Power of Questions: Here are 7 from Stainier

by Nedra Chandler

Here’s the thing that says the most about the power of questions to transform crappy situations into better ones, maybe even MUCH better ones:

Questions elicit answers in their likeness“– Krista Tippet, in On Becoming Wise

Below are 7 great questions you can use with anybody you work or play with from Michael Bungay Stanier’s recent book on changing the way you lead forever.

This is my third decade of work in the conflict management and coaching field. I practice, practice and practice the art of asking better questions. Am I perfect at questions in the moment that help people magically discover where they are ready to go next and how they can show up? No way. But wow, does it ever pay back — more than any other single thing I practice.

This week’s post is short and sweet and immediately useable. It’s an excerpt from one of my National Park Service friends (thanks David) who shared these so-useful questions. Here the 7 questions from Stanier.

Hi Nedra,
I have enjoyed Michael Bungay Stanier’s 2016 book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. It is a quick read. The focus is on working to develop a practice to shift behavior from advice giving to curiosity. I personally struggle with the “advice giving monster,” I think this is a very practical resource, here are the cliff notes:

Coaching is simple. Coaching can be done in 10 minutes or less. Coaching is a daily, informal act. You can build a coaching habit, “but only if you understand and use the proven mechanics of building and embedding new habits.”

Question 1: “What’s on your mind?”

A good opening line can make all the difference (just ask Charles Dickens, the Star Wars franchise, or any guy in a bar). The Kickstart Question starts fast and gets to the heart of the matter quickly. It cuts to what’s important while side stepping stale agendas and small talk.

Question 2: “And what else?”

The AWE Question keeps the flame of curiosity burning. “And what else?” may seem like three small words, but it’s actually the best coaching question in the world. That’s because someone’s first answer is never the only answer — and rarely the best answer. There are always more answers to be found and possibilities to be uncovered. Equally as important, it slows down the question asker’s “advice monster” — that part of every manager that wants to leap in, take over, and give advice/be an expert/solve the problem.

Question 3: “What’s the real challenge here for you?”

This is the Focus Question. It gets to the essence of the issue at hand. This question defuses the rush to action, which has many people in organizations busily and cleverly solving the wrong problems. This is the question to get you focused on solving the real problem, not just the first problem.

The first three questions combine to form a powerful script for any coaching conversation, performance-review formal, or water-cooler casual. Start fast and strong, provide the opportunity for the conversation to deepen, and then bring things into focus with the next questions.

Question 4: “What do you want?”

This is the Foundation Question. It’s trickier than you think to answer, and many disagreements or dysfunctional relationships will untangle with this simple but difficult exchange: “Here’s what I want. What do you want?” It’s a basis for an adult relationship with those you work with, and a powerful way to understand what’s at the heart of things.

Question 5: “How can I help?”

It might come as a surprise that sometimes managers’ desire to be helpful can actually have a disempowering effect on the person being helped. This question counteracts that in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request, by pressing them to get clear on what it is they want or need help with. Second, the question works as a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy — it prevents you from leaping in and beginning things you think people want you to do.

Question 6: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”

If you’re someone who feels compelled to say “yes” to every request or challenge, then this question is for you. Many of us feel overwhelmed and overcommitted; we’ve lost our focus and spread ourselves too thin. That’s why you need to ask this Strategic Question. A “yes” without an attendant “no” is an empty promise.

Question 7: “What was most useful for you?”

Your closer is the Learning Question. It helps finish the conversation strong, rather than just fading away. Asking “What was most useful for you?” helps to reinforce learning and development. They identify the value in the conversation — something they’re likely to miss otherwise, and you get the bonus of useful feedback for your next conversation. You’re also framing every conversation with you as a useful one, something that will build and strengthen your reputation.

Try these out and I will so enjoy hearing how it goes for you, using these or your variation of these…please do send me a note to cadence@montana.com.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. 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.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.

