Fostering Innovation in Groups and Teams

I’m studying the course Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4: Fostering Innovation in Groups and Teams.

Introduction & Learning in Ambiguous and Uncertain Environments

  • How do we balance what we don’t know with what we do know?
  • Organisations need to enable a learning environment:
    • Organisational enablers of continuous learning
    • Concepts of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and liberating structures
    • Working with ambiguity and unpredicatbility
  • Uncertainty can enable creative solutions.
  • Suggested reading:
    • Michel, A., & Wortham, S. (2009). Bullish on uncertainty: How organizations transform individuals. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Conditions for Learning

  • Complex Adaptive Systems:
    • Main characteristics:
      • self-similarity
      • self-organisation
      • complexity
      • emergence
    • Traditional models of change: there are experts who can instruct others
    • Sometimes there are no experts, there is no solution to transfer
    • The solution must be discovered
  • Self organisation:
    • the tendency of an open system to generate new structures and patterns based on its own internal dynamics.
    • Organization design is not imposed from above or outside; it emerges from the interactions of the participants in the system.
  • Conditions for self-organisation:
    • Container
      • sets bounds for the self-organizing system. It defines the “self” that organizes.
      • The container may be physical (e.g. geographic location), organisational (e.g. department) or conceptual (e.g. identity, purpose, or procedures)
    • Significant differences
      • determine the primary patterns that emerge during self-organizing processes.
      • A difference between two agents may be reflected and reinforced by other agents in the system, which then establishes a system-wide pattern.
    • Transforming exchanges
      • These form the connections between system agents.
      • Information, money, energy, or other resources are the media for transforming exchanges.
      • As the resource flows from agent to agent, each is transformed in some way.
      • These patterns of individual change lead, ultimately, to adaptability of the system as a whole
  • CAS are necessary tools
    • Hierarchy isn’t going to get us there


Organizing Under Uncertainty

  • In traditional organisations, change is perceived to be top-down.
    • Current state, target state, steps to get to the target state
  • Team structures need to be more emergent in complex adaptive systems
    • Change is in response to changes in the environment, and how to fit better in the new environment.
  • Solutions can come from anywhere in the system (not just at the top of the hierarchy)
  • Self-Organisation:
    • the tendency of an open system to generate new structures and patterns based on its own internal dynamics.
    • Organization design is not imposed from above or outside; it emerges from the interactions of the participants in the system.

Scenario: Team at GURD, Part 1

  • Background:
    • GURD Limited
    • Software development services company
    • Works primarily with pharmaceutical companies
    • New client that they’ve asked to a develop a CRM tool
    • Team will test the program in 3 months
  • Stephanie (Project Manager):
    • Welcome everyone, glad you can be here
    • Hey Mikki (who is remotely dialed in on video)
    • As you know, we have an amazing project. It’s a big dal for GURD. If all goes well it could lead to many more projects. If there are any snags, the client could lose al ot of money. A big financial loss, for us as well as them. We just want to amek sure that everything is rolling along as it should for the testing in 3 months. So, where are we at in regards to that?
  • Gigi (Testing Lead):
    • We right now are just concerned about the compatibility of systems. We haven’t done any testing so far.
  • Jacob (Software Development Lead):
    • Good point, but that’s why we did due diligence before we started this project. We’ve been working hard and really studying the client systems, and making sure that it mirrors the development systems.
  • Mikki (Software Development Lead):
    • We can still have technical issues creeping in during the testing phase. We don’t have any control over those client systems, and that due diligence was done a little while ago. They may have done software upgrades since then.
  • Stephanie:
    • That’s a really valid point. It could be a really high risk situation if we don’t get on it. What can we do?
  • Gigi:
    • I checked the knowledge repository. We have a lot of history here with our previous clients.
  • Jen (Client Services Lead):
    • I will definitely be in touch with Theresa at the clients office with regard to IT. I’m certain that they’ve done multiple technology upgrades.
  • Stephanie:
    • Good. I think the Software Development Departement really needs to look over this beforehand, right? John’s going to find out all the information from the client. Find out if there’s anything we need to do to adjust and to integrate with their system before three months time. So, you’re going to get that to Mikki and Jacob. They’ll review it over the next few days, maybe over the weekend as well. Next week we’ll meet at the same time, and see where we stand at that point. Sound good?
  • Jen:
    • I’ll send you guys an email after I talk to her on Friday.
  • Stephanie:
    • OK, good. So next point of business. Company picnic. Did you guys get the invitation?
  • <<crosstalk> yeah
  • Stephanie:
    • Anyone bringing your kids? Mikki, are you bringing your son?

Scenario: Team at GURD, Part 2

  • Background:
    • After 3 weeks, the same team meets again
  • Stephanie (Project Manager):
    • Thanks everybody for being back. So, hi Jan. Were you able to find out from the client any information about co-ordinating systems?
  • Jen (Client Services Lead):
    • Yeah, I met with Theresa and the site team last week, and we put together a list of all the new information, and I sent that along to Jacob and Mikki, and we’re working through it.
  • Mikki (Software Development Lead):
    • That was really helpful, they made a lot of changes and upgrades on the client end. So, we’re going to make some changes to our software, so it’s going to work smoothly.
  • Stephanie:
    • So, how can we resolve the discrepancies?
  • Mikki:
    • Well, I propose we do a dry run. So that way, we can do this thing in real time. If there’s any glitches, we can address them before it gets to user testing.
  • Gigi (Testing Lead):
    • I think that’s a great idea. We can schedule a week or two ahead of testing.
  • Jen:
    • I’ll let Theresa know so that the team over there is prepared.
  • Jacob (Software Development Lead):
    • I just want to say, I’m not sure a dry run will grab everything. I was reviewing some of the implementations and I think it would be in our best interest to bring in a tech expert. Other projects have done it, they’ve been successful with it, I think we should try it.
  • Stephanie:
    • Good idea. Should we just throw out some names for people who could do something like this? I’m thinking maybe Janine?
  • Gigi:
    • Janine, or maybe Margaret even.
  • Stephanie:
    • We do have budget for this.
  • Gigi:
    • We put aside a little bit of funding for an expert review. We can get that done like one or two months ahead of testing.
  • Stephanie:
    • All right Mikki, well, let’s get the ball rolling, then.
  • Mikki:
    • You got it.
  • Stephanie:
    • Did you get some of that potato salad yesterday? It was amazing!
  • <<crosstalk>>

Debrief: GURD Scenario

  • This is a team that’s working quite differently to most of the other scenarios we’ve shown you.
  • They have quite a bit of flexibility, adaptability and engagement.
  • There is an aspect of inclusion
    • Even though there is a remote member, they are incorporating him into their discussions and social engagements.
  • Complex Adaptive Systems
    • It’s energising to be part of a team that is learning and adapting.
    • Simple problems:
      • In both meetings, there were some simple problems that recurred, and were addressed easily and readily. They have a formula or format for doing that.
    • Complicated problems
      • Knowledge mangaement repository
        • Someone’s been here before, what did we do?
    • Complex problems
      • Client environment is unpredictable. They have no control over the upgrades or changes on the client system.
      • Mark Twain:
        • “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you it trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”
    • The person who identifies problems is not shut down or blamed.
    • There’s a safe space created.
      • Safe spaces allow everyone to come up with their own perspective.
      • This enriches the conversation
      • Helps them to become more productive and effective
    • Customer’s world is constantly changing.
    • The team exhibited responsiveness
    • Diffusion of ideas
    • Knowledge management repository
      • Record of previous projects.
      • Ability to learn from past mistakes
      • Find out what has been done previously that can be applied now.
    • Emergent behaviour:
      • Teams that are future focused are more able to handle uncertainty and ambiguity
        • There are going to be variables that we don’t know
      • When teams handle emergent problems they need to constantly update their information.
      • Our work together on this team has been emergent
      • Helpful to add new perspectives

