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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Reframing

Many people are reconfiguring or reinventing themselves and their business in the wake of Coronavirus.  Deciding how you can re-conceive yourself, your business and your assets to make the most of the new normal requires creative thinking and often a new perspective.  This is where NLP’s (Neurolinguistic Programming’s) reframing technique can help.

In life, from a NLP perspective, things just happen. There is no inherent meaning linked to events or behaviors.  Any meaning linked to those situations and experiences arises from  what we ourselves assign to them,  and is usually determined by our unconscious mind and our beliefs.   This explains how we can all experience the same thing yet assign different meanings to the event. A focus on reframing allows us to understand how we unconsciously hold limiting beliefs that may prevent us from thinking or acting in ways that benefits us.

Read more…
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A great leader (Reprise)

I lost a friend this week. So, I come to honor him with both a great sense of sadness and a great sense of privilege. 

A few days ago, Rod Payze died. 

If you live in South Australia and have even a passing appreciation of its Aussie Rules football history, you will know who this man was and his contribution to that code. If you have read the media in the last few days, many have lauded his achievements – mostly leadership positions he has held for that sport. What is clearly absent in this reporting is Rod’s other life, one of service and leadership of a large technically oriented organization.

I met him first in 1989 and in all the years since I cannot recall one occasion where he and I spoke of football. I knew him as a CEO and client. Starting as a client, he became a friend and along the way, so did his wife Marie. Like many others, the sudden news this week of his departure from this thing we call life has left me feeling a great emptiness. 

Many of the people who were led by him have become my friends and so it should have been, for in my experience he treated everyone he met first and foremost as a friend. He started all his relationships with an assumption that those he met along the way were to be treated as trustworthy, friends and persons to whom one should show generosity of spirit and curiosity of mind.

In 2012 I gave an invited presentation to a national leadership conference organized by Engineers Australia. I spoke of three leaders with whom I had worked who were exceptional. Whilst never identifying the individuals, Rod was clearly in this group. He is and was one of the role models I carry in my mind when I think of excellent leadership balanced with humanity and disciplined intellectual inquiry.

He had presence and a finely tuned sense of role or position – you knew you were engaging with a CEO when you entered his office or Boardroom. But he also displayed almost joyful curiosity in whatever you had to say and a clear and deep compassion for you as a person – an experience of being in the presence of a fallen angel just like you. He did not pretend to be anything he was not. His mind and thought pathways displayed both a strategic sense of the whole and the long future, and at the same time, a willingness to focus on required detail. Above all else he was an authentic human being and a servant leader.

Over the last 31 years of knowing this person, I have had the privilege of meeting many men and women of commitment, energy, dedication and achievement in the organization he led – all things I would say of him. One of those people is my dear friend and business colleague Jill Tideman who once spoke of her former CEO, Rod. See below..

The privilege I feel in writing these words is to give witness to great leadership and to honor the blessings I often received as a colleague working with this man.

Vale Rod Payze.

Tim Dalmau

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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.

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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.

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Becoming The Best You: the objective science and subjective techniques of highly functional people

Rattlesnakes, rabbits and rollercoaster-riders all have an autonomic nervous system: that is the part that keeps your heart beating and causes you to blink when a fly is about to hit your eye. Whilst much of this nervous system serves each group similarly, the really interesting thing is that each of these groups use this nervous system very differently.

Indeed, if you have ever taken a look around the reptile enclosure at a zoo, you’ll be lucky to see one of the reptiles do much more than barely move. They are behaviorally-challenged exhibits. Notice there’s never usually a flock of snakes or a swarm of iguanas: reptiles are not known for their pack mentality. And you’ll be conscious of the fact that, in the reptile world, herbivores are rare; and bigger reptiles tend to eat smaller ones, regardless of whether lunch is a member of their own species. 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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The leader as a source of contagious destruction

Much has happened in the last two decades to re-shape our understanding of the effect we have on one another. There was a time when we used to think we were independent, autonomous agents who chose to react (or not) to another’s behavior. Those days are well and truly gone.

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Going beyond information exchange: good questioning skills

As far as we are aware, humans are the only creatures that ask questions. This shows a level of self-insight: that we don’t know or understand everything about a situation. Questions take us beyond the obvious.

Generally, questions are seen as ways to elicit or exchange information, but much more importantly questions can,

  • unlock learning
  • fuel creativity and innovation
  • reveal how another person ticks, and
  • build relationships

The use of carefully framed questions is an undervalued tool in organizations and teams. Unfortunately, our education system does not seem to recognise the value of questions or the skills required to construct and use questions. Questioning is a skill to be honed. Our education systems emphasize advocacy at the expense of skilled inquiry.

Read more…

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When institutions go bad

Tim Dalmau has written a thought-provoking paper, based on his reflections on governance and leadership arising from the recent revelations in the Australian banking industry. He explores parallels across a range of settings. Click here to download your copy of this paper.

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Buy Tim & Steve’s Book

''A truly useful and practical book'' Rich Shapiro, EY

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