Leaders Get Your Non-Fussy 360 Degree Feedback to Move Forward

By Nedra Chandler, 5-minute read

I just had a heart-to-heart talk with a friend who is the leader of an organization in the middle of some extra churn. There have been departures of permanent staff, a busy season coming up, hiring for positions and a lot of competing priorities at the exact time when there is no slack in the system or schedule, least of all her schedule.

While her many years of experience and successes make her confident about what she brings to her leadership role, she’s feeling a troubling sense of isolation from her larger team. She said some days it feels like she has a shrinking number of people she can count on to speak their minds with her. For example, she said her board is not super engaged or active at the moment, her senior staff are out of the office a lot managing their own projects and staff, and she senses a pervasive attitude of “let’s just make it through this quarter and talk later…” Now what?

While it may seem a counterintuitive move, now may be a great time to amp up her resilient self-awareness, pick of posse of 7 or so people to get and give some fresh and focused feedback. Low-tech (not online) and clear about the purpose. I’ll start by giving you the take home points up front.

5 take-home points for leaders with that feeling of a little bit of lonely isolation right now…

  1. First the good news/bad news reminder that feedback is everywhere, all the time. Whether it’s invited or not, welcome or unwelcome, direct or subtle, verbal/nonverbal, written or implied, it’s everywhere. (See my post on this topic using insights from co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila Heen and Doug Stone if you’re interested.) What’s hard is focusing on tangible or other feedback you’re ready to use.
  2. Everyone has self-limiting behaviors. No one is spared. Because we’re humans. You are already an accomplished leader. Focus on the habits that limit you now.
  3. This low tech 360 posse I describe below is not a one-shot deal. Expect it to take months, no, a lifetime (!) of small, daily commitments and practice with one thing, one habit at a time (not 12 or 15 things) you’ve chosen to grow yourself out of and into your next lively state of being.
  4. Frequent, regular check ins with a posse of people you trust (or at least respect) will be key. Probably one person at a time, but it could be a group on the phone or in person, every quarter or so.
  5. Briefly and simply listen to them and thank them for telling you whether or not they notice you making progress on the one habit you are attempting to shift. The hardest thing: no explanations and certainly no excuses: just “thank you.” Then you privately choose how you deal, or not, with what you hear.

Reminder of why online 360 degree feedback is valuable…and there is often a ‘too muchness’ at the same time

Frequent, regular feedback is crucial, transformative in some cases, to support your development and your capacity to be of service to what you care about most. If you like an evidence base for this, it’s already in the bag.

Also, when leaders set the example of working on their self-limiting habits for the good of themselves and the good of the whole, people notice and appreciate it. It gives your staff and partners extra permission and encouragement to keep learning and developing themselves as well.

As a credentialed coach facilitator who uses a range of online 360-degree feedback tools, especially the ones my government clients lean to, I’m not giving up on the online tools. But I am not recommending them for leaders at the top of organizations. The online tools have an important function, and especially for staff. But for top leaders in particular, I believe there is a too-muchness about many of these intensely-designed online tools — too many competencies, so much anonymous feedback, sanitized and over-systematized. Overwhelm too often ensues. Shut down may follow.

How do you get diverse-yet-pointed feedback more simply?

I am excited about a fresh approach to getting 360-degree (full circle) feedback for leaders. The heart of it is a small, frequently-consulted posse of colleagues such as direct reports, board members, and partners.

I owe Marshall Goldsmith a debt of gratitude for teaching his approach to me and the other Lead60 coaches — encouraging us to use it and share it widely for adapting and using. If you are one of my coach facilitator readers or colleagues please email me at cadence@montana.com and I can send you the basis to lead the process. In the meantime, the briefest explanation I’ve seen yet is contained in this disarming note from a leader. See how he made it possible to say no? See how he made it easy to say yes?

Hi (NAME),

I’m not sure if you are aware, but  (names of leadership team here) and I have been working with Nedra on our leadership team development and personal growth, with the aim of improving our organizational and leadership skills and styles.  As part of that, we are using a sort of 360 degree approach to get feedback from our “posse.”  I would like you to be a member of my posse.

