some experiments fortackling the adaptive challenge. Generate a consensus

some losses will be necessary, but give everyone time to sit with theselosses (maybe hours, but also maybe days, weeks, or months). Askthem to consider how they are going to deal with constituents, andhow they might go about refashioning constituents’ expectationsand loyalties. Ask them to continue to reflect among themselveswhile maintaining confidentiality.6. Generate and commit to experiments. Discuss individual experimentsfor dealing with constituents and collective experiments fortackling the adaptive challenge. Generate a consensus to go with severalexperiments for tackling the adaptive challenge, in sequenceand/or at the same time, as it makes sense, with a shared commitmentto get back together to evaluate the results of both kinds ofexperiments when enough data has been generated for lessons andinsights.7. Institute peer leadership consulting. Individual and collective commitmentsto go forward will be hard to make because they requiredecisions about who will take what losses, how each of them willbring the agreed-upon next steps back to their own constituents, andwhat adaptations each of their constituent groups will need to maketo implement the collective experiments. To maximize the chances ofsuccess, move the members of the group into peer consulting, wherethey begin systematically to consult to one another on the leadershipheadache they have just given each other. How can they help eachother analyze the sources of resistance each should expect from theirown people? How can they redesign some of the experiments andtheir implementation to take these resistances into account—forexample, by pacing, sequencing, or framing cross-boundary projects?People in positions of authority generally hold their leadership issuesclose to the vest, keeping them private. So asking them to consult toone another establishes a new norm and may be difficult at first. Youwant your team to have a shared responsibility for the whole in whichone person’s issue is an issue for everyone.Orchestrating conflict requires courage, to different degrees for differentpeople. Here are some suggestions based on characteristics wehave seen when people have tried to lead adaptive change in this way:• Push the boundaries of your own tolerance for conflict. Orchestratingconflict requires tolerating a high degree of conflict yourself,perhaps more than you are comfortable with.• Play with the bad guys. You will have to interact with hostile orantagonistic factions, and engage them on their own terms, notyours, even when their terms make no sense to you. And thatmeans you will probably take some heat from the people you consideryour core constituents, your primary loyalties, perhaps thedivision from where you came. (“Why are you even sitting downat a table with those guys?”)• Accept support from people whose reasoning you would reject.Bringing antagonistic groups together often means allowing themto voice arguments you may personally find distasteful or evenabhorrent. The motives and rationale for factions agreeing toengage or agreeing then to a particular course of action may differwidely. What you are looking for is progress on the issue, andpeople will get there in their own ways. With one of our clients, aprofessional services firm, the gap between the espoused valuesand the current reality was maintained powerfully by the compensationsystem. Aligning the compensation system with theirvalues was a heated process. There were not only winners andlosers in material terms, but some folks were willing to go alongwith the new system for reasons that we found uncomfortable,such as devaluing certain product lines they did not respect.• Adapt your communication style. Orchestrating conflict successfullycan mean having to change your communication style tohelp adversarial factions work through the issues. For example,you may have to display more confidence or hopefulness thanyou really feel to keep others from getting up and stalking out ofthe room. Or you may have to get forceful or even angry even ifyou do not like to appear that way. If adapting your communicationstyle or demeanor makes you feel manipulative or inauthentic,keep reminding yourself of the purpose: helping the parties6 Mobilize the SystemOrchestrate Conflict 7be more authentic so they can identify, examine, and movethrough their conflicts toward some integrative solution.The following practices can help you surmount these difficulties andboost your chances.Create a Holding EnvironmentA holding environment consists of all those ties that bind peopletogether and enable them to maintain their collective focus on whatthey are trying to do. All the human sources of cohesion that offset theforces of division and dissolution provide a sort of containing vessel inwhich work can be done. In fact, every group—from a family to aninternational organization—provides a holding environment, eitherweakly or strongly, for its members to collaborate productively. Wehave used the analogy of a pressure cooker for the holding environment;and as anyone who has ever used a pressure cooker knows, someare stronger than others (domestic versus industrial strength), dependingon the strength of the steel and the locking lid.The term itself was coined to describe the very first holding environmentin each of our human experiences: a woman’s arms holding a newbornbaby and providing food and safety.1 The bond between mother