When Teams Get Stuck

A client team facing a major organizational change is “stuck”.  They can’t move forward, they can’t move back…. Locked up in behaviors that slow the very changes they are moving toward.  Conversations focused on “my position” crop up in the boardroom and behind closed doors.  Heels start to dig in.  “Why are we having this conversation again?” asks the client. 

Those of us who facilitate or stand with teams reach into our toolkit for ground rules and processes. The leader of the group might fall back into command and control style and mandate a decision.  Dr. Roger Schwarz calls that “unilateral control”, a mindset that closes the door to new possibilities and learning.  Basically unilateral control is “my way or the highway”, and with a room full of leaders and bright, strong willed people, that can be a lot of highways! Schwarz reminds us one of the best things we as leaders or facilitators of teams can reach for when teams get “stuck” is our own mindset.

I recently had the good fortune to spend a week with Dr. Schwarz and his brilliant colleagues.  Working with Schwarz helped me characterize mindset for myself and the teams I help as; “How I want to be in the world”. Stepping away from the unilateral mindset and toward a mutual learning mindset allows room for listening to the internal voice that says; "I have information and so do others"; "Each of us sees things others don't"; "People may disagree with me and still have pure motives"; "Differences are opportunities for learning"; and "I may be contributing to the problem". 

Mutual learning embraces the values of transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability and compassion. It is very individual and personal work that needs to happen before we can help teams or individuals work toward change. It’s tough work. It’s daily, hourly conversation by conversation kind of tough but it pays off.  Mutually designed and agreed to outcomes, higher quality decisions, greater commitment and increased learning...richer opportunities and increased engagement. I call that real change. Here is a great piece by Dr. Schwarz on Team Effectiveness using the Mutual Learning mindset. I find it helpful.  Another “Schwarzism”..."Tell me how you see it differently”.  I am curious to hear your views.

Laura Grealish is Director, Consulting Services at Orion Advisory.  Follow Laura on Linked In