Articles published in 2013

Personal Awareness: Accept whatever you are doing

personal awareness featured photo

If you are at all like me or most other people, then you probably spend some time resisting, consciously or unconsciously what you are doing. You can get caught in a battle between what you want to be doing and what you are doing. This is a bit like driving a car with the brake on, there is forward movement but resistance to it at the same time. That certainly isn’t good for your car and neither is it good for you. It is stressful, draining and leads to disconnection from the present moment.

Developing personal awareness through acceptance

Acceptance is the first step in developing personal awareness, otherwise we are just kidding ourselves. Holding our breath until miraculously something changes. Acceptance forces us to face reality but we resist it because we confuse acceptance with resignation to something we don’t want to be resigned to, being stuck with something we don’t want to be stuck with. We would rather avoid facing the reality of our current experience than confront it head on.

Only when we fully accept can there be an opening for change. The extraordinary thing is that when we do fully accept, there may no longer be a need for change. It is often our resistance to the present moment that causes dissatisfaction.

Accept whatever you are doing

Try to accept whatever you are doing, whether that is a regular task that you resist doing or a whole job you rail against internally.

If you are doing something, accept that you are doing it in the moment that you are doing it. Totally experience what you are doing, don’t do it begrudgingly.

Awareness give you options

Developing personal awareness allows you to identify the ‘resistance’.

It could be that your resistance is a sign that it is time for a change but then you need to assess your options and not just endure.

To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle you have three options.

  1. You can change the situation.
  2. You can remove yourself from it.
  3. You can completely accept it.

Anything else leads to frustration and unhappiness.

If you would like to change or remove yourself from the situation but there does not appear to be an option for that right now, then take responsibility for the choice you are making and completely accept it, don’t carry on with resistance.

Acceptance is a transformational process it will change your present moment experience and could well create an opening for wider change.
Try it and see.

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What Really Matters? Creating Conflicts Unconsciously

Creating Conflicts Unconsciously photo

I often read time-management advice about doing the things that matter first. This generally means looking at your to do list, putting the most important items at the top then cracking on with them. Don’t procrastinate just get on with it. Sound advice perhaps?

However this advice assumes that you have included the most important things in your to do list and in my experience this is often not the case. Generally we are much too focussed on getting stuff done to the detriment of, well actually, getting the important stuff done.

The overly narrow focus on achieving goals big and small can hamper relationships, wellbeing, creativity, energy and yes, getting stuff done.

Team Conflicts Are Developed Unconsciously

Sure there are important practical things to be done but very often when I work with teams to help them unravel the complicated conflicts that have developed, things will be said like:

‘We never take time to find out what each other is thinking’

‘We need to have informal chats with each other not just about projects’

‘We need to put how we are working together at the top of the agenda, not at the bottom’

Sacrificing reflection and engagement creates conflicts

The pressures of everyday work mean it is easy to forget the need for connection. Reflection and true engagement with yourself and the people you are working with is sacrificed. In an organisation I worked in recently even the leaders of quite big teams are expected to make 95% of their time billable to a client. In that and many similar situations it is easy to be on a conveyor belt that is hard to get off, but is ultimately unsustainable.

As Kenneth Cloke says: ‘Conflict is the sound made by the cracks in a system’

So perhaps what really matters is to check in with yourself and see what is really needed.

What really matters?

Is it those items on the to do list or is it a conversation with a colleague – an informal chat to help build a relationship or just to connect? Taking an interest in others can reduce your own stress and increase your resilience not to mention your own wellbeing and is essential for good leadership.

Maybe some time for yourself to help you realise what you really need? A walk in the park, a short meditation (Mindful Moments) a short nap or even a long one. Leaders have to be engaged with themselves in order to engage with others. Maybe what really matters is that you get home on time to see your family?

A lot of conflict in the work place develops from people losing touch with their own inner needs and with each other.

Relational clarity deteriorates and everybody gets on the defensive. So often what really matters is to engage with yourself, check out what is really needed, and do that first. Then if there are things on the to do list that do really matter you will be able to deal with them with renewed energy and greater ease.

Five Habits of Highly Effective Groups – Learning from Bees

Why Bees?

