Rock and Roll: Use the Triangle of Satisfaction to Design and Facilitate Effective Collaboration

By Nedra Chandler, 3-min read

Humans can be Bermuda Triangles of needs.

If you are a leader, team participant, or facilitator of collaborative work of any kind, I promise you at least one insight you can use and apply directly to what you do. Here are 3 points of the triangle representing human needs for 3 different kinds of satisfaction.

Maybe you work with a team or an inter-agency or other multiparty group. Do you remember the last meeting you were part of that ran off the rails, either a little or a lot? You might have left thinking: “why?”

Why do we seem to make things so hard? Why is this situation such a mess? Why can’t we pick a direction and go? Why does everything take so long? Why? Why? Why?

Enter the Triangle of Satisfaction – one of most powerful, “sticky” (as in it sticks with you) pieces of applied theory ever, especially in the realm of public decision-making, yet also in the world of leaders and teams — how we humans rock and roll.

The diagram shows the three types of satisfaction we all need every time we seek agreement, movement or improvement on complex issues, plans or decisions: substantive, procedural, and emotional/relational.

This may be especially relevant for public work and decisions by government agencies and/or elected officials.

All participants harbor these intersecting needs, whether conscious of them or not. We humans not only want, but need, these types of satisfaction in order to reach decisions and move forward.

Let’s take each type of need in turn and see how you might apply these. Click on the Rolling Stone’s tune, Can’t Get No Satisfaction for background music to enhance your experience of this post here.

SUBSTANTIVE Satisfaction

The substance is simply the thing you are doing or deciding. It is often the easiest to identify. But ask yourself: “is what we’ve defined as the substance just the tip of the iceberg”?

What is submerged below the surface that could hinder collective progress? The answer is in the other two corners of the triangle, the ones that are below the surface. P.S. the ones you can’t see. The ones just waiting to crash the boat into.

A famous example of this was during the Vietnam War peace negotiations where participants spent months haggling over the shape of the table and who would sit where.

Submerged needs for clear Process and Relational Satisfaction will greatly affect any purposeful dialog or discussion. Every time.

The ability to step back and deliberately design a tailored process and with relational/emotional safety in it rather than rushing and driving straight to possible ‘solutions’ is key. It’s also a primary value a facilitator, or facilitative leadership team can bring in with, for example, the use of readiness assessments, liberating microstructures or mutual gains negotiations.

Challenge for fun on substance tip of triangle: think of a time you were part of group that faced conflict over substantive issues. What was it about? And how did things show up on the surface? Just recall that first. Then get ready to consider how questions of process and emotion shaped what happened next.

PROCEDURAL Satisfaction

In complex settings, procedural satisfaction is way too routinely overlooked.

Participants and others with a stake in the outcomes must use or create credible processes by which people can catalog together what the facts are, consider what they mean, and then discern now what can happen next.

What process will be followed? Who will decide? What steps will be taken and how long will it take? Is the process fair and transparent? Is it inclusive? Why or why not? Who will interact with whom at what points in the work?

Think of the many times you’ve been in any role with this scenario. The data may be there to support a decision, but if participants, the partnering agencies and/or people with a stake in the outcomes don’t find some honest ways to come along, then…can it be supported and carried out? Hmmmmm.

Challenge for fun on process tip of triangle: thinking of that situation you recalled from your own experience, what were the steps you took to collaboratively frame and explore the issues at hand? Were they more or less sequential steps? Was there a realistic time line or not? By what means did people stay oriented to the process? See my friend Martha Bean‘s visual “framing” here.

EMOTIONAL Satisfaction

No big surprise here: people need emotional satisfaction.

What’s happening here: ask “how do you/they feel about the whole shebang?” Specifically, is there sufficient mutual trust or at least a working trust and respect present? If not, how will we make this a safe enough space to engage anyway?

People with the biggest stake in the outcomes often (and need to!) consider their other best alternatives to collaboration — other methods for getting their interests met at any point in the work. Depending on the context, ethics, and existing relationships, there’s nothing wrong with any of these strategies to get interests met.