andchild is so strong right from the beginning that even when the child spitsup, cries incessantly, and pushes the mother away, she continues to holdthe child. If she is tired out, she will pass the child to someone else to dothe job. Sometimes children are raised in very weak holding environmentsand are quickly pushed aside and left alone when they fuss. Whenthat happens, nearly every society has backstop institutions that serve asholding environments, from extended families to foster families, adoptionservices, social service agencies, and the court system. As a last resort,prisons serve as holding environments, containing individuals and givingthem one last chance to take hold of themselves and behave responsibly.In doing adaptive work in organizations, you need to create orstrengthen the holding environment to provide safety and structure forpeople to surface and discuss the particular values, perspectives, andcreative ideas they have on the challenging situation they all face. Asmembers of a group work through a conflict, things can get nasty. Peoplemay begin distancing themselves from one another, flying apart as theyretreat into their own corners. The harder the adaptive work, the strongerthe holding environment must be to contain those divisive forces.What is required for a holding environment may differ from countryto country, from firm to firm, and across boundaries of race and gender.A strong holding environment for a bunch of conflict-loving New Yorkerswill be different from one for more deferential Japanese. But thereare some common elements that serve to strengthen the bonds of cohesionand offset the tensions as they are surfaced in any culture. Some ofthese are:• Shared language• Shared orienting values and purposes• History of working together• Lateral bonds of affection, trust, and camaraderie• Vertical bonds of trust in authority figures and the authoritystructure• At the micro level for a working group, a meeting room with comfortablechairs, a round table, and rules of confidentiality andbrainstorming that encourage people to speak their mindsTo describe more concretely the components of a strong holdingenvironment, we turn again to the off-site retreat as a literal andmetaphorical example.The purpose of an off-site is to get people out of the office into a differentplace where they can gain new perspectives and focus on anissue they do not usually deal with during their day-to-day work. Offsitesare often used to work through conflicts. These holding environmentsaim to generate a level of trust and open discussion not usuallypresent in the workplace.Many considerations in designing off-sites are routine for any suchevent, such as workspace layout, administrative support, norms ofreporting and confidentiality, a pulse-taking at the beginning, and anaccountability mechanism to hold people to decisions and commitmentsmade at the event. But some practices, which we suggest below, are particularlyrelevant when you are dealing with adaptive work.8 Mobilize the SystemOrchestrate Conflict 9Before the Off-site• Prepare the senior authority for a different role. During the off-site,all eyes will be on the senior authority for clues to how seriouslyto treat the event. Does the senior authority leave the room toanswer a cell phone after the meeting begins or nod off as someoneelse is talking? If the senior authority keeps delivering ordersor answers, it will feel to others that they have not left the office atall. People will soon stop offering their own ideas and opinions,waiting for the boss to speak. So before the retreat even begins,provide coaching as needed to discourage the senior authorityfrom engaging in these and other conversation-stopping behaviors.We sometimes use the standard that, if someone were towatch a videotape of the off-site, it would be impossible to tellwhich person was the senior authority in the group.• Identify hidden perspectives and conflicts in preparatory interviews.Ask some or all of the participants in one-on-one conversationswhat they see as the problem that triggered the off-site.How important do they think this problem is for the organization?(If they do not agree on the problem or see it as important,that itself becomes an issue for the group.) What are their expectations?What key issues are they worried the off-site will ignore?What would success look like?During the Off-site• Establish new processes. To help people produce a different, lesstangible “product” (such as resolution of a conflict) than the moreconcrete outcomes (sales, strategies, reports) they usually generateat the office, they will need different processes for interactingwith one another. New norms send the signal that the retreat hasan entirely different goal than the work people normally deal withback at the office. You might ask people to call each other by firstnames if they do not usually do so at work. Build in time for individualand collective reflection. Explain that adaptive work ismessier than technical work. Legitimize conflict. Ask people tostay in the game when the going gets rough. Hire an outsidefacilitator or rotate the facilitation among the participants, to helpensure that they do not fall into familiar roles.