There is a false-belief that the actions and behaviors we are seeing in the present have always happened. This brings us into a problem-focus. While problems are important and we must acknowledge them, the next step is determining the solution, what we want to have happen instead. This come from a solution-focused process of looking for exceptions and small steps that be taken and already exist to achieve the solution.
BTW – I am teaching a Professional Development class for University at Buffalo School of Social Work in Solution-Focused Leadership. The class is full, but don’t worry, if you are interested contact me and let’s talk about brining the content and lessons to your organization, team and people.
It has happened to all of us, someone at work (your manager, coworker, subordinate, peer, vendor, customer, etc…) pisses you off and you go off an angry tirade about “What an asshole they are and they always do this. I cannot stand to work with that person.” OR “The engineers are always so smug and condescending with the sales team, don’t they understand the pressure we are under!?” OR “Every time I lead a meeting with the financial team they just sit there and stare at me, they never offer anything useful.”
On and on and on.
While these statements may be true, they are not really useful in creating any solutions and changes to getting your work done.
When coaching teams and people on teams many complaints come to the surface. These complaints construct the reality of how the team operates and how the people within the team treat and act towards others. Developing a folkloric construct that is only reinforced by the shared language, actions and stories of the team about the “others”.
all meanings, since they are the creation of unique persons in unique setting, are distinctive. Furthermore, that since our knowledge of the world is inescapably subjective, human interaction is about a transformed and imaged world. It is not the “real” world, but these transforms that we fight about, laugh about, cry about. Our meanings are fictions, valued and useful fictions, but fictions nonetheless. – Barnlund 1981
These fictions can be seen as cooperation or resistance, one cannot exist in the same breathe as the other. As your team and you create these stories of how challenging it is to work with the “other” the words, actions and views that exist about them develop deep patterns of resistance.
The reinforcing of patterns will only dig you deeper into frustration, which will cause ruin for all those involved.
When I work with teams people want the challenges to stop, they want their manager to “Stop being so micromanaging” they want their subordinates “Stop coming to them with every little problem” they want their team to “Stop fighting amongst themselves” etc…
All the above descriptions do is point out the challenges…
BUT the breakthrough hinges on determining what you and the team will be doing when “Your manager stops micromanaging” OR “Subordinates stop coming to you with problems” or “Your team stops fighting amongst themselves”…
Frequently I hear “I don’t know what I will be doing” and “I (we) will be happier and less stressed” that is true (probably) and what concrete-tangible things will you be doing? We can only measure progress on results.
The challenge is that the absence of something cannot be proven.
If the challenges your team and you are having stopped tomorrow, how can you know that it will start back up the following day, week, month?
Simplicity does not often come about spontaneously. Rather it evolves over a period of time and through a process that involves a lot of complicated thinking. –Steve de Shazer 1988
I suggest that instead of looking for the problems resistance you simply start looking for the exceptions cooperation.
“I have come to realize the practical clinical importance of the folkloric idea that all ‘rules include exceptions’. We have come to define exceptions as ‘whatever is happening when the complaint is not’.” (de Shazer 1985)
There is a time, no matter how small, when the complaint does not happen.
That is the time and patterns language, behavior, actions, environment, conversations, etc… that you need to find and examine. By finding a time when things went the way that you need them to go, the absence of your problem is your solution, your team and you can develop patterns to repeat that again.
For example…Your team keeps fighting amongst themselves and this is making the project work late, over budget and poor quality.
Working with many teams that have the above complaint, we have been able to find exceptions to when the team ‘Got along, everyone trusted each other, and the work got done on time, within budget and within quality specifications’.
There are times and contexts and patterns when the team and manager know how to get along and get their work done…WOW!
Following that the coaching questions and consulting with the team now changes to asking the team to describe what happens in detail (concrete-tangible language) when they get along and accomplish their work. Shifting the assumptions from one of resistance to one of cooperation, reframing the team and our folkloric construct to one of ‘getting along’…finding cooperative patterns.
I understand that both patterns exist and looking for the exception our primary focus is on the pattern of the solution, doing what the team needs to do in order to continually improve in a collaborative effort to get their work done, and secondarily on the differences between getting along and not getting along that can be explored and we can find more exceptions that increase the pattern of getting along.
In fact once we know that the team can get along, because they have described the exception with concrete-tangible words the problem can be solved MUCH FASTER by getting to the first step faster and suggesting that the team should use the getting along patterns even if they realize and/or feel they are not getting along.
The above scenario works with many teams however not every manager and team because nothing happens all the time. It works even if the team cannot think of an exception, and they are asked to describe what the exception might be and how they would get their work done with this exception.
There is always a time when the problem does not happen. It is those times that should be explored and repeated.
What do you think?
What patterns can you compare between the resistant and cooperative actions you see? Can you find the exception or what happens when the problem is not happening? How can you use the above ideas, models and patterns to improve your work?
image by stevendepolo