the Conflict Dojo

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About half a year ago I announced the Conflict Dojo on my blog and asked volunteers to try out the format. Before publishing the instructions for everybody I thought I could need some help for improving this new format.

Conflict Dojo

I’d like to thank Andrea Chiou, Ruud Rietveld,  Nils BernertSilke Rothgänger and Stefano Klinke for giving me feedback and helping me to make the format more simple, more safe and now it can be fun as well! =;-)

The Conflict Dojo is still easy to scale

You can arrange settings from 4 up to xxx people without having a facilitator for each table. Now one Facilitator can easily handle settings up to 20 people. If you have more, count one facilitator per 20 people.

As I’ve created the format as part of a 2-day conflict handling training for Agile Teams, you’ll need at least 90 minutes to run the basic version of the Conflict Dojo. The more time you have, the better it is as you’ll be able to play several rounds. On the other side of the coin, even one round can be very exhausting due to intense discussions and can take up to 1 hour.

Preperation

Create settings with tables for 4 people, 3 can be ok as well if needed. I recommend and prefer 4 people per table. For each table you’ll need to prepare the following:

  • tabletoys
  • 1 dice
  • a pile of plane A5 index cards - red – called challenge cards
  • a pile of plane A6/A7 index cards – yellow/white – called strategy cards
  • marker
  • 4 prepared plane A6/A/ index cards in yellow or white (strategy cards) with
    • fight back
    • ignore & avoid that there is a conflict
    • solution focused questioning
    • NVC (Non-Violent-Communication)

prep cards

Connection

Let everybody take some red and some yellow index cards and a marker. Build pairs. Let the pairs talk about the question ‘remember some old or current conflicts’, write down each conflict on a red Index Card – one card per conflict. Now think about how you’ve handled these conflicts, did you had a solution, have you made the conflict worse? What was your strategy? Write down each strategy / handling-type on one yellow index card. Elaborate what you have written down with your partner.

Concept

Introduce the ice-berg-model and explain how conflicts emerge. As a little help, here is the description of Paul Watzlawick’s model of communication:

A conflict exists, when the Iceberg’s collide on the level of relationship. Pure contentions on a factual level are almost handled as solvable or not solvable problems and challenges or seen as a conflict of opinion or dispute.

Tension and differences are becoming conflicts when involved parties are not able to handle them constructively anymore.

IceBerg Model

Reconnection

Find a table, 2 pairs at each table. You have 5 minutes to introduce your conflicts and strategies. Try to explain why in each situation the IceBergs’s did collide.

Concrete Practice

Arrange all red challenge cards on the table so that you can read all the conflicts. Build on pile of cards with all strategy cards, now integrate the prepared cards as well. Shuffle the pile of strategy cards. At the end place them on the table, face down.

Give a short explanation of the prepared strategies:

fight back
you feel offended and do what ever is needed to protect yourself and fight back with words
ignore & avoid that there is a conflict
try to ignore all direct addresses and speeches, talk about something else
solution focused questioning
try to find a solution, ask questions, be empathic
NVC (Non-Violent-Communication
explain the 4 part process of NVC

All 4 players role the dice ones. The player with the lowest points will start the first round of the Conflict Dojo. The first player can now choose a conflict he would like to practice. Normally this will be a conflict the player currently has.

All three others at the table take one strategy card without showing it to somebody else. They will also role the dice again to find the second player – count clockwise if you want. When the second player is found, the 2 others put back their strategy card at the bottom of the pile and they become observers.

Before starting the role play, give all 2 players about a minute to prepare and sink into their roles. The first player will have to address the conflict with the second player. As the second player will have to act as the strategy card tells him, his reaction might be not his normal reaction.

tabletoys

The player who addresses his conflict can change his strategy during the role play, the second player should stay at his ‘card-given’ strategy. The observers make notes during the conflict on an index card.

The current round is over as soon as the conflict is solved or one player shows his stop sign. A stop sign can be a raising hand, a prepared card or whatever you agree on upfront.

Conclusion

After a round is finished, make a debriefing – this might take a few minutes as all 4 players will discuss what happened and how their behavior was influenced.

When the debriefing is finished, the player to the left of the previous first player will become the new first player. All others will take a strategy card and role the dice again until the new second player is found. A new round of the Conflict Dojo is about to start.

final conclusion

After the last round is played, let participants pair up, if possible with somebody they haven’t talked to so far. Give a timebox of 5 minutes for everybody to have a walkabout and discuss the question, ‘what do I take with me out of this session and how will I integrate it in my daily life?’.

conflicts are for pussies

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Boxing Siberian Tiger

Have you ever listened to fighting cats, yelling at each other, making threatening strange noises when they defend their district against a foreign cat being an intruder? I hear them sometimes at night in my neighborhood and it really sounds very scary!

