We made a public commitment to share what we had done on the book each day, starting on Wednesday March 7. Here are this week’s updates, in reverse date order.
Thursday, May 10
Michael & Michele – Boundary Spanning Practices II
Today in the Agile Transformational Leader workshop, we continued the boundary spanning practice of Mobilizing. After laying the groundwork of seeing the boundaries between groups, communicating them effectively across groups, then forming human connections across members of the various groups outside of the specific work task context, it is now time to form a new, cross-boundary identify. Mobilizing does this by scanning the values and identities of the existing groups, and choosing a combined set that is resonant to all members, forming a new identity that is able to tackle the cross-boundary challenges. In our example, this is the three companies coming together to form a new set of values that is resonant to all. The process is difficult, as someone always seems to object to one or more of the values as not being “quite right,” putting a bit of a damper on the alignment process. With a little good will, and strong facilitation, the process settles into a level of agreement that will work for the group, at least for the early stages of collaboration. Success!
Wednesday, May 9
Michele & Michael – Boundary Spanning Practices
Today in the Agile Transformational Leader workshop, we worked with three (of six) of the boundary spanning practices from the Center for Creative Leadership. The practices are designed to create direction, alignment and commitment across organizational boundaries (between departments, functions, teams or other groups). We use it in the class to work with our case study on a company’s acquisition of two other companies in the same industry to create a synergistic set of products that will change the industry. The first step in working across boundaries is to acknowledge the boundary that already exists. The first practice is called Buffering, and it entails helping each group define who they are, what they value, how they work — all in the name of seeing where the outline of the boundary is. This practice is facilitated with each group separately.
The second practice — called Reflecting — is designed for each separate group to speak their truth, to reports on who they are, where their boundary is; the other groups respectfully listen, then reflect back what they hear. They are facilitated by the boundary spanning leader to offer appreciative comments, things that struck them that will be an asset to their new endeavors together, to ask questions born of curiosity about the group’s ways – for instance, “wow, how were you able to gather so many subscribers in your online product? (This was in the context of one company questioning another about their soon to be joint product). The questions should reinforce the group’s boundary at this point, not challenge it as problematic in their future endeavors together. The facilitation must be strong to redirect questions that are veiled challenges or skeptical, negative comments born of the “us vs. them” mentality. When done correctly, Reflecting produces respect, trust and appreciation of people from diverse groups.
In the third practice, Connecting, the boundaries are dropped, and the participants of all three groups (in our example) gather in a neutral space, removed in some way from work, to connect to each other as human beings. Our method for doing this was to have the members choose a card from a card deck of beautiful and provocative images, one that said something meaningful about them as a person; then each person shared the meaning with the others in their group. Before the hard work of synergizing across their work boundaries to tackle difficult problems, we want to create a firm foundation of human connection beyond work. The next practices will begin that work tomorrow in our class. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, May 8
Michael & Michele – Spanning Boundaries
In our Agile work, there are many reasons we need to span boundaries. Boundaries are not inherently bad, though we may feel reactive to the term. A boundary is a point of separateness — a place where we are different than an other. The “we” may be us as individuals, or us as a group — like a department, a group of enthusiasts, or a whole organization. A boundary is a neutral concept that demarcates our separateness; a boundary is potentially a source of diversity that leads to synergy, or a source of conflict that leads to a border, creating a feeling of us vs. them.
A boundary between two people facilitates each maintaining their own identity from which some sort of partnership can arise; a boundary between two groups maintains their uniqueness as a group which clarifies their mission and specific way of working. From this acknowledgement of separateness, collaboration across boundaries can arise, and synergy of seeing the world from different places can lead to new insights and practices.
In contrast, a border between two people creates enmity, separateness, isolation; a border between two groups creates opposing positions, and a poisonous mindset: if we lose, they win; and vice versa. A border creates a loss of value, in many senses of that term; a synergy across boundaries represents a gain. Borders are driven from fear, synergies from openness. Borders arise from our ego; synergies from our open heart.
