“The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” — Tune Into Power and Level Up Your Leadership

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read

Hi readers, I promise you insight into power here that you put into use right away. How is it that power dynamics are simple (see my slide above) and wickedly complex at the same time? Upping your awareness of how power moves around all the time can make a big, positive difference in your life, and that of your organization.

___

We were on Bainbridge Island in Washington, walking around the waterfront one autumn day. The sky was blue, the sun was out, and my husband Scott’s mood was glum. He was less than a day away from a work trip to China and was dreading it.

What fresh hell?

The source of Scott’s angst was that he had a new boss who treated his professional staff like kids under his thumb — wielding power over them in ways that left them wondering what fresh hell was coming next.

This new mode at work left Scott and his team hamstrung. They began to see, feel and realize how diminished their collective power was together.

Power Moves Around All the Time — How Many Kinds of Power? At Least 7…

For example, they began to walk on eggshells, ‘asking permission’ to show up as leaders in their own right and do their work to serve their international customers. Before the re-shuffle, each team member had taken initiative to be innovators and be of excellent service. Now they began to quietly complain and adopt a team culture of disempowerment. By the way, go see this short overview of 7 types of power to get you noticing power more expansively and usefully.

So there we were, strolling along past some small shops on Eagle Harbor. Something caught Scott’s attention. He stopped to look at a rack of sale T-shirts on the sidewalk. There was this t-shirt with a skull and crossbones on the back:

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

“This shirt is so mine”

Scott, typically not much of an impulse buyer, was immediately sold on the shirt. I chuckled, but honestly found the line disturbing. No wonder it was here on the sale rack.

Yet, there it was, a silly-yet-somehow-cathartic way to express his extreme frustration with the new mood at work – set by a leader who didn’t yet have the experience or discernment to use his positional power with, rather than over, his team.

Use your ‘power over’ like a bomb

Scott’s previous boss had confidently possessed the power to decide too, yet had used his unilateral power more like a bomb – as in almost never. That approach of fostering trust and a culture of stewardship had made Dale one of the most effective men in the company, but that’s another story.

Here’s the thing I want to offer today:

Unless you are in a field where strict chain of command and control is paramount (for example, the military or a fire crew), choosing to use power over, rather than power with, will most likely descend into team dysfunction characterized by low trust.

What using excessive power over people can do to organizational culture

When I come into an organization to help out as a third party, this is what the use of excessive ‘power over’ can look like: an unlively work culture where people don’t have the courage to take risks or work together for the good of the whole. Nor are they as inclined toward accountability to one another or to those they serve, especially when those qualities are not acknowledged or rewarded.

Slide above from Keith McCandless, adapted from Edgar Schein’s work.

Scott lasted 9 difficult months under the new boss. That kind of work stress kills people early, so now he’s with another global business where trust and courage to skillfully confront (inevitable) conflict is the norm rather than the exception. Where commitment and accountability to collective results is rewarded and celebrated. There’s an aliveness to their work.

But right then, those years ago, when he bought that “I give up” t-shirt, he was experiencing workplace dysfunction that most adults find themselves in at least once or more during a career. Sometimes this sets the default tone for an entire organization or administration. It’s a lose-lose deal all around. And it’s almost never about just one person, or just one new leader. Organizational culture is built and re-built everyday through habits of interaction.

I’m curious, two questions for you:

1) what are you learning as you notice these power dynamics — ‘power over people’ and ‘power with people’ in your own lives and organizations? Please share an insight, question or comment below.

and

2) As you consider your own leadership style, how does “use your unilateral power like a bomb*” resonate with you?

Ari Weinzweig mentioned this in an interview I heard. In the business he runs with thousands of employees, he said nearly always chooses to use a consensus-building kind of stewardship approach — and the effects on business are remarkable. Listen to him here with Amiel Handelsman.