That is how they solve conflicts, they fight, rarely they try to avoid a conflict. It’s in their nature, their natural way of life. We’re humans, we should know better. Despite of all of our todays fortune, solving conflicts is a challenge we’re really poor practitioners at. Either we avoid conflicts at all or we start to fight, even if we don’t want to. When a conflict emerges, emotions are involved and this is an important point. Being overwhelmed by emotions makes it a hard challenge to deal with conflicts in a healthy way.

And that is exactly the crucial point, how can we deal with conflicts in a healthy way?

It doesn’t matter if I talk about personal relationships, teams or even societies, learning how to deal with conflicts enables us to discover a new way of communication, collaboration and personal development. Although conflicts can be a starting point to flourish, to grow, to overcome being stuck – as long as it is healthy and well handled.
We need to learn how to deal with conflicts, we need to face them to overcome the emotions which arise in us when a conflict emerges. This can take us to the next step of human evolution. We need to learn how to deal with conflicts in a healthy way!

Have you ever get a present from your grandparents in your childhood which not just disappointed you, even worth, you’ve hated it?

Disappointment

I remember a christmas eve in the early 1980′s. I was 9 years old and I was so excited to finally unwrap my presents. I was expecting this awesome cool Buggy from LEGO Technik and couldn’t wait to start building it. I was sure I’ll get it as my grandparents asked me a few weeks earlier what I was hoping for Santa could bring me…
Already when I received the present I noticed ‘what’s that, it’s so soft…’ It was a pullover, 2 pair of socks and a bar of chocolate. My mother directly noticed my disappointment and I was able to read in her face ‘don’t say that you’re disappointed, don’t make grandma sad…’, like it happened already a few times.

This was somehow the starting point of my vocational brainwashing training on swallowing anger and avoiding conflicts.

When you learn to avoid conflicts you’ll find out soon that in relationships, teams, organisations or societies conflicts are emerging constantly. As we’re all different, with different opinions, perspectives and values, it is natural that sooner or later friction emerges when people talk, work or life together. Human friction is a fertilizer for human development and growth.

What happens when you don’t train a muscle, a skill or quality? It becomes rudimentary! So it is with our ability to deal with conflicts when in an environment where we give everything to avoid them.

As it usually happens, sometimes we need to release that the tension of a conflict can’t be avoided anymore, sometimes we can not swallow that anger anymore and so it ends up in situations where we tend to generalizing and judging people what leads to psychological punishment and violation.

in time

Imagine, you are always in time, doesn’t matter if to a meeting, a date or an appointment, you always arrive on schedule. Your new colleague comes late to your weekly regular meeting, he apologizes and you think ok, no problem. The next week he is late again and the week after as well. Your brain will make a connection as it recognizes patterns – in this case your brain will record, ‘the new colleague is always late’ and puts that label on that person. In addition, the fact of being late collides horribly with your own value of being always in time! Having these labels in your mind for a new colleague will make it even harder for you to address this situation. And even if this colleague will be in time now for weeks and months, as soon as he will be late again the recorded pattern in your brain will call for attention.

communication

So why do we wait so long before we address a conflict? We just don’t know how to handle conflicts! We have no clue how to do it without being influenced from recorded patterns. And when we face a conflict, we’re influenced by such recordings and so we tend to generalize and judge other people. We become unfair like an awkward rookie who just started to learn how to speak.

We fear the unknown, we fear things we can’t handle, we fear things when we’ve made bad experience with them. So, do you have any clue why we have fear of conflict, one of our most dysfunctional problem in our society?

Brainwashed in our youth we tend to avoid conflicts and swallow the anger that comes with it. When the straw breaks the camel’s back, we overact and violate with words. And this just because we don’t know how to handle conflicts.

I suffered from conflicts a lot of times in my life and I know I’m not alone with that challenge. After attending a training on conflict handling earlier this year, I started to think about a format which enables me to practice what I’ve learned and enables learning for others without the need of attending an expensive 3 day training. And after talking with some other coaches I’ve created the conflict dojo. A framework for teams and groups of people to learn and practice facing conflicts. By facing own real-life conflicts in a safe environment, with people who react with different strategies, we’re able to experience different ways of handling conflicts. We analyze what has happened and how to improve facing such a problem. I know that a lot of people might think now, that sounds like learning non violent communication. No, that’s not. Non violent communication is one of the strategies which are available in our conflict dojo, but not the only one. Even if you will discover that #NVC is one of the best ways, if not even the best, to address a conflict, you will also experience other strategies and behaviors so that you’re able to become aware of your own best way how to handle a conflict.

handle it

I’d like to challenge you to become a pussy, to find your natural way of how to deal with conflicts and that facing conflicts does not mean, like for the cats, to start fighting! I’d like to invite you to train your conflict handling muscle and try out a Conflict Dojo. Learn, grow and let conflicts be your own flourishing fertilizer!