Yes, you are allowed to say “no!”  But it’s pretty simple and won’t take much time.  If you are game, Nedra will contact you relatively soon to schedule a 10-15-minute phone conversation for some time before April 6. 

From those visits, she will provide each of us with thematic yet focused feedback that will not be attributed to any of our posse members. You don’t need to respond to me.  I’ve copied Nedra, and you replying to her will get things moving (or not!).

Thank you for considering my request, (name of leader)

Shouldn’t we focus on strengths? Why focus on habits they notice in us like frowning, sighing, not listening, or always being in a hurry?

Granted, it’s wonderful to hear genuine positive feedback about your strengths. Truly. And it’s important to solicit that. Granted too, it’s not fun for most of us to hear negative feedback about ourselves and how we’re coming across to a group of various humans. It’s important to solicit that too. Especially in this particular approach to full circle feedback. This way, you get right after the tangible, actionable things.

We’ve all been there. Feedback is a gift, and you get to choose what you pay attention to. All feedback is not created equally worthy or ‘accurate,’ yet it’s information you can use to heighten your awareness and inform your own choices. That’s the gift of it. Admittedly, the whole deal is also fraught with a bunch of messy, irrational humans in it, and therefore the situation is ambiguous at times. That’s why you use a coach facilitator to guide it from the side.

The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There says so much about what is at the heart of stalling out at the top. As Goldsmith points out that the higher you rise in your organization, the more likely your problems are likely to be behavioral. Marshall’s newest book with co-author Sally Helgesen, also covers some of this ground beautifully in How Women Rise

Remember you are here in this leadership role because you’re already smart, strategic, focused and probably a strong communicator. What that means is that what’s left to work on are behavioral things. Habits. 

You, like every other mortal on the planet, sometimes default to habitual responses or reactions — some that do and some that don’t serve you or your organization. The consequences of our leadership habits run the gamut from small to huge in these cases. We all do this unconscious thing — default, automated behavior called habits.

Habits are notoriously hard to recognize in yourself and difficult to shift once you do. Can adults change their behavioral habits? Emphatically: yes. It’s because of neuroplasticity and it’s some of the best news we humans have gotten from science during this decade. The best news of all: your behavior lies within your control–unlike toddlers, the global economy and other peoples’ choices.

Have you noticed people are less likely to risk telling you how your habits affect them since you rose closer to the top?

Have you considered that your power and influence has been growing? And along with that expansion, it got a lot harder than it used to be to have others feel safe telling you, for just one possible (yet common) example:

“Your way of consistently defaulting to being the first to talk in a meeting, is keeping the people around you from contributing for fear of being out of step with you and your views. They are censoring themselves, knowing you’ll speak first anyway…”

I listened to a former US Attorney General describe how, after he got some similar feedback to the above, he began to practice waiting to speak until everyone in the room had the chance to contribute. Why? He (and the country) needed the benefit of his staff’s diversity of views. Knowing that if he spoke first it would dampen the courage of others to disagree, he coached himself with the internal reminder:

“I will practice waiting until I’ve heard from everyone present before I chime in.”

Viola. With practice, he says he entered a new realm in leadership effectiveness with that one fundamental shift.

For another example:

“Your chief of (whatever) can’t find an opening to let you know that the way you sigh out loud and your mouth goes into a big frown when you’re thinking makes staff and other leaders avoid you. Some (inaccurately) perceive your sighs as a sure sign you don’t like or respect them.”

Can you see yourself or people you know in any part of these examples?

If you’re still reading, then maybe you’re ready for this! I invite you to find your own development partners and serve as a partner to your colleagues in the same way. When you choose it, it can be rewarding beyond measure.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. 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.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.

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.

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.

 


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.

 

Look At What Connects Us

by Nedra Chandler (approx 5 min read)

Photo shows a current example of trusting work relationships between tribal, federal and city government leaders at Fort Peck. This core group decided to collaborate — without over-reaching or burning out — on some redevelopment of Poplar properties. The practical choices they are making as they trust, show respect and engage with one another is making a difference.