Liberating Structures: Examples of Team Exercises

  • Enabling structures:
    • are ones that support teams and group working.
    • e.g. Rewards need to be structured so that they encourage teamwork
      • i.e. reward the team, not the individual.
  • Liberating Structures:
    • We can invite people in the container (team, group), but we need ways to engage them, get them to engage, exchange view points.
    • Liberating structures can encourage the Complex Adaptive System to adapt, to be resilient and learn
    • Impromptu Speed Networking
      • How to get everyone engaged from the start? This technique gets everyone involved, indepentant of rank.
      • Think of one or two provocative questions that are pertinent to the meeting
        • Situation you’re in
        • Problem you’re trying to solve
      • Get everyone in an open space (a container)
      • A facilitator rings a bell and says “think silently for a minute or two, gather thoughts on the question that is in front of us”
      • After a while, the facilitator rings the bell again. Everyone finds someone in the room which they know the least well, and have a conversation with that person (up to five or ten minutes)
      • The bell is rung again, and pairs swap.
      • This is repeated for two or three rounds.
      • At the end, everyone sits together and asks:
        • “What did you discover about the question?”
        • “What were some of the insights that came out?”
        • “What do you now think about it?”
        • “How did your perspective change as a result of the conversations?”
    • 1-2-4-ALL
      • Not everyone feels comfortable talking or asking questions in a meeting. This creates a safe space for all those questions to be asked, and for others to listen to. Allows all voices to be heard
      • Participants in the meeting are given a chance to reflect on a problem, situation or question that needs to be answered
      • They pair in twos and discuss their reflections on the question
      • It then moves to a larger group of two pairs (4 people)
      • It then gets disussed in the whole group
    • Q Storming / Wise Crowds
      • Instead of taking questions one at a time, take 2, 3, 4, etc questions at a time.
      • This gives options about how to thread those questions together
    • TRIZ
      • A good way of discouraging the old disabler activies
      • The group asks the questions in order:
        • “What’s the worst possible outcome we can imagine?” or “What do we absolutely not want to happen?”
        • “What would cause this to happen?”
        • “What are we doing that is very similar to what would produce the bad outcome?”
      • Get rid of the last thing.
      • Defensive routines (Agyris):
        • An example of a taboo: asking “What’s not working well?”
        • Easy to answer the question “What’s working well?”, but the opposite triggers defensive routines.
        • TRIZ can help open up these taboo subjects.
    • Premortem
      • Start with the question: “What could go wrong with this project?” (at the start of the project)
    • Dissenting voices
      • Conflict is averted because it is no longer repressed
    • Empowering conversations
    • These liberating structures prevent a senior or alpha person from hijacking the meeting, asking the first question.
    • They break the frame of hierarchy
    • Everyone has to participate! (can’t zone out on a laptop or phone)
  • Suggested readings:

Developing Groups and Teams for Positive Organisational Impact

I’m studying the course Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3: Developing Groups and Teams for Positive Organisational Impact.

What disables organisational learning?

  • We need productive spaces and accountability, but we need discovery spaces too:
    • Doing space and discovery space
    • Exploit vs explore
    • Operations vs emergence
    • Staff meetings vs think tank meetings
  • Major contributors to disabling organisational learning: time, resources and authority
    • Improvement teams are often set up as a bypass that’s not connected to other things.
      • They don’t really have time, resources or authority to effect change.
      • Sometimes set up as a way to keep people busy, to keep them from getting in the way or of the “real work”
      • How are the teams’ findings connected to the decisions that the organisation needs to make?
    • Time: the team has its work to do, but does it have the time to do it?
    • Resources: does the team have the resources to do it’s work?
    • Authority: does the team have the authority to make changes?
  • Undiscussables can contribute to failure:
    • Things that are not talked about, but are important:
      • Assumptions that are made
      • Tacit norms within the organisation
      • It’s undiscussable to talk about undiscussables
      • Some things are considered sacred in organisations
    • This makes it like an iceberg.
      • It’s under the surface and hard to see
  • Looking for flaws in ideas instead of exploring their potential inhibits creativity and innovation
    • Negating “but”: that sounds like a great idea, but
    • “We’ve tried this before”
    • Stereotypes
      • We cannot discuss ideas because they are rejected
      • A leader asks for ideas, but everyone stays silent
  • Information hoarding
    • People think that some information is their competetive advantage, and are reluctant to reveal it.
    • “If I give it away, I’m not needed any more”
    • “Thing” mentality. This idea is a thing, and I have it and you don’t. If I give it to you then you have it and I don’t (zero sum game)
  • Leadership
    • Top level of management says middle management has no line of sight
    • Bottom says “we have no direction” (they have no idea what the leadership is doing)
  • Focus on short term results
    • Task force comes up with long term vision, mission, etc
    • Gets back to work, and continues with fire-fighting, neglecting the vision
  • No clear direction
    • The team is not able to set a clear direction because of confusion in the organistaion
    • Sometimes organisations set up task forces or committees to give the appearance that important matters are being discussed, but they may not really be interested in the outcome
      • They are given unclear directions
    • Disconnected goals
  • Not aligning rewards with desired behaviours
    • Individual rewards (bonuses, etc) cause havoc with promoting teamwork
    • Most valuable player versus team
    • Different cultures have different norms regarding individual versus collective rewards

What enables organisational learning?

  • Strength based change
  • Clear timelines and deliverables
  • Explicit and intentional
    • time, resources, authority
  • Diversity in views
    • The group or team needs membership that represents the range of views in the organisation
  • Design thinking is a form of solution-focused thinking – starting with defining an ideal or better future situation instead of solving a specific problem

Suggested Readings

  • “Defensive routines are thoughts and actions used to protect individuals’, groups’, and organizations’ usual way of dealing with reality … Organizational defensive routines are anti-learning, overprotective, and self-sealing.” Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming organizational defensive routines: Facilitating organizational learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall., p. 25
  • Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organizational change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
  • Top, Middle and Bottom. Read more on Barry Oshry’s article.
  • Hackman, R. J. (2002). Leading teams: Setting the stage for great performances. Harvard Business School.
  • Martin, R. (2009). The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins.

Scenario: Executive Team at the Bank

  • Background
    • Meeting between CEO and senior leadership
    • Things are going well for the company. They could assume that things will continue
    • They want to identify upcoming threats
  • CEO:
    • Alright everyone, phones away
    • Our wallet share is up 12% quarter after quarter, we had a great review at our last shareholders’ meeting, and we’re holding steady for the last 3 quarters.
    • So tell me, what are we missing? What do we need to be thinking about now that things are going well?
  • CFO:
    • It’s time to roll up our sleeves and help ourselves to assess our threats, to think about the future. No one was ready for the Global Financial Crisis in ’08. We don’t want to see something like that happen again. Now is the time, when we’re feeling good. We all know that things can change over night politically, economically, socially.
  • Head of Strategy:
    • We have an extraordinary team with data, actuarial science, 35 PhDs that are weighing data against global benchmarks, international regulation, etc. I would urge all of you, please, trust this team, they’re a wonderful team. We did not see ’08 coming, but we’re in a much better position with this sort of data to predict this almost completely.
  • Head of HR:
    • I feel so strongly that we have such great human capital. We have boots on the ground. Our team is fantastic. The problem in ’08 was that the information at the bottom wasn’t making it into the boardroom. Now we’ve done a lot of work to change that, but we really need to be putting them in a position where they can be heard.
  • CEO:
    • This is good. This kind of friction helps us reveal our blind spots. We should be doing this on every department on every floor.
  • Head of Retail Products:
    • There is concern in the product department as well, about the viability of the product. We want to review over and over the build of the product because demaind from the consumers is changing all the time. Everything is crowdsource now, where they always want something new. I don’t think we were covered before so well. I don’t think big data maybe had found any red flags on this yet, but I think we need to check with all the departments.
  • CEO:
    • Yes, and we have to ensure that our products still align with our values. We can’t budge on that. Banks are supposed to prevent these kinds of financial disasters, no cause them.
  • Head of HR:
    • I feel right now at this juncture, our greatest resource is our team. I will be a strong advocate for making sure their voices are heard.
  • Head of Strategy:
    • I would also like, once again, to press this idea of big data. It is much more complex that what we know. It could very much shed a light on any blind spots.
  • CEO:
    • This is not a zero sum game. We can rely completely on your expertise [nods at HR] and your expertise [nods at strategy], right? We need to be looking throughout the company for any ideas and information we can get, as well as outside the company.
  • CFO:
    • Now we should be talking about this product’s situation, because I had this email from him
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Head of Retail Products:
    • Yes, Daniel. He had a concern that the interest was too high on the new packet that we were talking about.

Debrief Scenario, Part 1

  • That was an example of a discovery meeting.
    • The CEO creates a space where he says “yes, we’re doing well, but that’s not what this is about. What are we missing?”
      • This is a pivotal moment.
    • This creates a frame for discovery.
    • He’s turning to this team to invite them for ideas.
    • All the phone are put away, allowing everyone to be in the moment.
  • Pause to reflect.
    • It’s so easy to lose yourself in the success.
    • Success can be limiting when we become complacent.
  • Diverse team
    • Not just different departments, but different cultures.
    • Still able to work with each other.
    • Because it’s a diverse team, there were diverse ideas as well
    • Thinking about how we are going to diffuse information across the organisation.
  • There was advocacy of ideas
    • Openness to other ideas, not just advocacy
    • It’s not a zero sum game.
  • Productive conflict
    • We want to get different views out on the table.
  • Understanding of each other’s contributions
    • How they were going to work together
    • CEO put both ideas in play. Didn’t make a false choice.
    • We want those differences expressed.
  • Alignment of actions with values
  • They bought in the voice of the customer, the bought in the voices across the floors.
  • In many ways, it was about multiple stakeholders who were outside, the external environment.
  • They are reflecting forward
    • What can we learn?
    • We’ve made mistakes, there have been problems. Let’s not do that.
  • The Ladder of Inference (Argyris, 1990)
    • In these types of discovery meetings, you’re not just fighting your judgements and beliefs against someone else’s judegements and beliefs.
    • Let’s get down and talk about why we think what we think.
    • What are we assuming?