Think for example of some of these potentially best, or better, alternatives to collaboration:

-litigation

-other ways to block or discredit decisions.

-media or other campaigns

-civil disobedience

-other?

Checking on the emotional state of the situation is a must for anyone charting a path forward in a contentious environment.

Challenge for fun reflecting on the emotional tip of the triangle: now think about someone in the situation you recalled from your own experience. This could be you or someone else: what qualities did this person bring to the situation that helped or otherwise memorably affected how people felt in the situation? What upfront or other shared expectations allowed for progress with emotional satisfaction?

(note: sometimes people use the words “relational” or “psychological” satisfaction for this ’emotion’ corner of the triangle.)

Collaborative Work Requires Attention, and Usually More Time Than You Expect…

Want outcomes that can be carried out over the long haul? Want decisions that people will not only support but also tell a story later with liveliness and satisfaction? Want to, as Keith McCandless says, “unleash and include everyone” and make room for innovation?

A situation is always ripe for something by way of increasing substantive, procedural and emotional success and satisfaction. The questions are mostly ready for what? With whom and how?

Stay curious while looking and paying close attention both above and below the surface to all three aspects of the Triangle of Satisfaction.

Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler and I had just spent a wonderful year teaching and coaching facilitation and collaboration skills to and with public land managers in 2015 when I wrote this the first time. Each time in our courses and onsite work, it was an all-time favorite to bring out this Triangle of Satisfaction and then hear participants say, “I get it! I’ll use that!”

Maybe you already apply this. Maybe you are a pioneer in this field of ours who helped embellish this piece of theory. I hope you find it valuable and simple. It’s simple, but not always easy. In my own work I find it useable nearly every day.

(Special note: we all stand on one another’s shoulders: this Triangle of Satisfaction comes from the work of Chris Moore from CDR as one original source of this model as well Julia Gold of the University of Washington Law School for the ‘tip of the iceberg’ metaphor, and also Rhian Williams and the South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement for some of the insights as well. Thanks!)

We’d love to hear your story of using it in your work in the comments below or by message.

A bit about me — external coach and process maven: my latest jam is about organizational health and development, preventing & managing conflict and delivering credentialed coaching for government leaders and teams. In my current blog series I am offering my readers practical moves to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. Thanks for reading and sharing with folks who may find it useful.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom opportunities to find common ground and to take action. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

Which Parts of Your Work Are Ready to Burn?

By Nedra Chandler, 4-minute read

There is an end to everything, to good things as well. –attributed to Chaucer, probably about 1374

In every situation where humans are working with other humans there comes a time when the work that is being done becomes stale, overwrought, or otherwise finished.

Methods or strategies lose their edge after a while. Structures need to be torn down, rebuilt or otherwise transformed.  It takes great courage to let go of some of these things to the compost heap, the burn pile.

I was recently working with a large intergovernmental partnership, one with a complex agenda of almost 6 dozen projects — each of which was vying for limited staff and funding resources.  They needed to trim their burgeoning portfolio of projects back, but how?  They wanted to take a hard look at their big spreadsheet of a list and sort them out.  It wasn’t easy.

There are lots of ways to approach a task like this.  One obvious way is to slog through them one by one, take a power vote of some kind on each one, and move on.  But does it have to go like that?  Is there another way to move through a useful process that’s less of a grim death march?

There is.  It starts by adjusting your approach to take a learner’s stance, to dare to look with curiosity at the whole picture, not separating the do-ers from the deciders.

Letting go of structures and particular activites or tasks is made harder by our human tendencies to avoid looking at the big picture. This is true especially when the project portfolio has grown to a size and complexity from which most mere mortals would run and hide.

Are there projects in the list that are demanding ongoing investment even though they may no longer be delivering what you hoped for or now require?  Maybe these are the ones that need to go to the compost heap in order to free up resources to enable some other activities that are  more effective.

Last month, in Permission to Learn, I said I’d offer you at least one practical move you could make to get yourself into a “learner’s stance.”