I have facilitated the first Conflict Dojo the last week in germany and it worked out very well. If you’re interested to try it out and help improving the format please send me a mail: thorsten@kalnin.net - I will publish the full instructions for a Conflict Dojo within the next weeks. As it is completely new I’d like some people and teams to try it out  first and help improving before I publish it.

connection before content – get the fire startet first

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‘Good morning all you supernumeraries’ said one of the participants of a team development workshop to his colleagues when he entered the room.

colored pigs

Their boss already told me upfront that this workshop will be challenging and that there are some problems with the relationships between the participants. That is one of the reasons why their boss thought, ok, we need an external facilitator for a team-intervention as the relationships in the team are highly crusted over. Every piece of work feels like a little war fight and communication, better not to mention communication – people in the team prefer to write eMails to each other while sitting just on the other side of a desk or shoot each other if they are angry as they have soft-air-guns (!?!) in the office…

the Challenge

I knew, the very first challenge w’d be creating a safe space for all participants – without such safe space, where people feel comfortable to state the painful and to talk about the home truth, I could skip the day and w’d end up in what some poeple would call – ‘just another wasted day’. During the briefing for the workshop I was informed that this team already tried several things out and one of the biggest problems was, that past activities concentrated on visualizing the problems and dysfunction in the team with the outcome of some action items. At the end, any appearing motivational energy fizzled out after a few days back at work. Does this sound familiar?

sail boat

Ok, challenge accepted, I just have one sinlge day to transform a highly dysfunctional team into something new, where dialogue is possible and the motivation to change something on the current situation should last longer than a few days. I am aware that I can’t change the complete world of a team that has dysfunctional grown over the past years in one single day, even I’m not able to change their behaviors for one day, but maybe for the duration of the workshop. So the only chance I’ve had is to create an impact, a tiny little thing that could be the starting point for making a huge difference.

When I started to think about the design of the workshop, I asked myself 2 simple questions – which I always ask myself when creating a workshop, training or even just a meeting:

  • Connection: how to connect participants related to their status quo?
  • Content: when participants leave the workshop, what has changed, what is different for them than it was in the beginning?

Connection

Visiting…

  • …a foreign city and asking the way.
  • …a conference where I know absolutely nobody in person, all I know is the theme for the conference and that there’re a lot of experts in the room – so as I.
  • …a grandmother and all others of the family for a family afternoon.
  • …a best friend to talk about the girl you’ve just met.
  • …a colleague to discuss the upcoming project.

In all of these situations, there are different kind of cennections in place, a different kind of a relationship. If you imagine you meet all these people/situations listed above, try to imagine for every single situation:

  • what kind of relationship is there?
  • how does this relationship influences the way I talk with the other person about the subject?
  • how would the talk be different, if I simply replace the existing relationship with one of the others?

perspective

You don’t need to have an outstanding power of imagination to grasp the fact that different kind of connections will have different kind of impacts to your behavior, and even to the behavior of yours opposite. It doesn’t matter what kind of topic I talk about with somebody else, the first and biggest impact on our communication is our connection! A second important impact on our connection and communication is the environment, but the impact of the environment to our communication is a different topic – and a different post…

Content

Did you know, there is a purpose why people have meetings? Yes, it’s true! I know, for some people this sounds very surprising as they discovered meetings in the past as a complete waste of time… But there’re meetings that are different, they very often feel like little workshops and without any surprise, successful workshops, meetings and trainings have something in common, not just the environment nor the connection, no, somebody had deep and powerful thoughts about the content, about the message being transferred, the one and only piece of knowledge that makes it possible for me to see more or less of my entire world totally different than I did before.

key

Content, like connection, is key. So, one of my most important part of work when designing and creating a new workshop or training is, to answer the question -’ at the end of the workshop, participants will…?’

What is very interesting, recently I’ve learned that exactly this sentence is also the most important question for any public speaker when creating a new speech… I just realize what public speeches, meetings, trainings and workshops have in common…

WorkshopDesign

After evaluating all information which were available, I ended up with a design using tools and methods from LEGO® SeriousPlay and parts of the discovery-phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). My Agenda was to create an environment where people can overcome old habits and feel safe to try new ways of collaboration so that participants are able to create solutions in a way they never did before – with a complete new perspective and connection with each individual and the entire team, that was my mandate.

For discovering individuals, the team, it’s purpose and to create a team identity we used StrategicPlay® based on the tools and methods of LEGO® SeriousPlay. So, for the purpose of building a new connection across the entire team I choosed to use a very playful and safe environment to break the crusted over connections so that new and fresh ones can occur.

