Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s strapline is #BeBoldForChange. This got me thinking about what is bold and what stops us being bold. My simple view is that bold is ‘doing something even when you are sh***ing yourself!’ and one of the things that prevents us from being bold is when we feel ‘down’. Here is a lovely parable from Robert Terry about Ups and Downs
The Parable of Ups and Downs by Robert TerryWhat makes an UP an UP and a DOWN a DOWN is that an UP can do more to a DOWN than a DOWN can do to an UP. That's what keeps an UP UP and a DOWN DOWN. The UPS tend to talk to each other and study the DOWNS, asking the DOWNS about what's UP, or what's coming DOWN, for that matter. The DOWNS spend a lot of time taking the UPS out to lunch or dinner, to explain their DOWNNESS. The UPS listen attentively, often in amazement about the experiences of being a DOWN. They contrast one DOWN'S experience with another DOWN'S experience and usually don't worry too much about what the DOWNS are UP to because the DOWNS never get together. If they did, the UPS would have to shape UP. After a while, the DOWNS weary of talking to the UPS. They tire of explaining and justifying their DOWNNESS. They think, "If I have to explain my DOWNNESS one more time, I'll throw UP." And so they form a process which they call "networking and support groups." This act makes the UPS nervous. Three UPS together is a board meeting; three DOWNS a pre-revolutionary activity! Some UPS hire DOWNS, dress them UP, send them DOWN to see what DOWNS are UP to. We sometimes call this "personnel and affirmative action." This creates a serious problem for the DOWN who is dressed UP with no sure place to go. That DOWN doesn't know whether he or she is UP or DOWN. That's why DOWNS in the middle often burn out. Sometimes what the UPS do to smarten UP is to ask the DOWNS to come in to a program one at a time to explain their DOWNNESS. UPS call this "human relations training." OF course, the UPS never have to explain their UPNESS, that's why they're UPS rather than DOWNS. There's good news and bad news in this parable. The good news is, we're all both UPS and DOWNS. There's no such thing as a perfect UP or a perfect DOWN. The bad news is that when we're UP it often makes us stupid. We call that "DUMB-UPNESS." It's not because UPS are not smart. It's that UPS don't have to pay attention to DOWNS the way that DOWNS have to pay attention to UPS. DOWNS always have to figure out what UPS are UP to. The only time UPS worry about DOWNS is when DOWNS get uppity, at which time they're put DOWN by the UPS. The UPS' perception is that DOWNS are overly sensitive; they have an attitude problem. It's never understood that UPS are underly sensitive and have an attitude problem. I used to think that when DOWNS became UPS they would carry over their insight from their DOWNNESS to their UPNESS. Not so. Smart DOWN—dumb UP.
What I love about this tale is that it is amusing and yet it makes a serious point.
In organisations it is often the ‘Downs’ who have the finger of the pulse of what’s going on, who probably have the insights about what is key to staying ahead of the curve, and yet it is often ‘Ups’ who are the leaders.
In the words of Robert Terry himself…The tests for leadership are: Are we grasped by the injustice of the issues that need to be addressed? Are we in dialogue in up-down relationships so that we do not have blind spots? Are we in motion to address issues in collaboration with others? Our goal is to get rid of arbitrary up-down power relationships. We should not have up-down relationships based on color, gender, or anything else that is arbitrary and capricious or has to do with how we’re born. Rather, we need to find ways to stand side-by-side, so that as we look out at the world together, we can eliminate any of the barriers that keep us from building an authentic, vibrant, human community. The Parable of Ups and Downs exists in several versions. It appears in two books by Robert Terrry: Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action (ISBN 1-55542-547-X) and Seven Zones for Leadership: Acting Authentically in Stability and Chaos (ISBN 0-89106-158-4). Robert Terry was the President of Zobius Leadership International (formerly The Terry Group) and his work is now carried on by The AWL Group. You can find a shorter version of the parable at http://www.actionwheel.com/parableofupsanddowns.html Thankyou also to Walt Hopkins, for helping me find the source of this parable.
- Each family that's invited can bring their relatives along, as long as they bring enough leftovers to feed them!
- I provide tables for the food, plates and cutlery and I cook baked potatoes to accompany them.
- When people arrive they put out their offerings and everyone shares what they have brought to the party.
- Each person places £10 into a sweepstake for the race.
- Each person then bets on one horse per race and gets three points for first place, two points for second and one point for third.
- The races are televised, so, in between eating and drinking, we watch the races. It's very noisy as people really get into supporting the horses they bet on.
- At the end of the race meet we tot up the scores and award prizes.
- This year we reached a new level of self-organisation – one of my friends created an app! Everyone placed their bets from their phones before they arrived, or on arrival, and the scores popped up on the app as the day unfolded.