A bit about me: My work is about organizational health and development, preventing conflict and/or managing it, and professional development coaching for individuals and teams. In this winter blog series I am exploring practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on government because that’s where I do most of my work – yet these approaches are relevant across sectors. 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

 

 

 

Permission to Learn

By Nedra Chandler, 1 minute read

Giving yourself permission to keep learning isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity for everyone providing leadership and being of service in American government right now. I just returned from several weeks of work across the country mostly with U.S. EPA and Department of Interior leaders and their teams who told me taking a learner’s stance is a big unmet need in government now.

Instead, many agency leaders are finding themselves in “clamp down and over-control” mode and “pile on and pedal harder” mode.

Overcontrolling can take lots of forms but micro-managing people is a big clue, as is the presence of complaints and workplace conflict gone wild. People get isolated. They get any combination of “cold, wet, tired and hungry.” They get chronically overextended. Burnt out.

Pile on and pedal harder often looks like a growing portfolio of priorities with no focus on letting go of what has become irrelevant or unsustainable or both.

In response to so many challenges, many of the government leaders and teams we work with are actively giving themselves permission to learn. They don’t expect to have all the answers every hour, every day. They remain open, inquiring, listening, learning, taking action based on clear purpose.

This is no small thing.

In my December 12 post I’ll lay out some things I’ve noticed about what ‘taking a learner’s stance’ looks like, sounds like, as reported by leaders and teams we work with now.

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 exploring 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 by giving me your email at Cadence.

 


Road Rant: Creating Conditions for Learning at Work

By Nedra Chandler, 4 minute audio

I recorded this emphatic, defensive-about-being-defensive voice memo while driving, which I titled “Bring your flawed self to work and let’s practice being humans.”  

Scott estimates not one reader will give it a listen. It’s fun to take a risk and post it, so there.

I got dramatic, sort of like when I was 4.

My mom was a Dionne Warwick fan and I grew up listening to the 1966 hit What the World Needs Now  I hear I listened to it nonstop for some months. The story goes that when I was 3 I learned to turn on the stereo, put the vinyl on the turntable and sing it top-of-lungs style out our open window. I hoped our neighbors, the Whites, would hear my warbly voice and clap for me. My siblings will verify this was my routine for quite a while.

Love IS what we need right now. People learn best and rise to meet challenges most effectively when they feel safe and can hear each other and learn with one another. We’re a bunch of humans. I get it we’re not going to heal every rift or achieve perfection. There is only practice.

The best we can hope for is we’ll stay with it. We can create conditions for self awareness, building rapport with one another, and creating systems that allow us to keep making small-yet-meaningful moves toward greater purposes, and skills and resourcefulness that exceed what we’re showing each other now.

While we continue to evolve as a species, let’s learn some better conversational skills on purpose. Let’s accept and allow one other to bring our whole selves to work.

I’d appreciate hearing how this plea lands with you. Do you buy it that there are so many settings right now where we need to make it safer to show up as us? Safer to both receive and give feedback, to clarify things together, to disagree, to be learners together, to carry out purpose-driven work, especially in government right now? How does this affect you?

Today, in the wake of so much suffering the world, I want you to consider that the need for love and patience with each other has obviously become as indispensable as regular haircuts. More important than guns. Very needed. Pro or amateur (for the love of it): get in there and show some more love.

End of road memo — give a listen and I’ll appreciate it if you’d leave a comment.

A bit about me: My favorite work right now is about human and organizational health. Today that’s about serving 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 decisions to carry out. 

Resource Note on Diversity and Inclusion

 

prairie smoke 2016

Resource Note By Nedra Chandler, Cadence & Triangle

“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.” — Joanna Macy

Thanks to a connection through a dear coach client and development partner of mine just now, I went to see more about Angela Park while looking for equity and diversity training and whoa!

First of all, I trust through Susan’s experience that Angela is amazing, and then, in addition, I see she is a Donella Meadows fellow. Yay.

Donella Meadows Fellows Network

Angela Park

Donella Meadows is a hero writer in my world (see her paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System). Great to know of this fellows group in her honor.