I have been a beekeeper for much longer than I have been working with teams in organisations. My French teacher first introduced me to beekeeping when I was fourteen and I was hooked from the outset. Collecting my first swarm and putting it in my own hive is something I will never forget.

The mystery of the Bee colony and the symbiotic relationship between man and Bees and Bees and nature fascinates me. But ‘Honey Bee Democracy’ a book by Professor Thomas Seeley makes clear that there is much to be learnt from Bees that is very relevant to decision-making in organisations.

The book is primarily about the democratic decision-making process that a swarm of bees conducts when it has left its mother colony and is looking for a new home. But what is really relevant here are the lessons we can learn from bees about how human groups can organise themselves to improve their decision-making.

As Seeley says there are many examples of groups making very poor decisions and he quotes Friedrich Nietzsche saying ‘Madness is rare in individuals – but in groups…it is the rule’. I have certainly worked with many teams whose decision-making processes have been dysfunctional. Yet I have also experienced the collective wisdom that can emerge from a group. A properly focussed group can achieve far more than individuals on their own and organisations depend on groups to be reliable decision makers.

Seeley has distilled ‘Five Habits of Highly Effective Groups’ from his Bee research and applied them to managing his Cornell University department. The principals can be applied in many different group decision-making contexts and I have found them to be very relevant to my work in organisations.

Lesson 1: Compose the Decision Making Group of Individuals with Shared Interests and Mutual Respect.

In the workplace the composition of the group may already be predetermined but by definition people working in the same team share interests, however unaware of that fact they sometimes are. Although mutual respect is often present beneath the surface, it may not be in a strongly conflicting team, in which case it is best to resolve conflicting relationships through mediation before seeking to work consensually.

Lesson 2: Minimise the Leader’s Influence on the Group’s Thinking.

Sometimes a leader has to make decisions and give direction but whether you are an external facilitator, mediator or leader within your own team, you need to be careful to facilitate impartially. Don’t influence or dictate, if you want to make use of the power of collective choice. Seeley explains how the gut feelings and partiality of George W. Bush in 2003 influenced his foreign policy advisors to such an extent that they missed an opportunity to use group intelligence and made the hasty and flawed decision to invade Iraq.

Lesson 3: Seek Diverse Solutions to the Problem.

Don’t just jump on the first solution that comes along and run with that. Get as many diverse options on the table as there are ideas in the room, get input from quieter members. An unusual suggestion can open up a completely different perspective that would be lost if everybody went along with the first thing they could half agree with. If debate is strong you can introduce a rule that no one may speak more than twice on an issue until everyone who wants to has spoken once and get people to speak for their own issue not against other people’s. It is essential that each individual independently evaluates all proposed solutions but this is very different from the negative or adversarial criticism often experienced in organisations and wider society.

Lesson 4: Aggregate the Group’s Knowledge through Debate.

Bees have developed a decision making process that has been shaped by natural selection over millions of years. The essence of which is the power of an open, fair competition of ideas and debate about alternative options. Often in organisations people are afraid to ‘open a can of worms’ so suppress debate but the group’s collective intelligence gets suppressed at the same time. This process is easier when there is relational clarity amongst the individuals present and people are intent on making the best collective decision.

Lesson 5: Use Quorum Responses for Cohesion, Accuracy, and Speed.

Use straw polls periodically during the debate to see how close you are to consensus. If unanimity is far away more debate is required but if a poll shows that you are close to agreement then further debate can be minimised. A quorum of at least 80% should be sufficiently large to ensure accurate decision making and enable those not in the quorum to join the consensus, providing they are able to put ego’s aside and everyone is committed to reaching consensus.

When using this approach it is important to be clear from the outset that reaching a consensus is the goal and that everybody buys into that. Obviously for this to work the group has to have the authority to implement whatever outcomes emerge.

It can also be used to get a clear view of a team’s preferred outcome even if the final decision is in the hands of a higher authority but then that needs to be clearly stated as well.

Either way, it is important to get everyone’s agreement to seek a consensus. Once that has happened it can develop into a whole new way of working.

Let me know what you think.

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