Six Sigma and more:
David Schwinn ruminates
A couple of weeks ago, my wife Carole and I went to Mark Nepo’s 12th annual poetry reading at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As we entered Seasons, Fetzer’s retreat center, I was struck first by the beauty, the flowers, the trees and shrubs, and the sculptures around the grounds. As we approached the meeting center itself, I was reminded of the four amazing years we spent with Fetzer’s Fellows and Scholars, a group of about thirty people from around the world whom Fetzer had invited to come together on a periodic basis to assist them to make their interior callings more consistent with their outward work in the world. Now, these people, most of us would say, already had achieved amazing congruence between their insides and their outsides. They were doctors, political activists, teachers, social workers, artists, ministers, and leaders in the nonprofit world. They were and are people making a difference. Although their work was remarkable at the beginning of our time together, it grew to be even more so after the community formally dissolved. The power of what those people are doing to make the world a better place awes me. That reflection of power reminded me of a conversation a week earlier.
In my ethics class, we discussed the role of government as related to the social responsibilities of enterprise managers. That discussion took me back to the work of Bertrand Russell many years ago. In both that work and the ethics discussion, I am aware of the potential and, sometimes, real abuse of power by government leaders and even leaders in the private and nonprofit sectors. This is consistent with Russell’s definition of “…power over human beings is shown making them do what they would rather not do…” in his 1950 Nobel lecture. This power over, Russell argued,”…is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure.” More recent research has also indicated that this kind of power is more likely to generate compliance than to generate commitment. Committed work is far more effective, creative, and efficient than compliant work. There is another kind of power, articulated by our teacher and friend, Jamshid Gharajedaghi.
Gharajedaghi talks about power to. He explains how a manager can expand his power by delegating his decision-making power to his subordinates while intensively coaching the subordinates in the thinking process that the manager uses. Ray Smock, a manager of mine when I was at Ford World Headquarters, was a model of this behavior. We had to do many reports for the office of the chief executive (OCE) while I was there. Most managers would simply review the reports we wrote before they went to the OCE and send them back with some vague direction about rewriting the reports. Eventually, after many rewrites, the reports would go through. Ray, on the other hand, would ask to review the early drafts with us face-to-face. Those reviews were very intense so that we understood exactly what he and the OCE were looking for. Very quickly, rewrites were nearly nonexistent and high quality work was done quickly and consistently. But the Fetzer experience takes us to, I believe, an even higher level of power.
The power exercised in our Fetzer experience was the power of love. By creating a community that helped all its members to act on their deepest desires we used power with. Mary Parker Follett, called by Peter Drucker the "prophet of management," was probably the person to first coin this phrase. My experience is this kind of power gets performance far beyond what I generally expect as a manager. But it is not easy. Let me explain.
Based on his experience with community building workshops, Scott Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:
- Pseudocommunity : This is a stage where the members pretend to be alike and cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudocommunity can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.
- Chaos : When pseudocommunity fails to work, the members start giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences. This is a period of chaos. It is a time when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored. Chaos looks counterproductive but it is the first genuine step towards community building.
- Emptiness : After chaos comes emptiness. At this stage, the people learn to empty themselves of those ego related factors that are preventing their entry into community. Emptiness is a tough step because it involves the death of a part of the individual. But, Scott Peck argues, this death paves the way for the birth of a new creature, the Community.
- True Community : Having worked through emptiness, the people in community are in complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other's feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned.
The four stages of community formation are somewhat related to five commonly accepted stages, that a team goes through during development. These five stages are:
- Forming where the team members have some initial discomfort with each other but nothing comes out in the open. They are insecure about their role and position with respect to the team. This corresponds to the initial stage of pseudocommunity.
- Storming where the team members start arguing heatedly and differences and insecurities come out in the open. This corresponds to the second stage given by Scott Peck, namely chaos.
- Norming where the team members lay out rules and guidelines for interaction that help define the roles and responsibilities of each person. This corresponds to emptiness, where the community members think within and empty themselves of their obsessions to be able to accept and listen to others.
- Performing where the team finally starts working as a cohesive whole, and effectively achieve the tasks set of themselves. In this stage individuals are aided by the group as a whole where necessary, in order to move further collectively than they could achieve as a group of separated individuals.
- Adjourning which corresponds to the stage of true community. This represents the stage of celebration, and when individuals leave, as they must, there is a genuine feeling of grief, and a desire to meet again.
In a team, organization, or community pursuing power with, the second stage, chaos or storming, is especially difficult because exploring and revealing what is really inside ourselves illuminates the insecurities we all have about ourselves. And if we are to help one another act on our deepest and most heartfelt desires, we need to really understand them ourselves and be able to share them with each other.
In the third stage, a difference between the two models above becomes particularly pronounced. Norming involves agreeing on rules and guidelines that can be supported by all in order to get the job done. Emptiness requires letting go of some ego. It requires a little dying. It is not the least bit easy. It is necessary in the pursuit of power with. Most teams, organizations, and communities settle for norming.
In the last stages, true community, performing, and adjourning, I find two things that are frequently forgotten or misunderstood. They are both important when pursuing power with. The first is the feeling of grief as a community realizes that it is separating. If unacknowledged, this feeling can turn to disagreement and hard feelings as members unconsciously protect themselves from the grief that is likely to come.
The second thing is the need to celebrate. This is not just a party. This is the kind of celebration that Thomas Berry, the author and “geologian” (his own term), describes as the purpose of life. We need to sincerely celebrate our own and each other’s development to know our soul’s calling, our ability to articulate and share it, and the work we do that manifests it. This takes me back to the beginning of this reflection.
Mark Nepo is a poet worth listening to. He is a poet worth reading. Like all great poets, he takes us to the essence of those things we all share. Although there is much to remember from his12th annual reading, I got this by heart. “When we stop singing, the birds stop coming.” Let’s use power with in our Six Sigma efforts to keep the birds coming…and maybe even to bring in a few more.
I always ask Carole to review these reflections. This time, she is a full partner in its creation. Thank you, my dear. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. I’m at email@example.com.
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