A Theorist Worth Remembering – Wilfred Bion (1897-1979)

The best way to put new knowledge to the test is through experience. I have come to recognize the power of that statement in the engagement process. Relationships, whether personal or professional demand work. Blood, sweat and tears come to mind. The challenge I believe we all face is to associated with protecting our sterilized image of ourselves. The fact that defenses are raised in the interaction process, tell us that protecting the self is of great importance especially in groups.

I have come across the work of Wilfred Bion, a psychoanalyst whose work can be  applied to the understanding of human relations. I want to share his observations and challenge you to look at any interaction that struggled because of these variables.

Bion articulated that his study of groups in a clinical setting pointed to two variables: the work assumption group and the basic assumption group. The work assumption group addresses the task, structure and the roles each member will occupy. Once we understand what needs to be done (task related), members of a group can function in accordance with meeting expectations. But life is not so orderly.

The basic assumption group dynamics appear to be those behaviours that lie beneath the surface, causing disruption in the way members of the group perceive each other. He noted three types of basic assumption groups: the dependency, the fight-flight, and the pairing groups.

The dependency group: The focus of this group is to be assured of their security and reach out to an individual to assume the leadership role. Group members act as if they know nothing and rely heavily on the leader to make their lives comfortable. The leader is thrust into the role as the “messiah” and once he fails to meet the group’s idealized expectation’s, he is quickly pushed aside as the group tries to locate another.

The fight-flight group: The assumption that prevails in this kind of group is that the group has formed to protect itself and this can be done by fighting or fleeing from someone or something. Both responses are action oriented and also require a leader. The assumption is that whoever is called to lead should be capable of  providing direction when there is need to attack or run. Bion suggests that operating in this mode, the group does not respond well to intellectual stimulation. The leader’s attempt to have the group participate in introspection on their work habits will be rejected and instead, will be replaced by behaviours like inattentiveness, absenteeism and tardiness.

Pairing: In this scenario, the assumption is that the group has been formed to produce a leader. When active, the group is held in rapt attention and hope dwells among them. The group gets along because they hold to a belief of better will come. If something emerges from the group that points to hope, they will reject it because they would have weakened their position, that of living in eternal hope.

Bion’s work has allowed me to look at how groups and individual members adapt and sequester themselves as a mechanism to protect themselves. As I dig deeper into the literature on conflict, there are so many solutions to be found in how organizations tackle the issue of dysfunction in groups. People, by virtue of their diverse worldviews add several layers of complexity to the study of human relations. Revisiting the contributions made by others in the field may lend some texture and context to our current concerns with the management of relationships.

© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014

 

 

 

Corruption Has A Bold Face

What is corruption?

This is a question I asked myself yesterday after witnessing an exchange between two professionals. One held a significant title; the other was a little lower on the totem pole. What struck me were several things that point to our ‘devolution’ as civilized beings. We write, research and attempt to capture data that contribute to acceptable standards. Beautifully penned and eloquently spoken words backed up by actions, serve to reinforce that there are vanguards of ethics and integrity. Humanity applauds and faith is restored for a time.

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Photo Credit – NH/2014

 

Then, you have the moment of OMG! A moment of epic FAILURE!

Corruption is situated in our cultural experiences. We all have a general idea of what is wrong and right. The wrongness or rightness of something is measured against established norms. I love this explanation offered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

Corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability. Corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is the soliciting of bribes. Economic development is stunted because foreign direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the “start-up costs” required because of corruption.

Corruption exists because many of our institutions have failed to preserve the standards that encourage a rejection of corrupt practices. The subtlety of the behaviors that encourage the growth of corruption are usually ignored. Excuses are made and the promise of a one time only deal becomes part of the narrative. As we have seen in many areas of life, it is not a one time deal and will produce cancerous results.

Corruption exists where there is a need for something. Significant to this need is who has the power to get things done and who has no power. The relationship may evolve to an understanding that something tangible/intangible has to be exchanged in order to satisfy the desire. Take for example the issue of offering a bribe to a law enforcement officer. The officer may be in a bind financially. Here come a man of means who offers the officer a sum of money to not get a ticket. The officer processes the information, noting that the money could help to reduce his current dilemma. Does he write the ticket/does he take the bribe?