Also so sweet to see this videoclip of Meadows fellows out making art in nature. Relaxing and encouraging to view even for a few minutes. Enjoy.

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.

10 Ways to Build Vulnerability Trust

Hunter educators met in Montana to make some decisions about policy

By Nedra Chandler, approximately 3 minute read

I facilitated a meeting last week that spanned 3 days and it was full of leaders of separate-but-related organizations who were willing and then not so willing and then willing again to be vulnerable with one another.

The group began by telling each other personal stories of why they entered public service and what keeps them in it now. What they shared was vulnerable and vivid. The time they spent sharing helped give them some more currency with each other and a some extra resilience they needed with each other during the next few days.

In another meeting, the one pictured above, the group had a full day. There was high emotion and conflict going in, and more working trust and respect going out.

Why? Partly because participants took the risks of expressing what they felt and they also listened and clarified things that had been poorly understood in the months leading up to the meeting.

The high points for me as a full-time process maven are when participants drop their guard enough to let others see who they are and what they care about.

That’s when you can begin to experience their true contributions. You can spot the qualities and presence they bring and build on those.

In particular, I notice more and more often that meetings that are the most lively and useful are those where people choose to behave in genuine ways that build trust.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

― Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

A year ago I wrote about my friend Faith Ralston’s card game designed to help groups identify what it takes to operationalize trust.

Ever wonder how to make a squishy thing like trust actionable? See photos of Faith’s card deck with 25 doable ways to build trust here.Each card has a behavior on it.

I just took another look at those cards and picked 10 of 25 that are, at root, about being willing to be vulnerable. They are:

1.   Show you care

2.   Surface concerns

3.   Accept personal responsibility

4.   Address tough issues

5.   Readily share information

6.   Rebuild damaged relationships

7.   Learn from mistakes

8.   Be open to new ideas

9.   Listen well

10. Seek to understand

Do you practice these 10 vulnerable behaviors in your life? Why? How? How often? What happens?

If you are reading this you are probably already routinely choosing to behave in these trust-building ways. Yet, I like how these beliefs and behaviors are spelled out so practically between Faith Ralston’s cards and Patrick Lencioni’s book. For example, the notion of vulnerability trust is central in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2012).

Lenioni’s model below shows “vulnerability trust” big and on the ground floor of the triangle, holding up the rest. The placement of trust as the foundation is more than an ivory tower theory. This explains how things go when a group gets together.

Like me, you may enjoy flipping the “lack of” and “avoidance of” language in the model above and use the triangle below for more of an invitation to “try more of this and see how it goes…”

I wonder if you’ll go have some fun with this and bust a vulnerable move today? I’d love to get a note or comment from you on what you notice when you do.

A bit about me: I work primarily with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. If you get curious about other Triangles you can use in your day-to-day work see the Triangle of Satisfaction or the Triangle of Motivation. Find me and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com

Three Facilitation Moves You Can Play With From Acting Class

By Nedra Chandler, approximately 4 minute read

I am sitting in a closet with black velvet curtains drawn. It has a small light, chair and tiny desk, yet it is unapologetically a closet.

The high school teaching crew wanted me out of the way but within earshot because I am their required adult presence for a theater workshop for kids ages 5-12.

It was fun to be a fly on the wall and observe. It was a welcome opportunity to go looking for elements from theater camp and improv that you and I can take right into daily personal and professional life.

I noticed 3 effective methods during my morning shift from 9 to noon:

1)          whole body introductions with active listening;

2)          inviting centered breathing as a way to assist focus; and

3)          using improvisation “yes/and” skills to have more connected conversations.

Whole Body Introductions

First, the group got in a standing circle, facing each other. The moods and energy in the circle lifted as the volume came up on the background music — the 1982 hit by Survivor, Eye of the Tiger.

One workshop leader demonstrated how they would learn each other’s names and connect with each other right away. There was no over-explaining.

Each person said or sang their name with ‘an action’ they chose to share. Picture, for example, one exuberant face with jump as one child said her name. Then, picture another child showing a non-committal shoulder shrug and a big smile as he said his name. You get the picture.

