Implications for OD Practice
The first major implication from what I have written above is that team and even some leadership development, not just T-group training, needs to be done with intact groups. This minimizes the problem of transfer of learning.
A second major implication is the importance of behavioral description as understood and taught in our unique T-group innovation. Even if the OD practitioner never does a Tgroup with a client (which would be unwise to do without training and apprenticeship), it is our belief that knowing and integrating our strict definition of both behavior description and openness into one’s habitual communication is essential! For instance, if I think that feedback is giving others my judgment of them rather than feedback as stating the specific behaviors that I’ve seen and heard, then I am fused and probably unaware of my emotionality in that moment. My judgments, besides NOT being facts, come from deep within me and are a clue about what lenses I wear looking out from my eyes. They tell the story of me and how I uniquely, emotionally, view the world.
I know of no one who wrote with more clarity about this than John Wallen, (Chinmaya, A., Vargo, J.W.) for me a giant in the field of OD and interpersonal communications.
His precision about communication and his skill exercises permeate all of our books and our work. Like no one else, Wallen emphasized “behavior description.” Without that skill of specificity, feedback is reduced to judgments about the other and to endless blaming. His “Interpersonal Gap” is an interpersonal systems theory that turns communication “upside down,” in that it helps those who comprehend it to realize that:
1. The receiver of the communication, not the giver, holds most of the keys towards resolving any confusion arising in the conversation since it is the receiver who knows if s/he is confused or irritated by an interaction. The sender may or may not sense this.
2. I create my own emotions based on my interpretations of your actions. You don’t
“make me feel…” — I do!
3. My unique interpretations of the other (responding to words, gestures, face, and tone), sometimes leads to my misunderstanding the other. I don’t know the others “by their actions,” but by my interpretation, which is often (especially in tense moments) different from their intentions. Wallen claims that more than 50% of all conflicts come from this gap in understanding.
4. Until I profoundly comprehend this, I will live a lot of my life as a victim pointing my finger elsewhere as I search for answers to repeated communication dilemmas.
Hunching by the observers, related to the behavior listed in the left-hand column, is the door to empathy. Many participants at the beginning of the training list judgments on the left and more judgments on the right. Until they become more emotionally aware they cannot do either the left- or right-hand column with much accuracy.
The practicality of being more precise soon becomes evident to most participants. Without specificity, employees and bosses don’t get what they really want; so-called feedback becomes blaming; goals and roles are fuzzy, and huge waste of time and energy follows.
Integration with Task Work
It is our contention that for OD and T-group training to be effective it must be integrated with the real problems and challenges that are taking place within the location. “Goodwin Watson (1947) warned that the skill training had to accomplish more than ‘the warm glow of participation’ to achieve objective results by truly implementing a databased project cooperatively.” (Schmuck, 2008) The following is an example of how we help each client do so.
During a recent 7-week intensive training (spread out over nine months) with a manufacturing company our firm enhanced an innovation that we have been evolving during the last decade. Each participant had a project that was cross-functional and that was expected to contribute to the bottom-line. The CEO signed off on each one. Work on this was interwoven into the sessions, all of which included continued Skill Group sessions.
For a systemic analysis of each project/task, we use our adaptation of Conner’s work. (Conner, 1992) Especially we insist that you can only sponsor your immediate direct reports. (Crosby, 1992 and 2011) Thus, if a supervisor isn’t aligned with bosses above, the crew almost always follows their immediate supervisor’s lead regardless of what higher-up managers are espousing.
We have each person chart their project or their cross-function task. We use Sponsor, Agent, Target, and Advocate as an analytic tool that helps each person build their strategy to achieve success in the socio-technical aspects of the change they’re attempting. It is not unusual for these to net significant results.
In Mexico recently with a multinational firm, our Tough Stuff had 34 participants (in three groups) from eleven countries. It is a part of a strategy which the top manager (V.P. of Central and South America) has begun putting in place. We have worked with him for
13 years in other companies. He distributes a book (Crosby, 2011) which describes the training and his preferred OD strategy and announces it as a “blueprint” for how he wants his company to be. It is important to highlight that the T-Group is not a standalone intervention!
Thus, Tough Stuff, or any OD intervention, is done in the context of business goals. For instance, when we present decision-making, each attendee will identify decisions that aren’t being made in a timely manner and which person needs to have single-point accountability for each decision. At midweek, the V.P. joins each of the three T-groups in a session that deals with their relationship to him. In it he models what is being taught in the Tough Stuff event. He has been in many of our trainings over the years and is highly skilled. This is sponsorship at its best!
Even in this 5-day training, we have attendees identify cross-functional, day-by-day issues or projects which cross department lines. Our goal is to have them identify conflicts that are delaying effective work. We believe that most so-called interpersonal conflicts are really systems issues stemming from misalignment of bosses higher in the chain-of-command rather than where the conflict appears to be happening.
In this Mexican training, the V.P. took an active part in the formation of six groups whose success he deemed of high importance. This is yet another example of how his sponsorship maximized the relevance of the training event and reduced transfer issues. On the 10-point, anonymous scale about “Applicability to Work”, this international group rated it a median of 9. Some readers may wonder whether this adaptation of the Tgroup to business still impacts the individual’s personal life. Rating the question, “Applicability to life outside work,” the median was also a 9!
Our unique innovation to T-group is cutting edge because of how we integrate it with business goals and constantly help the participants make direct day to day implications to work. When done in this fashion significant transformations happen like those highlighted at the Davenport Plant visited by President Obama in 2011. In my career, those interventions that tend to be sustained have integrated T-group opportunities as described in our model, for both hourly and salaried employees, into the equation. The EQ maturation, systems understanding, awareness of the distinction between behaviorally descriptive feedback and judgmental pseudo-feedback has direct relevance for the success of the business. Also the movement from victim to proactive creator and their new ability to manage conflict more constructively bodes well for the health of individuals, and companies. These are deeply learned in a T-group. Work on real projects and/or cross-functional dilemmas done in the context of this in-depth experience increases the possibility that the learning will be sustained across the years.
(Contact us for a complete bibliography)