Or consider this scene, student has missed the deadline to apply for a program. Professor walks in to admissions and frames the conversation around the student wishing to be part of the institution. She is told that the deadline has passed. It is suggested that a relationship exists with the Dean and the possibility exists for the standard to be relaxed based on that relationship. Going through the back door is now being facilitated by someone who holds power.

What about the known Gangster, with political ties, benefiting from contracts facilitated by the ruling class? He circumvents all know standards for contracts, even with knowledge of his criminality. Can we with all conviction say we accept this relationship?

Corruption does not develop overnight. It is like a seed, nurtured by the participation of people within systems that are bureaucratic in nature. I would dare to suggest that the systems are flawed and fail to act on the behalf of people who seek justice. When systems are not re-engineered to meet the needs of its constituents, the door that was once ajar, now stands wide open, a shadow of its former self.

Can our behaviours be corrected?

Of course they can. It takes guts and yes, painful sacrifices. When there is a lot at stake (money, power, and fame), added to the passage of time and the creation of “bad” norms, there will be resistance to charting a course of change. But the narrative must change. People must not only see but feel the rising tide of change against corrupt practices. They must see that standards are real, when tested. And they must be assured that judicial systems work, when perpetrators are caught. Skeptics have taught us that  acceptance of the idea of change rests in experience rather than what they are told.

The fight is continuous; our resolve to do battle against the corrupt will be aided by the methods we employ in the 21st century to re-engage and re-wire citizens.

– Suzette Henry-Campbell

Resource

http://www.unodc.org/unodc/corruption/index.html?ref=menuside

Conflict and Paradox

I am moved to write on this topic after a conversation with a colleague of mine about the paradoxes that exist in group development. We have both experienced the debilitating effects dysfunctional groups but our thoughts are quite different with respect to some of the root causes. After a robust conversation, we concluded that there is a lot to learn from the narratives of people who have gained invaluable results from working in groups and what are the best practices used to accomplish the group’s objectives. Until that is done, I will share some thoughts on the  issue of conflict and paradox.

Conflicts exist everywhere. So do paradoxes. In the home, school, enterprise (public and private), among friends, and among acquaintances. No one is immune.

Conflict: A situation between two or more inter-dependent parties that is characterized by perceived differences that the parties consider negative. The result being incompatible goals which lead to behaviors that aggravate an already tense relationship.

Paradox: A statement or set of statements that are self contradictory. You can easily spot the paradox in each of the sentences below:

  • This is the beginning of the end.
  • I have gone through bittersweet moments in life.

Here are two more from perhaps your favourite literary works.

  • Animal Farm: “All animals are equal; but some are more equal than others.”
  • Hamlet: “I must be cruel to be kind.”

Consider for a minute the existence of paradoxes in group life. A group comprises people from varying backgrounds, each seeking to advance his status within the group or not. The behaviors that are employed by the individuals are driven by emotions and thoughts that are contradictory and will end in group paralysis if there is no focus on reducing the occurrence of destructive conflict.

The concept of conflict resolution is in itself a paradox and group life breeds elements associated with contradictory emotions, behaviors and rhetoric. Left to our own devices to protect ourselves and our interests without an appreciation of group dynamics, renders growth and productivity unrealistic.

So, for a group of executives working on a project, each may think that his particular approach is the best. Where there is an inability to agree on a course of action/actions towards a positive outcome, ends in conflict. What each participant fails to grasp is that each may be right. There are many “truths” to resolving issues, but getting to the collaborative space where members are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas is a huge issue.

Hadeed (2014) extends the view that groups must prepare for creative problem solving by pursuing the following:

  • Put aside the idea ‘my solution is the only solution’.
  • Recognize that problem solving works best when it is collaborative.
  • A need to to recognize there may be more than one truths to a conflict.