The Ladder of Inference

  • Using the ladder of inference:
    1. Observe what are the beliefs and assumptions.
    2. What are the judgements made
    3. What are the conclusions drawn
    4. Are there any culturally attributed meanings
    5. Observe what people say and do.
  • How do we go about observing teams and groups?
    • Be as descriptive as possible when you observe, avoid interpretation or conclusion
    • Things to pay attention to:
      • Observe the setting – the setting influences team behaviour.
        • e.g. meeting held in a cold room, everyone cross their arms to keep warm, but meeting organisers was interpreting this as everyone being defensive
      • Conversation
        • Jot down quotes (gives a sense of the language being used)
        • Particular language is often used over and over
      • Look for non-verbal behaviour
        • Connect this with what people are doing, what’s happening
    • Self-as-an-instrument: our reactions are important, they are only one data point. Keep track of your reactions. Look for data that corroborates that.
      • If you see someone that looks very angry, don’t just use your own reaction, but look at their tone of voice, what words they’re saying.
    • As you get better at observations, you get better at picking up things that you missed before. Sometime’s you’ll get hints at the undiscussable issues.
  • You don’t have to be a leader to use the ladder of inference. By using it yourself, you invite others to do the same, and come to a different way of thinking about this.

Ladder of Inference Suggested Readings

  • Merriam, S. B. (2009). Chapter Six: Being a careful observer. In S. B. Merriam, Qualitative research. New York: John Wiley.
  • McCormick, D. W., & White, J. (2000). Using one’s self as an instrument for organizational diagnosis. Organizational Development Journal, 18(3), 49-62.

Diffusion of Ideas

  • Encapsulation of ideas.
    • How do you get it to spread?
  • Disablers of diffusion
    • Resistance to change
      • “That’s not how we do it here”
      • Not invented here
      • I don’t think it will work
    • Central group messages
      • Top down dictat – resisted at the bottom of the hierarchy
    • Xerox example:
      • Invented UPC code scanning
      • Was making money elsewhere, so the idea sat on the shelf
  • Enablers:
    • Top level managers need to create space to enable teams to tell their stories to other parts of their organisation
      • That group has credibility and street cred.
      • They have the trust and respect of their peers to explain what they’ve done, and why they’ve done it
    • Learning is an iterative, recursive process
      • Uncertainty, ambiguity. No clear way forward
      • The uncertainty and ambigity calls for reframing, new ways of doing things.
      • Design thinking and design methods
      • Organisations and teams often do not see solutions in an iterative way
  • Design thinking
    • Starting with “this is what ought to be”
    • Future does not have a roadmap
  • Dialectical thinking:
    • In every solution is contained its own dissolution
  • Shared understanding of a problem
    • Breaking the frame
    • Interpretation – “Rolling stone gathers no moss”.
      • Two opposed frames:
        • Rolling = action = good, moss = stagnation = problem
        • Rolling = chaos = bad, moss = stability = growth = good
  • Need to explore and exploit

Diagnosing Strengths & Barriers to Learning on Teams

I’m studying the course Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 2.

Diagnosing Problems in Groups and Teams

  • We tend to think we bring together a group of people, and they will be high performing
  • It doesn’t always work! How can we identify the problems?
  • Example: steering committee on an organisational development initiative
    • Interesting patterns:
      • Every time the team met in person, lots of laughter and jokes. The were agreeable on almost anything that was discussed during the meeting
      • However, after the meeting, lots of emails sent raising numerous issues, which were not discussed during the in-person meetings
      • The next time they met, none of the issues were raised
  • The culture of politeness
    • We’re interfacing with each other, face to face, we’re going to be polite
    • “Real” issues are secondary to being polite
    • Being polite gets in the way of learning in organisations
  • The pattern of repeating
    • Even when contentious issues are raised, other people in the meeting disengage and lose focus. They’re not wanting to signal agreement or disagreement.
    • The speaker worries that they don’t get acknowledgement, so they repeat the same thing, a bit louder and more exuberant.
      • “I’ll do it again, and they’ll get it this time”
    • Not breaking the the frame, not stepping back or taking some sort of time-out.
  • Conflict is often avoided
    • People don’t feel the need to confront each other
    • They’re not comfortable dealing with conflicts
    • Undiscussable issues are not discussed during meetings
      • Conflicts are discussed outside of formal meetings, over a lunch or a beer
  • How to interrupt the negative cycle
    1. Pause, and raise the question of “What’s going on here?”
      • Make the pause part Ground rules.
      • Allow the team to re-frame and refocus
      • It needs to be a deliberate activity
      • The leader needs to help establish that this an effective and acceptable practice in the team
      • Examples:
        • work teams in factories can stop the whole production line
        • retrospectives
    2. Try to identify what the issue is
      • Where is the team is getting stuck?
    3. Collect a little data.
      • Ask everyone on the team:
        • What’s working well?
        • What isn’t working well?
      • Do an anonymous survey if people are uncomfortable talking in the open about what the issues are.
      • Don’t just make assumptions. Really try to figure out what people are seeing

Scenario: Healthcare, Part 1

  • Background
    • Hospital in a major metropolitan area that is busy 24 hours a day
    • Doctors and nurses are rushing about
    • There is tremendous paperwork behind every job that gets done
    • There is a grave problem:
      • Patients come in to the ER, and are waiting to be admitted to a bed in the hospital
      • Between their time in at the ER, and getting to the bed, there is a lag of time.
      • Sometimes, patients have waited up to 7 hours in a hallway in a gurney waiting for the bed to be available.
      • Who’s at fault?
      • Who can find a solution to this problem?
    • Cross functional team to solve the problem
      • Senior physician is leader
      • Representatives from nursing, facilities, safety, and housekeeping
      • Only 10% of the 2 hour meeting has everybody there trying to solve this
  • Chief medical officer:
    • We have too many patients waiting in the hall.
    • We’re getting calls all the time, looking for beds
    • What’s the problem?
  • Head of nursing:
    • By the time housekeeping has finished with the room, we have to put it in, confirm it, by the time we get the information to you (chief medical officer), it’s too late. Hours have passed.
  • Head of health and safety:
    • It is an infrastructure problem. We need better phone lines, better IT
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure
    • That is absolutely untrue. New phone lines, new IT system. That’s review board and a huge budget
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Head of nursing:
    • We don’t even know if it’s going to work
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Chief medical officer:
    • If it helps communication, I agree that it might be a good idea. We need to talk about it
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • it’s just a way over the top solution.
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Head of nursing:
    • It’s just another thing that I have to teach an entire staff of people
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • I think the infrastructure problem is a personal infrastructure, there could be a way to open that.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • Yes, but listen, we have the finances to do whatever we need
  • Head of nursing:
    • If we have the finances, we should be hiring more nurses
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Head of health and safety:
    • Is that the problem?
  • Head of nursing:
    • Yes, that’s the problem!
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • There are people in the rooms who are cleaning. They can do the job, they can report directly.
  • Head of nursing:
    • Yeah, but we need to have checks in place
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Head of nursing:
    • Unfortunately, your staff can not be counted on (talking to housekeeping)
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • There is a huge competency problem. Huge! They don’t show up, they take 25 minute smoke breaks.
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • You’re not even on our floor.
  • Head of nursing:
    • But I am, and I feel like I consistently have problems and rooms are not cleaned consistently and adequately
  • <<crosstalk>>
  • Chief medical officer:
    • The problem is if the beds are not prepared, then we are in deep shit.
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • There’s a way we could work within this infrastructure personally
  • Head of nursing:
    • I just feel incredibly frustrated. I have almost no staff, and I have another team that feels unwilling to work with us, and if I could find a way…
  • Chief medical officer:
    • How hard is it to pick up the phone? That’s what I want to know.
    • (walks off)
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • (to head of nursing) My staff can work with your staff, they just don’t need to, they can go directly.
  • Head of nursing:
    • I’m unwilling to have these conversation when not everyone is present
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • Shall we table this for next week?
  • Chief medical officer:
    • (walks back)
    • So, how are we doing?
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • We are nowhere.

