Category Archives: facilitation

Creating an Observer Culture: From harmful hearsay to an open feedback culture

Observer
Courtesy Prawney @ Morguefile

Leaders need observers

In a world of information overload, a leader’s ability to be the sole key observer in keeping an organization abreast of trends, innovations, and market changes is diminishing. There is an ever-increasing multiplicity of social, economic, technological, environmental, and political factors impacting business. Leaders depend on the keen observation of others. How can a leader maximize the benefit of what is being observed?

The observer obsession

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the verb observe is to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. Do what employees deem significant match what management deems to be? Collective opinions matter. To add some perspective, on just one day there are on average 500 million tweets and 95 million pictures and videos shared on Instagram. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source: The Social Skinny).  What do these mindblowing numbers mean for leaders?

Observer bias

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an observer as a person who watches what happens but has no active part in it. Are observers always able to remain objective and/or independent of what is being observed? Take a brief moment to look at comments on any social media site; division and divisiveness appear to be on the rise. At any level of an organization, including the executive, individuals are both subjective and objective observers. Leaders encouraging objective observation focus on organization-oriented outcomes as opposed to those that are driven by special interest. A leader’s job is to not only be aware of his or her own observer bias but also that of others.

Forget water cooler chat

According to a two-year-old Pew Research poll, 86% of US adults aged 18-29 are social media users. With every new young hire comes a prospective employee who is used to regularly sharing observations on various social platforms.  Employees want to share their observations. And organizations can profit. How can leaders improve the quality of employee observations?

 The idle mind is the devil’s playground

Unfocused observers can go rogue, using information for selfish gain and harming others, creating a toxic gossip-filled work environment. Social networking policies are restrictive and punitive in nature. Their sole use to deter unproductive social media chitchat promotes a secretive and covertly defiant workforce. What is the point of observing if not to share with your followers? Organizations need to address the root of the problem. Is there a better way to reel in the idle mind?

Focus the observer

Give your employees something you want them to observe! This also tests their mindset to see if they are in line with the organization’s mission and purpose. When employee attention is focused observations become more targeted. This is how organizations reap the rewards from an ever-growing observer workforce. Focus the observer’s attention on a specific goal, service, or product. Always have employee attention clearly directed toward developing the organization and enhancing its performance and purpose. Are your employees currently focused on improving desired organizational outcomes? If not then how can you shift their focus?

Focused observers create an open feedback culture

When management seeks clear observations from its employees, deleterious chitchat wanes. Innate pro-social behaviors kick in. Believe it or not, people want to work together. Everyone benefits from a culture that promotes pro-social interactions. A group of focused observers creates a peer culture that derives constructive feedback and not harbor toxic rumors. Safety to verbally contribute increases. Speaking up is now associated with sharing an innovate idea or an improvement of some kind. Making your voice heard now brings the organization forward and not a colleague under. Feedback becomes solution-oriented. Possibilities become the focus and not what is not possible. An open feedback culture with focused observers creates an atmosphere of collaboration and collective wisdom sharing. Which organization doesn’t want that?

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Youth leadership cannot wait until the future. It is needed today.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” -Malala Jousafzai

Youth Leadership
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018. Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP

The right for youth to speak about injustice

On October 9,  2012, at the age of 15, Malala Jousafzai and two other girls were riding in a bus when a Taliban hitman came on board. After asking Malala to identify herself or everyone would be shot, she did so. Although making a full recovery, with one bullet she was shot through the head, neck, and shoulder. Malala’s assassination attempt was in retaliation for her activism. Her crime. Malala wanted an education.

What had Malala remained fearful and silent?  What had she not told her story? And what had she not advocated for female rights to an education? Who if not Malala would speak up and act? Six years later and halfway across the world, high school students in Florida would be asking themselves the same question.

On February 14, 2018, 17 students and faculty of Parkland High School were maliciously gunned down during school hours. This had not been the first mass school shooting in recent US history, but it was the first time students, young people, like Malala, had had enough of condolences and empty promises. Like with previous school shootings, adults with the authority to take action paid mostly lip service to an, unfortunately, more common phenomenon in American society. Enough was enough.