If I were to ask what colour is the sky, you would give me a variety of answers, all of which echo some truth. You could tell me the sky is blue. Someone else could provide the scientific response that suggests it has no colour but that of light being diffracted by the gases in the atmosphere. Another may yet say that the colour is black, at nights. Each response holds some truth. What would need to be decided is the best response in light of all the possibilities that exist.

Finding the Group’s Truth – Getting Unstuck

Here is a charm. For groups to become unstuck they have to get creative. This cannot be achieved where there is an absence of trust and rapport. Ask yourself, “is preserving my ego and interest worth the demise of the group and its objectives?”

If you are in favour of the group’s success then consider the following:

  • Acknowledge that there is a challenge.
  • Create ground rules to support the group’s agenda.
  • Drill down to identify the root cause of the challenge. Select and clarify the issues that are manifested.
  • A range of issues may be uncovered. Analyze the “discoveries” and create responses that will treat with the deficiencies.
  • Establish mechanisms for follow-up.
  • Create an environment that values the contributions of the members of the group. Each individual brings to the table expertise and competencies that will help the group succeed. Acknowledge the contributions made.

I want you to recognize that change is mired in destruction. For something new to be erected, one has to destroy something old. The test is to not reinforce the same way of treating with group conflict but identifying novel ways that will provide better outcomes.

Sources:

S.A. Hadeed, (2014). Power-point presentation Problem-solving paradoxically and creatively.

Katz, Neil & Associates (2014) Conflict Management: Overt and Covert Dynamics. Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/%28Gh%29/guides/mtr/opt/mch/diff.rxml

Live Inspired

Somewhere deep within the reservoir of our being, lives the truth that releases understanding. – SHC/2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2yk1lsi9RM

 

Work/Life Balance

Finding the right balance is a feat that pushes the imagination beyond limits. Seek it, own it, live it!

-Leshamoy 2014

Understanding Organizations

SHC/2014

SHC/2014

I have developed a healthy curiosity about organizations and how they mature and against what some may term as better judgment, I took the leap of faith to understand the effect of people on systems. My laboratory is now in academia and my resources are faculty, students, and the wider community with which I interact. My perverse interest in conflict analysis and its resolution within organizations came to fruition after being involved in Collective Bargaining relationships which were often seen as a battle; brutal on the end product. Relationships were fractured and those hurt feelings had a way of interrupting the operations of the entities with which I was affiliated.

 

For every interaction with persons who were on the other side of the table and with the mean spirited discussions that would emanate from either side, I kept thinking there has to be a different, less hostile engagement of the forces that were in essence seeking the same things. The word transformation echoed continuously throughout my being. I decided to answer the call by seeking to understand the phenomenon called conflict.

So here I am, two years into a Doctoral Program, with an even greater zeal to reveal novel ways to get organizations to change the narrative. There is so much data from Collective Bargaining archives that if studied and analyzed, have the capability to provide clues to improving the engagement process between managers and union, managers and workers and so on. To not take the time to understand the dynamics at play is to continue to court disastrous outcomes brought on by the big ‘C’ – Conflict.

I want to understand:

What makes people tick?

Why is debilitating conflict rampant in some organization’s and not others?

Are we hiring the right talent for the right roles?

Are we training for the right reasons?

How do we measure goal attainment?

How do we preserve relationships without losing our authority (voice of the Company)?

These questions and so many more are drivers of why I am on this journey. The key is transformation, not just in the infrastructure, but in the policies, attitudes and narratives. The Companies that continue to invest in continuous improvements particularly in the area of engagement with its stake-holders, I submit, will realize greater mileage for their efforts than those who continue to recycle the same failed ideas.

© Suzette Henry – Campbell 2014

First Day Jitters – Life in Motion

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SHC/2014

The interview was a success and you will join the team of executives. The interview was grueling but you understood what was at stake. The organization is fiercely competitive and they only want the best.

Two weeks go by like a flash. Then, you get the call that will change your life.

Wooohoooo, you got the job!

Your first steps are to acknowledge that you are thrilled about the prospect of joining the team and to thank them for the opportunity. Ensure the “voice” in your letter maintains the professional quality you have nursed during the process. Excitement turns to anxiety as the days quickly pass.