For working on the content – topics were around how the team works and behave together – I choosed the discovery phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). One of the core principals around AI is to concentrate – and put focus on great experiences and what people want to have more of in their life instead of concentrating on all the problems which are present and how to tackle them. As working on the content was up to the participants, I decided to choose the AI framework to create an environment where participants feel safe to share their thoughts.

You might think, phew, this won’t solve the problems they have. Sounds like another waste of time… I need to disagree! On a short term current problems won’t be solved, yes. What is much more interesting than tackling current problems is how to behave and how to avoid situations that leads to these problems – as most challenges that we call ‘problems’ have patterns in common, we start to learn a new culture, a new way how to deal with situations which are challenging, a complete new behavior! While we create a new kind of culture, we also start to deal differently with the current challenges. This norm

As we just had less than half a day left to start the content phase, I didn’t explained the whole AI approach. For time savings I just explained the challenges for an appreciative interview, what is the first part of our AI-approach.
After the interviews were held, we gathered in groups and I gave a short introduction in the upcoming process as it was about to choose a top story the groups wanted to work on and then to discover the situation of the interview, find out success factors and possible action items to get more of that in the current team.

team rafting

That was more or less the whole day!

Debriefing

At the end of the workshop we gathered in a circle of chairs, by the way there were 13 ProductOwners of an international IT company.

After a harvesting of the AI-discovery phase I closed the workshop and invited the participants to give a last comment, feedback or anything they would like to say and how they would like to continue.

Most of participants liked the complete new approach they discovered over the day and they had the feeling that this was a milestone in their development phase. Some were sceptic as they discovered in the past that after such a great workshop the motivation which occured during the team intervention disappeared a few days later when people were back at their daily work. This fear clearly was present. One participant stated clearly that he has didn’t like the morning while ‘playing’ with LEGO and that for him this was a complete waste of time. But the afternoon has made it up.

It made me happy when all participants committed to continue the team development work upcoming monday – the next appointment was in place, good.

I totally respect if somebody does not like something about the framework I deliver, even if the dependencies between the exercises are not clear in detail for everybody. Important for me is that at the end, the framework made a difference, created new possibilities and opened the bridge to new perspectives and communication.

Connection first? why?

Remember the beginning of the post when I gave the examples of visiting a situation. Do you remember how your behavior changed when imagining the different situation in different relationships? Most people discover that as more powerful the connection is , as deeper and more fruitful a conversation can go. You can challenge the content, never challenge the connection!

That is why it make sense to build a connection first before I start to talk about crucial topics. That does not mean that I have to feel love or lots of sympathy for everybody! What is important is that I respect everybody in the team, I need to understand them, how they behave in different challenging situations and what kind of connection we have together so that I’m able to adapt my behavior if necessary. If such a connection exists in a team and teammembers are committed to the same targets and environment, communicate open-minded and have the courage to let the leopard change his spot, a team will learn how to fly!

very little aviation

Epilog

Last week I’ve received a mail from one of the participants of the workshop of this post – about 7 weeks after the event. The Team has still some problems but something crucially has changed, they work together differently than the years before. They are more respectful with each other and still work on the outcome of the workshop – towards of what they want to have more of. It seems that the fire is still burning and that people in this team have discovered that nobody is a supernumeraries, our team is star!

don’t transform Managers into effective Terminators

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Recently I’ve had some dialogs on twitter regarding coaching and management. During one of the dialogs, somebody explained me, that he is teaching coaching skills to managers to make them better leaders and to transform the role management. So far, so good. I agree, the role of management needs to shift if it wants to survive, if it’s not even signed to death. In addition, I agree that learning coaching skills helps immensly to understand others and oneself in a more empathic way. And sure, your way how to deal with others, and even yourself, will change as well when start learning coaching skills.

During a conversation I received a link to a video from David Verble that was shocking. In this video, David is talking about ‘Tips for ‘humble inquiry”. It’s embedded on the website of the Lean Enterprise Institute, which offers managers to learn lean coaching skills to become a lean manager.

Manager Terminator

For preventing misunderstandings, I appreciate any effort to make the world of work a better place and helping managers to find more appropriate ways to deal with their employees. What shocks me is that it seems that adding coaching skills to a manager makes them a lean manager. So if I get it right, a Lean Manager can simply switch roles between being a coach and being a manager, what means he is switching between coaching and command & control! Sounds like an oxymoron. As most managers have their own agenda as they have to reach target goals and numbers, it sounds to me to misuse coaching skills to be able to manipulate people in a better way for achivieng their goals… sounds strange, doesn’t it?