More active listening and expression unfolded in a few more rounds with specific, yet easy-to-follow instructions for each round.

To me, the group looked like they had heard, seen and connected with each other as a result of these introductions.

Centering

A bit later, I noticed a group just outside my curtain in a centering practice. Some articulate 17-year old told her small group, “acting requires focus, so let’s slow ourselves down now and focus in on our breath….”

Wait, what? These kids know about using their own breathing as a path to centering and finding focus? Yes, they do.

My daughter, who was one of the high school student teachers, stopped into my closet space to check on me.

I told her excitedly, “They sound like they are having so much fun! Hey did you design that small group centering thing about focusing in on your breath as a way to get grounded?”

I’ve coached her in this so I had the audacity to imagine I was her original source on the power of the breathing pause and making your breath the boss, right? Wrong.

“No I did not design the field of acting,” she said, “Breathing techniques are not new, mom. It’s acting.” Then, she acknowledged, “Kids are such great learners. They know how to engage.”

My observation of what happened when the leader invited the kids to focus on their breathing was that they seemed to be almost immediately more relaxed and present with one another. Fascinating neurobiology in action. They settled down their nervous systems together.

Short-Form Improv Games to Practice Committed Conversations

Then a Grandstreet theater teacher walked through the workshop space to check on how things were going and he stopped at the closet talk with me.

I found out among his many talents, Dee teaches improvisation. I asked him about possible connections with theater and my work as a group facilitator. It turns out there is a whole world of cross-pollination. For one example, there is theater for social change. For other examples it could fit well in meetings to help people build currency and rapport with one another, spur innovation, or just have a good laugh together.

I asked Dee if he might be available to come lead an hour of improv practice with groups I work with who are practicing active listening with one another on their paths toward better organizational health or lively intergovernmental work that can be carried out successfully. What might that look like, I asked him.

Dee described an example exercise where a participant receives just one line, a clue about who her scene partner is and what that person is experiencing or doing. Then then it’s improvisation go time.

He said it requires you practice the give and take of dialog and of saying “yes” to whatever comes up, always yes. One of my gurus Eckhart Tolle might call that “getting friendly with what is.”

Dee pointed out you don’t have to say yes to all ideas but you do find ways to engage and say various versions of “yes/and” and relate honestly with that person – essentially generating the next moves.

For example, as you practice you learn non-judgmental listening with empathy for the good of the whole. As in, you don’t block someone to make your own point or ‘be right.’ You find a way to say “yes” to create or allow something to emerge in the conversation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened had you shut a person down with no. This is not about being a pushover or not having principles by the way, it’s about accepting what is at the moment.

It was fun to notice elements from this theater camp that I knew, felt and sensed before so many years of conditioning took hold in my adulthood. Thinking, feeling, sensing are three different intelligences. We can increase our own literacy with these and bring some lessons from theater camp and improv right into daily personal and professional life.

Introductions: Do we know how to say hello to others and notice how we are personally feeling while we check on how others are feeling?

Centering: Do we know how to pause, find composure and breathe?

Improv: Do we trust ourselves and each other to participate and look for, as Alan Seale says, “what wants to happen”? Are we willing to be silly with each other now and then?

Consider trying some of your own professional variations on these facilitation practices when you sense they may fit the needs of the group:

  1. Whole body introductions with active listening;
  2. Inviting centered breathing as a way to assist focus;
  3. Using improvisation “yes/and” skills to have more connected conversations.
  4. See if there’s something worth learning from acting school and taking it into your own work world. There was for me.

A bit about me: I work primarily with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com

What’s Your Professional Development Plan?

by Nedra Chandler, estimated 4 minute reading time.

Working with a coach can help you recognize your strengths, leverage your talents and self manage more and more consistently. Learn more in this written interview with me by Louise Harris for Savvy.

A bit about me: I work primarily with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me at https://www.cadenceinc.us and me with more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com.