The day is now here and as you get dressed, you rehearse in your head, different scenes, from orientation to meeting with the employees. Nothing seems to flow, so the mirror becomes your testing ground. How funny it would be if someone were to see and hear you carry on a full conversation with no one else in the room but your own image? But if it helps you relax, go for it!

Stepping into the unknown can be a nerve-wracking experience for many. Change disrupts that comfort zone and raises expectations about things that are unfamiliar. But there are ways to reduce the tension that accompanies life altering decisions. Your experiences count and you are sitting on a treasure trove of best practices that can help you order your steps. How about that? Simply put, those set of experiences are available to you and all you have to do is to engage the self.

On that first day, you will want to:

  • Be punctual and smartly dressed. 15 minutes before work is not a bad deal.
  • Wear your smile. Not the kind that scares people away from you.
  • Greet each member you meet (from the grounds-keeper to the CEO) with a positive demeanor.
  • Be observant, taking into account the power dynamics within the organization. Being in tune with the “buzz” around you will help you discover the norms that pervade the enterprise.
  • Be polite. In hostile work environments, team members may want to test your mettle and may goad you into a response that cripple your efforts in the future.

The tips above, which are surely not exhaustive,  should help you step with aplomb as you enter a new and exciting phase in your professional life.

All the best!

© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014

Five Things That Are Right With Your Job

Retrieved from Google Images, February 25, 2014

Monday morning!

It is the start of a new work week for most.There was no need for the alarm this morning because for once in a long time you are truly excited about going to work.

What changed?

Perhaps a new lease on life. Perhaps organizational changes that re-ignite the passion and commitment of its employees are the cause.

In almost every encounter I have had with employees spanning different roles, organizations, and social network, these five themes appear to be consistent with their happiness quotient. It’s not just about one’s personality and outlook on life. Read on.

The five are mapped to the interaction with others in an environment that is conducive to building and maintaining trust and enhancing rapport. Go figure!

The five are:

  • You are in love with your job. It is not just a job that provides a modest income, but you can see how your role contributes to the organization.
  • Your team is supportive. Deadlines are nothing when you have a solid team willing to go “above and beyond” the call of duty.
  • The blame game is in retreat. Mistakes are owned by the individual/group because they recognize their own flaws in the execution of ideas.
  • Fair treatment: The vision of fairness will be articulated differently from one person to the next. Defining what is fair is subjective. It is at the individual level that we process how we view fairness measured against established standards. Fair treatment extends to compensation and reward, discipline and promotion.
  • Environment: The environment encourages the participation of all its members. There are reasonable amenities in place to meet the needs of the employees. Departments are complementary to each other and opportunities are created to enhance interaction. It’s a fun place to be!

Take an inventory of your own job and list five things that are right with it. You may just be surprised!

© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014

Completed Your Degree, Now What?

It can be a harrowing experience when you have reached the end of that fantastic journey called the college years. For four years you have grown accustomed to the network of friends, familiar faces in academic circles as well as a social life that gives you the awesome feeling of belonging. You work hard at securing the best GPA (grade point average) that will prove you are not wasting your loan, scholarship or funds from your college fund. Life is good!

To Sir With Love
Retrieved from Google Images, February 14, 2014

On graduation day, the excitement is palpable. Congratulatory messages are in abundance. Smiling faces, laughter, hugs, kisses, dinners, presents and of course the paper that deems you ready to take on the world. Degree in hand, you are in a state of readiness.

A month turns to two months then to three months. Rejection letters sit in a pile on your desk. The safety net that once was is no more. Frustration mounts as leads do not materialize to gainful employment.

We all nurse ideals about the kinds of jobs we want in the future and we have been told that getting a degree is a first step to mobility. Of course many professions lead to employment as there is a market that is ready and waiting for such skill sets. I think immediately about medical doctors, mechanical/civil engineers, IT software-developers, to name a few. Other young professionals may experience a difficult time in getting the kinds of employment that is aligned to their area of study.

What to do?

In speaking with a few graduates, I have put together a list of possibilities that may provide a catalyst to get us on our way.

