” approach
  • Ensure and rearticulate time and time again purpose and goals that are understood and shared across the organization
  • Promote psychological safety – where anyone can speak up and say what is on their mind without fear or retribution

Networking and connecting teams across the organization:

  • Create a robust network of crisis response teams that is empowered to operate outside the current hierarchy and bureaucratic structures of the organization
  • These teams need to be creative and adaptable, united by a common purpose – where they use the OODA loop and act fast
  • Promote understanding across all in the organization but especially in the and between teams of the new decision-making architecture and where new accountabilities lie
  • Refer to Chris Fussell’s, One Mission: how leaders build a team of teamfor many more practical suggestions and examples of how to make this happen

Within a team:

  • Ensure each leader of a team has strong personal abilities to be optimistic, remain calm, inspire confidence, has the quality of humility and knows how to frame good questions (not jump to solutions)
  • Promote multi-disciplinary groupings that are collaborative and where expertise is fostered
  • Once the team is established and is clear on its purpose and goals get out of the way and let them get on with the work
  • Allow teams to re-organize and self-organize as they go. In other words, your task is to let go, be hands off and create the bowl in which they can self-organize

With individuals:

  • Listen attentively and seek to understand
  • Offer assistance, support and guide – don’t direct
  • Demonstrate empathy
  • Re-assert context frequently

Jill Tideman

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You don’t need to be an expert: practical ways to help employees with mental health issues

We know that globally one in five people (20%) suffer some sort of mental health problems at least sometime during their life. Therefore it is likely in most families and work groups that there will be people with mental health issues. In working with many leaders and managers one of the major concerns that is increasingly verbalized is how to best to approach and help people in their team who are suffering some sort of mental health issue. Clearly and thankfully awareness as to the prevalence and seriousness of mental health as a workplace issue has risen enormously in the last 10 years, but still many feel ill-equipped to know where to start of what to do if someone they work with is showing signs of poor mental health.

Recently I listen to Jim Al Khalili, on one of my very favourite podcast series A Life Scientific, from BBC Radio 4 talk with Peter Fonagy on his life, career and contribution to mental health care.  Like many people who make outstanding contributions to our lives and well-being, Peter has suffered very much in his early life. Indeed, he says that it only through having experienced trauma which personally caused him significant mental health problems, that he was able to make such a contribution.

Read more…
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Responding to catastrophe

In times of crisis or catastrophe there are some among us who expect leaders to act quickly with informed decisive action and one simple stable message. This primitive expectation ignores the complex reality of chaos caused by the event at hand and totally ignores fluid and moment to moment changes in reality.

Tim has prepared a short paper on what we know from how social systems behave in a time of crisis. Click here to download your copy

Tim Dalmau

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Motivation: unlocking discretionary effort

“The greatest resource in an organization is not its people, it is the untapped potential of its people”.

So said Richard Bawden. When one can tap into the discretionary effort of a workforce the organization’s performance soars. Some call this motivating others, or tapping into a person’s motivation. The opposite is an apathetic or, even worse, alienated workforce.

Read more…
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Intangibles matter when designing organizations

When experts talk of the term organization design, they are referring to the operating model and processes, systems, capabilities and structures that underpin and organization and help it to deliver value to its customers and stakeholders, efficiently and effectively. Organization design is both an art and science! Read more…

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The sphinx

The airline attendant greets you at the door of the aircraft, with a warm smile and says welcome aboard. Throughout the flight s/he is pleasant, attentive and responsive. As a passenger you have no idea of their trials and tribulations, nor for that matter do many of their airline colleagues.

Nor would you expect to know such things.  The person is “in role”, as are each of their colleagues and the flight crew together operate as a team. They have a job to do. So it is with teamwork. When you are a member of a team you contribute not only to the joint task but you do so in role as a team member. And you do this no matter your personal temperament or the life issues with which you may be dealing.

High performing teams in manufacturing plants, mine sites, hospitals, professional service firms are no different. Invariably they are well formed and high functioning, they have the relationships and ways of working that allow them to be so. And well-formed teams have certain characteristics including active participation and contribution from all members with one another and to the task. But teams can’t form without this participation. Read more…

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Well-formed groups

Good facilitators or team leaders often make managing groups look easy!