As David describes it in the video, a lean manager can use coaching skills to find out what the employee knows and thinks so that the manager is able to take a better decision. Phew, that scares me!!! They call it ‘humble inquiry‘ and for me it feels like managers misuse coaching skills for interrogating employees. While watching the video a picture popped up my mind, it’s a scene from the movie ‘Terminator II’ when Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ‘good’ Terminator states that he has detailed knowledge of human anatomy and Linda Hamilton says ‘I bet this makes you a more efficient killer…’…

In my humble opinion, the management role needs to shift to a role of a coach and facilitator without any authority, to enable people to self organize and to help them achieve their full potential. I deliberately avoid using the word ‘Leader’ as people have different opinions and interpretations about that term and for me it’s simply just become stretched out.

On the other side of the coin, is this really a shift of the management role? I don’t think so as as long the word management is used, there is also ‘command & control’ in the air.

I appreciate the efforts to coach managers on their roles, this is also a huge part of my work. But on what topics do we coach managers?

What we don’t need are managers which learn how to misuse people in a more effective way and to get closer to the term of ‘human resources’. And, if this is what the Lean Enterprise Institute understands throughout the term of a Lean Manager, than I need to say – this is not the right direction to the future, this is a blind alley!

What I want to say is that if we want to change the role of management, transform or to redefine it, teaching managers coachings skills is just a lousy deal of handling symptoms of a much bigger root-cause – ‘even if it turns Terminators to be more effective Killers’.

business man turn on his bulb head

If we want management to change for the better on a long term, it’s not enough to work with the industry. We also need to address the universities and business school’s and their curriculae and syllabuses all over the world. Somebody else who is involved and responsible in creating and changing the plans for public education are the governmental minitries for education.

During the Agile Coach Camp 2013 in Denmark, I talked with some other participants about ‘Stoos in Action‘ – Stoos is an initiative to change the world for the better. ‘Stoos in action’ will be a conference in autumn this year and during an Open Space session we designed the format for it. In addition, we gathered a lot of ideas for the conference how to make it special and something really different. I proposed to invite and connect to politicians. As I think it’s time to make the next step to bring Agile and Lean to Management outside of IT, it’s also time to start making connections to politics, even if this will be one of the biggest challenges of Agile and Lean. It’s necessary to turn the development of effective ‘Terminators’ into the development of effective Enablers!

Vulnerability

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vulnerabilityAbout two weeks ago I attended a public speaking training in Antwerp, Belgium which was organized by the wonderful Olivia Schofield from Spectacular Speaking. As I love to do sessions and talks on conferences and one of the trainers was recommended by a friend, I reached out to improve my speaking skills by attending a professional training. What I did not know was, that, as it often happens, it would come to a situation where I instinctively fall into a mode of showing 100% of my vulnerable human side.

We had some great workshops on storytelling, speech structure and much more in the morning with lot’s of high valuable learnings before we came back from lunch for Olivia’s workshop on stage presence.

As so often, the energy-level after lunch is low, so it was for us. So Olivia started to challenged us participants with a new game called Rhetoric which is about public speaking. We played a very dumbed-down version of that game. As it contains two kind of card-sets, one with topics and one with challenge questions, Olivia choosed one of the participants and gave her/him one of the cards. After a short moment of thinking the timebox starts, two minutes for a story in front of the course regarding that topic or challenge question which was handed out. If possible, we can try to integrate something what we’ve learned in the morning.

I assume we were about 45 people in total and we were sitting in a hoof-shaped arrangement of tables in a large room. In the front there was a huge canvas and our stage was a position in the middle of the room. As we did the game as a short warm up exercise to raise energy, chances for me were high not to be asked so I started to relax after the third ‘speaker’ was choosen. – yes, I was nervous as I’ve found out over the morning and during lunch that all participants, except me, are Toastmasters. Toastmasters, the people who meet up every week, bi-weekly or at least once in a month to train public speaking.

If you want to leave your comfort zone, go to an event where people have to communicate and where you are a complete ‘foreigner’ related to all other participants.

In addition, during lunch it turned out, that the training was an upfront conference training. The european conference of Toastmasters in Antwerp started the next morning and was held for the next 3 upcoming days. Wohoo, I was surrounded by ‘professionals’ and as I just did conference talks and sessions in the past, where I normally integrate all participants into a learning process, ‘just’ talking and bringing a message across was completely new to me.

So, what happened during the warm-up exercise after the 3rd speaker left the stage? (And by the way, all speakers had great storys)? Yes, Olivia choosed me and my inner voice started to panic. Why did I panic? I directly felt this feeling of being vulnerable.

Nevertheless I walked on the stage and Olivia said to me, ‘ok Thorsten, prepare to be challenged’ – directly after this words a tiny bit of me relaxed a little bit as it just flashed through my mind, ok, I know a lot stories about challenges, ‘preapre to be challenged’ is a guiding principle in Open Space technology and I’m passionate about Open Space… phew, I have so many challenges from the past years… which story shall I take…’ I was thinking, my mind was self-directed searching for the right story in milliseconds when Olivia said:

‘Ok Thorsten, what makes you cry?’

