Team Facilitation

LEARNING FRAMEWORK AGENDA

In my work with executive leadership teams, I facilitate structured dialogue processes that allows for greater perspective taking. This involves developing an increased awareness of assumptions that are being made, and the implicit stories that are being told below the conscious thought level. We explore limiting beliefs, the ways that team members may be caught in various forms of “win/lose” drama patterns.

Identifying these confounding and limiting behaviors then sets the stage for learning how to have more skillful discussions and deepening dialogue. The team is then able to trust into next level alignment of collaborative partnerships, the exercising of vulnerable power, and the realization of mutually transforming relationships.

TEAM LEARNING

Like a sports team striving to do their best, many management teams simply aspire to play the equivalent of one great game. They’d be excited if they could improve delivery time to customers by 20 percent. We know a few teams who are trying to pull off, in effect, a great season— a string of successful results. But the real potential of this discipline is to help teams re-create themselves so that gains in capability don’t just last for one season, but are sustained and self-reinforcing.

Because of the long-standing experience which many organizations have with group dynamics and team building, many teams believe that they have been practicing a version of this discipline for years. However, unlike team building, team learning is not a discipline of improving team members’ skills, not even communication skills. For many years, we have used the concept of alignment as distinct from agreement, to capture the essence of team learning.

Alignment means “functioning as a whole.” Building alignment (you never “get there”) is about enhancing a team’s capacity to think and act in new synergistic ways, with full coordination and a sense of unity, because team members know each other’s hearts and minds. As alignment develops, people don’t have to overlook or hide their disagreements; indeed, they develop the capacity to use their disagreements to make their collective understanding richer.

TEAM LEARNING

Like a sports team striving to do their best, many management teams simply aspire to play the equivalent of one great game. They’d be excited if they could improve delivery time to customers by 20 percent. We know a few teams who are trying to pull off, in effect, a great season— a string of successful results. But the real potential of this discipline is to help teams re-create themselves so that gains in capability don’t just last for one season, but are sustained and self-reinforcing.

Because of the long-standing experience which many organizations have with group dynamics and team building, many teams believe that they have been practicing a version of this discipline for years. However, unlike team building, team learning is not a discipline of improving team members’ skills, not even communication skills. For many years, we have used the concept of alignment as distinct from agreement, to capture the essence of team learning.

Alignment means “functioning as a whole.” Building alignment (you never “get there”) is about enhancing a team’s capacity to think and act in new synergistic ways, with full coordination and a sense of unity, because team members know each other’s hearts and minds. As alignment develops, people don’t have to overlook or hide their disagreements; indeed, they develop the capacity to use their disagreements to make their collective understanding richer.

Anyone doing serious work in team learning should be familiar with the key reflection-and-inquiry skills of balancing advocacy with inquiry, seeking to bring tacit assumptions to the surface, and becoming aware of the assumptions and beliefs that link “what we see” to “what we conclude.”

Team learning transforms those skills into capabilities; they become collective vehicles for building shared understanding.

Improved conversation is the primary medium with which management teams build all of these capabilities. Specifically, the most effective practice we know for team learning emerges from two conversational forms: dialogue and skillful discussion.

Teams need to establish their own “road rules” for conversation. These may include agreements to speak the truth as each person understands it, bring relevant information immediately to the team, or limit the time each person can speak. Teams may decide to clarify how decisions will be made and by whom, and to establish ways to safely check and challenge each other. Once the rules are set by general consensus, it’s important for the team to discuss how it will deal with violations. These rules are meant to help the team shape its conversations, not as an end in themselves; and they should never become so dominant that they override the team’s purposes and learning.

Anyone doing serious work in team learning should be familiar with the key reflection-and-inquiry skills of balancing advocacy with inquiry, seeking to bring tacit assumptions to the surface, and becoming aware of the assumptions and beliefs that link “what we see” to “what we conclude.”

Team learning transforms those skills into capabilities; they become collective vehicles for building shared understanding.

Improved conversation is the primary medium with which management teams build all of these capabilities. Specifically, the most effective practice we know for team learning emerges from two conversational forms: dialogue and skillful discussion.

Teams need to establish their own “road rules” for conversation. These may include agreements to speak the truth as each person understands it, bring relevant information immediately to the team, or limit the time each person can speak. Teams may decide to clarify how decisions will be made and by whom, and to establish ways to safely check and challenge each other. Once the rules are set by general consensus, it’s important for the team to discuss how it will deal with violations. These rules are meant to help the team shape its conversations, not as an end in themselves; and they should never become so dominant that they override the team’s purposes and learning.

When results don’t turn out as expected, you and the other team members will need to master the art of forgiveness. Looking for someone to blame may mean abandoning the team’s learning. Forgiveness means standing with the persons who were leading the experiment at hand, and helping the team discern what forces at play contributed to the unexpected outcomes. Forgiveness also means not holding the mistake as a trump card to be used some time in the future when politics would encourage it. Exercising forgiveness is different than an unwillingness to hold people accountable, as laid out in “The Five Dysfunctions of Teams” model.