The ability to span boundaries requires a special kind of leadership in us, one that transcends our individual perspective. We include what we think, yes, but we don’t make it any more ‘special’ or ‘privileged’ than what anyone else thinks; we “hear” all comers. Spanning means hearing all sides, seeing the truth in each, sensing the pain or longing in each. Witnessing, not judging. That act of witnessing across boundaries creates a bridge. It may not result in a perceptible change, at least at first, but it does change the space. Witnessing is the first step in dissolving a borders, and perhaps the hardest.
Monday, May 7
Michele & Michael – Finding Flow – Key to Organizational Transformation
As ‘Agilists’, we stress the importance of the flow of product creation in our organizations to deliver value to our customers. We typically talk about this in terms of value streams and how we organize our teams in order to track, measure and deliver value to our customers. All true. But how does that flow actually take place? If we just structured the teams and organization correctly, does that actually give us real product flow? That is the view from the ‘ITS’ (Systems & Structures) perspective in integral thinking. And it is only a partial truth.
As ‘Integral Agilists’, we realize there are other perspectives we must also consider, and in this case, other ways to think about product flow. If you think about Flow from the ‘I’ perspective, you are looking at how people are thinking about flow, how they are feeling engaged in it, how they see themselves as part of it, how they see others as part of the flow. For instance, if I am focused on only my part in the flow of the product and forget that there is a bigger picture, one that I impact, I can block flow. I can make flow difficult, slow, frustrating for others. If others are making flow difficult for me, I might not bring my best ideas to the table. In other words, if each of us are operating from a ‘reactive’ place, protecting our own interests, our own identities, we find ourselves ‘butting heads’, digging our heels in, and limiting what we can truly accomplish as a unified group or organization.
If you think about flow from the point of conversations (‘WE’), information (‘IT’), ideas (‘I’), even our physical environment (‘ITS’) you can see how we must pay attention to all quadrants, and what might be hindering us from each viewpoint. A value stream map will show you your bottlenecks – things that are blocking the flow of value. Look into the bottlenecks and you will find there are all kinds of information about the lack of flow. You will find, relationship conflict & culture issues, mindset issues, structural, system & process issues.
Let me give you a practical example of flow from different points of view. It’s Thanksgiving and you are hosting the big dinner for the family. Now, if you’ve been doing this for a while, you “hopefully” have the helper in the family – you know the one you can always count on to ease your load (because everyone else is sitting there acting as if this stuff just shows up on the table with a snap of the fingers). This helper, over time, has learned how to ‘move in the kitchen with you’. You both share a similar mindset, you know your goal – a fantastic, delicious meal that meets all the various dietary requirements, beautifully presented on a table appearing to be straight out of Martha Stewart’s magazine, meticulously timed (needing to take into account the 25 text messages while you’re cooking, of last minute questions, delays, the usual…) and ultimately leaves everyone feeling stuffed and happy! Knowing the goal, the two of you move in perfect harmony. The kitchen is structurally laid out so everything flows easily, it all makes sense, you can get to everything you need quickly and without stepping all over each other. You don’t even need to speak much because it’s so effortless, it’s a unified effort, not “I do this” and “you do that”. You’ve created the right environment that make the both of you be in flow, the right music, a glass of wine, the kids in the other room (maybe downstairs). This is FLOW and it is where co-creation lives. You couldn’t accomplish this so effectively by yourself and yet, without flow, you would want to do it by yourself.
As organizations, if we want to innovate, or achieve organizational agility, we must be able to come together from our different units, divisions, functions and find flow to co-create using our combined strengths and abilities. What stops flow when we come together is the inability to take another perspective, to learn from one another, and to let go of our identities that we believe are keeping us safe. The only way to do that is first to honor and respect each individual’s contribution and uniqueness (‘I’) and then weave together those unique characteristics to create a joined (‘WE’) space where new possibilities can be co-created.