SILENCE

In the same milliseconds my mind tried to find the right story, my mind realized that in the first place Olivia was talking about the category ‘challenge questions’ and that my question was ‘what makes you cry?’. I felt like an air-balloon on a fair that was just hit by a dart – I slumped down as there was the story of my life flared up. Having no other thought, I started to tell my story:

In december 1979 my sister and I were celebrating the birthday of my father. I was 7 years young and my sister was 10. We had this weekend with my father, like every second weekend in a month, as my parents were just divorced. My sister had prepared a birthday card with the words ‘happy birthday for your 40th anniversary dear dad’. When she gave my dad the card his face turned from smiling into something serious. I do not really remember a detailed face, what I remember is an changing expression of his face. Without interpretation we celebrated his 39th birthday!

Ok, something like this can happen. We were young childs and counting can be a hard challenge for kids. However we’ve celebrated my dad’s birthday with soft-drinks and whippet cookies.

About three months later, it was friday 14th of march 1980 and spring had just shown up. It was one of the awesome first days of spring after a strong and cold winter with lot’s of snow and hard freezes. It was friday afternoon and my sister and I were outside and playing games in the spring-sun with other children from the neighbourhood while we were waiting for our dad to pick us up for our weekend. Normally he showed up around the early afternoon. But this day was different. The sun went down and no signs from my father. So we went home as we get hungry in the early evening.

It must have been around 6:00 pm when we had a bite to eat when the telephone was ringing. My mother stood up and went to the phone. All we heared was a huge, loud and distressing ‘OH MY GOD’ …this scream curdled our blood…

What happened? The phonecall was from the german police, searching for the identity of a dead body they’ve just found in the forest. They assumed it was my dad and somebody had to identify his dead body… The bitter truth was, yes, it was my dad and he died by suicide in march 1980, he was 39 years old.

All my life I was missing a dad, a father and best friend, somebody a young boy can look up to. As a young man, still something was missing. Nobody to ask what’s right or wrong. Too many topics I didn’t want to talk about with my mother or sister. Women, I never wanted to talk about women with my mother or sister in the past. I don’t know why but for me it was just a topic for men.

All my life, 40 was a magic number, like 39, 07 and 10.

Last year I turned 40. An age I thought I’ll never reach as this would mean that I became older than my father was when he died, something what was not possible for me in the past as this w’d mean to be longer on this wonderful planet earth than my father was allowed to. But even if I had hard and very challenging times in my life I turned 40 last year and something wonderful happened. All my life, what made my cry was thinking about my dad, that he left me when I was seven, that he gave up life. When I turned fourty I had to cry because I felt a big release.

That is what makes me cry!

I felt like a samll mice when I finished my story, I did not hear that people applauded. Olivia gave me a hug and I went back to my seat. During my way back to my seat two people stood up and gave me a spontaneous hug and thanked me for sharing my story. One last speaker followed before we started with Olivia’s workshop on stage presence.

In the next coffee break people came to me and thanked me also for sharing my story. Something had changed in the relationship between other participants and me. As in the morning there was somehow just a professional distance in talking with each other, in the afternoon it seemed that a distance was broken and much more personal and ‘intimate’ stories were exchanged. It was a different level of relationship than it was before. I felt the empathy of others for me and that made me feel having trust. Face to face talks changed and were much more open and personal.

What I’d like to say with this post is, even if you feel to be in an threateningly environment, show vulnerability first if you want to make a difference in relationships – if you won’t do it, who will???

the 4 rooms of change – basics of Agile Evolution

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4 rooms of change

Science has shown that each individual, teams and companies as well, pass 4 different emotional stages when going through a change process.

At the end of the 1960′s Claes Janssen, a swedish psychologist, found out that to adapt something really new – what is somehow a kind of a personal evolution, we typically pass 4 different emotional stages before we are able to make something new our own so that we are able to grow and flourish. Yes, I’m talking about change!

It means that we learn something really new what changes our personal life, behaviour or even culture – in tiny bits or sometimes in the whole.

As a Coach and Facilitator I’m a companion of different kind of change processes. Doesn’t matter if it’s the experience with private players which I accompany as a Co-Active coach, business people, teams and whole companies which I accompany as executive coach and facilitator. These 4 different emotional stages can be seen in almost every single peace of my work – and even it’s effects and it’s my daily work to accompany my customers through all these stages, that’s my passion.