- a common purpose – to have a good time
- a leader who is willing to let go of control – I am always happy to eat drink and be merry!
- ways of working, including decision making, that are understood by all – in the rules of the betting and the roles everyone takes
- an effective induction and integration of new people. I love the way that each year the core partygoers explain the format to the newcomers.
- the space for people to take the initiative and improve the system – the app!
So, what's the answer?...A key step, when a group decide to come together, is to get really clear on what level of collaboration is needed, and therefore how much trust is needed in the group. For example if a group come together to just share ideas, and don't need to converge on decisions together, then lower levels of trust are fine for this quality of work, and therefore it is possible to get away with less attention to group development. However, if a group are going to be involved in making strategic decisions and driving action, then higher levels of trust are needed, and more attention needs to be invested in getting the group through the stages of group development, so that they can collaborate effectively. If a group are going to be involved in effecting change, then real attention needs to be given to developing high performance in the group, otherwise their group dynamic is likely to prevent them being able to effect any shifts in the organisation.
What is group development?There are many models for group development. Probably the most well-known in the business world is the Tuckman model - Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. However, regardless of the theoretical lens you use to look at a group, at the heart is a focus on the human system, in service of the results they need to achieve. In organisations these days groups of people are often thrown together and expected to collaborate, as if the magic of the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts will happen automatically. The downside I see of the virtual space is that it seems to focus attention on the work flow, without considering the human flow, and this means that many groups are not getting the results they could when working remotely.
Supporting group development - start with small things?Considering the human dynamic in any work done in groups is important and small things can make a big difference. For example, whenever I work with a group I will take time to check-in and check-out of the work. This doesn't need to take long - in our team calls each week we just go around each person asking for one thing that 'sucks' and one thing that 'rocks' ; yesterday we did a check-in and check-out that involved each person sharing one word about how they were feeling. For many groups this can feel counter-cultural at the start, but the huge benefit of check-ins is that they give a sense of how each person is before launching into the work. Check-outs help us understand what people are taking away from a session, rather than assuming. We are all human, not robots, and therefore the things happening within the context of our lives affect how we think and feel about things. Being transparent about what is going on for us is the first step towards building trust and respect in a group, and is particularly important in virtual working where we don't have some of the visual cues about what might be going on. So, next time you connect in a virtual meeting, take time to consider the humans on the other side of the screens. What could you be doing to foster greater trust and inclusion in the way you work?
Not seeing it? Allow me to elaborate….Most people come together to work, either face-to-face or virtually, in a meeting; the working equivalent of a dance floor space. Both engagements have recognisable forms and combined moves, based on principles of connection and collaboration. Both are also emergent and co-created moment-by-moment as they play out in real time. It takes a lot of dedication and conscious practice to become good at both dancing and working collaboratively but, really, neither are ever truly mastered. There’s always more to learn. The execution of these two arts requires a solid foundation of skill overlaid by an improvised responsiveness to both the music and each other. This, at its most profound is fluid, nuanced and completely dependent on partnership working. Both require a basic understanding and knowledge of the forms but if we only ever maintain a cerebral awareness of the practice, what we can achieve together is less powerful. We also need to fully engage our intuition and senses to make the most of either situation. When it works and flows, there is almost nothing more meaningful (or beautiful) that we can be a part of. The moments of ease and grace belie the effort involved but create a desire to persist and improve. One is never quite the same after the experience. Being committed to working together is so important, to create something you just wouldn't be able to do alone. It depends on trust and also requires you to each hold your own space whilst being aware of and responsive to the whole dance floor (or working group) at the same time. It’s so important that people think about the way they work together and how we approach the work that needs to be done. No matter whether you are a partner in the dance, a leader or participant in a meeting, no one individual is truly more important than the other. Without our partners there would be no dance at all. This is why, for me, when I work with a client group, it’s like accepting an invitation to dance... and when it works, great collaboration and Argentinian tango have a lot in common. What does great collaboration remind you of?
Image credit: Rosemarie Voegtli
This article was developed for Enlivening Edge.In 1999 I left my well-paid, corporate job to pursue my passion for facilitation and co-found Meeting Magic. Meeting Magic (MM) provided meeting facilitation services for large corporate organisations. Three years later Ingrid, my co-founder, and I were at capacity and the vision for the Meeting Magic Network was born. Little did I know the journey this would take me on! A journey to becoming Teal. (more…)
How mindful are organisations of the potential of meetings? How many organisations pay explicit attention to leveraging the power of how people meet? How aware are leaders of organisations of the (usually inexplicit) operating systems they create through the way they run meetings? Before we explore this in more detail, let's take a look at what we have found.... (more…)
- Managers invest 50-75 % of their time meeting with colleagues
- This equates to spending over 130 days a year meeting people
- Most organisations spend over 10% of their turnover in people meeting together to work