I feel like I’m part of an anxious herd of humans right now. How are you all doing?

One thing I’m feeling in myself and sensing in others must be related to how topsy turvy our public life has been in this country since the November election.

No matter how you voted I’ll bet you share the sense that we’re collectively experiencing quite a bit of mutual mistrust in our government. Except for the few who seem to not want government to work at all, if you’re reading here you know government is us. Still, this current scene has an emergency feel, urgent, with extra drama. I’m aware that it’s a choice to view it that way, or some other way.

I write and work within this theme: trust in self and trust in government share the same root. Trust in self; trust in others; and trust in the flexible-yet- principled institutions of democratic governance are all the same element at root.

This past election brought us a significant change in the leadership in the White House and in Congress and in many states, yet it is the continuation of a long trend.

It reminds me of wise observations I heard Kettering Foundation president David Mathews deliver in a speech a few years ago:

It is no secret that the American people have been unhappy with our political system for some time, and they doubt that the system can reform itself. The public’s loss of confidence in government as well as other major institutions is well documented and widely reported. Worse still, the distrust is mutual. Under these conditions, polarization flourishes.

Here’s a little story about this week. I live in Helena where many thousands of people are coming over this Saturday, January 21, inauguration day, getting together at the Capitol. I understand the event will begin with holding hands in a circle around the entire building and grounds.

“We hope to bring people together after such a divisive election,” says one of the event organizers, “the hope is that all will agree that everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect despite their gender, gender expression, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, economic status, immigration status, age, or disability.”

What a great reason to meet: to bring people together, to focus on what connects us. That’s the part I look forward to most: the circle, seeing and showing respect for one another.

I’ll be with a larger than usual crew of family and friends because January 21 is also my birthday and my home is just a 5-block walk from the Capitol building.

I’ll need to confront and manage my excitement to get together right alongside my fear around showing up at the Capitol on Saturday at all.

In the interest of talking myself out of my own tree, here are some things that help me steady myself day-to-day in my life and work, and for Saturday:

  1. One key that underlies conflict prevention is for us each to know ourselves and manage ourselves. We can rest on that and carefully choose actions that in line with our own integrity. Practice pausing and take at least one long breath before responding to drama.
  2. Remember we are resourceful and we get to choose our responses. Things go better for everyone when we each know our values, beliefs and behavior strengths and are not afraid to use them.
  3. We are all better off too when we pay attention to the strengths and capacities of others, together. In this way we develop ourselves at the exact same time we are contributing to the development of others. That’s a swell deal.
  4. This managing of ourselves, trusting and respecting ourselves and others in our still-precious yet messy democratic system is all a dynamic process, It requires commitment to keep practicing all that as we change, and conditions change.

How much am I projecting my unique fears on others? Here’s a unique fear I have: as one side effect of the unusual way I make my living for the past 25+ years, I don’t have experience as an attender of marches. Almost zero. I wonder how best to manage myself, how best to remain present and not be a killjoy.

For another source of personal angst, I also fear judgement will rain down on me whether I go or don’t go. I’m worried I will judge and be judged at the march somehow. Maybe for not being correct enough or for not knowing exactly how to be there. And I can be the worst judger who judges judgers for being judgmental you’ve ever met!

When I hear me, my friends, family or acquaintances be overly-focused on judging everything that’s wrong,wrong, wrong with everything and how our species and this beautiful planet is doomed it pushes all my survival buttons. Especially if I am not well-rested when I hear it. Those darned judgers! I judge em harshly! Because I believe, like the Poplar crowd said, we’re all one anyway.

Fortunately for everyone who lives or works with me, I get professional coaching to help me manage me when I get in the grip of (righteously) judging this or that righteous judger here or there or everywhere. Still makes me crazy. But I recover faster now. And p.s. to my clients who read me, please don’t hold this confession against me. When I am under contract to be calm and fair I do that well, remember?

On Saturday, no one is paying me to be there. So if I perceive one-too-many ugly signs or expressions of outraged righteousness on the left or right, it’s possible my geeky “I love government of, for and by the people” heart will get all jumpy and resistant and judgmental and I’ll need to excuse myself and walk home early.

