As a facilitator, any time I’m asked to facilitate an all staff retreat for an organization I immediately look for patterns. Conditions often seem eerily familiar. They fit well within a common pattern of organizational struggles. Issues of equity and inclusion, differing generational ideas about leadership and professionalism, confusion about participation vs hierarchy. Usually the organization has the best intentions. They want to shift their culture. But they are not always aware of what that work entails.
Often they look to me for a quick fix. But I am not a medicine man peddling a "miracle cure" for dysfunctional organizations. And I encourage you to be weary of any facilitator making any such promise.
I’ve learned that before you can create a healthy organization you need to be completely clear about what it is you are here to do. So instead of agreeing to facilitate a staff retreat I now offer to start my work directly with the leadership team. I like Patrick Lencioni’s framework for a healthy organization:
I invite the organization to take our work together one step at a time. The first step is focused on clarity and leadership cohesion. It is also my assessment of the team’s willingness to lead. This willingness is hard to find.
If the team is not willing to lead, then we will not work together.
The team is also assessing me. They get to taste my approach and decide whether it is what the organization needs.
This agreement provides a powerful set of conditions. It saves time and resources. And it demands that the leadership team come to the table ready for clarity and authenticity. It allows me to pay attention to how courageous each individual is and when it comes time for truth telling. I can pay attention to how bold, clear and honest each team member is willing to be.
I always say I am committed to work that changes everything. When I choose to work with an organization I want it to be more than a one-off feelgood event. I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I want the organization to grow, evolve and fulfill its purpose in the world.
If you work within even a basic hierarchy. If an individual or a team has a higher pay. If anyone has any say about whether someone else gets paid. That is a responsibility that demands clarity and cohesion. It demands courage and truth. Do this first. And keep coming back to it. This is how you lead.
We are navigating organizational life during a time that is defined by VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. If you are part of a leadership team you better step up or go home.