Youth leadership in action

Similar to Malala’s courage to advocate in the face of harm, the Parkland student-led rally in Washington D.C. is a mind-blowing example of how youth leadership can influence current social and political conditions.  In the past, a young social or political activist had hurdles to climb regarding accessibility to media, funding, and networking. Today, it may very well be advantageous to be young and an activist.  Through the use of social media, the media, a GoFundMe account, and with the help of private donations from well-connected sympathizers, Parkland students raised $5.5 Million, of which $1.7 Million was raised in just three days.

As impressive, on March 24th, 2018, a mere five weeks after the devasting Parkland high school shooting, roughly 1.2 Million people marched world-wide for gun control. It was the biggest youth protest since the Vietnam War. Both times young Americans organized to this extent was to protest the senseless deaths of young people from weapons and from policymakers doing very little to advocate for their safety and lives.

What accounted for the swift actions of young people who before Parkland were neither fundraisers, event organizers, nor political and social activists? Led not by lobbyists and special interests this youth leadership operated on intention, social media savvy, networking, and everything fundamentally meant to be human. The clarity and precision of their actions rivaled anything any political organization or event planner could execute.

The role basic needs play in mobilizing youth leadership

Regardless of the system (family, organization, or community), harmful patterns can repeat themselves until the system collapses or the cycle is broken. Subsequent reoccurrences can increase in intensity until one of two things occurs. Either one accepts the dysfunction as normal or one takes a stand to change it. Malala and students at Parkland High School both chose the later.

All behavior is for the sake of fulfilling at least one of the basic needs (Survival, Belonging, Freedom, Fun, and Power). The more needs being fulfilled through a behavior, the more significant that behavior becomes. One basic need that mobilizes action regardless of age, gender, race, or religion, is the need for survival. Fight or flight. Sadly, the threat to safety and security in schools is a palatable one felt by too many communities across the United States. In addition to survival, the needs for power (feeling worthwhile to self and others), belonging, freedom, and fun were also jeopardized by the shootings. The response from Parkland High School students (see picture below) is a clear example of how the threat to all five basic needs, mobilized young people to take swift and historic action.

Organizers of the March For Our Lives fulfilled the need for power, satiating a strong desire to not remain a victim. They took meaningful action to improve not only their community but the nation as a whole. The need to belong to a group i.e., the school, was triggered by the shootings. Their community came under attack and the need to protect it and those of students across the US  gave clear purpose for the organizers. Like Malala, students everywhere want to have the freedom to an education and have fun in the process without having to worry about losing their lives.

What can we learn from youth leadership today?

Young people are more informed and engaged than any other previous generation.  When students no longer feel safe in school and adults are seen as doing too little to significantly address the most basic of basic needs, is it really a surprise to see articulate, well-intended, and technologically savvy young people taking matters into their own hands?  As a result, they are shaping public opinion through their response to events. This trend will likely continue.

The deleterious impact of social, corporate, political, and environmental irresponsibility currently transpiring is not a future young people desire. Why wait to do something about it? Young people, with the help of technology and social media, have leveled the playing field in their ability to take action, speak up, organize, and most importantly influence social, political, and environmental change. Young people are more transparent, capturing events in picture or video and broadcasting them globally through social media.

Youth leadership skills are currently needed. Young people are listening, showing empathy, and actively responding to injustices and policies affecting them and their future. Authoritative and dictatorial leadership caters to self-interest and special interest rather than to the common good. Forms of leadership embraced by young people place emphasis on purpose, authenticity, community, and the environment. They are replacing the idiom ‘the end justifies the means’ with ‘the means need to justify the end.’