I know that a lot of people are tired to hear and talk about change and I don’t want to challenge the word ‘change’ or something like that. What is important in my opinion is that change is our nature. we’re born to change permanently, every single cell of our body changes and renews several times during our life. We life the evolutionary process in every single day, even if we are not aware of it… so also our life is based on change, what makes a difference is how we handle it.

Becoming aware of these 4 different emotional stages, which Janssen calls ‘the 4 rooms of change’, makes change and adaption a bit easier for almost everybody involved in a change process. Change is never a simple challenge. It’ means we have to leave our comfort zone, got to learn new things and behaviours or even need to relearn something.

room of comfort

the room of comfort

In this stage we’re completely in our comfort zone. We celebrate our status quo with ourselfs and just want to keep it. We do the best of our situation, feel safe and usually no kind of pressure around us. We’re in control of what’s happening around us. We usually try to keep this status and emotional stage as long as possible. That’s why normally just a few situations are able to force us to leave this space of safety – our comfort zone.

There might be an unknown or a complete new experience, a changing environment or circumstances or a changing context. These situations force us to leave the room of comfort and we enter:

room of denial

the room of denial

What happens when something from the outside challenges our comfort zone? There is somehow something around us that puzzles us, something that challenges our foundations, our knowledge, behaviour or even culture. We don’t want to admit what’s going around and we avoid to face the situation. We still want to hold onto our status quo. We don’t want to see that there is something that threatens our status quo.

That’s when we usually enter the room of denial. Here we’re able to do so like everything is still ok, we still think we are under control of the situation. Nevertheless, deep inside of ourself we feel unease, anxiety and frustration. Sometimes even fear. To the outside we start to show defiance and resistance.

There’s a fight starting within us. A fight against ourself. It becomes harder and harder to deny the signals of what’s going on around us. The situation starts to disaffect us and makes us impatient.

When the level of suffering becomes too high, we confess that we have a problem, that there’s a real challenge and that we don’t know what to do!

room of chaos and confusion

the room of confusion

Entering the room of confusion we are concerned and feel huge fear. It becomes clear that our old believes and truths are not valid anymore and that there is no way back to our former comfort zone. Nothing is safe anymore, the old is gone and the new is not in view. This is when our emotions take over control. We feel uncertainty, awkwardness and a sense of disempowerment.

Being at this emotional stage, individuals will just go forward when they are sure that the past ‘values’ really don’t work anymore and that there is at least a sense or hunch of something new, at least a potential vision of the future. As stronger and clearer this vision is, it becomes more easy to overcome the room of confusion and all the emotional suffering which comes with it.

Reaching the rock-bottom of suffering, we start to be poised for the new. At least at this point we become open to get into something new. This is where the most learning happens, even if we pay a huge price for it.

When we start facing the new, little by little, the fog will be lifted and we are about to enter the room of renewal.

room of renewal

the room of renewal

Here is where the revivalism starts. We experience new ways, try new things out and start to learn from failure. We regain orientation, certainty and our capacity to act. We regain self-confidence and become able to open the door to the room of comfort. This is where the circle of change closes until we’re ‘threatened’ to start a new round on this circular course.

conclusion

Some people might think, hm, why not go directly from the room of comfort to the room of renewal? Unfortunately this is not possible as all the 4 emotional stages need to be walked through to adapt a change. Once in a room, you can’t go back – you just can go forward! In addition, this emotional model scales. Individuals can run through all 4 stages within a day for ‘smaller’ insights. Beyond that, it also scales to teams, companies and even whole societies. As the culture of a team or a company is shaped by the sum of all individuals, an organisation is from a cultural view the sum of all individual behaviours. So even a company, team or complete society has to go through all emotional stages for an evolutionary change process!

House

If you are involved in a change process, it can be very helpful to create awareness for the 4 rooms of change and it will make your life easier to pass all the emotional stages to reach the new and become something new.

There’re also some other models available which describe phases and stages of change processes. But as they are all much more complicated, I like this model most as it is simple, easy to understand and explain, evident and it makes mapping to our own change-experiences easy and obvious.

co-creation of Ewan McGregor

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As a second post about the first Agile Coach Camp in the Netherlands, end of April 2012, I’d like to tell the story how the Ewan McGregor game was born.

elephanjt in the room

The elephant is in the room

One of the most challenging situations for a team coach or even a team itself, is dealing with an ‘elephant’ in the room.  In reality I need to say – avoid dealing with the ‘elephant’ in the room.

What is an elephant in the room, sometimes also known as the pink elephant? In simple words, it’s an obvious situation within a human social structure, nobody wants to talk about and even avoid facing this obvious situation. It’s also a part of teamdynamics. You can read on wikipedia: elephant in the room

I’ve experienced several situations in the past, where there was an elephant in the room – in Teams, in relationships – private and business, even within whole departments or companies. But how do you deal with such situations? Do you confrontate, what can be very hurtful, or do you deal with symptoms? My experience is that you need to be very sensitive when dealing with such crucial topics – and never forget, there is a reason why a problem has reached the level of an elephant in the room!