Debrief: Scenario, Part 1

  • It was a shouting match, no one listening
  • There was a lot of blaming
    • Chief of health and safety blamed an entire housekeeping department for not being competent
  • Chief medical officer seemed very uninterested.
    • Not even physically available for the entire meeting
    • Left to take a call
  • No solution focus
  • When we’re in a “fight” situation, our guards go up and we protect ourselves from blame.
  • Defensive routines (Agyris)
    • Triggered when we feel attached
    • “My group did our part”
    • “It’s not our fault”
    • There’s very little communication.
  • Teams need to find a way to reframe “fights” to “an exchange of ideas”, or something constructive
    • Stepping back and listening, as opposed to just asserting your own view points
  • Can we voice what the assumptions are?
    • That prevents them from going underground, getting buried

Scenario: Healthcare, Part 2

  • Background
    • Let’s assess the previous meeting, so that we can make some structural changes to the way that they communicate
  • Chief medical officer:
    • I think the last meeting was difficult. I think we need to find a way to make our meetings more effective so that we can solve the problem at hand
    • There’s no hierarch. Everyone is free to express themselves.
    • What did we do wrong in the last meeting?
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • It was not good. Everyone talked over everyone else.
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • Well, this is progress. We are laughing at each other.
    • I feel like if we’re really going to be focused on what we’re focusing on, we can’t keep taking calls in the middle of meetings.
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • In regard to staying focused, I think we really need to listen to everybody. I did not feel heard at the last meeting. I felt there was definitely a pecking order going on.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • Well, why don’t we  just go around and one person at a time take a minute, say what they need to say with no interruptions.
  • Head of nursing:
    • We for me the last meeting was really frustrating because I felt ganged up on, and there was no one stepping in. We nurses are overworked as it is, and we hardly have a chance to catch a breath more or less. I think two or three times, steps down the line.
  • Head of health and safety:
    • Guys, it’s easy to point fingers, and point out where other people drop the ball, but I think we could all do a lot better with less blame.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • Something I really would like is if people could come from their own departments with ideas from their own departments that might solve the problem at hand, and think about it ahead of time.
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • I feel like I did do that. I did come to a meeting with a solution I’d thought of that didn’t get heard. A lot of assumptions were being made about the skills of my staff. Nine times out of ten, the room is clean when the nurse comes to check it. My housekeeper could enter that into the system, get that message to the ER right way, save you time and work. I hired the staff. I know that they can do it.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • I don’t think that the housekeeping are going to solve this problem. I mean, this is a really high takes problem, this is a big deal.
  • Director of facilities and infrastructure:
    • Well, just to point out in the open format, you just made the assumption that Sarah was talking about, that housekeepers somehow can’t do it.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • Okay, all right, duly noted.
  • Head of nursing:
    • I does seem sometimes that we aren’t listening and we’re pushing too hard with our own ideas.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • How about is somebody vould volunteer to write down what is being said in the meetings, because I know everybody’s got on their mind, and then distribute it.
  • Head of housekeeping:
    • I’m happy to do that.
  • Chief medical officer:
    • Great. Maybe write down your proposal.

Debrief: Scenario, Part 2

  • The team takes time out, and is able to step back and review its own operation
  • It will take time to get these “retrospectives” working well
  • In this space, people have time, they are listened to, they are “in” the space.
  • The leader plays an important role in shifting the focus of the meeting
    • They have to give a green light to allow the meeting to progress (e.g. without hierachies)
    • They have to be careful not to fill the meeting space with their own voice
  • After Action Review
    • A meeting to assess what we just experienced
    • In the meeting you’re calling a timeout.
    • We want to examine what just happened, and figure out a better way.
  • The leader models the behaviour
    • e.g. I’m turning off my cell phone
  • Need to deal with specifics.
    • “We all need to listen to each other.”
    • No! Let’s examine the times when people didn’t listen to each other. Let’s be specific and detailed, not vague and general.
  • Phased approach
    1. Leave the rank and hierarchy at the door
    2. The leader legitimises, role models the behavior, creates permission, ground rules, space
    3. Examine the process. What was going on? Being in the moment.
  • It’s not about blame. It’s about effectiveness.
    • It’s about the interactions of the group, not about what you did.
    • We need to take our own responsiblity in this and focus on effectiveness, no blame
    • I’m in control of my response to what you did. I need to control my response.
  • Conduct After Action Reviews frequently
    • Some teams set aside the last 5 minutes of ever meeting for this purpose
    • Keep continually learning about what worked well, what isn’t working, and how you can improve it.
    • “What worked well” is a good reframing. You can use it at the start of the next meeting.
  • Appreciated Inquiry (Passmore and Woodman, 1987)
  • Slow down the meeting.
    • Don’t let people jump in and claim the airtime.
    • Get everyone to write down a few ideas first.
      • What are some of your thoughts about how we could become more effective?
      • People are working in parallel
    • Make sure you respond to other peoples points and issues, don’t immediately jump in and add your own.

Our After Action Review

  • This is about how I’m impacting you, and how we’re impacting each other.
  • Am I thinking about the things that you’re thinking about.
  • Are we meeting our goals?
    • Being clear about our goals
  • Lack of immediate feedback from the learner
  • Our group norms:
    • Questioning our rames, learning from each other
    • Giving concrete examples and cases that illustrate our points
    • Checking to make sure we covered the main points

Guide to the After Action Review

  • Guide to the After Action Review
    • An AAR is centered on four questions:
      • What was expected to happen?
      • What actually occurred?
      • What went well and why?
      • What can be improved and how?
    • An AAR features:
      • An open and honest professional discussion
      • Participation by everyone on the team
      • A focus on results of an event or project
      • Identification of ways to sustain what was done well
      • Development of recommendations on ways to overcome obstacles
    • Contents:
      1. Planning the After Action Review
      2. Conducting an After Action Review
      3. Sharing the AAR Results

Skilled Incompetence (Argyris, 1986)

  • Skilled Incompetence
    • Smart executive team, but unable to make clear decisions
    • What Causes Incompetence?
      • The culprit is skill
    • Where the Skillful Thrive
    • Defense Routines Emerge
    • How to Become Unskilled
      • The answer is unlearning


  • BART stands for Boundaries, Authority, Roles, and Task
  • BART is a way of thinking about teams that emphasizes psychodynamic processes
  • Boundaries
    • e.g. time, physical setting, psychological, etc
    • Time boundary examples
      • people arriving late, checking mail during meeting, etc
      • In many cultures, commencing a meeting on time is considered very important, a trademark of being very professional at work.
      • In other cultures, they’re very lenient. It’s OK to stary a meeting 15 minutes later than the scheduled time.
    • Perhaps the team does not value boundaries.
  • Authority
    • e.g. who wields authority, who has formal or informal authority
    • e.g. the person who was the designated leader was not the actual leader. The acutal leader was another team member who was a subject matter expert.
    • Who is considered to be an authority in the context?
    • We have formal and informal authority
  • Roles
    • e.g. formal and informal roles
    • e.g. one team had a member who was seen and designated as the contrarian
      • every point that was made, he felt called upon to disagree, contract, argue
      • he was really their critical thinking partner, so that turned out to be positive
    • Think about what the role says about the group or team and how you can understand that
  • Task
    • e.g. at least 2 tasks
      • work task
        • What is it that we’re assigned to do?
        • What is our purpose?
      • survival task
        • How do we sustain ourselves?
        • How do we continue our activity?
    • Teams can often get confused between their survival task, as opposed to their assignment

The BART System of Group and Organizational Analysis (Green & Molenkamp, 2005)

Focus on Culture and Conflict in Teams: Part 1 – Culture

  • Team that function well are able to deal with having a team member absent, and welcome them back on their return
  • Power Distance (Hosftede & Hofstede, 2005)
    • The aspect of where and how authority empower distributed inthe organisation
  • Project teams almost always have a pecking order
  • It is imperative that the organisational culture provides or accomodates collaboration seamlessly across culture or across authorities when the situation so demands
    • When there are emergencies, to be able to rise out of the authority matrix and be able to chip in, get your points and thoughts across
  • Effective teams have productive conversations. That is not about pecking order, but who has information
  • Overt and covert norms affect the team
    • Overt norms: norms the team recognises
    • Covert norms: norms that are below the surface, not reconised.
    • Ground rules on norms
  • Ground rules
    • Ground rules should be about the purpose of the team
    • There are also ground rules about the operational aspects of the team:
      • “it’s OK to disagree”,
      • or “let’s not interrupt each other”
  • The evolution of Japanese management: Lessons for U.S. managers (marsland & Beer, 1980)
    • Japanese firms spent a lot of time planning, less on implementation
    • U.S. firms spent less time planning
    • Japanese firms spent much less time in implementation because they had spent the time planning
  • Excitement about learning
  • Culture orientations
  • Subcultures
  • Culture is a very important diagnostic lens

Focus on Culture and Conflict in Teams: Part 2 – Conflict

  • Many organisations avoid conflict
    • Get the like-minded people together
    • This is a mistake
  • We need to get the people with different views in the space and bring them into the team so the differences can be expressed
  • Reframe conflict as “creative tension”
    • Is is tensions, there are different views, but it is creative
    • Getting undiscussable issues on the table can lead to insights. It’s ultimately where great transformation comes from


  • We encourage you to:
    1. Acknowledge what is going on in the team
    2. Step back and identify issues that are causing problems (look at not just the symptoms, but the underlying issues)
    3. What is happening in the larger organisation that is impacting the team
    4. Collect some data (check assumptions)

Other References|Additional Readings

  • Hofstede G. & Hofstede, G. J. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (2nd Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Marsland, S. & Beer, M. (1980). The evolution of Japanese management: Lessons for U.S. managers. Harvard Business Review.
  • Smith, K. K., & Berg, D. N. (1987). Paradoxes of group life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Darling, M., Parry, C., & Moore, J. (2005, Jul-Aug). Learning in the Thick of It. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
  • Tavistock Primer II (Hayden & Molenkamp). Link:

Introduction to Framing and Systems Thinking

I’m studying the course Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 1.