In that November post I mentioned a lot of agency leaders and teams are finding themselves in “pile on and pedal harder” as they are increasingly overwhelmed with demands.

Those teams report feeling chronically overextended, less resilient. Yet still, so many of us resist letting go of anything. Sound familiar?

 “Let’s stay calm,” said a branch chief encouraging her staff in a similar situation in another part of the country as they moved through their own ecocycle mapping last fall. “There is victory in having the courage to look at it. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Awareness leads to conscious choices.”

What is an Ecocycle Map and How Can I Use One?

Ecocycle mapping is systems theory applied to your context, your projects, your relationships. You choose.

Picture an old growth forest or any natural system moving through the infinity loop from birth (see lower left) up the front loop of growth to maturity (upper right) then moving into creative destruction (lower left), then moving up the back loop toward renewal.

On either side of the model you have the scarcity trap on the left where things may be formed but stalled out maybe because they haven’t attracted the resources necessary to launch them. There you have the crowded bunch of saplings, each being stunted by the others in their scramble for moisture, nutrients, sun.

On the right is the rigidity trap where projects or investments slide that are requiring ongoing investment even though they are no longer delivering what is needed.  There are the barely-standing trees taking up space and sunshine, while holding on to resources that could be used elsewhere.

Any project or activity that is in either of these traps needs to be looked at deliberately.

Here’s my personal ode to the always-moving ecocycle dance: the facts of all life cycles/systems can seem existentially bleak and amazingly wonderous at the exact same time. Birth, growth, death, renewal.

Even the sun will die eventually. Rather than choose grim all the time though, maybe it’s challenging and enjoyable enough to just be fully present more often. I owe this full-body knowing partly to the eclipse of August 2017: standing on a ridge in Idaho watching it go dark and feeling the chill…

As I just heard one of my new heroes, Joanna Macy, say in an interview last month, “we’re here now. Let’s not make our love of the world dependent on whether we think the earth will last forever. That’s just a thought anyway. We’re here now.”

 

Apply the Wisdom of Ecosystems to Your Portfolio of Projects

To recap using different labels for the quadrants:

Birth is entrepreneurial, you’re growing it and shaping it.

Maturity is managerial, a bureaucratic stance in the best sense of that word, managing effectively, producing quality results (nice ripe tomatoes!)

In creative destruction, you’re taking a heretical stance – burn it, put it into the compost, you get the picture.

Then, moving up the back loop of renewal, you’re linking people and ideas together networking into the next initiative.

Confused? Bravo!

Looking at all the things we’ve committed to is messy. If you feel irritable, afraid, confused, overwhelmed: bravo! You are bravely taking a learner’s stance.

Why? I see so many of you leading and dealing with what’s real in these weird times. In the face of disheartening evidence of so much extra bleakness in our American government and broader ecosystems, we’re still here now. You are somehow making room for the commitments that matter most.

Successfully confronting difficult times, and navigating increasingly complex and conflictual partnerships requires taking a learner’s stance.

I heard from one of the leaders who is part of that aforementioned intergovernmental partnership as she was looking at the results of the ecocycle map the group created together:

“It’s going to be hard to keep adjusting our view of the big picture as things keep changing…yet by looking at it all together and having some conversations we had been avoiding, we saw our choices better, and left just a little less overwhelmed…”

Here’s a standing ovation for all of you willing to keep wading into the mess day to day, week to week. Thank you for daring to look and make even one more doable move, and then another, in the direction you know is right for now.

Here is encouragement to stick with the mess, all the ways you keep focusing on what is working, and have the patience to generate clarity. Together.

A bit about me: I work with government clients as partners in professional and team development, navigating conflict and learning opportunities of all kinds. For the past several years I’ve been writing on this theme of how our collective trust in government is linked to trust in ourselves. In the coming few months in I am continuing to write about practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on the government space because that’s where we do most of our work. Find me and my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com and/or sign up to receive my monthly posts into your inbox on the right side of the page at Cadence.

