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Chicken and Egg

19 September 2017

There is a chicken and egg relationship between how individuals behave and the environment of their organisation. Behaviour both influences and is influenced by the environment. If we are interested in improving our organisations and their performance, how we act on this is critical.

In my experience, when we help people to focus on the relationship between environment and behaviour:

  • They open up.
  • They take ownership of their environment and how their behaviour contributes to it and locks its norms in place.
  • They see individual differences in practice and behaviour as positive opportunities to learn rather than as reasons to criticise or defend.
  • They feel supported and enabled.
  • They identify the reasons things work as they do and with a willingness to reshape their environment and behaviour.

By contrast, when we focus on behaviour itself (often):

  • People close up.
  • Point the finger.
  • Get defensive or go on the attack.
  • Feel undermined or threatened, occupying a state of anxious hyper-vigilance from which a cascade of further dysfunctions follow.
  • Make excuses for why things work as they do and why they can’t change until others do so first.

So, I think there is a strong case to be made for favouring reflection (on the relationship between environment and behaviour) over feedback (on behaviour itself).

This changes the role of management and what it means to be a leader or coach. It moves the dial from directing people and having ‘tough conversations’ to helping people discover new truths about their opportunities to contribute and how the organisation may need to reshape to support that.

This process of discovery can take many forms, from walking the flow of work to running tests of change. First and most important though, is to take the time to listen.

Listening to our colleagues helps to separate the things that can be controlled from the things that can’t, building empathy, trust and shared understanding.

For example, it helps us to recognise the external factors that shape how an organisation has to work (e.g. reg’s and leg’s) as well as the personal variables that exist in our lives and that can impact on our mindset or opportunity to contribute.

Understanding these things helps us to create conditions - policies, practices and fair expectations of each other - that are rooted in the real world, so that we can shape our environment and behaviour to get the best from everyone.

To start down this road, we can ask some very simple questions of each other - even making a routine of the same. Introduced with humility, just a few questions can surface the many ways in which any organisation can make working better together easier.

In teams you work with ask:

  • Are we working on the right things?
  • Are we working on the right number of things?
  • Are we working on things the right way?
  • Are we looking after each other’s needs?
  • Are we making the most of each other’s strengths?

Taking the time to explore these things can be a great foundation from which to build new norms of trust and positive behaviour from which new levels of performance will grow.



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