Dialogue’s purpose, as we now understand it, would be to create a setting where conscious collective mindfulness can be established and maintained. The theory of dialogue suggests that breakdowns in the effectiveness of teams and organizations are reflective of a broader crisis in the nature of how human beings perceive the world differently. As a natural mechanism to develop meaning, people learn to divide the world into categories and distinctions in our thoughts. We then tend to become almost hypnotized by these distinctions, forgetting that we created them in the first place. Team learning means making these assumptions explicit, and then using conversation skills to cohere and move the team strategically forward.

When results don’t turn out as expected, you and the other team members will need to master the art of forgiveness. Looking for someone to blame may mean abandoning the team’s learning. Forgiveness means standing with the persons who were leading the experiment at hand, and helping the team discern what forces at play contributed to the unexpected outcomes. Forgiveness also means not holding the mistake as a trump card to be used some time in the future when politics would encourage it. Exercising forgiveness is different than an unwillingness to hold people accountable, as laid out in “The Five Dysfunctions of Teams” model.

Dialogue’s purpose, as we now understand it, would be to create a setting where conscious collective mindfulness can be established and maintained. The theory of dialogue suggests that breakdowns in the effectiveness of teams and organizations are reflective of a broader crisis in the nature of how human beings perceive the world differently. As a natural mechanism to develop meaning, people learn to divide the world into categories and distinctions in our thoughts. We then tend to become almost hypnotized by these distinctions, forgetting that we created them in the first place. Team learning means making these assumptions explicit, and then using conversation skills to cohere and move the team strategically forward.

Team Building Without Time Wasting Ladder of Inference, and Telling Ourselves Stories

I model communication skills by asking if I might play the role of the leader who may be experiencing challenge in framing and expressing what is on their mind, and in stating what really matters, or what is frustrating or depressing.

Much of my facilitation involves not only inviting leaders into speaking their truths, but also, often modeling how they might more resourcefully communication their intentions in assertive ways that serve to create connections rather than animosity. Here we work and play with polarities such as “firmness and flexibility”, “conditional and unconditional respect”, “candor and diplomacy”, “harmony and debate”, “good of the department and good of the organization” etc.

We learn what habits are getting in the way of dialogue, and how to reconceive bad into better habits that create alignment. Drawing from models such as Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of Teams” affords groups clear roadmaps to progress toward their alliance goals.

Learning also involves explorations into the stories we tell ourselves as a means of justifying our positions, and rationalizing why we would rather be “right” than be happy. Mental models such as “the ladder of inference”, the “left hand column”, balancing “advocacy and inquiry”, the “Four Parts of Speech” and many others afford leaders powerful tools with which to re-author their stories and their strivings.

Bert has helped my senior management team and me personally. He aided each of our executives to become more aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and how to better play to each other’s strengths. He enabled us to see different options to resolve conflicts that we alone could not see. He assisted me personally by encouraging me to grow into the person he believed I could become. His wisdom has helped me see life another way; a fundamentally more beneficial way.

Reggie Dupre, CEO, Dupre Logistics, LLC., Lafayette, LA

For the years that Bert has served as faculty in our Notre Dame Integral Executive Education MBA program, he has offered powerful learning regarding the complexity of challenges that accompany real change. His areas of expertise involve his understanding of the hidden dimensions of the growth and development process, and how to bring communication skills, conflict management and taking broader perspectives to bear on otherwise intractable problems. Bert is congenial and well liked by the students and faculty, and his presence as a facilitator is complemented by the depth of his understanding of the nuances and sophistication of the Integral model. He is indeed a world-class expert in these regards, and our program has been fortunate to continue to learn from his many gifts.

Leo Burke, Program Director, Notre Dame

Bert is not only a world-class professional trainer, but he does so with a confidence that is complemented by highly attuned interpersonal sensitivity and empathic attunement. People are drawn to Bert as a person, enjoying his openness, authenticity and warmth. I would be delighted to furnish any further information, either written or via telephone, that might assist you in your decision-making relative to Dr. Parlee.

Rick Fort, President, ESM

As a large enterprise level organization moving towards increased global complexity, we needed larger, more empowering frameworks within which to manage our many complications and contradictions. Bert introduced us to Polarity Management and related Integral mental models, allowing us to have next level conversations with new stage concepts. Over the next few years with Bert serving as coach, facilitator, coach and consultant, our leadership team was much better prepared to negotiate the shift from a print to a digital foundation.

Vince O’Brien, President, ESM

In 2008 I was fortunate enough to participate in one of Integral Institute’s Leadership Seminars that was facilitated by Bert Parlee and other world-class integrally informed thinkers. I was so inspired by Bert’s leadership skills and presentation style that I invited him to participate in a transformative initiative being implemented by the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance. By means of executive coaching and staff training seminars, Bert pla…

Wayne Reid, Manager: Transformation and Implementation, Government of British Columbia, Provincial Services

Our “next generation” management team training program has been a much smoother process due to Bert Parlee’s expert leadership. There is no doubt in the owners’ mind that Bert has been successful in ways that went beyond the current owners’ thinking and training methods for their next generation team. We are delighted that things are working much better than expected due to Bert’s leadership.

Clayton Smith, CEO, Smith Management Inc., Dallas