A background of such situations is based on fear of conflict and a lack of trust – the two most important issues of dysfunctional teams, as well as fear of loosing status. During a coaching session, while reviewing such an ‘elephant in the room’-situation, I had the idea of creating a game where such a situation will be simulated and players need to deal with it. My intention was to create a safe environment which allows players to explore such sensitive situations and learn how to deal with them for the purpose of creating awareness.

I was thinking about different approaches to achieve that game but unfortunately a promising idea was missing. But hey, this is a perfect topic to explore during an open space session and the Agile Coach Camp Netherlands was just a few weeks ahead.

Agile Coach Camp Netherlands – 2012

So, during creation of the OpenSpace marketplace I offered a session for co-creating an interactive game to deal with an elephant in the room. Fortunately approx 10 people showed up for the session – wow, that was much more than I hoped would come.

What happened now, I don’t know how to describe it best, let’s just say – what happened now was just magic!

The game was evolving out of an empirical process of simulating an ‘elephant in the room’ – in the true sense of the word! We created a huge obstacle with chaotic piled chairs in the room and taped a real tight space around this obstacle.

We then simulated some situations where a team of participants had to deal with daily work while they had to move within the tight taped space around the piled chairs. After simulating some real world examples of team-issues we removed all the chairs so that just the taped space was remaining on the floor. We asked the team to repeat all team situations in the room, imagining that the chairs were still in the room.

As an Agile Coach Camp is an OpenSpace unconference, there were Bumblebees and Butterflies dropping in the session room by chance. You might be able to imagine that this must be a funny situation for an observer who does not know what’s happening in that team, where people move within an empty space and make strange movements like a pantomime.

When we asked the newcomers what they observed, they told us that it is strange, it’s obvious that there is something wrong in the team but that they’ve had no idea what’s going on and why the hell the members move so strange within their teamspace . We then invited the newcomers to start coaching the team. What happened next surprised everybody attending that session. Remember – the team members move around an non-existing chaotic pile of chairs!

When asked by an observer what they are doing there was just a simple answer – ‘we are working’. When asked why they move so strange, the outrage of the team about that question became obvious – we don’t move strange, we’re just doing our work as usual. The team members started to defense and became more or less angry about some questions of the observer/coach. Very interesting emotions and a very dangerous situation for the coach emerged. With one single wrong question you can ‘close the door’ for gaining trust of the team. The coach is an ‘outsider’.
What is very interesteing, each time when I facilitated that game, and as far as I know other Facilitators made some similar experiences, almost the same emotions show up, created virtually. Teams start to defense the way they work, even if it’s obvious that there is a problem. Even if it’s just a role play, participants tell that they feel a need for defending themselves, they feel the ‘hot air’ etc.

It was amazing, we created a virtual ‘elephant in the room’ and were able to discover all the emotions which occur also in real situations of this kind.

We then started to concentrate on coaching such a situation and how this uncomfortable experience can be handled. That’s were the real work starts!
When appropriate facilitated and coached, this game can be a great eye-opener for dysfunctional teams and can create new insights, options and opportunities for dealing with crucial issues in teams.

After all

We haven’t published the game-instructions so far. But we asked via the LinkedIn-group ‘Agile Games’ if somebody wants to try out this new game and lots of people did. Several Coaches all over the world have already tried out the Ewan Mcgregor game and gave us some interesting feedback. In addition, I facilitated the game also several times so far. What we’ve found out is, that this game is very helpful and provides a lot of learning experiences and insights in team-dynamics. It’s not just for teams, also for coaches it is an awesome experience to be in the role of a team member and experience the emotions when an ‘outsider’ starts to coach a team on such a crucial topic…

Feedback

If you’re interested in running that game please give me a ping or have a look at the ‘Agile Games’-group on LinkedIn. Beyond that I will publish the game instructions Facilitation Flash Cards.

If you have already tried out the game I’m very curious to read about your experiences – please leave your comment here!

Postscript

A lot of people are asking why ‘Ewan McGregor’ – isn’t that a famous actor?

Yes, that’s true – he is an actor and I need to say that his name has no direct connection to the purpose of the game! During the co-creation session we found out, that when running this simulation with a team which has to deal with such a real ‘elephant’ issue, it might be not a good starting point to introduce a session called ‘the elephant in the room’ – it just could influence the outcome or behaviour of individuals. So we just called it ‘exercise without a name’. And as this naming did not sound appropriate to us, we had the idea to just use a shortcut of it, so we ended up with EWAN. And as somebody called instinctively cool, let’s call it Ewan McGregor… that’s it… =:-)

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