How can we work better together?

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People working better together

How can we work better together?

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James Woodeson

Coach, Supervisor & Programmes

If there is one thing which we notice truly helps us work better together, it’s the art of dialogue. This requires the openness to being changed by another as we come together. It’s holding our perspectives lightly. Listening to others and to ourselves. Sharing our experiences of being with each other out loud.

Yet, it’s so common to seek short-cuts. Our clients (and us!) are doing it almost daily. Which begs the question, how exactly can we work better together?

If there was a precise answer to this question, there would be far less of a need for coaches or consultants! Which, you may join me in wondering then, how can we be with that reality?

Offering a first step, simply sit with it. There is no one way. There is no right way. There is not one answer. What do you notice now?

I notice I feel somewhat relieved, excited and frustrated!

Relieved that we don’t need to sing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” with our clients. Although, that might actually be fun. Relieved that from this point of acceptance, we can be curious, creative and constructive with clients to discover what their situation is and to go from there.

Excited that each situation is unique and therefore, offers learning and development opportunities not only for the organisation but also for us as practitioners. Otherwise, it would be boring.

Frustrated with the reality that sometimes, the change which a leader or team might wish to occur may remain elusive. That there can be forces in the situation which are unknown, unspoken or unavailable to awareness. Then, when you think you’ve got it, a team member leaves or a new one arrives and you realise that the only constant is the changing equilibrium. We never stand in the same river twice.

Being aware of this now, I recognise that there is a lot we can each do together to make a difference.

Working with individual clients 1:1 or with Teams, I experience that the simple act of being with each other and engaging in acts of disclosure and dialogue, fosters an attitude of openness and change.

The same is true for leaders. Be with yourself and your teams without an agenda once in a while. It can be amazingly powerful what emerges simply through group dialogue.

The individual, team and entire system are each an organisation in and of themselves and an organisation as a whole. 

Much like an ocean, there are multiple factors which stimulate change…

  • The weather above the surface, which you can see or hear.
  • The currents beneath the surface, which you don’t know until you go there.
  • The slowly changing sediment at the surface of the seabed, which may be challenging to explore.
  • The pollutants which have found their way into the water, which we wish weren’t there and are tricky to capture and remove.

We might say that the role of the leader and/or coach in this situation is to “make waves” and whilst that sounds fun, it’s too simplistic. The way that we foster “working better together” is to get into the water with our teams/clients. To understand how their unique experience aggregates with others experiences into forming the current equilibrium of the situation.

From there, we can co-diagnose what (if any) change is desired and then co-create interventions to experience how that change can come about. This can sometimes be a spark of inspiration where change is catalysed quickly and a new equilibrium found. Other times, it can be painstaking work, requiring reserves of patience and perseverance. This is often because the seabed is far below the surface and the sediment is difficult to reach.

This doesn’t always require a coach or consultant. Leaders can foster this dynamic in their teams and organisations through encouraging group dialogue and open spaces for exchanging ideas. It’s hardly rocket science, yet it’s remarkably absent in the majority of situations we engage with.

One piece of advice for leaders is to avoid the coaching leader trap. This is where leaders believe that they are unable to be direct, set context or provide boundaries and need to stick to questions, in an often frustrating attempt to get their people to think like they do!

On the contrary, if a leader has a clarity on any of these, it’s essential to make these explicit and then shift to dialogue, where it’s realistic that the leader is open to being changed. Typically, the “what” or “where” cannot be changed much (for this, pre-engaging your people for input is key). However, the “how” often can be as it will be the team and wider organisation who are aiming to achieve the objective.

To reiterate the key message. Working better together is about the art of dialogue. Be open to being changed by each other. Hold perspectives lightly. Listen to ourselves and others. Share our experience of being with each other out loud.

This is a skill we can learn… especially together.

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