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Paralysed by Decency

11 July 2019

A couple of blogs ago I had the pleasure of introducing Jeremy Cox as a new Partner at Easier Inc. Today it’s my pleasure to introduce one of our closest collaborators, Jackie Le Fèvre.

Jackie and I have been working together across a number of projects, exploring how the work she does on personal and organisational values and story-telling complements the work I do to help people see through the fog and focus on what really matters. It’s been great fun and impactful too.

One of the aspects of Jackie’s work that really appeals to me is how it takes what is sometimes regarded as the ‘soft and fluffy’ subject of values and gives it deep empirical rigour.

  • Using the Minessence Values Framework she helps people to surface what really makes them tick, as individuals and as groups.
  • She then helps them to make sense of how this is helping or hindering them so that they can agree action strategies that unlock stuck situations while feeling wholly authentic to the values of the people involved.

It’s such a brilliant approach that I asked Jackie if she would share a story about her work in practice…

Paralysed by Decency

This is a story of Mariette, Gary, Carys, John, Naz and Sian who were employed in two different organisations but worked together in a partnership on equality issues.

If, like me, you have previously borne witness to ‘collaboration in name only’ settings where knowledge, contacts and ideas are closely guarded and territories are armoured with barely hidden thorns and walls then you will already be anticipating their problems. We all know this kind of ‘partnership working’ does not make work easier.

There was a problem in the equalities partnership workplace but, given the above, maybe not quite what we might expect…

  • There wasn’t any clash of personalities nor toxic competition between partners.
  • There was no lack of trust or destructive jostling for pole position.
  • None of the usual stuff that can get in the way by impeding progress or undermining reputations was present.
  • It appeared at face value to be exactly the sort of environment where psychological safety should be present and so performance and productivity should be assured.

Instead we uncovered a problem of a different sort; a surplus of ‘niceness’.

The Problem

Everyone was so considerate of all the other perspectives around the table that decisions were rarely made. The few that did get agreed were soon second guessed in pursuit of a ‘more inclusive’ way that might lie ahead at some point.

There was a paralysis by politeness and as a result the team didn’t fulfil its potential. They were underwhelming themselves and the world.

Dissatisfaction flourished, undermining the sense of wellbeing within the team, which knew it was failing to do an important job as well as it could.

Finding A Way Out

By using the Minessence Values Framework profiling tool we explored the group’s Worldviews. Everyone hoped a fresh insight might break the cycle.

Analysis revealed that every single individual around the table held the same underpinning Worldview; they were a team of ‘Consensus Seekers’. This uniformity meant that relationships were extremely strong and very supportive BUT no one felt comfortable going first. Decisions became bogged down in an unending desire for gathering additional opinions and feedback. 

One of the features of the ‘Consensus Seeker’ is wanting to be of service to others. This was used to galvanise the group to recognise that being locked in an endless cycle of review and refinement actually served no one. Decisions needed to be both taken and acted upon.

So everyone agreed - something had to change.

Using the shared priority values of the group a framework was co-created for taking decisions and acting upon them. This included defining: 

  • when ‘enough’ contributions had been canvassed.
  • when ‘enough’ time had been allowed.
  • when ‘enough’ attention had been given to all the relevant stakeholders. 

By encouraging the group to be very specific about ‘enough’ they accepted that ‘enough’ was not perfect, was seldom ideal, would not necessarily lead to peak performance every time and yet would still get the job done well and was a whole lot better than doing nothing. 

New decision-making habits were established with some interesting by-products, for example:

  • It became OK for any member of the group to challenge the rest if things were getting bogged down.
  • Challenges were met with respect and a willingness to listen. 

In Summary

Psychological safety is a big deal in organisations but it's not about 'being nice'. By exploring values and Worldviews we can identify underlying issues and in turn use our values to agree different ways of working that help us to achieve a shared purpose.

Importantly, because these ways of working emerge from our own values, each individual involved will feel a personal connection to them. This connection enables each person to be their authentic self while changing their pattern of behaviour; a recipe that research and experience have shown leads to higher performance and greater creativity whilst at the same time buffering against stress and enhancing wellbeing.

Discover More…

If you’d like to find out more about Jackie and her work you can:

Thanks for reading!


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