Back to democracy and these themes of how trust in self and trust in government are essentially the same. That trust in self and others and trust in the flexible-yet-principled institutions of democratic governance share the same root.

The fact that our system has fallible humans and special interests in it is a big part of why Thomas Jefferson and government system designers since his time know and acknowledge: democracy is an ongoing experiment. As we are alive, it’s alive, shifting and changing with the influence and participation of each individual and the whole.

One reason I’m a process geek is this: good process results in good outcomes. Unfair, unethical process results in predictably crappy outcomes. I saw that at my first real job after college working on campaign finance and model ethics legislation, I saw it even more in conflict management work, and I see it today.

When I hear President-Elect Trump is “not my president” and similar expressions, I want to ask, is there some other government waiting in the wings to step in for us this month? Seems to me only the super duper scary kind could be ready that fast — the type where people might need to be on the watch or the run from paramilitary forces acting as government, police and military all-in-one.

On more promising trains of thought, here’s the link to the remarkable 46-minute Martin Luther King speech from 1968 called Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution my friend sent us on Monday. My favorite part is where King said:

“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution.”

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Everything King said at the front end of that speech in 1968 perfectly underscored this modern, right-now imperative: reverse the decline of trust by fostering it in ourselves, our communities and government.

Even in the middle of what seems to be more of a polarizing trend we can look at it and find what connects us.

Thanks for reading. This got long. And I’m calmer for having expressed my current perspective. And my perspective may change, but the belief and value underneath, about how trust in self and others is the same darned thing, this is a big thing to me.

Please consider subscribing to my monthly posts and I’ll be glad to see you send me a note, a challenge or question, any comment or share.

A bit about me: I work 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 more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com.

Some of my past posts on trust and trust in government: trust is possible to operationalize and practice. Commitment trust, for one example, is especially practical in personal and workplace settings. See my friend Faith Ralston’s work on that topic here. also more on trust in government.

 

25 Doable Ways to Build Trust

Downtown Helena
Doors, windows and stairs are a metaphor for trust behaviors.

Seems to me not one, but all of our government clients spend energy looking for genuine ways to “operationalize” trust. Let’s break this down into something practical here.

How to do it, and be a trusted professional, day in and day out? What are the practices? What physical, visible actions can a human take?

Here are 25 kinds of actions, within 5 key categories of trust factors, to build or rebuild trust with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, inter-agency partners, sovereign goverments, groups or individuals that have brought you or your agency to court.

Last winter I brought this card game to a certification course for about 40 newly-elected county commissioners in Montana. The cards were developed by my friend Faith Ralston, a5 conflict trust factor cards from Ralstonnd they go with something called a Trust Assessment you can take online, then get online, anonymous feedback on how your colleagues, clients, direct reports and others see your trust behaviors too. That is the most powerful part of all. (For more fun stuff and resources on feedback, please see my Feedback Binge post.)

The card game is designed to help us think about how we already use our natural strengths in relating with each other in trustworthy ways and consider opportunities we are missing, or worse, sabotaging because we are unaware. We all have blind spots and that’s a big reason we need each other in the first place.

What does trust look like in operation? What does trust sound like and feel like to both the givers and receivers?

The county commissioners played the trust game to dig into these questions to get specific about trust. Thanks to Faith Ralston and her amazing abilities to write and coach and train (see my previous post with Faith’s 2 minute clip here for an overview of these trust factors and a link to Ralston’s work).

The card game goes like this:

Get in pairs, take your special deck of 25 cards and pick some trust building behaviors you are good at, the ones that don’t resonate with you either way, and the ones that are not your thing. 

Discuss with your partner. 

Switch and repeat. Aha! There are practical, specific ways to build trust on the job and in daily life everywhere.

What, if anything, will you do with what you just learned?

How will you build on the trust factors you already naturally use? How might you experiment with improving those factors you haven’t been paying much attention to so far?

Now you can play if you want!