Youth Leadership
Jacqueline Coren, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, and Alex Wind. Photo: YouTube / Face The Nation

 

The mistrust of leadership, the rise of self organization, and the need for facilitation

Facilitation

The mistrust of leadership

In a time of increasing mistrust in leadership, the need to use facilitation is on the rise. Corruption comes in many shapes and colors. Nepotism, deceit, secrecy, abuse of power, finger-pointing, data manipulation, bribery, blackmail, lack of transparency, intimidation, bullying, and all forms of discrimination are many of the behaviors used to artificially control a system. These self-serving tactics cause undo harm and distracts individuals, groups, departments, organizations, or even a country from fulfilling its mission, achieving its goals, and developing. The result is a squandering of valuable resources to plan, implement, monitor, and sustain a culture of chaos and deceit.

Prolonged and unchecked abusive behaviors are destructive in many ways. First, they erode trust in the leader. Second, people begin to lose faith in systems and institutions afflicted with leaders who act with apparent impunity. Third, unethical tactics used to perpetuate an unjust system are usually illegal and/or violate human rights. Fourth, a culture of abuse becomes the norm. Finally, on-going dysfunction takes an enormous physical, emotional, financial, and psychological toll on human resources.

Look at the news headlines. Be it in the financial, government, industry, or social sector, the unmasking of criminal and scandalous behaviors at high levels of organization is rising as is the mistrust of leaders promising to champion constituent interests. In today’s world of technology and visibility, it is easier to manipulate information and take advantage of others. It is also easier to be revealed as a fraud or perpetrator. Leaders are being called to show their authenticity, be transparent about their intention, and be accountable to the collective. And so it should be.

The rise of self organization

As faith in leadership diminishes, self organization is taking hold of management structures. Although processes and tools of flat and decentralized forms of management are useful, they are not the panacea to all management and leadership woes. Hierarchy alone is not inherently unhealthy. Incompetence and abuse in hierarchical structures are.

Human interactions and processes determine outcomes. Abandoning structures without examining root causes of its failure and adopting self organization can lead to similar problems. Self organization naturally results even in hierarchical settings when trust, clear intention, and transparency are apparent and space is given for people to be authentic. Although self organization can be triggered by poor leadership, it is not the only reason.

People use their profession to fully realize their potential. More popularly referred to as self actualization, I refer to this need as power, or feeling worthwhile to self and others. Authenticity, purpose, and posterity are becoming more important with each subsequent generation.  Collectively we are realizing there is more to life than working to survive and counting down the days to retirement. People are actively taking steps to fulfill the need for power in professional settings and proper facilitation in self organized structures is a sustainable means to that end. 

The need for facilitation

Human systems include both hierarchical and flat structures. Both usually occur simultaneously and both include the human element. We are social animals. Our first introduction to human systems and the most influential is our family of origin. We are literally born into it, no voting, no interview, no choice. Your relationship to your parents and elders is one of hierarchy. Your relationship to your siblings and cousins is flat. Another important system in the formative years is the educational system. There too exists the dual organizational structures. A student’s relationship to her teachers and administration is hierarchical and that to her peers is flat.

Self organization is what should occur under true leadership. True leaders create environments of exchange and learning where departments and teams can make decisions and act interdependently with other counterparts. Facilitation is successful when individuals feel safe and can share their ideas. Facilitators create a culture where disagreements are not seen as personal attacks and feedback is not taken as negative criticism.

Facilitation is more than creating an agenda and keeping time. Group facilitation requires an advanced set of social skills. True facilitation lies in the facilitator’s ability to ensure the group’s psychological well-being. They create space for all to participate and feel appreciated. Facilitators can mediate differences and help the group find common ground to move forward. Facilitators have the ability to listen to the real message. They assess group dynamics, knowing when to check in, slow down, suggest a break, or move the conversation along. Learn more about facilitation in a recent blog by Susan M. Heathfield.

One person doesn’t need to have all the answers. There are plenty of well educated and experienced people looking to join others in fulfilling their shared need for power. There needs, however, to be at least one person who can hold the space for intention, authenticity, and the collective to manifest. Facilitation skills are workplace competencies of the future. Organizations emphasizing process facilitation are wise as they will naturally produce highly functioning and innovative self organized teams.