In Boston, in early February, the Lower Basin of the Charles River is frozen. I know there's life in the river, though, because some ducks and geese are wintering over here. I'm guessing that the ducks especially appreciate this morning's bright sun, because about 50 of them are gathered on the ice in the lee of the left bank, warming themselves. They sit contentedly, heads turned completely backward, bills tucked under wings, in contorted postures that could be comfortable only for ducks.
They close their eyes, but they aren't asleep. Every once in a while, they peek — to check that all's well and that no threats have appeared. When they peek, each sees a different part of the world, because no two ducks face in exactly the same direction. But they do see some of the other ducks.
Since each individual faces in a different direction, the flock can see the whole world. If a threat appears, some ducks see it, and they stir. The others who can see them, in turn, stir too, and within a second or two all the ducks know about the threat.
This system works because each duck settles into a position that it finds uniquely comfortable. The ducks don't demand that everyone face in exactly the same direction, or that all bills be tucked under the same wingpit. They let it happen however it happens. The diversity of direction guarantees the security of the flock.
of the flockIn group problem solving, we sometimes forget this lesson. Diversity of opinion, and healthy, reasoned debate, ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. When we impose lock-step thinking, and when we pressure each other to limit debate, we limit the exploration of sources of risk, which, ironically, exposes us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
To reach sound decisions, we need vigorous debate. Yet, in some organizations, questioning proposals that have lots of momentum can feel very unsafe, especially if powerful people propose them.
The "Curmudgeon Team" is a possible workaround. When you're considering a proposal, appoint several people to team up to oppose the idea. Make it their job to ask the difficult questions and to pose the difficult what-ifs. This approach invigorates the debate, and it's a lot of fun, especially in costume. To avoid any long-lasting effect on individuals, rotate this job on a monthly basis.
After you've run Curmudgeon Teams for several months, and you've seen how they strengthen decisions and proposals, the safety issue will lessen. You'll use this artifice less often, because people will have come to appreciate differences. And maybe they'll even learn to trust each other as much as do the ducks on the ice of the Charles River. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
For more about differences and disagreements, see "When You Think They've Made Up Their Minds," Point Lookout for May 21, 2003; "Towards More Gracious Disagreement," Point Lookout for January 9, 2008; "Blind Agendas," Point Lookout for September 2, 2009; and "Is the Question 'How?' or 'Whether?'," Point Lookout for August 31, 2011.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenpaaAtlenYICmglfGner@ChacJrRTJceYJYkioygnoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why
didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the
most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
- When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire
team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
- Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space
to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenPzFqFKFkWmrpDyOjner@ChacyEnjPZRMeWZZPobtoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.