Framing, Reframing & Systems Thinking

Framing and Reframing

  • Metaphor: different camera lenses
  • If you put on a telephoto lens, you’re going to see something quite different to what you would see through a wide-angle lens
  • When people are in meetings, they usually come from a particular place or discipline, and they are caught in that way of looking at things
  • Example of reframing:
    • Tell me about the problems you are having in your organisation.
    • Stop! We don’t have problems here, we have only challenges.
  • Reframing: moved from a negative to ways to empower the organisation
  • What is a frame? Do we know what our frames are?
    • By default, we look at a situation, and we try and we try and make sense.
    • There’s so much information that you can’t make sense unless you apply a frame
  • How do I use someone else’s frame?
  • Often, there are questions about “who is responsible?” or “who is to blame?”
  • We must replace the “blame frame”. Change to a learning or discovery frame.
    • This is a big aspect of why teams don’t find solutions

The Story of George Washington Bridge

  •  Background:
    • The George Washington Bridge is one of the major arteries of traffic into the city of New York from the west
    • It’s always a bottleneck, even when traffic is flowing smoothly
    • When there’s problems or accidents, the bottleneck becomes a complete standstill, which is a serious issue for life all around the city
  • This story is about barriers, in more ways than one
  • It’s the middle of the 1970’s. Usually, about once a month, there’s a head-on collision on the bridge
  • Stakeholders:
    • The nearest hospital is Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. All the staff work very hard to save the lives of the victims of these crashes
      • No matter what the hospital staff do to improve their service, the accidents still happen. They’re not preventing accidents from happening.
    • the police, law enforcement, the Port Authority
      • Looked to prevent accidents through the enforcement of laws
    • the maintenance departments
      • Looked to prevent accidents ensuring the paint the double-yellow lines was fresh, using glow in the dark paint
    • These groups are also working to improve their ability to prevent accidents.
    • They do not prevent the accidents
  • Everyone is doing their part to improve their area of responsiblity, but the system isn’t really changing, and the accidents still happen.
  • Until….
    • Everyone steps back from their part of the problem, and thinks about the system as a whole
    • When they do that, new innovative breakthroughs and solutions are possible
    • As you think about the whole problem, it’s possible to think about solutions that prevent all accidents from happening so there are zero defects (no accidents at all)
  • The solution (in this case) happened to be concrete barriers
    • A solution was devised that dissolved the problem. Not just solved it, but made it disappear. This is an important breakthrough!
  • Why did it take so long? Why do people take so long to find solutions?
    • The barriers were invented in 1959, but weren’t installed until 1975.
    • The stakeholders were approaching the problem from their own frames.
    • They were looking at their part of the problem, not the whole problem
      • For example, the medical team was more focused on enhancing patient services, rather than thinking about how to prevent these accidents happening in the first place
    • What if I could figure out how to look at the problem from a different angle? Use a different lens?
    • The barriers on the bridge are the solution
    • The barriers in peoples minds prevent us from reaching the solution much sooner
    • We take these complicated, complex problems that are difficult to get our hands on, and we break them up into pieces.
    • Then it’s easier to work in that limited area, but connecting these areas is the hard part
    • That’s where the problems lie, connecting the different areas of responsibility
    • This is why the reframing aspect whole system is important

Cross Functional Team Designing a Rewards Program

  • Each team member had their own department heads
  • Functions were siloed, and very hard to get a meeting together when needed
  • There were conflicts over priorities and goals
  • Team members were not able to understand the other persons’ perspective (or frames)
  • Decisions got delayed, project timelines were impacted
  • How to get the teams unstuck?

Frames – Defined and Illustrated

  • Frames are determined by multiple factors. For example,
    • a person’s discipline
    • field of study
    • role
  • For example,
    • If an economist looks at a team working, they might ask “what is their economic incentive for participating in this team?”
    • If a sociologist looks at they same team, they might ask “what are the demographics of the team, and how do they influence what’s happening?”
  • Frames for this course:
    1. Group, or organisation, or system as a whole
    2. Connect with group literature that has been around for over 100 years
    3. Look at the issue of scapegoating
      • Look at the dynamics of the group or team, and not blaming one individual or group (avoid the blame game)

Scenario – Computer Manufacturing Company

  • Company makes computers that they sell to other businesses, who then sell them on the retail market
  • Now they’re contemplating marketing and producing a product of their own to sell on the retail market
    • Design engineers keen for a new creative
    • Finance sees opportunity
    • Pressure to reduce production costs or else lose business
    • Groups are having trouble with seeing from other perspectives
    • They’ve already had 2 2-hour meetings
  • Noticed that the camera angle is changing often, which I assume is an example of changing frames
  • At the end of the third meeting
    • Senior finance person:
      • hasn’t see projections.
      • If the finances aren’t there, the project isn’t there
    • IT Design Engineer:
      • team is really excitied.
      • Aside: (I’ve been waiting years to launch our own product line. But the meeting is very disappointing. I don’t think my colleages see the potential here)
      • I’m hiring new people every day. If we don’t give them something to do, we’re going to lose them
    • Production Manager:
      • We’re maxed out already. We’re talking about creating a whole new line. If we hire new staff, I think we can manage it
      • Aside: (I am about to lose 4 people, two are my best line people. If those 2 go, 3 more will also go. They’re not happy. They don’t like the wages or the hours. I’m worried that we’re going to lose them)
    • Finance:
      • we’re going to have to reduce costs. Everyone is going to have to reach an accomodation.
    • Senior Marketing Person:
      • It’s the launch of a new product.
      • There’s not way that we can launch this the ways are configured now.
      • Something has to be sacrificed
      • Aside: (I have an entire staff who doesn’t know how to launch a new product. This is a complete marketing overhaul, and I need a bigger budget. I need to get in more people, get existing people up to speed. I can’t see how to do this in 9 months)
      • I don’t feel that this group understands how competitive the retail market is.
      • I worry that we’re going to burst into the market, and have our pants down
    • Production:
      • It’s a grand plan, but people cannot work any faster
      • I’m worried about burn out and possible accidents
    • Head of Legal and Contracts
      • Before we consider staffing, we need to consider legal issues
      • We have a contractual obligation to our customers
      • If we use existing technology to create a new product, we could be sued
    • Finance:
      • We’ve discussed this before. We have not signed any contracts which prevents us from making a new product
    • Legal:
      • Aside: (This is a bad idea. Clearly none of them are concerned about the legal ramifications. If we get sued, we’ll get stuck in the courts for years. We’re not financially ready to do that, it could really affect our bottom line).
    • Finance:
      • Aside: (This is the scond project that I have worked on where no one sems to be concerned about budget. If they have any more massive overruns like last time, my reputation is on the line)
      • I’m worried about the overhead here
      • Our margins are so bad that we’re going to be losing money in 6 months
    • Production:
      • chef analogy with bad tools

Debrief – Scenario

  • Everyone was stuck in their frame. They had a hard time looking outside of the frame
  • Legal
    • She was only focussed on the risks involve in the new business opportunity
    • Not considering the cost pressures the organisation is facing, or the market realities they might have to face later
    • Seemed convinced that the entire project was a train wreck
    • She was not willing, or not aware of the bigger picture
  • From the scene, you could see that they were stuck. Every member was acting out a part of staying within the straightjacket of their role
  • We start to identify with each character, and what they’re saying as though it’s about their personality or the way they are, rather than what they’re representing in the organisation. This is a mistake we often make
    • Embedded group theory
    • Studying Intergroup Relations Embedded in Organisations (Alderfer & Smith, 1982)
  • Think about the person’s role in the organisation, not their personality
  • The meeting could be more productive if we could get out of our frame, and understand the other person’s frame
  • Time pressure is a factor
  • Some of the most important information was given to observers in asides. This information was not shared with others in the meeting
  • Are we really putting all our issues on the table. Are we talking about them in a constructive, open way
  • Somewhere along the line, you do have to step back
  • Every person in the meeting is representing their point of view. What about the large system?What would it take to think about the system?
  • We are training in analytical thinking. Break a problem into parts, solve the parts indepentantly, and then try and assemble them into a solution
  • In systems thinking, we’re thinking about what needs to be explained by putting it in the context of a larger system
  • In this scenario, the larger system is the opportunity to develop a new product. However, if everyone is sticking to their own frame, they’re not going to get there.

