|Recently I had the experience of co-facilitating a group along with a very experienced and skillful facilitator. I found that my response time was lagging, and that she would often jump in to the group discussion before I had formulated my question or comment to the group. I talked to her about the 30-second-delay I was experiencing, and she said that she used to have a 5-minute delay! She had attained her swiftness in response to the group by what Donald Schoen calls “Reflection-in-Action”. In his book, The Reflective Pracitioner (1983) Schoen describes how through a feedback loop of experience, learning and practice, we can continually improve our work and become a ‘reflective practitioner’. The skilled facilitator was improvising, much like Schoen wrote about conversation, “In a good conversation–in some respects predictable and in others not–participants pick up and develop themes of talk, each spinning out variations on her repertoire of things to say. Conversation is collective verbal improvisation. At times it falls into conventional routines…which develop according to a pace and rhythm of interaction that the participants seem, without conscious deliberation, to work out in common within the framework of an evolving division of labor. At other times there may be surprises, unexpected turns of phrase or directions of development to which participants invent on-the-spot responses.”|
In my workplace, an employee brought up the question of whether our organization is sustainable, referring to our turnover rate. In an organization of 12 full time equivalents, we have had a turnover rate of about 30% in the past year.
I think the turnover rate by itself is not an accurate measure of sustainability. Often people leave because of a lack of fit between the employee and the role, or a conflict between the individual’s and the organization’s values. When these people leave, they are then freed to go on to do other things that they might enjoy more or for which they are better suited. Life circumstances sometimes cause people to change jobs or careers. When the employees leave under favorable circumstances, they spread knowledge about the organization’s mission to the world–which is especially relevant to the nonprofit sector. Turnover creates space for new employees who are fresh and interested to join the group.
To me, the organization is sustainable as long as the turnover is not so great that the group has trouble orienting new members and as long as organizational knowledge is not lost. Turnover of entry level employees and employees who have not been with the organization for a long time are less impactful than turnover amongst long-term employees who have considerable relevant knowledge or amongst leaders in the organization.
Sustainability could be advanced in organizations through valuing long-term relationships, documenting and otherwise capturing organizational knowledge, and improving hiring practices to screen for culture and role fit. Asking managers to look for lack of fit early on and take employees out of misfitting roles in the early weeks or months of employment rather than later would lead to less negative impact on the employee and the organization by reducing the duration of time when there is a lack of fit.
After much deliberation about graduate school, it’s official. I am starting my Master’s degree in Organizational Development this fall.
“What is Organizational Development?” I can hear my friends, family, and colleagues asking this question for years to come.
Organizational Development is the process of helping organizations solve problems and reach their goals. The field is interdisciplinary and draws on sociology, psychology, and theories of motivation, learning, and personality.
I am interested in this degree because I want to help people and organizations by making work more enjoyable. When people enjoy what they do, they do better work. I’m especially interested in studying leadership.
I chose this particular program at Antioch University Seattle because I am excited to work with the professors and students there. My advisor Barbara Spraker is working on a project on international women’s leadership, and I hope to become involved.
I will travel to Seattle one weekend a month for three and a half days of classes. The rest of the time I’ll be reading and writing, working on community projects in Santa Cruz, and working on the management team at MAPS.
This semester I’ll also be TA-ing a class on Leadership at Hult International Business School in San Francisco.
I’ve bought my books and signed up for classes. It’s exciting to be in a structured educational environment again. I’m looking forward to meeting the other students and getting started!
On my second day of mediation training (halfway done with the full training!), I received an awesome compliment from one of the facilitators. She said that I have a talent for open-ended questions.
I especially appreciated this compliment because I really like asking open-ended questions.
What is an open-ended question? (Yes, that was an example of one.) An open-ended question is any question that cannot be answered with a “yes”, a “no” or another one word answer such as a number or color. An open-ended question provokes a meaningful response.
It reminds me of a management lesson I learned from the Interactive Institute for Social Change when I took their workshop, Managing with Impact, a few years ago.
The main thing I took from the management workshop is that it is important for a manager to balance inquiry with advocacy. When we advocate as managers, we give people advice, direction, instructions, or solutions to their problems. When we practice inquiry, we use open-ended questions to help the person being managed to find insights into their situation or problem or come to a solution.
My feedback from the management workshop leaders was that I could do more advocating, and a little less inquiry. I think I am still on the side of being more of an inquirer than an advocate, but I have become better at advocacy as my experience has grown. In some situations, I have been too far on the advocacy side of the balance. Advocating feels like a lot of pressure sometimes, because as a manager I don’t usually have as much information to advocate for a solution or an approach, and I need to rely more on my intuition.
A mediator’s job is only to reflect, reframe, and inquire. It is unlike a manager’s job in that no advocacy is expected or desired. I am really enjoying the opportunity to practice open-ended questions and inquiry with mediation training. I recommend it for managers who want to become better at the inquiry side of the balance.
Yesterday I had my first day of mediation training with the Conflict Resolution Center. I’m not sure if I will apply to become a mediator or not, but I am enjoying brushing up on my listening and conflict resolution skills. There are a number of things I can take out of the mediation training and apply to management, without conducting a full fledged mediation process.
For one, I (like many managers) have a tendency to problem-solve when people come to me with problems or concerns, and I think in some cases it would serve both me and the person coming to me better if I practiced more active listening techniques instead. I know that this is best practice since if you can help an employee to find their own solution, the solution will work better and they will learn and grow. Plus the people I work with are all really smart and come up with better solutions than I could come up with myself in many cases. Sometimes its hard to remind myself not to problem solve though when I think I have the best answer.
In particular, here are some techniques for asking open ended questions that I could use at work with my employees: (If any of you are reading, I hope this doesn’t ruin the surprise.)
*Asking Open Ended Questions: What brings you to my office today? What is your major concern about the project?
*Asking Clarifying Questions: I’m not sure I understand. Could you say more about that?
*Reflecting Content: So the project is on track, and until recently all of the stakeholders were on board…
*Reflecting Feelings: You sound really frustrated/upset/pleased.
*Reflecting Values: External colleagues seeing that you are good for your word is important to you, is that right?
*Reflecting Body Language: I notice that your arms were crossed and you were pulled away from the table during our group meeting today. Can you say what you were feeling or thinking?
*Periodically Summarizing: So things have been getting worse between you and George.
I have three more days of training in mediation over the next two weeks, so I’ll post more of my lessons in applying this mediation training for managers as I go.
Organizations, just like individuals, undergo seasons in life. Each season is characterized by certain opportunities, challenges, and ways of operating. It has been helpful for me as a manager and Deputy Director to think about organizational life cycles and how our organization, like any other, is in a state of becoming rather than just being.
It was helpful for me to also have some perspective when things get tough and to know that this is normal, other organizations have experienced this before, and many more will experience this again.
As the Persian proverb says, This too shall pass.
I discovered these resources and the idea of Non profit life cycles thanks to one of my talented staff members, S.C.
The Fieldstone Alliance offers the Nonprofit Life Stage Assessment online for free. It takes about 20 minutes.
I’m curious to hear what you find out. If you take the test for your organization and post your results here, I’ll post my results and interpretation, too.