Tags >> Group dynamics

In a group addressing structural racism in organizational operations and programmatic work, we are reviewing proposals for action. A person of color notes some language used in otherwise sound ideas could unintentionally reinforce the separation the proposal seeks to address. The next speaker, a white person, explains what they intended the term to mean, why it was inadequate and why they settled on it for now.


Posted by: heather

While we're at it, why don't we also...? Before I leave for the next meeting, let me do just one more thing. I'll skip the gym/art class/music performance/time with family and friends because I need to get these next three things done. Sure, I can do that too, it won't take that long. I can't say no at work, they are counting on me. There's just so much to do, if I stay late I can make some headway.

I moved into a new neighborhood. I thought I was moving into a new house. As with most changes, this one was fraught with anticipation, concern, comparisons to what I left behind and the ideal that no actual house will meet.

The second in a series of musings about what Dr. King has to say to us in this moment--Create True Community.

Happy Valentine, 2014

Posted by: heather

Do you, like so many people and organizations, wait for things to be good—however you define it—before you’ll share love in the form of appreciation, kudos, encouragement, generosity, a smile, or even your time? Do you believe that people don’t need praise just for “doing their jobs” or that feedback is what you tell people when they are doing things wrong? Well, this Valentine is especially for you.

I know well the temptation to fix what seems broken or to improve performance by focusing on what is missing. Yet experience and research show that focusing on what is working builds effectiveness faster AND generates happier colleagues, workers, family members and friends. That’s why “success breeds success” and “what we appreciate appreciates”. The disciplines of positive psychology, Appreciative Inquiry, appreciative intelligence, and neuroscience demonstrate that focus on positive possibility and accomplishment unleashes far more energy and intrinsic motivation than does the focus on the negative, which yields fear and passivity.

I recently took in a performance of Cirque du Soleil, that superb and beautiful troupe of acrobats, jugglers, and other physical feats. Beyond a fabulous show and evening with friends, I wondered about the lessons for my work and that of my clients. First, the show is impeccable. I’ve seen several of their productions and each one is a gem, a complete experience of being transported to another world where people do amazing things with their bodies, sound, light, and costume. No part of the evening is a throw away. From the moment the show starts (on time!) until it ends, each step taken by each person is part of the story that is the show.

Name Your Success

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

A group I’m in starts its meetings with each person naming an accomplishment—personal or professional—since the last meeting. Sometimes there’s a big and obvious item to share. At other times, group members struggle to identify a victory. There’s no rule about how “big” a success must be. There is a rule about reporting with gusto. No diminishment of self is allowed. No “well, it’s not much but…” or “I wish I had something more substantial to report…” or “my success isn’t as big a yours….”

Giving Thanks

Posted by: heather

Each morning I have my cup of tea on my back porch and give thanks—for the porch, the tea, the house, the life I’ve lived and the prospects before me. Sometimes I see a souvenir and remember a special trip. When I hike I’m thankful for nature in all its glory and for the people who save sections of wilderness so I and others can enjoy it. I’m deeply appreciative of the support I got—and get—from family and friends. I’m thankful that people with talents very different than mine create things I use every day. The food I eat was grown by someone else. I have no idea how to fix my car or my indoor plumbing but someone else does and I’m glad. Oh yes, I have indoor plumbing AND electricity. More gratitude.

Starved for Appreciation

Posted by: heather

I showed appreciation for someone and he cried. As I told him about the qualities that make him a valued part of the team, he welled up. As I moved on to discuss acts and products that he contributed to our program, the tears spilled out. He didn’t ask me to stop but sat for more as the tears continued.

What are you for?

Posted by: heather

People respond to a positive proposition with energy that’s optimistic and sustainable. That is, people will strive for something compelling even, or especially, if it’s challenging. On the other hand, identifying something wrong or objectionable and fighting against what is, gets meager results compared to pursuing a desired outcome. Analysis or critique of the current state can be useful, but a problem focus fills up the available mental and emotional space leaving little room for a positive alternative. By contrast, the desired outcome makes the challenge of now minor relative to the promise of the future.

When Private Apologies Don't Work

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

The meeting was interrupted by an outburst from the leader to a subordinate. Whatever the person said or did to deserve that tongue lashing was a mystery. Had she broken the leader’s train of thought? Contradicted him? Offered an idea he didn’t like? Spoken one too many times? No one knew, but the effect of the dressing down was immediate. The group was silent, exchanging furtive glances instead of potential solutions for the project. The meeting ended quickly. Later the leader realized that he’d been brusque and called the employee to apologize. By his reckoning, he’d patched things up and reset relations, right? Wrong.

Organizations use strategic plans to identify their vision, mission, outcomes, success factors, milestones, resource allocation, short-term objectives and action steps. People get excited by the destination and path they’ve set for themselves but they often postpone their future by continuing the current way they do things even though to achieve the ambitious plan they need to start now. The situation is akin to the person who has a brilliant plan for getting in shape—tomorrow.

How can we create the space for real conversation? Not what passes for conversation-crafting the witty comeback while the other person is talking; dismissing what is uncomfortable, disagreed with, or unfamiliar; categorizing those we disagree with as bad; talking louder and/or faster in the hopes of wearing down the opposition. In real conversation people are heard, validated. Their ideas are engaged. Perhaps people want safe space because they know what to expect otherwise.

Safe Space

Posted by: heather

I often get called into facilitate groups where there is tension, sometimes among peers, and sometimes with a manager or leader. People typically ask that there be safe space for the conversation. What do they mean? People generally answer with phrases like, “No repercussions,” “What I say won’t be held against me,” and “There won’t be any negative consequences.” Is this possible?

Bion Meets Obama

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

Why the great disappointment with President Obama and his administration’s accomplishments? There are many explanations—he’s been too timid, too bold, unfocused, focused on the wrong things, too conciliatory, too left, too right, on and on. What’s missing from the critique is the rest of us—the citizenry—and our relationship to our elected leaders.

My Intentions

    • I intend to share ideas about organizational processes that support the effective functioning of justice seeking organizations.
    • I will share lessons about the life of organizations and provide tools that can support organizational performance.
    • Because I'm also committed to the issues that my clients work on, I'll discuss current events, justice, and the larger implications of news stories or community events.
    • Part of that discussion will include publicizing the issues, campaigns, and thoughtful work of clients.
    • As a colleague to other OD consultants, I hope to spark conversations among those of us who do this work.