When a group reaches an impasse, two common configurations are the dead end and division. The dead end occurs when the current paradigm fails and there is no alternative. It's bad news, but at least the team is together (usually, that is).
In division, there are two or more contending alternatives, and the team is often polarized around these choices. People with a talent for finding the "third way" are valuable assets, because they can often find the key element that reunites the team and gets it moving forward again. One such person on a team is good; two are better. Even better than that: an entire team that understands the concept of the third way and works together to find agreement.
Here are some techniques for finding the third way.
- Agree that agreement is needed
- For a divided group, unanimity is achievable only after all agree that unity is desirable. Achieving agreement about agreement can enhance the likelihood of respectful exchange, and limit the chances of the current disagreement turning into toxic conflict.
- Beware ideology
- An ideology is a set of principles and ideals that form a comprehensive vision of the field in question. An ideology provides a complete framework for considering that field, reaching beyond any current concrete issues. That's why ideologies have difficulty with concepts that arise outside their scope. When a subgroup of a team forms around an ideology, that subgroup faces obstacles when working with other team members.
- Replace ideologies with specifics
- What makes People with a talent for finding
the "third way" are valuable
assets, because they can often
find the key element that reunites
the team and gets it moving
forward againideologies so exclusive of alternative views is their comprehensiveness. If one or more of the team's coalitions is united by an ideology, invite its members to replace the ideology with specific goals. Specific goals are preferable to ideologies because they aren't constrained by issues that aren't yet on the agenda.
- Examine opposing ideas for commonalities
- Gather whatever the opposing ideas do have in common, and use that as a fresh starting point. Set aside any elements about which there is polarized disagreement. What remains is probably an incomplete description of the way forward, but try to make it more complete by asking, "What can we add to this that will move us forward?" Add only those bits about which you can gain consensus.
- Focus to expand existing coalitions
- If the team is divided, work to reduce the number of factions and expand each coalition by narrowing its focus. For instance, given a collection of common ideas on which some team members agree, try jettisoning one of them experimentally, by asking, "What if…" If the result is still acceptable to that group, invite people not yet in agreement to examine the reduced list. Can they now agree to join?
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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:
- Games for Meetings: IV
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Business Fads and Their Value
- Fads in business come and go, like fads anywhere. In business, though, their effects can be so expensive
that they threaten the enterprise. Still, the ideas and methods that become fads can have intrinsic
value. Where does that value come from? Where does it go?
- Some Hidden Costs of Business Fads
- Adopting business fads is an expensive organizational pattern, with costs that extend beyond what can
be measured by the chart of accounts most organizations use. Here are some examples of the hidden costs
of business fads.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates.
Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
- Virtual Clutter: II
- Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents
that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless non-physical entities that
make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 5: Red Flags: III
- Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics. Available here and by RSS on August 5.
- And on August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.