Extra fun for process mavens:

Ecocycle is one of many micro, ‘learner stance’ moves. Go see 30+ more of them on the free app on your smartphone called Liberating Structures. These are immediately useable by novices and process experts alike.

If you have 15 minutes to do a personal ecosystem map for your personal life see instructions below. If you have 60-90 minutes you can effectively do this with your group and your whole shared portfolio.

Map Your Stuff: 5 personal ecocycle steps. Ready to make your own ecocycle map now?

  1. Choose activities OR relationships for the first one. Don’t try to map both at the same time.
  2. Make a list of all the activities you are spending your time on now. I suggest you set your timer for no more than 10-15 minutes as a way to avoid overthinking.
  3. Done? Set your numbered list aside briefly while you draw your version of the ecocycle as above, on a sheet of paper.
  4. Place each of your numbered activities where you decide it is now. Is it right in the middle of one of the 4 quadrants? Is it moving up the front or back loop? Is it right inside the scarcity or rigidity trap on either side of the infinity loop?
  5. Step back and look at the big picture of all your activities as you placed them in this first round. Ask: are the items distributed across the different phases of ecocycle or clumped up in one or two of the quadrants? What’s happening? What do you see? So, what does it mean to you? Now what do you choose to do next with these insights? Things shift, move and change fast sometimes. Don’t hesitate to do this repeatedly and often. Quarterly?

final quote on endings:

I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, next to cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.
― William GoldmanThe Princess Bride

 

 

 

Immerse Yourself!

By Nedra Chandler, Triangle Associates & Cadence

Bird or bear with me now…

Are you feeling at least a little fed up with the status quo in public life today?

Do you want to relax and have fun while learning and practicing some moves with others who are also ready for some shifts, even the small-yet-meaningful kind?

If so, be like this bird pictured above taking a bath.You may want an immersion bath in liberating structures. There’s an opportunity link below. There will be others in other places other times if you miss this one.

Here’s a story about using them. I had this candid conversation with two public leaders yesterday from different agencies, both of whom have devoted themselves to public service protecting ecological and human health. It went like this. One said a close version of this:

“It’s human nature, we can fall back into patterns of just working and pedaling harder when things get overwhelming or we’ve lost more staff and funding resources…”

the other leader agreed saying:

“When we don’t stay in touch it’s too easy to drift into busy, non-sharing protective mode and then things just get even tougher…”

At the end of the call they set their time get together again with their agency team mates. They will clarify and (re)-commit to align actions, avoid distractions, help each other out, make some more graceful and responsive moves. They will re-co-mission. Together.

I loved that play on words! A mission is a purpose, see? Purpose gives life to partnerships. Co. Mission. Recommission.

At some of their joint meetings in the past few years, they’ve practiced some communication skills that help include and transcend the dead-end trap of making decisions either/or instead of both/and when it’s possible.

They look for ways to innovate. It’s not about choosing project stability or fluidity; over control or under control, independence or integration. And why over help orunder help anywhere? Most of us don’t. At least not on purpose, not consciously. We might over help or over control much more when we are overextended, stressed out.

In that space between those opposite poles, are liberating microsctructures (LS). They are not magic. They are just structures. Space is arranged, groups are configured, participation is distributed, there is sequence and allocation of time, and there is always an invitation that includes a task or a question.

LS are useful. Sometimes audaciously useful. Practice them with your team inside your organization, with your intergovernmental collaborators, or while carrying out all kinds of complex deliberation and decision making.

Liberate you and your collaborators from drudgery and deadly boring meetings or someone else’s best practices. Save yourself from one too-long slide presentation and uncontrolled ‘open questions’ at the end.

Quit wondering why people don’t speak up more often and why they don’t bring their whole selves to the challenges in front of us right now more often.

Here’s an important aspect to remember: it’s fun playing with these micro-structures.

Unleash and include everyone. Everyone.

__________

P.S. If you are still curious why I’ve invited you twice now to Bozeman, Montana on September 19-20, here. This is where I’m coming from with this.