Studying Intergroup Relations Embedded in Organizations (Alderfer & Smith, 1982)

Strength Based Approaches to Organizations

  • Don’t come into an organisation and asking “Where are the dead bodies?”
  • Come in looking for their strengths
    • Reframe looking for organisational strenghts rather than deficits (Cooperrider & Srivasta 1987)
  • Framing (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981)
    • Research on how we frame decisions, and how people choose
    • It’s often possible to frame a problem in more than one way
    • They explored this framing effect in a hypothetical life or death situation
    • Participants in the study were asked to choose between different programs to combat the outbreak of a deadly disease which could affet 600 lives
      • Choice was given as either  a positive frame (how many people will live) or a negative frame (how many people will die)
      • 72% of participants chose the program with the positive framing
      • Only 22% chose the same program when presented with negative framing
      • Both the problems were identical
      • The difference was in the outcomes, which was described as either saving lives versus the number of lives lost

Discussion Prompt: Assignment 1 – Experiential Exercise

  • Four different frames
    • Innovative architect
    • Health & safety expert
    • Disabled person in a wheel chair
    • 5 year old kid

Debrief – Experiential Activity

  • There are things that we pass every day that we don’t notice. However, when we change our frame, these things come into the forefront.
  • The exercise gives us permission to change frames. But it is very easy to do.
  • What are ways that I can frame my questions so that the person I’m asking understands that I’m coming from a different frame
  • Changing frame
    • I wonder how our customers would view the issue?
    • I wonder how legal would view this issue?
  • What if the computer manufactor meeting started with a discussion of the changing market scenario, and the cost pressures faced by the organisation. That probably would have changed the dialog, and help participants to come out of their rames.
  • Framing and Reframing can unblock learning in teams
  • Explict reframing:
    • “Take off your management hat, and put on your customer hat”
    • Call attention to to we’re looking at it and ask how to reshape that, reframe that
  • Multiple levels:
    • individual level
    • interpersonal level
    • group level
    • organisational level
    • market level
  • Observe in your next meeting
    • What are the frames that the team members bring to the meeting?
    • Are they able to understand others’ perspectives?
    • Are the willing to explore others’ ideas?
    • Or are they stuck to their frames?

Strength Based Approaches (Asplund & Blacksmith, 2011)

  • How Strengths Boost Engagement
  • The 12 elements of great managing
    1. I know what is expected of me at work
    2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
    3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
    4. In the last 7 years, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
    5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
    6. There is someone at work who encourages my development
    7. At my, my opinions seem to count
    8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
    9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
    10. I have a best friend at work
    11. In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
    12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987)

  • Appreciative Inquiry in Organisational Life
  • Abstract:
    • This chapter presents a conceptual refiguration of action-research based on a “sociorationalist” view of science. The position that is developed can be summarized as follows: For action-research to reach its potential as a vehicle for social innovation it needs to begin advancing theoretical knowledge of consequence; that good theory may be one of the best means human beings have for affecting change in a postindustrial world; that the discipline’s steadfast commitment to a problem-solving view of the world acts as a primary constraint on its imagination and contribution to knowledge; that appreciative inquiry represents a viable complement to conventional forms of action-research; and finally, that through our assumptions and choice of method we largely create the world we later discover.

The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981)

  • The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice
  • Summary:
    • The psychological principles that govern the perception of decision problems and the evaluation of probabilities and outcomes produce predictable shifts of preference when the same problem is framed in different ways. Reversals of preference are demonstrated in choices regarding monetary outcomes, both hypothetical and real, and in questions pertaining to the loss of human lives. The effects of frames on preferences are compared to the effects of perspectives on perceptual appearance. The dependence of preferences on the formulation of decision problems is a significant concern for the theory of rational choice.

Systems Thinking Frame

  • When attending a meeting, we must represent our own frame. However, it is also important that we adopt and listen, and take on other frames. Systems thinking is all about that.
  • Analytical thinking: separate something into parts, understand the parts, and then see how the parts fit together
  • Systems thinking (as opposed to our analytical framing) asks us to do something else. Take the part we are trying to explain, and see how that works in a larger system.
  • Metaphor for Systems Thinking: Concentric Circles
  • Example of car:
    • You can pull a car apart and understand all the individual pieces.
    • However, you won’t understand why it is the size it is, or why the size has changed since the 50’s.
    • Instead of viewing the car as a transportation machine, think of it as something to move families.
    • You only understand that when you think about the car’s role in society.
  • Example of education:
    • School classes, 1 teacher, 20-30 children.
    • Why that configuration?
    • Need systems thinking to answer:
      • What is this preparing them to do?
      • What is being taught?
      • What role does that play?
  • When we want to get the purpose, we need the systems thinking piece
  • Getting rid of a problem does not necessarily led to what you want
  • Is thinking about the system as a whole too much information?
    • It’s a different set of questions that we’re asking
    • If you’re really trying to understand purpose and possibility, that’s a different space
  • Discovery space: not about getting rid of problems, but formulating problems in such as way that we can see possibilities that were not clear before
  • By thinking of a goal and working backwards, we may avoid the constraints that block us going forward
  • Analysis and synthesis
  • Example:
    • People leaving a group
    • Was told this was because of monetary compensation
    • In the larger system, compensation is only part of the rewards system
    • What are the various monetary and non-monetary rewards?
  • Considering the system rather than individualising issues or problems
  • Win/Lose frame
    • If I give you something, I have to take something away from someone else
  • Reframing: changing win/lose to win/win solutions

Systems Thinking with Dr. Russell Ackoff

Diversity Case Study

I’m studying the Optimizing Diversity on Teams course on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4.

High Performance on Diverse Teams

  • A high performing team (HPT) has
    1. High quality output of product
    2. Strong working relationships
    3. Meaningful takeaways for individual team members
  • A HPT best practice:  willingness to be accountable for results
  • Google example:
    • Workforce demographics:
      • 70% men
      • 61% white
      • 30% Asian
      • 3% Hispanic
      • 2% African-American
    • Publishing these demographics made Google publicly accountable for these figures
    • Leaders are willing to self-reflect
    • Psychological safety
      • Google undertook a two year self-study of over 250 attributes over 1800 teams
      • Who was on a team didn’t matter as much as other factors
      • Team Interaction/Structure/Contribution > Team Composition
      • Positive relations
      • High degree of inter-personal trust and mutual respect (people are comfortable being themselves)
      • Psychologically safe teams are more likely to prevent early problems and accomplish shared goals
  • High performing teams:
    1. Engage in self reflection and public accountability
    2. Facilitate an environment of psychological safety

Creating Inclusion Through Participation

  • The key is to develop practices in your team that allow for the even flow of contributions and ideas across team members
  • Create an environment of inclusion by enhancing participation
  • Example 1:
    • A team can set a ground rules that all meeting agendas will be sent in advance of face to face meetings
  • Example 2:
    • Some teams sent out presentations 1 day in advance to allow participants time to digest the topic of the meeting. Instead of presenting the slides, the agenda is focused on discussing the presentation
    • This practice helps prevent a bias towards ideas suggested by group members with more power or authority
  • The ability of team members in all levels to participate in important decisions creates opportunities for meaning making and creativity at all levels.
  • Another example to increase collaboration
    • Use “brainwriting” instead of “brainstorming” when generating more ideas
    • Brainwriting: group members write down thoughts & ideas by themselves in response to a problem-solving prompt
    • Brainwriting tends to produce more ideas of a high quality than brainstorming. You are less likely to be distracted by other’s ideas when generating your own
  • Google moderator
    • Employees can ask anonymous questions
    • Other employees can vote the question up or down for relevancy
    • When the meeting starts, execs start with a question that has the most votes
  • Non-judgemental listening
    • Let a group member fully describe an idea without interruption, and then responding in a way that validates the potential for this idea
    • This is another means for increasing high performance
    • The opposite of non-judgemental listening: interrupting and responding with phrases like “that won’t work”, or “this is a terrible idea”, or “we’ve done this before”
  • In each of these examples, there was:
    • psychological safety
    • a process for receiving input from many different stakeholders

Nike Introduction

  • Think about what your team’s goals, roles, and norms would be, so, that you can support both diversity and inclusion on your team
  • Demographics of Nike employees: 48% white
  • Strong LGBT support
  • Four principles of diversity policy
    1. Diversity drives recruitment
    2. Diversity enriches the creativity and innovation that shapes the brand
    3. Diversity grows the competitive advantage
    4. Diversity heightens the stature and belief in the brand within our culturally diverse customer base
  • Training to address unconscious bias

Nike Goals

  • Nike wants the composition of its staff to mirror its customer base
  • Nike’s goals:
    1. Give back to historically under-served communities
      • Nike designs footwear to promote health and prevent disease in the Native American Community: the Nike Air Native N Seven
      • 7 generations of wisdom (Native American idea)
      • Proceeds from these shoes went back to the communities
    2. Advocate for the rights of marginalised groups
      • Nike gave testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions
      • Nike advocated for non-discrimination in the workplace for the LGBT community
      • LGBT sports summit at Nike headquarters
    3. Educate employees on issues of diversity and inclusion to minimise unconscious bias and prejudice
      • Nike runs trainings for staff emphasising respecting differences, leveraging strengths and maximising opportunity for everyone
      • Trainings include:
        • How to foster diverse environments
        • How diversity can encourage creativity and innovation
  • Inclusion is the most important success factor driving engagement

