Part of our practice is to be discretely flown somewhere, in an emergency mission, in order to help diffuse the dramatic effect of the falling apart between members of a leadership team.
I remember being called by the Chairman of the Board and being requested to take a flight in another part of the world, to discretely meet the CEO, CFO and COO of a organization who had ended up in a fist fight. Or another instance where each member of the board of directors had hired their own lawyer to sue the others, or this incredible situation where I had to “exfiltrate” my family to Brazil for a few weeks and take a body guard for my protection, during a reconciliation process where death threats had subtly been passed on to me… Fortunately these are (memorable) exceptions.
More recently, I have been invited to several missions of reconciliation (which I rather poetically call “Trousers down”) in several teams around the world. When reflecting, on a flight back, if there were a common cause behind those different missions, the above mentioned quote of Meg Wheatley came back to my mind: “It is astonishing to see how many of the behaviors we fear in one another dissipate in the presence of good relationship”. A response by my daughter to the dangerous question we all fear: “And what does your daddy do as a work?” once was: “He sits with people and makes them talk to each other” came on top.
I am always amazed how, under stressful or physical distance conditions, we let our emotional continents drift apart and start to build opinions and suspicion, which soon become attribution of bad intentions to others. In short, when we are stressed, we tend to disconnect from others, use e.mails (and I am a great culprit of it and infamously known by my colleagues for my damaging “e.mails shit bombs”) or assumptions to fill the void of relationship. And when we are forced to reconnect, face to face, things usually improve dramatically. I will never forget a bright and suffering team I had invited in the home I once owned in the Brazilian paradisiac beach resort of Praia do Forte. Another memorable moment happened when, after a nice barbecue we continued the discussion on a isolated beach, sitting in the sea. It was one of my most successful team reconciliation mission (and the most peasant from far).
So, re-connecting face to face, re-creating a relationship, usually helps the mirage of bad intentions attribution to evaporate.
But, when I went back to the text of Meg Wheatley and also found many interesting things:
“Relationships are the pathways to the intelligence of the system. Through relationships, information is created and transformed, the organization’s identity expands to include more stakeholders, and the enterprise becomes wiser. The more access people have to one another, the more possibilities there are. Without connections, nothing happens. Organizations held at equilibrium by well-designed organization charts die. In self-organizing systems, people need access to everyone; they need to be free to reach anywhere in the organization to accomplish work.
To respond with speed and effectiveness, people need access to the intelligence of the whole system. Who is available, what do they know, and how can they reach each other? People need opportunities to “bump up” against others in the system, making the unplanned connections that spawn new ventures or better integrated responses.
Where members of an organization have access to one another, the system expands to include more and more of them as stakeholders. It is astonishing to see how many of the behaviors we fear in one another dissipate in the presence of good relationships. Customers engaged in finding a solution become less insistent on perfection or detailed up-front specifications. Colleagues linked by a work project become more tolerant of one another’s diverse lives. A community invited into a local chemical plant learns how a failure at the plant could create devastating environmental disasters, yet becomes more trusting of plant leadership.”
I found this extract very relevant to many of us seeking to create a more connected organization. Relationships are not about “being nice to each other”, they don’t have an inclusion purpose necessarily: They are about becoming a truly Disruptive Organization.