These current days in public life we are too-often showing up and operating in some kind of outright denial of reality. Standing on an Idaho ridge last week looking at the total eclipse of the sun brought this feeling home to me again more than ever. So it’s time to geek out even more in using and practicing with process tools that enable positive innovations.

As one very skilled LS practitioner told me, these immersion workshops do not resemble what many of us think of as “training.” You’ll take home what’s meaningful and useful to you in the contexts you are working in now.

The Bozeman workshop organizers have their necessary number of diverse participants registered. They could accommodate about 10+ more. Still, if you are in a picky mood or have a BIG bucket of preconceived expectations about the precise qualities you require in your immersion workshop experiences right now, it’s probably not a go.

There will be more opportunities other places, other times to go play with these. Full workshop details and registration options in the link below:

Unleashing Innovation in MT: The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures

A bit about me: My favorite work right now is about human and organizational health. Today that’s about serving my public sector clients and their partners as third party facilitator and professional coach. I am a committed process maven and applied social geographer. People call us most when they have conflict to navigate and public decision making to carry out. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle and Cadence.

Come to Montana for Some Liberation in September

 

Liberating Structures: Coming September 19-20, 2017: see link to register below

By Nedra Chandler: 2 minutes to skim, 5 minutes if you read ‘resources’ section.

One day I was driving home from Seattle listening to one of my favorite podcasters Amiel Handelsman, interviewing Keith McCandless about liberating structures. A big smile spread over my face just listening with this recognition: “Eureka.”

Within two days I was using 1-2-4-All (think by yourself for 1 minute, get in pairs for 2 minutes, get in a quartet for 4 minutes now integrate what you’re learning with full group of any size) at a meeting between some government leaders about redevelopment projects in Indian Country.

Within a short time after that we were using more liberating structures like Troika, The 9 Whys and Ecocycle. We are applying them in more and more high-stakes interagency meetings with tangible results and participant satisfaction. See for example what participants say on the Liberating Structures website.

For times when organic conversations won’t cut it, and your own go-to methods are likely to end in a few dominating the many, try using one or more of these liberating micro structures. See what happens. Prepare to be surprised at the experience and the durable outcomes.

No matter how experienced we become in our chosen areas of work or public service, questioning assumptions about ‘how we do things around here’ or ‘what we know about how the world works’ so often leads to generative ways of working together that we couldn’t have seen without that beginner’s mind. The point: liberating structures provide surprisingly easy avenues to strike a fine balance between over- and under-control of dialog and decision-making processes. These methods you can learn well enough to begin using within a half hour support us in unleashing actionable innovations large and small where we are in each moment.

Keith McCandless and Sarah Hayward are co-leading an immersion workshop on Liberating Structures and their applications in Bozeman, Montana on September 19 and 20. This will be a great opportunity to learn how to apply these in your organizations. Come and bring a friend or colleague! It will be seriously playful and have a lasting impact on your work.

See full workshop details and registration options in the link below:

Unleashing Innovation in MT: The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures

Resources You Can Use Right Now

  • Listen in on this podcast McCandless interview for fun and to immediately expand your practice in every area of work and organizing.
  • Visit the generous http://www.liberatingstructures.com Liberating Structures website for more background and easy-to-follow instructions.
  • Get The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz.

Notice their chart in the first chapter that shows levels of control and inclusion inherent in familiar methods of working together like presentations and open discussions. Take a look at where Liberating Structures appears on this chart in comparison – they have much higher levels of inclusion and distributed control. Just follow the easy-to-follow recipes (yep, I said recipe) for increased creativity and innovation. Use or adapt one useful method, or string some together for an integrated meeting design.

Contact me at 406-461-1621 if you have any questions about the workshop or want help planning your trip to Bozeman. We look forward to seeing you. Design team members please consider putting your contact info in the comment section here so folks can connect with any of us.

A bit about me: my work is about organizational health. Today that’s about serving my public sector clients and their partners as a third party facilitator and as a professional development & conflict management coach. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle and Cadence.