The meeting isn’t going very well. Agreement looks as far away as ever. In fact, the participants look like they’ve lost sight of their ultimate purpose entirely. On one side, we have a preference for sticking to rules combined with a sharp eye for what’s wrong with anything said by the other side. Opposite that, we have a high need for flexibility. From a neutral position, it’s obvious that some change of behavior is needed if progress is to be made. At least one of the protagonists needs to learn something – to grow as a person – before the problem can be solved. That is frequently the case.
In his book, “The Fifth Discipline”, a must-read for change leaders, Peter Senge talks of the importance of systems thinking in understanding a situation – How do the elements interact? And where is the point of leverage, upon which minimal effort can be applied for the maximum change?
Frequently, the point of leverage within a conflict between individuals or organizations is enhancing the ability of one or more of the players to relate effectively to other people. Wise, therefore, for us all to be open to learning, whatever our role. Senge calls that “personal mastery”, which along with “shared vision,” “mental models” (of understanding) and “dialog” (team learning by talking without taking sides), makes up four of the “disciplines” of a learning organization. Systems thinking is the fifth and integrating component.
As Senge says, “structure influences behavior,” meaning the systemic nature of organizations and their undertakings determines how their people behave. Mastery of interpersonal skills can, however, greatly mitigate the effects, even if that is “shifting the burden” from the change that is truly required.
Where is the point of leverage in the situations you are involved in? Who needs to learn and how can you help them? Or is it you?