Mining the wisdom in groups

The last days of my stay in Madagascar I tried to figure out how to be of use to my colleagues who were preoccupied with their annual workplan preparation for which they ‘retreat.’  I figured that the most I would able to get was a 2 hour meeting – this is what I asked for, on my last day of work, and this is what I got.

It is hard for experts to not give advice; after all this is what they are trained to do. But it is difficult for people, especially those with little of the experts’ sophisticated knowledge, to find their own solutions and voice – given the structure of the conversations as they happen now.

I run into this phenomenon over and over bit at home and abroad as I teach colleagues to be more like coaches: hold the judgment and hold the advice. Coaching is the new buzzword and it is practiced in a thousand ways, but little I would actually call coaching. What I see and hear is mostly the wrapping of advice into closed questions.

Philosophically and intellectually the concept of coaching appeals to my colleagues. It is after all implied in our organization’s use of Lao Tsu’s quote (“…when all is done the people will say we did it ourselves…”). But when it comes to practice it becomes another thing altogether. How can you find ‘wisdom’ in a group of people when you don’t think there is any wisdom? When you know they have had little formal education and know not a fraction of the the knowledge you have?

After countless training workshops, the leading men in Madagascar’s health system have decided there is too much training and an alternative has been found, as health centers are closed because the chief is at a training – and sometimes this means people die.

The proposed alternative have many names: supportive supervision, group supervision, coaching, etc.  In order to avoid that these are old wines in new bottles, the key actors have to make a mental shift that would make possible the sustainable behavior changes they are looking for.

I demonstrated two methods for getting a group of people to share their wisdom and experience, and learn from each other, using their own experience. I then introduced my colleagues to a few more practical concepts regarding group dynamics based on the work of David Kantor – a family therapist turned organization dynamics guru whose Structural Dynamics approach appeals to me, who thought one day I would become a family therapist  but ended up as an organizational psychologist.

I took them a few levels down from what they already know (and teach) about group dynamics, based on Kantor’s Reading The Room, and saw, what the French call so nicely ‘declics’ (aha’s) going off in their heads.

And then I headed back to my hotel to pack, take care of  loose strings, write reports, and try to get upgrades, the latter unsuccessful.

 

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