• Watch the initial event. Pay close attention to what happens firstas the event begins. A joke, a casual comment, a request for information,whatever it is may signal something important about thegroup’s mood and the issues that are alive in the room. If someonemakes a joke about the senior authority not being at the headof the table, that may suggest that relations with the authority arean issue in the group, and that people would be surprised if theboss didn’t jump in and control things when the going got tough.Select ParticipantsJust as you select ingredients to throw into a stewpot before you turnup the heat, you need to select carefully the individuals who will takepart in a conversation about the conflict you are seeking to orchestrateon the issue you are trying to work through.Determining which parties to include is a strategic decision: whoshould play a part in the deliberations, and in what sequence? Includingtoo many parties can overload people’s capacity to learn andaccommodate one another. However, when you fail to be inclusive, youmay risk devising an incomplete solution, a solution to the wrong problem,or, worse, excluded parties that will sabotage the process of sustainablechange. At a minimum, if you opt for a smaller group, you mustkeep track of missing perspectives.Here are some key questions to consider:• Who needs to learn what, to make progress on this challenge?• Does a party represent a constituency whose changes are criticalif the larger community is to make progress?• Does any party’s perspective generate so much distress thatincluding it would disrupt the effort to build any kind of coalition?• Are there parties whose presence is important in the medium orlong term but not in the short term, so that they might be excludedinitially?10 Mobilize the SystemOrchestrate Conflict 11Selection is never an easy process. In the interests of efficiency andorder, you may be inclined to minimize the number of people representinga variety of functions or constituencies. But in the interest offurthering adaptive change, you may want to expand your definition ofwho should be included. Political considerations are relevant. Therewill be lots of buzz and interpretations back at the office about whowas and who was not included.In Leadership Without Easy Answers, we discussed this dilemma andoffered a framework for determining how narrowly or widely you shouldcast your net while selecting participants to work through a conflict.2A conflict that requires immediate resolution suggests that youselect fewer stakeholders, in the interest of timeliness. But the morethe conflict at hand requires adaptive work to be resolved, the moreexpansive your definition of whom to include should be. However, themore participants in the conversation, the greater the chances thatsome of them will be intensely impassioned about the subject, and themore the individual agendas that will be in the room will dominate.Stridency, aggressive advocacy, and individual perspectives and stakescan jeopardize the entire effort by triggering other participants to disconnect,leaving the room or refusing to contribute to the conversation.All of this, of course, can be useful data for identifying deeper conflictsin perspective, but you also may have a hard time reassembling the partiesinto a working group.The benefits and costs of exclusion and inclusion fluctuate, and in atactical sense you have to pace the work in part by sequencing whenand which parties are brought into the process. Yet a general biastoward inclusion builds adaptive capacity for the long run. Inclusionstresses that people in the network of relationships respect oneanother and gives you more options for future crises because you haveestablished a firm relationship with people who have struggledthrough something difficult together. Inclusion is both a means toaccomplish immediate adaptive work and a way to cover future bases.Regulate the HeatHumans are temperature sensitive. Think about the many things youdo each day to be comfortable: put on a sweater if the room feels cold,turn up the air-conditioning if it is too warm, and take a cold drink tocool off after exercise.Similarly, people take steps to lower the “heat” in their organizationallives. You might speak soothingly to an irritated coworker to help himcalm down, or raise a particularly touchy issue in the hallway with a friendrather than in the meeting because you know he may get distraught andwould not want others to see. These skills are valuable in certain circumstances.But they are not as useful for working through conflict related toadaptive change because they are designed to maintain the status quo.To orchestrate conflict effectively, think of yourself as having yourhand on the thermostat and always watching for signals that you needto raise or lower the temperature in the room. Your goal is to keep thetemperature—that is, the intensity of the disequilibrium created by discussionof the conflict—high enough to motivate people to arrive at creativenext steps and potentially useful solutions, but not so high that itdrives them away or makes it impossible for them to function.This temperature range will differ depending on factors such as thecohesiveness of the group and members’ familiarity with adaptivework. A group that is cohesive because members share history and valuescan stand a much higher level of heat without breaking apart than anewly formed group with members from different parts of the communityor organization. One that is less cohesive because members havenever before worked together or have profoundly conflicting valuesmay break apart at a high level of heat. Table 11-1 shows examples of


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