To those less experienced who find themselves in a role or position to manage a group to get an outcome – whether this is in a meeting, workshop or joint problem-solving activity, they quickly find how easily things can go off the rails. For example, the group can “take control”, particular individuals by their behavior can distract or annoy the whole group, and alignment or achieving decisions seem less possible at the end of a meeting than at the start.

Our colleague Michael Grinder, has provided us and all people responsible for managing groups some very useful and practical approaches to this common dilemma (Interactive Managing Groups: The Fast Track 2nd Ed, M. Grinder with M.Yenik -2011). All Michael’s work on groups is under-pinned by the concept that there are n+1 entities in any group, where n=number of people in the group. The group itself is an entity in itself and when working with groups it is best to manage at the group level, rather than attempt to manage the individuals.

The group – is it formed or unformed?

There are some observable behaviors in a group that tell a facilitator or leader if the group is formed or unformed. It is important to establish this because different tools are required to manage the group, depending on the answer to this.

The more well formed a group, the easier they are to manage.  It takes less energy to facilitate of a formed group because,

  • The group owns whatever problems arise.
  • The members rely on one other
  • When a disagreement arises, the people tend to assign positive intentions to those they disagree with

Grinder’s 6 signs of group formation are,

Observable behaviors UnformedFormed
Where the group lookAt the facilitator
At each other

Speed of transition of group into activities or sub-group workSlowFast
Speed of transition of group from activities back to focus on facilitatorFastSlow
How well individuals in group know each otherNot wellWell
Who is providing psychological safety in the groupFacilitatorThe group itself
Whether they respond together and in unison to a request by facilitator
Patchy responsesIn unison – as a whole

It is therefore in the interest of the facilitator to speed up group formation if it is needed.

The way to speed group formation: it is EASY!

E—Echo

  • Any activity that has everyone doing something at the same time (eg – getting the group to stretch together or read a key word or two off the board)

A—Acknowledge

  • A group, especially an un-formed group, feels safe when the person-in-charge is competent. For example, the facilitator acknowledges that they know what is going to happen before it happens, or that the group, its history or its type of work is well known to the facilitator

S—Silence

  • The facilitator demonstrates they are comfortable with silence. And since “comfortable silence” suggests a high level of familiarity, it subliminally conveys that the group is already formed.

Y—Your Hands

  • When the facilitator represents the diverse sub-groups by using hands. Bringing hands together as she talks about the sub-groups, she symbolically blends the groups together.

 

Jill Tideman

 

 

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Review: One Mission: How leaders build a team of teams

One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, by Chris Fussell and C.W. Goodyear published in 2017, follows on from the highly successful book, Team of Teams, that Chris co-authored with General Stanley McChrystal and others in 2015. General McChrystal, was commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) whose last assignment was commanding all U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. He is currently a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and co-founder of the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm where Chris Fussell and C.W Goodyear are his colleagues.

Generally, I would not be attracted to a management book written by military men, whose ideas are rooted in their military experience. I know this says more about me and my biases, but my assumption was that the military experience is very different from the corporate and organizational world – and I was sceptical of the relevance to that world. I eventually picked it up to read on the recommendation of my colleague, Tim Dalmau, whose judgement in this area I respect. Read more…

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Nine Dimensions of Team Development

The second handbook in a series on Team Development gives you a framework to guide your practical approach to developing your team.

Developing a team needs to occur across a range of perspectives and levels. A way of making sense of this is to consider team development on nine different dimensions.

Just enter you email address to receive your free copy of the handbook, Nine Dimensions of Team Development.

 

Jill Tideman

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Team development: a guide

Teams are the core operational unit of all organizations – no matter how small or large. Forming, building and sustaining functional and high performing teams is at the heart of managers' roles, and yet is a constant dilemma for them – how to effectively develop teams?

 To assist, here is the first in a series of handbooks or guides for team development. It provides an introduction to what makes effective team development. Over the coming months, additional handbooks will be available that will provide a framework and practical activities and approaches to help you build a flourishing and performing team.

Just enter your email address below to receive your free copy of the Team Development Guide

Jill Tideman

 

 

 

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