Nike Roles

  • Nike created a new role in 2006: the Vice President of Diversity
  • Nike formed a new diversity and inclusion team in 2008
  • VP of Diversity and Include reported directly tot he CEO from 2009
  • Diversity VP works with HR VP to ensure that diversity is considered in all talent decisions
  • Team’s charge is to engage employees, provide business consultation and develop tools that support diversity inclusion across all business units
  • Networks of employees help with advocacy inside and outside Nike
    • Asia Pacific Employee and Friends Network
    • Black Employee and Friends Network
    • Disabled Employee and Friends Network
    • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender and Friends Network
    • Latino and Friends Network
    • Native American and Friends Network
    • Global Women’s Leadership Council
  • Managers provide a critical role

Nike Norms

  • Norms are ground rules that the team uses to structure their information sharing and decision making
  • Nike Norms:
    • Code of Ethics (“Inside the Lines”)
      • All employees must promise to stay inside the lines
      • Whistle-blowing hotline to report transgressions
    • Structured feedback sessions
      • Help teams to establish their new foundations
      • Everyone provides a self-assessment and an assessment of their work preferences, including
        • preference to work autonomously or collaboratively
        • how decisions are preferred to be made (consensus? specific roles?)
      • This feedback is used for the team to set their own goals, roles and norms
      • This practice of level-setting allows a safe space for ideas to be continuously generated
    • Culture as Offence (CAO)
      • CAO is a workshop that seeks to encourage inter-generational dialogue by bringing experienced executives and young new Nike employees together
  • The important point: Make sure you set goals, roles and norms on your own team, and make sure they are explicit.

Interview with Jacqui Barton

  • Vice President of Human Capital in the community and state segment of United Health Group

Global Leadership: Working Across Borders

  • Global Leadership: Working Across Borders

Managing Conflict

I’m studying the Optimizing Diversity on Teams course on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Why Conflicts Occur

  • It is difficult to establish common social norms in a diverse group
  • Conflicts can arise from deep level human needs, such as
    • workers personal beliefs coming into conflict with professional expectations
  • Team culture determines the rules (whether written or unspoken) that guide who you’re going to work together and solve problems
  • Humans instinctively form groups and establish rules
  • How does a group establish ground rules when basic assumptions about teamwork vary from person to person?
  • Affective trust: the gut instinct or implicit feeling that you can trust someone
  • Conflicts in diverse teams often form due to the challenge of forming trust (especially affective trust), due do basic differences in communication styles.
  • Expressing disagreement in different cultures:
    • high value on saving face and group harmony, but express disapproval through non-verbal cues
    • more direct ways of disagreement
  • Danone and Wahaha joint venture
    • Danone chairman publicly accused Wahaha owner of funneling funds into another venture
    • Lack of trust meant that neither party could come to agreement
    • Trust might have allowed better understanding, and have avoided the problem
  • Other common reasons for cross-cultural conflict:
    • Differences in communications styles
      • direct versus indirect
      • fluency and accent differences from dominant language
    • Attitudes towards hierarchy
    • Conflicting decision making norms
  • One third of cross-cultural teams rate themselves as unsuccessful.
  • Create strategies to build trust
  • Establish rules in a more inclusive way
  • IDEO example:
    • employees are trained on emotional intelligence to help establish trust
    • norm to listen and not judge ideas before they have been fully explored
    • If norm is broken, members will publicly draw attention to this (delicately)
  • Conflicts often arise from deep human needs, that are often just below the surface
  • Investing in and developing trust gives a team the best chance to overcome conflict and achieve high performance

Conflict Types and Origins

  • Conflict arises from a discrepancy among individuals regarding needs, beliefs and concerns
  • Conflict arises from difference across three critical team components:
    • The team goals
    • The way the team will achieve goals
    • The way team members behave
  • If not addressed, conflicts can generate dysfunction and potentially break the team apart
  • Example of conflict breaking a team apart:
    • CEO of team (Beth) had a disagreement with a member of team (John)
    • Beth and John both wanted CEO role
    • Team appointed Beth due to her high level of knowledge and preparation
    • Beth was forthcoming about what she felt needed to be done to accomplish the group goals
    • The remaining 5 members agreed with her direction, and gave feedback
    • Problem with balance of input in the group:
      • 3 of the groups 6 members could not speak English fluently, so input from them was slower and sparse
      • However, input from John was high, and he challenged nearly every decision made by Beth
      • John interrupted team conversations a lot (despite not having prepared for the simulation)
    • David de facto babysat John, while John continued to antagonise Beth
    • Beth took on more and more of the workload. She couldn’t wait for the non-English speakers to keep up with her
    • Everyone really needed to take things more slowly, but Beth had trouble slowing down
    • Because of the negative interactions between John and Beth, and the communication problems in general, Beth ended up trying to do everything herself
    • John left the the team because of his negative behaviour
    • Beth also decided to leave the team, because she was so upset and could not recover in the short time frame
    • John was difficult, but Beth’s unwillingness to slow down caused her to burn out by taking on too much of the teams responsibilities
  • Have you ever avoided conflict, and taken on too much yourself?
  • What could the team have done?
    • Team learning, taking time to reflect on dynamics, could have prevented some of the damage if the team was able to establish compatible ways of thinking.
    • Better use of people like David, who are able to bridge gaps, could have helped
    • Addressed the representational gaps (see next section)

Addressing Representational Gaps

  • Representational gaps: gaps in perception about team problems, including the team’s ultimate task and what’s important to execute team goals
  • Representational gaps arise from:
    • differences in knowledge sets
    • differences in value sets
    • conflicting interpretations of new knowledge
  • How to reconcile incompatible views?
  • An intentional effort is needed on teams to reconcile different perspectives.
    • This is important because functionally diverse teams often lack shared knowledge
    • Compatibility is established by providing adequate time for team members to build relationships and get to know each other
  • Key is for team members to mutually understand the values, beliefs and attitudes represented in the team
  • There needs to be a shared understanding of how individuals within teams identify problems
  • Four keys to representing any problem: GAEO
    • Goal hierarchy: how we prioritise goals
    • Assumptions: how we assume others behave, or how we assume others are limited in time or resources
    • Elements: components of the problem that are changeable
    • Operators: the ways that the components of the problem can change
  • Companies can set ground rule expectations that establish these shared ways of understanding problems.
    • Teams can recognise that different behaviours may exist, and these behaviours are unique to particular countries or cultures
    • This recognition and acceptance of differences helps to establish shared knowledge, and creates opportunities for mutual understanding among team members
  • At an organisational level managerial staff must set an example for valuing diversity on teams.
    • Examples:
      • Mentoring relationships
      • Job shadowing
      • Relationship building time
      • 360 feedback
    • Watch out for the potential to blur roles and to reduce creative solutions
  • Managers need to be strategic in drawing out their teams’ creativity
  • Jim Shaw, former executive vice president of MTV networks
    • a “left-brain” guy in a “right-brain” organisation
    • Initially responded to creative suggestions by discussing possible ways where the idea could go wrong
    • This had the effect of shutting down the idea
    • Instead of diving in with his perspective on the suggestion, Jim learned to incrementally share contingency planning information.
    • This way creative people can fully explain themselves and get their ideas on the table
    • No two people on Jim’s team thinks alike, and this needs to be accounted for
  • Example from the last section of team that broke apart (Beth & John):
    • Remaining four called themselves the “Small Beautiful Team”
    • Set out to reestablish goals, roles and norms for their team
    • They managed representational gaps between them through establishing frequent check-ins for information sharing and goal setting
    • The norms of active and deliberate listening where critical to their building compatibility across their views and mutual understanding of each other’s perspectives
    • Decisions were much slower and more deliberate than before.
    • One conversation when the new CEO (Nigel) called attention
    • Roles because more evenly distributed and more clearly defined
    • Representational gaps will inevitably exist, but with thoughtful intention, compatibility across individuals and high function can be achieved when mutual understanding is the goal

Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Three ways to resolve conflict:
    1. Apologise
    2. Use joint fact finding
    3. Get a mediator
  • Apologising
    • Apologies have two functions in conflict management
      1. Demonstrating remorse
      2. Taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions
    • Apologising has potential for profound consequences. A sincere apology can be really effective in
      • establishing trust
      • developing stronger relationships within your teams
      • improving performance
    • A sincere apology has:
      1. an acknowledgement of wrongdoing
      2. the acceptance of responsibility
      3. an expression of regret
      4. a promise that the offence will not be repeated
    • There are four purposes for public leaders in particular to assume the risk of offering a public apology:
      1. Individual: a leader personally admits a wrongdoing so that others will forgive and forget
      2. Institutional: a leader apologises on behalf of a group to repair the groups coherent and customer reputation
      3. Intergroup: a leader takes responsibility for a mistake that their team inflicted on others
      4. Moral: a leader will have an authentic reason to apologise, and believe it is the right thing to do.
    • There are no cases where a good apology went wrong
    • Discomfort is inevitably part of repairing any conflict
  • Joint fact-finding
    • Joint fact-finding: a multi-step collaborative process for parties to come together and decide how information should be gathered, analysed and interpreted.
    • Set ground rules on a fact-finding agenda around a dispute
    • By investigating the technical details behind issues, the process is designed to produce more credible and agreements
    • Joint fact-finding is more likely to reduce conflict since decisions are grounded in facts, rather than emotions
    • Joint fact-finding may not be appropriate when an more powerful or knowledgeable party might use it as leverage to maintain a power imbalance
  • Mediation
    • What type of mediator?
      • You don’t actually need an empathetic mediator
      • A hostile mediator might help a team bond together better
      • Creating adversity might help team to have difficult conversations that get the team on the same page
    • The focus on conflict resolution should be getting the team to work together better