  • Research trending jobs and the projected longevity of such careers. Research emerging programs like Gerontology and the kinds of opportunities that are likely to exist in the future.
  • Acknowledge that career choices will change. I have met many people who started program(s) and was met with an emptiness. It did not quite fit.
  • Become an integral part of community groups. Volunteer your time in activities that you are truly interested in. It is not enough to do so because it meets the requirement of your resume.
  • Find mentors and demonstrate your interest in learning.
  • As a graduate, you have a number of skill sets, honed from activities honed in your previous ‘campus life’. Value exists in those untapped skills. Do an inventory and you will be amazed at what you can bring to the table.
  • Your resume or C.V. is a gate-opener. It has to get past a gate-keeper. What will it take? Invest time to get your resume to top frame. Remove unnecessary data that has no bearing on the jobs of interest. Utilize the resources at your school such as the career center and so on. They are in a position to help you  with your resume. The aim is stand out and to encourage the reviewer to see you.
  • Consider being an entrepreneur. What is it that people need that you are able to provide, legally speaking. Perhaps you could run a number of training programs, gratis, to build your credibility in the market. Organizations are looking for the best and brightest to be a part of their growth. Show them what you have been doing.
  • The last thing is to not wait. Be assertive. Make a plan of what you want. I really mean a written, organized plan of what you want and how you plan to get to your destination. Visuals are powerful tools, reminders if you will about what you hold dear.
  • Network, network, network. Linkedin, as a professional site, is more than a Facebook page. There are powerful narratives from the best and brightest in the world of business, science and academia. Read their thoughts and perhaps their vision may resonate with ideas that you have been cooking for some time. Become a member of groups, share your thoughts and experience the rich data that is available.
  • Lastly, do not wait until you have completed your study to begin the process of building rapport with people in your field of interest. The graduates also spoke about moving outside of your comfort zone and building relationships with others who are not necessarily in your field. Ideas do evolve when there is diversity in a multicultural environment.

Harness the energy and transform your trepidation and frustrations into models for success.

© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014

Your Life Begins Now

My inspiration for this blog today hit me as I watched Andrew Zimmern. You know, the guy on the Travel Channel, of Bizarre Foods fame, who has the wonderful role of experiencing cultures via his taste buds? As I punch away at the keys, he has just popped a sliver of camel’s kidney in his mouth. The meaty scene disturbs my thoughts of what I plan to eat in a couple hours. Pushing the urge to go vegan aside, I thought about the range of experiences I accumulated over the past week and the impact they have had on my being. Although I love, absolutely love, the richness to be found in experiencing another’s culture, in particular foods, I have yet to take it to the level of Zimmern. But the theme of community and diversity is fueling a desire to step outside of my comfort zone.

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Photo Credit: NSH/2012

Zimmern appears passionate about his role. I can only imagine that he tosses caution to the wind as he travels to remote regions of this earth that many of us would shy away from visiting. He of course, has an entourage to assure his security but when it comes right down to it, he is living his moments. By that I mean, he is immersing himself in an experience.  His active participation in the rituals of various nationalities, helps him to appreciate, to a certain degree, the day to day activities of others. Giving himself over to an experience helps to eradicate the myths that are associated with the unknown.

I am constantly reminded of the need to begin living now. This does not mean spending money you do not have to go touring the world. Is there something you are passionate about doing that you have been putting off? Do you want to learn to swim, cycle, or play a sport? Do you want to turn that hobby into something more? Perhaps you are dying to do something as simple as beginning a garden. The point is you have to decide and then you have to act.

One thing I have found to be a pattern among those described by society’s standards as successful is that they simplify their lives. Clutter is removed and they take charge of their journey. They are not given to what others think about decisions they make. They take risks, but in so doing they are masterful of time. Every second is calculated unconsciously as a rare opportunity to maximize the value of time.

Today I was reminded that it is okay to:

  • live your passion.
  • simplify your life.
  • engage in something new.
  • embrace diversity.
  • have fun.
  • use time wisely, it matters.

These reminders can be adapted to your professional, private or other identity. Your life does not begin tomorrow. Seize the day (carpe diem) now.

© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014

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