Addressing Oppression-Based Conflict

  • Team based simulation exercise:
    • Pat (an African-American woman) initially offered a lot of suggestions and participated, but became quieter and withdrew as time went on
    • White make colleagues were more successful at getting their ideas accepted
    • No one reached out to Pat to understand why she had become withdrawn
    • The team unintentionally suffered from oppression based conflict
  • The team was not successful, for two reasons:
    • all the team members were not fully engaged in the groups goals
    • the team did not find ways to ensure that diverse and varied perspectives were included in shaping strategy
  • This dynamic happens all too often in teams.
    • There are always going to be prevailing power dynamics that favour the opinions of the dominant or majority group, and discourage participation of marginal or minority members of the group

Interview with Marybeth Gasman

  • How to overcome pressure-based conflict in your organisation

5 Keys To Dealing with Workplace Conflict by Mike Myatt

  • 5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict
    • Causes of conflict
      • Communication
      • Emotions
    • How to handle conflict
      1. Define acceptable behaviour
      2. Hit conflict head-on
      3. Understand the WIIFM factor (What’s in it for me?)
      4. The importance factor
      5. View conflict as opportunity

Representational Gaps, Information Processing and Conflict in Functionally Diverse Teams

  • Representational Gaps, Information Processing, and Conflict in Functionally Diverse Teams
    • Abstract: Functional diversity in teams, while potentially beneficial, increases the likelihood that individual team members will perceive the team’s task differently, leading to gaps between teammates’ interpretations of what is needed for the team to be successful. These representational gaps are likely to create conflict as teammates try to solve what are essentially incompatible problems. Understanding how these general mechanisms work should deepen our understanding of information processing and conflict in diverse teams.

Team Diversity Basics

I’m studying the Optimizing Diversity on Teams course on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 2.

Diversity Matters and So Do Our Biases

  • Ethnically diverse and gender diverse companies financially outperform their counterparts
  • Diversity on it’s own is not enough
  • Baby-faced individuals are thought of more honest, naive and trustworthy than others
    • Study using a fictional peace offer from Palestinian leader: offer from a baby faced leader more often accepted
  • Stereotypes and bias
    • Shape our daily interactions, cause conflict and shape trust
    • We must be aware of our own biases – you may think you’re being completely fair when your actually being completely biased
  • Benevolent sexism:
    • Managers who “protect” women from difficult assignments, and so limiting their opportunities for career growth
    • Offering to help women when the help is not asked for, which can reduce confidence
    • More time and money given to older male colleagues due to unconscious bias
  • Hidden bias has consequences for employee retention and burnout
    • Only 1 in 10 women say they leave the workplace for maternity reasons
  • Elements of an inclusive culture:
    • hosting of affinity groups
    • training on hidden bias
    • channels for employees to provide input

Social Identity Theory

  • Social Identity Theory (from Simply Psychology)
    • Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s).
    • Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world.
    • In order to increase our self-image:
      • we enhance the status of the group to which we belong
      • by discriminating and holding prejudice views against the out group
    • We divide the world into “them” and “us” based through a process of social categorisation
      • This is known as in-group (us) and out-group (them)
      • Social identity theory states that the in-group will discriminate against the out-group to enhance their self-image.
    • Stereotyping is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:
      1. the differences between groups
      2. the similarities of things in the same group.
    • Examples of in-groups and out-groups
      • Northern Ireland: Catholics – Protestants
      • Rwanda: Hutus and Tutsis
      • Yugoslavia: the Bosnians and Serbs
      • Germany: Jews and the Nazis
      • Politics: Labor and the Conservatives
      • Football: Liverpool and Man Utd
      • Gender: Males and Females
      • Social Class: Middle and Working Classes
    • Three mental processes involved in evaluating others as “us” or “them”, which take place in a particular order:
      • Social categorisation
        • We can assign people to a category then that tells us things about those people (or ourselves, based on the category we place ourselves in)
      • Social identification
        • We adopt the identity of the group we have categorised ourselves as belonging to
      • Social comparison
        • Once we have categorised ourselves as part of a group and have identified with that group we then tend to compare that group with other groups
        • This is critical to understanding prejudice
          • Once two groups identify themselves as rivals, they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem

Examples of Microaggressions

  • Examples of Racial Microaggressions
    • Alien in own land
    • Ascription of intelligence
    • Colour blindness
    • Assumption of criminal status
    • Denial of individual racism
    • Myth of meritocracy
    • Pathologizing cultural value / communication styles
    • Second-class citizen
    • Environmental microaggressions
    • How to offend without really trying

Intro of Torian Richardson

  • In order to have an awareness of the culture, you need to have a self-awareness as well
  • See things in a neutral mindset – go into new situations with an open mind to alternatives
  • US and Europe have very similar working cultures
  • As an African-American working in Africa, it was very different

Diversity and Inclusion Issues on International Teams (Torian Richardson)

  • People gravitate towards the things and people that we know
  • Get to know each other’s families
  • Intellectual curiosity helped people open up their doors, and bond better
  • People in Africa come from a more tribal standpoint

Strategies for Adapting to a New Team Culture (Torian Richardson)

  • Have a level of intellectual curiosity
    • “I would really like to learn something new today”
    • People pick up on when it’s authentic and genuine
  • Get to know the people, their families, even the meanings behind public holidays
  • Intentionality is important
    • In new venture in China, started with intention to lean three things
      • Relationships (guanxi)
      • Why is credit not used as much in China?
      • What about their food, and how it relates to their culture

Cases of Strategic Focus on Diversity and Inclusion (Torian Richardson)

  • Barry-Wehmiller
    • CEO and chairman has a book called “Everybody Matters”
    • “People are at the core of every organisation”
  • GlobalMindED
    • Non-profit
    • Brings together all stakeholders in education
    • Students put together an incubator, where they do a start-up pitch at local schools
    • Coming up with a set of questions that are universal – can be asked of any student. What are your interests, why are you here, what you may want to do after you graduate

Addressing a Critical Situation of Bias (Torian Richardson)

  • Challenge at transport company: people felt as if there were some cultural and racial issues in the way that particular jobs that were given out
  • How to address in a positive way without staying derogatory?
    • bring all the stakeholders to the table
    • looking for common ground
    • everyone who was involved was also involved in created the solution
    • solution was simple, but the process of arriving at the decision was most important

Cultivating the Right Mindset to Manage Diversity and Inclusion Issues

  • Come in with the right attitude – I want to be positive
  • Accountability – level of ownership
  • Take action – actually have to take progressive action
  • Sense of gratitude

Interview with Andrés Castro Samayoa

  • Assistant Director of Assessment at the Centre for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania
  • The way in which questions of race an ethnicity are coded into the fabric of the institution
  • This happens because there is an explicit understanding of the need for shared identities between mentors and students
  • Role models with shared identities make it easier to connect
  • Examples of unintentionally marginalising students?
    • the ways in which you ask questions
    • how you end up talking to people
  • Red flag: “We think we have a handle on this”.
    • Means people are closing out opportunities for learning
    • lifelong approach

Interview with Ann Tiao

  • Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Model minority myth
    • Started in the 1960’s
    • Asian Americans were rare in the 60’s
    • Article said that Asian Americans were “model” because they were more quiet, did not voice their opinions (in contrast to African Americans)
    • Divide and conquer minorities
    • Re-emerged in the 1980’s, it was pointed out that they were over-represented in campus
    • It’s not true
      • huge diversity!
      • 50 ethnicities, 100 languages
  • Where are you from? (you don’t look like you come from here, or belong here)
  • Be intentional: what triggers you? What response do you want to make?

Intro of Harvey Floyd II

  • Organisational psychologist and executive coach

Strategies for Reducing Bias (Harvey Floyd II)

  • Exercise around social identity
    • Aspects that are given (cannot change)
    • Aspects that are core to them
    • Aspects that are chosen
  • Example of reducing bias
    • Problem with selection and development
    • Who’s missing, and needs to be present?
    • Open discussion up to them
    • Who’s best interest is it to get this right?

Questions that Help You Create a Diverse and Inclusive Team (Harvey Floyd II)

  • How do we align our values, actions and practices?
  • Discuss undiscussable issues, find a mechanism to discuss them
  • What environment will allow this?
  • Who’s on the team? Why?
  • Who’s not on the team? Why?
  • If I’m stepping outside of boundaries, do I have the authority?

Frameworks for Managing Difficult Conversations

  • SBI – Situation, Behaviour, Impact
    • Feedback model
    • This looks like non-violent communication?
  • Unconscious bias training